OK, so last week, my son graduated from Boot Camp. I've already talked about my feelings on the subject, so let's move past that. He did a hell of a job, and I'm proud of him.
My wife has a few physical issues. Between the Polycystic Kidney Disease (learn about it here, if you want) and the arthritis, she can't comfortably drive for more than a few hours; sitting is easier, but after a few hours in the car, there's no way she could take over the driving duties. So obviously, she had to either drive first, or not at all.
She has another issue, but it's one we thought we could exploit. If she goes to bed too early, she wakes up at about two in the morning and can't get back to sleep. It doesn't matter how tired she is, she wakes up. So, we packed the car the night before, she went to bed around six in the evening, and got up around one or two. (All times are approximate.) She got her bath, woke me up, and I stumbled my semi-comatose ass out to the car, curled up in the back seat and went back to sleep. And my other son, who at eighteen years old, feels that staying up all night is the natural way to live your life, climbed in the front seat to keep her awake.
You don't get the best sleep in the world in a car. OK, I don't: I know that some people have no problem with that, and I know from experience that when babies are cranky and refuse to sleep, strapping them in the car and going for a drive can work like a charm. But, by staying up until eleven or midnight, I was still groggy enough that I was out like a light shortly after we got on the highway.
Four or five hours later, we pulled into Flagstaff, Arizona, and swapped seats. My son, now seriously ready to sleep, got in the back seat. My wife, who sleeps in a car even worse than I do, stiffly climbed into the passenger seat, and I cracked open a coke and took over as pilot.
(One thing: my wife, stiff as she was, promptly crossed her legs under her, in what they used to call "tailor-fashion" - how do women do that? Especially when she's already said that she needed to trade because she was too stiff to drive. It's one of those mysteries of life, I guess.)
On the way to San Diego from Flagstaff, we hit one agricultural checkpoint (at the California border), and two illegal alien checkpoints. Admittedly, we were within spitting distance of Mexico for part of the drive, but it seems strange that we're expending so many resources on checking for illegal immigrants - the one thing that Bush has succeeded in doing is reducing the influx of undocumented aliens. Admittedly, he did this by ass-raping the economy, so that they have less incentive to come here, but he did manage it. So big props there; incompetence has an upside, after all.
We got to the motel at around three - one benefit of setting out early was that we had time to get settled in, and not just stagger groggily to bed. We also had time to consult the map, figure out the best way to get to the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot (or MCRD), and scout out the path ahead of time. (Where, incidentally, we discovered that gas was twenty cents per gallon cheaper than off-base prices. Score!)
Thursday morning, we wandered down to the MCRD, because it was "Family Day" (i.e., "We'll let you see your newly-hatched recruit, but you can't take him off-base."). And we found ourselves listening to a Drill Instructor (or DI) who sounded remarkably like Cheech Marin (imagine Cheech from the '70's, telling us that the next morning, we should get to the parade grounds two and a half hours early, to be sure that we got a seat: "So you chould get there at 7:30, with a little cafecito, a little pastry...").
Then the recruits had their "motivational run" (apparently, marines are motivated by the chance to run in formation), and then shuffled off to the barracks while we, their families, went to the Base Theater, where we first got to see a film about their training (which sounded remarkably like cult indoctrination, but with guns), and then got to sit there while a couple of marines speechified at us.
One of the speeches, from the MCRD Commanding General, BG Salinas (surprisingly short woman), included the statement "Now, when the formation breaks and you get the chance to hug your Little Johnnie, and you rush up to him and you look and realize that this isn't your Little Johnnie, hug him anyway. Because somewhere over there, somebody else's parents are hugging your Little Johnnie."
Her point, of course, was that all the marines, with their freshly-shaved heads, looked alike. Which may have been relatively true with some of these beetle-browed hydrocephalics, but we'd already seen Luke in formation, and he wasn't quite as Neanderthalic as the rest. (Is "Neanderthalic" a word? Hmmm... Well, it is now...)
And shortly after that, the new marines all fell in, yelled a little bit, got spoken to sternly, and we got to spend the afternoon with Luke.
He looked about the same: the hair was a little shorter, the muscles actually less than when we'd seen him last, but in uniform instead of jeans and a tee-shirt. He walks a little taller, but overall, he's still my son.
And apparently, he was already a marine. The graduation ceremony the next day was a complete formality: apparently, they're called marines as soon as they finish this grueling, three-day hazing called "the Crucible," where, in the course of this three days, they get a total of eight hours of sleep and two MRE's (that's "Meal, Ready to Eat," if you don't know), and then they have a four or five hour march through the hills of San Diego. Mostly uphill.
The next morning, 455 new marines marched onto the big old blactop football field that they call the "parade deck," yelled a little more, the band played, there was more speechifying (this time including a talk by the Secretary of the Navy), and they were done.