Yesterday morning, right after I ate my croissant, drank my café crème, and finished my short blog post in Terminal 1 at Roissy-CDG airport, all hell broke loose. Everything had been going so smoothly. My plane had arrived 30 minutes early, I had breezed through passport control, and my bag had come out fairly quickly and in good condition. I strolled through customs and saw not a single douanier on duty.
I got up from the table in the Brioche Dorée seating area where I had installed myself at a table to do a quick blog post, and I headed for the men's room before traveling over to Terminal 2 via CDGVal (the aiport's automated rail shuttle or people-mover) to catch my TGV train back to the Loire Valley. I still had two hours to kill before the scheduled departure.
Contrast this view from the window of the TGV to the airport scene described in this post.
As I stepped out of the sort of food court into a wide hallway, a woman in uniform came running toward me and ordered me to get myself back into the food court. C'est dangeureux ici, she barked. There were 10 or 12 security guards huddled together farther up the hallway.
Earlier, I had heard an announcement on the airport intercom saying that a stray suitcase had been found near elevators A and B in Terminal 1. The owner of the abandoned bag was instructed to come and fetch it immediately. Back in the food court, the announcement was made that elevators A and B were now closed to the public because the suitcase had not been claimed. It was suspicious and might contain a bomb.
Me taking a photo in the Marne-la-Vallée TGV station at EuroDisney east of Paris
At that point, I didn't even know where elevators A and B were located. I headed around the opposite side of the circular airport terminal from the closed off area, still looking for a men's room (too much coffee) and hoping to make my way to the people-mover and get out of Terminal 1 while the getting was good. No such luck. I came to another roped-off area and another security guard who waved me off. Shouting, I asked how I could get to the CDGVal shuttle, and he pointed up toward the ceiling — go upstairs, he meant. I did.
The train station in Morehead City, N.C., never sees such crowds. No trains stop there any more.
Upstairs was where all the people were. Thousands of them, I'd estimate. Slowly, I navigated my way through the mass of passengers pushing luggage carts and dragging their rolling suitcases, still trying to locate the exit leading to the airport shuttle. Everything ground to a halt. I ended up standing in a long line that just kept getting longer, pressing up against a security cordon. I could see the sign for elevator B and CDGVal just a few dozen meters farther on. But there we stood.
A fellow passenger on the TGV, working on his laptop
After about 15 minutes, a young airport employee walked down the line telling people who were headed for Terminal 2 that a bus shuttle service de substitution had been set up because access to the CDGVal trains was sealed off. I still had plenty of time, so I asked if the closure would last long. You'd better go get the bus, the employee said. There was no telling when the CDGVal trains would start running again.
By then, hundreds of people were ahead of me as we spilled out of the terminal onto the sidewalk and street. Car horns were honking all around us. Taxi drivers where shaking their fists at us and at each other. Buses, both the familiar Paris-style green and white shuttles and gigantic cars de touristes, were stacked up, their forward progress blocked by the crowds of people pushing carts and pulling suitcases onto the road. The doors of a shuttle bus at the head of the line opened and in an instant it was packed full of people hoping to make it to their planes in Terminal 2 and not miss their connections.
By six o'clock yesterday afternoon I was out, bleary-eyed, walking in the vineyard again.
I didn't look forward to hauling my heavy suitcase and two carry-on bags up the steps of a bus and pushing my way into a shuttle heaving with frustrated, panicked travelers (like myself). Many hundreds us were still on the sidewalk and roadway. Just then, another airport employee came out of the terminal and started announcing to people in the crowd, almost one by one, that the abandoned suitcase in elevator B had been destroyed by the bomb squad. The CDGVal was running again.
The herd of travelers immediately turned on its heel and streamed back into the terminal. It was slow going, what with luggage carts clipping my heels and wheely bags running over my toes. I knew that the first CDGVal trains to Terminal 2 would be like so many cans of sardines, but it was better to go that way than to wait for a second shuttle bus to show up out on the street. I let myself be swept away by the migrating horde.
And Callie was happy to see me after my two-week absence.
After all that, everything calmed down again. I found my way to the TGV station in Terminal 2 sans problème — I still had an hour to wait. I found a place to sit down and read for a while. Groggy after a sleepless night on the plane, and wondering jet-laggedly what time it really was, pretty soon I was seated in first class on the TGV and traveling toward Tours. The train was 20 minutes late — I don't know why — but when I stepped onto the platform at Saint-Pierre-des-Corps 90 minutes later, Walt was standing there waiting for me.