By Jim Bartlett, Editor-in-Chief
(ROUTE APACHE, Bosnia & Herzegovina) -- "Man, we just came across the bridge today," quipped a trooper from the 793rd Military Police Battalion."What's with these people, can't they exercise some crowd control here before someone gets hurt?"We were standing there, looking at what was left of one of their five-ton trucks and the remains of an equally-totaled Mercedes commercial rig. Black, steaming oil had washed over the pavement and was running off the shoulder of the road, but no one was injured."Yo, man, do you speak Bosnian?"
"Who, me?" I replied, "Yeah, a little."
And thus I was swept up in the great Tuzla road wreck.
It seems, that the 793rd MP BAT had just that morning come across the bridge over the Sava River from their base in Germany. It was the first time anyone had ever been in-country and everybody was commenting on the destruction they had seen on the way through the Posavina Corridor, and how crazy Bosnian drivers are. Little did they know that their first day in Bosnia would give them a serious taste of Balkan road hazards.
They had been moving in convoy down Route Arizona past one of the infinite number of people on wobbly bicycles who insist on riding them on the main roads. The driver of the five-ton had moved over a bit to clear the cyclist when the Mercedes came around a slight bend in the road. As usual, in the ever present rush to go nowhere, the Bosnian driver was going fast and wham, instant traffic jam.
In no time flat there was a five mile-long foul-up on the main road. This became a complete blockage when people started skirting the wreck on the muddy shoulder. I looked up just as the bus was edging around the side. We cringed."He ain't gonna make it," we cried.Sure enough. Splooge!
"God, if he goes over the edge into that creek we're truly screwed," I said.
As usual, impatience and no control had multiplied the problem all out of proportion to the original situation. The bus sank up to its chassis in the soft shoulder of the road, and like a big fat beast coughed up its last breath."Oh great, what the hell is it with these people?" a private groaned.And here they came. Everyone from the bus and everyone within walking distance came to congregate, debate, and generally pass the time of day and soon I found myself translating an Army incident report into Bosnian
"You ain't seen nothing yet," I replied."Ah, what's his name?" asked the Top Kick.But we were making progress, all the pertinent details had been sorted, but we were still surrounded by a mass of people all shouting and debating. But then, to make matters worse, two 2nd lieutenants were getting in on the act and soon conflicting orders began: Half the column stay, the other half go. No, everyone stay. Put the oil absorbent on the oil. Put it under the wheels of the stuck bus. Use the Humvee to pull out the bus. Wait for the recovery vehicle. Move the Benz first, then the stuck bus. Move the stuck bus, then the truck. We leaving. We're staying.
"Ja'sam Jimmy, 'e ti?" (I'm Jim, you?) So and so, Joe Bosnian.
"Address and telephone?" Easy enough.
"What year and make of the truck?"
"Well, it's a Mercedes for starters," then, "Ti auto" with pointed finger (You car).
"Uh, Vroom Vroom Ti, Vroom vroom ti."
(Vroom, vroom you).
An incredulous look. (Of course it's my truck you dumbshit American.)
Then I remembered the word for year.
"Godine, Godine, Ti Vroom vroom." I said, excitedly pointing to the truck.
(Ohhhhh, of course you silly boy, it's a '71.)
"Oh god, it's older than my kid." groaned the Top.
Meanwhile, all the rest of us stood there looking dumb and dumber with the tow cables ready to hook up. Finally, they decided on moving the Benz first, then the bus, but when we went to hook it up, the Bosnians were saying no. Their own police were coming to make a report. Oh god."You might want to plan on bivouacking here Lieutenant," I jibed.Another hour of waiting and then the man himself showed up complete with super detective crime scene kit with all the little powders and brushes and stuff. Now things began to move. He may not have had a computer in his cruiser, but he got people rowing in the same direction.
"What's going on now?" he replied, surrounded by jabbering Bosnians and looking puzzled.
"They're waiting for their own cops, could take a while." I said.[In Serbo-Croatian:]Nuf said.
"First we move the bus. Then I take my pictures and do my paperwork. Then we move the Benz this way. Then we all go."
Ever so slowly it sorted itself out and the yanks stood there taking it all in, still a bit puzzled by the confusion and commotion."Man, do they turn out like this for every wreck?" a young corporal asked me.As the wreck was clearing, first the bus, then the Benz, I bid farewell to the 793rd. It was getting dark and the whole plan of going up to Posavina was now nixed. As I walked back to my car to turn around I shouted back, "Welcome to Bosnia guys."
"Man, you should see it when there's a fatality." replied I in a sagely way.
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