Stuttering in France Part 2

I know the expression “best day of my life” gets thrown around a lot, but hey, sometimes it’s appropriate. Of course there are the standard ones, birth of children, graduation from college, first job, etc., and so on. So let’s just throw this in the Top Ten of other stuff that doesn’t go in those categories.

And yes, one of the best days of my life involved talking to strangers. In a foreign language. And being anxious about stuttering. Continuing on yesterday’s post …

On our second day of chasing the Tour, we woke up in Reims and then drove down to Epernay. This was nice because the hotels in Reims were cheap that night! And it was easy to make the drive. Not too much traffic. We tried to get as close to the center of town as we could, but didn’t have any idea of where to really park or be. No matter. Just park about 2-3 km away and walk down. We got there pretty early — maybe around 10 — so we had time to walk around, get some food and take in the crowds that were already forming.

Before the riders pass through, there is the publicity caravan. They get going really early. So we stood around and watched them go by on the course, throwing out little samples and other stuff.

After that we noticed a large empty parking lot. We didn’t know where the teams were though — the buses? Were they parked up someplace else? We didn’t have any kind of local map or guide book to help us.

But after a while I figured, no, this giant parking lot is where the team buses are going to go. But when? Let’s let the stuttering try to take over:

Stuttering: Look, you already figured out that the buses and thus the teams are going to be here. Why do we need to talk to anybody?
Me: Because maybe they won’t be. Maybe there’s another parking lot within walking distance. It’s entirely possible.
Stuttering: No it’s not. C’mon. Think about it.
Me: Ok, smartypants, then when are the teams going to be here then?
Stuttering: They’ll be here when they’ll be here. Be patient.
Me: Unacceptable!

I saw a security-guard type fellow standing near the entrance of the parking lot — the parking lot led into a VIP-looking area. There were some other tourists milling about and talking to the security guard. I didn’t want to ask him something in French when people were around. (So, see, here we go — I’ll speak a foreign language to a complete stranger, but dammit, I’ll do it on my own terms.) Suddenly the security guard was alone, and I moved in quickly. My friend was right next to me the whole time even though I said, “hang on, let me check something.” I think my friend just wanted to hear the exchange.

I asked the security guard, in French, where the teams are. He said they would be here, in this parking lot. When, I asked. He said at 11 (I remember understanding the answer — pretty sure it was 11 … or maybe he said thirty minutes?). And that was all we needed. Ok! So, high school French used without issue! Did I stutter? No? Did I think about stuttering? A little — the anxiety part. Did I think I was going to stutter? Yes. But did I? No. So did anything bad happen speaking a foreign language? NO! Confidence boosted.

We then walked around to the other side of the parking lot, and when we got there, the buses started pulling in. Perfect! Apparently the parking lot was a wrist-band only VIP type area, but some of the buses parked along the perimeter fence so the public could walk right up. That’s where we were. First the mechanics came out to set up the bikes, and then a few riders came out to do interviews. As a cycling fan, it was all a dream come true!

After milling about for nearly an hour, we walked a block to the course and took up a spot with thousands of others. The peloton slowly rode by (they were still being neutralized) and then we ran back to the car to drive out into the French countryside and wait for the peloton to roll by again.

Next stop: Fresnes-en-Woëvre, and a lot more French speaking.

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