Road Trips with Joffre: Part 3
DISCLAIMER: Dad, I didn't write this one either. Probably, just don't read any posts involving cars or road trips.
The Final Chapter : Bonnieux to Bordeaux
Someone really should have taught me how to change a flat tire BEFORE I left the country. And while I was at it, I probably should have learned French as well. Two skills seemingly unrelated, however, as it came to be, I was in need of both of them at the exact same time.
The morning started off more than fine, with the smell of excitement and promise in the air. Putting on my favorite gypsy dress in order to coax that joyful freedom out of me (as I often did) for this 7 hour road trip, I set off from Bonnieux with Bordeaux in my horizons. Joffre and I were getting along quite well and I gave him a pat, the way you would an unreliable horse, to let him know that he was doing a good job and in hopes that this reassurance would keep him from bucking you off in the near future. Cursing him for his foolish errors and apologizing for mine, our usual banter carried on much the way it always did for the first hour of the trip.
No sooner had I settled into confidence with Joffre, he decided to crap out on me. Waiting at a red light, as he had instructed me to do, I then inched forward as it turned green (never truly sure who had the right of way, where I was turning, etc.) A loud, startling explosion noise, sounding much like a race car junkie with a crap car flexing his muscles through his exhaust pipe, had me searching behind and around me as I slammed on my breaks. I saw a motorcycle stopped at the red light next to me, but he was looking at me?
I carried on slowly making the left as Joffre had told me, and felt the road rumbling underneath of me. Well, I was either on the rockiest main road that ever was, or that explosion had been one of my tires. The rumbling didn’t stop and I saw more passerbys starring at me, so I pulled off onto the side of the road. It wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a beautiful road, nor did it carry any clues that I was in France. Plain low cement buildings on either side with small inner city looking store fronts. I got out of my car, suddenly completely conscious that my gypsy dress and headband did not help me fit in in this town.
It was the front right tire. Completely flat. With no clue how to find a spare or fix the flat when I did, I opened the trunk and started pulling on the different levers to try to open up the floor. It wouldn’t budge. I scanned around me and immediately caught the eyes of a Mexican-looking guy (are there Mexicans in France?) smoking a cigarette and watching me amusingly. He was sitting in a plastic blue chair that looked like it belonged in a kindergarten classroom, outside of what looked like a tiny 711 knock off, with tobacco and keno posters covering the windows. I walked towards him silently repeating the mantra in my head I always did when I desperately needed someone to speak English (please speak English, please speak English, please don’t be a serial killer, please speak English.) He did speak a bit of English, but barely. His genuine smile was reassuring and he nodded at my hand gestures and failed attempts to explain that I didn’t know how to change a tire. Nodding surely because he had been watching me and clearly this crazy American girl dressed in outlandish gypsy garb could not know how to do such a thing.
He looked at the tire and then opened the trunk as I had done, trying to open the floor. Stopping, and glancing under the car, he said, “No tire,” with the cigarette still in his mouth. My jaw dropped. Well, apparently rental cars in France do not come with spare tires, among other things, because that makes perfect sense. The man, his name was Momo, (which I pronounced as Mohamed the entire time until he wrote it down for me when I left), gestured me to follow him while he called the rental company for me. It seemed that they had told him that they would come in 10 minutes, which is what I believed, but looking back, that couldn’t have possibly been what Momo had said.
After 25 minutes, Momo called again for me. But being 12:15 now, the French were eating lunch and everyone else, stranded or not, would just have to wait. I wondered if the police and hospitals here had that same policy. Everyone seemed to. So, I sat with Momo outside of his shop in a blue plastic chair with strawberry cartoons on it, and looked out on to one of the ugliest streets I had seen in France yet, smiling at every passerby that looked at me, as if this was exactly where I always spent my afternoons; with Momo outside of his shop, and yes, I always came dressed like this. We couldn’t understand much of each other, but Momo understood that I needed help and I understood that he was kind and that was enough. So, we faked the rest and laughed at each other’s jokes pretending that we understood them and hoping that they were indeed jokes.
After 45 minutes, we called the tow company again, but they were still eating, so we were still waiting. Momo’s friends had now joined us and I sat there forcing so much confidence, that I was sure it had turned my skin that Spanish hue, my hair dark, my dress into jeans and my headband into a baseball cap, blending me in to the rest. After previously declining, I motioned to Momo’s cigarette and decided to smoke with the Mexicans in their blue chairs, because, well, when stranded in Avignon with a flat tire and French Mexicans, why would you not smoke cigarettes with strangers in blue chairs? What else are you to do with French Mexicans? We had no other common ground to talk about and it looked like I was here for a while so I had better settle in. So that is exactly what I did, one deep breath and I was perfectly content here with the blue chair gang and their cigarettes. Simply letting the story write itself.
Two hours, two red bulls, and three cigarettes later, the tow truck finally arrived. In that moment, watching Joffre strapped to the gurney, I felt bad for cursing the bastard earlier. It wasn’t his fault – the flat tire at least. Without an ounce of English, he took us back to the garage in silence.
Through means of translation apps (thank you Steve Jobs), and sign language type reenactments, the garage workers got the car on the lift and Enterprise on the phone. Turned out they didn’t have the correct tire, so I was going to have to pay for the flat, get a taxi to the train station and a replacement car there before the rest of my 6 hour trip. It also seemed that there was no Kristen Thomas in the Enterprise system; either that or there were 200 others like usual (thanks Mom and Dad), so that meant no record of the insurance I had purchased. No daddy or lover to swoop in and sort out the mess, all alone in a foreign land, I was finally going to have to learn to fend entirely for myself. On the edge of panic and the brink of tears, I took a deep breath and decided to embrace it all, choosing to live the chaos and let the book go on as it may.
After many phone calls and what seemed to be hours, they found that I had purchased insurance (thanks to the little voice always in my head that is my Father), and I wouldn’t have to pay for any of it. I packed up all of my things, which were strewn about Joffre’s insides, and we said our last goodbyes. Looks like we couldn’t make it all the way to the end, but we had a good run.