Our story begins with the cancellation of my flight from Paris to JFK Wednesday afternoon.
Four thirty p.m. Wednesday. Arrive Paris Charles de Gaulle Aeroport, proceed to American Airlines check-in, observe AA 121 FLIGHT CANCELED announcement on gate monitors. Call New York travel office, discover seats have been switched to Thursday flights to compensate, home agent updates and confirms the switch. Approach counter to review situation with agent, discover that home agent’s updated reservation removes us from make-good status for canceled flight. Supervisor gets involved, smoothes out situation, switches home agent’s reservations to earlier Thursday departure, confirms overnight stay at airport Hilton.
Five-thirty. Proceed smoothly to Hilton via shuttle bus and check in. Discover empty water bottle in front of door and someone else’s body hair on bathroom towel, begin to suspect that room was tidied (nicely) but not changed over following departure of previous guest. Interminable line at front desk and surly housekeeping staff give strong hint that I must make do.
Six. Assess clothing situation: one day added to trip, 12 hours of travel forthcoming, just completed four days in hottest Paris heatwave in three years. Out of clothes. Decide new garments must be purchased to maintain morale during travel. New clothes are in Paris; I am not in Paris. Proceed to airport train station, board citybound RER train. Train is not air-conditioned. Train gets virtually no ventilation from small open windows. Temperature in Paris is roughly 97 degrees. Temperature inside train is somewhat more than that, and stuffy. Train ride is supposed to be 40 minutes.
Six-thirty-five. Train stops two stations outside of Paris Gare du Nord. Train does not restart. Apologetic-sounding conductor speaks several times about an apparent electrical failure. Not knowing much French, am unable to tell whether the train or the entire RER is broken; sitting on an unventilated train, am unwilling to ask the woman sitting next to me if she speaks English. People disembark, loiter, smoke cigarettes on the platform. Sit on step of train, pass the time with 10-year-old French girl practicing her English on my clothing (“Blue! Orange, white, blue!”). Watch RER security guard board train with masked, energetic pit bull terrier. Wonder if the stopped train is such a bad thing after all.
Seven. Security has departed but train has not. Send desperate email via BlackBerry to Paris colleague looking for options. Three minutes later, train regains electricity and doors shut. Send “never mind the urgent email” email. One hour later, miss call from colleague; shortly afterward, receive email: “Still alive?”
Seven-fifteen. Arrive Gare du Nord, shirt nearly soaked through with perspiration. Want to go to Chatelet les Halles but train seems to have stopped working again. Wander station in a daze looking for clothing store. Peek in Monoprix and leave without discovering large and inexpensive clothes aisle. Hail taxicab, ask to go to Printemps, realize wallet is empty, ask driver in broken French to wait curbside at an ATM so he can complete his fare. Nice driver agrees. Taxicab is air-conditioned and cold. Driver receives huge tip for this fact.
Seven-thirty. Printemps is motherfucking closed. Wonder if maybe Galleries de Lafayette will have underwear. Discover strange Euro-style urban-and-sportswear store on walk, waste entirely too much time looking for desired items, buy the only non-branded T-shirt and white underwear in the building, somehow spend $50 on basics. Try to go to Galleries anyway but it is closed, making expensive-odd-sportswear decision suddenly seem wise. Walk around looking for cold water and find none. Stomach is starting to rumble.
Eight-fifteen. The Italian restaurant discovered in April, which would really be perfect to fix this wreck of an errand, is two metro trains away. Take the trains to St. Germain, discover they are pleasantly hot as opposed to the oppressively hot RER. This is somehow progress. Exit the Metro, look in another Monoprix, find T-shirts for 10 euros and boxers for 7. Buy a surprisingly bad baguette. Walk down rue du Cherche Midi, find Italian restaurant with ease. Restaurant is full. “No reservation? Maybe nine-forty-five.” Ask for recommendation, get pointed to another Italian restaurant not far away. Fatigue is starting to set in.
Eight-forty-five. L’Alto has room, is fairly priced, is attended by welcoming wait staff, and even has an air conditioner. Sit directly in front of A/C unit, commandeer vents, risk pneumonia without care. Order and drink a one-liter bottle of San Pellegrino, am so dehydrated that 33 ounces of water do not create any urge to urinate. Dinner is good enough. While paying for meal, weather turns and thunderclaps ring out. Wonder if at any point I subconsciously thought “It could be worse—it could be raining” and created a jinx.
Ten. Sprint to taxi stand. Paris assumes resemblance to Manhattan as rain intensifies and taxis suddenly disappear. One arrives, climb in, tell driver, “L’hotel Hilton, Charles de Gaulle Aeroport.” The reply: “[French] non.” In best “don’t give me that, I know it’s law” voice: “Oui!” “Non…!” “Oui.” “Ahhh.” Taxi heads to hotel, its passenger thoroughly worried that cab will pull over, take wallet, and leave me for dead (or at least soaked). Rain turns into incredible storm with cloud-to-ground lightning for the duration of the drive. Arrive at airport, taxi driver cannot find hotel. Sees sign, pulls into the service entrance of hotel, apologizes. Pay driver, tip well, run halfway around hotel in downpour to find front door. The worst is over.
Eleven. Home at last, room not quite cold, want water, minibar is locked, Parisians don’t drink tap water, call room service. Eight euro for a bottle of Evian, they say. Perhaps you should go to the bar, it is cheaper. Five euro for 50 centilitres, says the bartender. Perhaps you should just order the room service. Return to room, call room service back. “I just remembered, it is now nine euro fifty.” “Since when?” “Since I just remembered.” Give up, get ice. Watch no television as satellite is down. Unpack, repack, prepare for early morning.
One a.m. Thursday. Sleep.
Five. Alarm sounds, time to go. Head to airport on first shuttle. Arrive so early that the staff isn’t even at the counter. Check in, get breakfast.
Eight. “You’re going the wrong way,” an American woman tells us as we walk from breakfast toward security. “There’s a bomb scare. Unattended luggage.” Wait outside for security to blow up luggage. Proceed to Admirals Club lounge, enjoy a moment of cold air and hospitality.
Ten. Flight takes off on time. In business class, we are treated like the royalty we pretend we are, and the rest of the day proceeds smoothly at last. And thank goodness for upgrade fares, because in the back of the plane, the entertainment system is broken, giving the coach cabin an eight hour flight without a movie. Oh, and a malfunction during takeoff releases their oxygen masks….