My Personality on the Page
24 June 2014
“Roll out, man,” the voice says. “An aircraft is scheduled to land in an hour.”
Mechanically, I throw back the covers and rub my eyes.
“You awake?” The voice asks.
“Then tell me you are awake.”
“I’m awake. What time is it?” I ask.
“It’s 0212 hours. You’re the scheduled debriefer. There’s nobody to cover for you. Get your butt down to the flight line ASAP.”
“Okay.” I watch the Charge of Quarters retreat from my room and then I hear his footsteps in the hall. I yank on my trousers and button my shirt. That has to be the TDY bird returning from Alaska, I mumble to myself. Then I remember the new milkshake machine at the Liner Diner. At this hour a fresh cup of coffee is nice, but a milkshake will truly hit the spot. If I wasn’t on Alert Standby, I’d drive home and wake Barb. We’d have one together.
At this hour Hanger Road is vacant. After parking my VW at the door, I rush inside and glance at the clock. I still have forty minutes.
Then, much to my displeasure, the milkshake machine is empty. The lid is setting on a table. Disgruntled, I draw a cup of black coffee from the huge urn and test it. It’s like battery acid. It burns all the way down.
“Hey! You in the kitchen,” I shout over the rattle of pots and pans.
The noise stops and a civilian pushes open the door. “Si?”
“What’s with this coffee? It tastes like engine degreaser,” I complain.
“Si. It is five cents-a-cup, Sergeant,” he answers, then lets the door swing shut.
Satisfaction is hopeless. I let the matter drop and leave my nickel at the register. With an ear tuned toward the runway, I choose a place in the corner where I can see the clock. I still have thirty minutes to kill. Directly, a young man built like a refrigerator emerges from the kitchen. In one hand he carries a plastic bucket of steaming water. In the other, he grips a yellow sponge the size of a brick. He begins washing the table closest to the kitchen door.
Apparently, no one has told him to dump the ash trays in the rubbish. By the time he reaches the milkshake machine a dozen cigarettes butts are swimming in a bucket of ashen slime. I’m horrified when the sponge, that, by now, truly resembles a sooty brick, is inside my beloved machine.
I leave my cup of degreaser and wait in the car until I hear the aircraft on final approach. After watching it land, I go to the debriefing room to await the flight crew.
The aircraft, a refueling tanker, has been flying from an Alaskan air base, supporting bombers on airborne alert. Many things need attention. Sunrise is not far off by the time I’ve copied the navigator’s notes, quizzed him for details, and then delivered them to the Comm/Nav shop were I work.
The base health office will soon be in his office at the hospital. I wait for him.
I know I’m not getting the Major’s full attention, as I watch his sad eyes repeatedly switch from me to the mountain of paperwork occupying his desk. When I’m finished I expect him to slide an official complaint form across the desk.
“Thank you very much for bring this to my attention,Sergeant,” he says.
“Aren’t you going to do something?”
“Od course. I’m going to buy all my milkshakes from the Officer’s Club rather than the Liner Diner.”