In the last few weeks I’ve done a lot of traveling, by my standards. I went to a three week workshop in Aspen at the end of July (connections: Amsterdam-Frankfurt-Denver-Aspen), then saw my family and Brian in Alexandria (Aspen-Denver-Washington). I flew the red-eye back to the Netherlands (Washington-Amsterdam) and then, ten hours later, took the night train to Austria (Leiden-Utrecht-Munich-Salzburg-Wels). I reversed the train trip ten days later. Two short stories:
On flights these days you can often listen,through the radio in your seat’s armrest, to your pilot conversing with air traffic control. This trip was the first time I’ve ever bothered to do it. As we approached Dulles from Denver there were storms around DC and ground control definitely had their hands full. We were put in a holding pattern somewhere over West Virginia, and I put my earphones on after the pilot conscientiously updated us on the delay over and over again. “Uh, folks, we’re going to be holding here for another 20 or 25 minutes, so we’ll be getting you to your gate a little late.” “Now they’re telling me 15 minutes.” “It’s actually just 10.” “Um, yeah, we’ll be holding here for about half an hour. Sorry about that folks.” “Ok, we’re out of the hold.” (For the record, the delay was probably 15 minutes.) The air traffic controller on our channel was talking in three or four planes simultaneously. We were United 895 Charlie. I’m not sure about the number, but we were definitely Charlie. I liked hearing the controller tell our pilot to change heading, because you knew seconds later the plane would barrel to the right or left. Excuse me, starboard or port. Finally our pilot was given clearance to land. “Uh, visibility here is not so good — oh, there you are!” replied the pilot. And we landed. But, I will note, my knuckles were a little whiter than usual.
When I boarded my train from Munich to Salzburg I was the only person sitting in my compartment. I never manage to sleep on a plane, and I didn’t do too well on the train, either, so I was pretty sleep-deprived at that point. Shortly after leaving the station, a scruffy looking bearded man opened the door to the compartment and flashed a badge. In the last few years I’ve learned a little German, so allow me to provide a transcript of what he said: “Blah blah blah Blah blah Polizei! Blah blah blah blah Ausweis!” Translation: “Wake up you pathetic little worm, this is the police! And give my your Gott verdammte i.d.!” Or something like that. My neurons processed this with speed approximating molasses dripping, but eventually I reached for the bag where I had my passport. The officer at this point realized that I was either stupid or a foreigner (and therefore likely both), and asked, “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” “A little,” I answered in German. He promptly inquired if I was Dutch. I still don’t know why he thought that, but by that point I had my passport in my hands and he read the answer for himself. We talked a little — where I’d been traveling, where I was going, what sorts of narcotics I might be transporting with me from Amsterdam — and then said our goodbyes. It may have been a random search, but I later learned that the day before there had been some Mafia killings in the north of Germany. Perhaps they were looking for someone. Regardless, that was my first introduction to the German police.