Running for the RER

I’m trying to get back into writing my blog after a nearly year long sabbatical.  Since I’ve slowed my pace, I feel like I need a grand adventure to restart but alas, I realized sharing the little moments are ok too.

In November of last year, I moved slightly outside of central Paris.  I now commute on the RER, the regional network that connects greater suburban Paris with the main city.  I used to live very central, with 7 metro lines super close, access to buses and to Velibs (city bicycles).  I did what I wanted, when I wanted, with not much regard for time.  Most things in France have a start time of “-ish” and funnily enough, even my very punctual friends have adapted.

Hey, the RER isn't very sexy, sorry.  I report the truth, people.

Now, I’m a little more limited.  I live by the train schedule, which runs every  :15 to :30 minutes, instead of the customary :02 -:07 min delay I’d become accustomed to in the last two years.  I’m getting used to it.  And what that means in practice, is that at least two to three times a week, you’ll find me running down escalators, across swarms of commuters and entering my train huffing and puffing as the doors calmly close in front of my wheezing, sweaty body.
Friday night a few weeks back was no exception. I’d finished a lovely evening with the ladies at a French play that proved my French wasn't as good as I thought it was.  (But that is another post.)  I’d recently discovered that my phone app that shows train times is often 3 or 4 minutes off, usually late, to my detriment so taking trains at times I'm not accustomed to is always a gamble until I find a better app.  The RER is not dangerous but it does get more sketchy the later you get, and so when I entered the station and saw I had exactly :04 to make the train, I got my little heels a runnin’.  I could make it 4 mins, I'd done it before but not in heels.  But I made it; I was elated as I came down the escalator, confident that I would alight onto the train with a few seconds to spare.   But as I turned the corner, my heart sank as I saw that it was a short train and therefore further down the track.  I could do this, I thought, as I picked up my pace, with Chariots of Fire playing in my head.  

But the song cut off abruptly as the doors signaled they were closing, as I literally arrived at the first car.  I cursed “putain”, because that is what one does in France when they miss the train, in addition to many other instances.  (See: Learn French in One Word.)  I thought I deserved better after this Olympic effort.  (Socchi had not started yet, so this greatness came from deep within.)  

VIP car
The conductor was standing at the front of the train with the door open.  I looked at him, not expecting any condolences from him for the loss of my next 20 minutes to the mind wasting addiction of Candy Crush.  There he stood, a dreadlocked hippie type that looked more like someone I’d run into in Boulder, nothing like the the portly middle aged men I usually see at the helm of the suburban trains.

“I can’t open the doors once they’ve closed, but you can ride in the front car if you like.”  I was dumbfounded by the offer, nearly frozen in my place, but my shaking legs (remember the Olympic effort) walked themselves into the first car of the train.  And there I sat, co-pilot of the RER E, direction Vilers sur Marne.   For the next 25 min, the train was mine…well not really, but the story sounds a lot better that way, right?

I asked if I should move to the other car at the next stop, but he was happy to have company and said I could stay if I wanted to.  I thought it was so damn cool, that I did. How often does this stuff happen?  And so we weaved through tunnels and towns in the Parisian moonlight.   For me, it was an exciting adventure.  I wondered what he saw going back and forth, transporting people to and fro.  I watched as he controlled the speeding machine and wondered which buttons and levers did what.  I interrogated Pierre (we’re on a first name basis, but I invented his name to protect him from the SNCF police who could be reading) on the life of a train conductor.  It’s quite a difficult life full of constantly changing hours, graveyard shifts and the monotony of riding back and forth on the same line day after day.  (Apparently it's not as sexy as I'm making it out to be.)  He told me about his family who owns an organic food store, again confirming that we should be in Boulder not in Paris, France!

I emerged from the train, happy to finally be home at a reasonable hour and happy that for a short moment, I was broken out of the hard exterior one builds up when they live in a big city.  In the hustle and bustle of a cosmopolitan city, where people are often too busy for simple kindnesses, someone took a minute to be nice and gave me a memory that will last forever.  The night that running to the RER turned out to be riding the RER, VIP style.


  1. you remember a boy from poland from the old years :)

  2. that's funny cause I curse "putin" instead of "putain" cause that is what I do. a lasting memory care of an RER conductor is fantastic! thanks for sharing.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Feliz Natal de Portugal! Merry Christmas from Portugal!

Lumières in Lyon

Truffle Tales