– By William Cooper
In 1995, I was working at CompuServe as a liaison to its various international offices. This meant having a few early morning conversations with said office managers about things I could not change or affect, followed by some afternoon conversations with local co-workers who had the power to change things but would not, followed by the occasional late night conversation with my mate in Australia about how much I wanted to quit, sell all my belongs, and go on a walkabout with him to some faraway, remote corner of the continent.
Eventually, the company decided it would be best to send me abroad to train three offices in some ridiculous tool that they did not want. My first stop was Munich.
The German office was famous for a few things. They passionately hated the English office (the Brits thought this had something to do with WW2), they passionately hated the American office (too many rules they didn’t want to follow), and they really knew how to drink.
I was young, sheltered, and alone in a country whose language I couldn’t even pretend to speak. The Munich staff was sometimes kind, but mainly confrontational and worked me harder than necessary or even normal, late into many evenings well past the drinking hour. I felt shell-shocked, jet-lagged, minuscule, and pretty scared of life.
I did, however, find comfort in two things. Every night, I would eat this amazingly delicious chocolate bar left on my pillow by the hotel staff. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I’d come back mid-day and have an extra one. I also became enamored with a TV station from Denmark, which made no sense to me at all, but at least was warm and flickering and somewhat familiar (and not German).
So, there I lay each snowy evening in a farmhouse converted to a hotel, watching Danish people go about their Danish lives, while feeding my maw with fine German chocolates. These were my refuges in the unknown. Even today, images on a small screen and unfortunate food choices are my go-tos.
When I came back from my trip, I was pulled into the HR office and asked why I had spent 50 dollars on chocolate in my one-week stay. Guess I don’t know how to say “complimentary” in German.
In this episode, we fall back into our comfort zones. Unshaven and alone, William gorges himself on nuts and stoner movies. Overscheduled and overworked, Scott tries to resist the lure of the Great American Pastime known as eating fast food in a parking lot, and eventually discovers the true value of this podcast. But then, the train to Norway arrives, which sends us on an engrossing, virtual journey to small, snowy cities and sprawling mountain vistas. As we consider our relocation options, Scott hatches a plan that involves confusing fellow drivers and enclosing visitors in an especially creepy van-shaped box in his basement. We end our brief European trip with a visit from Max Helmut Wessels and a rare German record that just may prove to be the answer to both our dreams.