The Train Incident in Avignon
The following are true accounts of a train travel incident in Avignon…
Jave’s Side of the Story
The first thing I noticed when we got off the train in Avignon was that Carmel’s parents weren’t on the platform. We had ridden in separate cars. So instead of waiting around, I told Carmel to leave her bags with me so that she could get back on the train quickly and look for her parents.
Meanwhile, as I waited on the platform, I noticed a guy who’d stepped off of the train for a smoking break. Before either one of us knew it, the train doors closed, and as I ran to tell one of the platform workers to open the doors because my family was still inside and needed to get off, I overheard the smoker tell another platform worker that he needed to get back on the train because his family was inside and that he’d just stepped out for a break.
The platform worker that I was pleading with to open the doors told me that it was impossible and that the train’s doors wouldn’t open again until reaching the next stop in Marseille. At the same time, I overheard the other platform worker tell the smoker, “No, next station!”
So both of us were left standing helplessly on the platform as we watched the train slowly begin to pull out of the station – me, with Carmel’s bags and all of our money, and the guy with nothing but his pack of cigarettes.
At that moment, I thought, “Carmel’s a smart cookie. I know she’s going to get off of that train.”
Just as soon as the thought escaped my mind, the train came to a sudden stop, and the doors opened. The platform workers started running around and shouting into their walkie-talkies, the smoker quickly re-boarded the train unnoticed, and Carmel and my in-laws stepped off.
My Parents’ Side of the Story
*Parents’ names changed
Mom: During the train ride to Avignon, we both fell asleep, but Lance woke up before me. Before I knew it, the train slowed to a stop at a station. We heard an announcement being made in French, but I didn’t really think anything of it.
Dad: When we heard the announcement, I told Clara that we needed to get off the train, but she said, “Lance, sit back down. They’re going to announce which station this is in English.” So I sat back down, but deep down, I knew we’d reached our stop.
Mom: So Lance got up and frantically said, “C’mon, Clara! This is our stop. It has to be.” But no one had announced in English that we’d reached Avignon, and looking out of our window onto the platform, I didn’t see Dana and Jave.
Dad: No one else in our car was getting out of their seats, so I realized that they must be staying on to go to other stops. That’s when I decided to start getting our bags out of the luggage rack, and I told Clara that she needed to hurry up and get her stuff. Then, Dana showed up on our car in a frenzy and started telling us that we needed to hurry up.
Mom: Dana was so loud, yelling at us to hurry up. People were giving us bewildered looks. So I told Dana to just calm down. Anyway, we finally made it downstairs, but when we tried to get off, the doors wouldn’t open.
Dad: One of the passengers standing near the door told us that the doors wouldn’t open until we got to the next stop which was Marseille. That’s when I really started to panic, especially when I realized that Jave was alone on the platform waiting for us. Dana was calling out for someone to help us open the door. I tried to pry it open, but it wouldn’t budge.
Mom: The next thing I knew, the train started moving. That’s when I saw Dana and Lance reach for a red handle, and the doors flew open. “See,” I said, “You need to just calm down, Dana.”
Dad: As we made our way off the train, the platform scene burst into a fury. Train workers scattered everywhere, shouting commands into walkie talkies. That’s when I realized that we shouldn’t have pulled that handle. At that point, I just wanted to hurry up and get out of the station!
My Side of the Story
As the train pulled up to the station, an announcement was made over the loudspeaker – in French of course – saying that we had arrived. At least that was my common sense-based assumption as I don’t speak a lick of French. But when I looked out of the window, indeed, we saw a sign on the platform that said Avignon.
At that moment, I wondered if my parents, who were sitting in a separate car, realized that this was our stop.
Jave and I quickly gathered our belongings and made our way onto the platform only to find that my parents weren’t there.
“Where in the world are they?!” I asked Jave, as my anxiety increased when, after a few tense minutes, I realized that they still hadn’t disembarked.
“Carmel, I’ll hold your bags and you go find your parents,” Jave said. “But hurry up!”
With that, I made my way onto the upper deck of my parents’ car, and looking down the aisle, I spotted my dad slowly tugging at his suitcase on the luggage rack while my mom was still slowly gathering her purse and magazines from their seats.
“Can you guys speed it up?” I hissed loudly. “I think this train’s about to leave.”
My mom nodded her head and raised her finger as if to say “one moment, I’m coming,” as she slowly continued gathering her belongings. Meanwhile, dad was still struggling to get their bags out of the luggage rack, so I rushed over to give him some help.
When we finally made it downstairs and I went to push the train’s doors open, they were locked. A few French ladies – also passengers – who were standing near the door looked at us solemnly as I frantically blurted to anyone who would listen, “Where’s the conductor?! We have to get off of this train! How do we open the door?”
“Dana, calm down,” my mom said. “You’re so loud!” Did she not understand that we were stuck on a train and that Jave had all of our belongings on the platform?! Where in the world is he going to stay tonight? I thought to myself. Our hotel reservations are in the countryside. And where in the world is this train going next – I don’t even have any money on me! An avalanche of worst case scenario thoughts flooded my mind.
“We have to get off of this train!” I urged once again. This time, my dad joined in my pandemonium.
At that point, one of the morose looking ladies quietly responded in her most proper English, “It is impossible to get off. The door is locked. You will have to wait until we get to Marseille.”
There was something about how the lady said that getting off was impossible that made me mad.
“Oh, we’re getting off of this train!” I said.
At that moment, my mom lost her balance as the train jolted forward and started to leave the station. My dad was still tugging at the door, and that’s when I saw the shiny red handle. Desperate, I pulled it. The train came to an abrupt stop, and my dad pushed through the doors which had suddenly opened.
As we walked across the platform towards Jave who threw his hands up in the air and sighed in sheer relief when he saw us, we noticed a bunch of train workers running towards the direction of the car we’d just stepped off of. That’s when I knew that by pulling that shiny red handle, we’d done something bad. Something very, very bad.
“Let’s get out of here!” I said, gesturing to my mom to pick up the speed.
“I agree,” my dad said. “I want to get out of here.”
“Relax, you guys,” my mom said. “I need to use the restroom first.”
“It can’t wait, Mom?” I asked, feeling like we were on the lam. “I just want to get out of this station!”
“Calm down, Dana,” my mom said. “I’ll only be a minute.”
After my mom’s trip to the restroom, we finally made our way out of the train station. As I began negotiating a cab fare with a random driver waiting outside, my stomach sank when I looked up and saw one of the train workers approaching us.
“Excuse me,” he said. “We have a problem here.”
“Yes?” we asked, playing dumb.
“You see, we have you on camera, and it shows that you pulled the emergency brake.”
“Oh, yes,” I said. “Well you see, I was trying to get my parents off the train because they didn’t realize that we’d reached our stop. And my husband was on the platform alone, and we didn’t want to end up in Marseille,” I rambled.
“Well you see, the problem is that when the brake is pulled, we have to stop the train and check all of the cars, and it ends up delaying our schedule and the schedules of all the trains behind us,” the staffer explained. “So when the brake is pulled, there’s a fine of up to 180€ (*) per person,” he explained.
My heart sank.
My dad stepped in. “You see, we didn’t know that we had reached our station because we didn’t understand the announcement in French,” he explained.
“But even if you don’t understand French, there are signs on the platform that say ‘Avignon,’ and you know, based on the duration of the trip indicated on your ticket, that after nearly three hours, you will arrive in Avignon. Yes?”
“Yes,” my dad pleaded. “We’re very sorry – we just didn’t understand.”
“We thought someone would make an announcement in English,” my mom chimed in.
“Yes, sir,” we’re very sorry, I said in my humblest tone, praying that the guy would give us a pass and chop the incident up to an innocent mistake.
“Well, okay. Because you guys are foreign and you did not understand, we will let it pass this time. But please know that anytime you pull an emergency brake on a train, it is very serious.” I wanted to bear hug him. With his forgiveness, we were allowed to go on our way.
In retrospect, the train incident in Avignon is one of our favorite, and most hilarious travel memories, but that’s in large part because we got slapped on our wrists instead of our wallets.
With that said, learn from our mistakes. When taking a train in a foreign country, stay alert and pay close attention to the signs indicating your arrival destination, don’t expect arrival announcements to be made in English, quickly disembark from the train once you reach your stop, and for the love of God, don’t pull any shiny red handles!
*Note: None of us can recall the exact amount of the fine for pulling the emergency brake, but as my dad recalls, whatever the amount was, it was pretty outrageous.