Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Things I've Done That Probably Weren't That Smart - Part Two

A friend on Facebook posted something that reminded me of my first trip to Oktoberfest. You know, that little party they throw every year in Munich, complete with food, rides and lots and lots of BEER. The first time we went was in 2001, so that was...9 years ago? Holy crap, I'm getting old.

Being stationed in Germany in September of 2001 was an experience. The world changed drastically that Fall, as I'm sure all of you remember. Being in the military means you are pretty much patriotic by nature, but after 9/11 we became rabid. We also got a big case of cabin fever, seeing as how we were all locked down on Post. After a couple of weeks the lockdown lifted, and we were desperate to go somewhere. Still, seeing as how we didn't have a car yet (it was still on the boat on the way over since we'd only been in country for about a month), it was easier said than done. When a friend of Chris' suggested taking the train down to Munich for Oktoberfest we jumped at the chance. Well, us and about 10 of Chris' single buddies.

Let's do the math. Single joes + 2 hour train ride + beer + overwhelming patriotic fervor = trouble.

The most important thing the Powers-That-Be were pounding into us back then was Situational Awareness. Be aware of your surroundings. Be alert to possible terrorist threats and activity. At that time, there was a terrorist around every corner. Above all, when traveling in a foreign country, try not to announce yourselves as American soldiers. You don't need to invite trouble.

Yeah. Right.

By the time we got off the train in Munich, I was pretty much the only one who wasn't toasted. I don't like beer. We spent the next several hours wandering the Fest and gawking at everything. We ate pretzels the size of my head, watched a waitress in traditional Bavarian dress carrying 6 full beer mugs in each hand. If you've ever seen a German Fest mug, you know they hold a little more than your average Sam Adams. As in, one mug can probably hold an entire six-pack. The chick had some biceps. We also bought a bunch of retarded souvenirs and a huge gingerbread heart that said "I Love You" in German. Yeah...I really don't know why.

We all gathered in one of the outdoor seating areas near one of the huge beer tents. I don't remember which one...probably the St. Pauli Girl since it had a huge picture of a blond with considerable...assets. One of the over-muscled waitresses brought over a round of beers and the guys went to work on getting even drunker than they already were. One table over were a bunch of equally drunk German men who broke out into a rousing rendition of Deutschland Uber Alles. And yes, I know that's not the actual title of the song, but if I had said "Das Lied der Deutschen" you wouldn't have known what I was talking about.

Anyway. If you know anything about American soldiers, it's that they have pride. In themselves, in their buddies, in their ability to consume large amounts of malt beverage, and above all, in their country. Hooah! Combine the last two and add in a challenge and you have a recipe for disaster. Not to be outdone, when the Germans finished their drunken patriotic display, our guys had to do it better. They all took a big swig, stood up and started belting out The Star-Spangled Banner at the top of their heavily intoxicated lungs. If you want to keep a low profile, that is not the way to do it.

Afterward there was silence. I mean SILENCE. Not even the crickets chirped. I held my breath, waiting for the fight to start. This was sooooo not good. After ten seconds that lasted for hours, everyone at the surrounding tables stood up and started to clap. Then they started cheering. And finally, they offered the universal German welcome of extending their beer mugs and shouting "PROST!!!" I exhaled in such relief I thought I would pass out.

The guys laughed and shouted PROST! right back and it was all good. Everyone went back to their beers and eventually we headed back to the train station. Getting back home was a little more difficult than the trip down (probably due to the fact that everyone had lost their ability to focus and comprehend written language) and we got off at the wrong place and ended up having to spend the night in the train station in Augsburg. But that's neither here nor there.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Things I've Done That Probably Weren't That Smart - Part One

Ever have one of those experiences that seemed like a great idea at the time and then you look back on it and think to yourself, WTF? Yeah, that's happened to me. A lot. Some of those times have been on my mind lately and I thought they might be good for a laugh. I promise I'm not making any of this up. My life is, on frequent occasion, stranger than fiction.

Dinner with the Russian Mafia

I would advise not attempting this on your own.

In May of 2003, we were stationed in Germany, and Chris was deployed to Kosovo for 10 months. A couple of crazy friends (you know who you are) and I decided to fly out and meet the guys in Sofia, Bulgaria for a 4-day R&R weekend. You may think that in itself is worthy of a WTF moment, but not really. It wasn't so bad. And yes, before you ask, we did manage to see more than just the inside of the hotel room.

The first night we all went out and consumed various strange meats on a stick (duck heart among them) and drank margaritas which I now suspect were made with pure grain alcohol. Where we ended up that night is far from where we started, but that is another story and I will NEVER TALK.

Anyway. The next night happened to be our third anniversary. Chris and I decided we wanted to celebrate by having dinner in an authentic Bulgarian restaurant so we could soak up some culture of the non-alcoholic variety. The six of us had hired a private taxi driver/tour guide for the weekend, so we asked him for some recommendations. He said he knew the perfect place and we hopped in the taxi and took off into the city. A word of advice. When traveling in a taxi (or bus or trolley car or any form of transportation) in Eastern Europe, close your eyes and pray. Do not look at the road. Do not look at the other cars. Do not try to figure out the traffic rules. Just pray. Hard. In as many languages as you know.

We ended up in a rundown section of Sofia in front of what looked to be an abandoned building. Not a good sign. Two very large men in dark suits met us at the curb. They were armed. Again, not a good sign. The taxi driver told us to go with these men, and when we were ready to leave they would call him and escort us back to the car. He told us that under no circumstances were we to leave before he came for us, and to not wait on the street alone.


We suddenly found ourselves at night in a rundown section of city in a country that was very recently communist, with only Boris and Ivan and their various pieces of hardware for company. Since we pretty much had no choice, we followed the two giants down a set of concrete stairs toward a ratty looking door. At this point, the thoughts in my head were all centered around one thing: We are SO gonna die. Well that, and the fact that I really shouldn't have worn heels. It would have been easier to attempt an escape. The door opened into....a truly fabulous gypsy-themed restaurant. It was huge and beautifully decorated and obviously doing very well. A waiter led us to a private table that was partially concealed in the bones of an old wooden gypsy wagon. It was fantastic. The food was delicious, the service was impeccable and it was truly an experience. There were also several other tables like ours that were filled with groups of very rich looking men who appeared to be conducting quiet business. The kind of business that you obviously needed to conduct in the basement of an abandoned building at night. Surrounded by armed guards.

After a floor show featuring traditional gypsy dancers we told the waiter we were ready to go. He called over our personal bodyguards, one of whom pulled out a cell-phone and called our driver. A few minutes later we were led out to the street and put safely in the taxi and driven back to our hotel. One thing was for sure. Bulgarians may drive like crazy people but I certainly wasn't going to be critiquing this guy's skills any time soon. Talk about connections.

The entire night held an air of the surreal. Probably because it was surreal and stuff like that just doesn't happen to regular people. On the ride back I kept looking at Chris and wondering, did that really just happen? Did I inadvertently drink another one of those battery acid margaritas and I am now hallucinating?

To this day, I think back on that very strange night and shake my head while asking myself a great big WTF!?

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Generation of Whiners?

When I first read this article, I got royally, seethingly mad. I'm talking spitting nails, where's my punching bag, Army Wife Up-In-Arms pissed. I forced myself NOT to write a rebuttal right away because I knew I would regret it. I told myself to let it simmer....

I'm done simmering.

Her basic gist is that military spouses today are a bunch of whiners and we need to grow up and "soldier on". In her day, we didn't have toy drives and TV specials and support for military wives. Apparently nobody gave a rat's petunia about her and her fellow wives, so why should we expect anybody to care now?

My first question is this - since when does allowing someone to do you a kindness, give you some attention or try to help you and empathize with you in any way they can, considered whining? I'm not asking for attention, I'm not asking for hand-outs, and I'm not asking for everyone to bow at my feet and tell me how strong I am. But if someone wants to give me a hug and tell me they're praying for me, I'm not going to say no.

I remember once I was eating dinner in a restaurant (who I was with and where I was have been lost somewhere in my brain...) when a gentleman a few booths away came over and told me that he had noticed the pin collection I was wearing - among them my "Proud Army Wife" pin, my Blue Star and my "Operation Iraqi Freedom". He told me he was grateful for my husband's service and said that he would like to pay for my dinner as his way of saying thank you. I was floored. I was certainly not expecting that. I was touched by his gesture and to say "no" would have been insulting to him. Same goes for the man at the Mail Boxes, Etc. who wouldn't allow me to pay for the package I was shipping to my husband for Christmas. "It's my pleasure," he told me. His way of saying Thank You, and Merry Christmas.

What Mrs. Sisk doesn't understand is that these toy drives and TV specials and support programs are not because the military spouses of today need them, they are the country's way of saying thank you. Things are different today then they were in times past. The war doesn't touch everyone and everything the way it used to. We're not turning out tanks from our cereal factories and we're not drawing lines down the back of our legs because the nylon has all been used for parachutes. Susie down the street may not have a single relative in the military, or even know where Kandahar is, but she sure as heck can make cookies. And if bringing a plate of chocolate chip to her neighbor, who just sent her husband off to war for the 4th time in 6 years makes her feel like she's giving back, who are we to say no?

A lot of folks think this country is full of dissenters that don't give a crap about the war and why we're over there. Maybe that's true. I personally think that there are more good people out there than we know about. They just speak with their actions and not their words. This country knows it owes a debt of gratitude to our Military that can never be paid. They are constantly putting their lives on the line, day in and day out, year after year for the sake of others. Yes, they get a paycheck. They have to feed themselves and their families somehow. But just because they are paid for their service doesn't make it any less honorable. The people at home who are putting on this show of support for the families are saying thank you in the only way they can. They're closing ranks around the spouses and children who are left vulnerable, telling the soldiers, "It's okay, we've got your back. Don't you worry about a thing. Come home safely and we'll make sure your family is here waiting for you."

I may not need the help to keep my family running, but I would never insult the wonderful people of this great nation by refusing their assistance. They are thanking my husband through me. I hope that I never become so jaded and cynical that I begrudge anyone who accepts help from someone else. Don't worry, I'm not going to start singing Lean On Me or anything, but there is nothing wrong with supporting each other. That's what America does - we take care of our own. It doesn't make us whiners, it makes us smart.

And as to the whole, "you're not sacrificing unless your husband comes home in a wheelchair or a box" thing - STFU.

And that's all I have to say about that.