Friday, February 25, 2005

The Free Ride

It was a typical Friday night for the Landstuhl Army Ambulance Crew. The white-coated soldiers gathered the blanket around the mangled body, wrenched it from its' death grip on the smashed steering wheel and heaved it routinely onto the nearby stretcher where it landed with a muffled thud. A freezing mist glazed the darkened highway and cars were backed up as the slowed traffic crawled past the collision site. Steam was still escaping from the radiator of a mangled mass of metal and shattered glass that so recently had been the happy chariot of an off duty trooper enjoying the German weekend. In due course they would load their burden into the waiting ambulance and deliver it to the 2nd General Hospital where the Medical Officer-of-the Day would complete the certificate of death.

"Got a cigarette, Pappy?" asked the younger driver as the ambulance slipped out into the slowed traffic and began its' journey to Landstuhl. "God, I hate this duty."

"Yeah, Ron. Here, I'll light it" retorted the older man as the line of cars slowed for a red light. "It's like the Captain said yesterday, "You just can't drive here like you do in the States and survive. There are too damned many vehicles and not enough room for all of them to spread out at a safe distance."

"You're right, Pap. And then there's always some jack-ass in a hurry who thinks he owns the road and makes everyone else head for the shoulders. Guess our boy in the back decided he wasn't going to be pushed over. A lot of good that attitude will do him now."

"No, he might have been dead right but he's also right dead! Watch it, Ron, there's a bicycle ahead without a taillight! I saw him in the oncoming lights."

"Whew, these crazy cyclists just don't realize the danger they can cause. A guy has to contend with everything from one to three hundred horsepower on these roads. If you don't expect the unexpected you're gonna get screwed up fast over here. I wonder how much time I would do if I ran over the bastard?"

"Pap, look at the crowd of cars around Weber's Bar. Holy cow, let's run down for a brew after work?"

"Nah, I'm ready for the sack. Can't keep up with you young troopers, but I'll take you back if you want and you can take a taxi back later."

"Thanks, Pap, but I might as well drive myself down there."

"Listen Ron, you know two brews makes you feel like a tiger. I've seen you in action, boy. Getting behind the wheel afterwards would be asking for trouble. Some Hiney would bug you and the race would be on. You've been in this business long enough to see the result of driving under the influence. It's bad whenever it occurs but over here where the roads are narrow and the area crowded, it's plain murder! You think you're alert but you can't concentrate on bicycles, pedestrians, drunks, red lights, construction signs, cobblestones, speeders and rotten weather - especially after a few drinks. It's bad enough when you're sober."

"Okay, I get the picture." Ron manuvers the ambulance up to the emergency ramp. "Pap, you shoulda been an Officer. You could turn that speech into a lecture that everyone needs to hear. You could call it How to Survive in Kaiserslautern."

"Well, Ronbo, if you want to live to get as old and ugly as me, just use your common sense. Remember a few drinks can ruin your judgment. Stay away from your car. Take a taxi instead."

"Yo Baby, say no more Papparoo. I know you're right and I'm not taking any chances either. I'd much rather stick around long enough to be old, ugly and alive like you. I'll take you up on the lift. I'm sure our boy in the back wishes he could have another chance for a free ride."

© 2005 David Agniel


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