As always, grasshopper, patience.

Blizzcon is over, and a lot of information about changes has been released.

Duh, I know!

One of the most common statements I’ve heard, is “Wow, I’ve been wishing for a lot of this to happen for some time. I can’t wait! This is gonna be awesome!”

This post constitutes my traditional “Take a deep breath and relax” reality check.

The only things we should really be excited over and freaking about RIGHT NOW are the things they’ve told us about Patch 3.3 coming soon, the Icecrown Citadel content patch.

Why?

Because I’d like to see how many folks can hold their breath until Cataclysm is released. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Yes, the announcements are exciting. Or daunting.

But please remember that you need to have patience. Do not let these announcements discourage you to the actual game you are holding in your hands right now.

“But why should I level an alt now, when they are going to revamp all of Azeroth with totally new wicked races and quests?”

Because it’s fun to play NOW, and not in a year and a half. What are you going to do, cancel your account because all seems drab and boring in light of the bright new dawn we have glimpsed at Blizzcon? Some will. I speak from experience, I remember the reactions to the last big info release before Wrath came out only too well.

“Why should I do Achievements NOW, when there will be more coming soon?”

Maybe because your Explorer Achievement will be unavailable in it’s current form when all of Azeroth is destroyed. Maybe. Who knows? But seriously, you should do Achievement because you like to do them are are a completist, or like the rewards offered.

“Why should I raid and seek out gear now, or strive for upgrades, when we have no idea how current items will change when all these stats are removed outright?”

Because, again… you’ve got a game now. You should be playing it, the way it is now, because it’s fun to play. It’s not a job, and you aren’t supposed to be logging in feeling like it’s time to punch your time card for another three or four hours, and hoping to improve you character that little bit. So what if your current gear may be changed in the future, have fun NOW with what you know.

For those of you out there that play because it actually IS a job you get paid for, such as some WoW bloggers that are paid to write about their experiences… well, don’t know what to tell you. Except, I hope you still enjoy the dream gig. 🙂

Look, Cataclysm sounds great to me. I like a lot of what they discussed. I don’t want to be the one that’s a sourpuss, or the wet blanket.

But if I took anything away from watching the live panels from the Internet Feed, it’s this.

They know some of what they plan to do, but they have NOT progressed much farther than a design doc with first principles and general intentions when it comes to the gameplay changes and theorycrafting.

They intend to remove some stats and enhance the functionality of others, to simplify itemization a little, return the focus on core stats.

What they have not done is implemented it or gotten into the nuts and bolts of it.

They are at the brainstorming stage, discussing things around a table, working out what they’d like to do, and what effect they think it would have. Seeing the experssions on their faces to some of the questions asked after the Class Q&A was pretty illuminating. For a lot of the questions, it wasn’t ‘What can we share”, it was “Well gee, we hadn’t discussed that yet.”

So relax, worry not.

The dungeon and raid design, the world redesign, the quests, the races, the art… yes, I believe that those things are pretty far along.

But in terms of core gameplay, they are still at the “That’s something we can discuss in the future” stage.

This is not to discourage you.

This is to remind you of the cold, hard truth, that the next expansion might not be out until July of next year. Or even later.

Think about how much playing time there is in 11 months. Think about how far you reached, how high you climbed from the time you first picked up the game, to when 11 months had passed.

I know people that are raiding Ulduar, extremely well I might add, that had not even picked up the game yet 11 months ago.

Things are subject to change. Always. The further away something is, the better the chance that you might not even still be playing WoW when it finally comes out. Thinking about and dwelling on the proposed changes now, setting your vision on what could be and getting your hopes up will just cause disappointment when you log in and see the game we still have. And that’s silly.

What will come, will come. It should be enough to know that, rather than creating another new continent to push us farther from the world in which we began, they are instead bring the old world back to life, and completing the circle.

Think about the fun of new races, think of the fun that you will someday have…

But please, remember that there will be a new raid very soon, as we face off against Arthas himself. Rejoice in the knowledge that the Dungeons and Raids panel promised us that the final defeat of Arthas would feel…. EPIC. (And possibly contain some sweet cinematics).

Think about new 5 person instances in 3.3, with new fun to be had. Won’t that be cool? Just as we get tired of Emblems and Trials, we’ll be moving on into new territory to master.

The big picture is great, I’m very glad Blizzard chose to share it with us. As always, however, they share this massive amount of dreaming and imagination…

and we must remind ourselves, that when we sleep this evening and wake up, Cataclysm will not be lying under the tree in the morning.

Please. Don’t lose interest in your toys now, just because you know Christmas is coming someday.

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Impressions from the Blizzcon Class Panel

These are my impressions from watching the Blizzcon Class Panel, things that caught my eye. I guarantee WoW.com covered things in greater detail, so go there or to MMO Champion for line by line details.

First, they talked Warlocks and Hunters. They did not go into detail on any other classes. I’m not covering them much, so off to MMO Champion you go!

Yes, we Feral Druids got boned with a lack of info.

So, no specific Feral Druid news, really.

First, the stat changes that are coming.

They are simplifying the way stats work, to make gear easier to understand.

  • Armor Penetration is GONE.
  • Defense is GONE.
  • Attack Power as a stat is GONE.

They broke it down that for some classes (like Rogue, Hunter, Druid, Enhancement Shaman) you would get 2 Attack Power per point of Agility. No more just Attack Power.

They did NOT say whether the stat change applied differently to Bear and Cat. They DID say they wanted Tanks to not fight with DPS over gear, so DPS was going with Agility. Since Bears use DPS Rogue/cat leather gear, maybe Bears truly are going to 100% Agility, and Strength is going away for Druids. Nobody asked during the Q&A (yes that would have been my question, “Will Bears be using BOTH Agi AND Strength like now, or only Agi in the revamp?), but the question didn’t arise, and they did not say anything about that situation.

They’re adding Stamina to a ton of gear, so everyone will be less squishy. Just FYI.

  • Spell Power as a stat is GONE.
  • MP 5 is GONE.

They’re making Spirit be the mana regen stat for everyone, and Intellect be the Spellpower for everyone.

There will be a new stat or ability or function, called Mastery, that seems to be a way for you to follow a path you choose, that let’s you be better at what you choose to do. One example they used was to become a better Beasty Hunter you could follow a path of Mastery to buff your pet damage.

Oh yeah… and Hunters? Mana is GONE, you get Focus instead. It’s like a Hunter’s Energy, max 100, regen 6 energy per tick, and cost 30 or so Energy per shot, and Steady Shot will increase your Focus regen rate from 6 per tick to 12.

Oh, and if Defense is gone, what do Tanks do?

Why, all tanks will get a Survival of the Fittest style ability that eliminates crits. And Block goes to a percentage of mitigation, and Shield Block is GONE.

Plate wearers may now rejoice.

Haste will be changed to increase the rate of energy regen, rage regen, and focus for classes that use those stats, that have no real use for Haste now. More utility from haste to all classes, not just instant cast GCD spell casters.

They mentioned that Ret Pallies would have to spec into a talent to make full use of Haste.

Moving on, they are adding Archaeology as a Secondary Class, like Cooking. You’ll be able to seek out and find neat artifacts throughout the world, and finding them can give you Vanity Pets, Instant Travel to an instance, perhaps (from finding a hidden entrance only you know), Unique recipes for other professions, and also special Titles, and even more, like items and gear. Those are the exmaples they gave specifically, there may be more.

Cassie and I were really excited at their description for Archaeoloy, it sounds a LOT more fun than Achievements to us, don’t ask why.

Also, Reforging is being added, that will let classes with crafting professions modify gear to shift Stat points around a little.

The way they described it, it sounds like you’ll be able to have one stat on gear halved and the points used to add a stat that does not exist on that item, not increase an existing stat on the gear.

So, you could as an example, if you were under the hit cap with your current gear, reduce Stam on some items by half and ADD hit rating on those items that did not have it… and they said you could do this as often as you want, so it’s not a permanent change to the item. So if you then get uber drop with hit, you could change the other items back to compensate.

I’m sure that you can immediately see the implications. When trying to gear up for content, you can gimp other things to reach important stat caps, like Hit or Expertise, or to hit a preferred level of an ability, like Crit, and then when you get a drop that gives you that stat your existing gear can be changed back to be worth more to you than it was. Very smart. Very smart.

Blacksmiths can Reforge their own OR OTHERS plate and weapons, Engineers can Reforge trinkets and Ranged Weapons, Tailors cloth, JC and LW undefined, but you can probably guess.

Multi-Gain was mentioned for crafting leveling… that if you are leveling crafting profession and you’ve got mats to make 5 cheap items, or one blue item that would be worth having but was really expensive to make… they would make the blue item worth maybe 5 profession points on crafted skillup. So a multi-gain of class leveling points, to make it more useful to actually MAKE those low level blues.

There was a lot more, of course. They talked a lot about Hunters and Warlocks, and there were a lot of good questions.

My thoughts in general are, it sounds like they are still in the theorycrafting “what if we did this…” stage in planning. Strong on ideas, weak on specific plans for execution. So don’t panic.

It felt more like they know what direction they intend to go. They intend to simplify the stat system so it’s easier to understand when an item is a direct upgrade or not, and they intend to modify things in talent trees so that it’s easier to plan a spec based on things that sounds fun, rather than things that are marginally useful and no-brainer necessary.

Things like removing talents that improve existing buff spells like Improved Mark of the Wild.

It sounds like they want a spec choice to be based on cool factor, and they will encourage this by taking out basic buffs to existing abilities and just factoring that in.

There was a cheer when they revealed Armor Pen was gone, btw.

The stat changes, as I said, sound like they are driving towards simplifying gear choices, making upgrades more transparent, and keeping things about playing your class.

They did specifically answer one young mans’ Feral Druid question, saying that Ghostcrawler LIKES the way Feral Cat DPS rotations works right now, very much, they do NOT want to mess around with it and possibly piss players off, and that rather than change it, they are planning on UI refinements to make it easier to track Combo Points and Energy without addons.

Personally, adding this in with the changes to old world instances, revitalizing the old world, adding new questlines, bringing old isntances to heroic 80 level, and the gear clarity to easily identify upgrades….

I think this just means Blizzard reads my blog for ideas on how to improve the game. 🙂

What? I can dream, can’t I?

Seriously though, very stoked.

Talking about Blizzcon Dungeon Announcements

This is more the province of Tish Tosh Tesh, but I thought it’d be fun to talk about the evolution of dungeon design in WoW… also known as, be careful what you wish for.

Blizzcon is this weekend, heck it’s going on now, (oh yeah, and MMO Champion was apparently correct in every particular except no confirmation on Troll Druids… Gnome Priests ARE confirmed), and on Saturday one of the panels to look forward to is Dungeon and Raids.

BEAREDIT IN DA MIDDLE! It looks like the Alliance version of the Troll Druid is… the Worgen Druid! And if so, yes, I’ll play one. Two Alliance Druids? Oh, why the hell not.

Before we see what Blizzard has to say while looking ahead, let’s take a look at the dungeons of the past, and what we liked about them, hated, and how they’ve changed over time, shall we?

I could do a traditional Bearwall, and go over every dungeon one at a time, but I’d actually like to hear YOU talk about the various dungeons, what you liked about them, what you hated. Especially with a focus on the originals.

Why?

Because one of the most recent Blizzcon announcements (besides flight confirmed in Azeroth) was a total revamp of the old world, and the old dungeons all refreshed…. with the addition of Heroic modes.

That’s right, Heroic modes.

Heroic Shadowfang Keep was mentioned. Yes, yes it was, damnit!

So, I’d like to get the conversation started. We’ve had a lot of discussion recently in WoW about the gradual changes in instance design, moving from instances heavy with patrols and mobs requiring the use of crowd control, innovative tactics and full on teamwork, and moving towards what some feel is a simple CC free tank and spank in your face borefest.

Will this change all that? If so, for the better or worse?

Will a Heroic BRD become the new psuedo-raid? Good lord, BRD when done purely at level is freaking nuts.

In fact, I challenge anyone to go in as a two person group, even at 80, and blow through all of BRD in less than an hour and a half. Since I know of folks that can clear Kara in that, that’s saying something.

The old style dungeons had an interesting mix of architecture and style, and while I know some folks try as hard as they can to do things at the appropriate level… when it’s an instance tuned for Heroic level 80 challenges, how will we fare?

I’m sorry, I know we’ve all done these a million times, and yes I know people will be tired of seeing them no matter what they’re level. I won’t argue that point. I think it’s a valid point to talk about.

Are there some instances that will feel vibrant and fun, challenging and brutal at 80? Will a Deadmines run bring us back to see Van Cleef and his minions once again… or will Cataclysm bring not only a power boost to the old instances, but also a change to where they fit in the lore?

Just two points to start the completely idle speculation…

Deadmines. Will the presence of Stormwind Docks change Deadmines, so that the end actually consists of fighting aboard a launched mega-cannon ship, fighting to stop it before it reaches the Stormwind Harbor and shells the ships lying in wait?

Gnomeregan. When they revamp it, will we be fighting a massive battle in a phased Gnomeregan, where we will finally fight the war to reclaim and save Gnomeregan, giving Gnomes a true capitol city once again?

On the flip side, will Trolls gain a capitol of their own?

Will Shadowfang Keep, with the addition of Worgen as a playable race, become something totally different?

Blizzcon is a go, Boubouille is vindicated and then some, and the WoW world will never be the same.

Go! Talk! Be free!

BEAREDIT!!!! So, yeah, totally made it sound like all old world Azeroth instances were getting the level 85 Heroic makeover. I think that was premature. Maybe you know more than I, but as of right now, all I know FOR SURE is that Deadmines and Shadowfang keep are getting 85 heroic versions. NOT BRD.

Maybe others will, maybe not. I’m sorry for the confusion.

It's not flat, but it's got a slow leak

Good morning, happy campers!

I am putting aside my animosity towards the “Additional instances cannot be launched, please try again later” issue for a moment, not because it’s fixed on my server, or because trying again later ever actually works, but because I was shocked to actually be allowed to run a single Stockades on an alt after only 5 minutes of humping the gateway yesterday.

I was pretty doggone ticked off at trying to do a Mechanar, Botanica and Karazhan over the weekend with friends, and having it be an blue fail. We eventually did get into Botanica, but even with 5 people spending, what, 30 minutes trying to get into Karazhan, we still couldn’t get in. That’s crap.

But what the hell, I got into Stockades, got 5 quests done in one shot, and can now alt-move on to other things.

I do intensely miss being able to just ‘pop into’ an instance and have fun whenever I wanted. I never took it for granted before, because I don’t think there’s anything there TO take for granted. It’s supposed to always be available, because you get a group together, and then you go do something as a team. The challenge is supposed to be in playing your character well in a group, not in seeing if the group can get into an instance before personality pressures tear it apart.

In some respects, I understand the idea that you can go and do other things… but it’s been going on in my server for over a month. At what point will someone comprehend that there is a limit on other things to do besides what could be argued to be the core of the game?

I don’t know why other people work to upgrade their PvE gear through training crafting, gathering, questing, grinding rep, and such odd stuff, but for me it’s so I can then take that gear and my own happy self into an instance or raid and play with others, and hold my own as part of the team.

If you take away the instances, the playing as a group aspect, well, I just don’t see the point. There’s only so powerful I need to be to kill Murlocs, after all.

And if the point is that at least you can get into level 80 raids and heroics (most of the time), and the rest of the stuff isn’t of any importance, well… I guess message received.

Anyway, they seem to be upgrading or repairing their issues on a server by server basis, at their own pace, and I guess I just have to wait and hope that someday it will be Kael’thas’ turn.

In the meantime, I do feel a little deflated about playing at the top end. Just a little.

The reason goes back to Patch 3.2, Conquest Emblems, Triumph Emblems, and Trial of the Champion. It also goes back to my point on “just how powerful do I need to be to kill Murlocs”.

Everyone plays at a different level of content. And due to various playstyles, sure, different folks will advance at different rates of speed.

I really do appreciate the effort Blizzard has put into making more powerful gear easily available to smaller groups of players and to new alts at this stage of the expansion, helping get people past the “Run Naxx ten times just to catch up to your new raiding guild in Ulduar” situation.

No, I can’t imagine a better way for them to go about it right now. I’m too tired, and I feel very, very ill today. I’m hoping I can push past it. Too much work to do.

What the consequences of the changes have meant for me, personally, is that I have been made aware that a lot of my currently equipped gear, both as a Bear Tank and as a Tree Healer, gear that was more than adequate to smoothly complete every single bit of content we were doing, up to and including full clears of Naxx, is really sub-par.

There are other Bear Tanks in our guild, folks like Faydre, that started their Druid 6 months or more after Wrath was released, that are now far better geared than my Druid is, in both sets, because he’s been able to run Trials and Heroics more often than I have, and has gotten more drops and Emblems.

I’ve never been one to care about who’s got better gear than whom, but it is startling to realize that after playing and raiding and running with my Druid since November in Wrath, and getting drops from both 10 and 25 man raids, that after the release of just one patch, my gear is just so much scrap metal. If we were in a raiding guild, why would they want me to ever tank, when someone else has leaped ahead in survivability so far?

At least, that’s how it seems to have taken the server trade chat.

The point to remember, though, is my gear ain’t scrap metal. The existing content did not get buffed to compensate for the gear upgrades that are available. It’s still the same content. The gear available from running heroics has just been significantly boosted to Ulduar levels.

All that has really happened, is that the new gear that you can get makes the stuff you could already do become that much easier, and if you get enough of it, it positions you to be able to ease into the starter Ulduar raiding lane on the progression highway.

If you’re not getting any of the new gear, you’re still able to do your job at the same progression level exactly the same as before.

This seems to be a point that is escaping a lot of people, at least on my server.

I’ve seen an explosion in pickiness. People looking for more people to join a simple 10 person Naxx pug… that must be in Conquest gear or Trials loot.

What?

Seriously, you’re begging for people to join you, but they’ve got to be in the best casual gear out there to even qualify?

I’ve been running Trials on Heroic a lot, simply because I know that a bunch of folks are eager to get nice neat new drops. I’ve enjoyed seeing and playing through the challenges in various ways and with different tactics, and I think it’s a lot of fun.

Heck, I even got that nice leather tanking/DPS hat the other day, and was delighted. I’d been wearing the same blue quality PvP hat since last November.

No, I’d never gotten the last Wintergraps Marks of Honor I needed to buy the Titan-Forged Helm.

Those Marks I saved won’t go to waste, however. Have you seen those gorgeous new Titan-Forged pants for tanky Druids? /drool! My new goal, ’cause I’m getting in a PvP mood again anyway.

But why did I still have the blue hat? Why didn’t I press on and get the Titan-Forged months ago? It was soooo easy to do! No skill needed, just time in Wintergrasp!

Because I was already tanking just fine, that’s why, even before Patch 3.2 came along.

I understand, for DPS players, the struggle to increase your damage output is an ongoing process.

For healers, being able to heal that much faster, or with that much more Mana to last longer, or with bigger heals to make each heal do a bigger job with less casting, it’s all huge.

But for a tank, there is simply one question. “How squishy am I to heal?”

Sure, the better your gear, the longer you can last without heals… but after a certain point, there is only so much threat you need to generate, and when all the healers you enjoy playing with bitch, piss and moan because it’s too easy to keep you alive, and end up using Hurricane on every pull to have something to do… well, maybe after a while, you can figure you’re geared well enough for what you’re doing. There’s no real need to claw your way any further.

Now here we are, with this big batch of gear available through Emblems of Conquest, Emblems of Valor, and Emblems of Triumph by doing Heroic dailies.

And some folks seem to have decided that, if you ain’t in the very best possible, you’re just not good enough. 

My gear will improve dramatically just by playing with friends doing the same old content, but I just don’t need it. We’re doing fine as it is.

Good lord, we did Loken in Halls of Lightning on Heroic the other day, and in each case, there were two ways to do it; the way the mechanics are designed to deal with, and just walk up, aggro and burn down while standing still at top speed.

We just stood there on everything, and burned it down with no issues. Ate the first bosses’ electrical charge, ate the exploding mud men, ate Loken’s explosion… didn’t matter.

How much more powerful do we have to be? I only have like two or three upgrades from 3.2 myself. Do I really need to be that uber?

I’m thinking what we’re supposed to do is finally shut up about being bored with running Naxx, gear up from Heroics and Trials and get our butts into Ulduar.

Okay, that doesn’t sound too bad, really. Get everyone caught up…

IF (and it’s a mighty big if) running progression raids is the only point of playing.

Me, I’d kind of like to see all the lower level instances and raids opened back up, you know what I mean? I’d really rather not get to the point that Trials, level 80 Heroics and Ulduar are the only instances that we can get into at all.

Oh, and besides raiding, what is the point of collecting up all the shiny new gear?

Heck, soloing more difficult content, of course!

Kinda hard to do that when you can’t get into Kara, though. Grrr….

Storytime: …. and Punishment

This storytime is dedicated to anyone that was ever in a new and unfamiliar situation, was stressed out and without friends, surrounded by people you didn’t know but who you wanted to fit in with, and who ended up doing something incredibly stupid just to try and impress them. /salute!

And it’s also dedicated to Lady Jess, who wears the brand of the devil itself on her arm.

So, picking up where the last Storytime left off. I was a fresh new Private at my first official duty station for training in my military occupational specialty. Read: I was there to learn how to do my job.

The way it worked in my case, I had enlisted with a guaranteed opportunity to attend training for my pre-selected MOS, in this case aviation electronics. I had the opportunity handed to me. If I failed the training, of course, then all bets were off. I’d be fresh game for wherever the military wanted to place me. Can you say official full time potato peeler, 1 each?

Courses started at the beginning of each week, once there were enough students to form a class. If you happened to arrive and check into base on Tuesday when a class had just begun, you might have a solid week or two before enough boots showed up to get a new class started. During that time, you would be on generic work detail, waiting for someone to come by that needed bodies to pick up litter in the desert or build tank traps out of I -beams and welding torches.

You spend a couple weeks sitting around with other guys, every one of them waiting for one of various different classes to start, and you start telling stories just to pass the time.

You never knew who you were hanging out with in the work detail that you’d be in class with, either. The processes by which a class was filled and assigned was more arcane and mysterious than Blizzard’s threat balancing mechanics, and a lot of the guys there were NOT confirmed for a particular school in advance like me. Most of them went into boot camp blind, were tossed to this base, and were waiting to find out what job they would have assigned FOR them.

So, there you are. Sitting on a sandbag with these strangers, all waiting for various schools to start. At the ripe old age of 18, it’s amazing how few stories there were to tell. But we told them anyway, and for all I know, all of them were bullshit.

I don’t know if anyone ever wrote a paper on it, but stories like that tend to go in cycles. You’re sitting there in a group of guys, and somebody is looking for a story to pass the time. Somebody starts with a hunting story, so everyone else shares a hunting story around the room. Then the fishing stories go around, and the camping stories, and the working on a car stories, and, inevitably, the drinking stories.

There might be some kind of one-upmanship involved in those kind of things, but for the most part they’ve always seemed to be more like “That was a good one. Now, if you think that was crazy/funny/stupid, then listen to this…”

So, as I said. Inevitably, the drinking stories.

The name of the game in telling these stories is, mostly, to entertain the rest of the folks, yes indeed. But it’s mainpurpose when among strangers who are all Marines is to establish boundaries. You are all young, yes, and none of you know each other, you’re from all over the country, and quite a few of the folks are from Puerto Rico and the American Samoan Islands. No real shared cultural or regional background.

It doesn’t matter. There are no white Marines, brown Marines, yellow Marines, red Marines, whatever. There are only green Marines. You might not have any shared culture before you joined up, but now you are all united by gutting through boot camp. 

I’m going to ignore the “which boot camp did you go to/which company IN boot camp did you go to” pissing contest. Yes, some people will make a contest out of anything.

Anyway, in shooting the shit in this situation, you want to find out what kind of guys you’re hanging with, and above all else make sure everyone else in the group knows that you’re tough, experienced and worldly. All 18 bold years of you.

Yeah, right. Sigh.

You’d think I had a lot of stories I could tell. And yes, some of them were appropriate. I had fishing stories, and camping stories, and hunting stories, and all sorts of stuff like that. I even had weapon misadventure stories, and my ‘blowgun versus the mouse’ was a hit.

I also had the role playing group stories, fun campaigns I’d run, and while that pushed some Marines away from the ‘geek’, it attracted others just like me to open up, and reveal just how many RPG freaks there were in the Marines. God bless us every one.

The few, the proud, the gamers.

A digression, if only for a moment. You might be surprised, but then again considering my audience you might not, to learn that there are a LOT of folks that play pen and paper role playing games in the Marines. I sure as hell never had any difficulty in finding a group, and the players were always kick ass. Just brilliant. Sometimes they seemed damn odd, but after getting out of the service, I realize that it’s all relative. They were damn odd for Marines, that’s all.

There’s also something to be said for having a hobby where you don’t technically need to take books or anything with you. You can go into the field with some laminated photocopies of character sheets, a few padded sacks of varied dice (or slips of paper with numbers written on them to pull out of a hat), and some grease pencils, and when it’s night and you’re huddled in your tent, get a game on. Side by side with the guys playing Spades or Hearts or Cribbage.

My core group in Twenty-Nine Palms ended up bumping into each other often over the next eight years, and we discussed having black satin flight jackets made, with all the traditional Marine Corps patches… but with an RPG twist. When we played RPGs on deployment, we could add location nametapes to the shoulders of our jackets for which foreign countries we had played RPGs in, and when we’d bump into each other in the years after, we could size up what international gaming we’d gotten in.

As with so many other ideas, that one never went anywhere, but it was fun to think about.

Getting back to the point, I’ve got a fair number of decent stories, yes I do.

But when the time comes for the drinking stories to go around, I’ve got nothing.

I, my friends, have never been much of a drinker. It’s fun on occasion, certainly, in small enough quantities to get a light buzz on, but I have never, ever been one to get hammered just for the sake of getting good and plowed. In high school, me and my other role playing friends would occasionally get together a bunch of wine coolers (Bartles and James) and some beer, and hit the pool in the summer. That’s about it.

Yes, I was a boring child. No drugs, no hard booze.

But when the drinking stories start going around in this crowd, it quickly became clear that the majority of Marines in the group have consumed mass quantities, gotten nuts, and been wasted. In hindsight, perhaps they were all lying their butts off. To me, it seemed that everyone else was far more badass than I, that somehow I was grossly lacking in the ‘manly drinker’ category.

And the stories do, in fact, have a recurring theme; how amazingly drunk someone got, how powerful the beverage consumed, and how manly the person was in holding their liquor… and how bad the hangover was the next day. 

In this crowd, I learned that wine coolers just didn’t cut it. It’s not ‘manly’. Apparently, you’re not supposed to drink something just because you like the taste and wanted to feel a little mellow. Apparently, you were supposed to drink something for the express purpose of being obliterated in the shortest possible time.

Whatever.

As I said, I’ve never been much of a drinker, but what the hell, I’ve known drinkers in high school, and I know what their tipple of choice in the stories always was; the almighty Jack Daniels. Whenever a high school kid started talking about what a hardcore drinker he was, or how incredibly wasted he got, the drink he imbibed in the story was always the Jack.

It came my turn to tell a drinking story.

I had a simple choice; pass and look like a wimp without a decent story(which would have been true), or tell the truth about wine coolers being the hardest alcohol I’d ever had, and at that consumed in far less than massive quantities (which would have also been true), or lie my ass off.

I looked reality right square in the face, weighed the manliness of telling a story about how, “I had a few wine coolers, chilled out, and relaxed in a hot tub watching the Miami Dolphins get destroyed by the New York Jets, and felt that all was right in the world”, and realised that at this stage in my life, I still felt I had something to prove. 

So I decided to lie in order to seem cooler. 

Yes, yes I did.

I took my story about drinking wine coolers while watching a football game, and changed the beverage in question to be Jack Daniels.

In fact, I wove a tale wherein my favorite tipple of choice was Jack Daniels, and that I enjoyed drinking quite a lot of it while relaxing and watching the game.

Now, at the time, I did indeed enjoy watching football. I grew up in Miami, and my two favorite football teams were the Pittsburgh Steelers, and whoever was playing against the Dolphins.

I’m from Miami, I lived through the Marino years, sue me.

But Jack Daniels? Not freaking hardly. Too damn expensive, for one thing. 

The story was tame, but invoking the name of Jack Daniels elevated it to the level of manliness. It passed due scrutiny, nods were nodded concerning the inherent manliness of JD, and life went on.

Whew! I lied, and pulled it off, right?

Close one!

Oh, damn, karma’s a bitch. A stone cold bitch.

As I mentioned in my last Storytime, I was feeling a little stressed out and cranky, and life in the barracks mostly consisted with my sitting in there, reading a paperback, and letting time pass while waiting for my class to form up.

In Twenty-Nine Palms, rather than an open squad bay, they had these amazing hotel style condos for Marines to stay in while they waited to see where you ended up, totally temporary. Four Marines to one room, with a shower. Incredible luxury, only three other guys to deal with.

I had, amongst my three temporary roommates, one insane 70’s drug culture rock fan with his own turntable and abundant record supply (yes, records, compact discs existed but were rare as hens teeth), one guy that had his own car and took off after every afternoon formation to try and find a girlfriend out in town all night, and a guy that, and I kid you not, was teaching himself to play the banjo, in the room, and spent most of his evenings working his way at various speeds through “Dueling Banjos”.

It took me two more years before I saw the movie “Deliverance”, so I did not realize at the time just how much I should have feared sleeping in the same room with him. 

So I’m sitting there in my room, off duty for the evening, another working party completed. We’d spent the day in the desert up near Black Top as I remember (which was a heck of a LONG drive by cut-v), and so we’d gotten back tired, hot, dusty and worn out. A good feeling, and nice to relax afterwards with nobody shouting at you.

The banjo is tooling up, but is scheduled to be stopped so that the record player can begin playing Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, and the Mothers of Invention with assorted interruptions because “you really need to hear this one cut, this is awesome, these guys are brilliant, let me find the right groove, hold on.”

“The white zone is for the loading and unloading of passengers only. There is no cargo in the white zone.”

Sorry. Flashback.

As I’m sitting there, wondering at what point I pissed God off so much that he felt compelled to send this banjo playing devil to torment me, there comes a knocking at the door.

I open the door, and there in the doorway stands one of the guys from the work detail… and his arms are simply full with cases of beer.

At the time, the beer of choice on base was Keystone Light, in the ‘specially lined can’. It was very, very, very cheap. I mean, that shit was cheap. MMMmmmMMMM cheap. The idea was, it was okay that it was crappy beer, because they put in these special cans so, while it wasn’t good, at least it didn’t taste like metal. The cans were lined on the inside with plastic or something.

I kinda liked it. In fact, I miss it. Haven’t seen it around for a long time.

I liked Red Dog for a while too. They had funny little “Be your own dog” sayings and stuff on the inside of the cap, and a little humor somehow seems important while you’re drinking cheap beer in the desert.

Anyway, here the guy is, and he’s brought beer! Woot! My new best friend! Come on inside!

Yes, we were all underage. Statute of limitations has done run out. Again; sue me.

He comes inside, he sets these cases of beer down, and starts cracking one open… and announces “Hey, thought we’d have a party… oh, and I came prepared!”

He turns to me, and says, “I know your favorite drink is Jack, so I picked this up on the way out of the Package Store just for you.”

He pulls a paper bag off a bottle, revealing, you guessed it, a full, sealed fifth of Jack Daniels.

Oh, son of a bitch. Oh, joy. My own bottle of Jack Daniels.

Just kill me now.

And he’s got this big shit-eating-grin on his face, full of happiness that he’d been thoughtful enough to bring my favoritest beverage in the world.

But, but… I don’t want to drink Jack Daniels. Beer! There was nice, friendly beer!

Think Bear, think. How exactly do I go about explaining to the nice man who just spent a crapload of money on a bottle of Jack for me that I don’t actually drink it? That the thought of drinking that instead of beer fills me with panic, for every story I have ever heard about it alwaysled to craziness, puking, and misery? Did I mention the craziness? Puking, who cares about that, it was the craziness that seemed to take hold of those JD drinkers that was worth concern. I’d selected that beverage specifically BECAUSE it was evil, damnit!

How do I admit that maybe, just perhaps, I had been fibbing?

Oh, damn. I’m going to have to drink that stuff, aren’t I? It’s either pony up and gut it out with a smile, or admit I lied and lose face.

Ah, pride. How we do love thee, for you cause us to do so many incredibly stupid, life threatening, asinine things before we learn to tell you to PISS OFF.

Oh, and nobody in my generation, at the age of 18, had ever heard of “alcoh0l poisoning”, thank you very much. Ignorance is NOT bliss.

I gratefully accepted the bottle from him, and relaxed in one of the few chairs while the beer got broken out and passed around.

Everyone else relaxed, the banjo was put away (score!), and the record player was pulled out. The door was propped open, folks from neighboring rooms started drifting in, and I manfully cracked the bottle and took a good pull off of it, while the beers were passed around.

I remember thinking to myself, with a great deal of surprise, that it really wasn’t bad at all. I decided that I would resolve to enjoy it, and allow my cares and concerns to be laid to rest, and just enjoy the night.

My impressions from that point on are, and the reason for this escapes me, somewhat vague, so I hope you’ll forgive me.

I know that our room became quite a popular place, because a lot of people drifted in and out, and there was a never ending sea of changing faces.

At some point, I distinctly remember the rocking roommate put Pink Floyd on the record player.

I liked Pink Floyd.

I happened to think that Ummagumma was a work of exceptional brilliance.

During this particular evening, it occured to me that Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict was a work of such sheer heights of brilliance that it wasn’t possible to grasp all of it’s many layers of nuance at a paltry 33 1/3rd RPM.

No, no it really needed to be cranked up to 45 for the best effect. 

Oh, heck yeah.

Yes, I did turn the speed up on the turntable, and grooved, mostly empty bottle of JD in my hand.

That is the last coherent memory I have of the evening, but I’m fairly certain that I continued to have a LOT of fun.

Oh, boy.

The next thing I DO remember, is waking up wet. There was a very loud noise somewhere far away. I did not know where I was, who I was, or what I was.

I was very wet. In fact, it seemed to be raining on me. Unusual, when living in the high desert.

Possibly disconcerting.

It was raining on me. I was standing, and had apparently been both standing and asleep, at the same time.

There was something large, very furry, and as tall as me standing oh so very close to me, cheek to cheek as it were, standing right next to me, and in fact I seemed to have been hugging it in my sleep. 

It was raining. I was hugging what, to my traumatized senses, appeared to be a wookie. It smelled.

I opened my eyes.

This took courage on a level I don’t think you can fully understand. I didn’t really want to know what I was hugging, but I was also too afraid not to find out.

In the years since that moment, thinking back to what I felt waking up wet and tired, head hurting, hugging what feels and smells like a wookie… it’s just one of those memories that makes amnesia sound so damn attractive.

I was in the shower stall of our room. I was standing up, having apparently been propped up stiff as a board and drunk as a lord in the shower stall. I was fully clothed, the shower was running ice cold, and I was hugging the small rug from the room floor, that had been rolled up and tossed in the shower with me.

The smell of everything that I had eaten and drunk the night before was sharing the shower with me. I don’t really need to paint a more vivid picture, do I?

I did not, and this comes as something of an understatement, feel very well.

Amazingly enough, the first thought I had was, “At least it’s not a wookie.”

The second thought, such as it was, concerned the fact that clearly, I had a LOT of cleaning up to do.

And what the hell is that noise?

I stumbled out of the shower stall to find the room pitch dark. Door closed, window shutters drawn. From outside the room, down the walkway and coming closer, was a loud crashing noise, repeated over and over.

Boom! Crash! Pause. Boom! Crash! Pause.

As the noise approached, faint words began to be heard, and there was movement in the darkness of the room.

The crashing approached. The movement in the room increased, accompanied by groans and muffled swearing.

The noise was a bedlam. It came to the room next door to ours.

BOOM! CRASH! “Everyone out for PISS CALL!!!”

It came outside our door. The door echoed with the sound of a booted foot impacting it just under the knob. The door crashed open. The horrific voice repeated it’s cry, “Everyone out for PISS CALL!”

It continued on it’s way, sharing it’s message of pain. The room exploded into a frenzy of activity.

The lights were turned on in the room, and it was asses and elbows as four drunk Marines desperately tried to find acceptable clothes for falling out into formation for a battalion-wide surprise urinalysis test taking place at 3 AM.

Oh yes, 3 AM.

I quickly realized that I was still drunk, and somehow this became something I wished to hide. I didn’t feel any shame at actually BEING drunk, but somehow I felt that, once having fallen asleep after drinking, one should be sober when one wakes up. As I was not sober, clearly I screwed the process up at some point, and needed to lurk below the radar.

I was not concerned with being drunk for duty, because regulations state that you must cease drinking alcoholic beverages no latyer than eight hours prior to going on duty, to ensure the alcohol has had time to leave the system. This was a Friday night. There WAS no duty scheduled the next day. No worries, right?

Running out onto the balcony (our room at the time was on the 3rd floor, and overlooked the high desert from a mighty vantage point), we quickly discovered that the uniform of the day for 3 AM battalion-wide surprise urinalysis tests was green t-shirt, running shorts, and shower shoes (also known in some regions as flip flops).

This, I felt I could manage.

How to describe the rest of that night?

Hundreds of Marines, possibly a thousand, standing in the desert night in three or four lines that snaked through the sand, smoking cigarettes, shooting the shit, all of them tired, none of them really sure what the hell was going on.

Bering drunk and hung over at the same time, and standing in a line that marched as far as the eye could see around barracks buildings and quonset huts, having to piss like a russian racehorse and not daring to go for fear of having ‘stage fright at the last minute? Oh fun.

Especially the stage fright part. It’s one thing to have to go, but if you’ve just gone, it’s a difficult thing to stand there in an official stall with some poor Corporal watching your, ahem, pocket python, waiting for you to go. 

Yes, you read that right. The rules were that someone had to physically stand there and watch you go, the actual mechanics of it, eyeball to, umm, err, to make 100% certain you didn’t have a water bladder and a hose full of someone else’s urine ready to fill a cup. It had to actually be YOU filling the cup.

Surprise, turns out we had some drug problems on base back then. I had no idea.

As I recall, it took over two hours for me to reach and complete the pee test. At that point, I was free to return to my room… where I had to clean the room immaculately, and clean myself, and generally fix the mess I’d caused the night before. Only then could I pass the heck out.

I was somewhat concerned, as the rest of the weekend progressed, that I would find out that I had acted in some way wildly inappropriate while drunk.

*wookie*

I had to keep repressing shudders as I let my imagination paint pictures for me of what horribly dishonorable thing I may have said or done while drunk.

The fact that everyone else that had been at the party, that I knew of, seemed unnaturally quiet and sullen only added to my apprehension.

Way it turns out, funny enough, you can get hammered on beer if you drink enough of it, and everyone else certainly drank enough of it. And if you WERE drunk and asleep at 3 AM for a surprise urinalysis, you generally had something to feel sullen about on a Saturday morning, unless you had a guilty conscience.

I worried that I was the drunken center of attention, and instead, while I did represent a certain destabilizing influence on the party, it was about par for the course at these things, and at a reasonably late hour the party had quietened down and everyone else had left without incident.

I even made it to my bed and crashed nice and normal. No horrible surprises. no terrible behavior. I just displayed a need… a need for speed. A heartfelt desire for music played very, very, very fast. And loud.

It was only later that night that I apparently woke up and started unleashing my inner lunch upon the carpet, into the trash can, and anywhere else I happened to be pointing.

My roommates, reasonably enough, decided that this show needed to be moved into the only place easy to clean… which is how I ended up where I did, how I did, and as confused as I did.

It was certainly a learning experience. Just be yourself, that’s all. Don’t let peer pressure or a desire to fit in drive you to be anyone but who you really are. The friends you make that way are more meaningful in the long run.

Time marches on, and fun is there to be had, and whenever you meet new folks, stories still get told. These days it’s in the maintenance shop.

These days when the drinking stories start, I cannot help but think of my very first drinking story ever, in more ways than one.

And I can’t help but try to forget that damn wookie.

Storytime: Crime….

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!

Speculation on Cataclysm

Look, before this gets any deeper, and omigawd was I right about the explosion of hate already unleashed, I’d like to speculate on what the world zones and playable areas could be, without the hate spin and rhetoric of detractors.

I’m seeing a lot of hate directed towards ‘rehashing the same old content’, instead of the expansion being an entirely new continent or world.

From the sounds of what I read on MMO Champion, the impression I carried away was of a world where the Maelstrom erupted once again, new lands have risen, old lands have shattered, and in some cases even sunk back into the sea.

I have seen concerns that everything is just going to be ‘bumped up’ in level, but same old, same old. I have seen concerns that flying could never be implemented because of the current size of the Azerothian continents.

If the Maelstrom were to cause a world shaking Cataclysmic event, Blizzard would have free reign to reduce the existing size of Azeroth, streamlining/reducing the size of level 1 – 60 content quests and zones available, which would then actually match what is needed when you take into account the accelerated leveling changes. Who here really has to run even half the existing content to level an alt? Anyone?

I like the current system, because I can skip whatever zones I’m weary of at the moment. But I can see how some of the existing zones could be revamped as higher level content, without negatively impacting low leveling options.

So I see it possible that the continents of Azeroth themselves could be made smaller, some zones have wormholes or cavernous fissures break open unleashing higher level monsters, others becoming isolated from surrounding zones requiring flight to reach them, and some zones remaining starter zones while others adjacent get bumped considerably upward in difficulty.

I saw mention made, specifically, of old zones that had been planned but never implemented finally getting released. So, rather than one coherent new continent in the expansion, this would be a redesign of the old, plus the mixing in of brand new zones right in the middle of (or adjacent to) the familiar, and the massive changing of others.

That kind of arrangement would accomplish one thing Blizzard has always been keen on… keeping Azeroth feeling vital, busy and alive. 

As things are now, and you know it well, Northrend is the hub of all activity, bustle and commerce, except for those things that force us to visit capital cities for auctioning and class training. You see alts wandering alone in the world, and high levels grinding low level tradeskills or farming for alts, and you see small groups heading off for old world raiding.

This change would send characters of all levels traveling everywhere in Azeroth, and I am sure part of the redesign would be to mix in low level zones with high, encouraging the player interaction and ‘bumping’.

Of course, with flying active in Azeroth, you still wouldn’t see a ton of interaction and mixing… but you’d certainly see more folks stopping in random cities to sell to vendors and repair. Things would feel more alive in general.

I have to say, if this is what they do intend, I feel confident that the concerns over ‘no new content, boring old rehash of existing content’ can be countered with logic and reason.

The strange class/race combinations, I honestly haven’t got a clue. I am not a lore master, so I cannot possibly come up with where Troll Druids or Tauren Paladins would come into play. Just, I cannot do it.

Personally, I don’t believe this really will happen. I’d enjoy it too much, and it wold take a ton, a massive insane ton of work on Blizzard’s part. I’d like to, and I hope I’m wrong, but I just don’t. I’ve been wrong plenty of times before, so who knows. But this… this just feels like too much work on Blizzard’s part for too little ‘come see new shiny’. 

If Blizzard were to do it, they’d be doing it in part to make some massive changes to the entire world that would feel epic in scope, and shake us out of our old ‘been there, done that, killed the boss, looted the epic shirt’ attitude so many people seem to have. For that reason, I hope it happens. I’d love to see Blizzard mount a change like this, make this kind of commitment, to drive a world changing event of unprecedented scope.

I’d like to see this happen. I’d love to see the world of Azeroth come alive again, and to see people congregating at Molten Core or Blackwing lair for a night of serious action. 

I am also aware that my opinion may very well be the lone voice of approval amidst the howl of protest about to break loose in the WoW community.

Umm, okay, except for one thing.

Blizzard, please keep Druids to Tauren and Night Elves, okay? Just for me? If you can’t, at least let the reason be some awesome lore stuff, and not a ‘because we wanted to open up the classes to more races’ thing. I’d like there to be some serious lore shit going on, if Trolls suddenly dropped the bong and picked up some kitty pride, knowhutimean?