One of the things I enjoy about visiting my friends in Michigan is the unique night spots.
There are clubs around, but Sonny and I prefer the bar scene, which is still loud and a bit put-on, but actually a lot of fun with the right people.
There’s a street in Grand Rapids, Michigan, called Ionia, which has several well-to-do pubs to spend $10-20 a drink on.
Sonny and I will head to one of these spots after chilling at the office all day — which is a pretty fun gig in itself, since it’s in a very creative space and involves watching him edit film and mix music tracks.
Anyway, one of these places, called Bar Divani, has always fascinated me, since it is just so surreal compared to my normal soldiering routine.
It’s just downstairs from the office. Once out in the evening, you hang a left, dodge the valet parking sign and push through the entrance.
The music is low — a welcome change. The light is soft, to the sides, behind couches that line the walls, and drifts out of warm, hushed, overhead lamps.
Bottles of wine abound, with cases upon cases of the stuff put around for show. Plastic cases displaying wine bottles are even a part of the floor, which are also lit.
All of it is to foster this sort of chill vibe, peppered with enough culture to attract the best and the brightest (i.e. rich/white) of the city.
And boy how they come! Men sip their this-could-be-worth-$10,000 drinks with their trophy wives/girlfriends. Everyone dots the air with those too-loud laughs. The kind that you hear at Shakespeare plays, showing a patron understands the cryptic humor; the sort that proves sophistication.
The girls are too cute. Damn hot, actually. That sort of old-money, I’ve had a personal trainer since four, kind of hot. And definitely the kind a soldier doesn’t talk to. Partly because I wouldn’t be able to afford to buy them anything, but mostly because the manicured boyfriends they keep sedated on the fringes of the conversation still use those personal trainers.
Sure, I can ruck march with a full pack, carry a squad automatic weapon, and tug along my camera case, but I don’t have as chiseled a physique as these gents.
A few tries at visual flirting end with the blow-off eye roll and body-shift-away reaction.
No biggie, I’m there with Sonny, who is pretty well known among the primped and pretty, not because of his bank account, but more for his vision.
He’s a film director and artist, which will still buy you a friendy regard and bout of small talk with just about anybody at a place like Bar Divani.
Which gives me a certain by-association free pass, and a head nod from the regulars when they’re done showing Sonny they remember his name. Still, I don’t push it. I sense the limits of my visa.
But Sonny has a genuine interest in how people are doing, and hearing about the waitress’ own documentary film about a senior’s retirement community’s field trip bus driver is genuinely interesting. Moreover, $20-a-shot vodka tastes pretty damn good.
Again, surreal, fascinating.
And there went a week.
I am now halfway through my time away from Fort Hood, trying to soak in the below-100-degree temperatures before heading to the steamy Texan summer, and then to the broiling Iraq wastes.
There were a couple things I wanted to knock out while up here. The first was to eat in those few favorite spots of mine, since my patronage will probably be a bit sparse over the next several months.
And second, I was hoping to hash out some of this whole, “Where should life go from here,” problem.
I joined the Army on a bit of a whim, and have struggled to find where I should fit in while in service. I’ve mucked around for almost a year now on whether to pursue a commission as an Army or perhaps an Air Force officer.
Getting that brass bar would give a good boost to the ol’ bank account, but now that I’ve seen how life is for officers, I’m shifting more and more toward remaining where I am. I think I’ll just do my time and scat, if I’m not extended, that is.
As a journalist, I constantly have to operate in the butt-kissing realm, writing stories that will please the command rather than relevant news. Officers have to operate exclusively in that world, lest they be robbed of that next promotion.
Performance on the field of battle used to be measured in acts of valor, bravery, cunning, ingenuity, and tenacity in the face of a determined and ruthless enemy. But in this war, there is no uniformed enemy, no great nation to outmaneuver, no hills to climb, no flanks to assault.
That means it’s hard for ambitious young leaders to snatch glory from the jaws of ferocious war, leaving them to court it instead through paperwork, memos, powerpoint presentations, and proposed cargo load plans.
Moreover, there is still the cult-worship of dead generals. I can’t tell you how many copies of “The Art of War” or some commentary on Patton I see on desks of would-be four stars.
Not that this is new, but seems strangely placed when Sun Tzu’s methods of cutting down foes with arrow and sword are applied to how a personnel clerk can cut down paperwork with copier and fax.
All that to say no one ever seems to be commanding, and only chase after shadows of old glory, all won in the past, through grisly means closed off to the information-age military.
So that leaves me with the resolve to remain in enlisted service for my allotted time. Now, I will have to choose a course of action for my time afterwards, assuming everything goes hunky-dory while in Iraq.
Allow me to introduce my crew:
The Santino — Santino grew up in Madrid and is a documentary film maker, currently working for a company named Flannel, producing short spiritual vignettes called Noomas. Terribly talented, I try to stick with this kid…you know, for the whole popular-by-association thing. Santino Stoner, remember that one.
The Seth — Currently en route to join his compatriots at Flannel, Seth is a graphic designer and budding film maker who moved back to small-town Ohio to help out with his family for awhile. This guy is a rock, and constantly is on call for me whenever I have one of my freak-out-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life moments.
The Nikos — Our Greek cultural liaison, Nik is the senior planner for the Grand Rapids transit system. This kid is versed in all sorts of political movements and philosophies, and is a good coffee shop companion. Nik is one of those good-hearted guys that’ll buy you a drink and have a chat whenever you happen by, which is always a pleasant perk.
The Billy — Baseball phenom, Nik and Sonny have known Billy longer than I have, but with his dad’s military service, Bill and I sort of share a bond that makes us vibe pretty well. I enjoy talking with this guy a lot.
Rockin good chums. Of course my Army gig keeps me away from the gang for most of the year, I get to visit every once in a while.
The Josh — Here is your humble blogger. I forgo style and panache for bluntness and boring clothing.
Two hours after beginning a dream, the alarm rang. I was up again, like a shot, to the bathroom, putting toothpaste on my brush before my mind even registered sleep had stopped.
Normally I would sit and stare at myself for a few seconds, toothbrush in mouth, paste beginning to dribble into the sink, like some catatonic zombie as my synapse finally kicked in. I’d let out a sigh, mark a mental register as to how far along I was in my sentence, and continue on.
Although I was just two hours rested from the prior day, my excitement of traveling to see friends in Michigan helped wash away the normal morning ka-kas.
After two more hours, I was on a plane, zooming off on the first leg of my journey to Grand Rapids. First stop was Houston, where I’d connect with a flight to Detroit before the final push to GR.
I was carrying my luggage, having just packed a small bag for two weeks. I’d wear each shirt twice, and had enough underthings for a weeks time. With a dash of laundering at my visit’s halfway point, I’d earn enough cleanliness to last out the month.
Unfortunately in Detroit I learned my final flight to GR was cancelled due to a “major mechanical problem.”
These things happen, but I was faced with reconnecting flights through far-away parts of the country that would add hours and hours to my travel day. Detroit to Grand Rapids through Cleveland? Or Minneapolis? Arriving when? 10:30 tonight?
It was only just past noon. Ten more hours of connections didn’t seem very fun at all.
Luckily some crafty customers in line hatched a plan to rent a car to drive to Grand Rapids, as it would take far less time than waiting on the airline to shuffle us to our destination.
Five of us piled into a small SUV and began our trek. We were quite a crew: myself, the Army guy, at the helm; navigating was Rachel, a pretty speech pathologist; holding down the rear was an older business executive, and a father with his eight-year-old daughter.
Rachel and I softly rocked out to some Verve while the gentlemen in the back hashed out all of life’s problems. Anna piped in with random tidbits here and then, keeping herself in the conversation.
The business exec was from Tennessee, close enough to my Kentucky for me to be family. Rachel was good friends with my neighbors from my time living in the city and frequented a bar that Sonny and I knew well. Anna hounded me for polluting the environment by driving humvees in the Army, asked if I liked cats, and was insistent that German cars were far superior our SUV. Her dad felt a special bond with what the country was accomplishing in Iraq, thus earning me a certain status as a military man.
There were more laughs than pauses, a stop at Wendy’s for some frosties, and a general appreciation for each other’s company.
Anna grabbed my cell phone and snapped some pictures, which I kept to remind me of the trip.
By the time I arrived, I felt like I had already had a bit of a vacation.
I’m out, peeps, on leave to Grand Rapids for a few days. I’ll be on to update things here and there.
Until then, peace.
An apache zips along the sky toward the airfield on Fort Hood. Dozens of these things whirl around post everyday. Still, they’re pretty rockin.