Running to the Red Light


photo Eiffel Tower 2

When Lauren and I were debating our options for transportation from the airport to our hotel in Paris, we weighed the factors of cost versus comfort with a generous thought given to jet lag and luggage. A taxi would be the easiest, but after having seen that movie Taken, I was leery of handing out our address to anyone who might prove to have a side business in human trafficking. Lauren squelched this concern immediately.

“We won’t let anyone else ride with us, and besides, we’re entirely too old to sell at this point.”  While she made an excellent argument, her hearty offering of logic and reality simultaneously put my mind to rest and sucker punched my self-esteem. The only thing worse than being at risk for the slave trade is being exempt from it due to no precautions that you’ve undertaken other than those assigned by Father Time. So a taxi it was.

The man behind the wheel spoke no English, and in order to uphold the obnoxious American stereotype, we knew a grand total of 20 words in French. He nodded vigorously when we showed him the address and map that Lauren had printed, but once we were strapped into the backseat and careening along the freeway, he began to lose confidence in his former assertions.

“Idhendixu. Ostend icdd wiogn jdidhebndi.” He locked eyes with me in the rearview mirror and seemed to expect feedback.

“Pardon?” One word down, 19 more at my disposal.

“Ieurni unenttding noisierdjicuebeiejdbdidj.”  Hmm. We’d never get anywhere if he kept repeating himself like this. I smiled and shrugged, and he understood that other measures were necessary. He waved the map and printed address in the air and turned his body halfway in the seat to get a better look at me. I guess the functioning premise here is that French suddenly becomes comprehensible with eye contact.

“Gdjdirjrb odidndj hdueidn,” he needed both hands for pointing so the one he was using for the  steering wheel deserted its post.  He seemed deeply concerned by the zip code in the address, so he jabbed at it several times, said “No, no, no!” and then waved his index finger back and forth while shaking his head. It was at this juncture that we almost sideswiped a bus. Another taxi to the right of us got an entire day’s quota from their horn, but our driver was unruffled. Thanks to many years spent in SE Asia, I didn’t even blink. If there was one thing I had learned in Indonesia, you never used the words “close call” since there was no such thing. You either creamed someone or you didn’t. No need even to mention a near miss or you’d spend your entire day yakking about traffic.

“What do you think is wrong?” Lauren asked.

“He seems to think the address is incorrect for our hotel. He keeps pointing to another part of the map for where he thinks it should be.” That’s another thing about my Indo training. After having learned an entire language on the ground from scratch, I was efficient at interpreting meaning without understanding individual words. Or even entire paragraphs.

“Well, there is another hotel from that chain across town, but I hope he doesn’t take us there. It’s in the red light district from what my guide book said.”

Hey, peachy. Nothing like arriving on the doorstep of a brothel at 7am with suitcases. Two fresh American imports reporting for duty.

Our driver realized just how useless we were, so he got on his phone and started chatting with people who obviously had access to satellite feeds and GPS equipment. He flipped through a book of maps about the thickness of the Washington, D.C. phone book and located our zip code while weaving in and out of morning traffic. We tried to snag a motorcycle as a hood ornament a couple of times, but twenty minutes later, we pulled up to the right spot. And thankfully, there were no red lights in sight.

Sunset on the Seine - totally worth the near death experience

Sunset on the Seine – totally worth the near death experience

© 2013 – Traci Carver


24 responses »

  1. Ha! Nice… very funny. I can relate to the red light district issue. I once took a shared taxi from the international airport in Panama City, Panama to downtown, and after dropping everyone else off, the taxi driver kindly informed me that the hotel where I’d made a reservation was in the red light district. I ended up having to trust him to choose somewhere else for me! Oh, and I totally understand about how you might as well not talk about the “near misses.” Very true. :)))

  2. Your post reminded me of several madcap rides through London, Paris and Rome. But never in a taxi. Cliff insists that he can handle driving on the left side of the road in cars with steering wheels opposite ours in the states. In London we aimed for our motel and ended up at Buckingham Palace. In the English countryside we almost got our side-view mirrors zapped navigating the narrow, stonewalled mini-roads.

    In Paris, we drove behind huge puffs of exhaust from buses trying to follow a taxi driver who insisted he could show us the way back to the airport. And in Rome, it helped to have the “bumper car” mentality and and just “wing it” alongside drivers who floor it 1/10 of a second before the light changes green. As the official navigator who knows how to YELL at strategic moments, we made it through unscathed. Jacksonville traffic seemed to orderly and slow too after zooming on the Autobahn and Autostrada. Thanks for prompting these flash-backs in your wild and crazy “Running to the Red Light.” I love how you play the keyboard in French–ha! Truly a fun frolic.

    • If I had been in the car that pulled up to Buckingham Palace, I would have said, “What a great upgrade, hon! Thanks!”

      I actually learned to drive a manual car in Malaysia, so trying to shift with my right hand bothers me. We toyed with renting a car for a few days, but in the end, we opted for trains and walking. Have feet, will travel!

  3. I have only taken one taxi ride in Europe and that was enough for me. The driving was okay, but I spent the whole ride watching those red numbers get bigger and bigger. By the time I reached the hotel my blood pressure was 250/1000. I’m too cheap to ride in a taxi, it is probably one of the reasons why I am constantly lost. I’m looking forward to reading about your trip.

    • Taxis are crazy expensive, but we did try it the other way for phase two of the trip. After dragging luggage up and down about 15 flights of stairs in the Metro, I think the extra cost of physical therapy to repair muscles is far more costly.

  4. Ah France! We have French friends in Normandy so have spent a lot of time driving there, they’re all nuts, all the cars are dented and crossing roads is a scary, life in hands, kind of affair. Funny thing is, for all the horn honking, gesticulating and swearing (in French obviously) they never get out and punch each other like they do here in good old England.

    If it’s any consolation, even when you do speak French, it’s hard to tell what they’re going on about half the time. There are so many dialects and accents and when they get excited they speak at a million miles an hour. I love them all to bits and the most useful phrase I have ever learned is “parler plus lentement s’il vous plais,” or speak more slowly please. I say it about three times a minute when I’m over there.

    • As a person who’s actually learned another language, I felt horrible for going over without even a rudimentary understanding of French. But in my defense, the pronunciation rules are crazy. Why have 4 extra letters at the end of the word if you don’t need them? Seems a waste of characters. So while I loved listening to them speak, I never could make heads or tails from my little phrase book.

      • I’ve never been able to get my head round why an inanimate object like a table or a handbag should have to have a sex. Cars and ships I kind of understand but still

      • True! They should just spay and neuter the whole lot of them and make one big, happy, gender-neutral family of appliances.

  5. Huh. Sounds a lot like driving with someone we both know and love. ROFL And who knows? Maybe you and I SHOULD do Paris in our Georgia escort service outfits. LOL Seems like we might fit right in. LOL

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