France – Day 1: L'Artist de Route
First we boarded the plane, still rubbing the sleep from our eyes, moving down the steps of the terminal into what was not a plane, but rather a bus that would take us to the aircraft. In we packed ourselves, like cattle, unwittingly standing in the cold morning air as it whipped across the Edinburgh runway. We waited for a solid ten minutes before the wrangler closed the gate, and sent his herd moving towards the slaughter – us unable to object to our fate.
We stepped into the strangely-shaped CityJet – wings spanning over the top of the fuselage like a T with the cabin hanging underneath it. We sat. We sat some more. We sat until it was clear we would not be leaving for Paris that morning. Mechanical failures abound.
We disembarked. We again boarded the cattle bus. We returned to the terminal chairs in which we had earlier sat. We were tired, maybe frustrated, but not disheartened. Another bizarrely-structured CityJet would be landing shortly and whisk us away to the City of Light. What was another three hours?
Except for the train connection. Dammit! We would miss our reservation from Gard de Lyon to Dijon and leave Charles Neal dangling. Could we make the next one – the last to arrive at a reasonable hour?
We landed in Paris at 2 PM. This would give us enough time to catch the final express, so long as everything fell into perfect order. But when does that ever happen? Especially in France?
We were first off the plane, the first ones through customs, and our bags were first off of the luggage dispenser. These were all important strokes of luck that could not be overlooked. But we still needed to get from CDG into downtown with a bit of Friday afternoon traffic standing between us. Was it possible? Could someone drive us from the airport to the train station in time for our departure?
We approached the taxi stand, but it was surprisingly vacant. Construction at the terminal had thrown everything into disarray, leading to all types of misplaced services and attendants.
"Taxi, monsieur?" asked a man leaning against the wall, looking at his phone. His eyes dazzled behind his dark features and unshaven face. He was young, mysterious, and he seemed to come out of nowhere.
"Oui," David OG replied. "We're in a hurry. We need to get to Gard de Lyon as soon as possible," he explained in flawless French. "Can you take us?"
"Of course," the man replied, "but we need to hurry so I can get back before the real traffic hits."
It wasn't until we loaded our trunks and fastened our seat belts that we realized we were not in the car with a true taxi driver.
"You want how much?" David OG exclaimed after asking about the fare. "That's ridiculous."
But the man softly insisted, explaining that he was not much more expensive than the standard courier.
"What can we really do?" I said to David from the backseat. "We're already on our way."
The best things in life are rarely free, nor are they cheap, and we soon discovered we weren't simply being taken by a rogue chauffeur skimming customers from the queue. We were in the car with an artist of the automobile – a magician of the road who could maneuver through traffic like a cat traversing the ledge of a building. It was unreal, magical even, and awe-inspiring. Once we had agreed to pay the incredibly high tariff, our driver – l'artiste du route – relaxed his back, composed himself, and began a dance through the Parisian highway that I will never forget.
He weaved in between trucks and trailers like a seamstress leaving perfect stitches in his wake. He shaved the corners of fenders and breezed the back of bumpers as if he knew the precise measurement of each vehicle by heart. Never did l'artiste break a sweat and never did he question his decisions. Each movement was more than an act of faith. Every turn was taken with certainty and never did we fear for our safety or experience any sense of discomfort. Just when I thought he couldn't outdo himself, he would raise the bar, leaving any hope of crescendo to languish further.
"NO!" I screamed from the back, a smile on my face, daring to believe in his abilities.
"Yes," he answered back silently, squeezing himself into a narrow nook or cranny, sending my exhilaration into a frenzy.
When we pulled up to the station, not only were we on schedule for the train, we had extra time to spare (which we spent drinking a beer).
"You see," he told me in English as he handed me my suitcase from the back, "it was expensive, but you are here when you needed to be."
"It was worth every penny," I gushed, barely able to contain my emotion. "You're not a driver. You're an artist – seriously. I've never seen anyone drive like that. Being in the car with you is like watching a master painter create with a canvas. You're incredible."
He smiled politely and waved goodbye. And we made our train.