What It’s Like Being Stranded in Your Hometown

9 am.  Sitting on the foot-tall brick wall outside my apartment.  The last full cigarette I had was at 1:30 am just before getting locked out.  The locksmith’s on his way.

The things you think about at times like this.  A shower, for instance.  Sleeping in a bed.  The weather.  It’s not hot out yet.  A locked apartment.  The coffee I put on is probably no good after 7.5 hours.  A coffee sounds great, just not that one.  The events leading up to this moment in time.  An alley in Goussainville.  The people who help you out.  Roughly in that order.

The only thing on your mind just after getting locked out of your apartment is getting back into your apartment.  Who do I know that lives near me?  A couple of people, but I don’t know exactly where.  Jamie just moved to . . . I forget.  Jennifer’s place on Tennessee is within walking distance, but which building was it again?  How do I know so many people and not know where they live?  Maybe I could make it down to Harbour Lights before they close?  Probably not.  The Kwik Shop on 9th and Mississippi is just down the street and is open 24 hours.  I’m sure I could use the phone.  Get ahold of a locksmith.

Nothing.  Now what?  Oh yeah, Frank lives nearby.  I know where.  I’ll walk there.  Lights are off.  I could knock on the door anyway.  No, there are kids in the house.  Probably a bad idea.

Maybe the police station?  Why not walk down there?  Apparently, there are people hanging out on Mass. St. at all hours of the night (on a Wednesday? what are they doing?), but the police station is closed.  Not sure what the police could have done for me anyway.  My wallet and ID are inside my apartment.  How could I prove I live there?

Back up 9th.  People walk their dogs in Lawrence, KS at four in the morning, I guess.  The things you learn.  I find a couple of wires near some street work.  Everyone in the world can rest easier knowing that I cannot pick a lock to save my life.  It looks so easy in the movies.  You even try wiggling the doorknob hoping that it will fall off or come unlocked if you keep at it.  Finding out this doesn’t work, you realize that you’re locked out for the night.  And resign yourself to it.

You roll up the doormat to use as a pillow and sleep on your balcony.  The night’s still hot with that awful Kansas humidity that takes everything out of you.  You get some sleep (maybe 1.5 hours?) and wake up freezing.  It’s probably 5:30 or 6 am, before sunrise.  You switch out your doormat pillow for a shoe pillow and use the doormat as a blanket to stay warm.  You manage maybe an hour more of sleep to be wakened by the bizarre screeching of some animal (perhaps some angry squirrel?) and simultaneously by a hungry mosquito that has bitten your left arm three times, aiming for the vein, and then got the knuckle, apparently wanting to shake hands and be friendly.

At this point, you arise to greet the sun, scrounging around in your ash tray for mostly smoked cigarettes that may have a few drags left on them and manage to find a few.  At least you still have your lighter on you.

Frank just got new office space downtown on Vermont.  What time does he get in?  Not sure, but, without a better idea, you decide to go down there and find out.  There’s little foot traffic at this hour, but cars have taken over the streets.  Some cars have personality.  Everyone knows their own.  But when people are rushing to work or to take their kids to school, all of them seem the same somehow.

“Is Frank here?”  “No, not yet.”  “Do you know what time he gets in?”  His coworker Jeff texts Frank, who replies shortly that he probably won’t be in until around ten.  I explain the situation.  Jeff does a search on the internet for a locksmith.  Lets me use his phone.  I try Reuschoff.  No luck.  I do a quick search on Jeff’s phone.  Find a 24-hour service.  Everything’s set.  The locksmith will be at my apartment in an hour.  I thank Jeff and head back home after having three or four glasses of water.  After nothing to drink for eight hours and walking for miles in the humid night, water is the best thing in the world.

It’s not until you know the problem’s resolved that your mind can finally relax and wander and think about Goussainville.  The last time you were in Paris.  Took the wrong train in the Metro.  Locked out of Paris for the night.  Stranded in Goussainville.  No hotel near the station.  Almost had to sleep in an alley.  Two seedy-looking Frenchmen walked by and asked for a cigarette.  I gave them one, happy they didn’t take my suitcase as well.  The Metro had closed just after I stepped off the train.

I remember hearing trains still going and went back to the station to double check.  A Metro worker was just ending his shift.  He asked me if I needed help.  I said I did.  He offered to drive me to a hotel for fifty francs to cover gas.  I accepted his offer.  He took me to a nearby hotel, spoke to the front desk, helped me get checked in, and told me how to get back to the station in the morning.  The next day, I found the hostel.  It was a two-minute walk from the Louvre.  Miles away from the suburbs.  And much more beautiful.  I wouldn’t say Goussainville is ghastly, but it’s not much to look at.

In travel or at home, it’s the people who help you out along the way you never forget.  At times, you think of them and hope they’re doing well.  It’s the hotel and the locksmith you’ll forget about after a while.  But, either way, after a night like this, there’s nothing better than taking a nice, long shower and sleeping in a bed.