There was a bit of a car charade the morning after we returned from Morzine, when instead of our hire car parked in the parking space behind our place, Michael found the Tuesday markets selling African bracelets.
The story goes (because I am relying on hearsay here) that after a nice drive to a fairly uninteresting, and aptly-named, town called Gray, we came back and parked at the same place where we’d parked the night before. We knew the market was on the next day, but thought that it didn't extend that far. We were wrong. At 9am the next morning, the time he thought the paid parking started, Michael went to take the car back. Needless to say, the car was no longer there when he went to get it. The paid parking started at 4am, and it was illegal to park there after that time on market days!
After a series of enquiries, the stall owners told him to go into the market where there would be a police stand. No police stand. It hadn't been there for 3 years. He went back around to the Prefecture, where we’d often seen Policemen standing, and he asked the young policeman for advice. He told him to go to an office in Chenove on the outskirts of Dijon because they were the ones who looked after that stuff. He'd need to get the paperwork and then they'd tell him how to find the garage the car had been taken to. His instructions were to go to the Route de Chenove, near an Intermarché supermarket. Surprisingly, Michael actually knew where he meant (from past explorations by bus).
He dutifully caught the bus there and sure enough came to an Administrative Building for the Police. He was doing his second tour of the building to try and get inside (the front door was locked), when he found someone who told him to go in the front door (which was locked). Luckily someone else came out the locked front door just in time to let him in. Inside he asked a lady for help. She sent him to the Hotel de Police, about 2kms away.
Luckily, a bus came along at exactly the right time and he was able to catch it a few stops to the Hotel de Police. He waited in the queue for 5 minutes and calculated the time he had to get the car back to the hire company. It didn’t look too bad at this stage, it was 9.25am and the car had to be back at 10am, or so he thought.
When he got to the counter the police lady gave a half-smile, looked up the information on the computer and asked Michael if he had the vehicle's paperwork. He said he didn’t, that it was in the car. She told him he'd have to get the papers from the car in the garage, go to the Police station in Chenove via bus route 16, get the relevant paperwork for releasing the car, and then go back to the garage to collect it. She said that the car was at Garage Jolimet (he couldn't work out whether she was saying Jolimet or Olimet, but he figured he’d see the sign anyway) and she vaguely pointed at the bus map and muttered something about Voltaire.
Michael saw a Boulevard Voltaire and a bus stop called Voltaire around that area on the map. It was all the way across town and no buses went that way directly. So, he walked (everything really is within relatively easy walking distance, especially if you don't own a car and live in the very centre of the town which is car-free!). When he finally got to the Boulevard Voltaire there was no Garage Jolimet in sight. He started to get a bit panicky (now 10:10 am). You never know whether they, the tow truck people, have damaged the car, especially since it had been in gear and the handbrake had been on. He didn't know what the fine would be, and whether the hire car company was going to charge us horrifically for any damage on the car!
Michael decided he'd have to enlist the help of someone from uni to help him with faster transport from place to place (ie. someone with a car!). He called, but PhD student Yannick wasn't in. Michael’s supervisor, Ronald, wasn't in. Benedicte, who was on the other end of the phone, offered to get the big boss (whose two kids I’d been babysitting for the past few weeks). Michael was desperate so he said yes to her suggestion. She came back with Philippe, another PhD student, who said he could come and get him, but would have to be back at 11am. Michael was prepared to take any help he could get. Philippe had no idea where the garage was, and even thought that there wasn't one around!
While waiting for Philippe, Michael asked a few passersby if they knew the garage. One guy said it was the Garage Jolinez ("pretty nose", or so Michael thought. Turned out to be Jolinet - still sounds like "pretty nose" but spelt differently). But he had no idea where it was. Everyone else had no idea. One person cleverly suggested Michael ask a bus driver, but since he was waiting for Philippe he couldn't.
Philippe arrived and thought the car collectors (fourrières - same as dog collectors) were in Chenove (back where Michael had just come from). That would have been typical if they were, but since the policewoman had looked it up on the computer and said it was here, Michael was loathe to extend the goose chase any further.
They drove around some back streets to where Philippe thought there was a garage, then down Boulevard Voltaire, up Boulevard Voltaire, and then they stopped at a service station for directions. Luckily the lady knew where it was, not far from the Voltaire bus stop, where the policewoman had vaguely waved on the map, but down a side street, so not obvious.
He went in, got taken down the road to a yard, and the car was there (found it!). It looked in good condition, but was squeezed in between other vehicles so he couldn't see the front of it. He got the papers and got back into the car with Philippe, who agreed to take him to Chenove, but would then have to go to his meeting (it was now 10.45am).
In the garage Michael had seen some prices up in the office, so he was starting to get some idea of at least part of the cost: €90 for the tow, plus maybe a bit more here and there. Then there was the fine for parking in a no parking zone in the first place. He had no idea whether he'd have to pay more at the police station. He was getting very worried about the cost of our mistake (I, at this stage, had no idea that all this was going on!).
They found the police station in the dodgiest part of town you could imagine. It was a bit like the city called Cluny that we’d passed on our way back from the Alps – all high rise apartments and very ugly!
He went to the front desk and said he was there for the paperwork to get his car back. The lady called upstairs and said “Encore un autre!” “Another one!”. She took him upstairs to the copper in charge. Michael made sure that he slipped into the conversation that he was Australian, but the policeman ended up looking at his passport anyway (thank goodness he had it in his bag!). Didn't help, but didn't hurt. He said he'd have the paperwork ready ASAP. He had to sign 3 sheets of paper in 2 spots each (gotta love French bureaucracy), and then he was given a printed piece of paper to pick up the car.
His bus luck continued, thankfully. Just as he left the police station, a bus came by which took him into town. He got off and managed to catch another bus straight away to Chenove. In the bus he thought he might actually check the time he was supposed to take the car back (it was now 11.20am). Luckily, the hire car company had put down 10.30am, the time he’d picked it up, not the time he’d booked it. They usually charge by the hour when you're overdue (so we’d heard anyway), and it ain't pretty.
He got off at the Voltaire bus stop and went back to the garage. He handed over the paper and she tapped away at the computer. Sure enough, €103. He handed over his card, hoping that it had enough money on it. It was all ok, luckily. He picked up the car, pulled his extra €35 parking fine from the windscreen (of course…) and drove off thoroughly enjoying the air conditioning, because it was really, really, really hot.
He pulled over out of sight of the garage and did a tour of the car. Not a scratch! Yay! He got back to the car hire place at 11.45am, 1 hour and 15 minutes late. He squeezed into the tiniest car park and went to hand back the keys. The lady went out to check the car, came back and said: “It's OK” (in English). He said in disbelief, “Finished?, I can go?” and she replied yes, so he went. NO LATE CHARGES! Yay! If he'd been any later they'd have charged for sure!