What I Did On My Summer Vacation 2008 Part Neuf – The Day I Saw A Corvair Greenbriar Van In Royan, By The Beach With The German Gun Emplacements

French Flag

A quick walk down to Omaha Beach – seemingly, the British love RVs – what the landed gentry drive to the vacation house – \”That engine sounds familiar,\” I said –

So one morning, out on the Atlantic coast of France, I get up, and there\’s Antoine, my host down in the kitchen. He\’d been up for a while, reading the paper. He looked at me and asked, \”Wanna go for a walk down the beach? There\’s some interesting stuff down towards the touristy end.\”

Sure, why not. I had never been down that way before, since the town was in the opposite direction.

It turns out that down that way, along the walking path, separated from the bike path, separated from the road, are a bunch of disused German gun emplacements from the Second World War. You come around this point of land, and suddenly the beach is broad and flat and deep. Anyone with any military sense could see that this was a place where you could land so many boats with so many men that you could easily swamp coastal defenses. No wonder the Nazis were nervous.

Perched above the beach, on the \”high\” ground was a series of 5 or so gun emplacements. They had maybe a 30 foot height advantage, but hey, you go with what you got.

But that was years ago, and time can change a lot of things. Germany and France were part of one, larger super-country which was, judging by exchange rates, was worth 60% more than America on the open market.

Time also changed the coastline. What was once the high ground, perched at the edge of a 30 foot cliff, was now sea-level sand, and two of the German gun emplacements had tumbled down to sit on the beach at cockeyed angles, stripped of their guns, but still whole, sitting like knocked over childrens\’ toys on a beige carpet.

\”Those are the German gun emplacements,\” Antoine stated flatly. \”There\’s other bunkers and stuff if you know where to look.\”

You had to look around the two or three mid-sized hotels and the summer homes of fairly well off British couples. There were already a few of them here; fifty to sixty years old, fat-ish, pale, looking like land developers and car salesmen and pharmaceutical reps from Renton and Evanston and Atlanta, only they were from places like Gilford and Huyton-with-Roby and Hull, and they all seemed to be driving European versions of RVs.

Somehow, for a given group of Brits (and you could tell that they were British, because all of their RVs were right hand drive, and all of them had stickers on the back that said \”GB\” or were a Union Jack) they had decided that the cool thing to do was by a vacation house on the French coast, and commute there in their small, Euro-sized RVs.

It was sort of like when you go to a retirement community in Arizona or Florida and 9 out of 10 cars are all beige Oldsmobiles.

And these guys driving them, they were always guys, mum was always sitting in the passenger seat (or on occasion what looked like wife #2 or 3, 30 years younger than the semi-retired mid-level manager from Islington, blond, too much jewelry), seemed pleased as punch. Like driving around in an RV was as good as it got, vehicular experience-wise.

So Antoine and I keep walking down the path, talking about the tourist crowd, pointing out the shuttered up nightspots overlooking the beech and the ocean, when I hear a large mechanical whirring, like a gas powered sewing machine.

\”That engine sounds familiar,\” I said.

And up over a rise comes a Corvair Greenbriar van, white with a green stripe down the side scallops. It\’s rough, but it\’s all there.

\”Oh my god,\” I say. Seriously, what are the chances?

Antoine looks at me and asks, \”What kind of car is that?\”

\”It\’s a Corvair Greenbriar van. My dad owned one for awhile that he bought from a Baptist church.\”

\”Corvair? You mean like Ralph Nader? \’Unsafe at Any Speed\’?\”

\”Yeah, they made a van version,\” I answered, all the while marveling at the van disappearing over a crest, heading in towards town, and that a French guy somehow knew both what a Corvair was, and that he\’d also known about Ralph Nader\’s \’Unsafe at Any Speed\’.

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