On a sunny spring day in the city of Paris, France I walked from my La Boheme-esque apartment to the metro station at Bastille. For 5 years I have been staying in this exact neighborhood, with only a few stints around Tour Eiffel, but always returning to this neighborhood in the 12e arrondissement. I don’t even like this neighborhood, I wouldn’t even recommend it, but I’m a creature of habit, and for some reason I am drawn to the strange, the loud, the often unruly, and ugly history of this place.
So down I would go, into the stank, with the beautifully dressed Parisians on their way to work each day. Just 5 stops to my transfer then 4 stops to Bik-Hakeim. On a day like today I am scouting the ceremony location for the surprise vow renewal for a 15 year wedding anniversary surprise. It’s a surprise because she has no idea at this point that her husband has flown me to meet them on their anniversary trip to photograph this vow renewal. Their vow renewal which will be perfectly positioned on the picturesque bridge at Bir-Hakeim, which is come with a clear and unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower, its a marvel of architecture without the view. The light passes through this structure with movie style magic. But in all 9 times that I had previously visited Paris, I have never been to this spot. So a short scouting mission before meeting the couple is in order.
When my transfer comes to, I burrow my way through the locals exiting trains at breakneck speeds, and without looking at a map or metro guide (which I am extremely proud of the fact that I no longer need) I b-line it to my connecting train. I can hear it arriving, so I hustle down the two flights of stairs to the platform. Assuming the train is heading east, and the west train has not yet arrived. I open the latch to the old train door and jump on, nearly out of breath. I turn towards the seats and before I can even catch my bearings, everyone on the platform waiting for the train heading west is waving at me, and yelling to me in French to “get off that train!”. I try to open the door to of train, and the train starts moving. The reactions on the faces of the Parisian bystanders is total disappointment. I look around the train car, now moving slowly away from the platform. I am the ONLY person on this train.
Merde! Moving at a snails pace for about 5 mins down the track, it finally stops. The lights turn off, and the power goes out. The air stops moving, and it gets increasingly hotter by the second. I start banging on every door, and trying to pry open the doors from the train car we are in, hoping that I can move to the front of the train to get a hold of the conductor.
I’m in one of the last cars, and the train is stopped around a corner, so if there was a conductor still in there, he certainly would not know that I was too. We hear a door open, and luckily I’m in an older train car, so the doors can be manually opened. I turn the latch and it opens the door,, and I yell to the conductor. The conductor is getting off of his shift, and he is probably thinking, of course my last train would have one stupid tourist stuck on it. I motion for him to come over and ask him if he can drive me back to the platform. He cannot because he is already off the track, he informs me that now I will have to walk in the dank, dark, Paris metro underground to the next platform. The conductor helps me out of the train, and in his best English (even though I am are very capable of understanding his French just moments ago) he says very slowly.
“Do NOT touch the track, you will die.”
“What?” I reply, and he nods, then follows up with a
“Yes, you will.”
The conductor motions me to follow him on the small side walk, that is about 2 feet between the curved walls in the tunnel and the track of death beside us. Totally focused on my steps, we walk in the tunnels for 30 mins, eyes totally focused on my feet, and the next step ahead of me.
Trains brush by our faces, and bring with them shocking gusts of wind. When the platform is finally in view, we have to walk across 6 sets of tracks to get to the other side. As we cross we get to see down the endless tunnel. The conductor leads me up the stairs, says goodbye and I hop the next train going west to Bir-Hakeim. It took almost 48 hours for me to actually realize what had happened. I didn’t have time to panic, I had to keep moving along, I still had to scout the location, and then travel across the city again to rendezvous with the anniversary couple. To my surprise the location was super popular for cinematographers, and there were at least 3 videos being shot there when we arrived, and of course the Eiffel Tower looked perfect from this vantage point.