Monday, January 22, 2007

Mission Aborted - USMC Preempts Troop Strength for Family Values

As some of my blog readers may know, son Michael was to be Commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps today at 10am in Pittsburgh, having completed his BA on a slightly extended schedule (continuing an honorable tradition begun by his father) at Carnegie Mellon.

Not wanting to spend the night in the 'Burgh, this took some pre-planning on my part. I managed to avoid a nap all day Saturday, avoiding ennui and boredom with a mediocre movie, a brisk walk and a visit with good friend Angie & her gorgeous collie, Roxy. I was asleep shortly after 11pm(!) and woke up with the alarm in time to get on the road at 3:56am, about the time I'd usually be retiring on a Saturday night. The plan was to drive to PB, rendezvous with Michael, the mom and the ex-in-laws (down from NE Pa the day before) & daughter Holly (who had flown out from Philly), do the ceremony thing, have lunch, drive Holly back to Philly, and then drive home.

It's five hours to PB, barring a blizzard (which I know from experience), so I had an hour's pad built in. It was a pleasant drive, and I saw no other living thing except two deer (at a safe distance) from Harveys Lake to the end of 118, and very little for some time after that. Cruising west on I-80 on a Sunday morning with some nice music is conducive to a sort of mobile meditation, and before I knew it, I was in the long climb through the Laurel Highlands as the sun rose. I must admit that I did not realize that the sun doesn't rise until about 7 this time of year, which says something about my sleeping habits, I realize. It (the sunrise) was mostly at my back (as you might expect), but on the curves I glimpsed some scenes that would have sent my new artist friend from Cape Cod into paroxysms of ecstasy, particularly with the Wagnerian accompaniment.

Gliding gently into downtown Pittsburgh, my spare hour unneeded, I was pleased to find the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial without difficulty. I pulled into a parking place (It's NICE to arrive in Pittsburgh on a Sunday morning!), wondering where to find (yet another) cup of coffee for the spare hour, and wishing I had the Sunday Times Crossword, when my cell phone rang. It was Michael. "Hey! Where are you?" "Just pulled into Soldiers & Sailors." "Wow! Good timing! But I have some bad news. The Captain's wife went into labor last night and the ceremony's postponed."

Well, what can you do but laugh?

"Is there no other officer authorized to Commission new recruits?"

"Apparently he's the only one in Western PA."

I was tempted to comment on the United States Marine Corps troop strength in Pennsylvania, but decided against it, realizing where most of them are.

The next obvious question then was, "For when will it be rescheduled?" This is as yet unknown, but it is a concern, as I have a photography exhibit opening next Saturday evening and Michael & paramour Melanie are seeing La Boheme at the Met (I am SO proud of that boy!) I made this observation to M, and he said, "Yeah, I know, but I figure after today I have a bargaining chip with the Captain." I suggested to him that it might not be a wise first step in his military career to be bargaining with a senior officer, and he admitted he saw my point.

So I asked him the last obvious question, "Did you tell the rest of the family?"

"Not yet. I figured I'd practice on you."

Oddly enough, this gave me a rather warm feeling, and we agreed to rendezvous for that cup of coffee. He rattled (that's what his Jeep does when it is moving) up along side me within five minutes and off we went. We found a parking lot off Forbes Avenue, and were off to the coffee when he told me that he had called the rest of the folks, who were staying in a Holiday Inn on the edge of town. I suggested we just go out there and have our coffee, so back in the cars we get and caravan out I-376 to Monroeville, whereupon we find the mom, her parents & Holly loading up the car for the return trip to NE PA. Friendly handshakes and hugs all around, which was nice, but as they had just finished breakfast and were worried about the weather warnings (which they tend to do), they set sail for home, leaving Holly, Michael & I to carry out the remainder of the mission, which was to get Holly back to Philly and me back to HL.

So, without the expected break afforded from the ceremony and a leisurely lunch, I set off back east with Holly, and Michael returned to his digs at CMU, where he imagined Melanie was still sleeping. (Well, it's only 10am and it IS Sunday. I would be, under normal circumstances.)

For some reason which I have yet to figure out, Philadelphia is slightly farther from Pittsburgh than Harveys Lake is from Pittsburgh, but the trip was pleasant enough with a replay of the music and chatter with Holly. Along the way, I realized that my current traveling opera mix is accidentally represented by no less than four languages - Carmen (French), B. Godunov (Russian), Otello & Boheme (Italian) and Die Walkure (German). How odd! I did not mention this to Holly.

We squeezed into a parking place on South Juniper Street about 3, and by this time the combination of the caffeine and driving has me thoroughly zombified, and after greeting Sloan and his brother who were retiling the kitchen floor, I elected to take a nap on a cozy little love seat overlooking the street. Holly graciously provided a blanket and one of their two kittens decided that looked pretty inviting so she went under the blanket head first, did an about face and plopped herself down next to me, purring mechanism going full blast. It was marvelous and I fell asleep instantly. Scarface would be jealous if he knew, but I won't tell him.

I awoke refreshed an hour later and declined the offer of a bite to eat in order to make the last leg of the journey which, compared to the first two, was like going out for pizza. This stretch was filled with reflections on the joys of being a 21st century parent, aborted missions and all. As I pulled into the driveway, I noted that I had logged just under 700 miles in about 14 and a half hours, and it occurred to me that if I write this up and send it in to a magazine (I'm thinking "Stars & Stripes" or "Armed Forces") maybe I can write off the trip against my sure-to-be substantial income from freelance writing for 2007. At $.485/mile it comes to about $335, which will probably wipe out my wildest expectations of income from writing.

Which I do not do for pay, but because I must. There is no finer way to celebrate an aborted mission than to write about it in the company of a loyal feline - with a good pipe, some fine music, a glowing fire and a tumbler of crushed ice from my nearly new fridge, courtesy of a dear friend, barely covered with Speyburn's finest 10-year old single malt Scoch whiskey, courtesy of yet another fine friend, James Warner, poet laureate to the world and Patron Saint of Aborted Missions.

Life is full of blessings.

If I get a report on the Captain's wife & baby, I'll file it as an addendum.

End of mission report.


JHK said...

Well, you win the award for most miles on the road this weekend! We were in Philly while you were - at the Rosenbach library and museum. A place I know you'd love if you haven't been there already.

An old throwback to the sixties said...

I will look it up! Thank you! said...

And I thought my weekends were busy!!! Please keep us posted on Michael's progress. See you at the exhibit!

JR said...

Glad to be able to read the play by play of your trip. What a shame they couldn't find a way to get the job done.