I should have known it was going to be a strange trip when:
Three fully decked-out German military officers sat down behind me at the airport gate. One of them - the oldest man, with enough brass on his epaulets to choke a horse - threw himself into his seat and banged his head against mine.
So I did what any gracious host (this is my country, after all) would do, I got up and moved over a seat.
Twenty minutes later we boarded the plane. I took my window seat on row three, and here comes the German cavalry, stopping at row three and filling the empty seats.
Great. Now I could see that the younger one (40-ish) beside me, who was well over six feet tall and consuming every square inch of space, only had two two brass shoulder knobs.
Across the aisle from him was Kaiser Headbutting Wilhelm of the four brass knobs and beside him, against the other window (this was a really small commuter plane) was a three-knobber.
Then the stewardess piped up, "Because of ballast issues, I need someone from rows one through nine to sit behind row ten."
Of course, nobody moved. We all travel a lot. We've all had to sit across from the toilet on enough flights that we know better than to make eye contact with Sky Hostess. We were staying put.
Fortunately for me, Captain Two Knobs either decided to impress his superiors by sacrificing himself for the common good, or just wanted to get the hell away from his traveling companions for a while. Either way, I wound up next to an empty seat.
And no barrier between myself and the old, grey, mustachioed Kaiser.
We got up to cruising altitude, took off our seat belts and I started to stretch into the open spot. The Kaiser looked at me, and I wondered, "Does he think I'm using space his government paid for? What's his problem?" So I looked at him and smiled and said, "Das ist gut." Yes, it is good that I have an open space beside me, thank you, thank the German taxpayers, and I intend to take full advantage.
His eyes lit up. "You speak German?" I said, "Ein Klein" and indicated a tiny amount with my fingers.
"Are you the woman who had to move because of me?"
Oh, Guilt. You are a cross-cultural bitch.
"I did not have to move. I wanted to move. More room for you. More room for me. No problem."
This seemed to appease him, and up came Sky Hostess, "Would you like a drink?" I asked her what kind of bourbon they had on board and she left to check. Meanwhile The Kaiser is looking at me like I've just donned a rainbow clown wig.
Dude, don't German women drink whiskey?
Drinks served, The Kaiser leaned over and asked if we could share the tray table of the vacated seat. I said, "ja, ja" and went back to reading. But out of the corner of my eye I could see Kaiser Baby staring at me.
I couldn't figure out if he thought I was angry because he head-butted me, or if he thought I was a freak for drinking bourbon, or whathaveyou, but for the next two hours he kept looking at me. I REALLY want to ask him what the fuck his problem was, but I didn't because they are our allies and I didn't want to be THAT American, so I kept my mouth shut.
The plane landed at Dulles, I jumped off and ran for the train because I was meeting someone.
I caught the train just as it was departing, put down my bag, turned around to grab the rail and - D'OH - The Kaiser and Company are right behind me, invading my personal space again.
This was getting a little ridiculous. I looked at the guy who is my age - Two Knobs - and gave him the international facial expression for "WTF?" He just looked back at me, total poker face. Damn unemotional Germans. So I turned again and there was Wilhelm, staring at me.
Now I was really freaking puzzled, I was tired and looked and felt like hell. I'd had enough of this guy, whatever his problem was.
I bolted from the train, RAN up the escalator, then up another escalator, sprinted through the tunnel and made it to the final security door between the terminal and the baggage/ground transportation area.
I pushed through the door and turned to hold it open for whoever was behind me and...you guessed it...the Boys from Berlin had matched my speed, step for step and were right behind me again.
W. T. F?
I was actually paranoid at this point, and considered that they were intentionally following me...which of course they were because there is only one way out of the airport. Duh.
So finally I got to the last tunnel, leading outside to the cab stand and rental car shuttles.
Halfway down the tunnel, just because I'd developed - in 90 seconds - an elaborate conspiracy theory, I turned around to see if they were still behind me.
There stood The Kaiser, at the top of the tunnel, watching me walk out. Two Knobs and Three Knobs must have been sent to fetch the luggage.
I still have no idea what I did or said to this man.
Maybe I look like his dead daughter? Eva Braun? Some woman he banged in Warsaw 20 years ago?
It's still bugging me. Scheiss.