March 07, 2005

Air Force Blue - Part 16

I almost titled this one "Martha of the D'Iberville".

This will be another one of those rambling posts about my military days, this time a very special time that happened around 1980-81. For those coming in late to the story, I was a military policeman in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Frozen blue. I was getting near enough the end of my first tour to think about what to do next. Being one of the Strategic Air Command's finest, I thought I'd be a natural for law enforcement. Problem was, all the queries I'd sent out came back saying that I was overqualified for regular police duty, and they weren't looking for SWAT at the moment, thanks for asking.

It was looking like I had a fine future in the pizza delivery field or as an armed receptionist. Plan B was needing to be implemented, and plan B was to cross-train and reenlist.

The Air Force has this nifty program where you can pick another career field and they'll train you for it, and all you have to do is promise them a few extra years of your life. I did a little research and figured that computers were the way to go. I decided that I wanted to become a computer programmer, because that sounded more interesting than computer operator, plus it had a bigger bonus. That's right, Uncle Sam would pay me some serious bucks, plus train me in a new field, if I stayed in.

Only problem was, everyone wanted to become a computer programmer. I knew of four of us cops who applied, one the week before me and two the week after. I lucked into an open slot and got what I wanted while the other three got orders to computer operator school.

I'd be travelling to Biloxi, Mississippi for my training. It was a condensed twelve weeks of insanely intense pressure, at the end of which we'd be real live gen-u-wine computer programmers. Boy howdy. I might have told you this before, but I once met another AF programmer who decided to get a head start by taking a semester of "Introduction to Computers" at a community college before reporting for tech school. At the end of the first day, she called her husband in tears because they'd covered everything in that semester before lunch. We're talking seriously condensed, to the point that those twelve weeks gave me almost a year of college credit.

Intense. Spending all day in classes, after classes in smaller groups getting tutoring for the concepts you didn't pick up during the day (the instructors were the best I've ever had, and incredibly generous with their time - they understood what kind of pressure cooker environment it was). Most nights were spent at the computer lab, punching card decks (yep, the good ol' days), debugging programs, and helping each other by looking over output listings.

At the end of each block was a test. Pass the test, you move on to the next block. Fail it, and you 'wash back' into the following class to take the block again. Two wash backs and you were out. I think only about 40% of our class made it all the way through without a wash back, and probably 20% didn't make it at all.

Of course, there were moments of surreal. One lady in our class was having a horrible time with her program logic, so a group of us sat down with her to go over her listing and figure out what the problem was. The first problem was obvious, every single variable and data name was in French! We couldn't make heads or tails of the code because of it. Byeeeeeeeeeee. She washed back. I hope she learned that lesson.

One day I was called in to see the Superintendent. Seems he had a problem with my headgear, because I was still wearing my blue beret. This was before *everyone* in the Air Force wore the beret, it was a cop thing and I was proud of it. The conversation went something like this (civilianized version):

Sup: You can't wear the beret, you aren't a cop anymore.

Ted: What is my specialty code?

Sup: Cop.

Ted: When does it change to Computer Programmer?

Sup: When you graduate.

Ted: When do I graduate?

Sup: In six weeks.

Ted: So I'm still a cop for six more weeks.

We compromised, and I wore the beret for another three weeks. I was right, but he had the stripes. It evens out.

But Ted, I can hear you saying, you were in a military training town! Tell us about the strippers and hookers and bars and stuff!

I never met Christopher Walken.

I went to the strip joints one night early on, and they were lame. Biloxi was trying to clean up their act, figuring that the only way they'd manage legalized gambling was to be squeaky clean first. It worked. Biloxi is now the Atlantic City of the gulf coast, for whatever that's worth.

Hookers? Never saw one that I know of.

We did go to an adult theater one night, and that's a tale worth telling, but there's a little setup needed first. Remember those block tests I told you about earlier? Well, my normal celebration for passing those consisted of getting a couple of six packs of malt liquor and getting thoroughly smashed by dinner time. That way I could pass out and still be sober enough for class the following morning.

One night after a block test, several buddies came to my room. I had a car, they wanted to go to an adult theater. They bundled my extremely inebriated self into the back seat and off we went. At the ticket counter one of my friends had to pull out my wallet and pay for my ticket, because I couldn't figure out how to work my pocket.

Once in the door, I leaned against something to steady myself and a whole rack of skin flicks crashed to the floor. My friends parked me in a seat at the back of the theater, and all I remember was staggering back and forth to the bathroom a dozen times over the next couple of hours. Beer does that to me.

Ok, so maybe that wasn't a tale worth telling.

But that brings us to "our" bar. On one of our first nights out, four of us kind of wound up together in a group that stuck together throughout the course of the classes. And that first night, we stopped in at one of the fancier hotels along the beach, the D'Iberville.

We sat down, ordered drinks, and started listening to the band. It wasn't half bad for what you'd expect in a hotel band. I still remember their name: Dave Dudley and Breezin'. Cheesy, in a good kind of way, and a nice change from the slime pits we'd just come from (those strip joints).

Our drinks arrived, and mine was wrong (Dewars scotch on the rocks). Hell, three out of the four were wrong. We flagged down our waitress and tried again. This time only mine was wrong, but one was completely missing. Another try and we finally settled in with our glasses.

After ordering the second round, we discovered that this wasn't an isolated incident. Our waitress (barmaid?), who's name was Martha, just couldn't get it straight. By the end of the evening, we'd adopted her as *our* waitress and looked forward to whatever liquid randomness she might deliver next. Not that we drank whatever she brought, we'd just keep sending 'em back until she got it right.

The following Friday we decided that the D'Iberville was the place to be. Relaxed and mellow without being boring, after our stressful week we needed that. When we entered, we immediately asked to be seated at one of Martha's tables, and Dave Dudley and Breezin' had undergone a roster change. The bass player was missing, and for the rest of our almost three months there, the bass parts were handled by the capable left hand of the keyboard player, who also managed most of the singing (I don't remember if he was Dave himself, but it seems likely).

Martha completely screwed up our first drink order.
Martha got half of our second order wrong.

Well, you get the idea. She wasn't killer cute or anything either, kinda plain actually, but she tried hard and that was enough. A simple "Er, Martha? This scotch has soda in it." worked well, and she'd look embarrassed and go make it right.

By the fourth week, she was getting the drink orders straight. Actually, I think the bartender recognized us coming in, and since we always ordered the same thing, he started ignoring what Martha asked for and just poured from memory.

Like most of these stories, this one just peters out without a real ending. We eventually graduated and went on to our next assignments. I heard from those three guys a time or two and then we lost touch again.

My wife and I visited Biloxi several years later and I just had to visit the D'Iberville again. Dave Dudley was long gone, the bar had been redecorated, and there was no sign of Martha. In short, it sucked.

For a short time though, it was the most perfect bar in the world to me.

Posted by Ted at March 7, 2005 04:58 PM
Category: Boring Stories

I liked your story. I think you should write more of them, whether they peter out or not. :-)

Posted by: Cindy at March 7, 2005 05:52 PM

Perfect bars are completely situational. My perfect bar was a sports bar in Pensacola where they let me watch hockey on the satellite even the night of the Auburn-Alabama football game.

Posted by: nic at March 7, 2005 08:28 PM

What Cindy said.

And everyone in the Air Force wears berets now? Hmmph... Whaddayaknow.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at March 7, 2005 10:40 PM

No, not everyone --- that's the Army that wears berets...we still wear our flight-caps.

Great story!

Posted by: david at March 8, 2005 07:00 AM

Oops, I thought the AF went all-beret and jump suits. Most of the AF I see around here are liason officers, and the only way to tell them from every other branch of the service is they wear their leather jackets.

Posted by: Ted at March 8, 2005 07:40 AM

Thanks for the story. It brought back great memories of my nine months (in '75) at Biloxi (Ground Radio).

Posted by: Frank Menkel at April 16, 2005 12:25 PM
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