Which may be true… But yesterday, some exciting stuff went down. We lost Sawyer on the Métro. She’s been found, obviously. No international incident just three days before we leave Paris. (and, at this point, I believe the blog will have to be updated further after we get back, as we haven’t posted HALF what we’ve done.) However, to return to the headline that happily WASN’T… Turns out, it’s not that hard to lose a kid on the Métro. (And, for clarity’s sake, know that these events took place on Wednesday, the 18th.)
Sawyer pointing out a café named for Piet Mondrian, a favorite artist of hers.
We were traveling from our place in the 12th arrondissement of Paris to the Centre Pompidou, via the 8 and the 1 lines. Eli, Finley, Sawyer, Dashiell and I were planning on meeting Lana at the Pompidou following her class trip there– we planned to take in both the Magritte and Cy Twombly exhibitions in the temporary galleries. We were transiting through the Reuilly – Diderot station (transferring from one line to the other) when things went sideways. Sawyer had asked for her activity book on the first train, and was carrying it with her. I was in the lead, pushing Dash in the stroller, with Finley and Eli behind, and Sawyer at the back– the group was strung out over eight feet, max.
We walked up to the platform as a train was approaching; Sawyer, who had her nose in her book, felt / heard the oncoming train and rushed forward. I had walked onto the platform, parallel to the incoming train, looking at the last car in the set (the nearest), and then the next car forward. I decided both were too full, and turned to the kids to tell them that we’d wait for the next train set… but I didn’t see all the kids. Eli saw Sawyer rushing full speed into the last car, and shouted. Again, I was about eight feel away; given the direction that I was moving, and by virtue of pushing the stroller, I widened this gap to about ten feet before I could safely stop / park Dash. I popped the brake on the stroller, and started to run back; I watched her face through the crowd as she realized what she had done, and tried to push back through the passengers to get off. She was fighting a losing battle, as the last doors on the last car are usually filled with people running up at the last second. I slammed up into the train doors as they closed, and almost got pinched in the outer set– the 1 line is fully automated, and has “platform screen doors” which are automatic doors on the platform edge, AS WELL as the sliding doors on the train. Here’s a video clip as well– you can even see two people running up at the last second, just as described above… Except imagine the car full of people. People who suddenly saw a man come crashing into the doors full tilt, followed by them seeing a sweet little moppet in a red jacket in their midst suddenly panicking. I was looking right at her, and her eyes were HUGE– and, accelerating away. Without us.
Things got a little freaky then. You see, a benefit of a NON automated train is that the driver looks back down the length of the train via a mirror or video feed as the train departs; said driver would have seen the stupid looking neanderthal beating on the side of the train & stopped or slowed, which would have allowed the people inside (or the idiot on the outside) to either open the door, or hit the alarm. But, as mentioned, this was the 1. The busiest line in Paris, and totally automated.
So, I ran to the platform “alarme” button.
The way the telecoms work within and between Métro stations (and the employees therof) begins to figure into our story here. There are a fascinating set of interconnected intercoms, radios, radiotelephones, and outcall services that are at work. I often have to press the red call button at the wheelchair / suitcase / stroller gates (parallel to the astonishing variety of turnstiles) that will allow things larger than a human in or out. Sometimes, the call is answered by the “Chef de Station,” and sometimes by someone at a remote location who needs to have you identify the gate you’re at so it can be opened. (Sometimes no-one answers, and you have to lift the stroller over your head & go through the turnstiles. Fun.) Sometimes they’ve got as much English as I have French (most of the time, actually), but sometimes they don’t. I was terrified that my panic was going to make expressing that which I was panicking ABOUT completely unintelligible. When the call was answered at the “Alarme” station, I managed to communicate (I think):
- where I was
- which direction the train was going that had just left
- that my daughter was on said train WITHOUT me
BUT, I was having trouble with:
- her age (I believe I told them she was three? why, I do not know. Scrambled, I was.)
- her general description (I think I told them she was wearing “a coat of roses,” as opposed to a “red coat.” See previous point.)
- understanding WHAT THE HELL TO DO NEXT / more than one word out of five the dude was telling me.
BUT THEN…. Franck came into my life. Franck, and his 10-year-old daughter.
Franck is a Parisian, who happened to be on the platform– he saw my distress, and he spoke English. He ran over as I was flusteredly repeating the “coat of roses” comment, and (with body language and gestures immediately understood), began more efficient (read: coherent) communications with the cat in the operations office. As noted, I was trying to figure what the next step needed to be. The kids and I had discussed what to do if we were separated in transit, but it had always been assumed that they’d be in a pair. We had talked about getting on and off trains in pairs– Eli and Sawyer, or something. We’d never presumed Sawyer would be by herself. The agreed on protocol for the assumed separation was that the separated kids would step off at the next station, and wait on the platform for the others to arrive.
The memory of this instruction would now prove more trouble than anything, as now the possible locations young Sawyer might end up deciding to alight from the train were increasing by the minute. Thinking about this occupied several seconds, during which Franck finished his initial conversation, and told me the Chef de Station wanted us to come to the ticket / entry office. As we moved (Finley, Eli, Dash, Me, Franck, and Franck’s daughter), I told Franck about my previous instruction to the kids, and how I was now concerned that Sawyer was kicking her heels in a chair on any of the growing number of downstream platforms between here and La Defense. When we got to the “Chef” (IE Chief) at the entry office, Franck launched into a descriptive litany that was to become all too familiar– but, in this instance, was immediately interrupted by the desk phone ringing. As the Chef took the call (being the lone person in the office), Franck & his daughter turned to go– not to continue their journey, but to head to the next station down the line, and look for Sawyer! I had given him my business card, so he would have relevant details to pass on– he said while I stayed here, he’d go from one station platform to the next, until we found her! This willingness to help a COMPLETE stranger is at the heart of so many of our experiences in France– the majority of the people we’ve met here seem to love & respect & enjoy kids.
Franck got stopped before he could go back through the turnstiles by the wave of a hand from the Chef– the phone had delivered news– Sawyer had been found! The Chef said he’d called “his friend” (coworker? Maybe a translation issue, maybe not) at Bastille immediately after he’d talked to us on the platform. They’d stopped the train at / near Bastille station, and RATP folks had gone through the train & found her (I’m guessing she wasn’t hard to pick out– or hear, for that matter). The Chef told us to proceed to Bastille, and turned to me to give a complicated explanation about where to go once we arrived. Franck listened on my behalf, nodded once, and we were off– back to the platform, forward two stops, and off at Bastille.
The Bastille Métro station is one of the busier stations in the system– it serves as a connection point between the 1, 5, and 8 lines– and, by virtue of geography / topography and needs of service, has several peculiarities of construction. For instance, it has (I believe) nine public entrances / exits. Also, the platforms for the lines vary substantially in depth– the 1 line is actually ABOVE grade in this station– and the line 1 platforms are curved, with the tightest radius used by passenger trains on the Métro (a radius of ~120 feet). The line 1 platforms are supersized, too, at 370 feet long (long enough for two train sets). Part of this is because in 1984, when François Mitterrand decided to build the Opera Bastille, they knocked down the Gare de la Bastille train station, and rebuilt the Métro access around the foundation of the Opera & the traffic circle that has taken the place of the famous prison. Fascinating only to trainspotters & foamers? Not if the instruction from the Chef was predicated ENTIRELY on exiting the train from “the end,” and moving to the ticket office closest to “the end.” We picked the wrong end of the train. Only off by ~370 feet, or so, once we arrived at Bastille. Which meant that we spent about 15 minutes probing our way through Bastille, experimenting with all the staircases (by which I mean schlepping the stroller up and down them), looking for an office close to “that end” of the train. When we found the office, we were exultant. Until we learned we were on the wrong side of the station– far enough, in fact, that they hadn’t heard about a missing child– far enough that they sent a guide with us, to take us back to the opposite, furthest extreme of the station, where we were meant to be in the first place. Franck joked that we needed to add a person at every stop– that soon we’d have a train full of people moving as one towards Sawyer. So we headed out, our party of seven, up and down all the staircases we’d gone down and up, back through the entirety of Bastille, to the office we were meant to go to in the first place, indescribable in terms of compass point or elevation.
Where Sawyer wasn’t.
Franck’s litany had to be pretty polished when we hit ticket / entrance office number three– which was good, as a) they didn’t have a child waiting there and b) the situation was very new to the person who walked up to the empty office as our guide gently (but firmly) tapped on the window of said office with a ring of non-functional keys. Once the peripatetic employee was ensconced in the previously empty office, another round of calls / radio messages / mysterious, dated communications went out into the ether. Franck and I were briefly enraged by a series of questions from a disconnected call out center that was somehow brought into play for a short time; Franck’s litany was restarted for a hot minute, answering a line of questions being read from the “If a Child Is Lost” script that seemed to be the equivalent of “Is the device turned on?” However, like smoke in a crystal ball, that channel of inquiry was quickly replaced by another, stronger vapour.
Yes, Sawyer WAS found, and in the hands of the RATP. Just not at Bastille.
Evidently, the automated train had been so efficient in its perambulations that it had only finally ACTUALLY been stopped at Saint Paul (one stop away from our intended destination, one stop further than Bastille). The RATP employees had pulled Sawyer off the train (so the train could continue with it’s load of traumatized Parisian passengers); when they realized we were coming to meet her at Bastille, they attempted to get her back on the subway, but she refused. Some combination of “don’t get in a car with strangers” and latent instruction about “get out at the next stop and wait for me to find you.” Being good people, they hadn’t forced her in– they had taken her to the office there. At Saint Paul.
So, one more time to the platform, on, one stop, off.
Saint Paul has but one ticket office. At the entrance. I may have knocked a couple of people around with the stroller, on the way from platform to office, in my impatience to finally get to my daughter. Oh, and I haven’t mentioned my worry, thus far, carried like a fat sack of coal, heavier than the damn stroller, about what I was going to tell Lana. We had left earlier than she had anticipated, because I was concerned about lines at the Pompidou, so we were just now hitting an hour of elapsed time– 2:00pm, when we were supposed to be meeting her INSIDE the museum. So, nice to actually have the moppet with the jacket of roses in direct view when the first “Are you guys here?” texts started arriving. Trouble was, while I could see her through the window, they couldn’t release her to me. Yet.
Mobile phones mostly work in the Métro, though. So I was able to call Lana, and give her the “First of all, everyone is OH-kay…” speech. She was very kind, when talking to the asshat who had lost her daughter in a massive public transit system in a foreign land. Legit nice, actually. I told her that I could see Sawyer, and touch her hand– that she had been crying, so I had given her (and everyone, actually, including Franck, Franck’s daughter, and the RATP employee) some Schtroumpfs from my bag.
(Yes, those are Gummi Smurfs.)
BUT, Lana… BUT, we can’t have her back. Not yet. You see, the National Police have to come first.
Which makes sense. Sawyer is young– quite young. The good people of France want to make sure that she’s going back to the idiot of a father that lost her, and NOT handing her off to a sex trafficker of some sort. I understood this, implicitly. Didn’t make explaining it to my very (relatively) patient partner any more straightforward or easy. The RATP Sûreté were already starting to show up, so we were allowed back into the Chef de Station’s office– allowed to sit with & hug Sawyer, which was awesome. The office was surprisingly spacious, but it filled quickly. Five Dalleys (five again, not four and one, which was awesome), two Francks, one RATP Chef, and three burly (but kindly) Sûreté men in tactical gear made for a bit of a crowd. Franck made sure we were set with the police– that there was enough English in the room that further mistakes would not be made– and took his leave. I got his address, as we plan on sending him something special from the States (not quite sure what’s appropriate– I feel like Liam Neeson would be getting bullion, or something, if he helped you get your daughter back). And, I learned that he’s a published author; here’s a link to his novel, PLAY, a thriller set in New York (though I believe it’s not in English translation yet). So, Franck & his very patient daughter left, and we waited for the National Police to come.
This is how my kids look, sketching in a museum. This is not a museum, tho.
Also, regarding this picture: please note that Sawyer had managed to hold on to her activity book throughout the whole adventure. Also, I believe Eli is getting in his pockets for his pencil, not bowing in reverence to his creature journal. I’ll have to ask him.
The end of the story is faster told than experienced. Three National Police officers came to interview Sawyer and I, all of whom were incredibly nice.
Sidebar: I can’t emphasize enough how KIND everyone was. Franck said at one point as we ran / pushed down an interminable length of hallway, “What the world needs right now is brotherhood, kindness.” We got it in double measure. Fascinatingly, I couldn’t tell you all the creeds / kinds / races / imaginary divisors that could be used to describe, and then made to separate all the people who helped us on our journey. I feel certain that those who helped didn’t perceive Sawyer as the daughter of privilege– my description of a three-year-old in a jacket of roses notwithstanding– that they only thought of her as a lost child; that ANY lost child would’ve gotten similar treatment. I’d like to think the same thing would’ve happened on the Red Line in LA. I’m not sure, though. The only thing we can do is to try and make it so; I hope that, as Americans, with our country in a strange new place, without a leader we could use as an example, we can assure ourselves of equal kindness to others, the humanhood Franck was talking about.
Anyway, I answered questions about my city and state of birth (and trying to get a burly Sûreté dude to repeat the letters back to you when spelling “Omaha, Nebraska,” IS hilarous). I produced a drivers licence for the state of California, which was totally to their liking. I had a business card (same as the one I’d given Franck) with my Cali address AND my Parisian address. They loved that, too. Big final question, though– what identifying papers did we have for Sawyer? Evidently, while “my word is my bond” works for Michelle Obama (and those who appreciate and imitate her), it does not work for a six-year-old. This is why, it would seem, they tell you to travel with copies of your documents. Which we do– the copies were waiting for us, right where we’d left them, at our flat. Handy, like.
BUT THEN (promise, last time I’ll do this)
I remembered something wonderful. When I made the copies, I had ALSO scanned the documents, and put them in Dropbox. Now, all I had to do was enable cellular data for Dropbox, find some wireless signal, and I could show Sawyer’s Passport AND Birth Certificate! So, some fidding with the phone, a little strange waving of the iPhone / body positioning (why don’t we have a word for that anti-Martha Graham body juju that we do), and BOOM– all the records the police could want. (Did I mention that we had topped out at 8 police personnel, at our high-water mark? Oddly, they were all fascinated with Dash’s hair– to a person. Each ended up ruffling his locks at one point or another.) Anyway, Dropbox did it. We were set. I asked if we were going to have trouble leaving in three days– according to the main police guy, it should be smooth sailing. So– we got out of the office, and BACK ON THE TRAIN. Humorously, I was going through my pockets to get new tickets– we had left the turnstiles when we went into the office with Sawyer– and transit cops started making jokes about how I “had to be on my best behaviour now,” and “no more jumping turnstiles with four kids,” all of which was pretty funny… it got funnier, though, when the Chef de Station opened the gates for us, saying that we didn’t need tickets for “THIS part of the journey.” Heh. Funny not funny.
And we got to the Pompidou about two hours late. Plenty of time to see the temporary exhibitions, get a snack, and head back in to the permanent collection, which we loved. Has it changed anything about the way Sawyer rides the train? We’ll get her to post something, soon, about her experience, from her perspective. And the way I ride the train? I’ll ride, hoping to return Franck’s favor of kindness.
And also, watching my kids a LITTLE more closely.