The journey to the airport isn’t as dramatic as I expect it to be, which is disconcerting. My big ass backpack and I catch all of the trains and buses right on time. Even after waiting for an hour in the bunched mass that is the Primera Air check-in line, getting through an extra handsy security checkpoint, and eating an overpriced chicken sandwich, everything was fine. In less than 12 hours, I’ll be back in Paris. I can do whatever I want to do. Anything. Nothing. I’m my own master.
But much like in The Lucky Texan, everything is quiet, too quiet. Just as I get onto the plane, find my seat, and whip out my notebook, a very kind woman gently informs me that I am in her spot. Boy oh boy am I ready for her: “No, no, I’m in the right seat. I’ve got my stub.” We request the flight attendant’s help, quickly realizing that our boarding passes are eerily similar. I think to myself, “Oh great, we were double-booked. Now I have to fight club my way out of this.” The gate supervisor joins us and that eeriness turns to terror when we all realize that the boarding passes are exactly the same. What an interesting predicament. What to do? What to do?
I’ve never actually seen a passenger manifest before, but this mystery can only be solved by such means. “What’s your name?” I tell her. “Oh, it says you didn’t check-in.” Well, that’s funny because I sure as shit am sitting in this seat. “Yeah, it looks like you got her boarding pass. TSA let you through?” Apparently.
Now, I can accept one person making this mistake. The woman’s first name is my last name. What are the odds on that? But three other grown adults, including myself, totally letting me slip through the net? I’m getting on an international flight! This is the time when I want to be scrutinized. The solution? To take my passport off of this plane ten minutes from its departure in order to print my boarding pass. So now I’m sitting in an empty spot in first-class, hands clasped, and more than a little aware of everyone looking at me like I’m a would-be terrorist caught in the act. My heart is racing, afraid that the plane will take off while I’m separated from my passport, the one thing that will allow me entry into a foreign country. The flight attendants are asking people to put on their seat belts and making sure the overhead compartments are securely closed. The captain is speaking over the PA system. And then the gate guardian is sprinting up the aisle with my boarding pass, shoving it in my hands, and disappearing without a word.
When I find my real seat, I have to confess that I am more than a little relieved. I’m sure at this point that my expectation of a travel “disaster” is a total psych out, but something stressful happening at the beginning of a journey makes me feel more confident with my trips as a whole. In fact, I am so comfortable that I am able to catch some shut eye before a rough landing at CDG early Saturday morning. The journey to Paris is harried and frustrating (shout out to that under-served train station–10 ticket kiosks isn’t enough to service the thousands of people coming through it every day), but it finally ends with me going from RER B to the #2 and taking it down to the Belleville area.
Much like my last trip to Paris, after winding through serpentine tunnels, I pop out into the middle of a thriving city. This time it is right into an open-market with people selling all manner of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, clothes, shoes, bags, anything you could possibly want. And I want it all. Swinging the aforementioned backpack around, I elbow my way through the crowd to buy a baguette and two French peaches for about $3. I can’t haggle, of course, because my French is still set to jet-lag, but I do my best. At this point it is time to find the hostel, even though there are a couple of hours before check-in. I’ve never stayed in a hostel before, so I’m not really sure what to expect. This place is nice, though, very cozy and full of plenty of travelers hanging out with their bags, too. An excellent place to eat a peach and watch the rest of American Horror Story: Cult. When the juices run down my arm and onto the couch, another traveler offers me a napkin. I don’t speak Italian. She doesn’t speak English. We both only sort of speak French. We understand each other.
Eventually, it’s 3 and time to go to my room (a single bunk in a mixed 8-bunk room). I’ve got to say, I’m impressed. There’s a spot under my bed for my bag. The bed in comfortable enough with a blackout curtain and a personal reading lamp. After putting things away, I take my toiletries to the bathroom (super clean) and shower off all of the gross travel grime. Glorious. And when I’m finally human again, I fight the urge to go to bed and get dressed with the full makeup monty and head back downstairs. Even if I don’t feel like going out-out, I can still write and have a glass of wine. More importantly, it’s essential that I challenge myself to do things that make me feel uncomfortable (i.e. writing alone, not having anyone to talk to, ordering food in French). Leaving the comfort zone means making mistakes. Tonight’s mistake is ordering a bottle of wine instead a glass (not my fault that wine is so cheap). The server asks if I want one glass or two. Instead of looking like a fledgling alcoholic, I ask for two in the hopes that someone will believe that I’m waiting for someone.
I am embarrassed, looking straight down into my notebook. I work hard on a set of new scenes that haven’t been easy in the last few weeks. With nothing else to do, the words come. I move from the bar and to a table where I can watch all of the comings and goings, staring pensively over the top of my wine glass as though some sort of mysterious femme fatale. This little fantasy is enough to give me the confidence I need to invite the woman sitting next to me to use my extra glass. To my surprise, she happily closes her laptop and we begin to talk for the next few hours. I learn that she is Parisian native just in the bar for the free Wi-Fi. She tells me about the marketing business she wants to start this year. She used to live in Montmarte and tells me where to go. She teaches me French phrases. She corrects the way I say, “un” (you have to smile a little when you say it). She thinks that I’m very kind and warm. I’m happy to have met her.
At 8, I’m more than a little drunk and ready for bed. I say my, “Bon soir,” and try not to stumble through the common area (I don’t even attempt the 6 flights of stairs–shout out to that blessed elevator). I collapse fully-clothed into my bunk, struggling to close the curtain and not laugh at the same time. My head swims as I put the final touches on my daily journal by musing about the hilarity of language and how the human condition is the same everywhere you go. Even when we don’t understand one another, we understand one another. I am proud of myself and the efforts I make. I am ready for this trip.