Breakdown

On the Tuesday following my jump, I woke up before my alarm rang, packed my bags, and was out the door at five thirty with my uncle on the way to Paris.  Once in town, I spent the rest of the early morning eagerly refreshing my computer, waiting for “in flight” to read “arrived” instead.  When I finally got my wish, I shot out into the streets, down the stairs to navigate the Métro, switching lines to arrive at Châtelet-Les Halles.  I took a seat by the window at La Pointe Saint Eustache, which I had chosen as a meeting spot five days earlier.  I read the French learner that my grandmother had used at NYU, where she took summer language classes as a girl, which she had passed on to me, full of short stories and fables, written with outdated expressions and the present tense.  A week ago, the skies were bright and sunny, but now it was pouring rain and I regretted not owning boots.

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But then my phone rang, and who cares about shoes anymore when the person on the other end tells me “Hello, I’m here!” and thirty minutes later, he’s walking right up to me, his suitcase behind him, coming to my corner of the café and giving me a hug.  Rien de mieux, putain.  Phillip was in France and we were moving to the Dordogne.  Hot damn, c’est parti!

We picked up my car in Vernon (that’s right, I have a car!) and started our drive south.  We spent a night in Dreux, for which we have very little to compliment (sorry to the Drouais…).  The next morning, as we passed through Chartres, we couldn’t resist stopping by Cathédral Notre-Dame to see the Sancta Camisa and gawk ar gothic architecture.

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Then things got interesting.  Or terrifying and difficult, depending how you look at it.

Continuing south toward the Dordogne, Phillip did most of the driving, as I was inexperienced with manual transmission and frankly, a bit afraid of the car.  But I thought it only fair after a few hours to relieve Phillip of the job and take the wheel.  Night had fallen and it was raining, but I was rolling along on the highway quite peacefully.  A light blinked on, and “témoin de charge batterie” read on the screen, indicating that the battery was weak, but I thought nothing of it.  A running car should recharge its own battery right?  Loin des yeux, loin du cœur!

But then, about forty minutes later, a neon storm hit my dashboard, and a dozen indicator lights lit up in rapid succession, each announcing a fate more awful than the last (non-inclusive):

  • Témoin du système antiblocage de roues (ABS) – No more antilock breaks!
  • Témoin du contrôle dynamique de stabilité (ESP/ASR) – No more traction control!
  • Témoin du système antipollution – No more emission control!
  • Témoin de pression d’huile moteur – No more motor oil!
  • Témoin d’airbags – No more driver airbag!
  • Témoin de neutralisation de l’airbag passager – No more passenger airbag!

What fun!  By this point, I’d awoken a resting Phillip from his sleep with my incessant bleating, convinced that the car was moments away from exploding.  Seconds later the “témoin d’alerte centralisée STOP” lit up in big, red letters and the needles on the speedometer and tachometer both dropped to zero and the dash went dark.  The car had turned off, and was chugging along thanks to momentum and my inability to do anything else (GAAH!).  As luck would have it, we managed to cruise into one of the service stations that you pass every twenty kilometers or so.  The car didn’t even have enough power to lock its doors, so we abandoned ship and ran into the rest stop through the rain that was coming down even harder.

On a phone with hardly any charge left, I started making calls – to Peugeot, who denied that I had a warranty, to the insurance company, who said they’d pay for a taxi back to Vernon, four hours in the wrong direction.  Confused, I called my uncle who, despite being in Germany on business, spent no small amount of time trying to figure out how to fix the car and where I could sleep.  Much of the negotiating I had to do though, until two police officers came through the doors for a late night coffee break.  I approached them slowly and explained everything that had happened.  I had been on hold with the insurance company at the time, and they asked me to hand over the phone and just a few minutes later, they’d hung up and said a tow truck was on its way.  Right they were!  Phillip and I hopped into the truck and rode off into the darkness, which is the best I can call it, as I still don’t really know where we were that night.

The tow truck driver said that a taxi would stop by the shop to take us to a hotel, though we’d made no reservation. The taxi driver, an old man with a wonderful accent, made a few calls and got us a room in a hotel in nearby La Souterraine.  When I told my uncle that we’d secured a place to spend the night, he responded with a text that read (nearly verbatim): Ah, La Souterraine, what they call the “trou du cul” of France.  Pardon my French.

Exhausted at this point, we took what we could get and were happy just to be off the road.  Though when we awoke in the morning, we found that there wasn’t really much to do in La Souterraine (literally “subterranean,” in the same way that hell is) and the hours until our car was fixed dragged on and on.  At least we can say we had time to see the sights, pictured below! (ha-ha-haaaa)

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La Souterraine, may our paths not cross again.  But a big merci to the friendly people who helped us get back on our feet and back on the road.  Onwards, to the Dordogne!

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