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Fiction – Ruth’s Story #24 Parked for the night in the middle of I5

March 31, 2012

It is fully dark now; a cold moonless night with only a slight breeze. On the breeze I smell acrid smoke, layered with the stench of decaying bodies and sewage. The smell of smoke, shit and rotting death permeates everything and I suddenly crave another cigarette. Maybe a cigarette will cover the smell.

For the first time I notice how quiet and eerie the highway feels. Even surrounded by all this Army equipment (even though it is off) it is eerily quiet. I realize the soldiers are not running any of their generators or equipment unless they absolutely need it. To the casual observer, this camp appears abandoned.

The fact that the soldiers “uncloaked” risking themselves to help us shows the inherent goodness of the average American soldier. Survival is selfish. Helping others might not be in your best interests if you are going to survive.

None of the street lights are working; underneath the overpass it is pitch dark. The soldiers stacked jersey barriers and parked heavy equipment like the HEMMT trucks and Humvees forming a thick barrier around their camp. Inside the barrier the soldiers strung tarps and erected shelters. I can hear and sense a flurry of movement under the tarps and hear hushed conversations which sound like orders being given.

The center of the area is a clear courtyard in the middle of which used to be the highway express lanes. My little car and the snow plow are now parked in the eastern edge of this courtyard nearly perpendicular to the I5 main line lanes just north of the Lake City Way overpass. I spot the occasional soldier arms full running across the courtyard.

I am sure there is much activity that I cannot see in the dark, but it appears that the soldiers are still erecting their shelters and settling for the night. I smell food cooking and one of the loveliest smells known to man – coffee! The smells of food and coffee, makes my stomach rumble in anger reminding me that I have neglected it.

It is going to be cold tonight. There is already a chill in the air. I better grab my Scottevest jacket. I am planning on sleeping in my little car with the rear window smashed out; it is going to be damned cold. I suppose I could let my little car idle all night to give me warmth, but I cannot risk the waste of fuel.

Rick jumps out of the snow plow cab and stretches. He is wearing the black leather gun belt he picked up in the highway. I also notice he is wearing it backwards with the pistol butt facing forward on his left hip. I wonder if Rick is attempting a crossdraw, or is he left handed? I make a mental note to talk to Rick later.

Rick walks to the side of the snow plow and holds a brief conversation in Spanish with the tall swarthy Hispanic man dressed in road crew attire. I am fluent in Castilian Spanish, so I am able to understand their conversation, even though they are obviously speaking South American (most likely Mexican) Spanish.

Rick tells the Hispanic man (whose name I learn is Gabe) that he is going to raise the tail gate of the snow plow so that the people back there can get down, stretch and use the facilities. I am not sure why this conversation was held in Spanish.

Rick raises the tailgate (not before making sure everyone is clear) using the controls on the rear of the snow plow. Once the tail gate is open the people riding in the back start climbing down. The bed of the snow plow contains probably about a foot thick layer of sand in the bottom. I wonder if the sand was placed there before, or after they picked up riders. Several of the passengers are coated in sand and track sand around the general vicinity of the snow plow as they shake sand out of their clothes and shoes.

I hate the beach and I particularly despise sand as it goes everywhere it is not supposed to go and gets into everything it should not. I guess growing up in the desert gives me a different perspective on sand. The dark sand in the snow plow looks to be either road grit or construction grade sand. The sand is certainly not the pretty shiny white beach sand you used to see on tourist post cards.

Several soldiers suddenly appear underneath the tarps from where the colonel and SAS soldier disappeared. The soldiers are carrying bundles of clothing and boxes; a couple boxes I recognize immediately as MRE cases.

A female soldier with a shoulder-length, thick pony tail of wavy hair so vividly red it had to come out of a bottle walks towards me carrying a medium-sized cardboard box. She wears older, several sizes too large, woodland green camouflage BDU pants tucked into current-issue desert tan boots. A snug, dark dirt-brown tee shirt covers her torso. The snug tee shirt reveals the outline of a thick, heavy sports bra. She has a smooth slightly rounded stomach. A wide black nylon web belt with a flat black metal buckle encircles her generous hips. The belt strung through the belt loops of her BDU pants is struggling to keep the flopping loose BDU pants around her waist. I’d bet that she is wearing man’s pants, which are why the pants fit her so poorly.

Her weapon, an older M16 (possibly an A2 I guess by the non-collapsing butt stock I see poking over her right shoulder), is strung over her back hanging to the left, the black nylon rifle sling parting her very generous breasts. This woman certainly fits the term “over well-endowed.” I notice that I have self-consciously crossed my arms. Great, I have tit envy! I uncross my arms.

Her skin is very pale almost glowing in the dark. When she gets closer; I notice her skin is heavily dusted with freckles. Maybe she comes by some of that deep, dark red hair naturally. She has dark blue eyes and small, arrow-straight nose over a wide, generous-lipped mouth that seems to be forever stuck in a perpetual mischievous grin through which white teeth occasionally poke. She has a stout neck maybe a little too thick, but with her broad shoulders, it fits her frame. She is quite a bit little taller than me, maybe five feet six inches or so without boots on. In her combat boots she is nearly six feet tall.

Most guys would cruelly call her fat or big-boned but it seems to fit her; she is certainly well proportioned being neither apple nor pear-shaped. Maybe not HWP, but she looks healthy, the muscles in her arms are well toned; she carries the box with ease. She does not get too close but remains a respectful distance, and asks me in a soft voice where I would like her to put the box.

“Please place it on the bonnet,” I tell her softly.

I get a blank look and I remember that Americans call it a hood not a bonnet.

“Place it on the hood of my car please,” I tell her.

“Ok,” she says. “By the way, I am Carol.”

“Nice to meet you Carol, I am Ruth,” I tell her.

She sets the box on the hood, and I see that it is filled with water canteens, a small faded solid green Army coat, and other items I cannot make out right now.

The six soldiers dressed in an eclectic array of uniforms who exited the shelters hold a brief quiet discussion. The soldiers then walk to the group of people riding in the snow plow. They start handing boxes of MREs, water canteens, bundles of clothes, folded heavy canvas tarps, and gray scratchy wool government surplus blankets to the people from the bed of the snow plow. Rick is busily talking to one of the soldiers. The woman with the M686 pistol riding in the snow plow cab with Rick, and her two daughters are nowhere to be seen.

All the people have climbed out of the snow plow dump bed and are stretching their legs. The young African-American couple with their two babies is directed to one of the shelters by an African-American male soldier dressed in current issue fatigues tucked into desert tan boots. I notice this man is rail thin, shaved bald (he is not wearing head gear), but is wearing pale blue surgical gloves. As he moves around looking at the riders from the snow plow I see that he wears the emblem of the Medical Corps on his shoulder and bright silver oak leaves on his collar.

I note with interest, the direction the African-American medical officer indicated tothe young couple with the two babies is the same place where the commanding officer went. I wonder if that is the medical tent.

Most of the riders from the snow plow dump bed walk in the direction of a sign taped to the overpass support column that says simply “latrine” above a large, heavy black arrow pointing north. I make a note of the location of the latrine myself.

One thing I hear repeatedly is the cautionary reminder that no open flames are permitted. Strict light and noise discipline is enforced. The other stern reminders I hear repeated is to never go anywhere without a loaded weapon and never go anywhere alone, including the latrine. They would add a shower to that list, but as one soldier explains to the young asian man’s question, they have no shower facilities

Finished with his inspection of the snow plow passengers, the medical officer begins heading my way. As Carol chatters on, I observe over her shoulder the progress of the medical officer. I realize that Carol is still chattering away and I have merely nodded at her which seems enough for her to continue talking.

I lift the faded but clean, solid O.D. green men’s small M-65 field jacket from the box. I unzip the jacket and am pleased to see that it includes the liner already buttoned in place. Not as warm as my Scottevest jacket, but still a nice coat to have. I try the field jacket on and it fits perfectly. I zip the jacket up pleased with its warmth.

“The jacket didn’t fit me or anyone else,” Carol says. “I am glad to see it fits you.”

The M-65 field jacket with its liner is not as heavy or warm as my Scottevest jacket but it is a lot less bulky. I can move easier wearing the old field jacket. I am willing to sacrifice a little warmth for mobility. The gift of the coat is priceless today. It will be a long time before such articles of clothing are made again if ever.

I thank Carol and she nods at me watching, finally silent as I rummage in the box. There are four naked and empty one quart Army plastic green canteens with the newer gas mask compatible top that everyone hates. Underneath the four empty canteens are two “enhanced” type, two-quart plastic bladder-type canteens with solid caps and O.D. green nylon covers.

Underneath the six empty canteens are eight sealed heavy brown plastic bagged MREs. Pulling the top MRE out to look at it, I realize it is too dark to be able to read the label. Carol sees me squinting at the label on the MRE and reaching into her left lower thigh pocket and pulls out four, thick cyalume sticks sealed in foil covers. I recognize the thick green bands on the sticks; the international markings for green.

Carol hands the four green cyalume sticks to me, saying in a soft low voice, “Use these sparingly we are almost out.”

I notice the African American medical officer is standing behind Carol silently listening to us. He stands with his blue-clad hands held loosely at his side. I notice he wears an old, solid O.D. green universal pistol flap holster in a green nylon harness “tanker style” under his left arm pit. The battered butt of a standard M9 sticks out of the holster. Carol does not seem to be aware of his presence.

“Thanks soldier,” I tell her softly while putting the cyalume sticks in my left lower thigh pocket.

“Oh, I am not a soldier,” she says barely above a whisper. “I am in the Navy or rather was in the Navy – not sure right now. I am a Cryptography Tech; and an E5, but most of these soldiers do not understand Navy ranking structure so I have gotten used to being called Sargent Carol.”

“Carol is your last name?” I ask her softly.

She chuckles, “No it’s my first name; my last name is fairly unpronounceable to most people. My last name is Liepkalnietis. I am of Latvian descent; my grandfather immigrated to the U.S. with my grandmother and my father when he was a little boy. I grew up in Willits, California. My family speaks English, Russian, and Latvian as well as the Finno-Ugric Livonian dialect which is near extinct. I learned Serbo-Croatian at Berkley. When I joined the Berkley Navy ROTC to earn more money for college, they offered me cryptography and I eagerly accepted. When this zombie mess started I was pulled out of my junior year at Berkley, told I was now an active duty sailor, an E5, and stuck on a destroyer in San Diego.”

When she pauses for a breath I say, “Wow, your last name is a mouthful.”

Carol replies with a smirk, “That’s not what most people usually say.”

Leaving Carol smirking, I open the driver’s side door retrieve the keys to the car, and press the unlock button twice on the key fob to unlock all four doors. I walk around the little Smart Forfour car and opening the rear right passenger door setting the box Carol gave me in the seat. I grab one of the MREs from the box and close the door. I walk to the passenger door and open the door retrieving my POF AR15 and my Browning Hi-Power pistol.

I see the medical officer has observed everything I have done; watching silently, for what I wonder.

I tuck my pistol in the front of my pants (still thankful that this does not threaten my genitalia unlike the guys) and pull my shirt and field jacket down to cover it. Grabbing my AR15 in my left hand, I grab two full M16 magazines and put one in each of my rear pants pocket.

With my AR15 in my left hand, my MRE supper in my right, I say in a hushed coarse whisper “Hey Carol, what is the chance, I can get a load bearing vest, a holster and such for my weapons?” as I press the button on the fob to lock all four doors of the little car.

  1. phil evans permalink

    pleasingly descriptive – very good chapter – but you left us hanging in midair!

  2. Interesting, in that it makes me wonder what’s next…

  3. BobOK permalink

    My FIX arrived!

  4. John permalink

    Will she score some MOLLE gear or some old, but serviceable ALICE?

    She also still needs to check out the 2 rucks that she acquired outside of SEA.

    • Ruth will get a chance to dig into the ruck sacks later. In an upcomming installment Ruth will get a chance to acquire some load bearing gear. If anybody has suggestions I would love to hear them.

  5. In the airport, she was looking for tea, went on about her tea collection and specifically said she didn’t understand the americans’ interest in coffee…

    Then in the parking garage she was craving starbucks, I thought “Ok… whatever” but now she’s on about it again.

    I’d advise maybe change the earlier bit to “LOVE tea, like coffee if no tea is available” or something similar…

  6. Also, Her descriptions of women would seem to indicate more than a passing interest in them if you know what I mean…

    If she’s not a gal’s gal, might want to tone that down a bit…


    • Most people would call Ruth bi-sexual, but she falls in love with the person, their gender is unimportant. Ruth’s sexuality and a lot of her personality is based on a former coworker with whom I spent many hours on night shift talking about anything to keep us awake until the next shift came on. She gave me some startling insights on the plights of someone that is truly bi-sexual. Thanks for the suggestion, though I thought the mention of Amy and Aharon several times should have given away her sexual tendencies.

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