Breaking Eggs in GitmoFor most people, Guantanamo Bay conjures up images of swarthy men in turbans, behind chain link fences, bowing to Mecca, and saying their daily prayers. At its best it's a prison. At worst, a sun-drenched, palm-draped torture chamber. We visited Gitmo several times as a young Poobah in the Air Force and it always seemed an odd place, even then.
The sailors told me their chief recreation was drinking beer on the beach. One trip verified it. Hundreds of sailors, drinking in the hot sun, waving crazily to the cruise ships just offshore, and screaming to be picked up from their atoll. It was like Gilligan's Island with more beer and no Ginger or Maryanne.
In those days, Americans still held the place under lease from Cuba. We paid about $4000 a year and Castro steadfastly refused to cash the checks. The lease ran out several years ago and we're still there today, like an obstinate tenant who won't leave, even after they've been served an eviction notice. First a Cold War, now a War on Terror. Cuba always has been someone else's pawn.
We first visited as part of a week-long series of missions flying in and out of Panama. It was a nice gig if you could get it. Short flying days and long, tropical nights in a nice Panamanian hotel with a casino, good food, and plentiful beer. In return, we hauled a little of this and a little of that around to keep democracy on the march throughout the Caribbean basin.
Flying in and out of Gitmo in our lumbering C-130 was always a dicey affair. The air base is located on the middle shoreline of Gitmo's U-shaped bay. The runway runs parallel to the beach and there's a sizeable mountain towering over either end. Approaches were always steep, ass-puckering affairs where pilots brutally wrenched the airplane around the sky to avoid the mountains before throwing themselves onto the runway and screaming to a stop by standing upright on the brakes. If you overshot, there wasn't much time to correct before you got up-close and personal with the mountain on the opposite end. The old saying, "any landing you can walk away from is a good one" took on special meaning at Gitmo.
A young sailor in command of a huge forklift met us as the airplane parked. When we opened up the airplane he stared in awe at our cargo of beer, fresh fruits and vegetables, and eggs. "It's been awhile since we had anything fresh," he said. "I can do without the veggies, but I sure could go for a beer and a plate of eggs. We've been eating powdered ones for so long I can't remember what real ones taste like."
Unloading went along smoothly until we got to the last pallet - the one containing the eggs. With a fair amount of grunting - who knew eggs were so damned heavy - we got up a good head of steam and pushed the pallet out of the airplane. Just as the pallet rolled off, the young sailor repositioned the forklift just enough so that its tines didn't catch the eggs, but crashed through them.
We yelled to the sailor. He yelled to us. Thousands of egg yolks dripped off the pallet and started to sizzle on the hot concrete. A slight wind caused the suspended egg pallet to twist and it ground still more eggs into gooey mush. Give us a hundred pounds of ham and onions and we would've had the makings for a huge omelet.
Everyone stared quiet and slackjawed for a moment, unsure of what to do. The sailor broke the silence first.
"SON OF A BITCH!" he screamed. "I can't believe this! I broke the fuckin' eggs! I am gonna get my ass kicked so bad for this. We've been waitin' for weeks for these eggs and I broke 'em! Oh shit...oh shit... oh shit! Everyone in this shithole has been waiting for them and like a dumbass, I broke them!"
To calm him down, we ordered up a second forklift and helped him get the dripping mess safely off the forklift and on the ground. He threw most of the few surviving eggs on the ground in a fit of anger. A fire truck showed up and after upbraiding the sailor for his stupidity, the firefighters began to wash the whole sorry mess down a nearby drain. They all continued to cuss under their breath, so many F-Bombs it sounded like a full scale artillery battle.
"I am so fucked, you guys," he said as we closed things up to leave. "So many people are gonna kick my ass for this. What a day! I guess there's only one thing to do now," he said. "I'm going to grab a beer, go to the beach, and get drunk. Maybe I'll get a sunburn. That'll teach my stupid, sorry ass."
Which sounded like an excellent idea to us.
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Saturday, January 14, 2006