Michael McCafferty - European Biplane Tour


A Day of Challenges

The fully loaded 747 made the smoothest landing I have ever experienced in a commercial airliner. Hopefully, it was a good omen for my tour. Welcome to Paris.

Upon arrival at Orly, a major airport in the south of Paris, the first challenge was to purchase a ticket to Bordeaux. It seems my travel agent back home had forgotten to include that ticket with my travel packet, so I was on my own for this leg. I had no idea where to find Air Liberte', and simply kept walking straight until it magically appeared before me. The clerk spoke English and the transaction was easy. She was also speaking French to a co-worker, and I told her that I couldn't understand a word she was saying, but that it was quite beautiful. She smiled and blushed very nicely!

The next challenge was to make a phone call to my contact in Bordeaux to make sure everything was ok with the plane. To make a phone call, I needed some French money and handled that easily enough at a Cashier at the airport. The clerk gave me all bank notes, and when I asked for some change for the phone, she informed me that French pay phones do not take coins! It seems that they require credit cards, or prepaid phone cards. How very enlightened of the French! But then, they were always very far ahead of the USA in the area of telephones, especially with their Minitel system.

So all I had to do was figure out how to use the machine which dispenses the prepaid phone cards, using my credit card as payment. After several attempts at decoding the international symbols on the phone, and feeling quite stupid for doing all the wrong things, I finally succeeded at purchasing my prepaid phone card and proceeded to attack the pay phone itself. This again proved to be a humbling experience, and I could feel the eyes of every Frenchman in the airport laughing at my stupid attempts to master this basic machine. (Hey, I'm a software guy, not a hardware guy!)

Of course, eventually, I got it sorted out and made my first French pay phone call. I felt suddenly very much the world traveller.

The call itself wasn't a very pleasant experience, actually. That call produced the very bad news that my biplane, shipped overseas and delivered on time to the seaport of LeHavre, had progressed no further. It had not been forwarded to Bordeaux, as required, and was in fact not going to be sent anywhere without the payment of a deposit of 15 percent of the value of the airplane (15% of 250k = $37,500). Ouch! My contact Bernard was continuing to haggle with the Customs people, and got them to allow trucking the plane to LeBourget airport, which is the site of the Paris Air Show, where the plane will be displayed by the Waco factory, without paying the deposit. So now all of our plans for re assembly had to be shifted 400 miles north to LeBourget, from Bordeaux. Bernard handled it all superbly.

Since I wasn't going on to Bordeaux, I returned to the blushing Air Liberte' clerk and returned my ticket, then found a taxi to take me to a hotel at LeBourget airport. The driver spoke no English, so it was a very quiet ride.

The room at the hotel offered more challenges: I was prepared for the differences in electrical and phone outlets, having purchased adapters in the US. No problem. They worked and I felt smug in my foresight. But I wasn't ready for the challenge in the next room. It seems that the rooms in this hotel do not have showers, only bathtubs! This would be my first bath since I got out of short pants, some 50 years ago. What a completely uncivilized experience, wallowing in one's own gravy while attempting to get clean, all the while refraining from the normal manly shower activities which are distinctly unsavory in a bathtub.

So if the French don't take showers, then I suppose I should expect that they do not use a washcloth, and I wasn't really surprised that they do not provide one in the complement of towels. I was ready for that one too, having packed my own on the advice of a friend.

By this time, I am really starting to feel the effects of sleep deprivation and the time zone differences. But there is much work to be done yet. I had to figure out my Internet connection and set up an e mail to 227 friends and family from my TeleMagic database. Also some minor changes to the web site (http://www.MichaelMcCafferty.com/adventures/euro) and other technical details of global communications. Again, the challenges were easily overcome.

By now I'm totally was totally wasted, but I really wanted to check out the local television. What a trip! Most channels were US-produced reruns with French dubbed voices, or French subtitles. There was one German speaking channel which alternated between Japanese martial arts violence on the one hand and German porno on the other. And then there was CNN, in English. How sweet the sound of one's own language in a sea of babble.

Sleep came easily, in spite of the bed, which was simply a mattress on a wood frame, no box spring. Strange for a hotel of this calibre I would imagine, but maybe it's a French thing. It was definitely not comfortable, but by this time I could have slept on a bed of nails.

My sleep was filled with dreams of flying low over the coastlines of Europe. Tomorrow I get to see my plane for the first time in 50 days.

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