Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Boys In Blue and Khaki

So, I'm walking through the San Diego Airport. As usual, I am cutting it close. I am checking no bags, just carrying them on. I have stopped at the check in kiosk to get my boarding pass via electronic touch screen. I get it and am surprised I am in "B" group. I am flying southwest, non-stop to KCI airport. Southwest does not assign seats. It's "first come, first served" in what we like to call "the cattle shutes". You line up according to your ticket section: A, B, C. A goes first and they are the lucky ones that get to choose window or aisle. B, they have some luck as they might get the left over window or aisle seats. But, C, you are guaranteed a middle seat and pray to God it's not between two fat and smelly people. Or even just two "fat" people or even just "two smelly" people.

I am passing through security now. I have this down pat. I don't even listen to the security guard as he tells everyone to take out their computers, video cameras, film...take off your shoes. Leave all metal objects in the plastic container for screening. He asks the lady in front of me, "do you have any sharp objects or film in your bag? You will want to take off your shoes." She is obviously a tourist and quite possibly not a regular traveler. He starts his spiel again about computers, video cameras, etc.

I am already taking these things our, toeing my shoes off, checking my pockets for change or the cigarette lighter I had earlier. I place it all on the conveyor belt and watch until my purse starts going through the machine and then I trundle off to the metal detector and wait my turn to be waved through the machine. I am and it all goes well. No issue because I am a seasoned traveler and know what to carry and not to carry, what not to wear on my trips.

I grab my bags, throw on my shoes, put the computer back in the bag and start hustling it up to the gate. I now have about 15 mins before the official "flight time" which means that they should be boarding right now. I walk quickly down the long aisle after the escalator, looking for my gate. I don't have my contacts in because my left eye has been bugging me, so it is hard to read the gate numbers and flight info on their screens. I squint my eyes and stare hard at the monitors behind the gates as I run/walk through the area, pulling my computer and small suitecase behind me.

As I do so, I am staring to my left, that is where the gates are lined up in a semi circle as I peruse their numbers from 10 down to 1. I need gate 8. Just as I spot the gate and start to turn towards it, I nearly run into a wall of blue. They were walking and talking together, their heads turned to each other as they spoke, not looking anymore than I was. The wall of blue had brass buttons and brass insignias with red piping. And, on the right hand side (my right hand, his left) was a red and blue ribbon with a shiny silver cross on it. That's what was right in my face.

I stopped abruptly to keep from running into the wall. I looked up and said, "oh, excuse me! So sorry." He said, "Excuse me," too. When I looked into his face, he was about 19 or 20. A boy. A man. He was walking and talking with his mother. I noticed a few things more after that. He is holding his dress white marine cap in his right hand. His arm extended out and the bill resting in his right palm as they are taught to do. He is buttoned all the way up and his shoes are shiny enough that, even with my bad eye sight, I could see my reflection in them. He is holding himself very rigid as if standing at attention and walking at the same time.

I notice that his mom looks every bit of her 40 some years.

After exchanging "excuse me's", we walk on to our individual gates. I walk up to the line that says "B" and two men are standing in front of me. Well, actually, one man and one "man/boy". The "man/boy" is wearing freshly pressed khaki uniform of the marines. He is about 18, maybe 19. He is not very big. Actually, very lean, but not skinny, per se. I could tell by the fit of his uniform, he had wide shoulders and narrow hips. His arms had no flab. Just lean muscles. The bones of his face stood out, well defined, not like a hunger victim, but like a man that has been tested some, but he still has his youthful enthusiasm so I know that he is a recent graduate of the Marine depot down there. You can always tell. They are the ones that have to wear their class A uniforms when they leave the base. I think this is supposed to instill pride in them and keep it there.

Eventually, the man talking to the young marine goes to sit down. He is tired, he says. I move up and am just behind the Marine who is looking around. Starting a conversation with a stranger in the airport isn't really that hard to do. I just look down at my ticket and then look at the Marine and say, "Excuse me. Is this the line for group B?" He said, "Yes, ma'am. I think it is. I hope it is. I'm in B and it's where I'm standing." After giving him my thanks, he looks down and sees my book, "What are you reading?" "Oh," I replied, "That new murder mystery book by JD Robb, ever heard of her?" "No, but I like to read, too." said my Marine. "What kind?" me now getting into the conversation. "Oh, I like those science fiction fantasy books. You know, like dungeons and dragons."

I am not really surprised by that reply. I have met many boys that went into the military and they all seemed to like those kind of books. Looking for heroes I guess. The modern day version of Le Morte D'Arthur and Lancelot.

I said something mundane about books taking up some of the boring time. Then he said, "Yeah, I'll be reading a lot. You know, on deployment." Then he looked a little sheepish after he said that, as if he realized that he should not tell a total stranger that he was going to be deployed sometime soon and we both knew where that would be. He shrugged his shoulders a little and looked away for a moment.

"Hey, that's cool. Reading can be a good way to use your time." Skipping over his comment and hoping to make him feel relaxed again. I have read the blog by CBTFW and know these guys read a lot. I feel like I can't just end the conversation on that note so, as I am standing there trying to think of the next thing to say, I notice that he, too, has a ribbon and a shiny medal on his left chest. This is not a cross, but crossed rifles surrounded by laurel branches. I know it's a marksman's ribbon, but I ask anyway.

"So, you got "Marksman"?" He refocuses for a minute. "Oh, oh yeah. Actually, it's "expert rifleman", see?" And he turns towards me and holds his medal out for me to look at. Sure enough, it has the words "expert rifleman" on the bar across the top. "Very cool," I noted he seemed very proud of the ribbon. So I gave him a smile and a thumbs up. "You can sure be proud of that." Once again he beamed a youngman's smile at me and then turned all sheepish and kind of ducked his head. For abut a minute, neither of us said anything, then he turned and said, "Excuse me. I need to go congratulate my buddy." "Sure," I replied and he strolled off in the direction of the boy in blue, with his shiny brass buttons, shiny black shoes and spotless white hat and belt, talking still with his mother.

I turned back to the line and moved forward just as a man sitting to my left stood up. I had noticed him a little earlier, but now he seemed right there, in my face. He was about 6'4". As a 5'4" woman, when a six foot or more guy invades your space, you know it. He had on a suit. Just a regular suit and tie but he could fill it out. He had the young marine's build, but in a big man. Huge shoulders, narrow hips. His head was buzzed in the "high and tight" of the marine corp "jar head" look. His skin was deeply tanned, even on his head through the buzz cut. He wasn't hispanic. He was caucasian. Just really deeply tanned. He carried a black back pack. That's really odd, I thought.

His appearance, manner of dress and his bag all seemed somehow out of conjunction. The suit said "business man", the hair cut said, "marine" and the bag said, "you are too old to be carrying around a sport back pack while wearing a suit".

When you looked at his face, he had that tough expression. What do they call it? The thousand yard stare? Not the crazy one. The determined look. Very straight up. No smile. No frown. Just looking with penetrating brown eyes that looked like they could stare a hole through you and could know your soul in about two seconds flat. You know, as a single woman, I'm not immune to a good looking guy in a suit with really big shoulders and narrow hips and high cheek bones. But, in this case, I can't say my first reaction was heart palpitations of the "ooh, la, la..what a hunk" variety, even though he would have easily qualified.

No. My heart did palpitate some, but it was more like, "holy crap! This is a dangerous man." And I knew right then, he had been to war and was just returning. I couldn't help it then. I kept looking at him as we stood in line. I kept trying to see what made him different than the man standing in front of him. Nothing but the look.

So, there I was, in the airport. I met the shiny and new Marines, the boys in blue and khaki and I saw the tested, tried and true variety. Slightly worn, but proven all the same.

Now I know how I will be able to tell the men who went from the boys yet to go. Just look in their eyes.


ALa said...

Kat: I wanted to tell you about a book I thought you might be interested's by one of Philly's local radio talk show hosts -Michael Smerconish (he was a lawyer and is on CNN sometimes). The book is "Flying Blind... How political correctness continues to compromise airline safety post 9-11." He actually testified in front of Congress regarding this subject about a month ago -and seems to be really on top of this whole issue. Thought you might want to check it out...

Kat said...

Thanks. I only caught the tale end of his interview, but i think Michelle Malkin has been talking about him, too. I also want to read Tommy Franks memoirs. He seems like a straight talker about the ME situation.

Glad you stopped by.

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