Saturday, March 7, 2009

Misadventures: Traffic Violations

I admit it. I'm guilty of a slew of traffic violations in France.

I broke at least three laws, and I was only driving for about eight minutes.

It wasn't really dangerous, but I did sort of run
a red light, speed and drive the wrong way down a one-way street.

Let me explain.

We had to drop our car off at the Hertz office at the train station in Reims after hours. Normally, this would present no problem at all. The rental office is right in front of the station, and there's a drop box for the keys.

When I was there, however, the whole front of t
he train station was shut down and appeared to be closed off by construction of a new city tram/train service that will make navigating the city a whole lot easier.

My dad was driving, and my GPS ignored the fact that we couldn't get where it wanted us to go, so we were on our own. We ended up parking the car on the opposite side of the station and walking through it to try to find a route to get the car to the correct parking lot so we didn't get charged with the French equivalent of grand theft auto.

I saw there were two women in the Hertz office
, even though it was closed, so I knocked on the door. One said something about being "ferme" (closed), and I proceeded to butcher the French language as I tried to explain our plight with the 16 or so verbs and 100ish words I knew.

Fortunately, she spoke English and told us how we could get to the parking lot, where several taxis were waiting around for a fare.

Walking back to the car, I held my hand out for the keys. My dad gave me a funny look, but it had been a week and a half since I'd driven, and three years since I'd driven in Europe. More importantly, I wanted to be done with dropping the car off and get back to the fun part of the trip.

My dad feels compelled to follow the rules of the road to a T, even while being passed by all the locals. I don't fault him for it. In fact, I think it's probably the best way to travel.

However, if I am ever pulled over and cited by gendarmes, I think it would be funny, and it would probably make a good story.

We piled into our Opel Meriva, which is a normal-sized car but felt cramped with all of our luggage, and I started it up.

I began my vehicular crime spree by speeding. I'm not sure why the French seemed to think that 30 kilometers per hour is a good speed to be driving. The thing is, 30kmph is less than 19mph, and I don't think my German-engineered car made for the autobahn (maybe a stretch there) could even go that slowly. I thought 45kmph (about 28mph) was a more reasonable speed, especially since there was no one on the road.

I reached a larger road with more traffic and saw where I needed to turn. No one was coming, so I turned. My dad and sister started laughing and shouting something about running a red light. I think they were mistaken, but they assure me that I did, in fact, run it.


As I cruised past the construction toward the Hertz office, I had one of two choices. Option One was to follow the arrows, negotiate all the parked taxis and travelers who ignored the crosswalks as they lugged 90-lb suitcases over cobblestones. Option Two was to drive the wrong way down a one-way street for about 60 feet and end up at the Hertz office.

And really, it's not like it was actually a street. It was some nonsense someone had set up with cones. I have the utmost respect for French highway engineers, but I think the guy who set this up was just taking the easy route so he could go grab a glass of wine and a baguette - which is exactly what I wanted to be doing.

I wish I could write that some gendarmes came running out of the train station and I explained to them exactly why I had done what I did before we all went and got drinks and they gave me one of their cool hats, but no one saw me, or no one cared.

I tossed the keys in the drop box and became a pedestrian again.

-A note on the photos: The top photo is the Opel Meriva I was driving, but that photo was taken in Eguisheim, France, about three days earlier. The photo of the two gendarmes was taken in Paris, and I still want one of their hats.

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