Here’s a great travel tip: Don’t bike in a foreign city when under the influence of alcohol. Especially pink wine. I nearly joined the ranks of Père Lachaise’s dearly departed shortly after polishing off a “farewell, Paris” bottle of rosé at Lavinia, a great wine cellar and restaurant near my hotel where you can pick out a bottle from the shop downstairs and drink it in the upstairs bar — at the shop cost, with no corkage fee. And Riedel stemware. And far be it from me to waste perfectly good wine; of course I was going to drink the entire bottle.
It’s possible I will never fully know what it is I ate along with that bottle of wine. But it involved four pieces of toasted baguette with four different toppings. One of them was smoked salmon; another was some kind of cheese. The other two shall remain a mystery, though one may have been foie gras. Which I will never eat again. Delicacy, my eye. Yuck. But without those mystery snacks, I’d have taken a fatal spill down the stairs or hit my head on the park bench unlocking my bike, and never have made it to the point in my evening where I, uh, hit a car.
Everything was going swimmingly with my ride back to the Marais, where I would return my bicycle and then walk (stumble?) to dinner. Until the gendarme at the gates to the Tuileries told me the park was about to close. So I took to the mean streets of Paris. During rush hour. Hammskied. But it was all right. Because Paris has dedicated bike lanes. Unless they’re bike lanes shared with buses. Which are much bigger than me. So I’m riding along, something startles me (probably a bus, but in my state, it could have been anything), and suddenly I am intimately aware that whatever separates the buses and bikes from the other cars is much more than a solid white line. Designed, presumably, to keep them from doing what I was about to do. I hit the mini-median in an attempt to drift out of harm’s way, lost my balance and keeled over, right into the door of a Peugeot. I am not a small person. That tiny Peugeot, which could have passed for a wind-up car, didn’t stand a chance. Obviously, when the woman in the passenger seat rolled down her window and started ranting in French, I yelled as loudly and rapidly as I could, “Non, non, d’accord! Je m’excuse! Désolé! Je me suis trompée! C’est d’accord!” Loosely translated? “I’ve never ridden a bike here before! And I’m wasted! I’m going to pedal away now and be long gone before you realize there’s a huge dent in your back door! Bye!”
The other people in the bike lane — in their damn rented Vélibs! — law-abiding citizens wearing helmets and definitely without a metric ton of fermented grapes in their systems, asked if I was all right. I wasn’t even fazed by all this, still knowing full well that it could have gone much worse. I explained (again, loosely) that Parisian drivers are nuts and that biking in Chicago is much less treacherous. They nodded understandingly, and I pedaled away as fast as my wobbly, inebriated legs could muster. After a few more minutes, I made it back to the bike return without a map — wine gives me super powers, apparently — then proved I am equally disastrous on foot as I am on two wheels: I promptly tripped on my feet and faceplanted as soon as I made it to the sidewalk.
And please believe I was back at a brasserie not three hours later, at it again. When in Rome…