Midnight Express

Did you ever spend a night in jail in Bulgaria with two high-stepping Commie soldiers pointing AK-47 rifles at you? My brother Gary who prefers to be called Terry did.

In the late 1980’s he and Mark, a good friend, were in an overseas student exchange program. They decided to take the Orient Express train from Vienna, Austria to Istanbul, Turkey while on semester break. They boarded the train not thinking they would need a visa to pass through Bulgaria which was part of the Soviet Bloc at that time. They believed that as long as they were on the train everything would be fine. Except, the local KGB didn’t agree. Once the train stopped at the Communist depot, several soldiers boarded and just as in all those old spy movies, the uniformed and armed men started going from seat to seat checking papers. Gary/Terry naturally had his American passport but did not have a visa to enter into a Soviet country. He and his buddy Mark were summarily taken off the train, their passports confiscated and the boys were put in jail.

The next day a Gestapo-like official told them that they were being put on a train going back to the border country they came from and, to rub it in, had to pay for the return tickets. My brother ironically had a Visa credit card but Bulgaria didn’t accept such a symbol of American decadence. Luckily, Mark had enough cash to get them out of there.

Back in Capitalism territory where the credit card was king, the boys were able to procure tickets on a train heading east again using a friendlier route. That is, until they reached Turkey. Mark got sick with 103 degree temperature. Dehydrated and acting like a guy strung out, the Turkish officials were convinced he was a drug addict whom they did not want walking the streets. When Gary was able to convince them that flu medicine would cure Mark, the two were able to arrange for a flight back to a safer haven.

The closest I ever came near a jail cell was to stop in at a police station to see if I could give the desk sergeant a bond card and get my driver’s license back. Ninety minutes earlier I had been stopped by a cop for a traffic violation and in panic I forgot to give the officer my bond card. Luckily they had not yet sent the paperwork to traffic court so the sergeant was kind enough to do the swap.

Well, there was also the time I was standing in line for an International flight in a foreign country and the security checker blending in with the crowd saw that I was agitated, jumping up and down and acting weird. She wanted to pull me aside and put me through a nerve wracking inspection. She asked, “what is wrong with you?” I told her that I had flat feet and that the bottoms of my soles were killing me, which they were and that it was difficult for me to stand so long a time in one place. Again luck was with me and she decided to drop the interrogation and look to pick on another traveler.

So far, the only time I was given an armed guard escort was when I got fired from a job I had for two years and two months. Apparently, I was a security risk factor like I was gonna pull out a gun and go “postal”. Just like Elvis, I smiled as I left the building but also took a bow and said loud enough for all to hear, “So, long suckers.” The company still is in business and they probably have me in their employee records to make sure they don’t make the same mistake twice in more than thirty years. Their new offices are two blocks west of mine. There is a Walmart between us. It’s good to know that there is at least one friend down the block, huh?

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