France 2016 - Sunday, October 16 - The Road Home

Day 17: Au Revoir Paris

Departure transfers arrive at Charles de Gaulle Airport at 08:00 & 11:00.  Buffet Breakfast

 

And then, it was time to leave.

We boarded the bus in the morning, expecting to be whisked away to the airport, but it didn’t really go down that way.  Jackie, the driver who we had been so delighted to see again when we arrived at the airport two weeks ago, let us down.  Jackie, is apparently the owner of this coach company, and that’s why he does the easy stuff like airport transfers and such now.  Well, our bus died and he scrambled around trying to move busses, looking like he was going to have a heart attack, until he was able to jump start our bus.  If you’ve never seen an old man maneuver two large busses and jump one with the other in the middle of a narrow Parisian street, you’re missing out.

Mark told us that he’d have already put us on cabs but without getting the bus started the luggage compartment doors couldn’t open.  I can see absolutely no way that this could possibly be true.  A, is it not just a mechanical key lock?  B, how is it in any way possible that a quarter million dollar tour bus is not equipped with a mechanical release for the luggage bay, for just such an occasion.  So after more than half an hour of watching other people from our group be loaded into cabs and sent on their way, they finally get our bus jumped and started.

People behind us kept saying that well the battery charges while we’re driving so as long as we don’t stop…  Yeah, I thought, unless the battery is dead because the alternator is dead, meaning the bus could be dead in the middle of nowhere with our luggage still locked in.  Someone suggested we bring our luggage up with us into the seats but Jackie waved us off it’ll be fine, it’ll be fine… 

So, we took off and for a time things seemed fine and everyone relaxed a bit.  However, twenty minutes or so into our trip down the highway, it became clear that Jackie was having trouble finding a gear into which the bus would accept being put, and Joyce and I being in the front seat could see all this, and knew there was a problem.  Joyce was concerned, and I was amused.  I was concerned of course, but things are more interesting when they go wrong.  Broken down bus, even missed flight seems catastrophic at the time, but they leave no permanent injury and are ultimately solvable problems that just lead to better stories later on. 

The best part was when Jackie said in oh too clear English: ‘Shit’, as he finally came to realize and accept that trying to keep the bus going was a lost cause.  He took an off ramp and the bus came to a stop and died in an out of the way place in the shadow of a Mirosoft building across the highway, and he jumped out and opened the luggage compartment.  I knew the not being able to open it thing was bull shit.

He started making frantic calls as people began pulling Joyce and my luggage out unsolicited, so I grabbed them and stepped to the curb with them.  I have some great pictures of Jackie with his hand to his head in disbelief, and our fellow travelers looking very angry and concerned at him while standing on the curb with their luggage.

Jackie claimed that another bus was on the way, but the time he said it would take was fifteen minutes, then ten minutes, then twenty minutes, and he’d already proven himself a bull shitter.  A cab drove by and we flagged it down, and although Joyce claimed that Jackie said he was going to take the cab to go get another bus, I never caught that.  It was clear that people who had international flights soonest should go first since only four of us could squeeze into the prius.  That meant us and another couple, but regardless the Calgary couple whom I never liked anyways went to the cab and started loading their stuff in.  They looked perfectly happy to leave without us as well, so I stepped up and got our stuff in as well, feeling bad for the other couple who should rightly be going instead of the Calgary pair.  Jackie pre-paid the driver, and we were off, though squeezed in very tightly.  It was from the car that I caught the best picture of the rest as we left.

It seemed to take quite a while to get to the airport, and it was a stressful ride for me, because it was a painful ride for Joyce who had a bathroom emergency that she just had to suffer through, and it clearly got increasingly painful as we went on and she had me put the navigation on my phone so she could keep clear about how long we had to go.  Eventually the cab got us to the wrong terminal, even though we had said clearly several times that we needed to go to the other terminal.  He had clearly only been paid to take us to the nearer one and I think he was irritated over that.  Anyways, as the airport is designed, we went on past it, then rounded around to our correct one and got out.  At least we made it there.  Inside we happily found a bathroom, and loaded our luggage into the check in counter.  Somehow I was half a kilogram over but I guess I was within a margin because she didn’t say anything about it.

No concerned about time we proceeded immediately through security which seemed to go fine at first, but my bag was flagged and I had to go stand with a woman as she went through it.  To save weight in my main luggage I’d put all of my coins and bottle openers together in the wallet Insight puts all of the tickets and such in for you, and when they found that, it was clear that this large unambiguous collection of metal is what had flagged concern for them.  Seeing this, they cleared me to pack it back up with a bit of a good natured chuckle.

Great.  Packed back up, and onward.  I stopped at a store for my standard Pringle chips and two bottles of Coke Light.  I was also looking for Paris bottle openers, one for myself and one for my boss for the wall of bottle openers behind the bar, and though she didn’t say anything, my suggestion that I might forgo this one and hope to find a better on distressed Joyce on account of how tight we were for time, but luckily nothing came of it because I decided the ones I found in that store were just fine.  We used up just about every last euro cent we had left between us at that store which is always nice when you can pull that off.  On previous trips I like to keep a collection of the money as a keepsake, but I already have a collection of Euro currency.

And then, brick wall.  We were stuck in a customs line and were instantly very concerned that we were going to miss our flight based on how many people were in front of us and how slowly the line was moving.  But, the person walking up and down the line checking people’s tickets who asked him to seemed unconcerned about us missing our flight so either we had nothing to worry about, or he just couldn’t care less if we did.  I figured the former based on how he spoke to the other travelers. 

Eventually we did in fact make it to the front.  We gave the guy our passports and he looked at me and said: ‘you have cookie for me?’  For a moment I was stunned.  I’m sorry, is that a thing?  Was I supposed to bring you a cookie?  I’m so confused…  Oh!  My shirt!  My travel shirt is one that says ‘Come to the dark side, we have cookies.’  I apologized with a smile and no, sorry, I don’t actually have any cookies.  He shrugged and stamped our passports and sent us on our way.  I made a mental note that next time if I travel with this shirt I must carry around cookies to hand out to people who ask.

When we got to our gate, the plane was already boarding, but nowhere near in a final boarding call situation, so we were safe.  We plodded through the line, and eventually made it on to the plane and then… we waited for almost an hour for the pilot to get there.  Apparently he or she was running late as well so we just sat there, and our nine and a half our flight became a ten and a half our seating.

I didn’t mind too much though, I had a lot with me to keep me entertained.  For a long time I listened to podcasts and played Paper Mario: Sticker Star on my N3DS, and eventually I switched to God of War on my Vita.  After that I’m not sure, I guess I watched stuff, I certainly brought more than enough to entertain myself.  Food was good, though I can’t remember exactly what we had since I didn’t take a picture.  The breakfast later on was… a ham and cheese pita fold over thing I think, and the dinner was some sort of chicken or pasta with an ingredient I wasn’t hot on but not so much that I couldn’t enjoy it.  That’s all I remember.

Sitting beside me (Joyce and I had opposing aisle seats again) was a dark skinned French woman who commented to me that ‘c’est froid’, and it was, but I appreciated that.  When we got our breakfast and it included yogurt and water and some other things I wasn’t interested in she had a toddler girl sitting in her lap, and she started pawing at something on my tray but the woman stopped her.  I told her in French that she could have it and the woman gestured to ask if I was sure and I nodded yes and she thanked me and took it.  Later she asked if the girl could have something else I wasn’t going to use and I told her she could.  Before they cleared away our trays I asked if they’d like the water too and they did and I felt good to have shared. 

There was another young child ahead of Joyce, who this time had a seat with nobody in front of half of her seat since she was the aisle of a triple seat with a double seat in front.  She found this very comfortable.  The child in front of her made a lot of noise on the trip but it didn’t bother me all that much.

At one point Joyce went back for some snacks and I asked if she could grab me some Diet Coke if she could get some.  She came back with an entire one litre from their tray and I was mortified.  I stuffed it into my bag and only took it out to drink from it when it felt safe.  She seemed to think it was perfectly fine, and from a certain point of view I’m sure it was, but I was afraid of being ‘caught’ with it nonetheless.

And then finally, we landed.  It was about one in the afternoon, about the same time we left.  Time stands still flying in that direction around the world.  We got out, went through the first customs check fine after using the automated kiosks and just showing it to a border services agent, and then waited for our luggage at the carousel.  Grabbing it we headed out, Joyce having contacted her cousin and him saying that he was on his way to pick us up.

Then, just when we thought it was all over, at the very last checkpoint a white woman and Chinese man border services agents looked at our customs card and told us to step aside into this room, that they wanted to ask us some questions.  Hunh?  Wha-what?  As we waited in a line with four Chinese people in front of us utterly loaded down with luggage, and nobody at the end of this short line doing anything, we waited in confusion.  Eventually Joyce hypothesized that it was related to how little we claimed in value of goods brought back given how long we were away, after she began wondering if this was the room in which they killed Robert Dziekański.

We watched as a fat border services agent who looked a little like Chris Hedges showed up and in black gloves at an agonizingly slow pace carefully deconstructed the luggage of the person at the head of the line.  We were increasingly concerned that the other three people ahead of us would get the same glacial examination before ours finally occurred.  He found a bunch of food in the guy’s luggage and was scolded that he was asked three times to declare and he lied, and that he could be given a big fine but was not going to be.

Then the woman ahead of us went ahead and the younger fitter agent confirmed that he needed a translator and disappeared in search of one.  We watched as he went through her luggage asking questions through the translator.

Then, a short relatively young female border services agent approached us.  I noticed her nametag said Hillier, same as General Rick Hillier but I assumed there was no relation.  She asked us what we had brought back and Joyce said her soaps and a couple other things.  I said I brought back about a dozen bottle openers and a bunch of souvenir coins.  She asked why and I said just for collecting, that one each trip I collect something different.  She said alright, well let’s just run your stuff through the big x-ray machine.  We did and I was a little alarmed at how little shielding there seemed to be on the entry and exit points of the machine.  She was clearly satisfied with what she saw, since she thanked us and sent us on our way.

Phew!!

Joyce’s brother had had to wait a bit, but still met us outside and we loaded into his pick up truck and he drove us to his place where we had parked the car, talking about our trip along the way.  We thanked him profusely, and then got into our own vehicle, happily started it, and headed home.  It was about ten o’clock at night Paris time by now but only two in the afternoon local time and we drove all the way to Kelowna.

We were concerned that we still had summer tires on and it was mid-October at this point.  There had clearly been snow in some parts but there was nothing on the road it was just cold, wet and foggy.  The scariest part was when we were almost at Merritt and Joyce told me that she nodded off, and then refused to pull over to let me drive.  I was between putting things on the stereo and in the absence of stimulus she bobbed her head.  I did my best to keep talking to her and keep her alert, but I was much relieved when we stopped at the tourist centre in Merritt and took over the driving.

I stopped for more beer in Westbank on the way home.  It being Sunday we just barely made it before their closing time at six.  It was surreal seeing the cashiers, odd that they have no idea all that I’m on my way from, the disparity in the universe in my head, and the one in theirs.

And then, we got home, finally.  We spent several hours puttering as we fought sleep, both having so much to do and also knowing we should wait as late as possible to finally fall asleep to try to reset our sleep schedule.  So for a few hours we fought the darkness valiantly but in the end happily collapsed into bed, exhausted, but brimming with memories we’d spend the next few weeks sorting and reliving.