Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Metro escapade

Two Tuesdays ago, after dropping Maylin off at school a little earlier than I normally do, I rushed off to the Porte de Champerret metro station with exactly thirty minutes to get to my first French group lesson in a long time. I hurriedly inserted my ticket into the turnstile and thought I saw the red light come up, which means you need to stop, not go through the turnstile, and visit the ticket agent at the counter to see what's wrong with your ticket. It was probably an old ticket that I used accidentally, but I didn't have time to stop for anything (I HAVE to be on time for class...for everything). I looked back quickly to see if the agent noticed anything and since he didn't glance my way, I just hurried down the stairs to the platform to wait for the next train.

The ride was uneventful. I had to get off at St. Lazare to transfer from line 3 to line 12. The station at St. Lazare is huge -- it's a major transfer point, and also has access to the big trains that take you outside of Paris to the rest of France and beyond. It always feels like a 10-15 minute walk to get to line 12, and with all the construction going on and the poor signage which is customary in France, a tourist would have gotten completely lost. There's a spot on the way where I'll often find some confused-looking people, spinning around slowly, looking for a sign that will help clear the confusion. Sometimes, it's hidden near the ceiling behind some pipes and electrical wiring, or it's hanging by a thin chain, or it's just not there and you have to flip a coin. But before you reach the Bermuda triangle, you have to take a detour through the platform of line 13 to get back on the path towards line 12. You're almost there when you reach the bottom of the stairs that wind down to the right. Boom -- surprise! There are three agents there with their handheld scanners to check to see if your ticket is valid. I ran into these guys before, but I had totally forgotten about them. I had actually thrown away my bad ticket at Porte de Champerret, but it wouldn't have helped anyway even if I had had it. The man who asked for my ticket didn't wait for me to produce one, but went on to the woman behind me, who had problems with her monthly pass. I made a poor effort to show I was trying to be helpful -- pretending to not know any French, "I threw my ticket away -- in the 'poubelle.'" He impatiently replied that he couldn't understand me, and continued to figure out the situation with the faulty pass. There was a female agent writing a citation to another woman. After the citation was completed, the woman walked away and the agent and I just blankly looked at each other for a moment. She looked like she didn't care what I did, or she didn't know that I was a ticketless passenger, so I just walked away quietly until I was out of their sight -- then I bolted, ran like the wind, until I reach my platform. Just in case they were following me, I walked down to the furthest point and tried to change my appearance the best I could (as I learned from a Pink Panther movie I watched the previous week) by taking off my red backpack and my hooded black jacket. I faced the opposite direction and, fortunately, some people made a little crowd near me, obscuring me further.

The train arrived, I got on, the doors closed. I was free.

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