Day 30 – The muddy rut

So, I put off the mess til the next day and I woke up to that next day. Here I am in the middle of nowhere with a car whose front end is dug into the mud and I’ve no idea what to do except wait for someone to come to my rescue. Sure, I tried carefully going forward and also putting it into reverse. Did the turn the wheels slowly while giving it gas trick. Tried even the “rocking” move, yeah, that’ll work… a dude trying to push a station wagon stuck in mud and the only thing that moves is his own feet slipping backwards. That’s gold comedy right there.

So I put the blinkers on and twiddled my thumb for a good half hour or so. Any minute now the nearest town’s rush hour is bound to kick in and, well goddamnit, someone’s gotta come out this way.

Someone did eventually and the driver was kind enough to stop for me. Then comes the part where Ras who a few days ago couldn’t speak a lick of French tries to explain the situation to a French peasant who for damn sure doesn’t speak a lick of English. That part wasn’t so bad actually. I had had hours to review and rehearse what I was going to say. The “Bon jour!” greeting followed by some French-like babbling and a lot of gesturing got the point across perfectly. The “I can’t help ya buddy” response came across equally clearly. It wasn’t for lack of kindness. He was driving a minivan full of kids and towing a trailer. He told me to walk a couple hundred yards thataways and there was a village with peasants who had tractors. They’d help me he said.

A village two hundred yards from here. Yeah right. What, does he think foreigners who can’t speak the language must be idiots? Surely I didn’t sleep the whole night waiting there by a lonely road with no traffic if there was a VILLAGE 5 minutes’ walk ahead, eh?

There was a village a couple hundred yards ahead.

Well, that’s good. Sorry for mistrusting you there Frenchman-whoever-you-are. I couldn’t believe that there was a collection of houses, and yes a stable full of tractors, within shouting distance of where I was stuck. It sure looked lonely though. Not the kind of place I’d expect to see a tourist office or a Starbucks to start the morning right but at least it was something. Meekly I meandered through empty pathways among old houses whose blinds were pulled and doors shut. The place, except for the sounds of chickens and cows and the yelping of a dog small enough to eat on a sandwich, looked dead. Maybe the whole place packed it up and went on vacation. But as I walked away I saw a man dart from one building to another and I seized the moment, yelled at him then approached apologetically to repeat my spiel.

This time I had no stuck car speaking the obvious so I had to deliver my speech perfectly. The peasant gave me a ton of smiles and nods and I deep down knew that that was the international code for “I have no idea what you’re talking about” but before I had a chance to feel truly hopeless he began to respond animatedly and rattling off too-fast French which meant absolutely nothing to me but with the flick of a wrist he tucked his hands behind a wall and, no less amazing a feat than pulling a rabbit out of a hat, he summoned a steel rope with hooks on either end then with the other pulled a key out of his pocket and headed for his tractor.

Within a couple of minutes he was on the road on his tractor behind which he had some scoop-like thing evidently for lifting hay or something. I rode the scoop thing with a smile on my face recalling some ancient flashback childhood ride on a tractor which I couldn’t quite put my finger on but which nevertheless felt remotely familiar and fun.

The kind peasant never stopped talking to which I corresponded by not stop smiling and nodding. Obviously, he didn’t know the international code thing but all the same he knew what to do as he stopped the tractor to put the hook on my car. I’m sure you can anticipate the fly in the soup now. Yes, the car had no hook loop or anything else to which to fasten the hook so he can yank me out of there. I told him to just push me out with his tractor which he understood at some primordial level. He drove the tractor in front of the car and backed up into it then attempted to lift the front end. This managed to pull the bumper almost completely off and I just looked with that candid camera face that says “man, shit just ain’t going down right today”. He noticed what he was doing through the crinkling sounds of plastic ripping, for I had no idea or inclination at the moment how to tell him to stop, that that wasn’t the brightest idea. I just shrugged and smiled. Then remembered to nod while smiling.

When he lowered the backend the bumper partially snapped back into place so now it just looked like it had been in a fender bender. I told him, what the hell, why stop now, don’t use the lifter just back up into the fucker and don’t stop til you either move it out of there or crush it nice and good. I don’t know that I said any such thing, much less say it in understandable French, but all the same that’s what he did and lo and behold the car started moving out. I was now in the driver seat and victoriously managed to move all the way out onto the road. Tractorman seemed just as happy as me and kept on talking. I was very grateful. Felt silly thoughts like asking him if I could pay him for his trouble but he was off in his tractor waving good-bye.

Well, and now to start the day with the crooked looking rental whose bumper is misaligned and flaring up on the side. The undercarriage had some plastic covering hanging down to the floor and all over the sides lots and lots of mud. I thought I was going to have some ‘splaining to do at Renault headquarters when I got back but for the time being I just went through my usual morning paces and headed off north. Pulling out and driving on the road that undercarriage plastic bit scraped an unhealthy chalk-on-blackboard noise but nothing that turning up the radio didn't fix, heheh.

Hours later I was going through some small town when I spotted a Renault dealer with repair facilities. I pulled in and spoke to a couple guys working there what had happened – oddly, my French now felt much more polished and confident – and asked them what I was supposed to do. The guy among them who responded said he didn’t know because he was a private dealership and not corporate but took a look at the car, brought out a screwdriver and put the bumper into place. Except for a couple of scratches and the fact that the unit came out easily because the screws holding it all in place had ripped out it looked fine again. That plastic covering underneath I think just ripped out while driving. Oops. I was good to go!

Spent the rest of the day driving and made it to Brussels. I stopped at a rest area motel and was disheartened when the clerk offered me a room for 69 Euros. Ouch. When I asked if there was internet he said yes – for 10 Euros per hour. I successfully fought the urge to ask him if that came with a line of cocaine or something. “Just the room, thanks.” I then grumpily went to my room mumbling about how bitching hard and expensive everything seems to be over here.

It took me til past dusk to get here but not so late that after a shower I couldn’t go out into town and indulge a bit in the vices of the Dutch. I came back to the motel very late that night feeling a little worse for the wear and a little poorer for the escapade but also a little “richer” in a smug kind of way. Given all I'd gone through over the course of the day before long I was fast asleep.

Day 31