The Suitcase Lady


September 28, 2010, 9:20 pm

When I was a teenager, a German exchange teacher came to our  high school for a year. Herr Busch arrived in America with his wife, teenage daughter and Volkswagen. His goal was to “teach us a little German” and travel the entire United States. He achieved both goals and a bit more.

On the first week of school, Mr Busch announced that since our schools were so far behind the German schools, his daughter, though in our classes, would be having a holiday for a year. “She already knows everything being taught here,” he declared. True or not, he doomed his daughter to a lonely year.

The following week Mr Busch arrived in the classroom waving a speeding ticket and declaring America’s traffic laws absurd. His citations piled up, and his VW began to acquire battle scars from daily combat duty against slow moving American traffic.

Flash forward thirty years. My husband and I are taking our first trip to Europe. We are going to Prague, the birthplace of my grandfather, and then plan on driving a triangle to Munich, Berlin and then back to Prague. Our tiny rental car is an anemic Opel.

All goes well until we hit the German autobahn where I promptly have a private panic attack. “You can’t drive on this,” my brain screams. Audis, Porsches, BMWs and Mercedes are whooshing past us at speeds of 100 to 120 mph. They dart sharply from lane to lane never reducing speed and clinging a foot from our rear bumper when waiting to resume life in the fast lane. Every one of these uber-drivers is male.

Since my spouse and I have an unspoken agreement to share driving on road trips, I forced myself to calm down, play fair and take my turns at the wheel. Fortunately, adrenalin and survival instinct kicked in. I learned the true meaning of rest stops: that’s where you pry your white knuckles off the steering wheel.

I recently returned to Germany, and driving remains an extreme sport. Driving 85 mph in an underpowered Renault Twingo, I was passed on the left by a Porsche going about 140 mph. Then the driver suddenly cut across the two right lanes to exit, never braking until he was halfway down the ramp.

I’ve been known to complain about the nitpicking enforcement of the speed laws by our State Patrol. I suggest we send some of our overzealous troopers to Germany where there is plenty of real work to be done. Herr Busch apparently was not an anomaly.

2 Comments for this entry