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BY Joel Junker

Gifts From a Parking Ticket

The lesson of “adversity/bad events or closed doors often leading to positives/good events or opening other doors”, smacked me in the face during my recent visit to Germany.  And, I do mean, “smacked me” in the face.  Travel invariably leads to adverse events:  delayed flights, traffic jams, poor hotels, loud people on their cell phones on the airplane (like right now), and more.  Learning to deal with these setbacks and looking for the silver lining and sometimes the really positive outcomes and experiences allow me to enjoy life more and be a better leader, parent and husband.  I would like to share my story from Germany when once again I learned to wait for all of the events to unfold and not just focus on the adverse one.

I was on my second to last day in Germany.  This was my recovery day, to do a couple of interviews, catch up on e-mails and recover from the fast pace of the previous days in Kaiserslautern and Amberg, Germany.  I had exactly 30 Euros left.  With my credit card to pay for lodging, gas and meals, I figured I had it down to the exact amount to pay for a chocolate croissant or two and some cappuccinos, purchase a couple of beers to bring home for my dad, and tip Mirat, the bellman at the Kempinski Hotel in Frankfurt.  I went for a long walk in Amberg and visited a beautiful monastery and the old town area.  When I returned, I had a parking ticket for 25 Euros.  I had parked in this same exact spot the last two visits to the area.  In fact, I had been parked there three days and had not moved.  Apparently, it was only a 3-hour limit parking area and hotel parking was in the back of the hotel.  I guess in Germany parking for 3 days when the limit is 3 hours is a big fine.

I pled ignorance.  I found the officer who wrote my ticket walking around the parking lot.  I asked him if he spoke English.  He smiled at me, showing me a piece of jewelry in the middle of his right front tooth and then I noticed 2 earrings in his left ear and another one in his right.  Then he said in perfect English,” Only a little bit, not much.”  I used my best tips from Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, but apparently they do not read that book in Germany, or at least the police do not.  Again in perfect English, he said, “There is nothing I can do about it. It is already in the computer,” tapping the mini-computer ticket writing system on his hip. 

Fortunately, the hotel where I stay in Amberg helped me.  I gave Claudia at the front desk 25 of my remaining 30 Euros and said they would send in the payment for me.  However, I was furious.  My plan went out the window.  I just paid about the equivalent of $37 in a parking ticket.  I now also needed more money and to find another ATM.  I was stewing.

I went off to my next destination.  Since this was my one day in Germany to catch up, I headed to a great hotel, brewery and restaurant called Winkler Braeu in Lengenfeld, Germany.  I stewed my entire drive.  I just would not let it go.  Being a Midwesterner and of German heritage, I hate spending money, especially on frivolous things like a parking ticket.

When I arrived in Lengenfeld, I felt a bit better.  I was now trying to figure out how I could get by with the 5 Euro bill and the coins in my pocket.  I determined I had enough to pay 2 Euro to stop on the autobahn and use the bathroom during my trip home the next day, 2 Euros to tip Mirat (much less than I wanted to give him).  The challenge was now, did I have enough Euros to buy a couple of beers to take home for my dad and candy for my 4 children.  I went to the Netto (small grocery store chain in Germany) in a town nearby called Velberg to see if I could find the specific beer for my dad, the Winkler Brau Kupfer Spezial.  I didn’t have enough. 

I stood outside the Netto and now had to figure out where the ATM was in the area.  I heard 2 women speaking English, and knew they were Americans.  I excused myself for interrupting and asked where the nearest ATM was located.  A nice lady with an 18-month-old son in a stroller gave me complicated directions and then offered to walk with me because she lived near the ATM. 

As we walked, she introduced herself and her son and asked me why I was in Germany.  I explained I was a recruiter partnering with JMOs making a transition to business and meeting with officers in the Bavaria area about potentially making the transition.  She slowed her pace and told me about her husband who is an Army Major, with an Engineering degree but just not sure he wants to make it a career now.  She told me she has a strong desire for a professional career as well and it had been difficult with all of the moving.  We walked for about 10 minutes and discussed options outside of the military and the pros and cons of their choices. 

We finally came out of the trail and back alleys and walked into a beautiful Marketplatz (town square) with old cobblestone or brick lined streets, traditional German buildings, a town hall, at least 3 bakeries that I could see, and 2 guest houses.  I said, “Wow!”  I told her I had been here in the fall and even stopped at the Netto and did not know this was here!  I completely missed this during my trip in September.  She said this is not all, and told me about the ruins of a castle on top of the hill and outstanding hiking trails. 

I thanked her for helping me.  She took my e-mail address in case she and her spouse had any questions.  I withdrew additional Euros from the ATM and thought about that castle.  It was getting dark, it had snowed that day and there was about an inch on the ground, and yet I wanted to see that castle.  I walked fast up to the edge of the town and found the trail and hiked in the snow.  I got to the top of the hill and saw the castle.  I walked to the very top of the castle and I could see 360 degrees.  It was spectacular.  I saw the old German town with smoke coming from chimneys, the hills and snow on the ground.  The view was just like pictures in storybooks.  Unfortunately, I did not have my camera or phone with me because when this started I was just going to the Netto.  Meeting this sharp woman and her son, seeing the marketplatz, the hike and walk, the castle and view were amazing.  I was starting to feel better about the parking ticket.

When I arrived back to my hotel room, I was surprised to find I had an e-mail from the woman’s spouse giving me some information on his background and asking if we could speak that evening.  Wow, those two work fast!  Absolutely, I would meet with him.  I truly love what I do and helping people set personal and professional goals and helping them reach them.  So, we had dinner together. 

I listened to his concerns about the military and what he liked and did not like.  I also listened to his concerns about making a transition.  He liked the security of healthcare and a pension in a retirement from the military and that was what was keeping him in.  I talked about how things change so much, and life is too short to work in a profession you do not enjoy just to wait to have some pension or healthcare that will likely not be the same in 10 years as it is today.  I recommended he determine what he wants out of his personal and professional life.  We talked a lot about goals, but also just got to know one another.  I was very impressed with him, and there is no doubt that if he chose to make the move to business he would be marketable. 

I left him a copy of PCS to Corporate America by Roger Cameron and the Cameron-Brooks Reading Program for further research.  I do not know what he will decide, but I know that dinner conversation will help him and his spouse make the right decision and be committed. 

So, how did I get “smacked in the face?”  Expensive parking ticket using up most of my remaining cash leads to meeting a neat lady and her young son, seeing a beautiful Marketplatz, hiking to a castle, experiencing a spectacular view, and having dinner with a great Army officer serving our country and helping him determine his goals.  I also returned back to the Marketplatz the next morning and sampled a treat from all 3 bakeries!


Joel Junker