My time in the Marine Corps provided me with a unique opportunity to see the United States from an interesting perspective. Being that I traveled around, not so much WITH the President of the US, but FOR him, I got to see pretty close to every major city in the country. Quite a good handful of minor one’s as well. You see, the plane (we referred to our helicopters as planes, I don’t know why, just stick with me here) I traveled with carried varying cargo depending on the event itself. We went to whatever city the President was headed to about 2 to 3 days ahead of time, participated in whatever event the President was there for and then left the next morning to head off for the next destination. The majority of the time we were there was work, but we did get usually a night of down time while there. Or 9 nights, but that was rare.
Mostly it was like Speed Dating the United States.
In any city we were going to be staying in for more than a day, we got rental cars and usually a pretty damn nice hotel room. That was all we needed to terrorize the town to suit our needs. Our down time generally consisted of drinking heavily (always), the local strip club (usually), the hotel bar (also known as the “pre-flight”), and more than the recommended capacity for a single hotel room because somebody managed to bring a girl back and everyone else got kicked out. Many hangovers were nursed.
Sometimes we just chilled out and explored the local museums and experienced the local culture and got to know the people of the area and spread our positive patriotic message.
No we didn’t. I totally made that last shit up. You really wanted to believe it though, didn’t you?
Having spent most of my life in North Carolina or New York, anything west of that was pretty much a myth to me, so getting out past the Appalachian mountains was an exciting prospect to me. I figured there had to be some stuff out there that I wasn’t going to experience over here on the right coast.
“I bet there’s some mighty fine titty bars out there.” I’d say.
And there were, but that’s totally not the point.
So, for your traveling guidance, I’m going to pick out some of the places I’ve been and give you my impression to help you decide where you want to take your next vacation. Or you may possibly decide never to leave home again. The choice is yours. I hope this helps.
Washington DC – Highest concentration of assholes in the country.
I got more than my fill of this town as this was less of a travel destination and more like kinda where I had to live for 4 years. I was stationed in Quantico, VA which is just south of DC right on 95. What this means is unless you’re flying out of Quantico, when you leave the gates, you’re stuck in traffic. Until you die.
The city itself is really just a big museum, from one end to the other. The Smithsonian, which consists of around 3,000 different buildings, is only the beginning. Then there are the monuments and historical buildings and that big place with the dome on the top. In those other places that aren’t “historical”, the streets are riddled with crime. Muggers and thieves and junkies and hookers thrive in those areas and you have to keep the eyes on the back of your head open at all times.
Except when the Senate is in session; then they’re all pretty much contained in the same place and you’re free to roam.
Memphis, TN – It’s got GRACELAND, Dude!
If you go to Memphis for nothing else, go for Graceland. For all his fame and all his fortune and that beautiful piece of property that Elvis had, that was one tacky motherfucker. There is also a museum and gift shop (a GIFT shop! All the Velvet Elvis’ you could ever dream of!) and you can see his Cadillac collection and take a peak at his airplane. Also, don’t forget to say hello to the crazy lady outside the gift shop that lives there and is waiting for Elvis to come home.
You also don’t want to go to Memphis without taking a stroll down Beale Street, the epicenter of the Blues scene. I got to meet B.B. King while I was there. It was at his bar. It’s called B.B. King’s because he’s creative. I had to make 2 or 3 trips to Beale Street because I only had fuzzy memories of the first couple of times I went. This pretty much applies to everywhere I went.
Denver, CO – I can not BREATHE up here!
If I had to pick a favorite place to live outside of North Carolina, this would be it. I don’t know what it is about the place, I just liked it. Good people, fantastic view and the Coors Brewing Co. used to hand out free beer on the tour. I don’t even drink anymore and I’d still go back. If you are a runner or a jogger, this is a great place to build up your respiratory stamina because you’ve pretty much left the atmosphere up there.
The freakiest part about traveling there was flying in. We kept climbing and climbing and we passed a couple of satellites and I thought we were never going to stop climbing . . . then all of a sudden we were 6 inches off the ground. I’m pretty sure we found the top of Jack’s fuckin’ beanstalk.
Los Angeles, CA – Beautiful plastic people.
The interesting thing about L.A. is that you can’t really tell where it ends. You fly through countless miles of uninhabited desert and then all of a sudden you come upon a city. This is most easily observed when flying in at night. The city stretches off in either direction as far as the eye can see. It is solid city right up to the coastline and it really is an incredible sight. It was the first time I saw with my own eyes that smog is a very distinct and visible layer of the atmosphere.
Visiting L.A. on foot is another treat and you have to be careful what neighborhood you wander into. My Marine buddies and I were not met by the neighborhood welcome wagon upon accidentally wandering into Compton. In Hollywood, on the other hand, we were the closest thing to “normal” they’d ever seen. I’ve been to circus events that had less freaky people.
Driving in southern California is something everyone should have to do at least once. It makes the people that drive into Washington DC every day say, “These people are IDIOTS”! The difference is that in Washington DC, everyone is packed on the highway, bumper to bumper, not moving; in southern California, everyone is packed on the highway, bumper to bumper, going 90 miles an hour. This was probably the most comfortable I ever was traveling in a helicopter. I could look down at the I5 and say, “I’m glad I’m not on THAT suicide mission”.
Oh, and have you ever heard the expression “you don’t know what you had until it’s gone”? That describes an earthquake. It happens and everyone stands there looking confused and looking at the ceiling and then it stops. By the time the words “what the fuck was that” come out, it’s over. Then you sweep up the beer bottle that fell and go, “oh, that was an earthquake”.
Houston, TX – It’s a “dry heat” my ass!
Honestly, it’s a great town and I had a great time there and despite the fact that it’s surrounded by 75 million square miles of jack shit and sand, it’s really a clean and fun city. Nicest people in the country in my opinion. Well, I’m pretty sure they were nice since they were smiling when they talked to me but I don’t understand Spanish.
My one complaint (besides the fact that I found out that hair melts in the afternoon sun) is a “convenient” thing they have done with the highways down there. Say you’re driving down the highway and you see the exit you need coming up. You take said exit and at the bottom of the exit you turn to go find your final destination. Only instead of finding yourself on the surface streets, you find yourself back on the highway. Going the other direction. With your exit in the rear view mirror.
Me: “What the hell just happened”?
Marine buddy that navigates poorly in the passenger seat: “You didn’t get in the lane you needed to be in.”
Me: “I took the exit, I had to go left at the bottom of the exit. I took a left. Now I’m going back in time. What the fuck?!”
MBTNPITPS: “That was a turn-around lane. It’s so you can go back if you miss your exit.”
Me: “But I was ON my exit. Now I have missed my exit BECAUSE of my exit!”
MBTNPITPS: “It’s ok, you can turn around again at the next exit.”
Me: “I SWEAR to God I’m in the Twilight Zone. If I take the next exit and end up in 1973, you’re spending the rest of this Interstate Carousel ride in the trunk.”
A minor complaint at most. In North Carolina we give the same street 12 different names. Sometimes we use the same name twice, but never consecutively. It’s our own version of the Twilight Zone with less turning.
Albuquerque, NM – Like Houston, but with even more Spanish.
If this had just been a 2 or 3 day stop, it would have been fine, but no, we ended up stuck there for 9 days. Waiting on a part for one of the helicopters. 9 days is apparently how long it takes FedEx to deliver a 50′ rotor blade. Yeah, those are pretty important so we REALLY needed another one when we broke ours. This left about 35 Marines stuck in Albuquerque, NM for 9 days . . . with nothing to do.
First of all, on behalf of the United States Marine Corps, let me apologize to the City of Albuquerque. We promise not to come back. Probably.
Second, it was totally not me that broke that bouncers nose at that club. Probably.
Other than that, I remember hot. Yes, it was indeed a “dry heat” which only means that getting a tan is more like a flash fire on your face.
Other than that, I remember nothing. 9 days and that’s what I got out of Albuquerque. Well, except I learned how to spell “Albuquerque”.
Las Vegas, NV – Like Graceland on Amphetamines.
If it costs 8 billion dollars and it’s tacky as hell, it’s in Las Vegas. I didn’t get to experience the “normal neighborhood” part of Las Vegas because I hear that exists . . . my time in Las Vegas, though short, was spent on The Strip. The alcohol flowed freely because that was supposed to cause your money to flow freely. It’s a system that works for them apparently because when you watch the people that leave the casinos, you get 1 person that is really excited and on top of the world and 1000 people looking for a building to jump off of. I can see the draw to this place.
It’s also the only city in the country where your marriage certificate comes with a time stamp and “I was drunk off my ass” is a legally recognized grounds for divorce. Tell Elvis I said Hi. One of ’em.
This is only a short list of the places I’ve had the opportunity to visit. There are many more I may write about later, but these stick out in my mind first and foremost. I joked about them, but in all seriousness there isn’t anyplace I listed that I didn’t really enjoy getting the opportunity to visit and all of them convinced me that this is truly the greatest country in the world. No matter where you go, go with an open mind and do yourself a favor and stay sober to enjoy it. I want to go back to all of these places to experience them with clear eyes and a clear head and I hope you all will be around to read about it when I write about it again through this new perspective. I’d love to hear from you folks about your experiences in these places and any others you may have visited. I’d be more than happy to compare notes if I’ve been there too.
Except New Jersey. New Jersey sucks.
Oh, and for all of you waiting for me to tell you about the titty bars . . . the good ones are in Canada.
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