Monday, April 07, 2008

The 82

Monday. Paris was like an ant-hill that someone poked with a stick.

The Olympic Torch was trying to pass through Paris this afternoon, and the anticipated pro-Tibet demonstrations forced the cancellation of the procession. It would have been busy enough if there had been no political repercussions.

I witnessed only the ripple effect of the protests.

I had an afternoon appointment at the American Hospital in Paris, and although I knew vaguely that protests were in the works (I've been diligently working, alas not reading much news), I know the route of the #82 bus from St. Francois Xavier to to Neuilly, and assumed it would skirt the manifs.

Wrong-o. Instead, the 82 seemed to be driving into the epicenter of activity, or at least following closely behind. There was certainly an element of mayhem and congestion in surface transportation in the middle of the city. I could hear the RATP dispatcher constantly updating the bus driver on the best detours to take. In our case, however, the dispatcher sent us straight into the action. Which meant, for us, No Action.

At the beginning, I was engrossed in a book, a luxury I could afford since I knew I was staying on the bus until it reached its terminus. Then, haphazardly, I looked up and realized that instead of crossing the Seine in front of the Eiffel Tower, we were in front of the Musée du Quai Branly, at a dead standstill.

That's OK, I thought. I had allowed plenty of extra time to reach my meeting. I stuck my nose back in the novel, and decided to be zen about something I could do nothing about. I paid little attention to where we were heading, but figured we'd soon be in the 16e arondissement heading for Neuilly.

Much time elapsed, and I finally looked up to see where we were. CRS vans seemed to line every street. (Crawling along so slowly gave me ample time to study the CRS officers' uniforms. The plastic sleeves look like skinny black armadillos. Ah -- armadillos: armada. Got it.) I didn't recognize our location until we reached the next intersection. What?? Avenue George V? Oh no, we were in total retrograde, and I'd been on the bus... how long? I looked at my cell phone for the time. Damn, I was already late for the appointment. I'd already been on the bus for an hour to reach a place that I reach on foot in under thirty minutes, and nowhere near my destination. I called to report that I was running late.

Finally we inched our way to the Arc de Triomphe. There were tired protesters holding Tibetan flags, crossing the street. The CRS vans raced ahead of us, on to their next destination. I felt weird, as though I should be having concerns other than getting to my appointment on time. Concerns about Tibet; concerns about the tradition of the Olympics. But, I justified to myself, this is Paris; if one stopped for every cause that was being protested, nothing would ever be accomplished.

Some passengers had asked to get off the bus so they could try swifter means of transportation. But police were blocking some streets and sidewalks even to pedestrians. And if I know anything about my life, I know that Murphy's Law is the ruling constitution; so I decided to stick it out on a bus that, come hell or high water, was going to end up at the American Hospital.

The gods said, Ha!

After heading all the way back to the Seine (which we'd crossed a half hour earlier) and then finally picking up the regular #82 bus route, the bus' PA system made a weird pre-recorded announcement. "This bus has for a terminus Vauban-Hotel des Invalides." Whoa, wait a sec, that's where I got on! I ignored the message, assuming that it was a technological error.

But then, we arrived at the stop at the Palais des Congres and the bus auto-announcement came on: " Terminus -- all passengers are invited to get off."

Wee-mahk-a-bull! The other passengers who had stuck it out with me were fuming. We had to get off and wait for the next bus, five minutes later. This is no small sacrifice when you have snagged and settled into a comfy, non-priority-for-others forward-facing seat with a good book.

Resigned, we stood in the brisk afternoon breeze, complaining aloud. Finally the next #82 arrived; we boarded and barely mumbled 'bonjour' and didn't offer to show our tickets to the bus driver; he KNEW that we were pissed.

Then the bus crossed over into the leafy lanes of Neuilly, and Paris seemed a distant memory.

At my appointment, the amazing part was how understanding they were that I arrived an hour and fifteen minute late. "Ca va se calmer, sans doute," they said when I offered my profuse apologies.

Later, heading back home on the #82, the bus once again made a slight deviation in the route, this time offering passengers the option to disembark and choose another means of transport. I stayed on board.

On avenue Bosquet, stalled now in regular rush-hour traffic, the oncoming bus stopped in the lane next to ours, The two drivers chatted briefly through the drivers' windows. The male chauffeur in the opposite bus was holding a Chupas lollipop in his hand. "Oh, is that for me?" asked our female driver coyly.

He handed it to her through the open window, and drove on.

Just like passing on an Olympic torch, I thought. We made it.

Yellow shows the regular bus 25-minute route.
Green shows our torturous route throught the epicenter of the protests.
Pink shows the route after we were dumped at the Palais des Congres.


David said...

I won't teach you anything that you haven't learned yesterday but when there's a city-wide event whether it is a huge protest, an Olympic torch coming to town or both ;-)
Bus = not a good idea.
Always prefer the metro in those cases...

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Excellent advice, David!

Usually I check the Prefecture de police website for traffic updates and areas of planned manifs, because I really do love to take the bus. And lacking that, there are usually notices plastered onto the bus stops informing passengers of expected "perturbations" -- but, oh well, it was good drama! If I'd been smart and taken the metro, I wouldn't have been in the wake of all the events.

The Late Bloomer said...

I love the lollipop touch at the end of your story! You couldn't have made that one up if you tried, huh?! ;-) And tying it into the Olympic torch visual -- brilliant!

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