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Preface to Minus the Journey

One of the border guards directed us away from the line and into a parking space. Jovo then let me know I needed a visa to enter Yugoslavia. This I did not have. The American embassy in Dublin had said I did not need one. Goddamn bureaucracy. I remembered that the informational documents they gave to me were quite old, but I had been assured that they were accurate.

You would think the most powerful country on Earth—the winners of the Cold War, the defenders of democracy—would have up-to-date information for its citizens, especially about entering one of the most dangerous places in the world.

Fuck. I’ve bet my life and ten thousand dollars on that old information!

I quickly forgot about the inadequacies of the American State Department; the sequence of events that happened next would stay in my mind forever.

The three guards that had held their guns on us returned and again took position, now aiming their rifles at our heads.

They allowed Jovo to get out of the tiny car with all four of our passports. He headed into the small building—the defending fortress at the Yugoslavian/Hungarian frontier. As he walked in, I saw Jovo wave at a smallish, bespectacled woman dressed in military fatigues.

She did not wave back.

He entered the building and headed directly to her. She displayed no affection; she seemed as stern as a dominatrix. It was hard to discern what was transpiring, but I saw him wildly gesticulating and pointing to the car, speaking not just to her but to all the guards.

The woman, obviously the boss, stood there, still, listening intently as this crazy man nearly hyperventilated.

Jovo and the woman disappeared from my sight. It ran through my mind that they had had enough of him: time for torture at the Yugoslav border.

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