The Port of Calais is about as far removed from my romantic image of France as my friends are to me now. A thick layer of snow can not conceal the cold concrete greeting we receive when the ferry docks. Foot passengers are made to wait as the cars roll off. And my earlier decision to stand close to the gangplank has succeeded in having me squashed flat against the door, as hundreds of tired, drunk, and angry English people mill like cattle behind me. This ain't a "yeeeeah" moment. And to top it off, I find out that my TGV ticket to Paris actually leaves not from Calais town centre, but from Calais Frethun, which is out toward the country side. Yeah, cool. I have 45 minutes. There is no connecting bus. Hundreds of people fight for the four or five taxis which are there. I have 25 euro, and there is no ATM. Everything is covered in snow and I am in fucking Nowhere. I start to walk. In Converse. Through the snow. What choice do I have?
About 500 hundred metres up the road two French girls with the same plan succeed in stopping a taxi. He gets out of his car and walks into the shop to grab a coffee, and they throw their luggage in the back and jump in. I run toward them and stand in front of the cab, saying, s'il vouz plait, s'il vouz plait, but they ignore me. I stand there, shivering, and wait until the driver emerges. He tries to ignore me and in my panic I slip into English. Please, please, please, I have to get to my train. This is my only chance. He stops and looks me up and down and asks, Are you English? No, I say, Australian. He smiles, and says, Ok Kangaroo. I take these girls to their hotel, and then I take you. I shower him with Merci, and climb into the front of the cab. I have 25 minutes. I have no fucking idea where this train station is.
We start to drive and he and the girls end up speaking good English. I am Big Willy! The driver tells me. You know why they call me that? I laugh, the girls laugh, Big Willy laughs, and the atmosphere in the cab is relaxed. The guy even tells a Dad Joke. He says, What do they call William in England? I don't know, I reply, Billy? Yes! He says. And what do they call a dog with no paws? I don't know, I reply. They don't call it anything, he laughs, they just go and pick it up!
I can't believe I get the one fucking Dad Joke taxt driver with a huge cock in France. Or maybe they're everywhere, I don't know.
The girls, Charlotte and Marie, are awesome. They tell Big Willy to drive me to the station first, as I am on a deadline and they are not. Big Willy agrees. What time your train? He asks. I look at the ticket. 15 minutes. Oh, he says, okay. Let's go fast.
I shit you not, Big Willy drives through the tiny streets of Calais at about 140kph. On the snow. I'm gripping the fucking dash and asking, so, errr, you use chains on your wheels? Big Willy spits out the window. No chains! We don't use chains! I drive like this my whole life!
The car is sideways half the time and at one point we actually mount the sidewalk to pass cars that are stopped at a red light. The girls are chatting casually in the back. I'm thinking I'm going to die. I never made it to Paris. But at least I died in France.
Eventually we make it to the station. I have 2 minutes. The fare comes to exactly 25 euro.
I want to kiss Big Willy.
I may never write that again.
I scramble over the snow toward the platform and get on the train just before the doors close.
I'm on my way to Paris.