Sunday, June 14, 2009

Try It

Last Wednesday, Tabitha and I arranged for a baby sitter to watch the kids so we could have a date. Charlotte, a maid at the hotel, arrived at our room at 4:00 PM and took custody of the children. Tabitha and I drove to Rum Point on the north side of Grand Cayman.

We walked out on the pier and watched the snorkelers splashing in the water.

We sat in the shade of palm trees on the beach and sipped drinks. Tabitha had a bright blue margarita and I drank a virgin pina colada. After a while, we climbed back in the car and drove to the south side of the island to have dinner at a restaurant called The Lighthouse.

The Lighthouse is one of those fine dining establishments with impeccable service, an extensive wine list, and food prepared with the finest local ingredients by a renowned chef. Not my usual eatery.

We arrived a little early for our reservation but were seated immediately in the screened patio overlooking the breaking surf. The waiter suggested we try the drink special of the night, a blood orange mojito. We did.

A little background:

I am a picky eater. My past memories of eating at restaurants always include a special order. Not the "I'm going to order food that isn't on the menu because I'm a rich ass and I want to show these people how powerful I am" but the "I don't like very much and I'm afraid to try new things" special order. Things like french fries with the steak and plain hamburgers.


Lately, I have tried to be more adventurous. I like to try local specialities when we travel and I'm more willing to trust the skills of the chef.

This caught my eye on the specials menu:

Jerk blue nose grouper with avocado salsa, garlic mashed potatoes, veggies, and fried plantain.

This was about the best thing I have ever tasted. I tried the grouper by itself and it was good. I tried it with the avocado salsa and it was heavenly. It was so good, I memorialized it with a photo:

Airports Are No Fun

There are two ways to travel to an island in the Caribbean. You can take a slow boat or a fast plane. I love boats but who has that kind of time.

So we took a fast plane.

Unfortunately you have to go to Purgatory to get on a plane.

We flew from LAX to Miami and then to Georgetown, Grand Cayman. We arrived at LAX in plenty of time to park the car, get our tickets and go to security.

Are they still making you remove your shoes? Seriously?!? And don't even think about bringing a liquid on the plane.

We arrived in Miami about five hours later. Our gate changed. Tabitha had low blood sugar. Aidan had one of his patented tantrums. And there was no friggin' changing table in the men's room.

Is it still 1950 in Miami?

We arrived safely in Grand Cayman and had a great time until it was time to go home.

You see, we had travelled outside the country. When we returned to Miami we had to go through Immigration and Customs to prove we were supposed to be in the country and we weren't smuggling any contraband.

At the Miami airport, Immigration and Customs are actually on the outskirts of Tampa.

We followed the signs. We walked down long hallways. We climbed stairs. We turned corners only to find other long hallways. We walked for miles. Aidan had another of his patented tantrums. Abigail was a trooper.

We finally arrived at the checkpoint and breezed through. Only we now had to return to Miami to get on our plane to LAX. We made it to the gate as they were boarding the plane.

I might take a boat next time.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Do You Think You're Special, Recruit? Episode 5

I joined the Navy because I didn't want to go to college right away. I was sick of school. I thought it might be nice to spend a few years travelling the world.

So early that morning I climbed into the waiting van.

The recruiter drove me and a couple other guys to the MEPS station in Los Angeles. I completed more paperwork, peed in a cup to prove I hadn't taken any drugs in the last thirty days and then waited. I finally boarded a bus later that day with about 50 other guys.

There was a mix of bravado and quiet reflection on the bus ride to San Diego (the loudest talkers were the first to drop out). We arrived outside the San Diego Recruit Training Center at about 11:30 that night. A guy in a white uniform climbed on the bus and yelled at us to grab our things and line up outside.

I had seen the movies. I was expecting pit bulls in perfectly pressed uniforms to march on the bus with profanity and spittle flying, immediately identifying my deepest insecurities and causing me to void my bladder, before marching me in shame in front of all the other deeply shaken recruits. This guy was not exactly friendly but he didn't seem like he was going to eat me alive either. He marched us to a room and then yelled at us to line up on squares painted on the floor.

Another uniform clad guy starting calling roll. After questioning the parentage and intelligence of all of us, the guy had confirmed our identities and marched us to another room. More uniform clad people threw toiletries and towels at us. Finally, at about 2:00 AM we were led to a barracks to go to sleep.

About two hours later, a blinding light and a banging metal trash can woke me from my dreams of home. Men in uniform marched through the barracks yelling at us to get up, brush our teeth and "fall out." I stumbled to the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror.

I really did want to go to college.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sun, Surf, and a Screaming Child

It's vacation time again for our family. After our last vacation in April, I'm looking forward to a relaxing trip with a minimum of medical emergencies.

Tabitha and I wanted to go somewhere tropical this year. We went to Hawaii a few years ago with Abigail and loved it. Aidan is now old enough to enjoy playing in the sand and water. We thought about returning to Hawaii but then looked at other options.

We thought about staying in Key West (key lime pie!) or taking a Caribbean cruise. Both were a little pricey. Tabitha did a little research and found a resort in Grand Cayman called the Reef. It looked nice, quiet, family friendly, and reasonably priced. We made our reservations and spent our Federal Tax-payer Savings Plan dividend (tax return).

We woke up early yesterday morning and drove to LAX. We flew to Miami and then on to Georgetown, Grand Cayman.

Aidan naps on the plane.

We landed at the airport at about 9:30 last night. We had bus transportation to the Reef Resort on the north east side of the island. After an hour long bus ride over nearly every paved road on the island, we arrived at the hotel. I was starving but everything was closed for the night.

We got our room and unpacked. Abigail went right to sleep but Aidan decided he wanted to do a little exploring.

He thinks it's funny if he locks the door to the bathroom. He went inside the bathroom, locked both doors, and went into the bedroom and locked the door. I finally got him to open the bedroom door but the bathroom was locked with no one inside.

A little background:

1. I went to bed at about 12:30 in the morning.
2. I woke up at 5:00.
3. We'd been flying all day.
4. We had a long bus ride.
5. I'm hungry and there's nothing to eat.
6. The bathroom doors are locked.
7. Aidan is screaming, "I want to brush my teeth."

I was a little upset. I yelled at Aidan who promptly began to have an "I've been awake too long and I'm going to make you pay for it" meltdown. The more he screamed, the angrier I got. Finally, the hotel security guy unlocked the bathroom door, saving Aidan from certain death. Aidan was able to brush his teeth and then went right to sleep.

The view from our patio.

We woke up this morning to a beautiful day.

Do You Think You're Special, Recruit? Episode 4

So there I was on a summer day in 1988. I was sitting in front of a Navy recruiter deciding what I wanted to do for the next few years of my life. Because of my color vision, the jobs I wanted were off the table. The recruiter was giving me three choices, none of which were appealing.

In retrospect, I should have thanked him for his time and excused myself with the words, "It looks like the Navy has nothing to offer me at this time."

If I had done that, he probably would have replied, "Wait a minute son, let me check the computer again." He would have found the opening for the journalism school I wanted.

I didn't realize it at the time, but I held all the cards.


... I signed up for the Seaman Apprentice school for the shortest enlistment they offered at the time - three years active duty.

In that moment, I had decided the Navy would not be my career. I would do my time, get out, and go to college.

I phoned my dad and told him I had enlisted. He left his office in Monterey Park and drove to the MEPS station in Los Angeles. He watched as I raised my right hand and swore to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign or domestic.

I had mixed emotions as I spent the last few weeks at home. I attended going away parties with friends and a guy at my church tried to talk me into changing to the Air Force (no thanks). My sort-of girlfriend, Barbara, cried a little. My mom cried more. My recruiter gave me a list of items to bring with me (running shoes, stamps, my driver's license, and a little money) and prohibited items (tobacco, drugs, and alcohol). I packed my bag and went to sleep.

Very early the next morning, my recruiter was waiting outside in a van.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Do You Think You're Special, Recruit? Episode 3

The Armed Forces recruiting office was in a strip mall behind a barbecue take-out and an Acapulco Mexican restaurant.  The recruiters were crammed into tiny offices emblazoned with posters showing the exciting things their particular branch had to offer.  

The Navy recruiter was wearing a white polyester uniform with a couple of chevrons on his left sleeve.  He welcomed me into his office with a hand shake and then started asking me questions.  He wanted to know my background and my interests.  Had I ever been arrested or  taken drugs?  Did I have good grades?  What were my plans for the future?

The job of a recruiter is to fill quotas.  He's not there for wish-fulfillment.  He'll tell you all the bitchin' things you can do in the Navy, but he's really trying to get you into the job the Navy needs.  The recruiter talked to me about the nuclear fields and how I would get out after six years with an Associate's degree and skills I could use operating a nuclear power plant.  

That didn't sound very interesting to me, but I'd play along.

I took the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test and did pretty well.  The world was my oyster.  I was smart enough for any job in the Navy.  I wanted to be a journalist or photographer.  I could watch and record the action without getting my hands dirty.  It sounded cool.

I went to the Military Enlistment Processing Station (MEPS) in Los Angeles for my physical.  I was poked and prodded and evaluated.  I was doing pretty well until they tested my color vision.  I was colorblind

With this news, I went to talk to the guy who would choose my "A" school and future job in the Navy.  Before the physical he had been talking up the nuke program.  Now, instead of offering the nuclear program or another high-tech field, he presented three options:

1. Boiler Technician (Advanced Training Field)
2. Mess Management Specialist
3. Seaman Apprentice

Boiler Technicians (affectionately known as BT's) run the boilers in the Navy's steam powered ships.  Boiler rooms are hot, dangerous places.  A high-pressure steam leak in a boiler room will kill everyone in the space before they know something is wrong.  And it was a six year active duty enlistment.

No thanks.

Mess Management Specialists are cooks.  I love food and I love cooking but I didn't want to cook for 1500 people.


Seaman Apprentice?  Apprenticeship training is where the guys who weren't smart enough to get "A" schools ended up after boot-camp.  Airman Apprentices do the grunt work on aircraft carrier flight decks.  Fireman Apprentices work in the engineering spaces on ships doing grunt work.  Seaman Apprentices go to a ship's deck department where they learn how to swab decks, chip paint, and haul on a mooring line.

Grunt work.

"What's the shortest enlistment I can get?"