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Tijuana Jail

Lynn had appointments in Switzerland and Plaisir, France, so this time, instead of having her take a flight or the train, I thought Iíd give her a ride. Her appointment in Switzerland (actually called Confederacy Helvetica, which is what is on all the coins, hence the CH abbreviation which you may have noticed) was on Monday so we left early Saturday for a beautiful ride through Europe. But thatís not what this piece is about.

We spent Sunday in Bern, Switzerland, in the northwestern part of the country. The Alps stretch east to west through the central and southern parts of the country so we werenít in them but we could see them in open areas. Thereís a river, the River Aare, which runs from the south into Bern, makes a right turn, decides that was a mistake so makes a U-turn heading back, and then turns right to continue its northern trek. If you can picture that, it makes for a peninsula extending into the river. Both sides of the river are very hilly so open vistas are plentiful and the views are magnificent. The peninsula is the center of town and located there are, among other things, The Casino, which is actually the home of the Bern Symphony Orchestra, The Swiss Parliament, and on Kramgasse, one of four different names assigned to the main drag going down the hill in the center of the peninsula, is the former home of Albert Einstein where he lived from 1903 until 1905 . He started out working in a patent office because his credentials werenít great and this time of his life was when he was his most productive developing the Theory of Relativity. You can see all the pictures but I wonít write any more about Bern because that, too, is not what this is about.

We left Switzerland on Tuesday morning and headed to Plaisir, a town where we had been once before. This time, though, we spent our first night there in the police station. And that is what this piece is about.

In the U.S. if you want to take a road trip, you get a Rand-McNally Atlas and youíre set; you can go anywhere with confidence. Everything is clearly marked: interstates, U.S. highways, state and local roads. Itís readily apparent which road has which number. The atlases Iíve seen here leave something to be desired. Itís difficult sometimes to determine which number goes with which road (if thereís any designation at all) and because in many cases, highways donít extend very far, the numbers on the map can be deceiving. Then, when actually making a trip, the numbers on the highway are sometimes similar to, but exactly like, what is on the map causing degrees of confusion when traveling at high speed in heavy traffic. The warning that one must bear right can come so close to the execution of the movement that thereís no time to react and to slide over two lanes.

Also in the U.S. roads are marked north, south, east, and west so even if youíre directionally challenged and have no idea which is north from where youíre standing, you can still look at a map and know that when you get to US5, you want to go east. In Europe, you get to the road and you see N27 to Nowheresville in one direction and N27 to Somewheresville in the other direction, and unless you know the territory and know that your destination of Hutzinfutzberg is on the way to Nowheresville, youíre hosed. Understanding all this, I wrote explicit directions in easily readable handwriting for later reference. I consulted my European road atlas, a Benelux/France map (Benelux is a common reference to Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg), a Paris and Paris Metro Area map, and a terrific little thing that someone drew up for Lynn about how to get from the train station in Plaisir (which we knew how to find) to the hotel. We were now prepared to start what should have been a 350 mile trip.

All went well for a long time. What appeared to be an interstate type road on the map turned out to be exactly that in some places but in other places it became a two lane country road and wandered through small towns and villages in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. What we lost in time we gained in scenery so that was a fair trade. Just before our entry onto the road that would take us to Paris, about 200 miles away, we stopped for cheap French gas. Seriously, relatively speaking. It was Ä.15/liter less, about $.71/gallon less, in France than in the Netherlands. That would be plenty to get us to Plaisir. This was the first of oh so many things I would be wrong about.

As we approached Paris, it was about 7 p.m. and we were looking for N104 heading west. Of course, itís not marked west so when we found it and saw there were two exits immediately following one another, I thought that since we were heading north the first would go east (to the right) and the second west (to the left). I thought wrong. Of course I didnít know that for a while. We saw names of places that meant nothing to us and we were only looking for a particular intersecting road. After a while we saw signs for Euro Disney. This was my first hint of a mistake because I know that Euro Disney is east of Paris and we wanted to be on the west side.

No problem. Just get off the highway, go underneath, and head back the other way. Not so fast. We quickly learned that once on a Parisian highway, one doesnít get off so easily. We took the next exit but instead of a street where we could turn around, it led to another highway going who knows where until we finally got off and were forced around a traffic circle until I finally found refuge in a parking lot of a shopping mall. Now we had no idea where we were and it was about 7:45.

We found some street signs and saw that we were near A86. This was good. Although we were east of Paris, we were supposed to pick up A86 on the west side so it seemed like a good idea to get onto A86 and just keep going until we ended up where we were originally supposed to be. It may have seemed like a good idea but it wasnít. What happened was that while we were on A86, we approached a highway intersection where we had the option of taking A6 here or A6 there. A86 was no longer in the picture although it was clearly on the map. The traffic, now at about 8:30, was incredibly heavy for what seemed to be a pretty late hour on a Tuesday evening.

Things start to get hazy now. At one point we were heading to Orly Airport, south of Paris, because someone had given Lynn directions to the hotel from there. After driving a bit, we started to see signs for Charles DeGaulle Airport which is east and a little north of Paris. Somehow, being diligent about directions and even having a compass on my watch, we were once again heading in the wrong direction.

By about 9:30 we actually were near Orly. We came upon a convenience store, like a 7-11, and hoped that we could find someone who spoke English. We were still looking for A86 and had never found it again. The guy in the convenience store said we would see a sign for it right outside the store. We did. Hallelujah! We were almost home. Wrong again. Lynn said she thought we should get sandwiches. I balked a little thinking Iíd rather go to a restaurant when we got to Plaisir which now seemed only minutes away. She was skeptical (good thing!) and we got the sandwiches.

We got on A86 which, according to the map, turned into N286 after a while. Imagine my consternation when I saw we were on N186. Before we could take any corrective action, the problem corrected itself and we were on N286. Who knows how that happened? Shortly we saw signs that we should move into the left lane to stay on N286. I did that. The right lane split off and I noticed a sign telling those that had taken the right lane that they were on N286. We, on the other hand were in Nowheresville. I wanted more than anything to stay on this road and not get onto another until such time as I could negotiate what amounted to a simple U-turn and correct my mistake. I wanted to do this even with the gathering fog. We went a long way until an exit and came all the way back. The fog continued to gather making the signs even harder to read, especially from a distance. I noticed that the loop we had taken was 20 miles. We were both carefully looking at the signs not to repeat the mistake. Not carefully enough. Back we went for the second time around. This time, though, I noticed a teensy weensy sign on the median strip with a red background and a 12 on it. That meant this was A12 and had I been paying attention to the subsequent direction, I would have realized that we had inadvertently done the right thing. We were almost home. Fat chance.

The next mistake was of our own doing. The directions read "go in the direction of so-and-so," not get off at an exit called so-and-so. We had gone in the right direction but when we got to so-and-so, we got off the highway which we werenít supposed to do and immediately recognized the mistake. We attempted to get back on but there was no easy way and by the time we found the highway again and got back on, we were beyond where we wanted to be and there were no exits for miles. When we got off again we saw a sign for Versailles. This was good because we knew that Versailles was between where we were and where we wanted to go. When we got to Versailles the markings disappeared so we went into a bar and got some directions that would get us through town and on the way. This took us right past the palace of Versailles but because it was now about 11 p.m. we thought it best not to ring King Louisís doorbell and pay our respects.

We finally get to Plaisir. Weíre almost home. Right. Because we had now driven almost a hundred miles out of the way, we were very low on gas. A full tank with the 200 anticipated miles was good but with 300 miles now gone we were very low but still with enough to move around Plaisir. We found the train station because we knew where that was but the map that showed the way from the train station to the hotel was terrible. At a bus stop we found a map of town and located the hotel. After the third attempt, we got there. It seemed that the map showed going through three circles and there were actually four but no matter. Here was the hotel. It was closed. They advertised 24 hour service but after 9 p.m. the service is an automated thing in which one slips a credit card for validation. We did that. It didnít work. Another guy approached and he did his. It did work. We tried again with the two cards I carry and the three that Lynn carries. They all failed, European and American. Because we knew that the machine was functional, it was apparent that our cards, all of them, had become demagnetized. Iíve been known to demagnetize hotel keys and the stripes that some cities have on their subway tickets, but never a credit card. And why Lynnís cards were dead was impossible to explain but here we were.

There was another hotel next door and we tried that. They had no room so we went to the hotel where we had previously stayed even though they said they were booked when we were making the reservations. Perhaps they had had a cancellation. No such luck. Itís now 11:45 p.m., there seemed to be no hotels open with any vacancies, our credit cards were suspect anyway, and we didnít have enough gas to go to another town to try there.

Until this point, things had been funny, then not so funny, then funny again, then so not funny to the point that I would never at any time in my life ever see any humor in this situation. As I was standing there next to the car scratching my head and telling Lynn that we had no options, I saw a Plaisir police car. I flagged the cop down. There were three of them in the car and among the three they understood, sort of, our plight. They took us to a hotel. Unfortunately it was one of the ones we had previously been to. One suggested going back to Paris. I showed him my gas gauge. He frowned. I asked if there were any gas stations open and they led us to one near the train station. I thanked them and they left. This place was unattended but one could buy gas with a credit card. I saw a guy nearby doing just that. Gas pumps all work pretty much the same way so it wasnít hard to figure out what to do. I got a message back on the screen in French that my card was rejected. So were the other four. We were now in the deepest of deep pucky.

This gas station was in the middle of a parking lot of a shopping plaza and across from the train station so the area was very open although deserted at this time of night. I looked around for another living, breathing being hoping that maybe I was doing something wrong at the pump. I saw that our police escorts hadnít left the area; they were ensuring that no nefarious goings-on were occurring at the now long-closed train station. They returned with me to the gas pump. The bad news was that we had been doing everything correctly and that the cards were really rejected and we knew now once and for all that we were dead meat. Because we were getting to the bottom of the barrel, Lynn said maybe we should go to the IKEA parking lot and just sleep in the car. I thought this was a patently terrible idea born out of desperation and sleepiness. There wasnít enough gas to keep the car warm, and anyway, I had heard of people who died from either from carbon monoxide poisoning in cars that were on but werenít moving, or from exposure in cars that were off. Neither seemed a pleasant proposition. The temperature was hovering around freezing and besides, who knew what kind of evil-doers were lurking there. They werenít at the train station so maybe the IKEA parking lot was their lair.

Lynn was now getting really desperate. She told the police that she worked at IKEA, that although we had no cash and bad credit cards that we really werenít deadbeats and so would they spot us Ä10 on one of their credit cards and we would return in the morning to repay them. I assume they understood her completely; they said no. She told them we seemed to have no other option than to sleep in the car. They then told us to follow them to another hotel which was also closed, and then they asked if we minded following them to the police station. We wondered if we had now broken some French vagrancy law but we had no choice so we went. When we got there, they said we could stay in the lobby for they night.

Picture the lobby of a police station. Itís fundamentally different from the lobby of, say, the Four Seasons Hotel. There was, at 1:15 a.m., a vacant receptionist desk on one wall and a metal bench, about 20 feet long with a back, on another. The bench was going to be it. I asked the policewoman if I could maybe hit someone and we could get to sleep horizontally on a bed in the jail. She laughed and said we wouldnít want to sleep on those beds. Then we thought about it for a minute. The room was cold, maybe 50į, and we had to keep our coats on, but we wouldnít freeze and we wouldnít be mugged. We thought of soldiers who go for days sleeping on the ground in much worse conditions. We thought of kids fighting and dying in Iraq for a mistake that at least one person, who thinks God speaks to us through him, refuses to admit he made. We realized that this was, at worst, a minor inconvenience.

We tried to lie down on the bench. That didnít work so well because of the lack of pillows and because the bench had small holes in it which provided much needed circulation of the cold air. We thought we would use each other for warmth. Lynn sat up, I laid with my head in her lap, and she then laid her head on my side. It wasnít nearly as uncomfortable as it sounds. Okay, it was, but it worked for awhile. I kept waking up and looking at my watch. It was 2 a.m., 8 p.m. EST and because this was Election Day in America, the polls had just closed in the east. And an hour later when I awoke and looked at my watch, they had closed in the Midwest. And so on. It occurred to me that as bad a day as we were having, somewhere, if things went as anticipated, george f. bush (sic) was having a worse one.

Soon we both developed pains in places we didnít know we had. Then we saw a radiator at the other end of the room which was on so we took two metal chairs, placed them next to the radiator and faced them toward each other and perpendicular to the radiator, sat down, and leaned on each otherís shoulder. That worked for a little while and we drifted in and out of sleep until 5:45 a.m. when we thought it best not to bother trying to sleep anymore. Soon we could leave and get some food.

When it seemed that we were up and moving around, one of the policemen came by to see us. He could understand us and we him. He had started his shift while we were asleep and had been told our story. I really wonder what these guys were thinking of us but thatís something weíll never know. The policeman wanted to know if he could do anything for us because he knew our credit cards were a problem. I asked if he could take me to an ATM which he was happy to do. Much to my surprise, I could get cash from my debit card. It worked! We returned to the police station, retrieved our car, and he gave us an escort to a gas station where I was able to pay for the gas with the credit card. That worked! Things were getting better. We had cash in our pockets, credit cards that worked, and a full tank of gas. While I was pumping and paying for the gas, the policeman was in his car listening to the radio. The sun was starting to shine and it looked like the start of a beautiful day. The policeman got out of his car and from a French cop who just heard it on the radio, I learned that the Democrats had taken control of the U.S. House of Representatives. As an English writer from another century once said, "Allís well that ends well."

See all my pictures of Bern. There are none from the police station!

 

© 2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008