This storytime is really two stories, because it’s not possible for me to split them up in my head, telling one without sharing the other. The fun story is the next one… this story is the stress machine that wound me up, so I would have something to unload in the next one.
Cassie has told me that this part was depressing, but I don’t really see how I can help that. It’s life, it’s just where you are sometimes, especially when you are far from home and can’t affect what your family may be going through when they need you… or at least, you think they do.
So this storytime is kinda part 1, the crime, and the next storytime is part 2, the punishment… or as I like to think of it, instant karma biting me on the butt.
Ready for a bearwall?
A long time ago, in a desert not so very far away, I was a brand new noob fresh out of boot camp, and checking into my very first duty station for training after earning the title of United States Marine.
It was a time of both high excitement, and difficult stress.
Sure, you’d expect there to be some anxiety when checking into your very first duty station, but this went a little beyond the norm.
Where did this unusual (for me) stress come from? Well, therin lies the story…
You see, this is the Life of Bear, so things did not go quite as planned for my movement from Parris Island to Twenty-Nine Palms, California.
You’d think it would have been the simplest of things, wouldn’t you?
I went to boot camp in Parris Island, graduated with flying colors and not a small amount of pride, flew down South to spend a few weeks of leave visiting my parents’ home in Boca Raton, Florida, and then had to catch a big fat bird to carry my butt to my next assigned duty station on the other side of the country.
Not so difficult, right? Millions of military personnel move from station to station every single year. Leaves are taken. Travel is arranged. Orders are cut. Ho hum, etc.
During any movement between duty stations, a little stress is involved. A risk is always being run when you travel from duty station to duty station. You MUST check in to your next duty station by the time and date specified on your orders. No exceptions. No excuses. If you fail to arrive at your next duty station by the date and time specified on your orders, you are FUBAR. Umm, I mean UA. Umm.. screw it, you be in da trouble, mon.
For a brand new Marine fresh out of boot camp, you DO NOT WANT TO STEP IN THE CACKY FIRST TIME OUT.
Did that sound like shouting? Oh good, I did manage to get across the importance of not messing up your very first assignment.
As a Marine, you’ve always got a choice. You can do it right the first time with all of your effort, or you can coast and be a screwup. It’s an ever present choice. There are no acceptable excuses in failing to get the job done. Your duty is to get the job done. Maybe shit happened, but you had your duty, and if you failed in your duty, all else is trying to excuse your failure.
Maybe you had powerful motivation to do things that resulted in failing in a duty, because after all, there are always priorities. That’s what judgment is all about. Maybe you failed to make a flight because you were rescuing a busload of nuns from a burning vehicular accident, darting in and out of the wreckage moments before an explosion, and you were treated against your will for smoke inhalation, and failed to make your flight. Whatever.
Even in that situation, there would be an awareness that you were choosing to miss a movement, and an understanding that you would face the consequences. Maybe there wouldn’t be any consequences. Maybe they’d congratulate you and pat you on the back.
Wanna bet on it?
No big deal, just something to keep in mind, to help understand how something as simple as flying across country can become a planned movement with fallback options for the prepared mind.
“But how do you prevent accidents from happening?” I hear you ask.
Well, you hope for the best, but you plan for the worst, and make careful choices as to what is an acceptable amount of risk, and what is a reasonable amount of preparedness.
For example… my orders said I was to depart Beaufort, South Carolina, and that I had to check in by a certain date and time a few weeks hence, in 29 Palms, California.
I made the personal choice to stop along the way to visit my parents in South Florida. I did not have to do that. I chose to do that.
I could have traveled at any time, as early as I wished, to my next duty station, checked in, and waited in temporary barracks until my official check in time came around. Some Marines did, indeed, do that. I coulda spent two weeks sitting in a barracks waiting to check in… and I wouldn’t have risked being late.
Or, I could have chosen to get in a car in South Carolina, and drive across the country, spending two weeks taking in the sights and doing the tourist thing. I could have taken a train. I could have flown to Alaska and hunted a caribou, then driven a team of huskies as far South as they would take me, then hitchhiked the rest of the way to Yucca Valley. My duty was to check in on time. How I accomplished that duty was up to me.
You eventually grow up and learn that you must make contingency plans, you arrange your life and situations in an attempt to anticipate problems and remove any obstacle that would prevent you from accomplishing your duty.
If I were to do it these days, or even a year after this story, I would have arranged my last flight schedule to give me enough extra time so that, if the plane broke down or a flight was delayed at any stage, I would have had at least an extra 24 hours to make other arrangements or layovers. I would have anticipated and planned for delays, and made sure I’d be on time anyway. So what if I lose a day of my personal leave, so long as I’m on time returning?
Sometimes, there really are unforeseen issues of such dramatic scope that you can’t get it done. But it takes something mighty special. You accomplish the mission. It’s just what you do.
So yeah, right out of boot camp I made the personal choice to take a risk, without even understanding that I was taking a risk, to visit my family for a few weeks, and then travel on to California. I had my flights arranged, knew how I was getting from here to there… but I was new enough that it had never occured to me to give myself ‘wiggle room’ if I missed a flight or if the plane broke down, or whatever. I hadn’t thought about it. I’d never traveled enough to understand just how fragile a flight itinerary could be. So my flight out of Florida to California was really, really tight. Last minute kind of stuff.
I enjoyed my time back home. It was fun, I saw my little brother, saw my mom and dad, drove around town looking at things with a new perspective, saw a few of my friends that were going to college at Florida Atlantic University locally, and generally hung out before taking off for a year of training and oorah.
Now, my mom is an insanely cool lady. I believe I have mentioned, in a previous Storytime, the houdini escapade, her status as a firefighter and police dispatcher, her incredible motivation and drive to achieve her goals, and how much I love and respect her.
Well, she knew that I was a huge Blue Öyster Cult fan, so when I came home ffrmo boot camp, she had a special surprise lined up waiting for me.
The very night before I was due to get on that big fat bird bound for California, Blue Öyster Cult was scheduled to play in an oceanside bar in Fort Lauderdale, just 30 minutes drive South of Boca. The kind of place Hemingway would have loved, the local bikers doubtless enjoyed, and where you’d never in a million years expect your moms to go for a show. Yeah, it was a real dive.
She had gotten us two tickets, and the two of us headed down there from Boca Raton to see my favorite band tear the place apart.
Why both of us? Why, so I could drink (underage) if I desired to, and have a safe ride home.
Many drinks were indeed had, much rocking was done, the band closed the place down, and so did we.
My flight on the big fat bird was scheduled for very early the next morning… which, by the time we rolled back home, was now very early the SAME day.
The alarm I had set went off, I dragged myself outta bed on maybe two hours sleep, grabbed my pre-packed stuff, shoved it into mom’s beat up car, bustled my very little brother in there, and away we roared to the Fort Lauderdale airport.
Traffic was a lot heavier than either of us anticipated, so by the time we actually arrived at the airport, the reasonable time I expected to have for check-in and moving to the departure gate had evaporated.
We were running so late, it looked like I was going to miss my flight. It was right about at this moment in time that the consequences of missing my flight began rolling in on me. Heavy traffic… could have been avoided if we left earlier, but I thought it was safe to get some sleep.
I didn’t panic, but I began to get that “omigod” feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Like I said, I didn’t understand quite yet what constituted an appropriate risk. I should’ve been to the airport plenty early, and never have gone to the show the night before. What can I say? I was an exceptional dumbass at 18.
Yes, yes, I know, how little has changed, right? Yeah, yeah, whatever.
Back then, of course, airport security was a lot more relaxed than it is now. Everyone could go with you to the actual airport departure terminal, kiss and hug and wave bye-bye, and your family could stand by the window and watch as your actual plane taxied away from the actual terminal.
So here’s the picture.
I’m running mucho late.
Mom drops me off at the front with my seabag, and heads off to park the car.
I go running in my class ‘A’ uniform up to the check-in counter, check the seabag which constitutes all the luggage I own in the world, and by the time I have my tickets in hand, mom and brother have finished parking and are waiting for me at the tunnel that leads to the departure gates.
The lady at the check-in counter has told me that if I run, I might be able to make the plane before they close. They are boarding already.
No, they did not offer to hold the plane. I did not ask. I would never have imagined asking someone else to hold up other people’s departure because I was a late dumbass. Didn’t even cross my military mind.
Away we go. I”m sprinting for the gate, and mom and little brother are sprinting right alongside me.
We hit the tunnel, and I dart through the metal detector on the way to the departure gate, almost there, mom tosses her purse on the x-ray and darts through the metal detector, my brother at her heels, I’m running, halfway down the aisle, they are literally CALLING MY FLIGHT’S LAST CALL FOR BOARDING on the loudspeaker, but I’m damn well gonna make it.
I suddenly realize I’m running down the corridor on my own.
I stop, turn around to see where mom went to, what the hold up is…
She is standing at the metal detector, a circle of airport security are around her, guns out and pointed, and she’s being handcuffed. Little brother is just watching.
Dead stop. WTF?!?
It really took a minute to process.
My mom is standing there, getting cuffed as I watch. My little brother, what was he, like 8 or so, is standing there watching. The last call for boarding my flight is going out over the loudspeaker over my head right. this. moment.
What the hell do I do? Miss a flight and be UA, or abandon my mom?
What the hell do I do?
Well, that’s an easy choice to make. My own damn fault I was running late, and I’m not about to abandon my mom.
I start running back to mom to find out what the hell is going on and to try and help straighten out whatever the blankety blank is going on. Mom is a freaking police dispatcher, I’m in Class A greens, my brother is a runt, what the blankety do they think we are, terrorists?
Mom knows me very well indeed. She sees me running back, and while she is in the very act of being handcuffed, she processes the same choices I just did, knows what I’m about to do (which is basically yell and wave my arms and try to reason with people that aren’t in any rush at all to straighten things out), and yells at me to keep going, get on the plane, she’d be fine, it was just a stupid misunderstanding. She’ll be totally fine, trust her, just go. Go, go, run, don’t miss your flight! Don’t you dare miss your flight!
Oh, and I love you! Have fun in California!
Yep, that’s my mom.
So, I turned my happy ass back around and ran for the terminal. I made the flight just in time, squeaked through the door, and had the entire flight to wonder what the bloody heck had happened.
Drugs in her purse? Not bloody likely. Unpaid traffic tickets? How the hell would airport security know? A warrant for her arrest? Again, how would they know? A bomb planted by a terrorist before we entered the terminal? Not even the remotest of possibilities, we never paused once in the airport itself.
Maybe she looked like a famous terrorist. I’ve seen the movie “The Final Option”, it could happen. Mistaken identity, looked like someone else…
That was my best bet.
Now, I bet in reading that, there are folks that would have chosen differently. Wouldn’t have left, would have stayed, whatever your mom said. I understand, and maybe you’re right. This is just me sharing what happened, and that includes what I did at the time.
In retrospect, I do still feel that I did the right thing, because there really was nothing else I could have done. At the time, all I really knew was that my mom was the smartest, most reliable and responsible person I knew, and I trusted her judgment. If she told me to go, she had it, get my ass out of there, then I went, because she said she had it… and to stay behind anyway would be to tell her that I didn’t really trust her to take care of herself when she said she had it.
That didn’t stop me from second guessing my decision during the entire flight to California, of course.
This was years before cell phones were widely available. I couldn’t call home until I landed, and even then I had to try and contact her using pay phones, and instead of having a number for a cell phone she’d have, I had to try numbers from my memory of places where she or a member of the family might be.
The only number I had was of the house. So that’s the only place I could call. Nobody was answering while I tried at the terminal… but the answering machine was picking up and recording my messages, so I was losing my quarters with every try. Eventually, I had to grab my bus and head off for Yucca Valley.
For the next three days, as I checked into my new duty station and began in-processing, I tried to reach home. I tried and tried, and couldn’t get ahold of anyone back home for nearly three days. Three days of not knowing what the bloody heck happened.
It’s funny now to think how hard it was back then simply to get ahold of family members, considering everyone and your 5 year old little sister seems to have cell phones these days, or at the very least digital voice mail. At the time, nobody but drug dealers had portable phones, and if you didn’t have a tape driven phone answering machine, you didn’t get messages or a notice of a call. And even if they had an answering machine, you never knew if the tape was already full and if they really got your message or not.
Do you get the feeling I’m putting off the reveal?
Yeah, it took three days to get an answer on what happened. Whether my mom was okay, what she got busted for, if my brother was okay, the whole enchilada.
It turned out… it turned out my mom was arrested because she smuggled a gun into the freaking airport.
No, no, now wait a minute, lemme ‘splain.
See, it’s simple. No, really, it’s very simple. It could’ve happened to anyone.
No, no I don’t really believe that. But I sure as hell can see it happening to my mom.
Quck refresher, my dad was a police officer, my mom had been a firefighter and, at the time, was a active night shift police dispatcher. I was a Marine and gun and knife hobbyist, and we’d had firearms in our house my entire life. Dad has pictures somewhere of baby Bear holding guns like baby toys… and somewhere or other are pictures taken of me at the rifle range drilling half inch groups with a .22 at about the age of 3 from the seated position, proud papa at my side.
Guns are, in the end, just inert objects that do nothing in and of themselves. If they’re not loaded, they are nothing more nor less than lumps of cold steel, plastic, resin and wood. Not even any potential energy. That’s all in the ammo. Well, if you get your thumb wedged in there when the hammer comes down, the firing pin hurts like a bastard on a revolver, but that’s a different story.
I’m sure some folks would think that having a gun around would be like having a small lump of radioactive material, glowing and constantly reminding you of it’s presence. It just isn’t like that. It’s like having a screwdriver or a hammer, but that requires special safe handling practises. Maybe it’s better to say a firearm is like having a battery operated chainsaw.
Basic firearms safety is that the firearm is never loaded. The ammo is all kept under lock and key. If a firearm comes in the house, it’s unloaded. By default. And before you handle a firearm, the first thing you do, always and without exception, is break it open to check to see if it’s loaded. Yes, even if you just cleaned it and set it on the table, went to the kitchen and got a drink, and came back to pick it up and lock it in the gun safe. You pick it up, break it open and check to make sure it’s unloaded. Again. Every time.
Now, in my house, under my dad’s rules… well, he was a lot more relaxed and careless in his firearms safety. I have a lot of “accidental discharge of a firearm” stories I could tell.
An example of a typical day in my dad’s house, when he wanted to take a pistol to the shooting range.
Dad; “Where the hell did I leave the Sig? I thought I had it at the reloading bench. John, did you see the Sig?” “Nope, where’d ya have it last?” “Damnit, I don’t remember. Did I take it fishing? I’ll check the tackle box. Nope, not there. Hmm.” He searches for a while, starting at gun safes, moving to gun boxes used to transport locked firearms from the house to the range, then on to the garage, then to various tables, desk drawers, closet shelves, bedroom dresser drawers, and even a quick trip out to the jeep to check the glove box. Finally he hits couch and chair cushions. “Hey, what the hell is it doing wrapped in a greasy newspaper in the pouch of my easy chair? Oh, right, I was cleaning it on a tray table, and then it was dinner time, so I just wrapped the newspaper around it and tucked it down out of the way. Crap.”
“Okay, now has anyone seen my holster?”
Anyway, you get the idea. I’m not like that, one accidental discharge too many, thank you. The Marines taught me to handle firearms with a little bit more respect… and with a healthy paranoia towards the inherent stupidity of other people around firearms. I expect them to be loaded and in the wrong hands, if those hands are anyone’s but mine. But that’s me, and we’re talking about my mom, having been taught firearm safety and transport rules by my father.
Kind of a “Do as I say, not as I do” thing.
This was the mid 80’s, and my dad had been worried about my mom, because she worked the night shift at the police department as a dispatcher, and he wanted to make sure she was able to defend herself… so he’d given her a little Lady Smith, and forced her to carry it in her purse. She didn’t want the damn pistol in her purse, but he insisted, and they argued about it in a general low key, stubborn as a mule way back and forth for weeks.
He finally insisted she carry the damn gun, and so she promptly stuck it in her cavernous purse, where it settled to the bottom.
There the pistol rested, ignored and unheeded (and uncleaned for months, naturally), until the day she was in a hurry at the airport to see her oldest son off to California, and tossed her purse onto an x-ray conveyor at the Fort Lauderdale Airport.
Airport security was remarkably lacking in a sense of humor about the whole thing.
When my mom waved at me to keep going, she seriously thought at the time that there was no big deal. She screwed up and forgot she had a gun in her bag, but it’s not like she had a record or anything, right? She was ‘in the life’, so to speak, with law enforcement, and had been all her life. Her husband was a police officer, and had been for over 15 years at this point.
She figured yes, it was an embarassing mistake, and she’d never ever hear the end of it, but she’d make a call from the airport security office, dad would come get her, and it would all get worked out. A few hours lost to a major annoyance, but no big deal.
Umm… so, they took her downtown, threw her butt in jail, and called dad down to pick up my brother and bail her butt outta jail.
He got the message at work through dispatch, came down to pick up my brother, and was asked if he’d sign her out of custody.
Reportedly, he said, “Nah, let her sit in there overnight, it’ll teach her a lesson about carelessness.”
So, mom got to spend a night in jail, because she did have a pistol in her purse and they certainly didn’t like that very much.
It turned out not to be so funny after all.
The end result of it, was that first, she was pretty pissed at my dad. Um, yeah… no, really? I can’t imagine why.
Second, she went from being gung ho about service in local law enforcement, to being fascinated in the entire legal system that she was snarled up in. I think she always expected my dad, as the experienced police officer, to be her “knight in shining armor” if something like that ever happened. Instead, her knight had feet of clay, and her attorney rode to the rescue on a white steed.
The work of her attorney in extricating her from the legal tangles got her so involved in learning more about the law, that she finally quit her job and went back to college, to begin studying to become a lawyer herself.
She’s become quite the activist, as well. Just another of the things I admire about her.
At the time, of course, I had no idea where the events would lead. All I knew was, my moms had been arrested by the five oh for carrying a concealed weapon into an airport to get me on my flight.
And while she held me absolutely blameless in what happened, she was pretty pissed at life in general, and I couldn’t help but feel partially responsible.
So, that’s where my head was at my first week in sunny Twenty-Nine Palms, California. That was quite fun, in addition to learning the ropes and procedures for life on an active duty base that was NOT a boot camp, which is an eye opening process all by itself, let me tell ya.
I wish I could say that the experience taught me a great deal, but I’m not that deep. All I really learned was, make sure you try and anticipate trouble and plan accordingly, something I should have already known, and don’t carry a gun in your purse, something that I didn’t figure I’d have any problem remembering.
I guess I did learn one other thing, at that.
When you hear a story about somebody doing something just incredibly stupid, it’s easy to ask yourself how anyone could ever possibly do something like that… until you run into something like this, and realize that sometimes, through a perfect storm combination of chaos, carelessness, pressure and thoughtlessness, you yourself forget one key thing that normally you’d keep at the forefront of your thoughts… and you become the story other folks chuckle over at the water cooler.
The lesson there? Don’t panic, don’t rush, and give yourself time to make sure you’ve got everything covered.
Oh, and don’t carry a gun in your damn purse at the airport. Stick it in your glove box instead!