I apologize for my lack of posts this past week. I was busy completing chapter 2 of Ridesharing: A Novel, and I assure you that the resulting tale makes up for my absence. On Tuesday I rushed out of a straight 9am to 2pm day of teaching (apple and banana in hand, à la Américaine) in preparation for a 3pm ride out of the city. I had to take two busses out to the commercial center where my ride would supposedly meet me on his way up from Nice, a town in the South, and luckily I made it to the meeting point with 20 minutes to spare. I ate my apple at the bus stop sans fork and knife, glaring back at anyone who stared as they passed. Two more busses came by in the interim, lingered for a moment waiting for the snacking girl to board, and then continued on at the wave of my hand. Finally, 3:05 rolled around and my phone began to buzz. I picked up the call expecting my ride to ask for directions from the highway, but instead a cheery voice announced, Katy, it’s your covoiturage driver! I’ll be there at 4, see you soon! I did not have the French words to argue, nor any valid reason to do so, seeing as he could not apparate his car to my location. Ruing the fact that I was now full on poorly consumed fruit, I settled into Memphis Coffee, an overly-decorated and outdated American-style diner serving the most outrageous B.J.’s-style food, to sip on a bitter espresso and chuckle when a man at a neighboring table ordered “The Californian,” presumably a fat-filled “salad.” At four o’clock, as promised, I tucked myself comfortably into the front seat of a nice Citroen (per covoiturage custom, the last passenger to be picked up generally takes the front seat—this supposedly saves time.)
Something is odd. No one wants to know the source of my accent. No one wants to know why a foreigner needs a ride out of Troyes. No one is even talking, except for the odd French-British radio announcer who gives a bilingual traffic report every 15 minutes, and I wonder if the station was chosen to make me feel comfortable (which it does not succeed at doing.) Eventually, I glance back at the two other passengers and notice that one has a big bag and a clear box on his lap. Probably a student. I work up the nerve to ask, So, where is everyone coming from? They are all travelling north from Nice. Cool, I say. No one asks why I am in Troyes. There is an odd smell in the car—something agricultural, but the driver seems entirely the corporate office type. I glance back again. Ah, the clear plastic box perched upon the unshaved youth’s knees is, in fact, filled with three mice. We lock eyes. I am afraid he thinks I am judging his mice, so I say, cute! He smiles and looks away. No one says another word until Late Driver announces he has to stop for gas (I do not mention that he could have gone to the station right next to our meeting point.)
Finally, when Late Driver is off fueling the car and Mice Man is presumably smoking a cigarette, the middle-aged woman behind me finally asks if I am English. No, American, I say. From San Francisco. I always make a point to add that I’m from San Francisco, a city that tends to inspire liberal-leaning conversation with strangers. Strange Woman points out that I’m probably learning a lot of French on my trip. Not really, I say resignedly, as I speak mostly English all day due to my job, but I try to do some reading in French, I add in the hopes she won’t be offended by my imposing of the English language in French classrooms. I’ll bet you love the food, she states without inquiring. Yes, it’s quite good, I say, but not for everyday! It’s so rich. This is offensive. She says I probably have to go to McDonalds every once in awhile to combat the French diet. No, I respond simply, not wanting to get in a political-food policy-stereotypes debate, I hate McDonalds. The conversation ends awkwardly. Late Driver and Mice Man join us. Strange Woman announces to no one in particular that I’m from San Francisco and don’t eat French food. Yup, I say to the air. Late Driver switches from the radio to his iPod, which mysteriously holds only Classic American Rock—whether because of my presence or not, I will never be sure. As we are approaching the Reims train station, Late Driver calls the girl who will be taking my place on the final leg of his journey from Nice to Lille. He tells her we’ll be there in five minutes. She sounds annoyed, and I presume, given the general laws of physics, that Late Driver is also an hour late for their rendez-vous. Everyone wishes me a good stay in France. I wish them all a bonne continuation on their journey, and then I walk very very quickly away from that uncomfortable vehicle.
In case you were wondering, I spent the night in Reims to celebrate my friend’s birthday, and we had a really great pizza-and-wine filled evening, which I followed up with a comfortable sleep-filled bus ride back to Troyes. Surprisingly, I’ve already booked a few more ridesharing adventures for the near future; ten years down the line, it will be much more exciting to talk about my adventures with Mice Man than any ordinary bus ride.