Culinary Capers

“Hands up!” screamed Mickey the Marine.

“No false moves, pal, or you’ll get wiped!” snarled Norman, an Army guy like me. I stood there doing my best to look threatening but said nothing. We were in the midst of a holdup, having blocked the road and hijacked a catering truck that worked the base of Fort Lee, Virginia. We were three among a class of sixty other guys learning the parachute rigger trade. There were Army and Marine Corps people there, the classes shared between the service branches. But at the moment it was a bit after 9 o’clock at night, and realizing we’d missed our chance to hit the gut truck as we called it, had set out to catch and stop it. After hours nothing! We were hungry.

We saw the truck in the distance and overtook it quickly in Norman’s Chevy Nova. Passing it, we stopped the car diagonally in the street to block the traffic, the truck and us the only ones on the dark street. We all jumped out with our weapons, and in military style, took control of the truck. Mickey was armed with a Dodgers pennant which he waved in a threatening manner. Norman was holding a mop head that looked more like a wig than a weapon, but he held it aloft. It’s all about attitude in a situation like that. I was armed with a rolled up magazine. The driver looked at us with an expression of confusion. “Are you guys really holding me up?”

“That’s right, buster!” said Norman. “Behave yourself or I’ll put this on my head and tell people you tried to feel me up.”

“Snort. Well, we can’t have that.” replied the driver. “So, uh, whadda you guys want?”

We of course then had to scrutinize the menu and consider it. It’s not like we’d invested a lot of planning into our hijacking. “I think I’ll take a couple of those roast beef sandwiches.” ventured Norman. I was more up for a heated hoagie. Mickey just wanted some popcorn and a drink. The driver set to heating the hoagie and getting the sandwiches and popcorn while we stood there trying to look menacing.

“That’s an interesting array of weapons you guys got there.” smirked the driver.

“Yeah, well, we’re learning to sew. It’s not like we have guns or anything.”

I held my magazine aloft. “Dogs the world over cringe at the might of the rolled magazine!” I said triumphantly.

“I think they cringe from rolled up newspapers.” replied the driver. My shoulders slumped.

“Hey, we’re expedient, dammit. We make use of what we have.” Mickey looked a bit indignant as he spoke. I slapped my hand with the magazine and winced. “See that!” said Mickey. “Painful stuff there.”

The driver shrugged and passed our food through the service window. Norman handed the driver a twenty and we turned and started back towards the car. “Hey, you guys got change coming.” the driver yelled.

“M’afraid you’re stuck with it buddy. Explain the overage to your boss! Bwa ha ha ha!.” said Norman. “That’ll tech you to make fun of our weapons!”  The driver shrugged and put the money in his shirt pocket. We piled into the Nova and sped away.

We forced our will upon the gut truck a total of fifteen times, working out to be about three times a week through classes. Each time we used different weapons to effect the job, ensuring that we couldn’t be identified by a Modus Operandi, never mind the name tapes on our fatigue uniforms and always stopping the truck like clockwork in the same place. We discovered that we could get our food by threatening the driver with pillows, lamp shades, sponges and gym socks, each weapon choice working exceptionally well. We always managed to get the food even though after a while we abandoned the weapons altogether. It was kind of depressing that after the third caper, we would find him waiting for us at the spot we would catch up to him at. He would display his fear by saying things like “Gee, you missed it last night. I had some really good tuna rolls.” 

On graduation day, the catering truck driver came to the ceremony where they presented us our rigger wings, he presenting us with a milkshake and Philly Cheesesteak –no charge. “Gonna miss you guys,” he said. “This was the funnest class ever come through because of you.” We thanked him back, appreciating his humor and willingness to break regs. He wasn’t really supposed to operate after nine at night. I suppose he could have gotten into hot water favoring us.

After rigger school I never saw Mickey McGuire again. I expect he went to Vietnam and I hope he came back. Norman and I were assigned to the same company at Ft. Campbell, but in different platoons. We didn’t hang out, having different circles at Campbell. He was still there when I left to go to war. 

I remembered this little snippet of time after seeing Fort Lee mentioned in one of the Memorial Day articles I saw online. I wondered about the guy that made his living selling fast food to the soldiers on base, and wondered what the years might have done to him, with fast food restaurants popping up like McDonalds, Arctic Circles and A&W. I doubt that the modern restauranters would offer the same opportunities for dumb ways for bored GIs to break routine. A guy could probably get jail time for stopping a vendor and overpaying him these days. But times change and so do attitudes, and that’s why people like me sit around and remember things like this and tell youthful listeners about how it was “Back in my day…”