Have you seen my convertible?

Last week I had one. It came with everything, even two crazy French chauffeurs, the pair of them laughing like hyenas with one hand on the wheel, an unfiltered cigarette in the other, in between puffs snapping pictures of Miami, Florida — and oh yeah, in the back seat, there I was, all sprawled out and living the dream. Correction: Last week I had one crazee French driver and one crazee French navigator (i.e. map reader). A person should get used to such luxuries.

One week later, I'm in Danielsville, Georgia, rural America, standing on the steps of Williams BBQ, a red board shack where you stand on the porch and put in your order for a chicken salad sandwich, toasted or not. Beverage? Put your quarter in the coke machine to your left. The dining room is a picnic table, uncomfortably close to the gravel parking lot. It is one hundred degrees hot, and what with cars pulling up and gravel pinging your backside, the only option is eating in the front seat of a Ford Focus with a busted windshield. All I ask is ... Where did the glitter of Miami go?

Last week I stood on Ocean Drive, calling for Donatella at Versace's house. I scooted on to a sidewalk restaurant, stupefied by the amount of green that was about to exchange hands, easily killed the building remorse by drinking wine, wine, wine, a decision aided by the French who mark every hapless experience with a bottle of wine at their side.

All trips start with Expedia, with a thumbnail glance at a hotel room, a rating that changes from website to website, described on most sites as "dirty, vile, and rundown." Google further aids in the realization that all journeys to Miami feature exorbitant airline tickets and hotels with no vacancies.

The only choice is a room down the street from my friends. I find the perfect place and then discover too late that the flight comes in at eleven o'clock p.m., that the hotel lobby isn't open 24/7. After making six panicked telephone calls to my French friend ... then I remember the cost of international telephone calls. We speak in shorter sentences.

A person you know only over the Internet, one who begged you to come to Miami at the last minute, one who shamed you into coming after you told her it was too expensive, offers up her credit card to pay for the flight, and later pays for a hotel room, one miraculously found at the last minute. Would you do the same for a real life friend? HA! And this sets the tone for the rest of the trip. Restaurants, crocodile farms, ice creams, tacky souvenirs—all bills are paid in Euros, in spite of Andrew Jackson who really wants to help.

Only after their money runs out, am I able to pull your share of the financial load. This takes a few days as the Euros are plentiful, and Visa is generous with the credit line...

But back at the airport I find out that her boyfriend doesn't speak English. Shit! I might have bought some tapes, but no, now it looks to be a weekend of trying to get past accents and puzzled stares.

Forget about it, see Miami at eleven o'clock at night, shout at the 'hos already out on the street. No wait... that's just Miami fashion. A lot of gold jewelry, even more skin and sequins galore. Think Bette Davis in Jezebel... without all the cloth.

Morning brings a family reunion. There's a brother who knows the cheap hotels, some good restaurants, where to get orange juice without "le chemicals." Their hotel offers up tasteless bagels and dishwater coffee. An extra is the tres loud, head-banging music. It begins a weekend of Devo-like twitching/dancing that often substitutes for conversation. Too bad the only hand puppet Esperanto I know is the bird, the Nixon peace sign, Ebert's thumbs down disapproval ... signals entirely inappropriate for discussing the oeuvre of Francois Truffaut.

Seemingly, their mornings are rough. The hotel expresso isn't strong enough. Do they ever really wake up?

I discover that my excellent French driver has only one flaw: what does "yield" mean? There are some terrifying moments, but otherwise her lane-changing abilities are exemplary.

Her brother picks out a good restaurant, Monkfish, one with a lewd mural on the wall ... kind of a bawdy reinterpretation of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. It is noon — where is Jeb Bush now?

I am spitting out French words as though I have the European version of Tourette's. Every word I have ever glanced at rises to the surface. It's good to hear the rusty gears of a brain slowly turning. Even the boyfriend can get past the high-pitched, squealing, Southern chipmunk accent.

I remember the words faux pas. The brother with the calculator adds up the bill, figuring up the tip. I thank him for lunch several times, but oops! My friends are paying, and he is perplexed... so I find out later.

The French are proud of the big car and cheap gas. Lots of irony there, as the car is a Ford Mustang convertible. And the price of gas? Do I have to explain to you the price of gas?

But enough of that crap. The friends haven't yet figured out the new American math. They are bamboozled by the reality that even though the Everglades is thirty minutes from Miami, it takes them three hours to find it. They get lost on the one-way turnpike to the Keys, and also to Walt Disney World ... soon learning the United States closes at five o'clock p.m. and European compasses halt at seven o'clock sharp. But hey, I turn out to be useful. I can understand directions. We still go off track, but the wandering time is reduced.

The boyfriend gets American billboard/menu burnout and runs to a six-course French restaurant for immediate resuscitation.

We are so busy conjugating American/French/Franglais that we miss the crocodile show at an alligator farm. Too bad we drove for an hour and a half to get there ... the thirty minute trip, that is. Damn it, the lone American is not so useful. At least the airboat trip provides intrigue as a maniac guide pilots an ancient air boat up and down kudzu-covered seaways, looking for a few doddering crocs.

The French worship electronics. Prices are twenty-five percent higher back home, and they stand at every window, drooling over multi-zone DVD players and Play Stations. Their Visas clamor to go in, but the bill payers have been in Miami for over a week, and they are mindful of a future with only cheap California Zinfandel and quickie trips to Belgium.

On account of a brightly colored brochure, we settle on the "Duck" boat/land tour. The tour guide encourages quacking at people on the street. She assures us that even Rosie O'Donnell and Shaq O'Neill quack when asked. Say what? We tour islands covered with mansions, spot the gates of paranoid celebrities ... pass by the cat lady's mansion where several hundred felines prowl. Does every community have a crazy cat lady?

After the Quack, it's all anti-climatic. A brightly colored brochure leads us to a local dolphin show. The complex is a glorified petting zoo. Damn. We watch Gidget-like girls and fish balancing beach balls. After the show the French confess that European documentaries suggest that people shouldn't support these kinds of venues, that dolphins get depressed in captivity. Oh shit, and we just blew thirty-five dollars apiece!

But all is not lost. Despite the substandard food, the warm beer, the boyfriend is elated because he gets carded. His girlfriend puts a finger to her head and says "Yes, he is 21..."

At this point, The Miami green has run out. We go to the airport, back home to France and Georgia. The boyfriend doesn't want to go back as smoking isn't allowed on the upcoming nine-hour flight home.

Both survive, only to go on another trip. Somehow the French never stop traveling. This week they are at Cannes. The girlfriend works for the government, a job she says she'll never leave, because of forty-five days of vacation a year... and a trip to the famous film festival, most expenses paid. She and the boyfriend don't go for the artsy movies — they talk only of Star Wars...

...While I sit in a small town courthouse, trying to dodge a guy who's anxious to detail his physical problems. He tells me that he used to lift weights, can't anymore, and everything from the neck down sags. I turn away from the unfortunate mental image. Damn the internal projectionist! I look for refuge but there is only a clerk lost in some impossibly long anecdote. All I hear are "thes, ofs, and then..." I forget the rest.

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