Mug Shots by
(6 Stories)

Prompted By Photo Booths

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We were jet-lagged but happy to be in Paris in spring again. But the first full day we were there, instead of wandering the streets, taking in tulips and new leaves and La Vie en Rose, my husband and I were pounding the cement catacomb labyrinth under the Gare de Lyon. We wanted a week-long Carte Orange, which needed a photo.

After an hour of following one set of directions after another, we found the photo kiosk. It was occupied. A very stylish set of heels sat beneath the orange and gray geometric curtain. So we waited. Leaned against the gray tile walls, as there was nowhere to sit. Watched the few passersby, as this was a truly out-of-the-way corner of the station. Waited some more.

The curtain started wiggling, and we stood up, ready to take our turn. But instead of opening, a black-and-white striped knit shirt dropped behind it onto a leather carryall by the shoes. Coins dropped. The booth lit up. Flash, flash, flash, flash. More wriggling and a gray silk ruffled shirt joined the pile. More flashes. A beret dropped, missing the bag. Then a black cloche hat. We were witnessing a one-woman fashion shoot unfolding in a cramped booth.

We waited on. Began to worry we were wasting precious hours of the trip. Waited some more.

Finally, the curtain swept open and a brunette with careful makeup and a stylish tilt to her head emerged. She glowered at us as she slung the large sac to her shoulder and clicked off.

It was our turn. I went first to decipher the instructions. Deposit a coin, center your head, and watch a count down. Then, do not smile. The instructions, plastered everywhere, read, NO SMILING for ID photos.

After more time, losing coins and sangfroid, we had our black-and-white photo, but also deeply wounded vanity. In Paris, one wants to at least pretend some level of presentability, if not chic. These photos, four on a card, were neither. Top-lit, etching every line, wrinkle and frown mark, the camera had captured two villainous, glowering, elderly pusses. These were not pictures. They were mug shots.

We got the Carte Orange, and that week had a delicious time traveling everywhere—the Tutankhamun exhibit, the African museum, Pere Lachaise, Montmartre, museums, the opera, Ile de la Cite, and Fontainebleau. The weather was cold and lovely, early still. A perfect time.

And as it turned out, no one ever asked to see those ids. So no one ever knew that in March 2019, an ancient Bonnie and Clyde had wandered the streets of the City of Light. And left it unscathed. We tore up the offending passes as we left Charles De Gaulle.

Profile photo of Lucinda Winslow Lucinda Winslow
Lucinda's past lives thrash in the rearview, among them TV captionist, children's theater director, opera director, spiritual junkie, piano instructor, and other nefarious activities. Now she writes, works for social justice--ending poverty and book banning--while building gardens in Connecticut and New Hampshire.

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Characterizations: funny, moving, well written


  1. Dave Ventre says:

    Very funny, and it didn’t go quite as I first suspected it would. I made it to Paris for the first time ever at the end of last summer. I desperately want to go back.

  2. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Lucy, and thank you for the photo you give us which is obviously NOT one from the photo booth. I love your description of “an ancient Bonnie and Clyde,” which you are certainly not! And the brunette in the booth taking pix in multiple outfits is too funny. There should have been a screen on the outside showing what was going on inside, like there was in Dave’s story.

    I had a museum pass when I was in Paris a few years ago, but it didn’t require a picture, so must not have been a Carte Orange. Those Paris museums are worth the trouble of getting whatever kind of pass it takes.

    • Oooh la la. If I rewrote, I would include entertaining how many pictures were clad. Khati pointed out that it is probably a Passe Navigo now. I’d correct that, too. Carte Orange was way back. And yes, the passes are worth it all.

  3. Wonderfully written funny tale Lucinda!
    I think it was Erma Bombeck who said when you look like your passport photo it’s time to go home!

    BTW, you two look fine to me!

  4. John Shutkin says:

    A terrific story, so nicely unfolded, about a menial task. And, unfortunately, it also reminds me of all the times of late I’ve been prepared to show my vaccination card and it has not been requested.

    As to your predecessor in the booth, do you suppose she was doing a fashion shoot — or a striptease? And, if the latter, why couldn’t she just take nude selfies, like all of us normal people do?

  5. Dear Bonnie. Did you have a beret in your travel kit? The m’selle ahead of you would qualify as a physical comic if she hadn’t been such a pain. And don’t we all wait in terror for our driver’s license pics to appear?

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Love the picture in your featured image. I always wondered why official photos like those we take for passports or drivers’ licenses are not supposed to be smiling. I get it for mug shots, but if you are generally a smiler, why take such grim photos?

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Great story about the vagaries of travel tasks (such as coming up with a picture for a carte orange). I didn’t know what that was, but wikipedia tells me it was the name for a travel pass that is now called Navigo–and I’m glad I looked it up because I have plans to be there later this spring! Sounds useful. Maybe I should bring some pictures with me. But then I might miss out on people doffing clothes in a Paris booth. BTW, in 2018 I ran a into transit police stop in a Metro station hallway that checked tickets (my friend had thrown hers away after using it and paid a big fine on the spot), so even if you never had to show your pass, good thing you had it!

    • Thanks, Khati! You carded me. It WAS a Passe Navigo. Carte Oranges were a long time ago. It was very useful, so do bring B&W passport size pics. I think two. And above all, NO SMILING! We got the pass because it included train excursions out of Paris, as well as museums and a week of Metro. We thought it would cover the bus back to the airport. For some reason it didn’t, but it was still worth it. Paris is always worth it.

  8. Be still my heart! Your clever story piqued my curiosity, Lucinda, so I did a little research and discovered that In addition to the standard booths you see in Metro stations for identity photos, there are a scattering of restored vintage Foto Automat booths hidden in plain sight in and around Paris…each one a different style, and each outputs a different style of photos! Now I MUST go back to Paris…what fun!

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