As I mentioned in the last post, we just got back from a 3 week stay in the States and right before we left Marianne gave us the okay for another year in France. It’s over three years now so I thought a bit of reflection was in order, especially since my first trip home in two years gave me the perfect opportunity to compare and contrast.
After gaining an astonishing amount of weight during my last trip home I was determined to limit the damage this time, but it wasn’t easy. In fact I swear I could feel my belt tightening as soon as we entered American airspace. Compounding the problem is the undeniable reality that an aging body doesn’t shed the excess like it once did. However my adoption of an increasingly sedentary home life at least mitigated things somewhat as I came in at a higher weight anyway. So all in all it had to be considered a minor triumph that I only picked up 5 extras pounds stateside.
In the 8 years or so that we lived in Florida, I-10 between Tallahassee and Houston became pretty familiar. The whole route, as with all American highways, is blighted by thousands of enormous billboards that are almost entirely absent in Europe. So as we re-familiarized ourselves with the stretch between Beaumont and Lafayette, I realized that in the whole time we’ve lived in France, I’ve had no idea how to get in touch with a personal injury lawyer. Fortunately, I’ve been able to avoid wrecks with large trucks, getting hurt on an oil rig or falling in the bathtub. On the other hand a preponderance of the rest of the “outdoor advertising”, the ones not touting the friendliest local car dealer or loosest slots in Lake Charles, assured me that if my present belief system turns out to be wrong, I stand a pretty good chance of burning in the depths of a fiery and everlasting hell. However, most helpfully pointed out appropriate scripture or local ministries eager to steer me from the path of eternal damnation.
Speaking of driving, I’ve found getting around European highways to be, on the whole, a lot less stressful and irritating than American. For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, you just don’t encounter typical roadway dumbasses with anywhere near the same frequency as at home. My own pet peeve, the fast lane bandit, simply isn’t found here in part because your average French driver doesn’t consider permanent possession of whatever lane he or she feels like occupying to be some sort of inalienable Constitutional Right. It also helps that in order to get a driver’s license in the first place, you have to take a specified number of hours of lessons that cost around €1,000. This has to weed out at least a few potential disasters anyway.
One common aspect of driving in the States that evidence suggests cuts across international boundaries is the old guy rolling roadblock. This phenomena was particularly common, not surprisingly, in Florida where we lived for the eight years prior to leaving for France but they’re found everywhere. These are the folks whose longevity coupled with large blocks of day to fill entitles them to take their own sweet time getting anywhere - and when they get there to take even more time sorting out a landing space, all the while completely oblivious to entreaties to get a move on. And the international symbol of the slow moving geriatric male driver is one of those hats like the one Ben Hogan used to wear - they’re always wearing one, even here. And both sides of the Atlantic seem to be driving cars of an age that indicates the owner’s ensuring he’s getting his money's worth out of them. Americans tend to prefer aging GM products while the French are more likely to be behind the wheel of an old 100 series Peugeot.
|Typical American rolling roadblock|
|Typical French rolling roadblock|
|International symbol of slow moving geriatric driver|
It must happen here but in three years I can’t recall ever seeing any news reports of older drivers wreaking some of the havoc of their American counterparts. Personally, I blame a lot of it on Americans' refusal to drive cars with manual transmissions. It's pretty hard to misapply pedals when you've got a clutch to contend with. But in the States every time you turned around it seemed someone not much older than I am was zooming through a store somewhere after stepping on the wrong pedal. And not long after we got to Florida we read the story of a 93-year old stopped at the toll booth of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge with the lifeless legs of some poor sap he’d mowed down somewhere along the way sticking out of his windshield. My own father, during his last decade, completely destroyed two cars and an insurance office before throwing in the sponge.
This probably isn’t a subject I should hit too hard since I’m teetering on the edge of dotage myself. And life in Florida provided me with an almost constant look at my own not too distant future. As I write this, Cynthia and I are spending some time in Paris and Bordeaux with a dear friend whom I met way too early one morning at Charles de Gaulle airport. I’m still trying to figure out how during the trip from the airport, I ended up flat on my back going feet first up an escalator at the Gard du Nord. But after getting upright with the help of some friendly Parisians, I realized that I’ve reached the age, that from now on, the headline reporting any tragedy that might befall me is going to read something like “FRIEND WATCHES HELPLESSLY AS ELDERLY MAN GROUND TO PULP BY PARIS ESCALATOR.”
I’ll leave you with Pops and Big T performing my new theme song.