DrivingOn bases in Iraq, even on free and clear stretches of road, the speed limit was never more than about 35 mph and often as slow as 10 mph. I didn't realize how profound an effect this was on my behavior until I was on the 405 freeway in LA heading to Port Hueneme (the "welcome-home-and-all-that-stuff, now-please-do-this-paperwork" part of my orders). I was cruising, I mean REALLY, serious Bob Kurkjian SPEED DEMON extravaganza. Just call me turbo. "Wow!' I thought to myself, " this is some real speed I have going here . . . these cars passing me must be doing 100 miles per hour!" "Who is that moron honking at?" Me? Yes. As I looked down at the speedometer, in a land where going under 80 miles per hour on the freeway is legal justification for capital punishment, I saw the needle solidly placed on the midpoint between 50 and 60. As if someone had placed a wedge in the middle of an angry, flooded stream, cars were darting and flowing around and past me in quick succession, to my amazement.
Although I previously documented the painful process to procure cash in Iraq, truth is , I just liked to have some in my pocket - I really did not spend much. I had not used an ATM in over six months and I wasn't even sure I remembered my PIN. Remembering that I actually NEEDED money was a different challenge. America is so strange about that . . . I have to pay for things like food? WHAT!? In Iraq, the postal supplies are free (boxes, tape, envelopes, etc.). I was in the post office yesterday. With two unconstructed boxes in hand, I was preparing to leave when another customer asked the postal clerk the price for a small box. "Duh, I thought to myself, they are FREE . . . " "Those are $2.29 each sir" the chipper clerk replied. I sheepishly pretended as if my awkward footwork from the door to the counter line was entirely planned, but much like dancing at the Oak Middle School Sock-Hop when I was in sixth grade, I was not fooling anyone. So, shoplifting charge averted, as well as my opportunity to blog from jail. There is still New York . . .
In Iraq, the most significant attire choice I had to make was whether to wear the fondly called "Booney cover," a broad brimmed hat, or the "eight-point cover" which was more like a baseball cap. That was it. No dithering in front of the mirror juggling five ties, no black shoes or brown shoes, just desert camouflage. Now, for the love of god, where did all these COLORS come from in my closet?
TV and Commercials
12 channels of Armed Forces Network have now become 150 channels of Comcast digital cable. But I am hopelessly marooned without the AFN commercials/public service announcements I grew so sedated to Iraq. I froze as I went to cross the busy intersection in front of my home. I didn't recall seeing an AFN commercial on how to cross such a large street, and although I will surely look for the word "whole" in front of the word "grain" on my next bread purchase, that was of no help as I struggled to navigate the complexity before me without any guidance. Surely the Army has regulations for street crossings but all I could remember was the commercial that covered crossing the street at NIGHT - certainly of no help to me at noon on a cloudless day. I was distraught, but able to meekly hold-on to the walker operated by the senior citizen standing next to me, as she crossed. Whew!