Friday, August 23, 2013

in which a kind stranger saves (me from) the night

Pre-adventure question of the evening:
Is gazpacho meant to be drunk or spooned?
The sign at the railroad tracks said, "Danger de mort." Danger of death seemed a little stronger than "don't cross the tracks," as we had been told the sign would say. We had also been told to cross the tracks anyway, after walking down the dark road nestled in the midst of pine trees. As we paused before crossing, after determining that this was indeed the path we had been told to follow, I quipped, “Maybe this is our first travel adventure.” I later decided I’d spoken too soon. I meant to be only joking.

No death was in sight, so we stepped across to the barely distinguishable path on the other side that appeared aimed at the road we could see below. Brooke and Brad were only intending to walk me to the bus stop so I could return home to Aix-en-Provence’s centre ville while they remained behind to recover from their cross-Atlantic flight in the closest hotel they could find to Aix in the midst of France’s vacation month. Thus, the footwear Brooke wore to dinner at the hotel didn’t rank very high on the adventure footwear meter, and she could count the stones through her thin, treadless soles as we tried to avoid sliding down the carpet of loose rocks.

We reached the road, spotted the designated round-about to our right, and as we approached it, finally saw a covered bus stop shelter. Great. Everything’s going according to plan.

We walked closer. Bus #4 was featured along with several others on the side of the shelter. Great. This is the stop we were looking for.

We arrived at the shelter and leaned in even closer to squintingly read the bus times in the dim light of a streetlight. Uh oh. The last bus was scheduled for 9:07. Um, what time is it? Brad answered. 9:17 pm. Hmmm... We began searching all the other bus schedules. Is there anything headed in the right direction that’s still running?

Then suddenly bus #4 entered the roundabout! Salvation! Buses here do occasionally run late. It’s a good thing when it works in your favor. The driver stopped. “Vous allez à centre ville?” I asked hopefully. He shook his head no. He was going in the opposite direction from centre ville. I stepped off the bus dejectedly.

We decided to call the hotel to see if there were any other bus stops nearby. The reception worker who answered knew who I was right away and said she would just pick me up and drive me to the next stop. Great!

A few minutes later she arrived, and Brad and Brooke and I parted ways. I settled into the passenger seat and automatically pulled the seatbelt over me. Peggy (I eventually learned her name, though not how to spell it) took the car out of park, and as I groped for the seatbelt buckle, the beeping seatbelt warning indicated I hadn’t found it yet. “Please buckle your seatbelt,” Peggy said. I gathered it was less about my safety and more about making that noise stop.

She took me to a major shopping center nearby that she later told me closed at 10 pm, so she expected the buses there would run later. I hopped out to check the schedules, and at first I thought we were in luck. But I had momentarily forgotten that 20:00 was only 8 pm, not 10 pm. Another quick scan produced the sad news: No more buses for the night.

I was still too far outside of Aix to walk there. So it seemed my only option now was an expensive taxi. I asked Peggy if she knew how I could call one. She reached for her phone, saying she would call for me. But then she stopped. “I will take you to Aix. I’m not going to leave you here.” “Are you sure?” I asked, adding “I can give you money for gas.” “I’m not doing it for the money,” she replied.

So I gratefully climbed back into her car and tried to get the belt buckled before the beeping noise started but wasn’t successful. Again, “please buckle the seatbelt,” said matter-of-factly. After I successfully maneuvered the belt, I finally introduced myself and asked her name. She was on her way home from work and lived in the opposite direction from Aix, so her good deed wasn’t even on her route home.

I learned that Peggy is from this part of France, but at one point a while ago for two years she worked on the Royal Caribbean cruise line operating from Miami. She had started out working in the bar, but the Jamaican guys, whose English was hard for her to understand, didn’t like working with a woman. When I asked whether it was fun to work on the cruise ship, her answer was mixed as she noted that it was very hard work: 15-hour days, 7 days a week.

She also told me about her two-month road-trip in a rental car up I-95 from Miami to Niagara Falls and then back south again on a variety of roads. What a great trip! She enjoyed it. We discussed how very big America is. And then we were suddenly at the roundabout in Aix on the east edge of the Gare Routière (bus station), south of the Rotunde, where she asked if she could drop me because there was an easy route home for her from this spot. Of course!

I unbuckled my belt, so I could hop out quickly and not detain her any longer, but then she drove further around the circle. So I clicked it back into place for a few more seconds until she had actually stopped. This time I managed to do it before she said anything about the belt.

As I hopped out, aware that “merci beaucoup” in French or “thank you so much” in English were both insufficient for her kindness, she noted in a friendly fashion, “Maybe I’ll see you at the hotel tomorrow.”

Here’s hoping all of our travel adventures turn out so well!

The gorgeous moon as I walked the rest of the way home.

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