Post 69 / Hour 71: Bullets and Bikini Briefs
By Dave Fox
[Here’s an old travel flashback: A story I wrote in the French Riviera in 2002.]
This troubles me. Studies show a man’s tendency to drive a convertible is directly proportionate to how fast his hairline is receding. And that much cash could buy a lot of Rogaine. Nevertheless I have paid my money, and I am looking forward to the wind in what’s left of my hair as I sit and enjoy the Riviera’s legendary traffic jams.
I don’t usually squander money on things like this, but sitting in Oslo earlier this week, my assistant tour guide and bus driver caught me in a moment of beer-induced weakness. They convinced me I would be the laughing stock of southern France if I went parading around with a roof on my car. The Riviera, after all, is a place one should look sexy. If one is cursed with thinning hair and a beer gut, one must compensate. I needed, they told me, to have another beer, march right up to my hotel room before my bad judgement wore off, and call the car rental company to make arrangements. One does not get many opportunities to drive a convertible through the Riviera, they pointed out. Plus they weren’t paying, therefore money was no object.
I landed in Nice (rhymes with geese) after wrapping up my last Scandinavia tour of the season. Back in France for the first time in three years, I discovered my French has receded like my hair. With four hours to kill before my friends would fly in from Amsterdam, I decided to get the car and go for a drive.
On my way to the rental pick-up, I realized I had no map and no clue where to go. Luckily I had the clarity of mind to go back into the airport and buy a map or I would have missed the bomb scare.
Nice is just down the road from Monaco, a rich and tiny nation. Famous people fly into Nice and then go to Monaco to gamble and drive convertables and do other famous people things. So when the airport police officer yelled at me to get out of the way, my first thought was maybe the Beatles were arriving. A big crowd was gathered.
“What’s going on?” I asked a woman nearby.
“There’s an unidentified bag,” she said.
The atmosphere was tense. Police were cordoning off the area around the mysterious bag and locking all doors to the airport so no one could come in or out. Yes, there was possibly a bomb in the building and they were locking us in.
I hate to sound culturally insensitive, but where I come from (Planet Zorkon), if a building is about to blow up, we recommend that people watch the explosion from the outside. Nevertheless, we were trapped. Locked in the building with a potential bomb. People stood around looking amused. All I could think about was the guy who had cut in front of me in line as I was buying my map. Now, I was going to die because I had to spend two extra minutes in the bookshop before the airport was sealed.
Police began whistling at each other from the ground floor up to the second level. French police use special shrill whistle codes that few civilians understand. But being a highly skilled linguist, I understood their Morse-Code-like signals. One was saying to the other, “Hey Jacques, what the hell do I do now? All these people are staring at me.”
The officer in charge ran around some more and everyone else looked on calmly. The next thing I heard was a gun shot.
Several thoughts, most of which can be summarized in a long string of words my mother told me never to use, ran through my head as I heard the gun shot. I wanted to dive on the floor, but that seemed like a very non-international-playboyish thing to do. So pretending to be calm, I instead began moving slowly away from the empty space the police had cordoned off.
Everyone else looked unfazed. Some prople chuckled. Others clapped. Then I realized the gun shot was a good thing. From a distance they hoped was safe, police had just fired a single bullet through the bag to see if it would explode. Bang — probably right through the bikini briefs of some brainless tourist who was so drunk by the time his plane landed, he had forgotten his bag. The airport sprang back to life.
The extra money for the convertible seemed trivial after this brush with death. Luckily, the only thing the bullet had hit was a pair of underwear. I shivered at the thought of the alternative. The bullet could have instead ricocheted off a deodorant stick and pierced my body in a non-trendy place such as my left lung or cerebellum.
* * *
“Would you like a Renault Megane or a Peugeot 306?” the man at the car rental asked me.
I know as much about French cars as you know about 16th century Zimbabwean architecture. “Which do you suggest,” I asked.
“I don’t know a thing about cars,” the car rental expert told me. I was in good hands.
So I went for the Renault and spent the next 30 minutes in the parking lot, sweating in the Mediterranean heat, playing with the electric roof. Then, as if on cue like a scene from a bad movie, that classic French-American 70s disco hit, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” came on the radio. My international playboy vision was falling into place, and I hadn’t even left the airport.
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