I’ve been staring down the barrel of rural Georgia for months now, dear Reader, and the day has finally come. The miles accumulate behind us as Billy and I drive further from Atlanta, our Thrifty rental car smelling vaguely of stale fast food. Billy mans the tunes while I babble about potential weekend trips (“…I’m thinking Savannah in September and maybe…”). Surprisingly, I feel optimistic about our new home, the traveler in me delighting in a new location. What will I find there? What will I learn?
Almost two hours and a hundred miles later, the plot twists. Blown tires litter I-75 and the road is lined with dilapidated buildings and abandoned gas stations. Billy and I fall quiet as we near Warner Robins Air Force Base.
“Maybe we’re coming in the back way? Like, if you approach the base from the south it’s probably way nicer,” I offer cheerily.
Billy nods almost imperceptibly, his eyes fixed on the road ahead.
Clouds hang dark and heavy over the base as we offer our IDs and enter the gate. Thunder rolls faintly in the distance. Outside my car window is one squat, sterile military building after another. The woman at the Air Force Inn reservation desk inquires about our time overseas and kindly welcomes us “home.” But this doesn’t feel like home. Not even a little bit.
Our hotel room offers a bleak view of the oncoming storm and a looming water tower. I sigh quietly. We live in an industrial park.
Good Morning, Warner Robins!
I am jerked from sleep by the raucous trumpeting of horns. Not the car horns of Napoli, but actual horns. With my heart racing, I nudge Billy, “What is that?!”
“Reveille,” he mutters, turning away from me and back to his dreams.
“Reveille?” The frenzied tune continues to play… doot doot doo-doo-doot doot-DOO-DOO!…
“They’re raising the flag. The work day started,” my husband explains sleepily.
Well. It certainly was rousing. Leaving Billy to his slumber, I head into our suite’s living room. I turn on the news, eager to see what’s headlining in the Home of the Brave. People run panicked across the screen. Another shooting. On the next channel a red-faced Trump defends the journalistic integrity of The National Enquirer (“…we should be giving these guys a Pulitzer…”). Click. That’s enough America for now. Hungry, I drive to the commissary to do some shopping.
Land of Plenty
The American supermarket is a modern marvel! I wander the aisles slowly, pausing not always to buy a beloved product so much as to simply be near it. I rejoice in out-of-season produce and do weird things like exclaim, “There you are!” to my preferred brand of flaxseed. I’m standing in awe of the natural peanut butter options when I notice an older gentleman nearby looking distressed.
“Good morning,” I venture, catching his attention.
“Mornin’ ma’am. Well now, they gon’ went an’ moved everything around in here. Can’t find a thing I need!” he says, throwing his arms up in exasperation.
“Hmm. That is frustrating. Wish I could help. Today is my first day at Warner Robins so I don’t know where anything is either.”
“Yer first day. Is that right? Isn’t that somethin’…” and then, perhaps sensing my ambivalence, the man says, “Y’all will be fine. Just fiiiiiine!” He pauses thoughtfully for a moment before adding, “Unless yer one of them high falutin’ cityfolks!!”
He erupts into laughter. I laugh along uneasily, knowing full well I’ve been known to be “high falutin’” on occasion. We bid each other good luck and farewell. I turn my cart down the next aisle and think: I’m fucked.
I load an armful of grocery bags into the trunk and begin to feel hopeful again, my spirits lifted by the acquisition of my favorite foods. I turn on the radio and let a country song play. It’s not my usual fare but the storytelling aspect of it appeals to me. Not knowing the words, I nod my head to the beat, happily immersing myself in this new culture.
…You uppity women I don’t understand, Why you gotta go and try to act like a man, But before you make your weekly visit to the shrink, You’d better occupy the kitchen, liberate the sink….
“… Annnnd that was Kinky Friedman with Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns In The Bed!…”
Oh no. Hell no, I think while changing the station. That was too much, too soon.
Platitudes and Pity Parties
William and I are heading to “downtown” Warner Robins (the actual town) to run the terrifically dull errands plaguing suburbanites everywhere. You know, things like buying a car and purchasing a washer/dryer. As we cruise along the busy four-lane thoroughfare, I am visually assaulted by the fluorescent signage of fast food joints, car dealerships, and big-box retailers. An issue of Garden & Gun (yes, a real magazine) describes the area as “the seventh circle of franchise hell.” Basically, it’s everything I hate about America.
Determined not to give voice to my negativity, I remain silent. A decent enough plan, no? But my husband is an insightful and empathetic man, so when nearly six hours pass without me so much as making a peep, I suspect he knows something is amiss.
It’s raining again as we approach the base and there, soaring over the metal hangars and industrial sprawl, is the full, uninterrupted arch of a rainbow. Quite frankly, dear Reader, it irritates me. I interpret it as a direct message from the Universe telling me to buck up right in the middle of my pity party. I contemplate taking a photo of it. I could turn it into a military spouse meme by adding one of the many platitudes bestowed upon us at every challenging turn: Think Positive, Make The Best Of It, or (worst of all) Bloom Where You’re Planted. Within moments the sky darkens and I take comfort in the thunder and lightning once more.
A Lil’ Southern Comfort
But! Here’s some good news… After nearly two months of sleeping in hotels or on government-issued loaner furniture, William and I are finally in our new home! Sure, it’s on base and it was assigned to us, but it’s ours. In the past few days I’ve come to realize just how large Warner Robins AFB is; yes, parts of it lack ambiance (for lack of a better phrase), but so much of it is green! There’s a fitness trail, a golf course, a small lake, and a quiet, tidy cluster of modern homes.
We enter our single-story, ranch-style house and I make a mental note that we’ll need rocking chairs for the porch. After sweltering in Italy, I’m ecstatic about the central air conditioning. Billy runs from room to room testing each outlet and, eventually, triumphantly proclaims, “They all work!” We marvel at the miracle. (Excuse us, our Naples is showing)! There are closets and cabinets. A dining room and a patio. The house would be formidably priced in New England and utterly impossible in Napoli. It’s one block from my office, two blocks from the Fitness Center, and down the road are stables where people board their horses. Yes, yes, yes!
I place a magnet on the fridge, a small purchase made recently in nearby Perry. It reads: Together is my favorite place to be. Cliché? Maybe. But a necessary reminder in my new, transient military life.
We’re backing out of the driveway when – there it is again!
“The horns!” I shout. Billy brings the car to a complete stop.
“Retreat,” he laughs. “It signals the end of the work day. Vehicles are supposed to stop and if you’re walking home from work when it sounds, you should stop too.”
The horns quiet and the national anthem begins to play. I lower the window and stick my head out.
“Where’s it coming from?” I demand. I glance up into the trees, the sky. “I feel like I’m trapped on The Truman Show set or in The Hunger Games’ Arena.”
Billy points to a small speaker box attached to a telephone pole. I scowl at it distrustfully. The anthem is fine but I don’t like when speakers tell me what to do.
“Well, it’s a good thing you told me about it. Especially after the disaster at the movies,” I quip, bringing up an unpleasant gaffe during my first month as a military spouse. Billy shakes his head and smiles.
Unbeknownst to me, dear Reader, people stand for the national anthem before every movie shown on any military base. So it was that I sat shoving my face, oblivious to the national anthem, as everyone rose to honor our country. An unwitting defector with a mouthful of movie nachos, I finally stood and faced the dilemma of whether to chew quietly or not at all. There were no good options; I was a national embarrassment!
Anyway… Georgia is growing on us (slowly, but surely). After all, we are in the South, home of hospitality and mindin’ manners. There’s something endearing about the way people politely address me as “Ms. Malia” – not to mention those tasty biscuits on the menu everywhere! Or how about the guards at the gate who wish me “a blessed day” as I come and go? (Some people take issue with this, dear Reader, but not me! I never turn down a blessing). Sometimes I rack up as many as three drive-by-blessings a day! Woop! You don’t get that in New England.