Lost and Found
© Copyright 2020 by Shana Bestock
"I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it's very difficult to find anyone."
"I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!" - The Hobbit
The last week of my first European adventure - undertaken at a moment of extreme personal loss and anguish of identity, a mid-life rediscovery of discovery and the revalation of Europe in general - I returned from a morning walk in Toulouse to find my hosts' car gone. Stolen. Disappeared, on my watch. In the trunk (or the boot, since this was an English sort of car) was my suitcase. In the suitcase, for safekeeping as I was wandering around Toulouse wishing I were already back in Paris, was my passport.
In brief, the bones of the story: passport in suitcase. Suitcase in car belonging to host family with issues (the family, not the car). Car in Toulouse. Car stolen/towed/disappeared. Epic adventure in which host family proves themselves completely inept at adulting, Shana wears clothes for sunshine in thunderstorm, spends 6 hours walking Toulouse, 2 hours at impound lot, 5 hours at police station, 5 hours in crazy sketchy hotel, makes it to Paris without passport. Shana spends 3 days with friends, but without phone, computer, passport, clothes, raingear, meds, and any comprehension of time or space. Being a credit-card carrying white US citizen works in her favor, and Shana makes it home having incurred more than twice the whole cost of the 6 week trip in a matter of 2 days.
The story doesn't quite end there, but back home in what she now understands as the most beautiful place on earth - Seattle in the height of spring – Shana tries to write down the events in order to understand the story....
I had never traveled with a car before, and the luxury of being able to leave my stuff safely secured inside - no plodding to the hostel and begging for safekeeping mercy like I did in a small Spanish Andalusian town - was delicious.
I thought about putting my passport around my neck, but one never knows what could happen when walking around, and it felt safer in its designated pocket in the red suitcase tucked neatly in the boot of the Alfa Romeo. Besides, I always diversify - ID in my skort security pocket, credit card in my wallet around my neck, passport in the car - it all felt right.
I also decided to leave Anna's phone in the car. Now, let us review: the car belonged to Anna and Nick. I had been using it to drive the family while Nick is in England, as part of my job as househelper-in-exchange-for-free-lodging. Nick is returning to the Toulouse airport at 5:30pm, where I will meet him and he will hopefully give me a ride to my airport hotel before heading home. Meanwhile, I am taking the opportunity to go in early to Toulouse proper, park the car and have a nice walk around.
The phone belongs to Anna. It is a very old, very cheap cell phone. Not smart, not flip. Nick will call me on it if there are any problems.
My own phone is not really a phone anymore, having suffered the premature demise of its cheap and unreliable Lycamobile French SIM card. It takes pictures, and accesses the internet via wi-fi, and I've downloaded Toulouse on google maps so that hopefully I can get a little direction offline.
I have on my person:
Black Rick Steves travel backpack with coffee mug (water bottle disappeared in Ronda), a little protein powder, an orange, a tea bag, two caffeine pills, a band-aid, a little baking soda in a pill bottle (for acid emergencies), two tums, 3 Tylenol, 1 magnesium tablet, half a packet of EmergenC, and the lifesaver of all lifesavers - a large bag of raisins, almonds, and hazelnuts which I am saving for the flight but I stick in the bag because I was raised on the Ten Essentials and since I'm missing several others, I figure these will make up for it.
A skort that is no longer black, long green Smartwool socks that are barely holding it together and sport some serious holes (the weather is supposed to get warm and I imagine taking them off very soon), sandals, sport bra, camisole, base layer, athletic shirt, a really ugly yellow puffy jacket that I really don't ever want to wear again but insists on being a great lightweight, warm, packable layer, and fleece hat. Oh, and sunglasses.
My wallet, which includes a 10 Euro bill, an AmEx card, my drivers license, 2 Paris metro tickets, half a Starbucks Via packet and a Starbucks card (?!) my house key, the car key, and my phone-which-does-not-make-calls.
These are the given circumstances of my return at 10am to where I parked the car.
Which, as I have foretold, is not there.
What happens when I do not see the car?
First, I recall a sense of frustration. I know I parked it here, and it is not here, therefore my awesome spidey direction sense is wrong. I recall saying to myself in the morning - you can't lose the car because you parked it in sight of these findable, notable, tourist-attraction of a church. I start circumnavigating the church and it's very clear to me very soon that I was exactly right in where I remembered parking it, as this new territory is completely wrong. I circumnavigate back, past where I parked, retracing the steps of my morning walk. Yup, that's what I did. Nope, the car is not there.
I look more closely at the parking lot that has sprung up in my absence. I try and visualize this same patch of concrete in the early morning hours, when it was just me and those two other cars parked by the sidewalk. I hope my eyes and see a streetsweeper cleaning the area that serves as a through-passage now that the other patches of road have become parking lot. Pennies drop - not just a single penny, but a jackpot of pennies showering down upon my head.
The car is gone. It must have been towed.
Deep breaths. First move - ascertain towing. Approach French street workers; they speak no English, and I'm not sure they even know much of anything. Who does? Where is police station? Shrugs, more shrugs, no effort to even try to help. I feel like I'm on a customer service call that's unhelpful and move off quickly.
I know I have to find where they tow cars to. I go into a very nice coffee shop that's doing a brisk Sunday morning trade in delicious aromas. There are comfy couches inside and cafe tables outside, an a wif-fi connection secure in the cloud. I ask for the wi-fi code and start to cry. It's funny, how you can be keeping it together until you have to talk to another human being, and then the keeping it together somehow gets harder and your voice betrays you. I'm not ready to leverage tears in pursuit of assistance just yet - what I want right now is to keep it together so these kind people will help me as they juggle plates, cups, coffee, orders, and their own personal dramas.
They give me the wi-fi code. I send a quick and dirty email to Anna explaining the situation and telling her to send me the car registration number ASAP. I must have tried to call Anna, but there must have been no answer. I can't actually remember making that call. It is at this point that I remember my smartphone turns into a pumpkin of idiocy if it does not get recharged eventually, and that particular brand of panic actually settles me down into cold, hard, fury at my situation. Right now I'm thinking this will be a crappy day that will end in an ungodly amount of money being paid to a tow company. They furnish me with a police station number that doesn't work. I try and look one up online - it's all very confusing and takes a while. Let's skip that epic saga. What feels like forever later, I am able to call the police. Do you speak English? No, no one here speaks English. Where is my car towed to (google translate helps me out here)? Frenchfrenchfrenchfrenchfrench. What do I do? You come here. You are open? Yes, of course, you come here.
So I do. I fill my coffee mug with water from the cafe, return their phone, and follow google maps for a brisk 20 minute walk to the police station. I'm impressed that it's there, that I find it, and I am less impressed with the charm of Toulouse. The day is still warm, and my feet are hot but not sore.
The police station doors are locked. There are people inside, and indeed people outside, who look like they are waiting to get in. I push and pull on the doors to no avail. Finally the people outside make it clear to me that they will let me in, they are open, I just need to wait. I don't do waiting. There are no tickets to pull, no one understands I'm on a timeline, Let Me In!! I'm so adrenalinized it takes me until I'm inside to realize that they keep the crowds down in by holding folks out, and buzzing them in when someone else leaves.
After an interminable wait being out, I'm in - and I wait again. Finally, a young police offer with a punk haircut who looks like she belongs in an indie band beckons my approach. I show her the google translate on my phone with the situation. Google is apparently not so good; there's a lot of confused looks between her and her colleagues behind the desk. I give her Anna's number, tell her to call, but there's no answer, only the machine. Can you call the tow place? Yes, but I need the registration number. Can you ask them about the red Alfa Romeo? Well, yes but you need the registration number. Then it's all a blur - there's a nice man who steps forward out of the waiting throng to help translate (but who clearly wants to leave as his business here is done), and we all figure out that I have to go to the tow place if I want to find out if it's towed, and the police lady gives me a tiny slip of paper with the address printed, and it's waayyy the hell and gone, and I start walking somewhere - I can't even remember what my game plan was at that point - until I see a cab and sprint towards it and it starts to move away and I sprint faster and scream and make it to the cab and fall in.
The cab is so cushy, and I almost want to fall asleep as we navigate out of the pleasant city center to the generically gritty strip of car lots and strip malls to the tow lot.
The cab comes to 15Euro. I give him my AmEx. He won't take AmEx. I burst into tears. I give him my ten euros and desole, desole, so much desole my way out of the cab. He's a good sport and drives off, chalking me up to his own disaster of the day.
The tow lot folks buzz me in. They try and ask me for the registration number, I wave the car key at them and jabber in English - and I see a red Alfa Romeo! I sprint towards it, I jab the key at it....and of course, dear reader, you understand that it is some other car entirely.
The beauty of the tow lot office - normally a place I would find cramped, dingy, a little bit horrible. Today I find it bright, welcoming, with functional phones and really nice people who are so bored they are helpful. Perhaps this crazy American lady will make a good story on their end for wherever these young 30somethings go after they can escape this place of paper trails and rusty cars.
We get Anna on the phone. I talk to her, the tow people talk to her. She doesn't know the registration number. She tries to find it in her email somewhere. The car must be stolen; I must go back and walk around again, and then go back to the police station to file a report. I apologize, I apologize, I assure her I will do whatever I can to make it all good, I'm a little bit of a mess and I remember her telling me it will all be fine, and then I hand her back to the tow people and walk around the lot. Just in case their incredibly organized system of handwritten logs with cars and registration numbers somehow failed. But no human error here except mine. I walk back to the office, ask if they can call me a cab, and try and fire off an email to family because it is at this point that the pennies magically rise from where they have dropped, sucked up in a great wooshing sound and the realization isn't a ka-thunk but more of a vacuum tube sucking all the air out of my system. Because if the car isn't here, and the car isn't there, then my passport is equally in this existential black hole, and I may not be flying to Paris tomorrow morning.
My email to my family is probably a little more drastic looking than it needs to be - the woman is clearly nervous about letting me use the computer against regulations and is hovering, plus the keyboard is not QWERTY and I'm trying to learn yet another new language - this one with my fingers - as I'm trying to write to my mom and dad and brother, which is a connection that however virtual, still fills me with warmth, power, and loneliness. It's like I'm 21 all over again, writing from Moscow in 1995 from that strange man's house who is both my contact, savior, and enemy, over a dial-up connection and that ancient operating system I can only describe not user-friendly. We think we want to be young again; we forget what being young actually involved.
Remembering that misbegotten Moscow trip - remembering that I have been a travel warrior in my past, that I made it to renegade, riot-ridden Russian without first securing an actual visa, that my wallet was stolen halfway through that trip, and that on my last night there I nearly got myself abducted by drunken Georgian ex-military idiots and then mugged by street punks - puts me back in the hunt for the car with a little more determination. This is both helpful and a hindrance, because as soon as I let the adrenaline ebb even just a little bit, the weariness finds a foothold. It's been a long day, a long week, a long 6 weeks, a long 5 months. It's been a 3 year process getting to this point, and call it existential angst or the storyteller in me, but this adventure is becoming not just a metaphor alert, but a veritable sign of something having to do with my intrinsic being and the whole question of what have I done/am doing/will do with my life.
At the other end of the second cab ride back to where the car should have been, I hold out my AmEx card in a very Laurence Olivier actorly mode of believing my own internal reality so hard I can will it into being. This cabbie doesn't even bother. No American Express. A great performance falls on deaf ears. So, dear reader - I expose these truths to you. Not everyone in France speaks English, and American Express is not a universally terrific travel card. This time there's no cash to throw, so we drive around to cash machines for other 10Euros of cab fare until he can find one that works, and I throw money at him and walk uselessly around the neighborhood where the car is still, irrevocably and unmistakably, not.
Back to the cafe, where it's even busier but they are true servers in the best possible mode, and they have me sit down and ask if I need the phone. I do not. I get an email from Anna - she's found the registration number. Then another email - I'm trying to call you. Well, obviously she can't, I told her she can't, and I email her back and try her on the phone but there's no answer. So, I head back to the police station.
It's an easier walk this time because I know where I'm going. Harder, because my heels are starting to hurt, like I have pins sticking up into them. And nerve-wracking, because the winds have picked up, the sun is gone, and I can see thundershowers on the horizon. I mutter passages from “The Tempest” to myself - “if it should thunder I know not where to hide my head”. I feel kinship with those Shakespearean clowns, shipwrecked on an unfamiliar island. I make it to the police station just as the storm hits in earnest, and go through the buzzing in like it's second nature. I only have to wait about 10 minutes this time - lots of people hanging out, but no one being seen. (What are they waiting for, I wonder? Little do I know how quickly I will become one of their ranks......)
The car is not at the tow lot. Can you call my friend? No answer (I actually think, in retrospect, that was my fault, although Anna talking to the police might not have been helpful at this point. But I think I wrote the number down wrong for the front desk girl). Can I fill out a report? This is met with confusion. I don't gather my wits in time and they are off helping other people. When they come back, I do an excellent mimed impression of a person diligently filling out paperwork. Ah, yes! No. Only the owner of the car can fill out a report. Thus having succeeded in getting information, and defeated in any sort of useful enterprise, I sit down and contemplate my next move. It is now pouring sheets of rain. My heels are killing me.
I shamelessly borrow a very nice iPhone from the guy sitting next to me, who is there with his girlfriend. I get Anna on the phone. I explain the situation, and that at this point I'm pretty useless, so I figure I'll go to the hotel and see if I can use a computer to start negotiating my route home, perhaps print off a copy of my passport from my phone, and then Nick can cab to the police station from the airport and deal with the police report. Of course I'll cover the expense, again so sorry, and....
No. After all we've done for you Shana, you are not going to just drop the ball like that. Anna is terrible and specific, and here's where I finally start to fully understand the depth of Nick's incompetency at adulting and Anna's need to have broken people in her life to both take care of and buck up and who can offer her some self-righteousness that I'm sure she would deny ever wanting to feel. No, Nick has no money, no access to money, and he's had a horrible time in England. I must therefore meet him at the airport in less than an hour, provide a credit card for the rental car, go with him back to the police station because he doesn't know the way, and then we will see if I can go to my hotel. I'm breathless with stupefaction at this, and it jolts me out of feeling sorry for myself and back into how rotten this whole week has been and how I might have to never ever ever do work away ever again and how stupid I was for getting myself trapped in this situation. I hang up on Anna, because the longer she keeps talking to me the harder it will be to get to the airport.
I take stock. A cab ride to the airport is possible, but going to be insanely expensive. I ask Mr. Iphone Man if I have time to get there by public transport. He turns out to be a god amongst men, and has both enough English, knowledge, and good humor to give me precise directions for the subway to the shuttle. I am loath to leave him, and his beautiful phone. I fill up my mug with water from the WC tap at the police station, and book it through the rain to the metro.
The shuttle is exactly where it is supposed to be, but the posted schedule indicates that there are no more shuttles today (it's Sunday. Monday is a national holiday. And it's now about 4:30pm). I run into a nearby hotel and accost the front desk woman for information. It is clear to her I am not a guest at this very nice, very quiet, very dry hotel, but she does tell me that actually the shuttle will be here in 6 minutes and the driver takes cash, but nothing smaller than a 20. I throw the 50 at her I was smart enough to get at the cash machine with the cabdriver for just this purpose, she does that French thing of gritting her teeth and pinching her face without actually doing either of those things (it's like the friendly light in their face just goes off, replaced by this impassive, impassable, grayish sort of light specifically for tourists. it's quite impressive, actually). I get change and sprint for the shuttle.
I arrive at the airport at 5:25. Anna said to be there at 5:30. I'm feeling - not heroic, just highly responsible. I wait outside at our designated place for 40 minutes, tugging at my green socks and pulling down my thin skort and looking pathetic soon has me feeling pathetic. When I realize I can take no more of this, plus the water is long gone, I decide to risk waiting inside the terminal where I'm sure Nick will have to pass. At about 6:30 we find each other, his plane having been circling and unable to land so I can't fault anyone for my increased misery except the skies. He gets Anna on the phone. I find the Hertz desk. Anna talks on the phone to the Hertz man. There is a lot of boring back and forth on terms of rental and suchlike. I give Hertz Man my credit card for the 270E ($350) security deposit. He won't take a credit card that isn't in the name of the rental. I go get cash, which for some reason feels like insult to injury - having to pay that extra $5 cash fee, plus the cash itself just feels icky. I give him a lot of pretty money. Nick and I go find the rental car.
I am responsible for navigating back to the police station - Nick doesn't know Toulouse at all, doesn't have good directional sense, doesn't have a smart phone, Nick needs me, as Anna said (although I have to believe, as I would with any teenager, that were I not there he would have figured it out) I have to say that getting us there was an incredible feat given my only 8 hours in this fair city, most of it on foot, and my inability to actually use google maps beyond looking at the general layout (again - no data and the battery is now on half.....I hope it has been understood that I know I can buy a phone charger at a local cell phone store, but I'm not sure at all that anything will be open before Tuesday morning.....)
Back at the police station. I gaily wave at my friends at the front desk. They laugh. It's a party! Here's Nick, meet Nick! Here's our information. What now? Now we wait, 2 minutes.
2 minutes. Turns into 20. Turns into 60. It will ultimately be 3 hours before we storm the gates of the castle and demand to be seen. The front desk will change over, the night people will settle in. My fears - and hopes - of everything needing to be done before the station closes are unfounded. It looks like this place never closes.
It is around 7:30pm that I make the move that will change this back into an adventure, reawaken my love of travel, and mark the end of my relationship with Nick and Anna.
It starts like this. I'm leaning against the vending machine. Nick is a few paces away, leaning against a wall. We are both lost in ourselves. I am looking around the station but it's all very blurry. I can't activate my traveler note-taking imagination, nor can I even take notes on my phone of course since I'm saving juice. Bubbling up over the murmur and hush, I hear a familiar cadence - a tonal pattern, a vocal energy, a pitch and timbre. I can't make out words, but my heart leaps because I know, I know that what I'm hearing is American English, specifically American Black English. I scan the room, but the sound stops and my likely subject - a beautiful dark-skinned woman in her 30s with braided hair and easy demeanor - is listening intently to a handsome man speaking Spanish. I turn my gaze away, and then back, and then realize that he has switched from Spanish to heavily accented English, and there is another girl in their party, a petite girl in her late 20s who looks like she normally has a great sense of humor but is now really super-tired, and this girl is speaking Spanish, and then my American speaks again and it's true, for sure she's American and my heart is so glad of this I want to sing, and it takes me a moment of holding myself back from simply leaping on her with a great big hug to formulate an approach.
Excuse me, is that American English you're speaking? Would you mind, I was wondering, it's a long story, but could I borrow your phone? I'm going to have to navigate my friend to my hotel and I'm not sure where I'm going. Well, he's not really my friend.....
I actually didn't get all this out before Leah scooted over, made room for me, introduced me to her friends, and offered to drive me to the hotel there herself once we got out of the station before I'd even offered up my name.
Leah M. From Charlotte, NC. Been playing professional basketball in Toulouse for ten years. Tried out for the Seattle Storm once. But even before I know she's a ball player I am marveling at how much she reminds me of another top-notch ball player I once knew. Her voice takes me back to Michelle P. from junior high, who was so out of my league that when she talked to me the first time in 8th grade to say how much she loved watching me onstage and how I made her cry, and then when she said goodbye to me at high school graduation as if we had shared something real and with tremendous mutual respect, I realized that I'd had the whole league system in high school all wrong. Michelle P., who I ran into later in life as a firefighter, out there saving lives, with that same laugh and smile and whole body welcome. Leah's voice reminds me powerfully of Michelle, and I wonder at first if I'm just racist (look, it's two black women ball players), but then I realize there must be something about the game itself - about the ethos of team playing, of taking and giving direction on the court, of scoping the field and hanging with the team, about living a life at the mercy of who casts you where, of being a woman in a field where the men get more of the goodies - that attracts and shapes a certain kind of woman, a kind of woman strong and loose in her body and in the world.
And although it is usually true that your saviors on the road are going to be middle-aged women with sensible shoes and good raingear, in this case I must have needed salvation of the sort that makes not only a good survival story, but an authentic connection reaching back through time and into the future, a person who when I think about I will get a happy smile on my face and be kinder to those around me because I have karma to pay forward.
So anyhow, we're hanging at the police station, me, Lean, this wonderful Colombian man (whose name, if I knew it, I have forgotten) who is in business school in Toulouse, with degrees and residencies all over the world, and his friend from Colombia (girlfriend, I'm pretty sure) just arrived to get her wallet stolen. Jack Sprat - she has a passport, I've got a drivers license.....We're trying to tell jokes in 3 languages and failing miserably - although I do get mileage out of trying out Interrupting Cow in Spanish, and I'll plumbing them all for stories, and they are chatting amongst themselves but letting me listen, and Leah says, just wait you just have to wait here, but sure I'll translate if you need help, and so knowing that she's got my back I'm content to wait.
Until it's 9:30 or so, and they've called up all these other folks waiting at the station for voter registration stuff, and I feel like that's really low-priority and maybe the new guard simply doesn't understand why we are there, so I drag Leah and Nick up to the desk and low and behold, the cop now in charge (older guy, looks like a cop out of a 1960s French movie, really friendly but then again I also saw him an hour ago get seriously up in the face, hand on gun, with a terribly strung out guy who wanted to use the police station as a shelter for him and his 2 bawling infant kids), he says something that sounds to me like, what are you still doing here? I didn't know about this, we should get this taken care of right now, and low and behold, we are ushered into a back room where I am given a police report on my stolen items and Nick gets Anna on the phone and she talks with Mr. Cop as he types on an ancient, ancient computer. His typing is actually hilarious - most of it consists of hitting one key over and over again, as if he's scrolling through something. But he does it very intently, and at the end of our 30 minutes with him he hands me an official looking report and says it should be enough to get me on the plane to Paris tomorrow, so I decide he's good stuff.
Leah and Co. wait around for me - can you imagine? They wait an extra 10 minutes after waiting for hours themselves, and with no guarantee that my ten minutes won't be ten more hours. But there they are, and I'm finally able to say goodbye to Nick (such a sweet man, but good lord am I happy to see that done) and pile into a small car and careen through the dark and rainy night feeling for all the world like I'm back in college.
Leah drives like a fiend, which delights me. Not reckless, just fiendishly daring and fast, especially on the roundabouts. It turns out to be a brilliant, thank-you-gods miracle that I didn't try and get to the hotel on my own or with Nick. Even Leah can't find the place on the first try, and then gets stuck on the freeway, and we go round and round until we finally realize we passed it on the first try. Top Ten Lessons Learned - when choosing a hotel, the most important factor should not be distance from destination, but signage.
We arrive, I make my thanks, I bid them farewell, but the Columbian man insists on coming out with me while Leah parks just to make sure. Good thing, too. I realize this is more motel than hotel, and more dangerous than safe. It's freezing, raining, and my idea of a hotel - reception, bad coffee, ancient computer with printer, sullen front desk person - is shattered by the reality of a tiny room with shuttered window, two vending machines, an emergency phone that yells French at me when I pick it up, and a badly laminated sign with a number to call that is substantially different than the number on my confirmation email. We flounder for a moment, then go back out to look for Leah. She's no where in sigh, apparently looking for parking, and we all stumble around in the dark for a bit before finding each other and going back to the "reception" area. I'm useless - I can't get my head out of the might-have-been of what would have happened had these people not been here with their wonderful French and car and protective bodies. I've got the ball but I've no where to shoot and I'm hanging on for dear life until they can create an opening.....
Leah gets someone on the phone, and starts feeling the side of the vending machine. We watch in horror and hilarity as she uncovers an envelope with "Shana" scrawled on the side, taped to the back of the machine. She nods, says a number in French, thanks them, and hangs up. I'm Room 16, here's my key card, they are sorry for not being here to receive me. Laughter starts burbling up inside of me from somewhere way down deep....
Before we go to the room, we hit Subway. That's what the women were doing whilst parking - scouting food. It's conveniently located for weary travelers, but it's also closing 20 minutes ago and if we hurry they'll stay open long enough to make us sandwiches. I feel this is not the time to express my food preferences, nor the fact that I have actually never eaten Subway before. I feel weirdly like I'm ordering in a foreign country, copying Leah's order, watching the teenagers behind the glass make a few sorry sandwiches. I've always loved that bread smell they pipe into their stores, and by the time we get out of there I'm starving.
The key opens the room. It's not big enough for the 3 of us to stand up in altogether, but we pile on the bed and devour our food. There's free wi-fi, and I burn some juice on Facebook and email telling everyone I'm okay. I laugh at an email from Anna expressing concern (which is nice) that I went off with strangers and relish my hatred of her along with my sandwich. Leah figures out how to get the heat working. Before they leave, we all exchange contact info and they promise to follow up with the tow lot on the off chance the car was really towed, and is the victim of a French tow-truck driver's smoke break that extended into the holiday.
I shower. I sleep. It's divine, if only 5 hours worth. The next morning I follow google to the airport, only to ditch the directions when I see the airport right in front of me, only to have a severe Red Queen Running moment wherein the closer I get the further away I am due to, you know, airports, and their way of fencing in cars and not being at all hospitable to pedestrians. But I hop a fence, and run down a road, and no one arrests me, and I walk in what looks like a back entrance, and I'm telling you when those sliding doors opened and that warm air hit me it felt like magic.
"Can I get on my
"Sure, is no problem."
"But I don't have my passport."
"Yes, yes, is no problem."
"Are you sure I can get on my flight?"
"Yes, it's ok. It's ok. It's ok."
It's ok. It's ok. I can really, truly, irrevocably get the hell out of Toulouse.
I talked a hair salon into lending me a phone charger and they held my boarding pass hostage as security. The airport wi-fi was down, so I couldn't communicate with anyone, but I still got a little more juice into my phone and felt a little better. I finally remembered the raisins and almonds, and breathed a little easier knowing there was food in my bag. I filled my water mug. I boarded the plane.
My mom had sent me an email which I totally misread in my haste, and from which I maintained a delusion of hope that the Parisian consulate would be open on Monday for emergency services even though it was the holiday. If I thought rationally about it, it was a ridiculous idea, but skimming the email gave me hope, and I figured it was worth a shot. It was joyous to be back in the Paris metro, to feel so at home with transportation. The big city roared in my ears, like heart attack paddles jolting me back to life. The consulate was closed, and a very young man with a very large gun assured me there was no way I was getting in before 8am tomorrow morning. But the day was not wet, and the square was huge and gorgeous in the morning stillness, and the Tulieres were in much fuller bloom than when I'd left, and it was only straight shot from the metro home to Montemarte, where I collapsed into Karen and Joe's flat with all the gratefulness of a kid coming back home after a grueling first semester at college.
I took Tuesday off - literally, just took it off, didn't go to the consulate, didn't make any big decisions, just wandered Paris and rested. Wednesday I hit the consulate early - I was the first person inside and felt very heroic. Was out in 90 minutes with a whole new appreciation for consulates and the magic of access to cash and credit, and serious questions about the intricacies of world travel and mobility and how any of the papers make us more safe or accountable, plus an emergency passport good for a year.
The story of the Adventure is winding down; herein starts the story of Stuff and Cost of Adventure, which is a whole other existential rabbit hole. There are a few stories involving hours on the phone with Delta and Pemco, but no more must be said other than that. But what occupied my last days in Paris were dark thoughts - lists of what I lost, the unjustness of only having worn that wonderful REI coat once, the need to buy a new computer, the pros and cons of filing an insurance claim, replacing all the clothes at fair market value or just letting it all go and returning to familiar creative, cheap, crowd-sourced modes of accumulation.
I tried my hardest, but no amount of acting could get me a free upgrade on the transatlantic flight home. However, the plane was empty, which was a first, and as I walked back to my assigned seat I saw a whole row open of my favorite seats up against the wall with no one in front, and they said sure, sit there if no one claims it, and I happily made a mess of all 4 seats for the next 10 hours - 3 blankets, 4 pillows, up, down, sideways, feet up, feet out, sitting, sprawling. It still was ungodly long, and the food was weirdly cheesy, but the flight attendants were very nice and very Pacific Northwestian, and I got some good advice from one who kept calling me "hilarious" every time I asked for things. At one point I must have said something about it being such a long flight to an attendant, because I remember the following exchange:
You think this is long flight? Try Sydney! Try Hong Kong!
Oh, I would like to try those places someday.....I was thinking about New Zealand.....
Yes, New Zealand is beautiful. My advice? Honey, fly to Hawaii, spend a few days there, then go on.
Sounds like a great plan. I sleep all the way home dreaming of new stuff and new adventures.
"I think I'm quite ready for another adventure...."
Only – and here's the coda to the story - I couldn't set about planning the next adventure, because it turned out this one wouldn't end. Because for months afterwards Anna kept turning up in my inbox, emailing me from halfway around the world to tell me I am selfish and horrible and torpedoeing all attempts at closure I throw out in desperation. I offer to pay her and get a “let's wait and see”. I make a deadline and hear nothing back, I think we're done and I dive into my life and grieve my losses and let go of my fears about having enough money to live on, and then just as I'm feeling like myself again I get a virulent demand for money or else Anna will hire lawyers to track me down or perhaps even come to Seattle herself to wring money out of me.
We are battle-scared from our skirmishes with life, and in no way fit for either combat or support. Anna asks for money, but wants more than that - she cares most about the acknowledgment of her pain and suffering. I should just offer money, but instead I want to offer justification and excuses. Stripped of the work that gives me identity and power, all I have is my intelligence and an ability to be kind. Here, I have been stupid and mean.
It's a great mess which only gets exacerbated when the car turns up, a mile from where I parked it, windows broken but boot (trunk) intact. My bag and all my personal belongings completely untouched. In a deeply unsettling move, the insurance claims it couldn't possibly have moved, but google earth shows me that - unless I'm truly crazy - it most certainly did. Anna continues to tell me that I'm selfish and mean and she's been through hell and it's all my fault.
Years later, it's easy to say, I should have just paid her what she wanted, disengaged with the emotions and moved on. But my own existential crisis of personal and professional loss got tangled up with Anna's losses, and neither of us were really talking about the car. So we couldn't let the car go, because we'd already lost so very much.
Months later, having resigned myself to the loss of my personal belongings, I was peculiarly distressed at their sudden return. Turns out Anna is as keen to be rid of me as I of her, and she goes through the extra steps of helping me ship my bag back home.
What does it mean when your metaphor of lost and found gets turned inside out?
Letting go takes a lot of work. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But then what if the stuff comes back? Was the letting go process all in vain? A waste of time, a waste of money? It feels so unnecessary. Is the answer to have no stuff at all, to never travel? Or, no, clearly the answer is to have all the right sorts of stuff and to travel perfectly – to protect and move carefully, to make no mistakes.
Why do the things that felt so valuable when lost feel so insignificant now? When I first made the list of items needing to be replaced it felt righteous – look at my loss, look at how I deserve compensation, how I deserve better treatment from the powers that be. Look at my victimhood.
But now I look at the list and it’s so tawdry – a scrap of cloth, a bag of pills, some not great shoes. The hubris fades. It was nothing special, it didn't define me, it's loss is not the loss of my soul. It's just stuff, it's just a job, it was wonderful while it lasted, it served you while it was in your possession, move on, replenish, replace, re-imagine - all that noble and heroic energy, all that outpouring of community goodwill, all that gets neatly negated when the car is found and the bag returned.
These things are not valuable to me any more, because I have done the hard work of letting their value depreciate and dissolve. If their only value is monetary, well, money is the cheapest commodity. As I fill out the online form for SendMyBag (how easy it is!) I imagine the happiness of welcoming the bag home and opening it up to find my irreplaceable treasures – my special t-shirt, my silk scarf. But with the happiness comes deep embarrassment as I mentally unpack the bag. This was what I packed? These are my stupid shoes that I never really wore, this is my bag of completely random cosmetics that I barely touched, these are my various and sundry vitamins and pills and perhaps even a smushed banana because I can't remember but I'm fairly sure I squirreled away some sort of food and if they open the bag at the airport and bust for not declaring it I say take it all, incinerate it in some airport security seventh circle of hell.
But at the same time, I refuse to simply leave my bag in France. I want it out of there. I want this story to end. The unending version, with an alternate Shana roaming the countryside with my old passport and old skort, has no narrative focus. I realize I have not been on a journey as much as in transition. I desire to land and get on with things.
the day the bag comes back, it's an odd stew of emotions. My bag of
emergency pretzels delight me, having survived a month and a trip
across the world and are still vaguely edible. But mostly I feel like
I wasted a great deal of energy caring about any of the stuff in the
first place. Everything is dirty, or squashed, or both, and there’s
a weird preserved feeling to the whole thing. A time capsule,
mothballed memories. I’ve moved on, but the suitcase hasn’t.
I’m not thrilled to see any of the clothes again.
I return to imagining the story of the thief who finds the suitcase, and tries it on for size. To this day I like to imagine the alternate Shana, traveling on the old passport and wearing the old skort, dubiously examining several unmarked pills in their various baggies, slipping the gel insoles into the old sneakers and filling up the packable travel bag with groceries, walking towards her destination with the suitcase that maybe wasn't stolen at all but left on it's own, for a much needed change of perspective.