I realize, on Saturday afternoon on the 6th level of the underground parking garage Gare du Nord Paris, that I haven’t driven a standard in three-and-a-half years.
It is very different driving in a six-level, 45-degree claustrophobic bunker than it is playing Daisy Duke in the backwoods of Lanark County.
There I could burn circles on the dirt roads, grab some airtime over the railway tracks and hit 170 or so on the straight stretches of country nothingness.
Here it takes me ten minutes to find reverse. Then I stall twice in the middle of the first spiral and can’t get going. I have to ask the two cars behind me to back out, and end up begging one of the drivers - in my panicked French – to drive my vehicle to the top (he won’t). Instead his passenger drives me and the kids to the next level, getting us the hell out of the way.
I stop for a breath, suck up my panic and push on. I conquer the first spiral and then the remaining four in one dizzy, manic go. I reach the top but we are not home free.
The parking attendant has inexplicably vacated his post and a mob of angry French people in automobiles/death machines begin to form. A security guard arrives but refuses to lift the automatic arm manually. Masses of drivers rush from their vehicles and storm the Bastille amidst screaming and furious gestures. They are Gallic and this makes perfect sense, as does the real possibility of a punch-up. The guard recognizes his best interest and holds up the gate. He has made the right choice. I have no doubt they would have killed him.
I pull to the side and let everyone pass. I don’t want infuriated Frenchmen behind me should I stall on the final ascent.
Finally, four kids, one Husband, and a jelly-legged Mamma in a teeny-tiny EuroVan pop out into Parisian traffic, heading for Normandy.