Sunday, October 25, 2015

BUS STORY # 468 (Part Three: The Metro)

Even when they're coming to a stop, they come in fast! Photo by Busboy.

Previous posts in this series:
Part One (Paris 2015)
Part Two (The Arrival)

The Metro is a wonder. Construction began in 1898, and the system now has 133 miles of track and 303 stations, 62 of which have transfers among 16 lines. It is the second-busiest subway system in the world. (You might be thinking NYC is the busiest, but, no; the busiest is Moscow.)

For about $1.33 (at the exchange rate during our visit), you can ride to anywhere in the city, you can get there fast, and there’s very little waiting.

Wonder aside, there are also a couple of problems.

The first is the stations have absolutely no accommodations for the handicapped. (This is true for just about everywhere we went in Paris. It is a city for the able-bodied only.) Forget about a wheel chair! For anyone on crutches or a walker or just plain old -- or who are old and lugging a suitcase -- negotiating the extensive stairways is at best an ordeal. It was a problem for Mrs. B who had injured her knee a week before we were scheduled to fly out.

The second problem is the stations are a popular haunt for pickpockets. (This is also true of all the tourist hot spots -- the Eiffel Tower, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and so forth.) I’d read three or four long articles and numerous personal accounts about the danger, how to recognize the various strategies most often used, and how best to protect yourself from being victimized. I confess other people’s stories made me uneasy about the threat.

Our second morning in Paris, we were changing Metro lines to go to the Montparnasse Tower. Mrs. B was climbing the stairs ahead of me when I saw a young guy appear just off her left shoulder. It quickly became obvious to me he was shadowing her. I was getting ready to call out to her when I felt a hand in my right pants pocket. I whirled around, and another guy moved quickly away from me. “Ce n’est pas bon!” -- “That is not good” -- just popped out of my mouth from some almost half-a-century-old college French class! He looked at me, gave the classic Gallic shrug, and quickly scampered ahead, joined by the guy who’d been shadowing Kathleen. They were a team! And I’d been successfully distracted by the guy in front of me!

I checked my pocket: still there were my hotel key and the old, dead iPhone I’d put there as my own distraction tactic. I was feeling pretty good about not losing anything until we got up to the street and I reached for my typed-out directions to the Montparnasse Tower and the Crêperie Josselin. The thief had lifted my directions!

Google maps on Mrs. B’s smart phone saved the day, but we also decided to experiment with the bus system. As a result, we abandoned the Metro for the remainder of our stay and used the bus. It was a good call; we would not otherwise have realized just how good the bus system in Paris really is.

A less-blurred photo from Wikipedia. The stations are not usually as empty as this photo suggests, but, as in Albuquerque, the crowds thin out considerably between rush hours.


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