I was having dinner with four people I met shortly after I moved to a new town. The conversation turned to travel and I mentioned a great trip to France that I took with two other friends a few years earlier. We rented a farmhouse and a car and spent a week château hopping in the Loire Valley. Our evening entertainment was to drive into a village, find a small hotel, and spend the next three hours in their dining room enjoying a 5- or 6- or 7- course meal for maybe $20. Easily the best trip ever.
“We should do that,” one them said. “I’ve always wanted to go to Provence.”
We rented a beautiful home and a car large enough for the five of us: Tom and Phyllis, their neighbor Maggie, and Carolyn, who we would later discover to be a sociopath. Game on.
Carolyn would never commit to getting her airline tickets, so I called her from the travel agency and offered to get her tickets while I was there as long as she reimbursed me for them as soon as possible. (I needed the money.)
Before I got into travel mode, I paid my bills a little early, nearly draining my checking account in the process. I was counting on Carolyn’s check for the tickets to replenish my account.
The day of our flight, I took my dog to the kennel and on the way back home, the travel agent called me to say that Carolyn, who had never picked up her tickets, just called to say that she had an ear infection and couldn’t fly.
And so it began: the worst vacation ever.
Phyllis’ father had sent her a book about the weekly outdoor markets in Provence, so she (not we) decided that we would follow the book for our itinerary:
- Saturday: Apt
- Sunday: Luberon
- Monday: Forqualquier
- Tuesday: St. Saturnin-Lès-Apt
- Wednesday: Sault
- Thursday: Aix-en-Provence
Phyllis and Maggie went shopping for Provencal tablecloths every day. I had hardly any money, thanks to Carolyn, so I walked around the perimeter of the markets and people-watched.
In Apt, there was a commotion down the street. An auto had sideswiped a white van that was parked on the narrow street. There was a lot of arguing and fist shaking between the two drivers. When things calmed down, i noticed that the van had a crease in the side and a streak of red paint from the other car’s side view mirror.
The next morning, we headed out to Luberon. I went window shopping as the others hit the market. As I turned a corner, there was the same white van. The owner was a vendor at the market, and apparently on the same travel schedule as we were.
Each day when Phyllis and Maggie finished shopping, they would compare the different markets: this one had better tablecloths, the other on had better produce. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that each day it was same vendors, different town.
Every place we went, I went looking for the van and always found it. In Aix-en-Provence, I heard someone calling “Bonjour, Madame!” I turned around to see the van owner waving at me. “Bonjour, Monsieur!” I called back.
I had made a friend!
We didn’t go exploring for wonderful little restaurants, we didn’t drink much wine, we didn’t go to museums because “who wants to pay to see old stuff?”
Sometimes we bought food at the markets and went back to the house to cook. Maggie decided she didn’t like French food and wanted fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans, so that’s what we cooked. One day we even had lunch at a McDonald’s because Tom thought it would be fun. It wasn’t.
The week mercifully came to an end. I came home to realize that Carolyn had never reimbursed me for the tickets, which the travel agent had mailed to me for safekeeping.
I learned two things on that trip:
- Never travel with recent acquaintances.
- If you want to get your money back from a sociopath, you have to go to small claims court over and over again until they finally issue an arrest warrant. It took over a year, and the first check she wrote bounced, but i finally got my $1500 back.