We knew something was up when we drove into Patras. Groups of armed soldiers hung-out on downtown street corners. Machine gun emplacements nested at major intersections. Yep! Something was definitely up!
That something was a coup d’tat successfully executed a few weeks earlier by the Greek Army and backed by king Constantine II himself. But since nobody in Patras seemed very concerned or agitated about armed soldiers spread like a malignant pox over their cityscape, we went about our business without giving the situation much more than a curious look or two. After all, we were stranded and we had to do something about our mobility … right now! The politics of Greece had nothing to do with us, or so we thought.
We’d hit an impasse with Mr. Bowling Ball. His estimate of $125 to repair my VW was a small fortune at the time! Then, as if summoned by a Greek deity who looks out for witless wanderers, a bilingual German motorist walked into the repair shop. He spoke Greek and I spoke German … so, as if acting out an old Abbot and Costello routine, we managed to make a deal with the fellow who agreed to buy the car for $750!
Wow! That sounded great! I’d get two hundred and fifty bucks of pure profit after driving the bug hard for tens of thousands of miles on mis-matched tires … that sounded pretty good!
Afterwards I could hitch-hike with my traveling pals to Athens, then north around Albania (an unfortunate country into which outsiders were forbidden entry at the time) and on to Munich.
My German translator, a polite, well-dressed fellow in Patras on vacation, apparently found the situation amusing enough to drive me to the port in order to get the proper documents … and that’s where I stepped on a merry-go-round of confused bureaucrats held hostage in their own country.
SNAFU, the unofficial motto of the military, is well known to all soldiers. It’s an acronym for Situation Normal All Fuc**d Up and I’d witnessed it repeatedly during my days in the army. Greece was no different … only worse!
When my German patron spoke to a customs clerk in the Port Authority Building, the earnest man informed us that “Uh, there comes a problem tiny with this. No problem before, but problem now … so you can not this do now.”
“I can’t do it?” I responded incredulously, politely and perhaps a bit on the loud side.
“Before Junta yes you can do. After Junta, no. No possible! No do!” the clerk replied pushing the papers back at me.
“Wait! Wait a minute! That’s absurd! That’s ridiculous! Why not? What’s my car got to do with some Junta?” I asked, the pitch of my voice reaching fortissimo in a hurry.
“Sorry, I apologize much, but I no can do!” the poor guy replied.
“Well that’s just pure B.S.!” I shouted hitting forte fortissimo. “Where’s your boss? I demand to see him!”
And I did see his boss. And his boss as I drug my German friend/translator along with me until I’d scaled the entire bureaucratic ladder to the Colonel at the top, the man who ran everything in Patras.
The Colonel greeted us amicably. He had a spacious office overlooking the port with an over-sized mahogany desk and a life-sized portrait of King Constantine II behind it who kept watch over the city’s affairs from the wall.
The Colonel looked fit and had intelligent, penetrating eyes. His manner was confident and self-assured. A man of intelligence and action!
As my kind German friend explained my problem, I looked at the great portrait of Constantine II who looked weighed down with so many medals, ribbons, gold epaulets and a broad silver sash that he looked like a Disney character. I was studying the king when the Colonel interrupted my musings, politely and professionally informing me that there was nothing that could be done. Sadly the coup d’etat had jammed the wheels of Greece’s bureaucracy for a time, thereby paralyzing sizable portions of it.
“In fact, I’m afraid I have more bad news for you” he gently informed me as he escorted me to a corner of his office.
“You see that gate on that pier?”
“Well, since your car was stamped in your Passport as entering the country, it must also leave the country.”
“Oh? How am I supposed to do that? It doesn’t run! It’s in a repair shop!”
“Yes, I understand. However, unfortunately I’m afraid it’s necessary that your vehicle must leave the country … which means it must pass through a customs gate, such as that gate on the pier.”
“You mean I’ve got to get my car through that gate, or I can’t leave the country?”
It took a few seconds for all of this to sink in. Than I exploded, “I WANT TO SEE HIM!” pointing at the solemn looking king on the wall, sending the Colonel and my German friend into fits of laughter which they’d managed to control up until then.
The Colonel informed me the King was unfortunately out of town and reiterated that it was terribly unfortunate, that he was as sorry as sorry could be, but he had no choice, no options … the car had to leave the country!
I couldn’t believe it! I decided right then and there that I’d push the car to the pier, and after it passed through the damned gate I’d smash it into smithereens.
“Nobody will be able to fix it after I’m through with it!” I vowed, in my translator’s plush Mecedes as he drove us back to Mr. Balling Ball’s shop. “By God!” I stewed, “I’ll smash it to pieces! I’ll push it right into the damned drink!”
“Those jerks! Those bastards! They’re not going to make their dirty money off of me! No way! They can all go to hell, and that includes their cartoon king Constantine!”
Coming next! Driving Around Europe Without A Map, Part 17 … DEMOLITION DERBY IN PATRAS
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