My Military Career, Part #6 “Lesson learned”…

AB JOHN W. Gray, USAF, Basic Training, Lackland AFB, San Antonio, Tx, July 25, 1971
After my introduction to The Barracks Rats” a couple of weeks earlier I had really been hard at it learnin’ the job. Had started workin’ Shift work with my Crew. Rotatin’ days & nights. 2-on, 2-off, 2-on. & 4-off. On my off days I dedicated my time studyin’ to get my drivers license & gettin’ acquainted with the small towns around the base. I was shocked. Germany was nothin’ like I had envisioned it was goin’ be. It was really a beautiful place. Everywhere I went the German people were so nice. Many spoke broken English at best. There were those that did & very well I must say. I decided I was goin’ to spend as much time out on the “Economy” as it was referred to, learnin’ places, & tryin’ to learn at least enough German phrases to get by on. No better way to learn it than to get out in it. One of the guys I worked with was Sgt Tom. He was assigned to me to get me trained & up to par. There was a Saturday Day Shift comin’ up that I was scheduled to be workin’. Sgt Tom was off that day. We were headed into a 2 day break. Sgt Tom was married to a wonderful German girl, 
Gabi & they had a son, Peter just a few months old, they called him “Petey”. Sgt Tom & Gabi were very nice to me & kinda took in is as a part of their family. Well this particular Saturday most of my Crew & many of “The Barracks Rats” were goin’ to Neunkirchen. It is a city, about 35 miles, Southwest from Ramstein. Sgt Tom told me I needed to come down when I got off on Saturday, carry cloths to & change at work before I left The Cave. He told we exactly what to do to get there. I was to take the train from Landsthaul to Neunkirchen, get a cab outside the train station & tell the taxi driver “Tuff-Tuff”, a Disco/Bar ! He’ll know exactly where to take you. Get you about $50.00 Dollars, converted to Marks, German currency, and you’ll be stayin’ down there in a Bed & Breakfast. How hard can that be! We’ll meet you @ The Tuff-Tuff. Saturday rolls around, 1600 hrs & my shift is over. Changed cloths and headed for the Train Station (Bahnhof). Went up to the Ticket Counter, The Clerk said somethin’ to me & I said “Neunkirchen Bitte (Please)” and put some Marks up there & he took what he needed & pushed back the rest. He points to the Rail stand I needed to go to. He knew I didn’t a clue where I was headed. Well, they had two different trains there. The Express which would have had me there in 2 stops. But the nice Ole Clerk sold me a cheaper ticket on the Work Train! It stopped @ every little town & crossroads along the way I think. It was takin’ folks home from work. Ok, @ the 2nd stop I panicked! I didn’t see any town signs spelled with an “N”! I felt this tug on my arm. The Old Gentleman sittin’ next to me held his hand out & motioned for my ticket. He knew I didn’t know where the hell I was. “Nicht (Not) Neunkirchen” he said & pulled me back down. Ok, I sat! Next stop, I got up again, lookin’ & strainin’ to see the right name I was lookin’ for. Again, the gentle tug & “Nicht Neunkirchen”. Well we played this game it seemed like an hour & a half. Everytime it would stop I’d look @ him as I started to stand “Nicht Neunkirchen” he’d repeat. Finally the train stopped & the Old Man said ” Ja (Yes) Neunkirchen”. He both pointed & pushed me as though to tell me this is where you get off, so I did & I said “Bitte” (Thanks) as I left him & he just smiled. I followed the main flow of foot traffic & found my way out front of the Bahnhof. There was the Taxi Stand with a long line of taxies, just waitin’. Just like Sgt Tom had told me! They were ALL MERCEDES BENZ! I thought DAMN! Now this is Class! I made my way to the front of the line. This Cabbie grabbed my bag, started askin’ me where to, I’m sure, hell I didn’t know. I just said “Tuff-Tuff”! Aahhh TUFF-TUF”, Ja he said. He helped me in the back seat, he went around & “away we go”! Now, I have NEVER been to San Francisco, CA. But everythin’ I had ever seen in the movies & TV made me think of it with the Trolley Tracks in the middle of the roads, the hills (up& down)! Twistin’ & turnin’ our way thru Neunkirchen, with me bein’ slung all around that back seat! Let me just say, this guy must have been a Road Racer @ one time or his brakes didn’t work. But by damn he knew how to down shift and hang a turn, some on less than 4 tires! We finally came to a schreaching hault! Aahhh “Tuff-Tuff”! Again I held out a hand full of money & he took what he felt he needed. I had Arrived Alive, that was all I needed! I got my bag & that driver was off like a race horse. I walked into “The Tuff-Tuff”, music blastin’, lights a flashin, people everywhere, but now familiar faces. So, I decided to get a table off in a corner close enough to the door, just in case ya know. This attractive young lady came by to take my order. I held up 1, my index, finger & responded “Bier Bitte”. Not only was this young lady attractive, in her SHORT skirt & skin tight white blouse, not quite buttoned up all the way, and those buttons were under great stress to stay buttoned, & all those Black Lights on (you know!) but was she every kind. She brought me 2 biers instead of the 1 I had asked for. Well, she kept comin’ by to check on me & I’ll be honest with ya, I kept checkin’ on those buttons, & I enjoyed every trip by! I finished both of my biers & still no familiar faces had come in. I was enjoyin’ the music & the scenery so when that cute young gal strolled by she spoke, I understood the word Bier!, in a questionin’ way, I said Ja, held that 1-finger up again, & said “Bier Bitte”. It wasn’t long before she strolled on over my way, again, buttons still heavy under stress with 2 biers! I’m thinkin’ yeah, this young lady’s just as friendly as she can be. Best I remember, She kept strollin’ by as I kept drinkin my bier, & enjoyin’ more each trip as she’d pass by. I didn’t know what time it was or how long I had been there, but finally Sgt Tom & The Barracks Rats” walk in the door. Someone saw me wavin’ & over they came. Ole Festus said “Damn Boy, your drunk! How long you been here”? I told ’em my story of the day, them just a laughin’. Sgt Tom ordered him a bier. Well when that pretty young thang brought him his he only got 1 bier. Well, I told him every time she brought me my bier she always brought me 2! He asked why, I said Hell, I don’t know. But she was just too cute to say no to. I figured I’d drink’em anyway. Ole Sgt Tom spoke German! As I mentioned before he was married to a German Girl. So he called Crystal over, I was hoppin’ to catch that button when it popped loose, he knew her, & found out why she kept bringin’ 2 biers. He started laughin’ as did Crystal, at me, & she finally walked off still laughin’. I asked what was so damn funny? I got educated on orderin’ bier that night. The Germans, as do most all Europeans, start counitn’ from 1 startin’ by usin’ the THUMB as 1! The thumb & Index Finger as 2, & so on. Well, pretty little short skirt, Crystal had been readin’ my Index finger as me orderin’ 2 Biers each time I threw up my hand. We all had a good laugh at my expense. Lesson learned. We finally paid our tab & left, with that button still barley hangin’ in that button hole. We, 4-of us, walked/staggered across the street to our Bed & Breakfast, checked in, & crashed for the night. Sgt Tom was goin’ be stayin’ with his In-Laws. His wife, Gabi was from Neunkirchen…”Hold’em Hook”!…..BG>

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