|By Aimée Skidmore
the damned motor car and build the cities for lovers and friends.”
–Lewis Mumford, 1895–1990, American social philosopher
for the monthly Parent Student Association coffee was crumpled up in Isabel’s
back pack when I found it on Wednesday morning. I sat in the kitchen, looking
at the paper and trying to decide whether I should go or not. My eyes settled
on the address of this month’s get-together: Centre Chavannes, Chavannes
de Bogis. I didn’t know where that was and so decided immediately to attend.
I didn’t really care for the last meeting, but the mission to travel without
a car was irresistible. If it was anything like the last meeting, I would
most definitely have an adventure trying to get there in one piece and
tedious search of train timetables and bus schedules, the challenge
of how to get to this mega shopping center presented itself in the form
of a train ride, a bus ride, and a short foray on foot. With the page-long
itinerary printed out from the CFF website, neatly folded in my pocket,
I set out early Thursday morning. I arrived at the station with plenty
of time to waste buying a ticket and finding the correct quai.
in line for a rail ticket, the attendant informed me I had to buy a
ticket from the bus ticket vending machine. The train ride was familiar
to me as I had traveled this line to Isabel’s school many times. A young
man listening to German rap music rolled a joint in the seat next to me.
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my eyes studying him, he moved to a seat further down the car to light
off the train and followed the groups of older women carrying grocery bags.
Surely, they would lead me to the bus, which was leaving in two minutes.
Not seeing the bus stop as I emerged from the tunnel, I asked one of the
ladies. She told me the bus stop was on the other side, and I better hurry
up. I jogged to other side of the station just in time to see the plume
of smoke bellowing mockingly from the rear end of the departing bus. A
quick check of the faded bus timetable posted, informed me that I would
have to wait an hour for the next bus and another hour for the train home.
My heart sank. Could I walk it? I had no map and the bus ride was
I didn’t think
I could make it in time.
to foil the PSA’s plan to cater to the car-possessed rich ladies had failed.
My desire to assert myself as a can-do member of the car-less proletariat
was not to be. There was a reason why the “ladies who lunch” all
had cars. I was foolish to think I could thumb my nose at the ladies who
were chatting and gulping down café at this very moment in the warmth
of the shopping mall food hall.
c’est Aimee. Ca va?” I chirped meekly into the cell phone. Simona,
the president of the PSA, a down-to-earth woman who likes an occasional
clandestine smoke, greeted me warmly. I asked her if she could pick me
up at the Coppet station, and explained my situation. I could feel the
red hot embarrassment rising up my neck. No shame. I am a car-less adventurer.
I must have no shame. Who cares.
I arrived at the PSA coffee a little late, but I felt safe now that
I was in a shopping mall where there was activity and people. If there
was one thing I knew from having lived in the U.S., it was how to “survive”
in a mall. I knew I would not go hungry, or get depressed. I could even
have a heel replaced, or buy a new bra. The shopping mall was the quintessential
of coffee, I cheerfully told and retold my morning adventure. The other
ladies gasped in horror at my explanation that, no, my car was not in the
shop. I didn’t have one. I tried to change to subject back to school and
which teacher was the best, and who would like to join me in volunteering
for the read-a-thon, but to no avail. I was bombarded with comments about
how I needed a car, you know, for shopping in France. It was much nicer
to end a day of skiing by tumbling, exhausted into a car, rather than having
to walk from the train station. Oh yes, the insurance was expensive, and
the gas (about 3 times U.S. prices), and the car, and the parking
tickets, but I really needed to have one, I was told. I reiterated. I live
in the city. I don’t need one. I come from D.C. where I spent too many
hours in the car. I can go anywhere by train or bus, except for when I
miss the only bus from the station for an hour.
pleasant experience of meeting new friends, sipping coffee, and checking
my watch every quarter hour, I bid everyone goodbye and left to catch the
bus back to the station.
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out into the sunny cold to search for the bus stop. I was a survivor
and would hunt down the bus stop and make it to the station on my own and
withut wheels. Not finding it, I slumped back inside and in keeping
to the laws of my gender, asked for directions. I sprinted down the
stairs, out the door just in time to see the bus pulling away, two minutes
early by my watch. “C’est le bus?!” I exclaimed disbelievingly to
an elderly lady. She toddled into the mall, leaving me behind to check
the schedule. The next bus departed in two hours. Two hours?! What kind
of backwater hell of a town was I trapped in? This would never happen in
Geneva. I had to get back to the transportation safe zone of Geneva. What
to do? I couldn’t wait as I had to pick up Celeste from school. I called
Rob, who cheerfully offered the unthinkable suggestion of taking a cab.
I was not going to pay three times the amount of train fare to take a cab.
I went back
into the mall, which had now become a trap of commercialism from which
I could not escape. One of the mothers was passing by, frantically
pushing a shopping cart filled with purchases. She averted her eyes when
she saw me, probably remembering my earlier story, and no wanting to be
associated with a woman who did not “need” a car. Luckily,
another woman came by and I explained my situation. She offered to drive
me back to the nearest station.
say, I arrived home safely, albeit late. I gave Rob a hug and whined
that I was not going to leave the city again without a Plan C. “C”
for car. The next week as I was cleaning out Isabel’s back pack, I found
a crumpled up invitation to a birthday party. Hmmm. I looked at the address:
Chemin de Vuaracaux, Founex. Sounds like a mission to me.
goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?” –Jack Kerouac
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