Yesterday I went in search of soup. (Long story. Short version: I love Euro cup of soup.) Destination: Carrefour. For those of you unfamiliar with buying American-size groceries in Europe, Carrefour is a gigantic French supermarket chain. Kind of like a Safeway blended with Target. If I had any hope of locating a mass quantity of Knorr cup-of-soup, Carrefour was it. Simple errand, right?
Turns out, not so much.
For starters, my version of the plan involved acquiring a bike. Bikes and scooters are my new thing for international travel, a private version of public transportation. It’s still technically public transportation since I’m, er, in public and transporting myself.
I had planned on renting a bike but R has family here and his super-cool aunt ordered me up a residents-only Bicing pass. Bicing is like Zipcar for bikes only you don’t have to return the bike to the station where you picked it up and you pay by the year not the hour. Also, inexplicably, there is no hard “c” sound in “Bicing” like there is in “car”.
Here’s how that went:
I think the nearest Bicing rack is a schlep. I look out the window of our hotel room. There’s a rack downstairs. Excellent. Smooth start.
I do not read instructions. I prefer to be an idiot, often in public, while trying hard to look nonchalant and in the know. It’s kind of a hobby of mine.
In keeping with that plan, I go outside and try to insert my Bicing card into various parts of the bicycle to release it from the rack. I can confirm that it is possible to slide a card between the light and the light fixture. Naturally, this does not release the bike, but I’m just letting you know in case you need somewhere to store a single business card while you’re biking.
I watch a guy drop off his bike and stare intently at the rack for a second before he leaves. I follow his lead and stare intently at the rack. My laser vision does not kick in and release the bike.
I go back into the hotel, back into the elevator, back into our room, reconnect my laptop to the internet and try to read the “how to release your stupid bike from the stupid rack” instructions on the Bicing site. The site comes up in Catalan. I stare intently at the screen. My laser vision does not burn a hole in the screen or translate it into English.
I go to Wikipedia because I am a genius. So is Wikipedia which explains how you have to use your card at the pole at the end of the rack. I didn’t see a pole but am open to the possibility that I am blind, so I go back outside and have a bike in my possession in under 10 seconds.
(The instructions say that staring is necessary to determine if the bike has locked back into the rack when you return it. So much for laser vision.)
The bikes weigh a ton and many of them are in some kind of disrepair, but I’m on my way and console myself for all the trouble by telling myself that even though I have blonde hair and hips I look like a Spaniard.
Having no sense of direction is a significant barrier to getting anywhere.
Also a barrier: the total lack of bike lanes along my chosen route. That route turns out to be pretty much a freeway, so I weave my way across the city, making ever possible wrong turn. It takes me an hour and a half to make a trip that should take about 20 minutes.
When I drop off my bike to go into the grocery store, I cannot get it to lock into the rack. The bike appears to now be mine permanently. I try my nonchalance thing again, turning away for a second like I don’t care. Sadly, that doesn’t turn the “I’m locked” light on. I try my stare again. No luck. I ask a girl who comes to return her bike. The system has flaws, she says. We try the fourth slot. It works. I run off to Carrefour.
Carrefour has no Knorr soups. Let’s not get into my disappointment.
I buy hairspray and chocolate instead.
I pick up a different bike for the return trip, load up my stuff, bike three feet and realize the bike has no brakes. I consider suicide by bike. Instead, I return to the rack, unload, redock the bike, release a different bike, load up and start on my revised route home.
Turns out my revised route is all one-way streets going the other way. I keep going anyway because variables are the enemy.
Two and a half hours to go about four miles on a bike. On the up side, I have chocolate and am not dead.
R has a card too so we decide to bike to our dinner date. We go to the Bicing rack which has four bikes locked to it. My card releases a bike. R swipes his card. The screen says, “No bikes are available. Your next nearest Bicing stations is at blah blah blah.” We look at the bikes locked three feet away. We look back at the screen. Bikes. Screen. Bikes. Screen. I decide that the Bicing system is trying to make me insane. I walk away. I think I can hear diabolical laughter behind me.