The title of this post comes from a comment Julie Q made in response to this post. She said it was nice I gave warning in my title of what to expect, in the time-honored tradition of titles such as “Strychnine in the Soup” or “The Death of Ivan Ilyitch.” This traffic story has a happy ending.
At the time, I wondered if it would though. I had just come out of a combined errand of getting my hair cut and buying new school supplies for Elliot. Last week in the school courtyard, Elliot’s backpack was stolen from right under his sister’s nose (the spy wannabe, you might recall) as she sat in the sand with said nose in a book, back against a wall in the shade of a tree. His backpack was quite new and nice, full of school textbooks (which we have to buy) and cahiers and pens and the cool flexible ruler that we bought last summer in Oregon that is the envy of his classmates. It’s becoming a problem at the school, and there have now been 3 backpacks stolen but don’t worry—Ilsa in on the case. She has examined the courtyard with a magnifying glass and asked several leading questions of her friends. In spite of the investigation being in such capable hands, I still had to buy new supplies.
The papeterie (bookstore/school supply store) is right next to my coiffeuse, so I parked the car and went first for my appointment. Madame wasn’t there yet, of course, but they insisted on washing my hair right away. I had arrived 15 minutes late, knowing Madame like I do. (My initial appt was the day before, but after 40 minutes she still hadn’t shown up and the girl was murmuring, “She’s probably sleeping; she’s so tired; she traveled up from Dakar two days ago.” Sigh) I sat there, hair wet, flipping through two-year-old French magazines looking in vain for a hairstyle that I wanted. I have the kind of hair that sounds nice on paper—thick, naturally curly, dark blonde—but in real life, it tends to do this soft frizz that makes me look like a 50-year-old housewife or stick out in wispy little ringlets that make me look like I still hope to pass for 12. I succeeded in finding a picture of what my hair looks like with a bad haircut (a triangle) and held on to it. Madame phoned to say she’d left her house in plenty of time (for a change) but was stuck in traffic. It was the afternoon before the inaugeration, and a lot of roads were already completely closed, necessitating an excrutiating crawl round the edges of town.
Madame is Algerian and can handle Western hair, Arab hair, and African hair. Eventually she showed up and cut my hair with great efficiency, reassuring me that it wouldn’t form a triangle and that she remembered how much it shrinks when dry. Her assistant blew it dry, running her fingers through it the entire time. (I never blow dry my hair; I just push it into shape with my fingers, add some gel to shape the curls, and off I go) By the time she was done, I looked like a Breck girl from the early 80s—layered and sort of flipped.
I was also running quite late, and still needed to buy the school supplies. I zipped around the store but it was still 6:10 when I finished. I needed to get home and get Donn the car so he could make it to Oasis for conversation class at 6:30. It was just possible, if traffic wasn’t too bad.
Yet, once again, there was a car parked in the road behind me. This time, I saw it before I started backing out. (Yaay, me!) Again, the entire vehicle was in the road, just left behind a line of cars parked off the street.
A passing young man saw my situation. “You can make it out; just let me direct you,” he assured me. I was doubtful, but at least it beat just sitting there fuming. Besides, I was still subdued from having to stare at myself in a mirror for an hour, and therefore more inclined to submit to strange men waving their arms at me.
I inched my way back, cranking my wheel obediently in time to his frantickly wheeling hands in my rear view mirror. I pulled forward, straightened my wheels, turned them again. To no avail. The problem, according to him, was not the car parked in the road—it was the car to my right, a filthy once-white car parked at a very sharp angle nearly facing me. It’s true that the car complicated things, I agreed, but I insisted that my real problem was the guy who had parked his car in the middle of the street and just left. I feel that is morally wrong.
Two more young men happened by, saw the situation, and joined in. They enthusiastically beckoned, wheeled their arms, shouted instructions. Three more men saw the situation and spilled out of a nearby shop, and began beckoning me forward, pushing me back, wheeling and turning and shouting and gesticulating. An older man in a stained white robe wandered by and took it upon himself to go out into traffic and stop all the oncoming cars.
About 20 minutes after we started, and with much fear and trembling, I managed to inch my wheels down into the street. There was much rejoicing by my crew, who redoubled their arm gestures. All traffic stopped. I managed to shoot straight out into the street, missing both cars by inches, and triumphantly drive off!
Who knew my new Breck-girl look would be such a traffic-stopper!