Some people may have Jesus as their moral compass, but nowadays when I am facing a moral dilemma, I ask myself what Dagmar Geyler would do. This is the story of how I left over 10,000 Euros-that's around $13,000 for you Americans--in a German truck stop bathroom and got it all back.
I used to think of myself as a very organized, pretty together kind of person. Either I am not remembering accurately the way I was or something has changed in the last few years. I do not wish to blame anyone else for my troubles, but the timing of my current forgetfulness seems to coincide suspiciously with the birth of my son, Augie, three years ago. My doctor called it "nursing fog" when I complained last year about my forgetfulness. But with Augie being long weaned, shouldn't I be over that by now? Maybe my mind is just full of other things now.
Anyway, before I forget, I should explain what I was doing in a German truck stop bathroom with so much money. I'm in the Bobby Conn band and we were on tour in Europe. Those of you who are in bands and have toured Europe may relate. Touring Europe with a rock band is like commanding your very own pirate ship. Every night you play a different place and at the end of the night, someone hands you a stack of colorful Monopoly money-I mean, official Euro currency. The club also feeds you-often a delicious home-cooked meal-and puts you up in a hotel. You pay for gas and other small things as you go along, but the money just piles up in your little zipper pouch. Of course, I should mention that at the end of the tour, most of the pile is to be paid to the booking agent, the van and equipment rental agencies.
Since I have returned home from Europe, I have heard all the lost money stories-both tragic and triumphant. One friend got mugged in Amsterdam, but the thief only found his wallet and failed to find the tour money he had hidden on another place on his body. Another band left their pouch of money at the guitar store, drove away, turned around and drove back when they realized what happened and found their money pouch on the floor exactly where they had left it. Someone told me the story of some better known band-their name escapes me-returning home from tour with no money because their manager had hidden all the tour money in the hotel room Gideon's bible, but it was not there when they went to check out the next morning. Perhaps it's not such a good idea to be carrying around so much money. Maybe bands should drive around with one of those credit card slider machines instead. But the rock economy is still one of the last cash economies. I've never heard of it being done any other way.
When I told my friend Thymme my story, his eyes opened wide and he asked incredulously, "why were you in charge of the money?" As I ran down the list of other band members one by one, he had to agree that I was the best choice of the bunch. I mean, everyone in the band is a hardworking, repsonsible person, but it's a 24-hour job to take care of the money. Colby? Well, maybe. Marc? Leaves his theoretical math books all over Europe and we have to get them mailed back. Abraham, Jim? Seems a bit much to ask the new guys to do it. Bobby? We both agreed, definitely not! Besides, as the only woman in the band, I'm the only one who carries a purse everywhere I go.
Let me set the scene for you now. It's the last week of a 5-week tour of Europe. The tour has gone really well, both artistically and financially. But there are 8 of us crammed into a 9-seat van. We are more than a bit tired from playing music into the wee hours of every night and then waking up in the morning to drive ourselves to the next venue. We have not been able to do laundry since England, two weeks ago. Instead of traveling with supporting staff that could really make a tour easier like a driver or a manager, we have instead Bobby's and my 2 1/2 year old son, Augie, and his babysitter, Kathy.
Augie really is a trouper. He's been touring since he was 3 months old and this is already his fifth trip to Europe, the lucky kid! He's an agreeable fellow by nature and he really thinks of himself as a member of the band. Every evening at sound check, I put ear protection (junior-size ear muffs purchased at the gun store, but that's another story) on him and he plays our drummer's kit. He getting pretty good; he already plays drums better than I can! After the aforementioned delicious dinner, he goes with Kathy to the hotel while we play our show.
Bobby and I love having our son along. It's important to us to include him in as much of the things we do as we can. He brightens up every day and makes us all laugh. But I know that I am more exhausted than the other members of the band. Augie wakes up at 7:30 am, no matter where we are in the world and regardless of what time I went to bed. Many mornings I am at the playground with him before we have to leave to drive to the next venue. Other people may visit museums, but I have been to playgrounds in most of the great cultural centers in Europe!
The night before, we had played a particularly great show in Berlin. The club was packed with sweaty dancers and appreciative fans invited us to drink far into the night. Now we were hung over and spent, driving through the storybook countryside of Bavaria, with its little church-centered villages, on our way to Vienna. Jim was driving again. He seemed to get stuck with the driving a lot. The rest of us were dozing, except Bobby, who was passed out in the back. He had taken a vicodin to relieve the pain of getting glitter in his eye, an occupational hazard in the Bobby Conn band. The vicodin was left over from a few months ago when I had gone to the emergency room for glitter in my eye. Take it from us, it is extremely painful to get glitter in your eye.
Jim stopped for gas and we stumbled out of the van to attend to our various needs. I asked Bobby to change Augie and took the pouch of money, but not my purse-a crucial detail in this story-into the truck stop to pay for the gas. I was going to come right back, I swear! As I walked back to the van, a dazed Bobby hands me Augie and a new pair of pullups. Darn, I was hoping he was going to take care of that! Augie and I returned to truck stop and pay our 50 cents to enter the women's room.
I could probably write an entire essay on the bathrooms of Europe, but I will spare you that at the moment. I will summarize by saying that toilets in Europe are either on the primitive side or highly advanced. This women's room was of the latter persuasion. Augie had just started toilet training, so I wanted to sit him on the toilet. But before I can get him to do that, the entire toilet seat started rotating around the bowl, getting cleaned by a miniature car wash at the back of the seat. Since the toilet seat is oval-shaped, it looks pretty funny as it goes around its wobbly orbit. We have to watch many rotations before I can convince Augie to sit on that toilet seat and he wants to watch many more after he's done. Then we have to wash hands in the sink where the water magically turns on and off and the soap is magically dispensed and even the paper towels appear without touching a button. Sometimes being a parent is remembering that even a simple task with a small child can take far longer than you can ever imagine.
Leaving the women's room, Augie and I stand in the snack shop of the truck stop. I was contemplating something to eat for Augie and Augie was contemplating a little green toy car he had picked up off the shelf. Should we get another German truck stop hotdog? They are really delicious-German sausage purity laws, you know. Served with a little roll on the side and as much good mustard as you need, it is a treat. The rest of the band was milling about looking at all the odd things you can buy in a German truck stop-shoes, sweaters, novelty porn. Since I didn't have my purse, I asked Bobby for some money to buy Augie a hotdog. "What are you talking about?" he responded with a note of alarm in his voice. "You have all the money!"
My stomach did a flip flop. Everywhere I looked, I pictured the little blue zippered pouch of money being right wherever the hell it was I left it. Sometimes I get lucky that way. I emptied the garbage out of the can in the women's room. I looked behind every item in the janitor's closet remembering the time Colby left his bag of CDs in a hotel room in Los Angeles and found them hidden under the mattress of the newly made bed when he went back for them. I hate to suspect anyone of stealing, but I tried to picture the two women who came in the bathroom while Augie and I were washing our hands. Just two perfectly ordinary middle-aged, middle class German women.
Bobby decides to call the police. We wait for over an excrutiatingly slow hour, as I look hopelessly in the same spots over and over again for the little blue pouch. Officer Schottlieb of the Bayreuth Police finally shows up with her partner. They don't wear uniforms. They look like they could be tourists. They don't even show us their badges. They look in all the places I already looked. Then they conduct an interview with me at one of the tables where the truck drivers eat their hotdogs standing up. A neighboring table of truckers is holding their sides laughing as they listen in on my story. Officer Schottlieb writes my story on the back of half a piece of crumpled paper she pulled out of her purse. She writes her contact information on the other half. Shouldn't there be something filed on a form in triplicate?
We conclude our interview and we drive away feeling very, very sad. We are still at least 6 hours from our destination. We are now going to be very, very late for our show in Vienna. It is quiet in the van. I notice that Augie still has that little green toy car clutched in his hand. Oops, we didn't pay for that! I pass the day somehow. I cry for a little bit, until Augie says, "Relax, Mama, calm down!" It's funny, I guess, to hear the crap we say to him repeated back and it cracks us all up momentarily. Everyone in the band is sad, but I must say everyone is pretty cool about it. There are not endless recriminations, and I am grateful for that. We listen to CDs in the van, but the music sounds tinny and hollow to me. I try to eat something, but everything tastes like dust.
There is more drama in the van when we called the promoter of the show in Vienna to tell him that we will be late. We go back and forth with him about whether or not we should even bother coming. He is worried that people won't want to wait around until midnight to see Bobby Conn. He suggests that we go directly to Linz instead, where we are to play the following night. The mood in the van sinks even lower.
Linz, as in Linzer tort, is a smaller city in Austria, about 2 hours closer to us than Vienna. We have played there many times over the years in a former squat that is now a city-sponsored youth center. (These youth centers are all over Europe and would amaze any American with their state-of-the-art sound systems, cafes, computer facilities and vast quantities of graffiti covering every surface, but that's another story, too!)
Luckily for us, Linz is the home of our good friend Anatole, who runs the youth center. We found out later from the Viennese promoter that Anatole shamed him into letting us play in Vienna that night. Anatole assured him that people would stay and wait for Bobby Conn. But all we knew at that time was that the promoter from Vienna suddenly called back, saying that he had a change of heart, and that we should come to Vienna after all.
Anatole was right. Only 2 people asked for their money back. The 200 or so that stayed were treated to a ferocious show played by a band that had nothing to lose. I was very proud of us that evening. We did not crumple. I even managed to stop feeling miserable momentarily and managed to have a little fun on stage. Afterwards, the Viennese promoter, who was very relieved not to have lost money on our show, slapped our backs and bought us shots.
I don't remember much after that, but I woke up the next morning and suddenly remembered that I had lost all our money. I found on a map a large park with the universal symbol for playground written on it and dragged myself out with Augie. I had been really looking forward to finally spending some time in Vienna, a city we had played in several times before but had never had time to explore. Augie chattered cheerfully in his stroller to himself as I pushed him along, thinking about how we were going to pay for the van rental, the equipment rental, the booking agent fees and all the other expenses that we are supposed to pay at the end of the tour. Alas, there comes a time when the pirate ship must surrender its loot!
I imagined the phone conversations I would have with my parents, Bobby's parents, my boss-anyone I could think of that could possibly wire us a thousand dollars. How do you tell someone you love and respect that you managed to lose over $10,000 in a German bathroom? Then I had another gloomy thought. It would be Good Friday in a couple of days and European banks, which seem to close at the drop of the hat-would be sure to be closed on Good Friday, Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday and beyond. (I found out later that banks really do close on Easter Monday and Tuesday. We were scheduled to pay up on Sunday and fly home on Tuesday.
At the playground, I had to snap out of it so that I could keep an eye on what's far more precious than money. Augie was still holding that little green car, but at some point he put it down to play with something else. The toy car was gone when he went back to get it. A woman saw me looking and said something to me in German. I nodded and smiled, which is always what I do when someone says something to me in German. When she heard me say something to Augie in English, she said to me in English, that a boy had taken the car and put it in his pocket. And his dad let him do that! Could I believe that? What was the world coming to when people just pick up things that don't belong to them? A very good question, I thought. A very good question. She pointed out the boy and his father and I approached them. I pointed to the boy's pocket and looked questioningly. The boy immediately surrendered the car to Augie.
The band gathered itself and we made the short drive to Linz. The mood of the band seemed pretty good. No one talked about the money. There was drinking and dancing the night before and a short drive always means a longer sleep in a hotel bed. We even had an extra passenger, our old friend Christina, who has come to see us play many times in Austria.
We were surprised to see Anatole standing outside waiting for us when we pulled up to the youth center. "Have you lost anything important recently?" he asked with a smile. He had received a call from the promoter in Berlin, who in turn had received a phone call from the police in the city of Nurnberg. Yes, a small blue zippered pouch with thousands of Euros was there at the police station waiting to be picked up. I started jumping up and down and screaming like I had won on Jeopardy.
That night at dinner, Christina told us about the German law that requires people to turn in any money that they find. In return, they are paid a finder's fee of some percentage of the money, but she wasn't sure what that amount was. She also laughed at the name of the police officer from Bayreuth, which I guess translates to something like "sweetie pie." I ate for the first time in over 24 hours. Food tasted like food again, but I wasn't going to feel right until I had that blue zippered pouch in my hands. We played our show once again like a band that had nothing to lose with three sweaty encores before bed.
Since we were able to leave our gear in the youth center overnight, we waited to pack up until the next morning. It took awhile before someone with a key came and unlocked the performance area. We waded through a sea of beer bottles and cigarette butts. With six people in the band, there is a lot of stuff to pack up. Amps, guitars, keyboards-the drums alone come in like16 different containers. We were scheduled to play in Stuttgart that night and Nurnberg was right on the way. Our guitarist Marc's family was from Nurnberg, so he was looking forward to showing us around a little. I think we were all looking forward to wonderful afternoon of being reunited with our money. I was more than a little anxious to get going, but it seemed like it was taking forever get our mountain of heavy equipment into the van.
We arrived in Nurnberg at 4:30 in the afternoon. The police station was located in a pedestrian section of the old city and was extremely difficult to find. On the way there, we saw a billboard with a picture of donkeys shitting gold out of their butts. I took a picture. It seemed appropriate, somehow. When we finally found the police station, we were told that the money had been turned into the fundboro, which had closed for the day at 4 pm. Oh, how I wanted to get off this roller coaster. What the hell was a fundboro? Marc and Bobby are our best German speakers in the band, and they were doing the translating. A bank? A lost and found? No one was quite sure. But the police officer wrote down the address and phone number.
Another quiet van ride. We played our Stuttgart show, but it was all business. We had a new problem. Our show after Stuttgart was in northern Germany, the opposite direction from Nurnberg. How were we going to get our money back?
It was Bobby that came up with a plan. He, Augie and I would take a train to Nurnberg, pick up the money, and take another train to northern Germany. The rest of the band would drive the van and meet us at the show. Early the next morning, he woke up and went to the train station to check the schedules and buy the tickets while I got Augie dressed and ready. He told me to meet him at 8:30 at Track 3. While I was waiting at Track 3, I heard the train to Nurnberg being called Track 20. Well, I better just go to Track 20 and see if he was there. The train to Nurnberg was boarding, so just better see if Bobby is on the train. The doors shut, the train started rolling, and I came to the thudding conclusion that Bobby was definitely not on that train and that he had our tickets.
I hugged Augie close and waited for the conductor to come around. Here is where God watches over idiots and travelers and some people that are both at the same time. I explained the situation to the conductor and he did not put me off the train at the next station. I suppose looking sad and holding a small child might have helped. He even gave me his cell phone to use. I was able to call the band and tell them to tell Bobby that I was on the way to Nurnberg and I was able to call the Fundboro and after locating the one person in the office that could speak English, let them know that I was on my way.
When I arrived in Nurnberg, I checked in with the band. What did we do before we had cell phones? They told me that Bobby got my message and was on the next train to Nurnberg and would be getting in at 1 in the afternoon. Since that was over an hour away, I decided to make my way to the Fundboro myself, without the aid of my German speaking partner. I found the Fundboro without much trouble in a residential neighborhood near the train station. The Fundboro turned out to be a truly wondrous place of thousands of umbrellas and sets of keys, jackets, toys and whatever else you could possibly lose.
I stepped up to the counter and asked if anyone could speak English. The squeaks of the swivel chairs in the office behind the counter was deafening as every single person in that office turned around to look at me. Well, I suppose it's not every day that you see the idiot who lost 10,000 Euros in a bathroom.
"Yes, the money is here," the woman at the counter says. Well, hand it over, then, I think to myself. "But it is not so simple, you see," she continues. "This money belongs to Bobby Conn. We can only turn this money over to Bobby Conn." Well, now, that is going to be a problem, because there is no such person as Bobby Conn. I start pulling out paper work. My passport, our working papers, the police report written on the crumpled piece of paper from Bayreuth. She brings her boss to look at everything. "That's a police report?" he asks, turning over the crumpled paper in his hands. Soon pretty much the whole office is examining my paperwork.
Luckily for us, they are satisfied with the working papers that list the band name as Bobby Conn. They lead me into an office behind a counter and at last, I see the blue, zippered pouch. The Fundboro man starts counting the money. It's all there! He then makes a small pile from our money and tells me that this is for Dagmar Geyler. He writes her name and address on a piece of paper. She is to receive 10% of the first 1000 Euros and 3% of the rest. Her reward comes to 450 Euros, about $550 or $600. I am more than happy to pay.
"You must call this woman and thank her," the Fundboro man says in halting English. "Oh, I will! I will!" I promise. I have the blue zippered pouch back in my purse. As I turn to leave, the Fundboro man asks me to wait. He starts tugging on the zipper of the diaper bag that I have on my back. I should mention that I am wearing a patchwork leather coat, a furry hat, a diaper bag, a purse and I'm pushing a stroller. I guess I might look a little odd. The zipper pull on the diaper bag has broken off, so I never bother to completely zip it closed. It's only a bunch of diapers in there anyway. The Fundboro man keeps tugging and pulling and finally gets it mostly shut. I start to leave again and he motions me to wait as he buttons my coat so that my passport is no longer visible in my inside pocket. I can't decide if I'm touched or humiliated.
When I meet Bobby at the train station, he is furious with me. I may still be in the doghouse over this one. "How could you get on the train without me?" he asks? I don't really have a good answer for him. But we must push on. We have 2 more trains for a total of 3 trains to take to get to our destination.
We make it to our show and the band does too, after slogging through heavy Easter weekend traffic. Our final show of the tour is anti-climactic. We play a fine, consistent set to one of the smaller audiences on the tour. We are glad to have the money and glad to be going home in 2 more days. Tomorrow is Easter. Our hosts put out chocolate bunnies for us in the room where we sleep.
As the Fundboro man instructed, I did call Dagmar Geyler on the telephone. As you might guess, she sounded like a very nice person. She told me that I left the blue zippered pouch on the shelf above the toilet paper in the toilet stall. She said, "I look inside the bag, and I feel scared." She saw that there were Euros in the bag and she said she waited around in the bathroom for a short time to see if anyone came looking for it. It was at the police station in Nurnberg when the police were examining the contents of the blue zippered pouch that she saw that there were American dollars in there as well as Euros. She said that she realized that the pouch must have belonged to me. She heard me speaking English with Augie while we were washing our hands. We actually saw each other! She told me that she loves music and that the next time we are in Germany, we must tell her so that she can come to our concert.
I knew I couldn't thank her adequately on the phone or with the postcard that band and I sent to her that day. When I got back to Chicago, I packaged a book on Chicago architecture, some hand made soap made by my friend Bridgette, and one of our CDs. I've never heard back from her; maybe she hated our music. But I keep thanking her every day, by trying to live my life according to her principles. I ask myself--I ask you-- what would you do if you found $10,000 cash in a bathroom? Would you take a leap of faith and turn it over to the police?
I don't know whatever happened to that little green car that we accidentally shoplifted from the rest stop. I do know that now when we find things on the playground, we leave them there for someone to find later, just in case.
- Julie Pomerleau