This trip started August 2, 1985. Some of you folks may remember that date. It was the day that a Delta L-1011, Flight #191, inbound for DFW crashed in a thunderstorm killing 135 people. We were on Flight #192 departing. The weather was terrible when we boarded and as we flew the downwind leg of the active runway, the Flight Attendants closed the shades at each seat. We found out later this was to keep passengers from seeing the carnage on the ground. We didn't find out about it until we were in our hotel rooms in Frankfurt Germany and saw it on TV. It was a terrible time for my wife and the relatives of other members of our crew bound for Germany. First reports were the airplane had crashed on takeoff which coincided with our takeoff time. She couldn't reach anyone who knew anything at the airport and it was several hours later that she found out we were safe in Germany.
We were on a trip for General Dynamics to Hahn AFB, Germany to perform modifications to F-16 Flight Control Systems. Gen. Chuck Yeager's old outfit. They still have a portrait of him in the OC. CD Allen was my seat mate and since I had been to Germany several times, we decided to share the furnished company car. He and I were the only flight line qualified people on the trip. The rest were modification folks. CD would serve as Quality Control for mod and flight line. My job was to remove the unit to be modified, take it to the lab, change one board, reinstall it and run functional checks after the mod people had completed some new wiring installations. It was a bird nest on the ground but hey, someone has to do it. It left me with lots of free time.
The foreman on the trip was a man we nicknamed "Bobby Twoshoes." He was nearing retirement and this was to be his last Mod trip. We had to be at work at 0700. In order to do this Bob had to arise at 0500. His wife didn't like to be disturbed so Bob dressed in the dark. Matter of fact, his wife didn't like a lot of things. He had two pairs of slip on shoes, identical except for color...one pair brown, one black. You know where this is going don't you? About a week after we arrived, he appeared in the hangar with one of each shoes. He was "Bobby Twoshoes" from that day on.
Another member of the crew, who had gone on ahead, was Eric White. An engineer, graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a degree in something. We never did find out just exactly what he could or couldn't do. We did find out he was not a world traveler. He had never been further from Norman, Oklahoma than Fort Worth, Texas before this trip. Some wag at the plant told him he was in charge, a rumor CD and I dispelled the first day we met him. We changed his name to Eric Hyden. Eric had taken it upon himself to book rooms for everyone in the tourist town of Traben-Trabach on the Mozelle River. Number one, it was in a valley. The only way out was a steep winding road that became treacherous and impassable in winter. Number two, the rooms he booked were $46.00 a day US. Our per diem was only $45.00. Eric called a meeting the day after we arrived. He gave us a map to the hotel and a card confirming our reservation. It just so happened I had visited this quaint little town several times in 1980. In the car, I told CD it will not work, we will need to find other accommodations. We met at the grand hotel to find everyone busy signing their life away. When it came my turn, I asked the girl the rate and she replied, "$46.00." "DM," I asked? "Nein, US danke." I told her to forget mine and CD's rooms, we would bunk elsewhere. She protested that Mr. White had blocked the rooms and I told her to look to Mr. White for the money. I don't know how he got out of that trap.
From 1980, I remembered a little town just off the highway leading to Hahn. CD and I drove there and the first Gasthaus we entered took us in for $8.00 US a day which included a continental breakfast, private bath and maid service. A few days after we started work, one of the back shop electricians, an Afro-American gal named Brenda approached us and wanted to know if we could get her the same deal at our hotel. Brenda was something else. Cute as a button, mouth like a drunken sailor. Her words, "I am so black you can get papers on me!" (A footnote here. When we returned to Fort Worth, she married a preacher and changed her ways.) In the meantime, she was one of the boys or we were her boys. She moved in to the hotel and blended right in.
Oh yeah, this is supposed to be about Paris. Labor Day rolled around and since the Air Force wasn't working we were free from Thursday afternoon until Tuesday morning. Brenda, CD and I decided to leave early Thursday afternoon and check out Gay Paree. We loaded up in the BMW and headed in that general direction. It was late when we arrived, had no reservations and CD was driving like a drunken Indian or a drunken Inspector in this case. He had to maneuver like that to avoid the Paris traffic. We pulled in to a hotel parking lot, went in and luck was on our side. The Armed Services had a deal with this particular hotel to furnish discount rooms for anyone with a set of orders. We had a set and stayed in a four star hotel for some ridiculous rate, $25.00 US. Next morning, we signed up for a tour bus. This was a good way to see all the tourist's traps and we saw them all. Versailles and where Hitler danced his little jig when he made the French surrender at the same spot Germany had surrendered after World War One. Of course, every stop just happened to have little shops where you could purchase memories of your trip. I am not being cynical here, everyone has to make a living. We assumed, and that is something one should never do, the bus would return to our hotel where it had picked us up. Non, monsieur! The put us off somewhere downtown, no idea where we were or how to return to our lodgings.
I remembered the book of matches I had picked up in the bar the night before. Sure enough, it had the name on the cover. Spotting a Citroen taxi with the driver asleep, I woke him and asked," Parlez vous Inglis?" In a perfect Cockney accent he told me he spoke better English than my French! On the way to the hotel we became pretty good friends and invited the driver in for a drink. By the time he left he was so tipsy he had to sleep it off in the parking lot.
On the way back to Germany, we stopped in Verdun. Look it up. Biggest waste of human life on both sides I have ever noted. We were pretty sober the rest of the trip after visiting this historic battleground.