River Walkin’

           While I have spent some time now attempting to convey exactly why life at Medina sucked so badly, though with nary a comment of commiseration given for my efforts, I will switch gears now and attempt to entertain with some of the fun. For those of you confused by the title and reading on in vain hopes of there being some element of Irish dancing having misread this as Riverdance, well you are idiots, but shall be rewarded nonetheless.

            Living under a repressive regime, often cleverly compared to that of nancy-boy Mugabe, we had considerable motivation to get the hell out of Dodge every Sat once we hit the required Phase III of privilege. Prior to this, Phase II was enjoyed on base, which was little enjoyment at all. Although beer was served in the BX food court and it was permissible to drink it in uniform if off duty and Phase II or above, many feared the watchful eye of Big Brother, and for good reason. By the time I hit Phase II I had already reverted back to my Comstock era level of brashness; the fear driven in by Basic already melted away like a bad dream.

            Bold as brass in front of my cowardly friends, I swaggered up to the counter of the Robin Hood sub shop and ordered me a bottle of Shiner Bock; the Genesee Cream Ale of south Texas. The others swooned at my arrogance and trembled at what might befall me. I made my case strongly. We were allowed to get beer in uniform at the bowling ally, right? And the bowling alley is like 50 feet away from the BX, so what is the difference. Once in a while fate takes notice of my constant tempting and this time was one of them. Some tool out of uniform came striding up and demanded to know what Phase I was in (recall that ascending Phases meant ascending privilege) and I happily produced my Phase II card and took another swig.

            “You can’t have that! You are only Phase II. Throw it away. Now.”

            One of the dangers of dealing with people out of uniform is that you don’t know who you are talking to as their rank is effectively in disguise. This asshole could be enlisted, officer and rank anywhere from an Airman (E-2) to a Captain based on his age. The difference was how much power he had to really make it a bad day for you.

            “I’m sorry, and you are?”

            He identified himself as a Senior Airman and a member of the Security Forces. A low ranking mall cop; I wasn’t about to give in on this one.

            “Well, I’m afraid you are wrong. We are allowed to drink in uniform in Phase II. I’m not breaking any rules of any kind, so I’m just going to go ahead and keep drinking this.” My friend’s eyes searched for meaning at their feet.

            He really didn’t care for that response and a whole lot of blustering began. A small crowd began to gather, including the head red rope (student leader with fake rank) who I let smoke in my room. A lively debate ensued with the vast majority taking my position. God forbid any of them show some real support and go get a beer themselves and really piss this douche off, but I took what I could. In the end, I drained that puppy to the last drop as he slunk off with a mumbled threat about catching me again. Ha! I finally felt like my own man again and a hero to these yellow backed bumpkins.

            While not at all deterred by the ground pounding gate guard, we never bothered with that exercise again for the next weekend we had reached Phase III and were enabled to hit the town in civilian clothes and really tear things up. This began a tradition with a few components interesting enough to relate. Each Sat morning a group would gather. Usually some combination of me, Bray, Wells, Bell, Halgren, Mock, Stewart, Thomson, Milligan and Wasson. After breaking the bank and blowing our entire paychecks the first outing, we devised a plan to fuel our mischief at discount rates. Depending on how many were coming along, we’d hit the Class 6 (every military base has a Class 6 liquor store, even if nothing else) and buy a liter or two of spirits which were kept in my backpack.

            San Antonio is an expensive town and 5 bucks a beer was not uncommon. As we were generally pissed off from a solid week of 9 hours of classroom instruction and constant bullying, we were ready to let loose and go from morning till night on Sat. The trick to affording this was to buy cokes from McDonalds and spike them generously and schlep them around the city with us all day. Though public drinking was disallowed; highly surprising for Texas, we were very bold in our spiking efforts, having grown expert at rapidly extracting the bottle from the pack and making a pop a bit more interesting sometimes almost right before the eyes of authority.

            At 10:00 the free bus from base would carry the basic trainees into town and we would catch a ride on it as it was permitted. The looks of fear and envy we received enhancing our cups in the back of the bus was always interesting. Devils, we always offered to share but never received takers, so well trained were they. Fools. They would learn soon enough. By the time the bus arrived our cares were gone and it was time for fun.

            A few enjoyable traditions grew out of this and talking of them eased our spirits in the long dreary week days as we learned electronics for 9 hour stretches or splinted our shins on the deplorable running track. The first of course was the illicit hooch. The second was the USO stop near where the bus let off in San Antonio. The USO was like a depressurization room; not quite military but forbidden to civilians. It was a place where we could play free games of pool and play the juke box while our military discipline slowly faded away until it was safe to enter the real world again. When on the streets the point was to pretend we had nothing to do with the military; just a bunch of civilian guys who just happened to have high and tight haircuts. The last thing we wanted was to snap to attention, salute someone by accident or perform some other give away action. The most difficult part was trying to avoid falling into cadence when walking as it was now ingrained to match your footfall to the guy in front of you or beside you and with ridiculous ease a group as large as 10 could find itself marching in perfect time.

            The second tradition was certain restaurants we had to frequent. Hooters was always on that list and we became known personages coming in at the same time each week. Though hardly the scandalous draw it was back in the day, please consider that the vast majority of the women we saw everyday were wearing the same BDUs and boots we were. After being so deprived as to ogle ass in thick shapeless camouflage, you can imagine what a fantastic sight orange short shorts and thin little tank tops presented. Debate raged from week to week as whether or not to go as the money plunked down in “love me” tips negated the secret bottle savings handily. The “for’s” always won.

            The next best place and usually where we ended our evenings was Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub. The place was brilliant serving cold Guinness and Harp (a rarity in this Budweiser town), hot and juicy corned beef sandwiches, and the best damn potatoes outside County Kildare. Very best of all was Dan the piano man who was set up in the middle of the floor and took requests if you dropped one in his fish bowl. Although he declined at every instance my requests to do a rendition of the Pogues’ “The Sick Bed of Cúchulainn“, he was a powerhouse of a vocalist nearly rivaling the great Shane McGowan. Evenings there were spent waving our beers in the air and joining in with the songs.

            The third great tradition was ditching Wasson. Wasson was a decent bloke but a bit of a wet blanket as well. He had never before had a drink which of course made him a project for the rest of us and a frustrating one at that. On one instance we finally convinced him to order a mudslide, and the masochistic bartender after overhearing some of our insulting conversation, gave it to him in a glass so pretty Liberace would feel uncomfortable drinking it. This offended Bray to no end and he hounded Wasson to beg for a new glass so vehemently that he finally left it in a corner and back to the bar to get a coke. This was the first instance. Wasson safely out of sight, we all immediately put down our drinks and walked right out.

            Once outside we questioned what we were doing. Did we just ditch Wasson? It certainly appeared so; groupthink at it’s most noble. When he sees us gone, won’t he come out here? This prompted us to walk off in quite a hurry, randomly choosing streets to turn down until we were many blocks away. On some level we felt kind of bad, but on the more immediate level it was funny as hell, especially after a day long rum and coke binge. This being a quaint pre-cell phone era, there was no danger of him calling us either and we took great care to frequent out of the way places for the rest of the evening.

            We managed to actually get away with this 3 more times over the next 2 months. We could be mid-movie, mid-meal at a restaurant, or doing anything really, but when Wasson couldn’t hold his bladder any longer, or got delayed in line or some other distraction, we would vanish. Looking back this was really pretty mean but he was our Jason and we could not help it. Though I’m sure well meaning, he was one always explaining why what we were doing was a bad idea, or citing some kind of regulation we certainly didn’t care about in town, or irritating us in some other way until one of us would growl a low suggestion to ditch this white bread motherfucker at the next opportunity. Eventually of course he came to realize that our promises to never do it again meant nothing and he found other more moral folk to hang with.

            I should probably add that the dreaded ditch came with another element of inconvenience, especially if it happened after 5, which it always did. The free bus that schlepped us there in the morning returned at 5; far earlier than we were ever willing to leave given the generous 10:00 curfew. This of course meant getting a cab which usually ran $40 back to base plus tip. We found we could usually stuff a group of 6 in a cab for significant savings, but a ditched man had to foot the expensive luxury on his own. When you make about $130 a week, it’s a pretty steep fine to bear. This of course dissuaded me from my typical reverse ditch in which I would suddenly be noticed missing from the group. A move I adopted as best practice when I had enough and didn’t feel like explaining or arguing the matter. More of that and some of the significant manhunts that ensued at a later date, or if you are reading this in book form, a few chapters down.

            Some trips were more eventful than others, and none being more so then my first shoulder injury. The day began as typical, a bus ride down town with 151 laced root beers, a tactic we adopted to haul a smaller bottle but get the same benefit as a large one. It was a glorious morning and buoyed by the effects of the ultra strong grog, we bounced about the town as giddy as airmen get. During our foray down the Riverwalk, the fabled part of town set beneath the street level yet in open air and lined with all manner of establishments, we came across a barrier of sorts. Some malevolent civic agency had set up a series aluminum bleachers for an unknown event that was apparently to take place in the water. They were empty so we quickly made our way across them jumping the 3 foot gap between the sets. On the last jump my hand found purchase on the rail, but my feet missed all together.

            I fell to the ground writhing, my shoulder feeling unconscionably weird and becoming more painful by the second. Something was off and I couldn’t quite tell what it was. I faced the group who were looking at me in curious detached horror.

            “Guys does my shoulder look all right to you?”

            The joke was apparently the best I ever uttered for the first of them began to giggle and was followed by the others, the guffaws building into a towering crescendo of hilarity as I stood there pale, sweating, with my should having been relocated to below nipple level like some malformed scarecrow.

            The agony built by the second and I panicked for what to do. It was well known that any injury taking place with even the most innocuous presence of alcohol hinted as being near by, it would classified as an “alcohol related incident”, an immediate demotion to Phase I for all parties involved. These bastards would lop my arm off before letting that happen.

            Managing to somehow stifle the giggles and wipe the tears away, Mock approached me and attempted to grab my dangling arm and received a violent reaction as I succeeded in kicking him away.

            “Get away from me Forrest! Seriously!” The addition of the “seriously” I have found immediately transforms one so viewed as a buffoonish clown to a respectable gentleman worthy of bending an ear. “Forrest” of course was applied solely for the reason that Mock was from Alabama and could run somewhat fast.

            In a thick twang he informed me that I, referenced as y’alls, had to relax and I was grateful that at least he didn’t use any of that Snoop Dogg ‘izzle’ speak for the kicking would have begun again in earnest. Taking my arm, now spasming in parallel with the spots before my eyes, he told me this was a typical football injury. With a quick flick of the wrist he popped my shoulder back in the socket, and aside from some residual ache, it felt completely better!

            The experience knocked me for a loop and I felt myself approaching a state of shock and I could see the worried concern in my friend’s eyes that I might slow them down some. I took a swig of the horrid rum, lit a smoke and managed to rise once more on shaky limbs. “What are you pussies waiting for? I thought we were down here to have some fun?” My mensch stock soared to heights that would ensure I would never be the victim of the dreaded ditch. Though it happened two more times over the next year, those are tales for another day.

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6 Responses

  1. Robin Hood? Shiner Bock? The real backwoods there.

    They advertise the Army will make a man out of you, but I guess the Air Force will make you an asshole, if you are not already one. Nice stunt as a Phase II beer guzzler. I bet that stunt sent some of yout admiriers down the path to brash behavior that woudl land them in deep trouble.

    Spiking Coke. Reminds me of when Paul and I did that with 2 liter bottles, from Tops, on the way over to Dan’s winter, outdoor party. Surrounded mostly by people we did not care much for, the spiked drink made it a great night, and the camouflage of the Coke kept the sponges from asking to drink our liquor.

    Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub sounds curiously similar to Anacone’s.

    Wasson sounds more like Jeff than Jason.

    What happened two more times over the next year? The ditching or the arm dislocation?

  2. While I may have sent many down the path of bad behavior, I always did so with the warning, “don’t do anything I would”, but no one listens.

    Has there been a post about Dan’s famous outdoor party? There should be if not. Weren’t neighbor’s fences destroyed to fuel the hobo gargage can fires?

    Durty Nelly’s was actually very different than Anacones, although I did find better comparisons later on like the Lonesome Dove and Harpoon Larry’s. I’ll get to describing them eventually.

    Yeah, Wasson was more like Jeff now that I think about it, but we treated him more like Jason. He actually convinced his room mate to tell on people who cheated in morning runs. As a cheater, I was considerably aggitated by this, but escaped unscathed.

    The arm dislocation happened two more times and I’ll get around to telling those as well. I have decided that even though no one but you read these, I’m going to put them out there for the sake of posterity, or if nothing else, to enlarge our Google footprint.

  3. I will post the story of Dan’s party this week.

  4. there’s a hooters near me. it’s got an owl on its logo. i actually thought that’s what it meant. owls. not kidding. when the Clue Bus rolled around, i missed it.

  5. and what the heck happened to my photograph??

  6. You know, I assumed you took it down yourself. No one here removed it, but I think a number of them went missing when WordPress did their redesign.

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