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Pen Your Pride

Chapter 6

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The bus weaved its way through the back roads of Provence, past vineyards that spread over the fields on both sides, and often braking into traffic circles that seemed to be in abundance. These roundabouts were used to control the flow of vehicles instead of four stop signs. Some roads, Borders noticed, were void of traffic and people. These circles, small and tight, allowed the bus to travel no more than ten km/h, as it labored its way around to accomplish a distance of thirty feet. The passengers shook back and forth in their seats as the bus made the turn, in fits of stops and starts, finally accelerating to the open road. This road impediment hampered the speed of their bus and slowed down the tour, their agenda shrinking relentlessly.

When they eventually arrived at Toulon, the bus stopped in what was supposed to be a town square, but from all appearances resembled a glorified traffic circle. The large fountain in the center made all the difference. Buses came and traveled around the circle, stopping to let off or pickup tours groups. As the groups moved about, they were accosted by gypsies, their hands outstretched, begging for cash as if the tourist world owed them a living. Some people treated these, whom they believed to be unfortunates, rather than someone who passionately chose this way of life, as deserving of a kind word and a donation of money. Such actions only encouraged them, and they hung on to the tourist like a shadow as their friends came to surround the hapless fool. A simple "Allez," kept them away from Borders like a poison spray.

With their tour time diminishing, the tourists were given a quick run about and then deserted near the open market to fend for themselves. The market was huge, nestled between two streets - it spread like a vast highway of merchandise as far as the eye could see. Unfortunately, their late arrival brought them to the tail end of the business day. More than half of the sellers had already folded up, their goods and cash safely tucked away in their small white trucks. As he looked around, Borders realized that his tourist ways had kept him from his main objective, keeping eyes on Panama. He was nowhere in sight. This market place could have been his soft target if they had arrived a few hours earlier.

Borders and Hill, their interest's dissimilar, parted company to explore different avenues, all the while keeping an eye open for Panama. Borders walked faster, intent on seeing as much as possible. He wandered through narrow streets, not unlike alleys, the difference being that these alleys had storefronts with more alleys branching left and right. One-third of the cobblestone street had a cobblestone sidewalk, although no one seemed to pay attention and walked willy-nilly on each path. At times, tables and chairs hampered the steady flow as pedestrians wormed their way around wine drinkers and pizza eaters. Now and then a bicycle was added to the mix. Borders was amazed that any bike could go so slow yet remain erect, the front tire wobbling left and right.

He wondered if these alleys had originated as cow paths. In open fields, the cow would wander home - meandering left and right, following her nose, which was certainly no guarantee of a direct route. The trodden path, devoid of grass, became a path used by humans. Soon, carts followed, and before long, it was a road. In time, an inn would sprout up followed by houses or other businesses. What had been room enough for one wagon, now only allowed bicycles. It was simply too late to widen the road.

Occasionally the narrow streets took him to a wide open area surrounded by buildings. A fountain always seemed to grace the heart of each square. It could have been a traffic circle if cars had been able to find their way there, but for now bicycles and mopeds were the only vehicles in sight. They crisscrossed the square, going in any direction and parked in every available spot. Sometimes he would come across a bicycle parking lot filled with rows of yellow bicycles. These were the ride and park bikes, free of charge, available to anyone - all one had to do was park it in any available bicycle parking lot when finished.

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