Thursday, June 27, 2013

Down by the station

Aside from using your feet to get you from point A to B in Paris, there are a variety of other options offering that same service. During my stay, I took advantage of two: the bikes and the metro.

Unlike Amsterdam, where people steal a bike when they don't have one and want to get around, Paris has stations where people can borrow a bike when they don't have one and want to get around. With a small fee of 29 Euros for a yearly subscription, you're given a card to borrow any bike from any of the many stations around the city.  Et voila, your ride is free... for the first 30 minutes that is. Any longer, your card is charged. But with so many stations around, it's not a problem. Because when you're coming near your 30 minute mark, you deposit the bike in the nearest station, wait 10 minutes and take it again for yet another free 30 minute ride. It's as simple as that.

There are a few things to do when choosing a bike - before removing it from the stand. I like to call them the golden rules:

1. Check the appearance. Now's the time to judge a book by its cover.
2. Kick the tires.  (Not to be mean, but to see if they're full).
3. Ring the bell. Seriously. You'll need it.
4. Make sure the seat is adjustable and not stuck. Then adjust it accordingly.
5. Squeeze the breaks on the handle bars. You should know what good breaks feel like. If not, back off  and find another form of transportation.
6. Finally, pretend to take the bike out of its holder. No, not to see if you can steal it. You just want to make sure it's not jammed.

All that's left is to swipe the card on the reader next to the bike, wait for the light to turn green, and take the bike. Now you're ready to put your fate in the hands of Parisian drivers.

As nice as bikes are, though, the metro really is the most convenient option. They're punctual, quick, and easy to maneuver. Plus, there are two varieties offered: fast (RER) and slow (metro). The RER only goes to certain stations, cutting down the travel time since it doesn't stop as frequently. Although, it's only advantageous to those living near, or going to, one of the designated stations. The metro, by comparison, opens its doors at every stop - as you've clearly figured out by this point.

Like the bike system, transportation subscriptions are also offered for the underground - because no one wants to carry around a booklet full of single journey tickets. The caveat is as follows, though. Yes. There's always a caveat. The Navigo card (whether a weekly, monthly or yearly renewable subscription), must have a micro-photograph of the user attached to it, along with a signature. A micro-photograph is like a passport photo, but a quarter of the size.

Thing is, I didn't put much importance on the photo... or the signature. I figured, that way, I could leave it with the friends I was staying with. Then, one day while running late for school as I was transferring metros, I was stopped by a wall of transportation police at the Opera station. They were checking to see if people had tickets. I had my trusty Navigo card, so I wasn't worried.

I handed it over, ready for the guard scan it and hand it back so I could continue on my way. Instead, after scanning it, he flipped the card over and started talking to me in French. The translated version of the conversation is as follows:

Metro man - "You don't have a photo on here. You must pay 30 Euros."

Me - "What?"

Metro man - "You don't have a photo on here. That means you pay 30 Euros."

Note: I had spent over 65 Euros for the card.  He was asking me to spend 30 more.

Another note: Sometimes, when frustrated, I unwillingly cry.  Once such occasion occurred here.

So, to sum up thus far: I'm in a busy metro station, late for class, blocked by an aging transportation  agent demanding money, and my tear ducts decide to go into overdrive.

Me - "I... I... my French is not so good. I... Can I just get a photo now and put it on?"

Metro man - "No. You must pay 30 Euros."

Me - "I don't have 30 Euros with me."

Confession: I did have 30 Euros in my wallet. I hoped by lying I would get out of paying. Yes, I'm going to hell. But it didn't work anyway. See:

Metro man - "That's OK. We take credit card."

I pulled out my PIN card, grudgingly, and gave it to the agent. He placed it in the mobile card machine, punched some numbers, and turned it my direction to enter the pin.  The funny thing about my card in Paris is that it didn't always work - namely at select restaurants, and in the middle of a metro blockade. The agent tried twice. That beautiful thing just wouldn't allow my hard earned funds enter the hands of the money grubbing transportation company.

He asked for another card. I offered a credit card - of which I didn't know the pin for. But no pin, no transaction. I tried explaining, then grew tired of speaking French and used English, to his dissatisfaction. Another agent was called over. In English he said that since I was willing to pay, yet unable, I was set free. He directed me to a photo booth. The booth didn't accept my 5 Euro bill. I walked over to the nearest vender who traded paper for coinage. I deposited the money, chose a few onscreen options, then sat still as a statue waiting for the flash.

I stepped out of the booth and collected the photo sheet only to discover I chose the passport size instead of the micro version. I crumpled it up in my hand and left for class. 

1 comment:

Patti said...

My tear ducts do the same thing. I hate it. I also know the frustration of not having my debit card work while traveling abroad and not knowing my credit card pin. But hey, you got out of paying 30 euros!