Bagged in Paris

How do you say, 'I'm not an idiot, I'm just tired'?

By Steve Burgess 21 May 2008 |

Steve Burgess writes about film, culture and his wayward travels for The Tyee.

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Before the collapse.

[Editor's note: Tyee columnist Steve Burgess is abroad filing dispatches for the next few weeks.]

Fate is an opportunist. It waits until you're down and then pounces. That's why bad things happen when you're jet-lagged. Yes, jet lag makes you do stupid things. But part of the problem is the malevolent deity, Fate.

My travel plan: Rather than drag myself out of bed in time to catch a 7 a.m. Vancouver-Toronto-Paris flight, I decided to stay up the previous night and hope that my usual inability to sleep on a plane will be overwhelmed by sheer exhaustion. First snag: my seatmate on the Toronto leg turns out to be Maclean's national editor/CBC political pundit Andrew Coyne. I know people are pissed at Air Canada for the baggage and fuel surcharges, but I tip my cap to them for really stepping up the in-flight entertainment. This live, interactive pundit feature helps the trip sail right by. Nonetheless, Coyne's genial companionship does seriously interfere with my potential napping. Fate.

Err France

Things improve on the Paris leg of the trip -- I grab a few triumphant winks. Still, by the time I slog through trains and subways to reach my hotel at Paris' Place de la Republique, my house of cards is collapsing. Fate sees this.

At the front desk, I fish into my bag for the confirmation sheet. Not there. I know I put it there. I made two copies. I unzip my suitcase to look for the other copy. Not there. I remember putting it in there. Nonetheless.

"Pas grave, monsieur," says the clerk. I give him my Visa card. He runs it through, shrugs -- the card has been refused. I trundle over to the house phone to call Visa Canada, then answer a long series of tedious security questions from an annoying teen who now holds complete financial power over me. At last my card is reactivated. I pay, get a key for room 29, and haul my suitcase to the tiny elevator. As I am getting in, I realize I did not re-zip my suitcase. I realize this because socks and underwear are exiting the suitcase steadily, like a breadcrumb trail in the forest. I lean over the monster suitcase to herd the runaways into the elevator, drop my jacket and shoulder bag in the corner and push button number two. Doors open and I start to pile loose stuff out of the elevator. Then I notice I'm on the wrong floor -- turns out room 29 is on the sixth floor. (Don't ask because I don't know.) Half-in and half-out of the elevator, I need to organize. I squeeze past my huge half-open suitcase and out into the hallway, where I start gathering up loose undergarments and stuffing them back into the suitcase. Suddenly the elevator doors close. My shoulder bag, jacket, money, and passport are now off on a vacation of their own to floors unknown.

Frantically I push the button, then hear the doors open on the next floor. I run up the stairs. A couple just off the elevator sees me and begins to understand why there was an unaccompanied bag on the trip up. But the elevator is gone again. I hear it stop back down on the second floor -- because, of course, I pushed the button. By the time I run back down it's gone again. I am beginning to make noises that might be laughter but are threatening to slide over the line into something more maniacal.

Room with a zoo

You're going to say this isn't Fate but just ordinary stupidity. In hindsight I suppose that's true, but it's still very rude of you to say so.

All was retrieved eventually, dignity excepted. Now I'm in room 29. It's right across from the elevator. The elevator makes a sound like distant jungle drums. But if you open the windows, the traffic noise drowns it out. Goodbye jet lag. I'm sure of it.

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