Former Oceano Dunes ranger living in Paris describes attacks’ aftermath

Phil Jenkins enjoys a cup of coffee at a cafe in Paris.
Phil Jenkins enjoys a cup of coffee at a cafe in Paris. Courtesy photo

A former local State Parks supervisor, now living in Paris, was a mere mile away when the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks occurred.

Over the past two-and-a-half months, Phil Jenkins said, he has grown fond of France, assimilating into the culture while living in a rented apartment in the historic 5th arrondissement neighborhood. Paris is like “a second home,” he said.

The attacks, which Jenkins called “meaningless violence,” have not changed his attitude about Parisian life, though his proximity to the scene was a harrowing experience.

His mother and sister were visiting him when they heard a racket outside his home, a cacophony of sirens as ambulances and police rushed to the scenes of the attacks. They didn’t hear the gunfire or bomb blasts.

“We watched the news unfold on television,” Jenkins said in an email Friday. “As news of multiple locations were reported it was difficult to feel safe no matter where you were in Paris.”

Jenkins, 57, now retired, was a supervising ranger of the Pismo Dunes in the 1990s (the name has since been changed to the Oceano Dunes state park) before he moved on to become chief of the state’s Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division for 10 years, living in Sacramento.

After suffering heart attacks that he says resulted from a stressful, political working environment, Jenkins started traveling around the world: Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Germany and other countries. He moved to Paris a few months ago to lead a low-key, French lifestyle. He plans to return home to Sacramento in December and then travel internationally more before settling in France indefinitely.

He spends his days touring Paris, learning French, reading newspapers and frequenting coffee shops.

Because he speaks limited French, he could only grasp the essence of the attacks on French TV news. So he and his family wound up using an iPad to watch live British news broadcasts.

A bit quieter, a bit more cautious, but essentially unchanged.

Phil Jenkins, on Paris after the terrorist attacks last week

In the aftermath, Jenkins said the French banded together to help one another. Those with nearby apartments offered shelter to those fleeing from the chaos, and those with homes let strangers in to avoid being injured or killed.

The atmosphere remained very anxious in the hours after the incidents.

“I certainly noticed that everyone was a lot more tense the day after the attacks,” Jenkins said in a telephone interview Friday. “The guy I get my paper from, who’s usually very cheerful, was completely on edge. And I get my baguette every day at the same place. Folks were having very tense conversations. People were worried about other terrorists running around the streets and causing more harm.”

Over the past week, Jenkins said he has noticed more French, but far fewer tourists, in city hubs. Armed law enforcement and French military members with steely glares are positioned throughout the city, especially at transportation centers.

“I have ventured out into the city for necessary errands and shopping,” Jenkins said. “It is comforting to see a strong presence of alert and professional police and gendarmeries (French army forces). Residents are going about their business calmly and quietly. While there is an underlying increased level of watchfulness, it does not feel unsafe or dangerous to move about the city.”

On an outing to the Luxembourg Gardens this week, Jenkins said a drizzle was falling, and he observed people jogging, a couple strolling with a baby carriage, romantic young people making out on a bench sheltered from the light rain, and older folks playing boules (a game similar to the Italian-invented bocce ball) under umbrellas.

“A bit quieter, a bit more cautious, but essentially unchanged,” Jenkins said. “This is the greatest victory of Paris, that they are not letting the terrorists win by changing their character or living in fear. While there is a marked decline in tourists on the streets where I live, Paris is as beautiful and friendly as ever.”