Everything was going along just fine until the car conked out near Amboise. Even that didn't put a damper on the trip. The weather was beautiful, considering it was getting to be late October. The countryside was beautiful too, green and manicured, against a backdrop of blue skies with interesting cloud formations.
I told Cheryl that we wouldn't worry about the car, since we didn't really have a schedule for the afternoon. I would just call the insurance company's roadside assistance number and get us a rental car if the Peugeot really gave up the ghost. Of course I'd have to find a phone booth, but it wasn't raining or cold.
The car stalled out one more time as we got to Vouvray, if I remember. But it started up again, and the check engine light actually went dark. That seemed like a good sign. Going to Vouvray is always fun, and nothing could change that. In June 2001, Walt and I had rented a gîte over there for a two-week vacation. Cheryl came and spent the first week with us, and CHM came and spent the second week. We had a lot of fun and saw a lot of sights.
Thinking back on it, we had car trouble that year too. We had rented a Renault Mégane at CDG airport and driven on down to the Loire Valley. The weather was sunny and actually hot. That was good except for one thing — the air-conditioning in the Mégane was on the blink. It was blowing hot air, which wasn't helpful or comfortable.
It was Saturday and I started calling local rental agencies — I think it was Avis we rented from that year — on Sunday morning. I called two in Tours and one in Blois to ask if I could bring the car in and exchange it for another. No, I was told, we don't have any cars to replace it with. And that seemed to be that.
I called them all again on Monday morning, if I remember correctly, only to be told the same thing. There were no cars available for the exchange. Then it dawned on me that I was asking the wrong question, and nobody was volunteering any information or help beyond giving me a short, straightforward response to my enquiry.
So that afternoon I made another call to the closest Avis agency, over in Tours-Nord. I have an Avis car that I rented at the airport on Saturday morning, and the climatisation is en dérangement, I told the person on the phone. If I bring it in tomorrow morning, would you have a car with working AC that I could exchange it for? « Oui, bien sûr, Monsieur. Venez nous voir vers onze heures et nous ferons l'échange. » It was magic! The agency obviously needed some lead time. They didn't like to be pushed, I guess. Most importantly, in France you have to ask the right question.
Cheryl and I went to pick up the new car the next day (Walt was watching the French Open tennis tournament on TV). It turned out to be a gigantic silver Renault Espace van — it seemed to be twice the size of the Mégane. We ended up calling it the Magic Bus and really enjoyed driving it all around the countryside. I even ended up driving it around the streets of Paris the next weekend, and was able to park it. The AC worked great and it was a lot of fun.
Those were the good old days, I guess, back when we were still "young" and prosperous. And when we could take carefree vacations. Good memories.