One fine Gulf Coast evening outside of Seville Quarter -- probably on nickel draft beer night, a memorable incident occurred which I think about to this very day.
After graduating from Vanderbilt University in May of 1990, I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. I entered the Marine Corps on a flight contract, and I started flight school in Pensacola FL in January of 1991.
In my experience, things which are given cheaply are not valued by the recipient. That was certainly the case with me and my flight contract. In the Spring of 1989, I was offered quite casually a coveted flight contract by my Marine Officer Instructor (MOI) which I accepted with a shrug. Unlike many of my flight school contemporaries who dreamed about being pilots since they were knee-high to grasshoppers and who could dazzle with their knowledge of aircraft and aviation history, I was in flight school on a lark. So, Pensacola in 1991 was a carefree time for me. I was more interested in drinking and carousing than being the very best pilot I could be. When not cramming for a test, I could be found most nights at the Flora-Bama Bar, McGuire’s Irish Pub, or Trader Jon’s. The Flora-Bama, located on the Florida/Alabama border, is famous for its annual mullet toss and as place where Jimmy Buffett used to play in the early 1970s. Trader Jon’s is legendary in the Naval aviation community, and the owner always wore different colored socks with a monetary reward (I think it was $1,00,000, but I could be wrong) for anyone who catches him wearing the same color socks.
One fine Gulf Coast evening outside of Seville Quarter — probably on nickel draft beer night, a memorable incident occurred which I think about to this very day. I was loitering outside by myself and relatively sober. When, swear to God, this middle-aged man walks purposefully across the street towards me and recites with great earnest the opening lines to the late-1970s Kansas song, “Carry On Wayward Son.” And, get this, he looked and sounded exactly like John Wood, the English actor who starred in War Games – the 1983 film about a computer game which almost throws the world into global thermonuclear war. So, just imagine. A well-dressed perfect stranger transfixes you with a piercing, yet hollow, gaze and implores you with great Elizabethan Shakespearean flair to:
- “Carry on my wayward son
- There’ll be peace when you are done
- Lay your weary head to rest
- Don’t you cry [any]more” (He took the liberty to correct the original grammar error)
I remember this event like it was yesterday. At the time, I just thought it was a weird, kooky, random encounter with a highly functional street drunk. I still think that. But, I also ask myself: How did this stranger know that I was wayward? Did he choose only me? Or, did he recite ridiculed 1970s classic mega-hits to other passers-by?
In April of 1992, I dropped out of flight school for all the right reasons. And, to this well dressed wandering itinerant, I say: “Thank you, sir! I have carried on ever since.”