The good news–Tom and I were going to Paris for a documentary film shoot. The bad news–we only had one day in the city for B-roll. Fortunately, our contacts in Paris agreed to provide a driver who would take us wherever we wanted to go.
Great! We’ll meet him at the airport.
We arrived in Paris early in the morning. Our flight from England had been bumpy and a steady rain was falling in the city. In spite of the early hour, Charles De Gaulle airport was crowded. I’d been to Paris before and knew what to expect. Pushy people. Cranky travelers. Still true.
We retrieved our gear and made our way toward the exit, passing the line of people holding signs. I didn’t see my name. We came to the end of the row. No sign. No driver. Finding a spot for our carts, I made a call.
“Pierre, where are you?”
“I am here.”
“So are we.”
“This is good.”
I don’t speak French. Pierre spoke English, but I had the impression that complex concepts were not part of his capabilities.
“How do we find you?”
“Do not worry. I will find you.”
Really? How? The call ended before I could ask. Tom looked at me skeptically. He had listened in on the conversation. He decided to swim against the current and take another pass at the sign holders.
“I didn’t know you speak Spanish.”
“Bonjour mes frères.”
True to his promise, Pierre stood before us, holding a sign with our names on it. His smile was encouraging.
“Bonjour,” we said. “How did you find us?”
“This way,” Pierre said, ignoring our question and stepping into the stream of transient people.
“How did he find us?” Tom asked me. I shrugged, following Pierre’s example and pushing my cart into the stream.
As we made our way through the airport, I noticed that Pierre was older than he sounded on the phone. He had a shuffle-step limp and didn’t seem to see particularly well. When the crowds thinned out and I could walk beside him, Pierre assured me he could drive us anywhere we wanted.
“Perfecto,” I said, not really sure which language, if any, that was.
Our carts piled high with equipment, Tom and I forded the river of humanity-in-transit as Pierre lead us to parking level minus-2F. We followed him, slowly, through the underground depths to row eleven, space twenty-six. Pierre stopped abruptly and stared at the car in space twenty-six. Tom and I stared at Pierre, staring at the car in space twenty-six.
“Pierre, I don’t think this car is going to work,” I said, as the truly Parisian mini-smart car waited proudly before us.
“No,” Pierre said. “This car will not work.”
Tom and I looked at each other, not sure if this realization was just dawning on him or if Pierre had known this when he rented the car.
“Pierre, can we exchange it?”
“No,” he said with his strong French accent.
“No?” we repeated.
“No!” he repeated.
“Pierre, this car won’t do.”
“This is not my car.”
“Not your car?”
“No.” Pierre said.
Tom and I looked at each other again, relieved.
“Okay. Where’s your car?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” We had picked up the habit of repeating everything Pierre said. It was comforting but not really clarifying.
“No.” Pierre continued to stare at the smart car. “This is where I parked.”
Pierre began to shuffle down the row of cars. “Sometimes I have memory problems,” I think I heard him say—not sure—he was facing away from me—maybe I just imagined he said it.
“What kind of car is it?” I asked.
“Use the clicker,” Tom suggested.
Pierre didn’t answer. He just got further away.
“I’ll help him,” Tom said, abandoning his cart and racing down the opposite row of cars.
In moments, Pierre and Tom had disappeared from view and I was left alone with two carts of equipment. The air in the parking garage was stale, carbon monoxide mixed with French tobacco. The temperature seemed to be rising. The ceiling seemed to be getting lower. The lights were growing dim… I sat down on my baggáge to wait.
Charles de Gaulle airport is big. Really big. So is the parking structure. Pierre and Tom appeared and disappeared at regular intervals, emerging and submerging into and out of the bulkhead dividing rows. This was comforting and disconcerting, for awhile. Then they were gone. For a long time.
When he eventually did return, Pierre assured me he had parked in one of the rows.
“Good to know,” I said, trying not to be cynical. “Which one?”
“It should be here,” Pierre said.
I could only agree, both of us shrugging as if the car had moved by itself.
Tom finally returned, breathing hard. He had jogged the entire length of the section.
“Volkswagen,” Tom said. Pierre had remembered somewhere down one of the rows.
“Any luck?” I said.
“No,” Tom said matching Pierre’s accent.
After one hour of searching for the car, using the clicker, we began to think maybe someone had stolen it. However, Pierre assured us that was not the case. He gave me the impression that Paris was without thievery of any kind.
“Have faith,” he said.
What else could we do? There was only so much daylight available. So, we kept looking—faith and prayer tinged with a hint of desperation.
After two-and-a-half hours, in a different terminal, we found the car.
“Voíla. Right were I left it,” Pierre said, smiling sincerely.
“Voíla,” I said. My French accent was not as good as Tom’s.
As we got in the car, Pierre asked, “Would you drive? I don’t know how to drive a stick shift.”
Tom and I looked at each other, uncertain now how Pierre had actually parked the car. “Sure,” I said, “Let’s go see Paris.”
“I will show you,” Pierre said.