A Hot Dog in Paris
A Last-minute Trip
I was single, making a good salary, and working for an airline. My new friend and coworker Pete, or "Disco Pete" as he was called at the time, had an extra business-class ticket on Air France. It made perfect sense to fly to Paris for the weekend. I made arrangements to have someone cover my shift on Friday and went home. It was Thursday afternoon. I showered, put on a suit (we had to wear a suit when we flew on a discount), tossed some clothes into a bag, returned to the airport, and boarded the flight to France.
We arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport and took a train to Paris. Another perk of working for an airline was deeply discounted hotel rates. Of course you could lose your reservation if someone was willing to pay the full rate for the room. Pete had booked a room at the Intercontinental Hotel in Paris. When we arrived at the check-in desk, the clerk said "Yes Monsieur, we received your reservation, but we don't have a room for you". We got in a cab and looked for another hotel. We found one that was literally just a few feet from the EiffelTower - Hotel La Tour". We settled in and went out to experience Paris.
Fine Cuisine and Power Sightseeing
I was anxious to sample some French cuisine. Pete and I went to a bistro and ordered a beef steak. It wasn't so much a steak as it was a large bone with grizzle and veins. Ok, maybe the French don't do steak well. I ordered escargot. This is basically slugs with garlic sauce and I was a little repulsed. Desperate to eat something, I grabbed a hot dog from a street vendor. The dog was gray, mushy, and tasteless, but the bread was fantastic.
We hit the Champs Elysee, the arc de triomphe, and Notre Dame. We walked along the Seine, bought a baguette at a patisserie, and drank a bottle of wine. We visited the Louvre. Hey! Where's the big Mona Lisa? We went back to the hotel and had a couple of drinks in the hotel bar. There was something missing...oh yeah, women.
A Strange Encounter
We went to a supermarket to pick up snacks and beer. Pete started speaking Japanese, or his version of Japanese, to an Asian girl who was shopping. She was actually from Laos, but it didn't matter; Pete's pigeon Japanese seemed to work. She grabbed my arm and walked me to the cashier. We paid for our stuff and she led us out to the street, down the block, and up to her flat.
She didn't speak English and we didn't speak Laotian. Some would say that we barely spoke English having grown up in New York. She grabbed two glasses, reached into our shopping bag, pulled out a couple of beers, and poured them for us. She spoke broken French and we answered in broken Spanish. That's how we communicated, but somehow it worked.
A few hours later there was a knock on the door. She opened the door and eight young Asian guys entered the room. "We're screwed" I whispered to Pete. He nodded in agreement. I don't know why they were there or what they wanted from us. Two of them sat at the table. One of them spoke a little English. He said that they all worked several jobs despite French laws that made working more than one job illegal. A couple of them had cars even though the cost of fuel was very high. This was all very interesting but I was still concerned about staying alive. I stood up and said that we had to leave. Pete and I walked out without interference and made it to the street. We hailed a cab and got in.
Le House of le Rising Soleil
I told the cabby to take us to the Moulin Rouge, which apparently means "Please be very rude to us and kick us out of your cab" in French. We hailed another cab. This guy said "You don't want to go to the Moulin Rouge, that's for tourists. I'll take you to a place with lots of pretty girls". I kind of wanted to go to the Moulin Rouge but "lots of pretty girls" sounded nice too.
He zig-zagged through the streets of Paris at high speed and pulled up to the curb in a back alley. The car door was pulled open by someone on the outside. There was no sidewalk, so when I stepped out of the cab, my first step was in the street and my second step was inside a dark room. I had no idea where I was.
As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see a normal looking bar with five or six patrons sitting on bar stools. There was a TV above the bar showing x-rated movies. As my eyesight improved I could see that the patrons were all women. Attractive women. I'm not that lucky, so I sized up the situation rather quickly. I glanced at the exit and saw two of the largest individuals I'd ever seen, leaning against the door with their arms folded in a defiant manner. "Let's have a couple of drinks" I said to Pete.
After two forty-dollar beers, Pete went to find the bathroom. He followed the signs to the restroom and disappeared. A very attractive woman struck up a conversation with me. In back of her was the TV, which was just over her shoulder. As I looked up, I saw that Pete was somehow in the x-rated movie. At least his head was as he walked through the scene. This wasn't so much of a "movie" as it was a closed-circuit TV system. When Pete returned, he whispered "There's naked women back there". I replied "I know. I saw your head".
We left the building and walked through the streets looking for a main thoroughfare.
Adding Injury to Insult
We found a deli and decided to grab a couple of Heinekens, forgetting that they didn't have screw caps. I remembered a trick someone told me. If you rest the edge of the cap against a ledge and hit the top of the bottle, the cap will come off.
There was a dumpster in the alley so I rested the edge of the bottle cap against it and smacked it down with my other hand and the cap popped off. I wanted to make sure that there was no dirt from the dumpster on the bottle so I twisted it between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand. I didn't realize that the glass chipped during the process, leaving a sharp edge. I took a swig from the bottle and Pete noticed that I was bleeding like a stuck pig. I wrapped my thumb with a piece of cloth I tore from my shirt and we hailed a cab back to La tour Eiffel.
This all happened on our first day in Paris. Thank God we were only there for the weekend.
Pete would later bring up his adventure when we were giving a lecture at the American Embassy in Lisbon, but that's story for another day.