“Why aren’t any of them stopping?” John asked when the third cab he attempted to flag rolled past without stopping.
We were in a pickle. Dr. Rhodes, the somewhat absent-minded leader of our study tour, had departed with the rest of the group. John, Drew and I had been left with a few Euros and instructed to catch a cab. It seemed simple enough, or so we thought.
I saw the vein in John’s forehead pound, and the redness of his face increased in direct variation to the growing number of cabs that sped past. The answer to his question escaped me. Maybe there was some different way to hail a cab in France? But that seemed unlikely. For an instant I suspected that it was because of the wheelchair. But I instantly dismissed that as a possibility. Nobody could be that stuck up, not even the French. Right?
Whatever the reason, it was becoming apparent that we were not going to find a taxi. Our group had departed almost an hour prior. Drew was on crutches with a broken foot and I was being pushed by John in my manual wheelchair.
We had been walking three or four blocks in the blistering summertime heat of Southern France. Drew was pouring with sweat and I knew he had to be hurting. He hadn’t uttered a word of complaint, but there was no way we could ask him to hoof it all the way back.
Just as I was losing all faith in humanity and beginning to curse the French, with their inability to spell anything phonetically, a Mini Cooper pulled up beside us. I’m not sure what I expected to happen next. But after ten days of hearing locals speak only French and Italian, I certainly didn’t expect the cheery British accent that came from the driver.
“You mates look like you could do for a ride.”
John and I looked at the diminutive car, exchanged glances, and surely had the same thought. How the hell were we going to all fit in there? Four grown men (including the driver), a wheelchair, a bulky cast, and two crutches.
“Uhh…,” I felt like I could see the gears of John’s mind working double time to untie this Gordian Knot. “Yeah, we can make it work. We have to.”
Just getting us all into the car required not only intense planning of everyone’s position but, as we discovered on our first attempt, the correct sequence of events. It only took us two tries to get all four people in the car, but then we realized my chair was still sitting outside on the curb. Damn it. We spent another ten minutes looking for something with which to tie it to the roof, until it was decided that John and I could each secure it with an arm out of the window
Here’s how we did it. Just in case you’re ever in a similar predicament, I guess. First, Drew got into the back passenger-side seat. His crutches and walking cast could only fit by sticking them out of the front window, which required some impressive flexibility on Drew’s part. John then helped me cram into the front seat, which had been cranked all the way forward. Next, John contorted himself into the backseat on the driver’s side. Each of us grabbed hold of the wheelchair, which our wonderful saint of a driver had placed on the roof. Lastly, the driver got in and put his seat dangerously far forward for John’s benefit. And we were off.
This, however, is where the fun really began. Our journey back into the city of Nice, though only about 10-15 minutes, included a steep hill with winding switchback curves. I only have one good arm and John was in a grotesquely unnatural position just to get one of his arms out of the front window.
Even driving slowly, I felt with absolute certainty that we were going to lose our grip and my chair would go plummeting over the guardrail. And that would have been the case on more than one occasion if our driver hadn’t somehow managed to steer, brake, and reach up and save the chair all in one deft maneuver. When we finally reached the bottom of the hill a collective sigh of relief was issued.
Then he turned to us and said, “Alright mates, where’s your hotel?”
It was only at this point in the journey that we realized we had no idea where we were going.