The Hotel at the End of the Universe

January 24, 2018

The Hotel at the End of the Universe
          The 15:44 to…

….Arles. After that half-hour or more wait in Paris to purchase the mandatory seat reservation for the TGV high speed trains, I subsequently tried the online service on my rail planner app. I found it to be quite convenient, save for one wrinkle. The bar code where the car and seat assignments are embedded does not convey that information visually. You need a conductor to ping it with his device to find out. On this leg to Arles, I discovered how iffy it was relying on platform staff to perform this service.

The first uniformed platform attendant I found looked at the bar code and somehow, like Carnak perhaps, had divined that I was in car six and seat six. No way could that possibly be true, but I had no alternative. Sure enough it was a second class car. I’m no snob, but I paid for first class and I was determined to be among my fellow arrivistes. That meant lugging the corpse I was carrying on my back from the last car on the train and up to the first. 

I passed what turned out to be many better seat arrangements on my way to the petite bourgeoisie, too. When I reached my premier class Shangri-La, it was packed. I found a conductor who pinged my barcode and directed me to my seat, which was already occupied by a French woman currently attending nature’s call. Her seatmates offered a full-throated defense of their confrere, but the conductor shrugged and said he had no choice. When the woman returned to find an interloper in her place, an international incident seemed imminent. It was resolved when a young man magnanimously gave up his seat, and when the woman sat down, I saw my seatmates’ eyes had been replaced with daggers.

The minor annoyance led to a useful discovery. It was an easy problem that, after hard thinking, pointed me to the solution. While it was true the barcode revealed no visual detail, the .pdf alternative did. I hadn’t opened the .pdf because I had no way of printing it. But it occurred to me it still would show the car and seat number. And Voila! as the locals say, my mystery seat assignments were resolved.

The hotel I’d chosen for the night, the Premiere Classe, was a candidate for Misnomer of the Year. The entire hotel structure appeared to have been refashioned out of old steel office furniture and hauled by semi to the back end of a deserted industrial park. My room was less a room than a cabinet, but tout alors! there were several outlets, instead of just the one as I had back in Toulouse. The shower had been reimagined from a toothpaste tube, and I fought a battle for control with the showerhead hose as if it were a live snake. The shower water extended into the bedroom when I was done. I can also only hope that the prisoners on Devil’s Island were not too inconvenienced by having had their food ration rerouted to the Premiere Classe’s petit dejeunier (breakfast).

my hotel suite

my hotel suite

But I liked it, all of it, not because it was cheap, but because it offered a minimum solution for a place to sleep. I wanted all the luxury of this trip to be built into the trains. Food and lodging solutions were relegations, including getting to them. Taxis and Uber were to be avoided in favor of walking to and from these substandard dwellings, I’d done it this way the first time around in the 1970s. Even strapping My Dead Cousin Vinny to my back was an intentional throwback to a time when I traveled with only a duffel bag, a thumb and not much else.

I think I better understand why I’m doing it this way, too. I lost Carolyn at sixty-eight; I just may be trying to find her again at a virtual twenty-three. Maybe I want to tell her that she was worth every minute of the wait it would take us more than forty years to be ready for the magical love we would share. And that even though our time was short, it was still all the time we needed. There have been some amazing serendipities already occurring on this trip that has made me feel she is right next to me. Just a couple of covalent changes in a handful of musons, quarks and fermions, and I could be there with her in her new multiverse. I would love for her to meet the real Danielle, and I would love for Danielle to meet Carolyn. These would be two worlds I’m certain would not be colliding.

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