dimanche 25 mai 2008

Attempted theft, and a break-down (not mine, yet)

Sam's bi-color scooter
A third life

The phone rang at almost 1 AM.

"Who could that be?" asked Audouin. It took a second, and then I remembered that Sam was out. It had to be him. He had probably tried my cell, gotten no reply, since the signal goes in and out here, and called the house. He'd hung up before we answered. I went and got my cell phone, and it rang the second I returned to the couch where I'd been typing last night's post and Audouin was vaguely watching the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. Opera.

It was a text message from Sam, "Staying at Denis' tonight. I'll be home 4 lunch." It had come an hour and a half earlier.

I dialed his number, and a frantic Sam blurted out, "My scooter was stolen!"

"Oh no, Sam! -- " I looked at Audouin, who asked what was wrong. Sam continued before I could say anything.

"But I found it." He was breathless. I asked what had happened.

"The lock, I couldn't open it when I got there, it's rusted closed, so I left my scooter hidden between two cars on a side street, an alley, really, and when I came back out, it wasn't there, but I saw the lock in the middle of the street farther up, so I headed in that direction, and I kept looking on all the streets nearby, and I found it, lying on its side near the church."

"Sam, come home. Don't go to Denis'."

"I am, Mom, but, I can't start it. They jammed the starter."

We hopped in the car and headed over to where he was waiting for us, planning on trying to put it in the back of the BMW wagon or follow him while he pushed it to the hospital.

The phone rang as we were passing Florosny, "Mom, I can't go wait by the clinic. There's a police car. He just stopped another car between the clinic and me, drugs probably. I don't want them to think I stole this scooter, since I am pushing it."

"Sam, great, you can tell the police that someone tried to steal your scooter, and your parents are on the way." He was not into that. He waited by the church, under a street light.

When we arrived, we managed to load it into the back of the station wagon, with the front wheel and tire sticking out. Sam climbed into the back end and held onto it to make sure it didn't go anywhere when we braked. Two shrubs had been torn to the ground at the entry gate to the cemetery across the street. We avoided shattered car glass strewed across the street rounding a corner up the block.

"It wouldn't make any difference, Mom, if you and Audouin followed me. They don't care. If they want to take it, they will, with you there or not."

Yeah, just let them face a couple of angry parents for once in their lives.


It's just terrible. I have never encountered more theft and attempted theft before moving here. My cell phone from my hand while talking to Audouin in St. Denis just after our wedding in September, 2002. Sam's cell phone a few months later, from his hand, near his school in Paris. The attempted theft of the BMW from the parking lot of Ikea in Plaisir, 2 or 3 years ago. The attempted theft of the Volvo we had parked in the parking lot of the town hall here in the village a few months ago. Now, Sam's scooter.

I don't like him to leave it locked on the street after dark, preferring to drive him to get a train when he goes into Paris, rather than leave it locked in the parking garage with the bikes, scooters and motorcycles. Immigration, the underclass and race are rampant problems here. The tension, the hostility and the delinquency are enormous. The kids face it daily, with threats and aggression.

The private school kids face gangs outside their school and in the local parks. The gangs are often the little brothers. The big brothers are never far away. They come looking for the kids who were at the public school with them before, hasseling them. Sam has seen kids get surrounded and beaten. Does anyone try to help them?

"No, Mom, you can't. They'll come after you."

The police patrol, questioning everyone, asking for ID papers, searching backpacks. An effort at fairness? Those who have more are assaulted by those who have less and feel gypped by a society that owes them. And the hostility goes both ways now. It simmers. Maybe it's not as bad as the kids describe it. These are young men, young blood running hot.

The police feel powerless. They take someone in, and they are back out on the street again hours later, back at it. Sarkozy got rid of neighborhood policing when he was prime minister. There was talk of bringing it back, but the police are underfunded. There aren't enough officers. There aren't enough vehicules. The neighborhoods need officers on foot, armed to protect themselves and make it clear they aren't sitting ducks, who know everyone's names and who their mothers and fathers are. No wonder some circle the name of Jean-Marie Le Pen and his Front National when they vote in the presidential elections these last two decades and more, but xenophobia is not the solution. Community policing, better integration of public housing residents, serious attempts to educate everyone and job training with the real expectation of a job with a future are.


Last night, Sam saw a group of 30 or so young guys, they are of Arab and black African descent in the public housing of Val Fouré, cruising where he was looking for his scooter. They have a term for these roving bands of young men cruising the streets. They are sometimes followed by a police car for some distance. He saw them crossing the plaza outside the church just as he spotted it, and he hid, waiting for them to pass by before going to retrieve it.


Today, he learned that some of his friends had seen three guys, around 18 years old and black, take his scooter and throw it to the ground when they couldn't get it to start. They broke off a piece of plastic, jolted the handle bar out of line with the front wheel. They had forced the ignition with something and jammed it.

"Mom, 5 minutes earlier and they wouldn't have gotten it. If I'd seen them, I'd have gone and gotten Isham and some of the big guys from Val Fouré at the party, and we'd have gotten them. We'd have let them have it."

Some of his friends who were at the party are also black and of Arab descent. They are his classmates. Isham is a champion boxer in his age class in France. He's slight of build but knows how to land a punch. They have some big friends, though, able to intimidate three 18-year-olds from the projects. It's a tough world for them. I tell him never to go looking for problems or to put himself, or let his friends put themselves, at risk; no scooter is worth his, or their, well-being.


Now, after an accident, resulting in an electric blue piece in front and new rear-view mirrors and a new handlebar, we have to take it apart again.

Never, ever leave it unlocked -- even just with the lock through the rear wheel. Come back home if there is a problem, and I will take you where you need to go.

Never, ever tempt fate. It will get you almost every time.


The Voyager's transmission goes

And fate wasn't done with us. At 11 AM, Audouin was feeling better enough to decide that we would head to his parents' for lunch.

"Let's take the Voyager. It hasn't run in ages, and it really needs to be driven."

"Are you sure that's a good idea, to risk taking it on a two-hour drive when it hasn't been out of the garden since 2007?"

"It really needs to be driven." That wasn't much of an answer, but we got the iTrip, loaded the dogs and ourselves into the car and headed off. Heading into Dreux, about 45 minutes from home, Audouin said he didn't like the way it was handling. It felt like it was hesitating, shuddering.

"Either the tires are way under-inflated or over-inflated." He lifted his hands from the wheel to see what it would do. I rolled down the window and looked at the passenger side tires. They didn't look that bad.

By the other side of Dreux, on a stretch of four-lane highway heading into Le Boullay-Mivoye, it really slowed and started to buck a bit. The low-fuel light came on.

"Are we out of gas?"

"Didn't that just come on?"

"Yes, but I got caught once. It doesn't give you much warning; maybe it's broken and we are out?" He didn't think so, and we were just able to pull into a rest area where four semis, two from Spain and two from Portugal, were parked, while they're drivers had lunch under an awning, then settled in to watch satellite TV and wait for Monday to roll again. There was a trail of fluid behind us and a little puddle of purple-frothed liquid forming under the front bumper.

"I think it's the transmission leaking." He was quiet and looked around the engine block.

"Look,"I continued, "it isn't steaming, and the engine temperature indicator didn't go up. I think it's the transmission."

The tow truck guy agreed when he got there a little over an hour later. A leak. We wouldn't be having Mother's Day lunch with his parents.

"Did you hear a crack?" he asked Audouin.


"Then it probably isn't that bad." He hoisted it up while Sam and I helped the dogs back into the Voyager for their first solo trip in a car.

Sam and I both regretted having no camera with us when we turned to look back out the rear window of the tow truck to see Baccarat, looking forward between the two empty front seats of the minivan. Too bad we didn't put her in the driver's seat, I told Sam.


The driver left the Voyager at the side of the road near his chain-link fenced-in yard with an old yellow lab and another old German Shepard with lopsided ears.

"What's wrong with his ears?" asked Sam.

"I don't know. He's just old. Maybe that happens to straight-up ears."

I sat down on the curb and changed into the running shoes I happened to have had the forethought to bring before heading over the McDonald's to which the driver gave us directions. He looked at me there, changing out of my sandals, and then nodded in the direction of his big truck.

"If you can wait a minute, I can drive you over there myself in the truck. I'm leaving to go get that Porsche." He handed Audouin the number to call for a taxi, paid for by Mondial Assistance, our insurer's version of AAA and then saved a man, a teenager and a woman with two dogs from having to walk along a non-pedestrian road, including at least two rond-points.

We had to bodily lift both dogs up to the shoulder height floor of the cab. It was the first time Audouin suspected he could get bitten by Rapide, who took it rather well, all things considered.

I had to push them from behind to get them anywhere near the door on the way down.


We had a late lunch on the treeless terrace in the middle of a commercial zone along the National 12 that runs into Paris. It was actually one of the nicest lunches we have enjoyed together in a long time. Even Sam seem relaxed and zen in the face of our misfortune. The dogs hung out, tied to the legs of the benches, taking refuge from the hazy, humid sun.


When I was heading back out with our coffees, I heard a woman say to her husband, "Over there, to the left, I think."

"Are you American?"

"Yes? Are you?"

They were from Dallas and had been traveling in Europe since April 2nd, celebrating their wedding anniversary, and would be sailing back to NYC from London on the Queen Mary 2, successor to the QE2, in another two weeks or so.

The taxi arrived shortly before 4:30 PM, a little more than 3 hours after we had pulled into the rest area. A minivan, perfect for the dogs. The young man said he had decided to leave his Mercedes and bring the minivan when he heard we had two labs. They snoozed the 45 minute-drive back home.

It was actually kind of a fun adventure. Pointless, and maybe that was what made it pleasant. No one had a melt-down even.

Enregistrer un commentaire