Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

18 April 2018

Cab Driver Stories: Good Hands

There are approximately 4,000 students in the NATTC (Naval Air Technical Training Command) here on NAS Pensacola. Virtually all of them want to be off the base on the weekend. Very few of them have cars. Some make the long walk off base to catch an Uber. But the vast majority of them rely on taxis, of which there is a veritable fleet of independents like myself who cater to the military and eschew the civilian market.

When liberty is called and they're allowed to leave base, they're not supposed to go out alone. They check-out with “libo-buddies” and they stick together until they check back in. So they come to the taxi queue in groups of between two and six, which is the maximum that most van-cabs can seat.

As I've said, we call them “the kids” because they seem so very, very young. And they are – most of them are basically just beyond high school age, and that's how a lot of them act: like rambunctious teenagers; they can be rowdy. This is not a bad thing, at least not for me. Their enthusiasm and lust-for-life is as infectious as it is entertaining. The stern-parent side of me might want to say, “You kids settle down or I'm gonna turn this cab around!” The still-a-teenager side of me says, “Party on, guys!” As long as they're well-behaved when we pass through the main gate, I don't care what they do in the cab. (Oh, and the military girls can be just as rowdy, if not more so than military boys.)

Since they always travel in pairs or groups, I get to witness some peculiar group dynamics.  After seven years of carting these fine young examples of American youth around, I've made some observations: some surprising, some not. 

Primarily they are, to a man, extremely proud of joining the military and serving their country.  They all have an admirable sense of duty and purpose and patriotism. They love this country. In addition, they are all incredibly close; their comradeship and dedication to each other is inspiring. They have a level of platonic intimacy that is quite startling when you first observe it. It's odd to hear straight guys profess love for each other, which we hear often (and not always when they're drunk). Each of these guys would absolutely lay down his or her life for the other, which is a profound thing.

The Marines are funny though. As close as they are, the Marines are all so incredibly competitive. They're always “one-upping” each other. If one guy says that the pickup truck he had in high school had 500 horsepower, the next guy will say his had 600 horsepower. By the time we get to the mall I'll be convinced that they all drove "monster" trucks to school, won every drag race, and out-ran the police every weekend.

The most bizarre example of this need to top each other was when I heard a Marine say that he got pinkeye in boot camp (apparently a non-uncommon malady). Another Marine quickly added, “Well I got pinkeye in both eyes!”

It's hard not to laugh sometimes.

Sometimes they talk to me, but just as often they're off in their own little worlds. I try not to eavesdrop, but really you can't avoid it. I had a car full of Marines coming back from the beach one day.  The conversation among them was loud and I really wasn't involved when I overheard, “Oh, you'd jump on a nuclear grenade for me, but you won't take a shower with me?” (I'm not sure of the context, because I only caught that snippet of that conversation. But I am certain it wasn't said in a sexual way.) The other Marines all laughed – not about taking a shower together (I guess that happens sometimes?), but because of the description: not just any grenade, “a nuclear grenade.”

Sometimes I just shake my head.

All cabdrivers have “regulars” – customers who ride with them more or less exclusively. We make sure they get rides when they need them, especially on a late weekend night when the cabs are all booked and they need to be back by curfew.  And we give our regulars good discounts. We get to know these kids...know where they're from and a little about their lives. Older drivers, like my friend Terry and myself...we unavoidably get to feeling somewhat paternal about them.

There is a group of Navy kids I carry around a lot. Age-wise, they are all over twenty-one (some only by a month or two), and they like to drink. Oh boy, do they like to drink! They are extremely close friends – you can just tell. Each one is a strong personality in his own right. They are all prototypical alpha males, let's face it. But there is one who is their ringleader: the one they call “Scott.”

Scott always sits up front. He is loud, boisterous, obnoxious (in a funny, good way), and he's usually drunk. He instantly takes command of the taxi – mostly the conversation but especially the music, which he likes LOUD. He's not a big, tough, macho kind of guy, although like all of them he can be. But he is the life of their party. This charismatic man-boy just dominates.  Oddly, the others defer to him in a not-so-subtle way. Scott is the alpha-alpha male, and they know it.  He is just a natural leader. He's the kind of guy (we all know the type) who walks into a room and owns the place.

My friend Terry and I feel honored to transport these “kids” around. We tell them that they made a wise and smart decision to join the military...that they are embarking on the greatest adventure of their lives, and that no one knows what's in store for them once they leave Pensacola, only that it will be awesome and they better enjoy it!

When their time here is done and we finally, and sadly, drop them off at the airport on their way to their next duty station, neither Terry nor I know where these guys and gals will ultimately end up. Some surely will be deployed to some of the “hot spots” in which we are currently embroiled. We always wish them well, we thank them for their service, and we earnestly hope that they'll never have to see the kind of situations for which they are all trained and ready. It's comforting to know that our country is defended by such fine young men and women.  Don't worry: We're in good hands.

If we only had such faith in our civilian leadership.

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