Friday, March 8, 2019

Auf der Autobahn im Jahr 1992

The A 27 motorway in Germany near the exit Bremerhaven-Mitte.
Yesterday I regaled you with the tale of my brother and me taking the Sargemobile to Bayonne, New Jersey, for shipment to Germany. Port of entry on that end would be Bremerhaven in northern Germany, roughly four hours travel by car from where I was to be stationed. Which would be the small city of Geilenkirchen, which some Germans of my acquaintance took great joy in telling me the slang meaning of. Here's a hint: plug geilen Kirchen into Google Translate. But I digress.

At any rate, we shipped the car alright (as related yesterday) and shipped ourselves to Germany a few days after. Now the tale of that flight needs to be related at this point. We all arose at what The WSO likes to call the "butt crack of dawn," (seriously, I don't know where she comes up with these things) and piled into a couple of vehicles for the trip down to Bradley Field. (The official name of which is "Bradley International Airport," and we always say "in Hartford," but in reality is in Windsor Locks, not far from Hartford but not in Hartford.)

Now in those days you could walk right up to the gate without a ticket, there was no TSA, and everything was pretty much right with the world. Well, at least in North America and most of Europe west of what used to be the Soviet Union. The wall had fallen, Communism was more or less on the run and (I'm sure) Bernie and his fellow travelers were all rending their garments, wailing, and gnashing their teeth. (Now it seems that folks of that ilk are making a come-back among the idiot class. Sigh...)

At any rate, the flight from Bradley to JFK was uneventful and rather fun. I'm pretty sure that that was the first time that The Nuke and The WSO rode on an aircraft. This was also in the days before the airlines shrunk the leg room and charged to check a bag on board. (These days I am constantly annoyed by the ee-jits who drag all their worldly goods on the freaking aircraft and take 10 minutes to stow the effing thing... Sorry, that just peeves me no end.)

When we arrived in JFK is where the "fun" began, our flight to Brussels left late so that one could arrive in Brussels bright and early in the morning. We had left Connecticut earlier than I would have liked, but it was the Air Force which booked all the travel. While I only had good, some great assignments, in the Air Force, the travel folks always seemed to begrudge me those assignments so they made me "pay" by always giving me crappy flights.

"So tell me again why I'm getting into JFK at 1100, and not leaving until 2100? That's like a ten hour delay. WTF*, over."

"Well Sarge, there are only so many flights from Bradley to JFK a day and the others were all booked."


"I'm afraid so Sarge."

Dealing with the SATO people always made me feel like I was in a Monty Python sketch.

As an aside, I used to know what SATO stood for, I have long since forgotten, might be a Freudian thing, I don't know. So I Googled it:

So really Google, how does "Who played drums on Diary of a madman?" relate to my search? It's those travel people innit? Still messing with my head all these years later. Damn.

But I digress.

So we've got a late flight, the five of use, two adults, three kids. So how did SATO book the tickets (roughly sixty days earlier)? We were scattered all over the aircraft. You'd think they could at least seat us all together. Apparently that was too complex a task for those folks. I did ask the lady at check-in what she could do for us.

"After I get all of these people checked in, I'll see what I can do."

Which translates to "Go sit down, I am far too busy to help you. Even if I wasn't, I wouldn't." I pestered her a few times, to no avail. No doubt in these modern times I would be thrown off the flight, added to the "No Fly List," and have my tax return audited in perpetuity. Back then things weren't so uptight. But jerks were then, as now, often encountered.

At any rate, once we boarded I made myself a pain in the ass and rearranged a few passengers so that The Missus Herself and the girls could sit together and The Naviguesser and Your Humble Scribe were also together. That last bit involved a bit of diplomacy on my part. The guy sitting in the seat next to me was a total ass, he would not switch. I mean seriously a-hole, you can't swap one aisle seat for another? No, he could not.

But the Orthodox Jewish guy sitting next to my son was more than willing to swap. I mean he was willing to swap an aisle seat for a middle seat, on a six hour flight! His only problem was that he was afraid that I would eat his kosher meal. I assured him that if the flight attendant (I think they were still called stewardesses back then) gave me his meal, then I would personally bring it to him, scout's honor and all that. So he assented, graciously I might add.

FWIW, the stewardess, being much more competent than the gate attendant, had no problem with our switching seats and assured me and the Jewish gentleman that the kosher meal would wind up in the right hands.

With that, we belted up and headed into the night sky. It was uneventful, the drive from Brussels to Geilenkirchen was somewhat amusing, The WSO kept asking if it was illegal to sleep in Germany. Our sponsors (an American already at Geilenkirchen and his lovely wife) kept telling us that it was best to just stay up all day and go to bed that night. It was the quickest way to get over the jet lag. The progeny weren't buying it though they tried hard to stay awake. Well, except for The WSO who was poked and prodded constantly and being chided to "stay awake, you can sleep tonight." While probably not adequate preparation for SERE school, it probably didn't hurt. (She went through it, I got the tee shirt.)

So much for prologue. We were in Germany for a few weeks before the Sargemobile, which as we were in Germany should more properly be called the Feldwebelwagen, arrived up in Bremerhaven. As there were four of us who had arrived around the same time, and had shipped our cars around the same time, it was no surprise that the cars all came in on the same ship. So we got together and rented a car to take us up to Bremerhaven.

It was another "butt crack of dawn" trip, get up there, turn in the rental, pick up our cars and head back. Sounded good to me, I didn't have to do any driving on the way up, and split four ways the rental fee was reasonable. Cheap even. The trip itself was relatively unmemorable, other than the excessive giggling which occurred upon seeing a sign for Titz**.

So we made it to Bremerhaven, where we discovered that our U.S. plates just wouldn't do, we had to have USAREUR (US Army in Europe) plates. Which they could take care of right there on the post. So we all schlepped over to that office, got our plates then got our cars. The guy who brought mine informed that my battery was dead, so I should drive around for a while to let it charge. Okay...

I spent the next half hour motoring around this Army facility, nervously watching the fuel gauge. For by regulation, the car was shipped with one gallon of fuel in the tank. While the Jetta was pretty good on fuel, the needle was bouncing off the "E" peg. So I thought, I'll go fuel up now, leave it running, by the time I get back to Geilenkirchen, it should be fine.

So I swing by the post service station, went inside to pay, got yelled at by some civvy that I had to switch my engine off. I explained my situation and that me switching the engine off might block access to his pumps. He was rather insistent that the rules had to be followed. Makes sense, I mean this was Deutschland, nicht Wahr? So I switched the engine off, filled her up then went back inside and asked if I could get a jump start.

"We don't do that here, you'll have to go over to the auto hobby shop."

"Do they have a phone?" I queried.

"Yes, they do."

"Call them. Now. Mach schnell!" I barked.

"I can't do that..."

"Das ist Befehl!" I barked. Louder this time. (The German for, "That's an order!")

He did as he was told and some time later a chap showed up to give me a jump start.

Scheisskopf, the semi-affectionate name I had for the chap in the service station, at one point during the wait told me that I would need to move my car.

"And just how do you propose I do that?" Staring at him with the gimlet eye of a tired, pissed off sergeant.

"Oh, that's right, your battery is dead."

Brilliant, just brilliant.

At any rate I was soon on the road, back on the Autobahn traveling south at a fair clip. At one point I saw a car, obviously a vehicle of the local constabulary, clearly marked Polizei. Not wanting to hear this -

I instinctively took my foot off the accelerator, then I realized, "This is Germany, this is the Autobahn, I'm driving a German car! Pedal to the metal mein Herr, schneller, schneller!"

I believe I passed the police car with the needle hovering around 80 mph. The officer looked over at me as I passed him, so I gave him a jaunty military style salute. He just grinned. Probably while muttering to himself about the stupid Amerikaner and his first time on the Autobahn.

With good reason.

Now eventually I felt the call of nature, lo and behold a rest area lay just ahead, so I pulled in. As I reached for the key, I pictured the scene at the service station in Bremerhaven. So I pulled the valet key off the key ring and left my beastie running. I locked her up, went in and did my business in an expeditious manner and returned to the Feldwebelwagen. She was still running!

Unlocked her, got in and continued south.

It was a long day, amazingly enough the car started right up the next morning and every morning thereafter. Until two things happened:
  1. The Missus Herself drove through a barbed wire fence into a farmer's field (power steering failure, something she was unprepared for) and
  2. A tree fell on my car while at work during a major storm. Seriously, an entire tree and not a small one.
Both those are stories for another time. Shortly after the tree incident I had to part with the Jetta. Bought a Dodge this time, The Missus Herself having decreed "No more German cars!" as she was convinced they were out to get her. They may have been, so I bought the Dodge, I was only following orders. And that car is a story for another time, bloody thing was haunted I think!

I will leave you with this...

Deutsches Techno! Wunderbar!

You should thank your lucky stars that I've never ridden in a Luftballon. Ninety-nine of 'em.


* Well That's Fantastic. Or something like that...
** Titz is a municipality in the district of Düren in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is located approximately 10 km north-east of Jülich and 20 km south of Mönchengladbach.


  1. That first video.....astounding to see that, in this country that siren vehicle would have had to have an A-10 giving CAS to clear a lane like that. Do you know what year that video was recorded in Sarge?

    1. The video was published in April of 2017. As the vehicles all look pretty late model I'd believe it. Then again, you don't see any clunkers in West Germany!

    2. you don't see any clunkers in West Germany!

      What about GI cars? I remember the ones we had mid 60's that had traded hands many times and were 'farm boy' repaired in the parking lots. Calling them clunkers would be too kind.

    3. Ah, you're probably right, but I was stationed far from "Little America," which is what we called Kaiserslautern and that area. NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen is in the old British Occupation Zone. There may have been the odd clunker about (an Ossie friend of mine had one, he later died in it in a crash in East Germany) but in general you didn't see many of them. Old cars there were, but well-maintained. (Most of the folks at GK were officers and more senior enlisted types, very few junior troops.)

  2. There’s an episode of The Grand Tour, where they take a “journey through life” on German/Austrian roads. In typical juvenile fashion. Starting in Wank, going to Kissing, Petting, F... um, that place in Austria, and ending up in Wedding. Can’t believe they missed fitting Titz in there, somewhere.

    Though, my family is from Pennsylvania Dutch lands, and we have a whole raft of good ones: Lititz, Bareville, Bird-in-Hand, Paradise, Blue Ball, Intercourse.

    1. Heh, apparently I need to visit Austria. And yes, the Pennsylvania Dutch have some wild town names as well!

  3. SATO-- Scheduled Airline Ticket Office

    I know, I know, as opposed to what? Unscheduled Airline Ticket Office? But remember, some shoe clerk made O-6 coming up with that acronym.

    1. Ah, that's right, that's it! (But who played drums on Diary of a madman?)

      As to "Unscheduled Airline Ticket Office", I damned near split my sides chortling over that one. UATO?

    2. Fwiw, SATO is a song on “Diary of a Madman” and “who played drums on said album” is a valid question, as it’s uncredited.

    3. Yup, I knew that as of this morning.

      As for SATO, it stands for Sharon Arden, Thelma Osbourne - Ozzy Osbourne's second and first wives, respectively.

      The things one learns on the Internet...

  4. I can’t think of any occasions when someone I didn’t know personally made fight arrangements where the schedule of flights actually worked out advantageously for me.

    1. As fir the translation, two years ago MB and I attended a concerts by a brass band from Germany at the 4th Presbyterian Church.
      Es war geil.

    2. In the slang of the '90s, "geil" also meant "cool," as in, "hip," "bitchin'," and the like. So the band was good?

  5. Feldwebelwagon has a nice ring to it. So very 'War German.'

    As to Highway Patrol, I love passing the Florida HP (FHP to totally acronym it) when they're purposely driving 68mph. Pass and wave, pass and wave. At 70mph, of course. I live a dangerous life!

    Had one haunted car, a 1991 Chrysler Imperial (shuttle.) The electric system was slowly burning up, so I couldn't drive it in dim or night conditions, as the wiring behind the dash would start smoking. No AC, fan only blew hot, only two windows would open, so summer driving in the city was a sucky thing. Actually got $1,000 off of it's cold dead carcass, without wrecking it at all!

    1. Sprechen Sie Kriegsdeutsch?

    2. The Dodge would do weird things, like no dash lights, they would only work at the dealership, I kid you not!

    3. Beans: in TN, a few have sense, but most drivers will slow down so as not to pass the police, no matter how much they slow down.. Once got behind folks down to 45 on the interstate. I'm pretty sure the cop was just having fun seeing how many he could slow down because they were afraid to pass him. I honked my horn & flashed open-hand/closed hand to indicate 55 mph speed limit, and the woman ahead of me, at the head of the left-lane slow parade, pointed to the cop car in the slow lane as the reason she couldn't possibly speed up. Myself, I happily overtake them, being careful not to speed while doing so.
      Very entertaining story Sarge! However....
      "the tale of I taking the Sargemobile to Bayonne"?
      I'm pretty sure you aren't Jamaican, Sarge. Sorry, but I/me misuse always gets to me. It's but one of my flaws.
      --Tennessee Budd
      Postscript, concerning the matter I mentioned in email: new job orientation going great; really like what I've seen of this company. Keep finding out about new perks. Can no longer join in singing "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all"!

    4. Argh, I try to me careful about the whole I/me thing, I blew that one, but have fixed it. Thanks Tennessee. (What, Paul missed that one?)

      Drives me nuts when people slow down to below the speed limit because, "Look, Cop!" Not me.

      Outstanding news on the new job, hope it all goes well!

  6. Hey AFSarge;

    I would post the story how I got my Mustang to Germany, but I really don't know the statue of limitations on bamboozling the tag office...

    1. Hahaha!

      Make it one of those "you won't believe what my buddy did..." stories!

    2. Hey AfSarge;

      This is what my buddy did, he got orders to Germany and like any red blooded American would have done, he bought a Mustang er a Camaro from the dealership not near the post. He then goes to pick up the car and discovers that he has to pay the state tax of $1200 on the car to get a tag from the northeastern state that the car was purchased at. Well my buddy had another buddy that bought a Nova that had 2 Wisconsin tags on the Nova, he gave my buddy a Wisconsin tag who then used the tag to get the car out of the clutches of the dealership. Well drove on the car unto he took it home. And while at home he found out that he would need tag paperwork to get the car on the boat to Germany. Well he goes to the southern state tag office and gets a tag application for $10 and uses that tag application to get the car on the boat to Germany. I thought the guy was very lucky. Well he kept the car over there for 5 years and kept all 5 years of USAREUR registration and luckily for him he did, if he didn't, the southern state tag office would have charged him excise tax for the 5 years he was overseas. According to him, the autobahn was a blast.

    3. Sounds like your buddy used good old American ingenuity to foil the tax farmers out of their ill-gotten loot. Seems like we need another revolution with all these taxes, maybe pitch a few bureaucrats into a harbor up in Minnesota in the winter!

      Great story!

    4. Hey Old AFSarge;

      It was the age before I seriously doubt that it would fly today, LOL

  7. I remember my transit of the Atlantic as well. Flew in a stretch DC-8 (not a major airline) stuffed full of khaki uniforms.

    This was our unit crest--

    Mobile we were. During the last half of my tour, the CW4 in charge of our shop initiated a program whereby we traveled to customer units to perform repairs on site. We had one of these with this camo--

    --and I got be a fair hand at wheeling along the German highways and by ways. Had to watch that overhead in some of the small towns. IIRC, ours was an A2 version, gas powered, non-turbo. We had work benches with drawers in the van along both sides. As an E4, I was often sent off by my lonesome to get the job done (small arms repair). Loved the work, got to drive around our part of Germany, and got paid to do it. Good times.

  8. My squads had Federal PA400 Interceptor, a very loud siren, and I never cleared traffic like that. American lightness are far superior to theirs, mainly because we don't subscribe to the European belief that there is such a thing as too many lights.


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