Saturday, April 09, 2005

Now Hiring: Narcoleptics

An announcement now frequents the airwaves in the metro: "Attention passengers! The Carte Orange is modernizing! The monthly pass is now available as Navigo. Sign-up at the ticket window."

Navigo: a metro pass that magically allows you to slide through the turnstiles without having to slip your ticket through the machine. Just keep Navigo in the bottom of your bag, and slide it across the sensor.

This new and exciting technology was previously only available to those possessing a yearly card. Having a regular Carte Orange, I was jealous. So naturally, I found this new announcement riveting.

The next morning, I left for work a little early so I could stop by the ticket window and pick up a pass. When I arrived at les Halles, I found the ticket agent sleeping soundly behind the glass.

I cleared my throat and waited. Nothing. A man came up behind me. The ticket agent began to snore. I tapped on the glass. The man only pitched forward a little and began to snore into the microphone.

My fellow commuter and I looked at each other. We tapped on the glass again and listened to the snoring a few more minutes before giving up. I let the man follow me through the turnstile, the agent’s amplified snoring growing fainter as we disappeared down the hall.

Field Trip

At Pigalle, a group of schoolkids boarded the Twelve, shepherded by their frantic teacher.

“Everybody grab onto something. Emilie, don’t hold onto Valentin, he doesn’t count as a stationary object. Move over next to Stéphane and hold onto the pole.”

I stood in the corner of the car. The influx of first-graders flattened me against the wall. The car was instantly full. The teacher was young but prematurely aged--frazzled, early-mid career, still energetic. She packed three kids under each arm and heroically squinted up at the metro map on the wall. The kids, massed together around the seats, were the same height standing up as the adults were sitting. The general effect was that of a perfectly trimmed but heterogeneous lawn. Kids chattered, bobbing back and forth as the car rattled on towards St. Georges. Commuters smiled.

Standing next to me were two women. They eyed the field of young Frenchies and frowned. Said purple lipstick to Bon Marché shopping bag:

“Paris is okay at night but it’s hell in the daytime.”

Friday, April 08, 2005

Calmly Now

Thursday, packed car, rush hour. Commuters looked wearily at those occupying the seats. Four of the seats were filled by rowdy middle school kids who jumped around the area as if trying to rock the metro onto its side. Disdain clouded adults’ faces. The kids were far too energetic to necessitate seating.

I could read the complaints on the commuters faces: I had to work an eight-hour day. I slept three hours last night. My back hurts. I have to ride fifteen stops.

Soon, one of the boys began screaming, and with each yelp, sprung three full feet into the air. No sooner than I had exchanged a frown with a nearby woman, a man closeby leaned over them.

“Oh! Can you calm down for five minutes?! You’re on the metro, and the metro must be calm!”

The boys snickered, heads hung low. One of them whispered to another.

The man grabbed the culprit by the collar with one hand, and with the other, reached into his jacket. He whipped out a leather business card holder, and shoved his credentials under the boys face. “You little asshole making fun of me? You see who I am? You like that? Want to take this right out onto the quai and talk about it? Oh, not so funny is it now, you little shit? Who’s laughing now?”

The man released the kid and turned back to his newspaper. The pre-teens were silent. Finally, the girl of the group said quietly, “What did it say on the card?”


Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Wait

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Pole Dancing

Rush hour – no seats. Even with my super Seat Vulture powers, I’m stuck standing. Clinging to the pole, which after a full day of being clutched by various hands, has become a germ paradise. A veritable biosphere, a bacteria culture, seething with all kinds of surprises – sticky patches, interesting streaks. Luckily, I’m tall enough to explore the outer regions of this urban ecosystem, the cooler, polar zones located above head level.

The worst pole moments are those generated by Pole Pirates. Not content with simply holding the pole to maintain equilibrium, they feel the need to hug it. Caress it, if you will. Smother that pole with generous lovin’. Rub your backs on it. In short, prevent any and all other riders from coming near.

Recently I suffered a traumatic pole-jacking involving a huge smelly man in a brown leather jacket. Without warning he leaned sideways onto the pole and before I could recoil, my hand was buried in the rolling plains of his body. The retreat operation consisted in ungluing my hand from the pole, then extricating it from his generous, doughy flank. The pole was, unquestionably, his territory. And not worth fighting over, anyway.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Passenger Love

Usually we passengers travel as if alone on the train, faking obliviousness. We read, listen to music, or stare at our umbrellas. The only acknowledgment of other passengers comes in the form of moving body parts or bags, making room for the influx of commuters at stations.

Sometimes, though, braking trains warrant passenger contact.

The One's design is different from the other trains. It features the same four-seat areas, but also, a group of six seats whose backs are flush to the wall. The passengers in those seats travel sideways. Between these opposing seats is standing room, complete with bars hanging from the ceiling to ensure balance.

This afternoon, I was lucky enough to secure one of those six seats. Not a prime location since people stand directly in front of you, but a seat just the same. The One rattled on.

The passengers in front of me were expert commuters; they ignored the handles and poles, chatting on their cell phones and reading the day's paper.

Until it came: the emergency brake. The populus in front of me fell, hard. We six suddenly found passengers in our laps. My businessman and I exchanged panic-stricken looks. He leaped back to his feet, as did the other fifteen passengers in my area.

Once stable, he smiled. The others chuckled as they put away cell phones and papers and gripped the bars tightly. Excuse mes and pardons were exchanged. I found myself smiling, if only briefly, with my fellow passengers. I looked them straight on, and they did the same.

Sunday, April 03, 2005


I can pick these out before they even open their mouths. Junior Year Abroad. They rumble up and down the Champs Elysees in packs of three or four, armed with Vuitton knock-offs and Daddy's credit cards. On the street they blend into the general crush of people, but on the metro their camouflage vanishes. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Traci.

Warning signs:

-- If headed for weekend in Cannes to visit NYU boyfriend: bright red or blue North Face backpack, complete with plastic water bottle swinging to and fro, cow bell style. Because they’re going to dehydrate on the EasyJet flight. Because France is a dangerous, dirty country where the water is riddled with bacteria. Gross!

-- Valley Girl English.

-- If cutting class during the soldes: shopping bags from the Galleries Lafayette, heaped to overflowing with smart blouses and cute skirts. Because the Gap doesn’t sell things like this. Because Daddy gave me his credit card.

-- Triple chins.

-- Male version: North Face again, this time in fleece form. Pants three sizes too big. Last haircut dates from four months ago. Optional accessories: baseball cap (ragged), athletic sweater, ratty sneakers, bleary-eyed buddy from State U who just disembarked from Amsterdam and is still looking for the next coffee shop. “Whoah, dude!” soundtrack not included.

-- Body shape-inappropriate clothing. For JYA females, this means not enough fabric, stretched over too much flesh. Ominous, welling midsection. Look out, it might overflow.

-- Sweatpants.

If confronted with JYA, best plan is to scowl and look French. And hide the English-language novel sitting innocuously on your lap.