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We picked up a load of ammo from the Naval Station in Indian Head, Maryland to the Naval Air Station at Key West, Florida. Hey, somebody got’s to do the dirty work. We delivered Friday so decided to spend the weekend in Key West. Good decision. We spent Saturday doing the tourist thing in Key West in late October. It was 89 degrees and the town was filled with tourists, but not packed. The town center of Key West still has the atmosphere of the Hemingway days but with lots of tourists. At the terminus of the Florida Keys, Key West is actually closer to Cuba than to Miami. Several highlights of the trip were a tour of Hemingway’s home and a “Members Only” club several blocks from Ernest’s house.

First, the end of the day. We were walking back to motel’s shuttle bus pickup when we passed some street venders selling food on the side walk. A sign that read, “Fried Crab” got my attention. I always look for opportunities to try the local foods. Oregonians love their crab as much as Marylanders, so I asked to see the fare and was invited into a stucco building. The sign on the door said “Members Only.” The “members only” was a bar and grill only for African Americans. Barb stayed outside with Oliver and I stepped inside. The establishment was filled with black folk and a middle aged lady told me to follow her up to the cook’s order window. I was the only white folk in the place and was treated with courtesy, kindness, and respect. My order was placed for an $8.00 portion of “Fried Crab.” I waited quite a while, but finally my order came and I thanked the folk for their hospitality. Barb was getting impatient and came into the place with Oliver and they were both greeted kindly, but I was just handed my take-out order and we all left with pleasant farewells from the clientele. We walked several blocks to our bus stop and sat on a bench to try the local food. Oh My Gawd, “Fried Crab” is to die for! Sections of crab, in the shell, deep fried in a batter that was only gourmet. Succulent yet crisp and a taste subtly sweet that encouraged one to greedily eat the soft white meat inside and the breaded crunchy shell outside.

Now back to the focus of the sojourn into town. We both wanted to see Hemingway’s Key West home and made that the goal of our trip. We had to take turns to tour Ernest’s home primarily because the house is still filled with cats that seemed to be the owner’s passion. No dogs allowed, not even Oliver. The house continues to be one of the better looking homes in Key West. Built in the late 1800s in the center of Key West, Mr. H bought the property in 1931 for back taxes owed, $8,000. For the next twelve years, he lived in this place and did most of his creative writing in the study above the guesthouse. In the morning, he would rise and retreat to his study and type out only between four hundred to seven hundred words per morning. The rest of the day was devoted to whatever a Nobel Lauret and Pulitzer Prize winner suited his fancy. The typewriter he used is still on display in the guesthouse but it is not a Royal. Hemingway complained to his editor that Royals made too many spelling errors.


 
 
0100 hrs. local time, at an airbase on the Jersey shore. I told the guards at the main gate that I had a delivery of munitions in the morning and was looking for a “safe haven” for the night. After checking my ID and paperwork, they told me to head down to their commercial gate and someone would meet me there shortly to open the gate. I found the entrance and pulled in front of the closed high wire gate and waited.
    It was one of these deep black nights where the darkness seems to suck the light from the headlights. Even the high beams would not penetrate the darkness. I waited for a few minutes, but couldn’t see anyone in the gloom. Suddenly the high wire gate began to slide open and I drove into a dimly lit inspection bay. The gate closed behind me and I stopped again and turned off the engine. Still, no one had appeared. I climbed out of the truck with my ID and docs and peered into the darkness. To my left, a soldier stepped out of the pitch dark of the night.
    Now this was one prepared and impressive trooper. He had a Glock on his hip, and an AR-15 slung across his chest with the barrel pointed down and ammo pouches bulging. He had enough ammo and weaponry to take on a drug cartel. His left hand was free and his right hand was on the 15’s pistol grip, with his trigger finger resting on the safety. As he approached, I had a strong sense that this guy had seen some serious combat time. This was more than just a well-trained soldier. He seemed completely self-assured by the way he handled himself and his weapon, as if the machine gun was an orchestra leader’s baton; his every movement was perfectly synchronized.
    When he got two barrels length away from me, he stopped and looked down. And I mean, looked down. I’m six feet tall and 225 pounds, and as I looked up at this man there were two very distinct thoughts that ran through my mind:
    One: Praise the Lord, this guy was on our side.
    Two: The best thing I could do to get myself tucked away for the night was to just keep saying, “Yes Sergeant, yes Sergeant, yes Sergeant, (I’m your bitch), yes Sergeant, yes Sergeant.”
    Finally, I guessed it was my turn to talk. Holding out our IDs and Bill of Lading, I said, “We are looking for a safe haven for the night with delivery in the morning.”
    He didn’t reach for the documents, as I expected, and with his finger still on the safety just said, “What ya got?”
    “Shipment for morning delivery,” I answered.
    “Next time call ahead so we can be ready for ya.”
    “Yes Sergeant.”
    “Follow me to the ammo dump,” he said
    “Yes Sergeant.”
    He stepped back and disappeared into the blackness and I waited a bit, but then finally an MP sedan lit up in the night, and I saw him climb into the passenger seat. I got back in the truck and moved out behind the MP sedan as it escorted us to the ammo dump with blue lights flashing. (I always love those MP parades.) Once there, Sergeant directed me where to park and told me he wanted to brief me after I was finished.
    “Yes Sergeant.”
    Once I had the rig backed into my protective bay, Sergeant walked to the front of the truck and I stepped down to talk as directed. Having a little more time now, I noticed something about his automatic rifle. He still had his finger on the safety, but I saw a small electronic looking box at the end of the gun’s barrel mounted over the sight that I’d never seen before. Perhaps it was a laser or infrared device? Whatever it was, it was used to hit your target at night, lethally.
Sergeant started his short talk with, “You’ll be safe here tonight, and this area is regularly patrolled.”
    “Thank you Sergeant, I have no doubt about my safety here,” I said.
    “See that gray building over there?” he asked.
    “Yes Sergeant.”
    “Don’t go near that building.”
    I wanted to shout, “Dude, there’s no freakin’ way I’m going near that building!” But instead I said, “Sergeant, I plan on spending the rest of the night in the truck and won’t step out until someone comes to get me in the morning.”
    “That sounds like a good plan. Now let me give you the Duty Officer’s phone number if you need to get a hold of us.”
At this point we moved back to my driver’s side door so I could retrieve a pen and paper for the DO’s number. Sergeant was behind me and spotted Oliver when I opened the door. I heard the Sergeant say, “Awww,” and stepped aside so he could get a better view of the pooch. I noticed a relaxed demeanor come over the soldier, and a school boy smile lit up his face. “What a cute little dog,” he said.
    And finally, I saw his finger slip down from the safety.