Funky Older Medina

           Although the details of my last post concerning the title place are no doubt crisply embedded in the collective readership’s memory in fine razor detail, I’ll go on record once again to reiterate the nauseating fetidness that was this place. For those who are for some reason reading these posts in reverse order, or stumbled on this through some machination of Google’s ubiquitous web crawler, the tale herein is one of a series that highlights my experience in the Air Force. At this point in the story we have already traversed in mind numbing detail though Basic Training and Phase I time in Tech School at the Medina annex of Lackland. Try and keep up; I won’t be explaining this again.

      Following the Remedial Training woes and the joyous downfall of Garza; an event truly worthy of statues being pulled down in the public square and humongous ‘Mission Accomplished! Yowza!’ signs hung about, life settled into somewhat of a routine. The weekdays were boring and little needs to be said about them aside from a tidbit or two. We were B shift students which meant the mornings were “study” time aside from the heinous running I will rail on about later, and our official day began when we would form up at the top of the hill for school each day at 1400. The day would end with being bussed back at 2330 and on to mandatory midnight chow. Why they felt we needed to fill our bellies with their greasy fare immediately before bed I can’t guess, but the level of importance was considered great enough to post guards along the path from the bus to the chow hall to discourage desertion.

      As I mentioned moments ago, one of the least joyous aspects of the weekday morning was the torturous run on Mon, Wed, and Fri. Despite not getting to bed until 0200 or so due to midnight chow induced ptomaine throne rides, we were formed up at 0800 to march a mile and a half away to do a 2 mile run. This is one of those times when the monkey see morons who like to quip about the irony of military intelligence are actually right. The march down to the track was on a wide, recently paved path both easy on the feet and nicely shaded from the hellacious south Texas morning sun. Despite the ease, the march was filled with the dread of knowing it would end at the official Medina running path.

The path as originally conceived and completed was still likely a huge piece of shit, and several centuries had apparently passed since. Rather than rely on new aged fancy paving, the running surface consisted of a mile circle of red Texas clay of which the original turf was scrapped off by some chain gang of treasonous rabbit beaters. When wet, the surface became soft and sticky with rust colored puddles scattered about that were both unavoidable when running and never truly drained. As a complicating factor, the area had the appearance of having suffered several devastating cluster bomb attacks to account for the dips and potholes eager to break an unsuspecting ankle and were gleefully rewarded on many occasion. Trees had fallen over two areas and never cleared in the time I was present. Adding to the joy was the careful dastardly planning that had the trees not provide even one patch of shade from the glaring sun. Overhead turkey vultures circled slowly and we asked not for whom they circled; they circled for we.

The run itself was reminiscent of those portrayed in whimsical military movies staring the likes of Matthew Broderick although with significantly more wailing agony. Each time your foot pounded down into the yielding surface strength would be sucked from the very core; an insidious counterpane to the tale of that asshole Cyclops Hercules fought to keep off the ground. At strategic points, all in line of sight with one another, the MTMs ringed the track to guard against willful naughtiness like walking, resting, or bearing countenance unpained. Woe betide he who dallied too long to tie a shoe or paced herself to commiserate alongside a suffering sister for the penalty of an additional lap was far too much to bear. Comparisons to the Bataan death march were simply overstated but comforting nevertheless.

Afterward with shins aching and covered in a mixture of red mud and dust, those of us who managed to escape uninjured marched in silent fury the mile and a half back to the showers. I do not appear to give the wrong impression using the word “silently” as it only applied to the trudge back. You have to understand that the majority of young airmen have excellent skills in bitching, whining, griping and complaining that continued to well forth despite the lack of even a shred of positive reinforcement. It was difficult to decide who hate more at times; the Military Training Managers (MTMs) who put us though this unnecessary crap or the young airmen who never stopped ineffectively going on about it, even to the point where it resulted in an excruciating extra lap about the circle of pain.

While the rest of the weekday mornings were meant for study, a few of us actually spent the time putting forth a lucky striking effort to smoke a cigarette or two before school. Although none of us were back to full nicotine addiction yet by any means, it was more a statement of defiance. We were absolutely not allowed to smoke on base, off base, or anywhere else under the penalty of the dreaded Letter of Reprimand; a piece of paper for one’s permanent file explaining when and how you suck with copies dittoed and transmitted to all interested agencies. The Air Force disabused itself of the physical torments of the lesser branches and focused instead on bureaucratic paperwork and other silly tools of compliance. While deterrence to many, they had held little power over myself and the other older kids.

Although unable to alter our behavior, the inconvenience of an LoR was enough to inspire us to great lengths to avoid being caught. Once in Phase III, the weekends were freedom as we could board the bus for town with liquor filled backpacks and smoke and drink all we wanted. The daily grind, however, was more difficult. Each morning either after the run or morning chow, Bray and I would board the bus for the main base and then make the 2 mile walk over to the BX from the nearest stop. Behind the BX was an employee break area shielded from the eyes of those who outranked us and could fink us out. There we would sit and enjoy a leisurely smoke before making the 2 mile walk and bus ride back with just enough time to get ready for school. While the hours spent doing this would have been better utilized doing anything else, we made out choice and abided by it.

During school hours, Bray and I would co-volunteer taking out the garbage at break and smoke behind the dumpster. This was originally his gig, but I could smell it on him when he came back up and aggressively horned it. Although initially annoyed, we were soon in tight cahoots. Bryan got cocky though and attempted an unprecedented second sneak but was caught by a vigilant instructor who was benevolent enough to forego the LoR but confiscated his lighter and banned him from the outside unescorted. In the mean time, by wandering the building I discovered a long unused shower off an unmarked door in one of the bathrooms and made it my secret smoking office sharing not even with Bryan and his cursed luck. As a current ex-smoker and now fully aware of the rancid odor the things put off, I have no clue how I avoided detection and capture; sucking down Camels but a wall away from instructors riding the can.

After school we had another ritual that originally belonged to Bray and Hahn, but that I also managed to force my way into by following Bryan as he veered off the path one night and into the darkness. While it was mandatory to go directly from the bus stop at the top of the hill to midnight chow at the bottom and MTMs and ropes guarded the path, in the thick crowd we were able to slip away unseen and make our way to an unused building and hide behind the generator. Hahn, though some crafty means he would never let on, would sometimes have beers stashed in the weeds there and we would have a nice drink and smoke while the cattle chewed the mealy biscuits of those who took employment cooking for the ungrateful after dark. Bray and Hahn reveled at reliving their early teen years while I simply posed having eschewed such behavior as a young man.

As time passed, so did our boldness. The BX trip became wearisome and we explored other options. Bray tried sneaking into the woods that surrounded the buildings but after being stalked and warned by the training Special Forces thought it best not to return. We next utilized the port-a-john near some construction; taking turns getting a nic fix while the other played lookout. The infrequency of the disgusting water closet being vacuumed out drove us to find other means. I finally invested in a gigantic, yet allowable, window fan which when crouched behind while on full blast, allowed us to smoke in the comfort of my room with impunity. It was not enough to kill the smell all together, so I liberated a full case of lemon furniture polish from the supply closet and each day sprayed a fresh layer over everything in the room. My roommate complained bitterly of the overpowering lemon stench as well as the waxy coating on his furniture, bedding and clothes but was cowed by the powerful coalition of lazy smokers I allowed to partake of my little set up. It was an alliance that would serve me well.

One day when we didn’t have a run, a few of us who went though Basic together decided to hop the bus over to the Basic Trainee area and pay a visit to our old TI SSgt Hopkus. Feeling bold and immune to the prior indignities, we walked right up to the door and pounded it, then proceeded to intimidate the door guard. Hopkus came over and was delighted to see us. He brought us right in to the bay of our unforgotten pain and humiliation, yet this time treated us as honored guests and good compadres. Using our visit as a good opportunity to give his new Flight a hard time, he walked us around as examples of what real Airmen looked like since the new group was obviously filled with useless little pansies. I cannot say we did not swagger. Best yet, he invited us out Sat night to go to “a real Texas bar” and we gleefully accepted even though this violated a whole bunch of the fraternization rules and such. Truly, all the better.

Sat came and he picked us up from town and took us to a big old country bar. No longer the fearsome demon Hopkus of 6 weeks prior, he was not just ‘Jeff’, a good old boy who could open Shiner Bock with his teeth and wore a belt buckle constructed of a gilded toilet seat. That the experience was forbidden made it much more attractive as by even then I knew the folly of partying with Texans. One highlight was the joy of watching him try to pick up women by touting his TI status. They were unaware of the importance of the position and could not be convinced to care. The other highlight was my first mechanical bull ride. I was able to discern the pattern of the behemoths motion and managed to outlast everyone in our group including a souring Hopkus. He announced it time to go shortly thereafter.

In accompanying such an august personage, we assumed he would clear the way of danger for us returning to the dorms well past curfew. Missing curfew was akin to going AWOL and we had been warned that it could lead to loss of rank, fines or even discharge. We were sorely mistaken as Hopkus was far more concerned with protecting his own ass and went so far as to drop us off over a mile away, making us even more late and sick with worry. I snuck into my dorm via the fire escape and hunted down the Rope in charge that night. My smoking lounge generosity paid well that night as the Rope was a smoker and had marked me present in the night’s report and as an additional courtesy, took care of my friends as well. While careful not to abuse the privilege, it was an ace I kept up my sleeve for those nights where happenings in town were just too interesting to break away from; a convenient subject matter for my next post.

The third Medina post will be full of raucous good fun; Comstock style.

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2 Responses

  1. Good yarn Mike. It has been awhile. I am waiting for how you dislocated your shoulder, and your first real weekend of legal freedom. What is a Rope?

  2. A Rope, as explained in “Funkey Old Medina”, is a tech school student empowered by the MTMs (Military Training Managers) to act in their place. The term “Rope” is used because they wore green, yellow or red ropes around their shoulder as a sort of pseudo-rank. Basically hall monitors with the power to give you detention and pretty much as dorky-douchebaggy.

    My next tale will include the shoulder separation, being hassled by the man at the BX and cavorting in town.

    Is Dan ever going to write about this 12 anguished hours I keep hearing about? I’m almost inclined to invent my own version if for no other reason then to enrage he and Louis.

    And whatever happened to Anna and Knaus?

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