I will start off by apologizing for making fun of the French accent. I have some great associates and friends there so they know I’m just kidding around. Since I speak (sometimes) with an accent feel free to make fun of it !
It’s 10:00 AMish. Train from Paris to London leaving @ 4:30 PM. Driving time from Grenoble to Paris : 5 hrs. I leave myself 6 thinking I’ll be in London with plenty of time to check in and still grab a pint. Roads are relatively empty. Driving 110 to 130 km/h most of the time despite the heavy rain and occasional down pour. The ESP light goes on (traction control) and I get a big flashing error on the display. So what? I don’t need traction control. The roads are awesome and road etiquette is always observed. Except by the American in the Peugeot 307….that would be me. I accidentally pass on the right once and get angry hi-beam flashes for a while.
The tolls are incredibly expensive. The last stretch of highway before Paris, about 2 hours worth, cost me 38 Euro. France bottom to top cost me over $100 US. The toll booths have not taken American Express since Nice so I give the toll clerk a Master Card. He tries it…”No monsieur ne ……something…something..”, It’s Europe so Visa rules…I give him a Visa. He tries it. “No monsieur, ne….something…”. I only have about 40 Euro left in my pocket and I’m not giving it up. I give him the Amex and voila – “Merci monsieur, Au revoir.” Go figure.
It’s 3:45 PM: after some light Paris suburb traffic I get into Paris and start looking for a gas station. Don’t want to deal with the Hertz fuel surcharge. Driving, driving, no stations in sight. Hit the Navi and change course for the nearest station. 5 minutes later…”You have arrived at your destination”. No gas in sight. WTF?? Back to Ms. Navi – next gas station please – 5 minutes later and 6 turns through tiny Paris streets..”You have arrived at your destination”. This so called destination is a fuel pump standing on the corner of a street. No attendant, no station, no snack bar, just a pump. I get out and start looking for the credit card reader….nope….nada. Then I notice that the lights on this thing are not even on. The Hertz surcharge is not sounding so bad anymore. Next station Ms. Navi…few minutes…several turns….”You have arrived”. Same thing, just a pump on a corner.
OK Hertz, you win. Restore Ms. Navi back to the Hertz address Julieanne gave me. I remember her telling me it’s right across the street from the train station. As I approach I remember that in front of Gar du Nord is an incredibly busy street filled with buses, taxis, tourist stores, outdoor cafe’s, sex shops and the usual train station stuff. All of a sudden I’m not trusting that a Hertz drop off will be there. “You have arrived at your destination”. Yeah, right. No familiar yellow on black sign around, nada. Sometimes street numbers are off on Navi’s so lets try the other side of the street. Couple of wrong turns down one way streets and the other side doesn’t have the anticipated comfort of a Hertz sign either. I pull over into a side street and hit Google on the iPhone and the address for Hertz is the same as Jules gave me. That’s not going to work. I really want to make this train…..not looking good but I know there is one almost every hour so I’m not panicking. I just really want to get out of this car already. Thank god it was an automatic otherwise I think I would have left it right there and wrote Hertz a letter on where they can find it. Literally and figuratively.
I log on to AIM on the iPhone and Jules’ isn’t on. Don’t want to bother her on a Sunday morning (in the States). Larisa’s up because I spoke to her an hour ago. “Hey, please call Hertz for me because I can’t dial 800 numbers from Europe and get me a Hertz drop off location near Gar du Nord and call me back. While I wait I get back on the iPhone and find 4 more locations for Hertz in Paris. One is on Avenue du Maine and is 4 miles away. Hopes of the 4:30 train were long gone a while ago. I figure I’ll shlep the 4 miles through Paris traffic, maybe find gas and take a taxi back. Maybe a Crepe with Nutella (yum) in between. Nah, there has got to be something around here. Has to be , its a train station, people must drop off and pick up rental cars all the time. Larisa calls back…”Nearest location is on Avenue du Maine right in front of the station”. I check the Navi, check Google Maps on the iPhone…THERE IS NO AVENUE DU MAINE near the train station….GGGRRRRRRR.
Navi – take me 4 miles please. While I hear the annoying “recalculating route…” a few times I decide to make one more loop around the area. Then the lord smiled on me and I see a tiny Hertz sign next to the entrance to an underground parking lot. Hallelujah! I take a ticket and go down, down, down 6 levels underground making crazy tight euro turns in a not so tiny car. Next time I’m getting a Smart Car! I finally get down to what looks like a rental car drop off but a sign says “FULL”. I move the sign and go through anyway. No attendants, no life, nothing, just a row of Hertz signs with numbers on one side and row of Avis signs on the other side with a barely a fully lane in between to pass. Cars parked tighter than you can imagine. I find a large Hertz sign with instructions… “Park your car, write down the spot number and final mileage and see an attendant on Level 1”. I guess it wasn’t totally full because I find a spot and try to pull in front first.
There just isn’t enough turning radius to get in. Since I took the sign down that said “Full” 2 more cars are now in line behind me. Where are they going? The place is full and there is no room to pass me. If I back in I’m not getting my bag out of the hatch..grrr….I get out of the car, friendly gesture to the cars waiting “You will wait s’il vous plait, thank you, I’m almost done with my Hertz return from hell”. I take my bags out, put them in front of another car and I start maneuvering for rear entry. During my maneuvers the engine starts and lights go on of the car my bags are in front of. I never noticed a guy in there getting ready to pull out and he didn’t see me put my stuff in front of his car. I start honking and jump out of the car gesturing at my stuff. Guy must be thinking who is this lunatic?….I show him my bags,…move them out the way and finish my parking exercise. All while the other 2 cars and he wait They’re not going anywhere anytime soon, the place is now grid locked. Who cares, I’m done and out of here. I hope there is a lift to Level 1.
I find the Hertz counter on Level 1 and I’m not sure what possessed me but I approach with “Bonjour…common sa va?” in my best French accent ever. It worked because in return I got….”Bien Merci…bonjour monsieur…” followed by nothing that I understood. Defeated, I respond with “Je ne parle pas Francais tres bien…parlez vous Anglais?”. Nice try Yankee, he must have been thinking. I hand over the Hertz jacket which had my contract in it and he asks if there was any problem with the car. I said no problem except there is something wrong with the ESP system. “You moost hav prissed the booton and shot it oof”. “No I did not press the button, there was an error message on the display that said there was a problem, with it”. He gets agitated and writes “ESP” somewhere on the contract in big bold letters . So much for getting favorable treatment on the gas. Oh well. “Wer iz zi ka pock’ed and wat is za feenal meelage?” he asks. I reply with “I wrote it down on the Hertz jacket that I just gave you.”. He looks all around his counter and can’t find it. “I moost have poot it in the traash” and then gets annoyed that he has to look for it. He finds it and gets the mileage and spot number that I wrote on it. “Merci monsieur, ve vill send you the feenal bill to your hom addriss”. I end with”Merci beaucoup, au revious” – I had to get in the final word. Can’t wait to see this bill! I’m sure they’ll get me for the gas, the parking ticket I got in Grenoble and all the highway speed cameras I flew by all day. Did I mention those cameras? Oops. Guess not. Yeah there were A LOT OF THEM. I think I’m in for a world record Hertz bill, higher than the one for taking one of their Hummers off roading in Vegas “oh was that not allowed ??? Pardon…”
It’s 5:35. I get to the Eurostar machine, print out my ticket and head to check-in. Prior to customs you have to insert the ticket into a turnstile type machine that validates the ticket. I assumed it was printed for the next train because I checked in past my original reservation time. No luck, ticket no worky. I am directed to the ticket counter to rebook with a “wepreesentatiff”. Short line then…”Sorry mesieur, there are no more seats on the next train. Only business class is available if you wish to upgrade or wait almost 2 more hours for the next one.” Hmm, that’s a tough one in this condition…..”Do you take American Express ?”. Next train 6:13. I’m starving and still have some time. Before I check in I ask if there is food past customs or if I should go back into the main station to grab something. “Oui mesiur tha is snocks and dwinks in the bizness class longe fo you”. Lovely, I’ll go drink me 90 Euro worth of upgrade fees and chill out before boarding. I leave my bag by the business class check in clerk and head to the bar. I down a beer that goes straight to my head because I’m EXHAUSTED from driving all day and yeah because of Hertz Inc.
6:00 PM…boarding announcements begin and I’m thinking I have my ticket, seat assignment, plenty of time, no need to rush with the rest that are flocking to the exit. One more beer and I’ll go downstairs. 6:05’ish I head downstairs…business class cars are all the way at the front of the platform. Long walk…get to my car and realize I have my laptop bag but not my luggage. Yeah, the one with my clothes that I saved from being run over. What’s a departure without some sweat?? I hoof it back to the lounge….up a one way escalator…grab my bag….run back down…..to the front of the platform…get a “You have your bag this time?” from a laughing porter and board the train. Business class is no big deal on this train. Only difference from coach is a slighly wider seat, dinner and free drinks. Attendant comes around with a menu. I glance at it quickly and notice Filet Mignon. I didn’t read any further and booted up my laptop not knowing how quickly food was going to be served. Less than 15 minutes after departure the food cart comes around and the friendly attendant asks me what I will be having. Ok…one more try…why? I don’t know…with an all out French accident I say “Je deser le Filet Mignon”… really laid it on thick….FILAY MINYO…You can’t says it much more French like than I did. My request is met with a blank stare. I repeat myself…Nada…I open the menu and point to it. It clearly says “Filet Mignon”. Then she says in a heavy foreign accident “Sorry, I’m not French, I didn’t understand you”….laughs, hands me my meat….”enjoy your meal”. It wasn’t even beef it was pork. Blah.Aur revious France…..I have a cold Guinness with my name on it at the Thistle Westminster In London. A day like this makes a stressful day at work seam like a walk in the park.