hiking veterans

Wearing a “veteran” ballcap starts conversations.

Lord’s soldier

The “San Diego Chargers” jersey worn by a twenty-something man I met near the summit of Angel’s Landing trail prompted me to ask whether he was a Los Angeles -based fan or one from San Diego. From Temecula, Californi, he and his buddies were up in Zion for a “men’s retreat”; among the faith community, that is “code” for a spiritual bonding time. We talked about our respective churches and our military service. As a Navy veteran, he asked me whether I had been to the Philippines; his father had joined the Navy from there. Eugene was an Army veteran. I told him about my son, an Army veteran. Eugene knew Fort Bragg. He and my son, were sort of, but not quite, following in each respective fathers’ footsteps. One of his companions was a veteran of the Iraq war. Both were now college students. As we talked, I encouraged him to endure the bureaucracy of the VA medical evaluation process (he had gone once and was discouraged by the red tape) to get service-connected injuries treated – or compensated. Being young men of faith as well as warriors, these newly encountered Brothers encouraged me. Like me, though my friends and several dozen people attempted the narrow and very physically-demanding ascent to the “Landing”, I knew these guys had nothing to prove to themselves. Military services do the difficult every day. The impossible generally takes just a bit longer.

DOD recorder

There weren’t but one or two available seats on the crowded shuttle bus from the Temple of Sinawawa stop in Zion National Park. It was a thirty-minute ride back to the parking lot. Looking tired and a little irritated, the large man ( solid, not stocky) squeezed into the last available seat, directly across from me. He looked at my ballcap and thanked me for my service. We chatted. He was taking in Zion while his wife was at some military event in San Diego. He is a civilian archivist for the DOD, which lead to talking about history, this blog, and travel. Apparently, Lake Powell should be on my “bucket list”. One of the things that all this military reminiscing lead to was to get some coffee prior to starting back to the hotel in St. George.

View of the Virgin River in Zion NP. Angel’s Landing trail.
Though some start, few finish the ascent to the very top

“Airdale” trucker

Tomahawk night launch, Red Sea, 1993

On Saturday morning, the motel cafe was busy. All eight little tables were occupied. At one table, a man about my age wore a Desert Storm veteran ballcap. I asked him what service, and he responded Navy. I was also a Desert Storm veteran. He offered me a seat. Mike had been an Navy “airdale”, the Navy nickname for a member of the aviation support community. An aviation ordnance technician, he served a carrier airwing in the Persian Gulf during the conflict. We chuckled about engineers who design but never actually tried to use some things in aircraft he worked on; trying to remove an assembly where you could neither lay flat or reach overhead comfortably, but in one case having to crouch the whole time removing it. My companion, a retired DOD engineer, feigned dismay. A couple of comments he made, however, suggested he was a little more ‘dismayed’ than he let on. The trucker at the table across from us was also a military veteran, though from the prior conflict. As Mike and I chatted about the Navy, missed advancement opportunities (if only those darn Master Chiefs would retire so others could move up the career ladder!), and life after the military, the more I got to thinking how a community, a brotherhood, sisterhood, or more accurately – a large extended family one can meet all over the country.

Community. Often it starts with a ballcap, a veteran-themed t-shirt, or other, and an interest in getting to know someone.

Desert signs

Retired sailors I knew moved too become desert dwellers. “Seen enough ocean, “they say. “Here there’s only beach!”

On the way to Zion NP, flowering Joshua trees, and one bored alien – extra terrestrial type- wave at my buddies as we travel east. Maybe, aliens find the same relief on their journeys?

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No Dan, Joshua trees aren’t pine

green hitchhikers

grinders and coffee

Mention grinders to an older Navy veteran, generally brings to mind the large parade ground we marched around in Bootcamp.  But “grinder” also means a particular type of sandwich. In Southern California, while there are different names: submarine sandwiches, hoagies, and grinders, there are some places that are vastly different than the franchises that pop up everywhere.  And in El Cajon, California, not far from my home, is an institution 50 years in the making, The Grinder.

I actually only stopped in Thursday night at the request of my son, a Vocational Nurse working the evening shift, for a sub specifically made there.  It might have been my first visit though I have lived in the area twenty years.  After a long workday and a long, rainy evening commute,  but I would drive an extra few miles for a sandwich.

It was not a fancy place.  A video game table of the sort I had not seen in thirty years  was against the wall.  On the walls, were  Navy-themed art, a Bible quote,  articles on the history of this deli, a plaque honoring fifty years, and pictures of local kids.  But the one I noted just before ordering was the image of the late Chief John Finn,  Medal of Honor recipient (Pearl Harbor) on the wall. The kids working there know whose picture it is.   San Diego County is a military community, and El Cajon in the part known as “East County” is home to a large population of veterans going back to the Second World War.

“where do we eat and what show do we go to?”

On date night, quickly planned,  even the retired Senior Chief’s understanding wife may have felt a grinder was sub-expectations.  The mall was packed with Friday-night families.  As it turned out, a little pastry and coffee with live music at a coffee house we like was perfect.  We knew the music and lyrics; the acoustics were okay, and probably because the band and their fans are all about the same ages,  they concluded at a reasonable hour on a Friday night.  7:30 is almost bedtime.

So much for foodies partying into the wee hours (7:30PM)

immigration kon and tiki

One of the major issues in North America and European countries today is immigration. Politics and basic economics drive the debate, regardless of which side one supports. Perhaps it is worth considering – by all parties – for thousands of years, new arrivals brought talent, art, foodstuffs, and skills in navigation, or farming, or just hardiness. There were no aid agencies or politicians, and the adaptable survived. Across vast distances and different continents, it is no wonder that these were first undertaken by sailors, military men, and adventurers.

Long before I became a Sailor, I recall reading the adventure of Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian zoological researcher and explorer. It was then twenty-five years after an impressive 1947 voyage his team made across the Pacific Ocean. Compared to the modern warships in which I traversed the Pacific Ocean, Heyerdahl – and by experiment, pre-Inca natives, constructed a thirty-foot boat, of reed and balsa-wood. With a banana-leafed thatch cabin and a single-mast, six men departed South America. If modern man, in a post-war world might feel exposed – a hundred miles at sea, no sign of land and no birds in the sky, what were the first explorers possibly thinking. I thought this with experience of riding a ship 530 feet (161m) at the waterline, feeling the speck he was in comparison to the ocean.

Thor Heyerdahl’s point in the mid-Twentieth Century was to test that people might have settled Polynesia not from Asia, but from the east – South America – fifteen hundred years ago. A second settling might then have come from North America- British Columbia – by way of Hawaii, five hundred years later. Through radio-carbon dating, sweet potatoes which originate in Central and South America, were subsequently (1991) found by archaeologists in thousand-year old sites in Polynesia. (Since 2005, scholars debate which group came first – Polynesians to Hawaii or Hawaiians into Polynesia).

If you have not read Thor Heyerdahl’s account, Kon-Tiki, and you have a bit of the ocean-adventuring spirit, I suggest adding this to your list. I intend to revisit his story. Perhaps while eating a sweet potato.

Labor freedom

As a retired military man I am grateful that I am not deployed to far away seas these days.  In San Diego,  this holiday weekend has been an opportunity to meet with friends.  Saturday with an outdoor concert by the San Diego Symphony at the downtown waterfront ending with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (with cannons!),  Sunday with a gathering at Mission Bay,  and today for breakfast at a restaurant our friends have enjoyed since the husband was a child.

Hob Knob Hill, San Diego

Dana Landing, Mission Bay

music lovers, San Diego waterfront

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Old Sea Dawg and his CINC

 

one man’s junk

“…is another man’s treasures” – see etymology

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Looking over all the random stuff I have collected in my travels years ago in the Navy, I am recalling how much I learned about marketing since those days. For the longest time, I was quite the buyer. Fresh out of bootcamp, I was “accosted” by a photography film and developing service. I think they were out of business before the contract expired.

“you are going to see the world, kid. You need something to take pictures and to develop them. Sign right here…”

It took a while to learn to bargain proficiently – which is how most of the world operates between vendors and customers. I love hunting for bargains today. I am always asking for any discounts, and chatting with anyone and everyone. But many, even today, will not admit they may subscribe to the old saying, “a fool and his money are soon parted”.

Thinking back to my childhood, two of my favorite characters from television or movies who were amazing at marketing (trading goods), was Pat Buttram’s Mr. Haney in the 1960s television comedy, Green Acres, and Don Rickles character, Crapgame, from the movie, Kelly’s Heroes.

Whether knowing the “talk” of a salesman with just about anything you wanted – or didn’t want, and helping me to avoid “being sold” to a guy who could trade up to get what he needed, I know that my experiences in the Navy were invaluable in my later years. If it was a more-comfortable chair for my boss in the Pentagon, I could get one through “appropriation”. Or if some repair work was needed sooner than the bureaucracy allowed, I could barter favors for moving the work order to the top of the “day’s worklist” stack.

But in the early years, particularly when traveling around the world, I was a tenderfoot with a pocketful of cash, so there were life lessons to learn in salesmanship and becoming a prudent shopper. How many of us, Sailor, Soldier, Airman, Marine, or merchantman have walked past a street hawker without looking or at least listening, to the pitch for gold, jewelry, or girlfriend – swag?

“My friend, my friend, I give you good deal!”

There was always a little marketing going on, from trading shipboard things like embroidered military unit patches, engraved Zippo lighters, military ballcaps. Before widely marketed, Levi’s jeans, Nike shoes, and other “Americana” might make good currency. Sometimes, barter involved Marlboro cigarettes, American whiskey, or music CDs. Yes, kids, there was a whole economy going on, before Paypal. Before Amazon. Before the Internet. A long time ago.

I recently found and then misplaced a picture of me and my shipmates sitting in a beachfront cabana somewhere in South America, decked out in Panama hats. Must have been Ecuador. We had encountered a pretty streetwise kid- a New York City kid visiting his uncle there – who was helping Sailors with the local menu and beer prices. I think he made a kickback but we weren’t complaining. Does any American twenty-something really understand the foreign currency conversion to the dollar? After blowing through your money on the first visit, wisdom then seems to show.

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Bulgarian currency circa 1995

And then there are unique buying opportunities. Ecuadorian vendors in Manta presented me with “genuine” Inca figurines. They were clearly cheap copies but the women selling them from a blanket made me feel I had to buy something. At a beach cabana a kid sold me (yes, I bought one) a fishnet hammock.

In Toulon, France, others offered ladies handbags far more reasonable than the Cannes Louis Vuitton storefront (of course cheaper meant a knockoff). I told my shipmate he could have saved $400 and his spouse wouldn’t have known the difference. Yet he bought the real thing. There were replica French (a nicer word than counterfeit) perfumes in Egypt. One sailor was buying these and fancy stopper bottles from other vendors, to resell at home.

Elsewhere there were Turkish carpets, former-Soviet Army medallions and belt buckles, and amber jewelry (in Bulgaria). Leather goods and inlaid gold and metal items in Spain. Jewelry using ancient Greek and Roman coins in Greece. Tailored suits in Sicily. How many visiting sailors bought panini sandwiches from buxom women in waterfront kiosks in Toulon, France? (These women were Italians!). Anyone visiting Toulon at the time knew “smash” sandwiches.

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With the Internet, I imagine these same vendors now have Point-Of-Sale shops, Apple Pay, PayPal and international shipping. Perhaps I too, shall open a little shop. “I give you good deal!”

it is all Turkish to me

Word of the day, in Turkish:  hamur işi    (ha’ -moor i-shi).  Pastry.

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A modern view of Izmir, Turkey

How many times have you thought about places and people you have not seen in twenty-five years?  As we get older,  do you, like me, reminisce about the adventures of your youth.   Or has the worries of life crowded out the faces, names and places?  Perhaps it is due to long-dormant memories that are triggered by seeing one of the random bits I have collected an carried with me over the decades.  Or, in not thinking every single day about work,  a calmer mind has time to reflect.

As Sailors, most of us looked forward to foreign ports of call.  (I say “most of us” as I knew some shipmates who wanted nothing to do with anywhere that was not the the USA.) But  I was interested and excited to get off the ship.   I have always been a people person.   Probably why I was so interested in learning foreign languages.  A conversation might only take using (badly) the six or so words.  Some might even have a couple phrases learned prior to visiting Egypt or Turkey.  With a “hello” or “how do you do”, in Arabic -I purchased a cassette tape introductory lesson before leaving the American base –  it was a good thing that most spoke some English.

I am thinking about that first visit to Hurghada, Egypt, when I had a conversation with a young Egyptian dock worker while I was waiting for my ship to come in.  I had just flown seventeen hours from the U.S. to board the ship that was in mid-deployment.   I still have the papyrus bookmark and a photograph in my random collected “stuff”.   Or talking with the merchant while we drank tea, who hoped one day to get to America so his young daughter might get needed surgery.   Or riding with my buddies in a cab, at night, while the cabbie raced along, no headlights (to preserve the battery, he said) honking and dodging people and animals in the street.  Completely unperturbed (the cabbie, not us).

Once when I traveled to New York City, and hailed a cab, the driver was “middle eastern”?   Then as now, I think about the gentleman  near the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul wanting me to buy some gold jewelry.   “How did you learn to speak English so well?”,  I kidded.

“I was a cab driver, New York.   Two years.” he replied.

“I think I have ridden in your cab!” I said.

For a brief time ashore in Turkey I was a millionaire.  Well,  it was when I exchanged my U.S. currency for Turkish Lira, at a time before the currency was revalued by their government to track with other world currencies.  With all my new “wealth”, what would be my most prized purchase? a book.   A bilingual dictionary.  Twenty-five years ago, with no Google and no Amazon to browse and shop, a book – in a stall in an open-air Izmir market –  a  sözlük (pronounced sooze’ luke) was my Rosetta stone.

With that dictionary, I met Hikmet and his brother during our Izmir port call.  They were  entrepreneurs in international  business of shipping and receiving (they owned and operated a MAILBOX, ETC store).  I was their opportunity to practice “american”.   Over tea, we “conversed” in their broken English and my crash-course (on the fly) in Turkish.

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teacup 

In 2018,  Sailors do not appear to be deploying to the Middle Eastern waters any less than their predecessors.  For thousands of years, armies and navies have been making port calls.  Greeks, Romans, Byzantines,  Ottomans, Western Europeans, Americans, and now Russians,  So I am sure that vendors, street hawkers, and students will know  “my friend”, “how much?” and “I’ll give you a good deal!” in everything from ancient Greek to Chinese.  But what of the millennial generation? I hope they  find an Internet connection for their smartphone translator app.   As for me,  I still have my bilingual dictionary.