Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sir, Yes Sir!

The week began in Tejon, CA, at the northern foot of the fabled I-5 Grapevine. After leaving Three Rivers, CA we wandered southward to the town of California Hot Springs, pop. 8 (or so). It was a beautiful drive. The California hills and springtime were made for each other.

The hot springs have long since been claimed by private enterprise, built on, packaged, and merchandised. What remains is a cavernous mess hall, a curio shop, a bar & grill, a municipal-style lap pool, and a few strategically placed cash registers.

We accepted as faith the medicinal healing power of these wondrous hot springs, kept our money in our wallet, and rolled southward, stopping only for gas, bar-b-que, and the Tejon State Park – an 1860s Army depot and current living-history museum.

Despite the fact Tejon is right beside I-5 at the northern slope of the infamous I-5 Grapevine (at rush hour!), we were the only patrons. Well, not the only patrons. A Hebrew girl’s school from LA had mustered up a troupe of recruits to hold down the fort.

Since we were among the few adults present, I was given my rations of Army Coffee and Diane was called to stand guard duty.

Army life being what it is, we went AWOL the next morning and hightailed it eastward. Without any real plans, other than to escape KP and another helping of Army Coffee, we followed the twisted backroads into the Mojave Desert. As luck would have it the California Poppy Reserve rolled past. And as more luck would have it, the flowers were in full bloom.

We frolicked in the poppies, caught a glimpse of the Emerald City; and the winds blew us toward the gates. As it turned out what we saw was the glory of Edwards Airforce Base (and a nifty shortcut through the Mojave Desert). But unlike Dorothy & Co., we were turned back at the gates.

Me [slowing the bus to a stop at the guard house]: Good afternoon, airman. Can we drive through?

Guard [surveying our hippie bus, sniffing for strange odors through a salt-n-pepper moustache]: Well. Let me ask you a few questions.

Me: Shoot. Wait. Don’t shoot. [nervous laughter.] Yes sir?

Guard: Are you in the military?

Me [thinking fast, fairly certain that Diane’s recent stint standing guard over the Hebrew girl's school recruits wouldn’t pass muster, and strangely concerned about our AWOL status]: No.

Guard: NASA?

Me [realizing that no only weren’t we getting in, but we were on camera]: No.

Guard: DOD?

Me [wondering how to put the bus into reverse and back away slowly without drawing any further attention to ourselves]: Huh? Uh, no?

Guard: Contractor?

Me [trying on a friendly “I’m harmless, look at how harmless I am” sort of smile.]: No.

Guard: Well, there’s your answer. Give me your driver’s license. Go around the gate, and when you come back we’ll give you back your license.

Left with no other option, I held my friendly smile, dug around my wallet for my license, and followed orders. And so it went, as promised.

Free from military service for a second time in one day, we double-nickeled the dimes away from the Edwards AFB and to the high desert oasis of Barstow, CA.

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