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The Seventh Exit

by scriever 

Posted: 03 August 2017
Word Count: 683
Summary: For the challenge - hopefully the right one this time! Challenge 648 - the moment. I've chosen a personal moment, that felt as if it meant something at the time, but which turned out not to..

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“At the next roundabout, take the seventh exit.”

The seventh exit. I let that sink in. Until the satnav lady spoke I’d been gazing at the Arc de Triomphe rather than thinking about driving. I’d never seen if from here before: at the wheel of a car heading into the centre of Paris. I’d looked at it like a tourist, a pedestrian. The lanes of cars on the Champs Elysee were just a minor inconvenience. But now I was driving one of these cars.

So far, the drive from Honfleur, where we’d spent the first week of our holiday, to Paris, the destination for week two, had been pleasant, fun even. I enjoy driving in different countries, and only rarely use the wrong side of the road. But this, it struck me, was different. I looked around at the cars on either side of me, and the ones speeding across the cobbles in front of me. Every other car was driven by a Parisien.

You could tell by looking at them. Keeping, at most, one hand on the wheel. Smoking their French cigarettes, having animated conversations with their passengers, who all looked as young and glamorous as the drivers. How was that possible? Is everyone in Paris young, good looking, beautifully groomed, expensively dressed? On the available evidence, the answer was yes. Apart from the ones on motorbikes, who just looked, for the most part, cool. You couldn’t tell how beautiful they were because of their crash helmets.

What none of them looked, however, was in any way concerned about leaping forward, into the free-for-all that was the Arc de Triomphe roundabout. I was clearly alone with that. 

The lights changed, with no decent amber interval, from red to green. Engines roared and tyres screeched on the cobbles  as cars all around me leapt, without hesitation, into the chaos, into the confusion. The roundabout was full of cars. There were no lanes, no markings. Every car wanted to go in a different direction. And they were doing just that. All of them. My wife gripped the edges of the passenger seat, knuckles white. “Jesus” she said. “Watch out!” She’s helpful that way.

Then one of these moments that sometimes occur in life happened. It emerged in my mind as a fully formed, complete thought, no, conviction. I shouldn’t be hidebound by outlandish considerations of health and safety; I should do what all the other drivers were doing. Drive. It would be fine. So I took a deep breath and, ignoring the increasing noise from the passenger seat, headed into the melee.

And when I did, a strange feeling came over me. The world seemed to slow down, become calm, and quiet, even in the midst of the tumult. I experienced a kind of nirvana: a feeling of freedom, of throwing off the petty bourgeois constraints of staying within lanes. We don’t need your silly lanes, we are in Paris!

I became, at that moment, a French driver. I want the seventh exit? Alors, I will drive towards the seventh exit. There are other cars driving to other exits, but I don’t care about them. Why should I? And it worked! Somehow, we, like all the cars on the roundabout, made it to our own exit, without stopping anyone else getting to theirs. I wanted a cigarette, not to smoke, as I don’t, just so I could hold it in a nonchalant way, as I drove my car without a care in the world, to wherever I wanted to go.

The rest of the journey was a disappointment. Straight roads, traffic lights, no more roundabouts, all the way to Gare de l’Est, where I was to leave the car at the rental office. The taxi to our apartment, in Rue St Denis, was driven as a true Parisien drives, with frequent lane changes for no apparent reason, missing the wings of other, slightly slower cars by millimetres. I realised had been a mere novice, on my roundabout. Clearly, there is much to learn of life.

But feurst, I really meurst buy some cigeurettes..

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Comments by other Members

BryanW at 11:18 on 06 August 2017  Report this post
Very enjoyable. As a driver who has done the Arc de Triomphe on a number of breathless occasions, I really identify with and appreciate this description - as you transform (if only for a moment) into 'un vrais chauffeur parisien'.  You might have added the noise of car horns, too.
You have developed a small anecdote into something splendid, Ross.

Bazz at 15:21 on 06 August 2017  Report this post
Hi Ross, I remember trying to cross a road towards the arc de triomphe once, about ten lanes of traffic in each direction, and only a small island in the middle! As a startled pedestrian, let me tell you this was not an experience easily forgotten...!

You really capture the breakout moment of seizing a new experience, a moment of casual revelation that makes everything strangely mundane in compasion.

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