Friday, November 4, 2011

Four…five…six…scared us sick

Last night in La Rochelle, we left our rented car at the old port’s edge where parking is free after 6:30 p.m. During a nice dinner of duck confit, lamb confit, red wine, chocolate mousse and French toast for dessert, our server took time to explain how to make duck confit, as she knows the process. As we left, the young chef came out and laughed when my friend declared he’d call them both if his first confit attempt turned out less than perfect. A pleasant walk back to our car in gentle rain seemed a perfect conclusion. And then, walking into the parking lot, I pointed and said, “Wasn’t our car parked there?” The space was now empty.
A brasserie employee at the lot’s rear confirmed parking was free after 6:30 p.m. and suggested either our car was towed, or stolen. Calling the number he provided, a woman said she had no record of a towing with our license plate. Another call, to emergency, sent a message to the police, who placed an APB for our car. Emergency advised us to get to the police department at once and fill out a report. Back in the brasserie, the same employee called a cab. Outside, the rain, like the evening, turned from gentle to rough, now with lightning. I felt as if I’d eaten live butterflies for dinner, now tingling inside. Would we be in a police station most of the night, my friend speaking French, me giving idiot looks to all?

The cab arrived and sensed our emergency. He quickly circled the parking lot (how many facets were there, to that lot, four…five…six?) and headed toward its exit, in direction of the police station. On his last turn of the lot, I looked to my left. A car’s wheels looked familiar. A few days earlier I’d stood outside our car, appreciating its assistance, and speed. Those wheels, I’d thought, had taken us from Bordeaux to La Rochelle, at speeds up to one hundred miles per hour. Never mind which of us was driving. “Wait! Can you ask him to go back? I thought I saw something.” This I said to my friend, who translated. Yes, our car was there, in one of the circular facets of the lot we’d parked in earlier, but missed later. (Only one glass of wine, each of us.)

In Half Italian, I mention feeling too relieved (over an incident on my first trip to France) to feel embarrassed. Last night, that was again true -- no matter how many times we apologized to the cab driver, the brasserie employee, the police (who kindly and quickly called off the APB), and our car rental agency – I only felt relief.

Fifteen euros later, here’s our lesson learned: European parking lots can have many facets (both of us have known that for years, but…) if this happens to you, find and check all facets of the parking pentagon, hexagon, heptagon before you panic. It only cost us fifteen euros (6.20 rounded to ten for the cab to circle the lot twice, and 5.00 for the brasserie employee’s kindness) but this would’ve cost much more if we’d not seen our car at the last moment and called off the search.

Back home to Los Angeles tomorrow. I think I’ll add this story to The Other Half.

- PJ

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