30 August 2010

When I Grow Up, I Want to be a Gendarme

As summer comes to a close, so do things at EVP.  This week we hosted a packed-out camp of Chinese immigrants who live in the Marseille/Nice regions.  Our team had dwindled from 20-something to 4 (with the newly retired director and his wife joining us for dish-duty after each meal).  There were many interesting moments as Chinese culture couldn't be further from French culture!  But that analysis is for another day.

Since it had been a crazy few days and the four of us were leaving between Sunday and Wednesday, we were given Saturday off.  We decided to hit the beach.  Which meant I was driving.

Being the responsible grown-up that I am, I forgot to print off directions.

Thankfully, the other three had been to St. Croix beach several times and so ensemble we made our way to the autoroute and somehow ended up in the right vicinity. 

By this time I was feeling pretty confident in my ability to conduire a stick-shift and even began thinking of the possibility of owning my very own someday.  I started to daydream of old VWbugs or little MiniCoopers.  Red.  Yeah, definitely red.  With one of those --

As we pulled of the exit and rounded the corner for the small town à la plage, my rêver-ing came to a screetching halt . . . as did the car (okay, with a little less screetching and a lot more smootheness). 

There, just meters ahead was a blockade.  Seven gendarmes swarmed the car.  My heart stopped.  All the blood drained from my extremities as one approached my window and asked me to turn the car off.  As I handed him my American drivers license I explained that I only speak a little French and begged him to speak slowly.  He was quite accomodating.  He asked for the carte grise and the papier vert.  The owner of the car had assured me that all the necessary papers were there.  We found the carte grise right away which contains all the information related to the car itself.  But, alas, no papier vert

I'm pretty sure that while I was searching through the stack of papers from the glove compartment the gendarme at my window asked all sorts of questions.  Thankfully A., J. & M. all have much higher levels of French than I do . . . and we all know I can't multitask . . . they calmly answered his inquiries.  I, on the other hand, was starting to feel the panic creep up from where the blood had vacated the veins in my limbs minutes before.  Where is the papier vert??  How do I explain my way out of this one??  What if they arrest me??  What if they arrest all of us??  THIS IS THE LAST TIME I EVER TAKE ANYONE TO THE BEACH!! 

Thankfully, I kept my mouth shut and focused on filing through the pile of official-looking papers in my hands.  Turns out there's a sticker on the windscreen that coinsides with the papier vert, which is simply proof of insurance.  Our sticker was fine.  We were off the hook, and for a brief moment, I was happy to be driving the standard to the beach.

That is until the second gendarme approached my window and asked if we smoked (making a gesture with his hand that implied smoking pot, not smoking cigarettes).  We all very quickly assured him that we do not.  Based on our response, gendarme the second assumed then that we would have no problem exiting the vehicle . . . and so we did.  We four were instructed to open all the doors of the vehicle and then step back as a very large (pony-sized really) GermanShepherd was cautiously led to our little red golf.

If the circumstances had been different, I think I would have instantly found the comedy in watching such a severe looking dog sitting behind the wheel, lounging in the back seat, and pacing circles in the trunk (or the 'boot' depending on where you live).  But in that moment . . . standing awkwardly next to a towering gendarme I couldn't laugh.  I could hardly breathe.  I knew we weren't hiding anything . . . but the fear was still there . . . fight or flight I guess.

Before I knew it, the dog was done and I was back in the driver's seat.  Gendarme the first wished us a pleasant afternoon at the beach, and we were free to go. 

I started the car, and with white knuckles on the wheel we began to roll forward . . . all the while I was praying:  'Dear Jesus, please don't let me stall now . . . not in front of the gendarmes . . . amen.'

1 comment:

Bethany said...

wish I could have been there for that one, my friend...