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The Paris files

Leaving Paris

New Year, 2003-'04—
Kim and I had driven to Paris, turned into the city from the Peripherique, found a place to park, had a salad and bread, bought gloves and hats, and took the Metro downtown for the New Year. The Metro ran extra lines that night, and we'd ridden it back and slept in the car, in the Belleville district where we'd ended up by chance and hadn't had to pay for parking.

The next morning it was snowing beautifully. We were supposed to be back in Nijmegen that day, so we started driving. The turn-signals didn't work. We stopped for some bread — two excellent baguettes, one white and one multi-grain.

It was snowing big fluffy puffs of snow that were piling up on our clothes.

Kim and I got back into the car. I sent a text message to Thanh. [We'd borrowed the car from him.] I told him that the turn signals on his car weren't working.

We had about €20. The tank was full. We decided against coffee, so that we'd have enough money for the toll. (Peáge, the fee to pay for the use of the main highway between Paris and Belgium. [€11.20 on the way down, €12.10 back.]) We might find a cash machine, but we might not.... We decided to drive.

I kind of figured (thinking on our feet, as it were,) that of any day to drive without turn signals, New Year's day was one of the best. And what else were we going to do? With €20, we weren't going to get the car serviced. Didn't have to be more complicated than that. So we'd just drive.

We came to a canal that we'd not crossed, right in the path of the way that I thought was toward the Ring road (Boulevard Peripherique, or BP.) So that was it for my idea.

We found ourselves at a roundabout. All directions were equal, us not knowing where we were. I said "I'm stopping there," and drove into a petrol station.

It was a "brown guy" as Kim said. The brown people tend to speak English, she noted. Kim's French is better than mine, but language is difficult. This guy paused his phone conversation when he saw us coming. We asked him for directions to Lille. He said get on this road right here, and go straight.He pointed to the road right behind the car, the one we'd been on just long enough to leave the roundabout.

We were on a straight route to the way out of town and back north. A cop pulled out behind us. I watched for a while, but after a while the car had disappeared. [I'd been thinking "no problem; I just won't turn."]

And, as it came about, we didn't have to turn. We didn't even hit the ring road, straight onto the highway (E19?)

The snow was falling pretty hard, and piling up.

What to do? Kim said I don't know, you make a decision. The car began to swerve. I turned off, and there was a Formule 1. We'd stayed in another one of these superbudget hotels outside of Brussels on the way down. That was it; we pulled in. Used a cash machine at the neighboring Hyatt.

Later that night, I got a text from Thanh. He said to push the red (emergency flash) button by the gear-shift. I did, and after that the turn-signals worked again. The next morning we were back on the road to the Netherlands.