In a distant drone, my ears began to open from a deep sleep. I forced my eyes open and quickly got to my feet. In a half daze, I crossed the dark room and blindly felt for my phone that blared it’s alarm, “Girl Named Tennessee.” The music stopped, and I looked at the time — 5:45am. With a sigh, I rubbed my eyes and muttered, “Here we go..”
We were heading back to Munich for the day to get the truck inspected. The place opened at ten, so we had to be on the road by six. We got down to the truck and as Billy played with the GPS, I fumbled with the heater. I can’t figure the thing out when I can see, so in the dark, it’s mostly a hopeless cause. I finally got some amount of heat out of the dashboard, and I settled back into my seat for the long haul back up through Bavaria.
We had went through one stau after another all the way through Salzburg when we first came to Austria, and we had thought it was because of road construction, so Billy decided to go another way in hopes that we’d make better time. We settled on a route through Wels, Austria. That was a bad idea.
We had been on the road for some time, and the heater was just beginning to really get the truck to a comfortable temperature. The dawn was gently breaking over the horizon. Mountains loomed on all sides, but they were mostly out of sight because of a heavy fog that danced all about the road.
We were hoping to find the autobahn any minute. We had been driving small roads the entire time and were not making the greatest time. We had reached a small town that’s name eludes me as the TomTom called out in his predictable British jive, “Left on the roundabout. Second exit.” We had every intention of obeying Tom’s command, but we were rudely stopped by a man with a hat that read “Polizei” and armed with an orange baton that beat against the side of the truck in quick bursts of triplets.
Billy seemed a bit befuddled by the cop’s belligerence. He turned to me and asked, “What’s he want?” I thought that was a strange question. It seemed a bit obvious as the man continued to signal aggressively for us to pull over. I could tell this didn’t look good, and Billy looked rattled. I was too tired and cold to be overly concerned, so I just sat there waiting as the man approached Billy’s window.
Billy cranked his window down, and I watched as the cold morning air swallowed the warm air I so patiently had cultivated in the last hour and a half. The morning air had a nasty bite. Texans are not made for such temperatures. I began to shake in my coat as I listened to the following conversation unfold.
He stood in a defiant manner just outside the window. He stood eye-to-eye with Billy. No words were exchanged as he emitted what can only be described as a death stare. Billy appeared to be searching for words, but none came. Finally, Billy asked, “What’s the problem?” The man in a deep, menacing, tone sounded his demand, “Passports.”
My heart sank. I knew this was bad. Billy quickly began to sound desperate and quite exasperated as he began to explain, “Sir, we don’t have our passports with us. We left them back at the hotel.” The man did not blink. He did not waver. He only seemed to stare deeper with a hate that raged black. He sounded his demand once more, “Passports.” Billy now sounded slightly irritated — never a good thing when dealing with the law. He replied, “They are back at the hotel.”
The man looked back towards the police car. His eyes met with the other officer. He then looked back at Billy. Billy began to squirm and quickly added, “But we have our drivers license from Texas.” Billy quickly grabbed both of our licenses and held them out the window for the man to examine. He took them and gave them the once over. He seemed irritated and replied, “I’ll be back.” It was like a scene from “The Terminator.” Then he walked back towards his parked car.
Billy turned to me looking a bit pale and said, “I suggest you start praying because this could be real bad.” I thought that sure was a fine howdy-do. I can think of better ways to start the day. I muttered a plea that said it all, “God, please, help us.”
The disgruntled official slowly made his way back to Billy’s window and said, “These are no good. I need passports.” Billy for the third time pleaded, “I understand, but they are back at the hotel.” The man asked, “Where is hotel?” Billy racked his brain for the name of the town and finally sounded out, “Gmunder.” The man looked like he was trying to decipher the strange-sounding word and finally asked, “Gmunden?” Billy quickly added, “Yeah, that’s it.”
The man paused for a moment and then with his baton reached inside the truck and pulled on Billy’s unfastened seat belt. Billy seemed confused. The man demanded with menacing eyes, “Why this undone?” Billy tried to explain it away that he had unfastened it after we had stopped. The man then coolly said, “Registration papers.” Billy asked me to pull it out of the glove compartment. I searched inside, but it was not in there. I gave Billy the bad news, and then he remembered the registration papers had been taken out when the truck had been in the shop last week.
As Billy attempted to explain yet again. The man interrupted, “No registration papers?” Billy quickly tried to soften it by saying, “We have the papers. They’re just not with us. They’re back at the hotel.” The man then asked, “What are you doing here?” Billy quickly replied, “We’re heading to Munich for the day to see some friends.” The man said nothing. He only glared at Billy. After a long pause, he boomed a word that I cannot repeat, but it was obvious he did not believe us.
He passed a look that spelled hate and walked back to his car and returned after a few moments with a small paper. He handed it to Billy and in a different tone reminiscent of a predator that has grown tired of playing with his prey said, “Keep your passports with you all the time because all else is worthless.” He reached in the car and grabbed Billy’s seat belt again and said, “Here is ticket for no belt. Pay thirty-five euros, and you can go.” Billy looked confused but rummaged through his wallet and excavated thirty-five euros and handed it to the man. The man quickly made sure the full amount was there, and then he looked back at Billy and said, “Get out of here.”
Billy quickly turned the engine over and put it in gear. We were out of there as quick as possible. As Billy began to drive away and roll his window back up, he let out a long sigh. He looked over at me and said, “That was a close one right there. He could’ve kept us there all day if he wanted.” I nodded. He continued, “I don’t know if you caught that or not, but that boy just made himself thirty-five euros.”
On we went towards Munich. The rest is far-less interesting. We arrived a few minutes late due to the delay with the polizei. It ended up a wasted trip because it turns out they wouldn’t let us get the truck inspected without the registration papers. Oh well, live and learn, I suppose.
There’s the story of my first encounter with the German polizei. They’re a pretty ruthless bunch. However, I can’t blame the guy. I kept thinking I sure wish Billy was more organized. All I can say is from now on, I’m keeping my passport with me. I’d really prefer to not go through another interrogation. It was like watching excerpts from a World War II movie. Honestly, our prayers are the only thing that got us through.
“I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.” Psalm 108:3-5