The other night I was getting to the end of my shift. The bars are closed, the radio and dispatch paging system had been quiet. Then I got a page. I was to take someone from their apartment on the West side to the local Wal Mart. Not an unheard of request. Since it is a round trip, I know I am going to be working an extra half an hour.
I get to the apartment complex and a man about my age comes out. On the way to Wal Mart I find out he is a Master Gunnery Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. He has been serving for over twenty years and just got orders a few hours ago to return to Afghanistan that day. Over the years he has been there and Iraq for 8 tours combined. He says he is going to Wal mart to get some beer for a few last drinks before he leaves. I tell him at this hour I don't think they will sell it to him. He assures me that he called the manager, explained the situation and the manager himself said he would be able to buy his beer.
I assume everything will go well and we continue talking. He tells me about his need to get his blood tested regularly. I asked him why he had to get tests. He told me that the last time he was in Afghanistan he was in a cab heading to a helicopter that was waiting for him. Some enemy combatants set up a make shift "check point" on the road. The cabbie, someone he knew and had used several times, tried to protect him by attempting to speed through the barricade. The effort saved the Marine's life, but the cab driver got a bullet through the head. When the back of his head essentially exploded from the gun shot, my passenger got blood splatter in his eyes. Hence the precautionary blood tests.
By the time we got to the store, the topic had switched to fishing and our dads. He went inside and I radioed dispatch and advised her that my passenger was inside the Wal Mart to buy beer. She told me that she did not think they could sell beer that late. I told her that he made special arrangements. After a few moments I started to reach in to my backpack to grab a book to pass the time and he came back in the cab exasperated, as well as empty handed. I asked him what happened.
"I go in there and get a six pack and the lady says I can't buy this because it is too late. I tell her I got it cleared with the manager. She went and checked and came back and said she couldn't sell it to me. I asked to speak with the manager who told me it would be okay. She disappears for a minute, comes back, and tells me that he is unavailable. Unavailable? May as well take me home."
The rest of the trip he is venting. He tells me how he just got this apartment two months ago and now he is going to have to pay for a place he is not even living in. He tells me about all the calls he has to make and errands he has to run before noon to have his affairs in order before he leaves. He is frustrated. He was looking forward to a little time to himself before he had to take care of all these things.
When we got to his building, I am fully prepared to eat the fare as a thank you for his service. Before I can he hands me almost double what the fare was and thanks me for listening to him. I reached out, shook his hand and said,"I know you didn't get your beer. I'm glad I met you. I appreciate you. When you get back, I'd love to buy you a beer. So get your ass back home in one piece, Devildog."