Reading about that recent terrible train wreck in southern Germany sparked some reminiscing about one of my train rides over there years ago. I involuntarily caught flashes of memory about a time just after I had come off alert during the Cuban missile crisis. I was riding the train from a small town near my assignment to Amsterdam for a little rest and relaxation. Because I had a top secret clearance, I had been instructed not to engage in conversations with civilians about my job, politics or anything taking place on our compound. But I was sitting directly across from a very loquacious guy I took to be a German who wanted to practice his English.
“What branch of the military do you serve in?”
I thought that was an innocent enough question. I was in civilian clothes, so I suppose he guessed my nationality and occupation from my American style shoes. German shoes were quite different, pointy-toed and fancy, you know. I replied, “Air Force.”
“What are those airplanes made of?” He queried. I pretended I did not understand him and made an observation about the speed of the train. “Man, these European trains whiz on down the track, don’t they?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Trains in Europa go fast.”
“Yes, they do. What do you think of the Russian-American conflict over Cuba? Do you think it will get worse?”
I knew I could not talk about that one. I said, “I am sorry, sir, I cannot discuss that with you.”
“What are those airplanes made of?” He persisted.
“Excuse me,” I said, “I have to go to the restroom.” As I left, actually to find another place to sit, I heard the guy speaking to someone across the aisle. The language he spoke was not German. Russian?
Anyway, when the train arrived in Amsterdam, I hailed a cab and went to a bed-and-breakfast. No one in Holland asked me anything. For that I was grateful. At a huge Dutch flea-market, I found a great bargain on a nice pair of European-style shoes that fit me which I purchased and wore on the train ride back to my assignment. People on that train ride kept speaking to me in German. I simply replied, “Ja, ja,” and stuck my head in a newspaper. No one bothered me.