Running on Fumes – Musings from the Mess Deck

Introducing my newest special feature: Running on Fumes – Musings from the Mess Deck. For those not familiar with Navy lingo…a) a mess deck is a place aboard a Naval vessel where military personnel eat, socialize, and essentially live their lives and b) you may find tons of other Naval terminology in this previous post. Hope you enjoy!

My time in the Navy + my time on the East coast + my everything else = meeting some really incredible (and well-traveled) people. One of those people, Dan, I met while working for BAE in Norfolk, VA. We began working there within the same time period and often found ourselves working on/near the same projects which usually involved lots of walking and the occasional grumbling. More my part than his. Dan has a great sense of humor, often times rueful, but nonetheless fitting for any situation. Thankfully we’ve kept in touch. Below is a recent correspondence. I realize this post is much longer than probably any other on Running on Fumes – but I promise it’s worth it! I travel vicariously through others’ stories. Enjoy!

Hi – Good to hear from you. I follow along with your blog, and it’s always fun for me to try and connect the dots between the different installments, and from what I gather, you seem to be having fun out on the Texas prairie.

As you can see, this one goes on a bit. I don’t get to talk to people much anymore (work from the house), and I feel the need to reach out to someone who has some shared common experiences.

And, I sense that maybe you might be a bit at loose ends? Tired of the whole “Work. Rinse. Repeat” schtic? Ready for an adventure? I know what you mean. I’m a bit at loose ends myself and I also have a bit of wanderlust.

And so I’ve been thinking about the places I’ve been, and the ones I’d like to visit again. It’s a long list, and I seem to have eaten my way across the globe, but I do so believe the best way to get to know people is to share a meal with them. Here are some highlights:

* Haifa, Israel. I was there Easter, 1996. Full moon on Easter Day too. I visited what was reputed to be the oldest continuing operating mosque in the world, said to be over 1100 years old. Met the Iman there who was very cool, and toured the city of Acre where remnants of the Third Crusade are easily visible. Bedouin rules of hospitality pre-date Mohammed and are in full force everywhere. I was fed all afternoon by two Israeli Arab cops, and then taken home for dinner. Oh, my.

* The south of France, including Toulon, Cannes, St. Tropez, Aix-en-Provence (and just about anywhere in the French Department of Provence, incidentally. Rented a bicycle and rode for 2 days through the country side. Drank jugs of the local red, and ate fresh loaves of bread in tiny towns. Amazing. Toured a castle there that has been in the same family for over 1000 years, and whose founders are Roman Catholic Saints.

* Sardinia. A Roman rock garden masquerading as an island. I stayed in a hotel where Caesar would have felt at home. Ate the local sausage one morning that had been walking around the barnyard earlier that same morning. I don’t remember the name of the local firewater because it erased a number of other memories. Like so many places in Europe, it’s an interesting mix of the very old and the very new. Think of a donkey cart parked next to an ATM.

* Rome. C’mon. It’s Rome. Entire academic careers have been dedicated to this one city. Home of the World’s Most Expensive Breakfast Not In an Airport. I double-dog dare you to get bored. Spend an afternoon at an outdoor cafe drinking wine, eating delicious bits of everything, and soaking up the Roman sunshine while speaking with the locals. Exquisite.

* Sicily. Hiker’s paradise once you get out of Palermo, although the Palermo Cathedral is worth a visit. It’s the burial site of Odo of Bayeux who was William the Conqueror’s brother, although the good Brothers there at the church are not really sure where he might actually be. Mt. Etna. Tours and day trips to Roman (and far earlier) ruins can be found everywhere as can excellent, excellent wine. A small-town Sicilian restaurant with outdoor seating and fresh goodies is very difficult to beat.

* Trieste, Italy. Another Roman city. Amazing architecture. Found a Country and Western bar there that was blaring Dan Seals and Marie Osmond, and despite that semi-promising start, contained not one soul that spoke English. Award winner for Crudest Public Bathroom You Might Actually Have to Use. Trieste is where East meets West a la Constantinople, and it’s fun to look around and see where the two worlds come together.

* Skiathos, Greece. Big island, lots to see and lots to do. If you go down to where all the yachts are parked you’ll see men and women so beautiful you’ll swear a magazine ad for French perfume has come to life. Normal people can be found everywhere else. Great beaches, especially if modesty is not your thing, but the Mediterranean sun is. Tiny 4- and 5-room hotels can be found without too much effort, and you’ll eat so well you’ll be convinced that you’re being prepared for slaughter.

* Cartagena, Columbia. Old, old city. Pirates still hang out there as they have for 400 years. They are decidedly not like Disney pirates. Ate entire fish dinner there (At the “Casa del Pescado” Really.) that was so huge (about a 40 lb. grouper!) I invited 3 other tables to join me. We ate, drank, and sang for hours and the whole thing cost me about $20.00. This city is the scene for my best-ever sea story called “Hookers, Coca-Cola, and Machine Guns” in which the CNO of the Columbian Navy makes an appearance. And it’s all true.

* The entire Pacific coast of Chile, from Coquimbo south to Tierra del Fuego. Chile is an absolutely amazing country and well worth the effort to get there. A cabin on the extended southern coast can be rented for about $9.00/night if you time it well and don’t treat the locals like idiots. Food is extra so take an extra 10 bucks. The coast of Chile is tourist agency picture perfect. Valparaiso has a world-class museum filled with Incan pieces or you can go to Machu Picchu on your own. Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) is misnamed, for it is possibly the coldest place I’ve ever been. But if your luck holds, you can meet there real-live adventurers in the mold of Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton, buy them drinks, and hear their astounding stories.

* Bahia Blanca, Argentina. The single-most European city in all of South America. Town squares can be found about every four blocks that are so picturesque they’d be travel destinations anywhere else in the world. Luscious steaks from the Argentinian Pampas, “tortas fritas” (a local kind of flatbread) served next to schnitzel. The people can be a bit distant at first, but warm quickly. An Argentinian friend is fiercely your friend for life. The “Policia Nacionel” there do not screw around, and trouble with them is trouble indeed. But, I was one night able to talk a pair of them out of arresting my buddies by pretending to speak passable Spanish. I later concluded that by doing so, I had clearly used up whatever luck I had been allocated for that trip.

* Montevideo, Uruguay. Montevideo is under the radar for most people, but it is simultaneously both very modern and very colonial. There is an open air market most days that stretches eight or nine blocks on each side, and filled with literally anything for sale that you can imagine. I saw a peddler’s stand that was selling Michael J. Fox pool cues next to NAPA oil filters for an old Ford. Yes, that’s weird. I have a great adventure story about the city of Punta del Esta, which is a few miles to the east of Montevideo. And we all lived.

* Guadalupe, in the French Lesser Antilles. If you can’t find fun there, check your pulse.

* St. Maarten, in the British East Indies. A bit touristy now, but still a great place to visit. The Dutch side of the island is mostly on island time, mon. Doan be getiin’ up in no hurry, mon. E’re ting gwarn bee iree. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnBupO_Kjto

There are 50 states, of course, and I believe I have visited every one. They all have similarities (crappy chain motels, crappy chain restaurants), but with just the most minimum of effort from a curious traveler they all have rewarding experiences to find and enjoy. I prefer to travel by car (I’d like to one day take a motorcycle tour of the Midwest), but I like to get away from “Interstate World” and visit those roads less traveled. We Americans are a friendly, gregarious lot and it’s an important reminder from visiting our neighbors all around the country that we have ten, even a hundred times more things in common with each other than those that separate us.

* Go the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. You can make lifetime friends in an afternoon. Ditto the Georgia State Fair in Hampton. The farmers in Rutland, Vermont will dare you (with a knowing wink) to not enjoy their butter, cheese, and other goodies at their own fair.

* Take the train across the country. I just did, from Chicago to Seattle. I literally saw deer and antelope playing on the northern prairie along with a couple of herds of bison. How cool is that? On the same trip, I wandered around Chicago and just had a ball. In addition to revisiting places from my Navy past 30-odd years ago, I ate a stunningly satisfying steak dinner at a good old-fashioned Illinois supper club, and an equally amazing sushi dinner so good I nearly wept. And a couple of Chicago dogs out on the street? Check.

* And you’ll never know who you’ll run into. I met a guy in a bar near St. Louis one night who had been an Air Force F-86 Sabre pilot in the Korean War. I asked him if he knew of CAPT. Joe McConnell, a boyhood hero who shot down 16 enemy aircraft in that conflict. Know him? Hell, son, I flew with him back in 1953. Great Un-Revised North American Jesus Christ! We talked into the wee hours, and though he was 35 years older than I, he stood up and steadily walked out of the place in that way the Blue Suiters have despite the bottle of scotch he and I had shared. What a memory. You just never know.

* Had a Greek dinner in San Ysidro, probably 200 meters from the Mexican border. Nice little cultural cross-rip. Just up the road, of course, is San Diego and my favorite place on the West Coast, Coronado. Try the bar at the Hotel Del Coronado, and wait for the ghosts of Sammy, Marilyn, and Frank.

* There is so much I have left out. Cathedrals in England. The Louvre in Paris. But you get the idea. There is just too much to see and do out there, so go and see and do. For specific recommendations? For the contemplative, meditative trip plan a campout at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. For a 3-day girls’ night out, try the Music Row section of Nashville and visit all the clubs and music venues up and down Division St and Broadway.

So that’s my two cents and then some. I hope you’ve had a great week, and that you enjoy your weekend. I miss spending time with you as well, and I look forward to the time we can yell at the salad waitress again. Take care of yourself,

Dan

Note: yelling at the salad waitress is a story for another day. Safe to say, there will be more stories! And, we didn’t yell at her in a derogatory, downgrading way. She simply couldn’t hear us, though no fault of her own. More to come!

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