Black Audis whiz past us on our left, like Andrettis on a Carolina racetrack, as if they had somewhere incredibly important to go. We wondered if we were hearing the sharp, smooth ‘zoom’ of their engines after they had already passed us.
We hadn’t intended on going to Germany, but someone had said, “Wanna go to Germany? It’s really close. ” We had a car. They had the Autobahn. We went.
The exits, or Ausfahrts, in German, entertained us far more than they should have. We were like stinky 10-year old boys each time we passed one, yelling ‘Ausfahrt’ in a thick and most-likely unrealistic German accent. And there were a lot of exits on that road.
“What are you doing!?”, I asked Justin, who was obviously distracted by the Ausfahrts, as we watch another streak of black slice past us
“We are here to drive, this is the Highway of Freedom, Floor it!” He began to press the accelerator, a bit cautiously at first, then with the thrill of a roller-coaster operator hitting the ‘on’ button. Here we go! Our faces were melting backwards, eyes unable to blink, the roadside became a blur. Well, this is how it should have played out, but we were driving a Ford Festiva, not a black Audi. Still, we were doing it: A trio of fearless travelers careening at high speed toward an unknown destination. We are tingling with thrill, powerful and fast.
I almost didn’t hear it- the whimper; the mournful soft cry. In the time it took my eyes to move from the road in front of us to the speedometer, that whimper had turned into a full-on horrifying wail. The engine was begging for relief. The speedometer read 137, which scared me until I saw the much smaller numbers that indicated miles. We were going nearly 85 miles per hour.
‘Okay, okay, STOP!!’, I yell, fearing that that engine would simply drop through the metal of the hood in desperation, and how would we explain that one to the rental car people in Paris? ‘Yes, sir, it was the autobahn; suicide I guess, pitiful thing, yes.’
But we were still giddy and bubbly when we pulled off to change drivers and get a liter or two of petrol. Who was going to be next?? Me! Me! I want to drive next. So we shuffle around the vehicle, heading toward our seats and getting ready for the next crazy stretch on the lawless freeway.
Another driver pulls up behind us and exits his car with urgency, sweat beading on the brow of his cherry-red face. His arms were flapping like a mama bird protecting her nest from a predator and blasting out of his toothy mouth were putrid, oozing cannonballs,which I could only assume were obscenities. We look around to see what the object of his rage was, but we were the only objects around. “English?!”, he bellows in heavy accent, “English?!” and we realize that those cannonballs are directed at us. We had bothered him.
Our faces freeze mid-smiles, a cross between disbelief and fear stuck on our heads, and we stare at this man on the verge of internal explosion. “This is Autobahn”, he says, but he sounds it out it like a battle cry, loud and rumbling, with the last syllable extending out for a full five seconds toward a high pitch indicating extreme displeasure. “This. Is. AutoBAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHNNNNNNNNN!” His head was actually vibrating when he said it.
And here’s something that isn’t listed on the tourist brochure of Germany: the Autobahn is serious business. When you exit the autobahn to snag a liter of petrol, you do not dilly-dally, and you certainly do not swing your car around backwards to look for the gas tank side. There shall be no unnecessary movements on Autobaaahhhhhnnn.
I had never been yelled at in German before that moment, but I knew then, and still believe, that it is the most frightening of the languages to be scolded in. I think the nuns in my grammar school could have procured infinitely more obedience if they spoke a little bit of German while they pulled us by our ears and hurled us into the blackboards or when they swung that yardstick samurai-like down onto our wooden desks.
I felt like a 10 year old boy again, and I was grateful that he hadn’t heard us chuckling at the ‘Ausfahrts’ because I truly think he would have murdered us for that.
We get back into the car, word-beaten and shamed, but its my turn to drive, and it is, after all, the Autobahn, as we had just been reminded. I press the accelerator 40, 50, here we go, 60, 70, the steering wheel quivers, 75, and it becomes a jackhammer. “Did this happen when you were driving?”, I ask Justin. “Oh yeah”, he says casually, “just before it started squealing.” I look at him sternly and then lighten the pressing of my foot, slowing down to a tolerable 65, and we watch the Audis careening by to the left of us.