One Man's Gas Cap Is Another's

cartoon: cruising on st germain

Jerry and Harry cruising the Boulevard Saint-Germain
in Jerry's 'Traction.'

Harry and the Cork

by Jerry Stopher

Paris:- Tuesday, 14. December 1999:- In the 1960's, the U.S. Air Force had bases in France. I was stationed at the one near Evreux, about a hundred kilometres west of Paris. It wasn't hard to get a train into the big city, but I really wanted a car.

One evening, while on a short trip to a certain trouble spot, I met an officer who was about to end his tour in Europe, and wanted to sell his car before returning to the States. I agreed to buy it.

She was an old 'Traction Avant' Citroën, the gangster model that was made from the early 1930's until the middle 1950's, when the DS came out. Mine was one of the later ones, built about 1955 or so, and it had a 4-cylinder engine. She would make 140 kph on a steep downgrade.

Somehow, her gas cap got lost. Seeing that I was without it, helpful-minded Frenchmen were always eager to advise me of the problem.

One night, my friend Harry and I were cruising down the Boulevard Saint-Germain. When we stopped at a red light the man from the car beside us jumped out, ran over to my window, and, gesturing wildly, declared, "Votre bouchon d'essence est perdu!"

I leapt from the car, ran to the back and stared at the spot where the gas cap was missing. Slapping my forehead, I yelled, "Mon bouchon d'essence! Il est perdu, le bouchon! Alors, merde!" My French was - and is - rather limited, but I know a few everyday words.

Another motorist joined us. The first motorist filled him in, saying, "Le bouchon d'essence est perdu!"

I then repeated my lines, "Mon bouchon d'essence! Il est perdu, le bouchon! Alors, merde!" The second motorist then said, "Alors, c'est vrai! Le bouchon d'essence est perdu! Qu'est-ce qu'on peut faire?"

Just then, a third motorist called out from his car, "Qu'est-ce que c'est?"

Well, that led to another round of declarations about the missing cork of essence. Then a policeman arrived, andcartoon: going round the block we had to start all over. We all recited our lines very dramatically about the bouchon d'essence, pointing and gesturing, and finally the policeman had his turn.

He really was interested, I'm sure, but there was traffic and he needed to get us moving, so he began twirling his baton and saying, "Allez-y allez-y allez-y!"

Off we went down to the Boulevard Saint-Michel, turned there and then soon made another turn into a narrow-street area where we intended to go in the first place. It was a small neighborhood with few foreigners, and we were just going to have a couple of drinks with the local folks.

Suddenly, Harry cried out, "Stop the car! Stop!"

I stopped, and he got out, saying, "Go around the block, I'll be right here!"

I really didn't know what he was doing, but I trusted him because he was a good friend, and still is, so I circled the block and when I got back, he hopped in - with a gas cap in hand.

I don't know who was next in line for the missing cork drama, but I was through with it. For the rest of the time I drove that car, she sported a shiny, chrome-plated essence-cork.


Ed's Note - For readers whose French is a bit rusty, here are translations of the key phrases in Jerry's true story:

"Votre bouchon d'essence est perdu!" - "You've lost your gas cap."

cartoon: with new gascap "Mon bouchon d'essence! Il est perdu, le bouchon! Alors, merde!" - "My gas cap! It's lost, the cap! What the darn heck!"

"Alors, c'est vrai! Le bouchon d'essence est perdu! Qu'est-ce qu'on peut faire?" - "Wow, that's right! The gas cap is lost! What'll we do about it?"

"Qu'est-ce que c'est?" - "What's going on?"

"Allez-y allez-y allez-y!" - "Go go go!"

"Stop the car! Stop!" - "Arrêtez la voiture! Arrêtez, alors, merde!"

"Go around the block, I'll be right here!" - "Circulez un peu, je t'attends ici."

Bouchon - Cork

Jerry Stopher©1999
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