Up again two hours after I got into bed… I was out like a light like I had expected. It took me a minute or two to realize what was going on when my alarm went off, but I got up, finished packing, and got my breakfast nonetheless. I wrote Madame a quick little thank you note in my handmade stationary and left her my email address so she could stay in touch with me… if she wanted to… Madame told me to make myself a sandwich with some of the extra cheese and gluten-free bread before I left since she was just going to throw out the rest of the bread after we left… As Sheila and I were pulling our bags out of our rooms and into the front of the house, I got a phone call from the shuttle driver. There was an accident that was causing traffic, and he was probably going to be five or ten minutes late… from 9:45… which worried me a little, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. Sheila and I said goodbye to Mme. De Lapisse, and she bised us again, then we dragged all of our bags down to the ground floor. In all of our fumbling, I managed to hit almost every button on the elevator, and rode it back up to the sixth floor with half of our bags before I could get out of it… Rouge and her host father were waiting outside of our place for us. At 10 AM, now 15 minutes past when the shuttle was supposed to be there… we were still standing outside in the cold… something told me this wasn’t going to be good…
Rouge’s host father is wonderful. He talked to us about all sorts of things, he even talked to me about all of my theatre studies. The shuttle driver called me again at 10:15. He couldn’t find our address and parked a block and a half up and asked if we could walk to where he was with our bags. I reminded him that we had a lot of bags among all of us and that we would have a hard time with that, so he said he’d drive around the block and attempt to find us again. It was 10:30 by the time we finally got in the flipping shuttle… and the two other people in it were two other Sweet Briar students, so at least they understood. Sweet Briar told us that we needed to be dropped off at terminal 2F, but our shuttle driver decided to not only argue with us, but actually drop us off at 2E… and then he insisted that we pay him for those extra bags we had. As much as I wanted to tell him allez vous faire foutre for all the trouble he’d already caused, we paid him anyway, and we went inside. One of the girls in our shuttle took off right away, but the other girl (Meghan) stayed with us.
It was now 11:05. Our plane was going to take off in two and a half hours. We needed to find out how to get to terminal 2F, and the signs in Charles de Gaulle were NOT helpful. It took us 25 minutes to figure it out. Once we got it, Rouge and Sheila took off, and as usual, I was stuck in the middle, meaning I was between Rouge and Sheila (who never look back), and someone who couldn’t keep up for whatever reason, and I never leave anyone behind. I stuck with Meghan because she couldn’t run anymore. By the time we made it to 2F (we had to find an elevator and go down to level 0, then pass under the roadway, then get to another elevator to go back up to the second floor), Meghan and I didn’t know what ticketing zone to go to, so we picked one that didn’t have a lot of people in it. We used the kiosks with our electronic ticket numbers that Sweet Briar gave us to print out pre-boarding passes, and we waited in a small line in zone 6 to drop off our bags and get our real boarding passes. Once we got up to the counters and separated, the tellers told us that we needed to go to zone 3 to drop off our bags. Meghan was given a boarding pass. I was not. So off to zone 3 we went… and the line stretched all the way to zone 4… Why? There were seven Air France tellers in zone 3. Two were working. Five were talking to each other. One that was actually working decided that he really needed a cigarette break. By the time we got to that line, it was 11:35. We had two hours before our flight left. Meghan and I stood in that line for two hours. Do the math. There were more Sweet Briar people that ended up in line behind us. Our flight was delayed (twice, apparently) because of the laziness of the Air France ticketing workers, but it didn’t put me any more at ease because the fact that the flight was delayed wasn’t being displayed on the giant “ticker” over ticketing counter. I finally got up to the ticketing counter, got my ticket, and was told that I’d have to pay for my second bag, which I knew about. I figured I’d have to pay around 70 euro, since that was about $100, and that’s what I paid for the second bag when I came to France in the first place. When I went over to the separate office to pay that fee, because it was 1:20 when I was doing all this, I was “given” to a worker who was in the middle of doing something else, who was not happy that I bothered her… and then I was charged 200 euro… and I did not have time to dispute it… so I figured I was being charged 130 euro more for being an inconvenience since that woman was so mad… I went back to find Meghan after I paid, and she needed to have one of her bags (she plays lacrosse, so she had her… stick… in a bag with her) taken to odd, over-sized luggage in zone four. While she paid for it, I ran it over to her. The woman SHE was working with was very nice, and called our gate to have the plane held specifically for us, she even gave them our names. When I got back, Meghan was being warned that her carry on weighed the maximum amount allowed for ALL cabin luggage, and that security may not let her through, but we figured we’d give it a shot… sure enough, they slapped a sticker on Meghan’s carry on, and sent us back to zone 3 to make her check that bag. I still wouldn’t leave her. Thankfully, because everyone seemed to have come back from their smoke break at the same time, there was no longer a line, and we went straight to the counter and told them what happened. It was now 1:45, ten minutes past when the plane was supposed to take off. They almost didn’t take Meghan’s bag, until I started letting the tears well up in my eyes and begging “s’il vous plaît, s’il vous plaît!” then they took it, and we went through security.
Ironically enough, security was a breeze. Compared to the United States, France lets you get away with everything. I had a half full water bottle in my purse, and the x-ray guy told me that such things weren’t allowed in the planes, but he didn’t make me take it out of my bag. The gate was so far away from the ticketing counter, and Meghan and I were exhausted. Her boots were hurting her feet, and my rain boots were slippery on the floor, so I was having trouble getting traction. That, coupled with the fact that both of us still had all of our layers on, and there was no time to take them off, meant that running to the gate was out of the question. We made it to the plane, and I was the last one on. I kid you not, the cabin crew nearly caught my jacket in the door. Sure enough, all of the Sweet Briar people I passed on my way to my seat made some comments like “Good job, Claire” or they laughed at me. I shot them dirty looks and said it wasn’t my fault, because it wasn’t! It was the shuttle driver’s and the Air France ticket counter workers’ smoking habits fault! It was Rouge who was kind enough to say “Claire! Tu vives!” (Claire! You’re alive!) There was almost no room for my carry on. When I sat in my seat, it was 2:15, forty minutes after the plane was supposed to take off. I was sitting next to Megan and Maddie, two other Sweet Briar girls who absolutely understood everything that went wrong with my situation, and they were so sweet. They reassured me that most of the people on the plane didn’t know or care that it was my fault (which it wasn’t, of course) that the plane was leaving 40 minutes late, and it’s wonderful that I made it on the plane at all.
The flight itself wasn’t so bad. I slept for a couple hours, then I spent the rest of it watching episodes of American TV shows. I watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy first in English to remind myself of what it was (it was the one when Archer Montgomery had worms in his brain, and Izzy created a game for the interns when Lexie was an intern), then I watched it again with French dubbing, then I watched The Big Bang Theory in French, then an episode of House M.D. in English, then Modern Family in French, and Glee in English with French subtitles right before the plane landed. The gluten-free meals on Air France are pretty good. Dinner was some white fish with sautéed vegetables and a white and wild rice blend with chilled baked apples for dessert, along with some very odd wafers in place of bread. Lunch was chilled chicken and vegetables. I didn’t want those wafers at the time, so I put them in my purse for later on.
We went through border control first. The officer that I dealt with was very nice. He asked what I was doing in France, I said I had been studying. “Modesto, California. You’re a long way from home! Do you usually study in California too?” “Yeah, my college is in LA.” “Oh. You got home just in time for your birthday, too! Happy early birthday!” That guy seriously needs a raise. If Washington Dulles was Disneyland (which it most certainly is not because it’s not the happiest place on earth), I would go to guest services and give them that guy’s name! I picked up my bags with Rouge, and proceeded to customs, which was equally (and surprisingly) painless. The officer looked over the form I had filled out on the plane. “Perfumes… and small gifts and trinkets. What kind?” “Keychains, that sort of thing.” “Okay. You didn’t bring any food, wine, tobacco, anything like that?” “Nope. I’m no fun.” “Bummer for your family and friends!” “Seriously!” Off I went.
I headed out to the curbside waiting area for the Marriott after that… and there I waited… in the freezing, windy cold… for half an hour… because one of the parking garage shuttles hit the Marriott shuttle, and it took them a while to get the other one out. Once I got there, I checked in, and took my bags to my room on the trolley I had. I walked the trolley back out to the lobby… and I spotted a Sweet Briar student and her family! Emily, her mom, her dad, and Stephanie were staying at the Marriott too! They called me over. I asked if they were eating dinner at the hotel restaurant since that was going to be my plan. “Are you here all alone?” “Yeah.” “We’re going Jackson’s in Reston. You should come with us!” Just like that, I had dinner plans… and that totally beat eating all alone and feeling sorry for myself! I headed back to my room, freshened up, and met Emily and the gang in the lobby 20 minutes later.
Emily and her family are from New York, so her parents drove down to pick her up from Dulles. Stephanie is from Arizona, and both Stephanie and Emily go to Northwestern. The idea for going to Jackson’s was that it was where Emily and her family ate the night before we all went to France… it was also where Emily gave herself a stress fracture the night before we all went to France, and then she had to go to the Emergency Room. Emily was in a “boot” as we call them in the medical world for the first couple weeks of our semester abroad… Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food & Lucky Lounge (11927 Democracy Dr., Reston VA 20190) is a really neat place. It reminded me a little bit of Red Robin in the decor, but the food is a bit more upscale. They even had a gluten-free menu! I ordered a Waldorf Steak Salad, which was delicious. It had bleu cheese, dried cranberries, pecans, apples, and of course… medium-rare steak tips. Well worth the $17 I paid. The only thing that would have made it better would have been being able to order a glass of wine to go with it (only five more days until I can legally do it!), which Emily, Stephanie and I incessantly complained about. All of us exchanged stories about France, even Emily’s parents could chime in since they came to visit her! Emily’s father is a real character, and I got a lot of “ammunition” for future characters in my screenplays from him. He reminded me a lot of my mother in his sense of humor, and a bit of myself in some of the more inappropriate, somewhat sadistic things he would say every once in a while. Emily apparently got bored at one point during the trip, so she had gone through her iPhone and taken screen shots of all of her favorite conversation snippets between herself and her father. One of note was this:
Emily: “I ran into someone today.”
Dad: “Did you injure yourself?”
If I ever knew my father, or if I ever had a real father figure in my life at any time, I would have loved to have someone like Emily’s dad fill that position. I think I turned out fine without that figure, but if I had to have one… I paid for my portion of my meal, and we left. I thanked Emily’s father for inviting me along. “I’m glad you came too. You looked a bit like a deer in the headlights when we saw you.” Hmm. Apparently “deer in the headlights” is not an attractive look for me… then again, it did get me dinner… my mental jury is still out on this one.
Back to the hotel. I showered, washed my hair, and took a nice long soak in the tub until three things happened: one, my entire body looked like a prune, two, the water wasn’t hot anymore, and three, I was about to fall asleep and surely drown. My Jet Blue flight to Long Beach is at 7 AM tomorrow morning. Because Washington Dulles is huge, and it’s December 22nd, it’s going to behoove me to get to the airport at… 5 AM. Which means I need to get up at 4:15 AM, and check out at 4:45 AM. Putain merde… I have a king size bed, and I don’t know what to do with myself. I am a tiny person. All I can think is that the fact that I have no one to share the bed with is incredibly wasteful and depressing.
Être un homme utile m’a paru toujours quelque chose de bien hideux. -Baudelaire. Journaux intimes