During the holiday season of 2001, a few short months after the 9/11 tragedies, very few people were traveling by air. Even though flights had resumed five days after September 11, 2001, planes were mostly empty. The horrific details of the last minutes of Flight 93, in Somerset, were etched in the world mind’s eye. Each American experienced the pain as if their loved ones, or they themselves had been on those flights. So, of course, my daughter Katherine and I, she was 10 at the time, flew to Paris on December 9 of that year.
For a fraction of the cost of a normal coach fare, we flew from Pittsburgh to La Guardia then on to Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris along with a few other seasoned travelers. We few on that plane seemed less worried about being hijacked than going where we wanted to be. The safest time to travel for me is right after something has happened to shut the world down to a crawl. The high travel alert systems, tightened security at airports, oozies carried by police on the streets of wherever we are, gives me peace. Thank you, I silently extend to those risking their lives to watch over us, more now than ever. Katherine and I saw our chance to get to Paris together for the first time and we took it. Hotels were less expensive than normal as well.
What a joy it was, and always is, to be with Katherine experiencing a place for the first time. She is fun and funny. Ever the watch guard over her mother (me) who tends to see shiny objects and follows them; her clarity sees how things might go wrong where I see adventure.
I had planned one special lunch at Jules Verne, a 5-star restaurant on the second level of the Eiffel Tower. Dressed up in not so warm clothes (It was freezing in Paris) my desire for effect rather than warmth had already put Katherine in a fowl mood. What a day to make her go to the very top of the Eiffel Tower. “I want a picture of you there!” I begged. This particular photo of Katherine, frowning and freezing, says everything in description of mood that I could ever say. Forever ‘mad at the mother’, Katherine lost interest in the view and wanted to get to the restaurant.
The atmosphere at Jules Verne is very exclusive. The views from every table are breath taking. She wouldn’t look out at all, she was so mad at me. “Mom! It was freezing up there and I have this stupid dress on!” she shouted. “Yes, Katherine, I love you. But, I wanted a picture of you in this most magical of places in that dress!” In my most loving of voices I could come up with, I made my case while gulping on the largest goblet of red wine they had there. She could care less if I loved her or not. She was mad. The decadent lunch was wonderful and two more large glasses of red wine later, we seemed to like each other again. At least I felt better. It took her longer than most people to get over her disdain toward my behaviors and me.
Once outside in the bitter cold again we went to the taxi stand a few steps from Eiffel. It was about 4pm. Taxi’s, we found out later, were hard to find at that hour. We waited a long time. People started forming a line behind us so I moved a few steps to my left. There was a bus stand there as well. As the line for the taxi got longer and longer behind us I kept thinking I should move over so others could find space. Red wine made me irrational.
We were all overjoyed to see the first taxi arrive at its appropriate area for pick up. As I went to open the taxi door a woman, out of the blue behind us, ran over and said since I had moved out of the taxi line and was now into the bus stand space this taxi was now hers. “What? No way!” I screamed at her. And the entertainment for everyone in that line began. I was holding on to the door handle for dear life swearing and yelling at the woman to get back in line. “My children are freezing back there while you take this taxi that doesn’t belong to you!” She yelled in perfect English. Beside me Katherine is loudly saying, “Mom, let her have it, let her have it.” “No! I yelled to Katherine. This is our taxi!” I wouldn’t let go and the taxi driver was smiling in amusement at the folly. This isn’t something unheard of in Paris. Jumping the line and arguing about it was commonplace. Well, not with me lady! Without letting go of the door handle I gave the woman a shove. She let go of the handle and I grabbed Katherine screaming, “Get in!” The woman screamed, “You’re a menace!” Finally having something to smile about I retorted, “Go back to your children in line and wait your turn!” With the taxi door shut behind me and Katherine and I safely inside it, I filled with pride at my standing up to this most seasoned of French women and not backing down.
When I finally looked up, I saw the Korean taxi driver handing Katherine a French/English dictionary to help him learn these new words the woman had been screaming at me. “Bitch, horrible person and most of all, MENACE”, were words she said over and over again. I was pulled out of my wine-soaked reverie of pride and accomplishment to realize, in Katherine’s eyes, I had put on quite a spectacle that was unnecessary. “Well, I’m glad you both are having fun! I risked my life out there for you Katherine!” I said disillusioned yet again. Less than thrilled with my drama, Katherine and her new Korean friend giggled at the new English words he was learning. “Yep,” Katherine announced to our illustrious taxi driver. “That’s my mother.”
Debra Whittam is the author of “I'm I Going to be Ok?" For any media inquiries or questions please contact: Contact@DebraWhittam.com