How to Steal a Train Ride to Paris
May 1973...My boyfriend Ed and I are in Nice, France, 20-somethings trying to hitchhike to Paris. In eight hours time, no one stopped for us at all. We're surprised and concerned. Ed is carrying a book about asking Jesus for whatever you want. Although we're not particularly religious, we decide it's worth a shot to ask Jesus to get us a ride to Paris. Within five minutes, a car stops! It's driver is a man in his late 20s. He tells us in a mixture of broken English and French that no one will give us a ride because just a few years earlier (actually in the 1960s), Algerian terrorists hitchhiked in that area, then killed the motorists who stopped to give them a ride. He suggests we take the train to Paris, and brings us to the Nice train depot.
In the depot, we encounter a guy about our age, a Belgian named Luc. Tall, slim, platinum blond, wearing an expensive suit, dress shirt with cuff links and silk tie, Luc convinces us that if we are sneaky enough, we don't need to buy a ticket to Paris. In fact, Luc has no intention of buying a ticket, he says he 'steals' train rides all the time, in spite of having the money to pay for them. But, to be successful at this subterfuge, we must keep moving on the train, and duck out of the way of the conductors when we see them coming
Convinced it would be a cinch, and being low on funds, Ed and I brazenly board the train to Paris without tickets in the dark of the night with our new best friend, Luc. We are now partners in crime, 'train outlaws'. It seems to us a major thrill to avoid detection by the conductors.
We are successful at this ruse for some time. I stick to Luc like a magnet; we lose Ed at one point as we bypass the train authorities. In one scary moment, the conductors are almost upon us! Luc commands me to "Comportent naturellement!!" (Act naturally!). Pretending to ignore the conductor, Luc turns to me, whips out a pack of Gaulois, and very flirtatiously asks me if I'd care for a 'Cigarette?" in a devastatingly thick and sexy French accent. Aside from my excitement at the prospect of successfully stealing a train ride to Paris, Luc is just so meltingly charming and seductive, I can hardly stand it. I feel like I'm in that Truffaut film with the man who loves women. Ed is nowhere in sight, but somehow I don't at all miss my traveling companion.
I grin and murmur, "Non, merci" to Luc, as the oblivious conductor passes us, presumably assuming we are paying passengers. Luc and I move forward a car, and spot all 6' 4" of Ed trying to flatten himself and his oversized backpack against a door. Luc informs us it's time we found an empty sleeping car. They've turned off the lights on most of train, we haven't eaten in hours, the train is running at high speed, and our adrenaline is pumping. Thus we are now very brave and surreally wired as we enter an unlocked, deeply dark, apparently cavernously empty sleeper car.
We flick the light switch and BOOM! We are confronted by a shocked and frightened middle-aged French couple - a woman in a flannel nightgown and curlers, and a man in striped pajamas and a satiny robe.
Of course these people are upset at our intrusion. Sleepy as they are, they begin to loudly and defensively tell us off, but realize we are really just kids. Coincidentally, they have children of their own. They soften from being outraged and pissed at us, to taking the opportunity to give us a sterm lecture. We are exhausted, can barely stand. We sit on the edge of their berth, listen to their philippic, nodding our heads in agreement. To the delight of our pro-tem foster parents, we agree to buy tickets at the next stop.
Ed and Luc exit the train at Dijon and buy sleeping car tickets for us all. A smirking conductor, who had seen us wandering the train earlier, leads Ed and I to our sleeping compartment. We crawl between the cool, clean, white sheets, and fall deeply and deliciously asleep to the gentle rhythm of the 'wagon lit' as we slowly chug towards the Paris Gare du Nord. We awaken in the noisy train station, scramble to gather our things, and head out to the street. We say a fond au revoir to Luc, the author of our adventure, but we will never see him again
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