Europe 1981 – Living the Parisian Life

Settled back into life in Los Angeles, I found work with a food broker and rented a two-bedroom apartment with my brother Chuck on Ocean Park Blvd in Santa Monica.  In the same building as Rendy, it would be home for a couple of years.  Joanna and I started dating (she and my sister Beverly were and still are friends) and part way through the year Francois Neddam contacted me to ask if he and his new girlfriend Heike Winkelman could come stay with us in Los Angeles for a visit that year.

And so they did, spending a month or so in the states, bedding down in my apartment on the front and back end of a road trip of the west and southwest they would take in a rental car.  Joanna and I would spend many memorable days at Southern California ‘s the iconic spots (Disneyland, Venice Beach, Hollywood, etc.) with them and they left for Paris having cemented a relationship that still flourishes today.

By early 1981, I was working my graveyard shift job with the food broker (not quite a full time job with but full time pay), putting in about 15 hours a week with two local accountants (the Shimizu brothers, huge UCLA fans) and taking a class at Santa Monica College, Literature of the Absurd.  And indeed, I found myself living in an absurdist cycle, short of sleep, not sure of the future path I should take.  Then I got the bug to visit Francois and so with little notice, I quit both jobs in March of that year and hopped on Laker Airways for London.  After one day of puttering around I took an overnight Magic Bus ($25 one way) to Paris, arriving early morning.

Francois and Heike lived in a three-room apartment in a high rise in the socialist district (I think it was the Fontenay-sous-Bois stop on the RER A line).  Being an intrepid traveler and this also being the pre cellphone and email era, I would find my way to the apartment using a map and communicating with the locals much as I had when I was hitchhiking, through sign language and very, very basic English.  As I’d made the decision to travel at the last moment, Francois may have known I was coming, but wasn’t sure about the dates.  So they were a bit, but a pleasant bit, surprised to find me knocking on their apartment door.


(Heike at Lunch)

And thus I would spend nearly two weeks with them in their cramped apartment all of us (including a cat who would haunt us on later trips) sleeping in the same room (I in my sleeping bag), becoming a Parisian in spirit.  Francois was pursuing his masters degree at that time so he was usually free to spend time with me, and thus we’d go into Paris each day to hang out with his friends Jose and Claude and others.  Heike was working at a travel agency and I recall meeting her for lunch a couple of times.


(At lunch at the restaurant, note the smoking waiter counting his till)

Mostly, we would hang out at Jose’s place.  It was a second story cold water walk up on the left bank; that succinct description means no elevator and importantly, no hot water.  He shared a toilet with the unit next door and would take his showers and clean up at the hospital he worked at.  But all of his friends envied him for the location (left bank) and the rent he paid.  The big bonus was the restaurant on the first floor, where we had a number of very good meals.

We’d while away the hours playing guitar and singing Eagles songs (their favorites) and talked about going out to busk over at the Pompidou Museum.  It never came about, but many memories were shared.  One I specifically recall is that Francois and Heike both fell in love with Mexican food while visiting the year before.  Sometime prior to my journey in March to see them, I packaged up a large box with tortilla chips, taco shells, taco seasoning mix and a few bottles of salsa, thinking that by mailing a month or two prior to my travels it would get there before I arrived.

Imagine our surprise when the box arrived a day or two before my return to Los Angeles.  We quickly organized a “taco” party for the night of my departure and invited a bunch of their friends.  When I opened the box, I was initially dismayed to see that the taco shells in particular had not survived the journey intact and settled on changing the party to a “taco salad” party.  A shopping trip procured the other necessary ingredients, including very expensive ground beef (not a common way of serving meet in Paris at that time, it was viewed as delicacy) and we constructed the salad and hosted one heck of a party, replete with good inexpensive French wine and great conversation.


(Babette?, Francois, and Claude at a costume party)

Most of the party then accompanied me to the bus station around 10:00 pm for my overnight bus trip to Amsterdam, where I would spend a day before another Magic Bus ride to London for my flight home.  I can still vividly recall that scene, as I sat on the bus, this group of folks from Paris that I’d come to know briefly, who yet were just excited about being there to say good bye.  This group would move out of Francois’ life like all of our friends do; living life begets change.  And yet that first trip to Paris in 1982 set the stage for many to follow, full of life, friends and good times.

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