THE EUROPEAN TRIP FROM HELL

 

 

The plan was very simple, really. I would attend my business meeting in Brussels, and my wife, Beverly, who had never been to Europe, would go along. After my meeting, we would then travel by train to Heidelberg, Germany, the scenic route, and spend a week with my brother, Ken, who was stationed there with the U.S. Army.

 

Well, the excitement mounted as the day of departure approached... we bought Beverly a new suitcase (with wheels), and read up on the climatic summaries of Belgium and Germany. "Highs in the 70s ... 50s at night," so we packed our warm stuff. We left El Paso on Monday en route to JFK Airport in New York City, where we would change planes and fly "across the pond." Several hours later, we were on the ground in Providence, R.I., "out of gas" the pilot said, "not to worry, all flights out of JFK would be delayed due to the storm," so we would make our connection to Brussels, no sweat! Close to midnight we reached the front of the ticket line to see when the next plane to Brussels would depart. Well, bad news, we'd have to spend 24 hours in New York before the next available flight. 'But, the airline would pay for our hotel and buy us three meals the first of which would be a $40.00 dinner, not bad as we were hungry. "But you cannot have your luggage," said the ticket agent, because it was "impounded" for the night. That's OK. We had planned ahead. Bev had make-up in her purse, and we both had clean underwear in our carry-on luggage. So ... we wearily boarded the bus to the hotel. We noticed one of our fellow passengers on the bus who had his luggage. "How did you get your stuff out of impound?" I asked. "It came out on carousel number one," he replied. So, off the bus, check carousel one, and lo and behold there was our luggage going round and round. In fact, it had been going round so long that Beverly's new suitcase was ripped to shreds. "Better to have a ripped suitcase than no suitcase," I told her. Because if we hadn't claimed our luggage, it surely would have stayed in New York for eternity. Back on yet another bus to the hotel, and by now really looking forward to our $40.00 dinner. "Sorry sir, our dining room is closed, but you can get a snack in the bar." Well, there went the $40.00 dinner, so after a $4.00 hamburger and $36.00 worth of booze, we quietly passed out in our hotel beds.

 

The next morning, as the sun came up like thunder through the smog, I decided all was not lost because I had all day to kill before our 6:30 P.M. departure for Brussels, so I could at least go for a nice long jog. I suited up and wondered as I passed the guard gate outside the hotel, "why a guard?" It didn't take me long to figure out that I was a distinct minority of one in an ethnic ghetto. People stared, yelled, or even mumbled threats as I beat a rapid retreat back through the guard post to the hotel ... so much for jogging, maybe a nap would be good.

 

6:30 P.M. finally came, the plane was loaded, and we were ready for our great adventure to begin. "Uh ... ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot, Captain Johnson, speaking. We have to make some slight repairs in our auxiliary power unit (APU), so we'll be delayed about ten minutes. Sit back and relax and we'll be off soon. "Forty minutes later, we pushed back and headed for a late take-off. "Uh ... this is Captain Johnson again, we're returning to the terminal because we're told we need to run the APU for 30 minutes to assure the repairs are correct, sorry." Ninety minutes later, we were airborne headed for Brussels.

 

"I'm hot, Gunnar!" Bev said for the third time. "Just what is the temperature; you said it would be in the 70s!" It was humid too, about 90 per cent, and we, of course, were dressed warmly. "It's only about 35 degrees Celsius, honey," I told her. "Just how hot is that really"? I knew it was about 95 degrees Fahrenheit, but I lied. "Gee, Bev, I don't know, what do you think I am, a meteorologist" "Yes! That's what you are, doofus!" she said. Well, she was right, but I decided to try a different tact. "Wait 'till we get to the hotel, Dear, and we'll turn the air conditioner on full blast." The train en route downtown from the airport rattled on. There was no other sound save the gentle "plop, plop" of sweat droplets hitting the vinyl seats.

 

"Gunnar, there is no air conditioning in this hotel"! "OK ... OK, we'll survive, just open the window," I said. We were greeted by a blast of railroad noise as the window swung open. It turned out, our hotel faced the downtown train central station, five tracks, busy twenty-four hours a day. The endearing term, "doofus," was by now replaced by "$@#*&$#@." This was not the same levelheaded woman I married; tobacco juice still dripped evenly from both sides of her mouth, but her bubbles were definitely off center.

 

Jet lag, heat, humidity, and noise eliminated any possibility of sleeping in Brussels, but we had a good shower, toilet, sink and the standard European waterproof toilet paper which doesn't wipe, it merely smears. European hotel rooms are basically cement pits which can be hosed out when the guests check out. Ours was no exception, but I knew we would spend most of our off-time in town, seeing sights and enjoying the local cuisine. "Gunnar, I don't know what any of this stuff on the menu is," Bev said, "And I'm not eating anything which may be an octopus tentacle." I was finally able to convince her that pomme fritz was good 'ol American French fries ... so she ate basically only French fries for several days before saying, "Gunnar, I'm sick." Indeed she was, high fever, diarrhea, vomiting, the whole nine yards. We were due to leave by train the next morning for a six hour scenic trip to Heidelberg, Germany. The good news was, it would be good to leave Brussels, where my business meeting had gone badly ... instead of innovative ideas which I expected, I got only one company wanting to revive and sell us two of its old failed projects. The bad news was how could Beverly make a six hour train trip. But ... we decided to try because there was a U.S. Army hospital in Heidelberg, where we could at least speak the language. We went to a Brussels' drug store, and by using the sign language for vomit and poop, were able to buy some pills which would, they signed, help. Beverly took a pill, got on the train, and passed out. She awoke occasionally to visit the WC to be sick. She saw absolutely no scenery from the train window. We successfully changed trains in Koln and were now bound for Heidelberg. Of course, because I had to carry all the luggage, my back had "gone out" and I was in some serious pain.

 

When the conductor came by to punch our tickets, she told me I had the wrong tickets, "This was a special train," she said. I would have to pay more and in German marks or we would have to get off at the next stop. I had no marks, only U.S. dollars and Belgium francs, neither of which was acceptable to the conductor! Finally, a fellow passenger took pity on us and sold me some marks ... at a horrible exchange rate, and I was able to buy the ticket. But ... we were advised that Heidelberg was a very small town, so the train would stop for only two minutes. We were prepared to get off quickly. Bags were in the doorway, and we stood in the door like paratroopers waiting for the signal to jump. The train stopped ... I leapt from the door and jerked to a stop in mid-air. My overcoat had become hopelessly caught in the door. Germans behind me trying feverously to unhook me, my spouse threatening to vomit on my back ... I hung there stuck, time ticking away and only seconds left before the train would drag me to the next stop. I took the coat off and three of us were finally able to free it with only minor rips and tears. "Welcome to Heidelberg," my Brother said. "Take me to the hospital," Beverly said. When we entered Germany, it had started to rain. It was not to stop while we were there.

 

After a three hour stay in the hospital, and some proper medication, Beverly was making a remarkable recovery. Especially with the anticipation of a hot bath at Ken's house, and some real food absolutely free of potential octopus tentacles. When we arrived at Ken's home, we were briefed on the hot water schedule. So much for a hot bath today, but we got a good meal and a good night's sleep. In fact, we overslept in the morning and missed the hot water schedule again. I now know how submariners must feel after several weeks under water. You keep looking behind you to see what the smell is.

 

When we got used to the German liquid sunshine, things really started looking up. We toured Germany (Heidelberg, Rothenberg, Ladenberg, Schwetzingen, and a Neckar Riverboat trip) and even went to Strasbourg, France. We bought lots of stuff and learned to keep our eyes tightly closed on the autobahn at over 100 mph (a really religious experience). My Brother, Ken, and his lovely wife, Victoria, and their three children, Chris, Samantha, and Matt, were all gracious hosts and we enjoyed a respite from what had so far been a "trip from Hell."

 

Well ... all good things must end. On the journey home, en route from Frankfurt, Germany, to Dallas, Texas, we ended up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, once again "out of gas." Of course, we missed our connection from Dallas to El Paso and, consequently, became experimental subjects in the study to see how long humans can go without sleep. 23 hours ... a new record!

 

Copyright 1997 Gunnar C. Carlson Jr. Las Cruces, NM All rights reserved