The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

So We Brought In Bruckheimer to "Punch Up" This Blog

So, not enough police chases and car crashes for you on the ol' blog? Need some more excitement, rather than blurry vacation photos and musings on the inherent contradictions in French society? Let's pick up the action a little...

(all photos in this post courtesy of my colleague R. Dray)

Tuesday, around noon. I'm in my office, idly wondering what to do for lunch. There's a sudden sound of a car engine gunning right outside on the street, loud enough that I almost turn around to look out the window. But I don't, because I hear this all the time--traffic usually clears right out there after being snarled on the Place Sathonay roundabout, and motorists and motorcylists happy for a little breathing room often celebrate with some throttle.

But this time, the roaring engine turns to the squeal of tires and a sudden crunch, followed by a cascade of breaking glass. I turn around now, a split second too late to see the impact, but a quick look tells the story: Some hoon in a 90's Toyota MR2 Turbo has plowed right through a glass-and-steel bus shelter [2nd pic].

Amazingly, there was no one in it at the time--and a bit surprising, since because our entire grounds are non-smoking, some of the staff go right across the street to have a cigarette where they can sit down out of the rain and wind. [pic 3, my office building in background] A good thing that it was vacant, too, because anyone there would have had no place to go.

The driver appears unhurt, shaking windshield glass off his jacket, still talking on his cell phone. Ah, mec, you wouldn't believe what just happened...

The first officials to arrive on the scene, oddly enough, are two TCL guys (Lyon transportation authority) in a van. [4th pic: TCL guy in red jacket] While they are clearly not amused about what this knucklehead has done to their bus shelter, they also appear to think it's a little bit funny and are giving the guy a hard time.

The cops show up a few minutes later and start taking a report. The MR2 driver is using his hand, palm down, to illustrate what happened in the universal gesture. So I was just driving along and this big dog ran out, and I kinda swerved like this...what? No, I wasn't speeding, officer, of course not...

By the time I get back from lunch, there's a tow truck extricating the car from the wreckage of the bus shelter as a TCL crew tries to salvage what they can of it. When the car is gone, they start sweeping up the glass [pic: So much broken glass it looks like snow].

By mid-afternoon, a TCL flatbed truck with a crab loader has arrived, and starts ripping the twisted steel frame apart and out of the ground.

By the time I leave work, there's no trace of the shelter at all, and workers getting off shift at the Renault Trucks plant wait for their bus at an unmarked spot on the sidewalk.

By the time I get to work the next morning, a brand-new bus shelter is in place.


Another scene:

Sunday afternoon. Boog and I are on our way home from having ridden the new T3 tramway to the end and back, just to see where it goes (report: to the middle of nowhere in the eastern suburbs. This is the type of thing you do when you have a four-year-old son). We're standing on the Metro platform at the Saxe-Gambetta station, waiting for the Gare de Vaise train. Even though Saxe-Gambetta is usually a busy station, as it's where two major lines cross, Boog and I are the only ones on the platform.

Suddenly there's a commotion on the platform on the other side of the tracks: shouting, running feet. A young man in jeans and hoodie bursts from the tunnel leading to the escalators, followed by about six blue-uniformed cops. He looks across at us, back at the cops, down the train tunnel....and jumps down off the platform onto the metro tracks.

At this point I'm bracing for a bright electrical flash and puff of smoke, but he somehow manages to avoid finding the third rail. A wind blowing down the tunnel announces the impending arrival of the northbound train. The cops pull up short at the edge of the platform then split up, rushing up the stairs in both directions, taking the longer but infinitely safer method of crossing the tracks. By now the miraculously-unfried guy is pulling himself up onto the platform on our side, like someone getting out of the pool at the deep end, and bounces to his feet, breaking hell-for-leather for the exit stairs that lead to the Sunday crowds milling on Cours Gambetta, and freedom. The stairs are about 15 feet directly behind me.

I am faced with a split-second decision: I can grab the guy, or just stick out my foot to trip him, and the cops will be all over him in a second. The heroic, All-American, stand-up guy thing to do. Then I remember I have Boog with me, and I do the French thing: Get out of the way and pretend like nothing's going on, because it's not my problem.

The guy rushes past and makes the stairs, misjudging the intial leap to the third step and crashing in a pile. The cops are crossing the bridge on the near side, and have reached the platform behind him. He gets up, bounds up the stairs, and makes another critical error, trying to go out through an "In" turnstile--which he bounces off of rather comically. Forced to backtrack, he runs toward an exit turnstile... and is utterly flattened by the first cop, who lays an NHL-quality shoulder check on him. Three more (slightly beefier and out-of-breath) arrive a few steps behind and dogpile the guy. Perhaps a few extra licks are thrown in for good measure--it's hard to tell since they are a level above us and partially screened by the railing.

Our train arrives before the cops drag the guy to his feet, so we don't see the aftermath. We can only guess at what the guy did that he would risk getting fried on the rails.

[Last pic: Advertising on side of bus shelter--It reads "Download at the SPEED OF SOUND". This photo was published in Le Progres the next day.]


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