It was 40 years ago and my dream had come true. Dad drove me to Roissy-CDG, the brand spanking new airport in Paris: so modern, so revolutionary, so efficient with its camembert design. I know, I know: it hasn’t aged well. I checked in my luggage and we walked together to my gate. Yes, Virginia, there was a time where friends and family could accompany you all the way to the boarding area. We joined the other six students from my business school who would be my traveling companions for the next two and a half months. A DC-8 operated by Martinair –a Dutch airline specializing in charter flights– took us to Amsterdam where we waited for three hours. Then on to Bangor, ME where we arrived before sunrise and waited for another three hours. Finally, we were off to California. Oakland to be precise, which in my mind was just a secondary airport for glorious San Francisco, like Orly had become for Paris.
July 18, 1977 and it was barely 7 am. As the wheels touched the tarmac, I noticed herds of jack rabbits racing with us on the grass patch separating the runways. How odd! I had been up for some thirty-five hours and thought I was perhaps hallucinating but my seatmate confirmed the sighting. After we deplaned a CIEE representative greeted us and shuttled us to the Oakland Hilton for an orientation meeting and a hearty breakfast: weak coffee (du jus de chaussette), steak and eggs (quoi? Au p’tit dej?), and Iceberg lettuce doused with "French" dressing (jamais plus!) Obviously, we were not in Kansas anymore… We had planned this trip for months and, two hours in, we quickly realized that we were not remotely prepared for the cultural challenges. But, hey, we were 19-20 years old and we would roll with the punches. Besides, we had our master plan. First order of business: purchase a used car, large enough to accommodate seven adults, their personal effects, and their camping gear; reliable enough to take us on a cross-country trip all the way to New York City; and affordable enough to fit a poor student budget. Piece of cake. Or so we had been told...
Continues at The Torino
Le camembert: a famous cheese from Normandy. CDG1 is often referred to as a camembert because of its round, squatty shape
Le jus de chaussette: literally, sock juice; to qualify pale and tasteless coffee
Le p’tit dej: short and familiar for le petit déjeûner, breakfast
Jamais plus: never again