I drive up the little one-way street – and husband is standing there directing me into this space between two metal poles and a giant dumpster. I am not exactly the queen of parallel parking… so I attempt it by going “head first” into the space. And the result is that the back of the car sticks out, blocking the road and the traffic behind me. Hubby runs to my rescue. We already have a line of cars behind me… And not only are they behind me – they are ALL the way up behind me. Hubby jumps in – I have turned on the emergency blinkers and he tells me he will handle it. Well, he finds a French stick shift Renault (that had seen better days) – and nothing is intuitive or where you’d expect with regards to the controls. Especially not where reverse might be on this stick. He yells to me: “How do I get this piece of sh.. into reverse?” I explain it the best I know how – and lo and behold – he manages to get it into reverse. Ready to back up- but… he finds he is completely blocked in by the cars that are now beeping – incessantly – deafening behind him… He cannot back up – he is stuck…. At this point the kids and I disappear into the lobby of the hotel – petrified…. Peeking out behind the lace curtains I overhear the father of my children as he is getting out of the car gesticulating wildly: “I GOTTA BACK UP” (New Jersey accent always finds a happy return to Walter’s language, when he is under stress – as does the wild gestures…). The drivers in the cars behind him are revving their engines and beeping even louder. I seem to become instantly psychic as I think I hear the inner dialogue in the French cars:”américains stupides…” However, it seems lost on them that my husband cannot move out of their way as long as they keep fencing him in. His Jersey logic about needing to back up… was lost on the Parisians…. I guess in Paris you have gear that allows levitation? So they beep ever louder… At this point the kids and I are practically hiding – trying to stay completely invisible, as the clerk behind the desk is starting to find the scene outside entertaining and is curiously watching….
Walter finally snaps… he leaves our car completely and runs up to the first car that has planted its headlights right at the beatup back bumper of of our pale yellow rental Renault…. he walks to the driver’s side of the first car, and screams at the heavyhanded beeping driver with sweeping hand gestures letting it be known that this is meant for all in the line who are beeping: “Well, F… YOU!!!” The kids and I in the lobby look at each other, and in one terrifying moment we see the headlines from the next morning’s paper flashing before our eyes: “American loud-mouth lynched in Paris!” And then our oldest son starts laughing uncontrolably…. Our youngest chimes in – and soon all four of us are laughing out of control… The absurdity of the situation combined with the absolute fear of death – laughter seems to be the only way to deal….
And much to our surprise – suddenly the beeping in the street outside stops – the cars collectively back up just enough to allow Walter to get out and the lynching is averted! Walter is last seen turning the corner with the “tail” of Parisian cars at a respectful distance behind him. And then there is silence…. The kids and I have tears coming down our cheeks from laughter – but after 10 minutes have passed – we start to worry. Where is our beat up pale yellow Renault, with the steaming New Jerseyite in it? Where is the love of my life…?? He was supposed to just circle around the little system of one-way streets and end up coming back to our hotel… At this point new headlines start to appear in my consciousness: “Lonely and Lost American Crashes into the Eiffel Tower”.
After about 15 minutes we see him turn the corner of our little street and come up towards us. The emergency blinkers are still going – and he also accidentally has turned on the windshield wipers in his fogged up state – and unable to know what he had done – they are going at warp speed. Or maybe it is his attempt at levitating the car?
Anyway, as he pulls up – we throw our suitcases in, the kids jump in and away we go with me reading simultaneously from maps of Paris as well as the manual of the car to figure out how to turn all of this blinking and wiping off – it is a clear, sunny day after all…
In all of its chaotic frenzy – it is one of our favorite memories as a family. We still laugh heartily when we think of it. And it is a standing joke among us when we have to back up out of parking spaces – “I GOTTA BACK UP”
I guess in vacations as in life you plan and try to make everything go smooth. And then something completely unexpected happens that throws all plans away and scares you! And sometimes this very unexpected and terrifying event becomes the best memory of all, as you handled it, managed to survive and find your way through the one-way road system – beepers, bleep’ers, blinkers, wipers and all!