Today was a classic touring day- we drove all day just to get home. We made it to Clermont-Ferrand in France. This is a Michelin town- they make a lot of the tires here. It wasn’t much to look at in the dark.
The high point of the day and the low point were just minutes apart- we drove across the highest bridge in the world. The thing was astonishingly tall. Even in the dark it was disconcerting to be up that high. We decided to drive down into the valley and have a meal in the town of Millau.
At the only bistro open at that hour, Keef and I had steak frites and Daniel had some sort of pasta thing. Afterwards, we went to drive to the foot of the massive bridge so we could look up and gape. This whole trip, Keef has been saying what a pain in the ass the police can be in South France. Sure enough, we got pulled over on the way to the bridge. I found it extremely disconcerting to be barked at in a language I speak badly under the best of circumstances. I did my best to handle them like I have handled US cops in the past- give them what they ask for, volunteer pertinent information and keep them engaged, all the while making good eye contact. They were plainclothes National Police.
The whole time, I had this impression that they weren’t real cops and that any second we were going to be shaken down for a bribe, but as we finally drove away Keef said that that’s just the way that the National Police in France present themselves- no visible badges, no guns, unmarked Renault. The only indication that I had that I wasn’t just dealing with some thug was that he had a maglight, a buddy who had the same maglight, a floppy patch that said “Police Nationale” in a wallet next to a photo ID that I could barely see in the dark, and he had shoes on that no Frenchman would ever wear unless he had to. French guys just don’t do clunky-black by choice.
The whole thing took about ten minutes, and I just kept talking to them in my nervous French and handing them documents and bags that they hadn’t asked for in order to keep them busy. I find that if I do these things with as angelic a look on my face as I can muster, all the while asking completely innocuous questions, hoping that the police would just get tired of taking things from me and answering insipid questions. Imagine spending an entire evening shaking down a guy who keeps looking you directly in the eye and saying “So, do you need my work permit as well? I have six copies- and the original is down at the bottom of this bag. Here- you can look through the bag… while I try to find that permit…. is this copy clear enough? Oh, look, here’s another…”
Actually, considering the state of my French when I am nervous, what I probably said was “So, sir, do you need my tractor certificate? I have sex. Down at the bottom of this bag is a pack of small birds. Hear that? You can see all sorts of things down there in these bags. I will fly to St. Tropez in the meantime… How’s the weather? Oh, look, your mom called.”
They probably let us go because they didn’t have the facilities to deal with a crazy person. Especially a chatty one.
French cops. What a pain.
As they drove away, Keef said “Right, next time, DON’T ‘bon soir!’ the police. They hate that.”
After that, we stood under the tallest bridge in the world, looking up at one of Man’s greatest engineering marvels, and all I could think was “God, what a pain in the ass that was. Fuckers.”
The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful. Days like this are when glam metal bands write those godawful songs about how much touring sucks. Sure, driving is the worst part of traveling, and touring is 75% driving, but don’t ferfuckssake write songs about it…. you just sound like a whiner.
Tomorrow, we are going to Versailles. Keef corrected me. Today was just the day to close some of the gap between us and London.
As we drove, we had a long discussion about an unnamed band who stole a six foot inflatable banana from a venue where they had played, then got into a world of trouble about it. The venue had been incredibly shitty to them, so they took their revenge by stealing their banana. Then, apparently, there was a whole shitstorm of the club calling the band’s manager and demanding that the banana be returned (What wouldn’t you give to have a recording of THAT call?) and the band has been forced to deny any knowledge ever since.
I am only telling you this because I think that the band should put the banana on the cover of their next record. The title?
“Banana non grata”
I crack me up.