Chapter 16: Ranger Rick Goes to Town


    Monday, February 23, 2004

    From Alexandria, Virginia
    and
    Amman, Jordan

    Ranger Rick has been on vacation.

    Maybe it was the trip to Fallujah. Maybe it was the more than three months with only one day off. Whatever it was, Ranger Rick sat at his desk in the Green Room looking at the calendar on his computer.

    "I think I need a break," he said aloud to no one in particular.

    He went next door to the Distinguished Visitors Bureau to see what distinguished visitors might be wending their way to Baghdad.

    "Some Governors are coming in next week. They'll be here for a couple of days, then they're heading home," he was told.

    Perfect.

    "Any room on the plane?" he asked.

    He was told there was, in fact, room on the plane so he asked to be put on the manifest. He was going to get out of Iraq for a while and, it seemed, he was going to leave in style.

    Iraq, being a war zone and all, is not a place of regular work weeks and week ends. Ranger Rick and all the other civilians worked six-and-a-half days per week. Their entire weekend is Friday until noon.

    But, being a war zone and all, if you awoke at your normal time - or even if you slept in until seven or so - there wasn't much to do, so just about everyone ended up at their desks sometime between nine and ten anyway.

    It wasn't like you could go down to the neighborhood deli for a kippered salmon platter. If you got to the dining hall before eight, you were treated to the same breakfast you got the other six days of the week. If you slept in until after eight, you didn't eat at all until lunch.

    So, Ranger Rick was going to go to town. In this case, the town to which he was going was Washington, DC. He was getting out of Iraq for a week and wasn't certain how he would adjust to real life.

    On the appointed day, he made arrangements to store his gun in a safe place, packed all of his shirts and slacks (to wash them in real clean, hot, water with real Tide as many times as necessary to get them clean) as well as his winter sweaters, and arranged for a ride to the airport which is known as BIAP - Baghdad International Air Port.

    Transport to the airport was typical: Two SUVs, four people with guns and whatever passengers were involved.

    He joined the Governors - one from each of the following states:
    New York
    Minnesota
    Oregon
    Idaho
    Louisiana
    Hawaii

    About four reporters who had signed up for the trip and a couple of White House staffers who had come along as the Governors' minders.

    They piled into the standard C-130 for the trip to Amman, Jordan where they would overnight prior to the flight back to Andrews Air Force Base the next day.

    -----

    The next morning Ranger Rick, as he had been instructed to do, was ready to roll at eight. Being ready to roll meant having his bag in the appointed spot at the appointed time for transfer to the airplane.

    The airplane was an Air Force C-32 which is the military version of a Boeing 757. If you are going to fly about a third of the way around the planet, this is not a bad way to go.

    After touring a museum in which they saw things like this fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls,


    the Governors wanted to go shopping for Jordanian tchakahs, so off they went in their bus to a shopping district where there were stores selling real Jordanian stuff which, Ranger Rick assumed, had largely been manufactured in Pakistan.

    Ranger Rick had no desire to buy anything so he found himself standing out on the street mulling (if you know what I mean and I think you do) about this and that and watching the traffic whiz by.

    When he realized he was standing on the street watching the traffic whiz by - watching the traffic whiz by - without any body armor and without any weaponry except for his hands which are not even registered with Madge ("You're soaking in it") the nail lady who just, by the way, died - he moved to put the bus between him and the traffic.

    Just to be on the safe side. Of the bus.

    Then they went to the airport. Here is Ranger Rick with the actual aircraft in the background.

    Note that Ranger Rick has on his Nomex camouflage jacket, and is carrying his famous very manly shoulder bag.

    After flying and flying and flying, Ranger Rick and the Governors landed at Andrews, got into yet another bus and were transported into Your Nation's Capital, Washington, DC.

    The night he got home, Ranger Rick was met at the famous Willard Hotel by The Mullings Director of Standards & Practices and The Lad. Their instructions were as follows:

    "I'll be in the bar."

    The Willard Hotel is famous for having a lobby which runs an entire city block down the middle of the building. It is one block from the White House and, the story goes, in the 1860's people would wait in the lobby for senior Administration officials to happen by and would accost them with one request or another.

    From this came the term, "Lobbyist."

    And you thought Ranger Rick was just another pretty face.

    -----

    The next morning (the morning after having hidden behind the bus in Amman, Jordan) Ranger Rick found himself on the corner of 21st and Pennsylvania Avenue preparing to cross six lanes of traffic to get his shoes shined preparatory to visiting the White House.

    He walked halfway across Pennsylvania Avenue - against the light - waited for the traffic to clear; then went the rest of the way across. Just as he had done a thousand times before.

    It wasn't until he got to the other side of the street that he realized it had never occurred to him to worry about someone taking a shot at him, even though there is, arguably, a much higher rate of homicide-by-gunshot in Washington than there is in Amman.

    "How quickly we adapt to our surroundings," Ranger Rick thought to himself for this is the way Ranger Rick actually talks when he talks to himself, which is yet another reason why Ranger Rick does not find himself overwhelmed with dinner invitations.

    The visit to the White House was uneventful, although Ranger Rick thought about showing his Green Zone and Military IDs at the gate, he settled for his driver's license. He spent a few moments with the Governors who had met with President Bush, and with their staffs then went back to have lunch at the Italian restaurant down the block from his office.

    The name of the place is Primi Priatti's which, Ranger Rick fervently hopes, will get him a free meal if and when he ever comes home for keeps.

    Ranger Rick, who was not born yesterday, understands the concept of product placement.

    On Saturday, Ranger Rick did Tony Snow's Saturday cable show on Fox from their studio on Capitol Hill. He had done this show now and again from the balcony of the Sheraton Hotel in Baghdad but this was different. First, there was makeup which, in Baghdad, Ranger Rick did not use even though he has his portable make up kit with him.

    Second, he was not wearing his under-the-shirt ballistic vest he wears when he is doing the balcony shot. The greatest physical danger at the Capitol Hill studio is going to the wrong floor which regular readers know Ranger Rick has actually done, having mistakenly gotten the NBC makeup lady to fix his face when he was actually scheduled to be on Fox three floors below causing Tim Russert to shout (as Ranger Rick raced for the elevator) "I want my makeup back!"

    SIDEBAR:

    This is an absolutely true story:

    One time, before he was THE Ranger Rick, he was traveling between someplace and someplace else and had to change planes in Atlanta. These were the days when they would randomly pull people out of line at the gate and go through their stuff.

    Although the chances of them pulling any given passenger out of line was pretty slim, they always took someone from the First Class cabin and, because Proto-Ranger Rick almost always flew in First Class he was pulled out of line with some regularity.

    On this particular flight, a man and a woman were the bag checkers. The man went through Rick's roll aboard and the woman was checking his very manly shoulder bag (not the one pictured above; an earlier version).

    After pulling out all sorts of electronic gizmology, she came across a baggie of MAC makeup and some of those sponge triangle things. (Oh, yeah, like you don't know what I'm talking about.)

    The woman looked at the makeup. Looked at Proto-Ranger Rick. Looked at her partner. Looked at the makeup again. (At this point it was like a Seinfeld episode - the entire gate area went silent).

    When she looked at Rick again he shrugged, smiled and said, "Sometimes I just need to feel pretty."

    END SIDEBAR

    One of the things Ranger Rick did was go undercover. Here is a shot of him hiding in out in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia:

    Ranger Rick was amused by many things which were different than his normal life in Iraq.

    For one thing there are Starbucks and you don't have to fly on a C-130 to get to them. You can drive to many of them in the Mullmobile or, if it is not 19 degrees (which it was for the first four days of his adventure) you can walk from your house.

    For another, there is election news which has nothing whatever to do with the United Nations, Sunnis, Shi'ias, or Kurds. Ranger Rick, in fact, was surprised to find out that anyone on the planet actually believes that President Bush can be beaten by Senator

    C-E N-S-O-R-E-D

    Under the terms of his employment with the Department of Defense, Ranger Rick is not permitted to wander into the fetid pond which is domestic politics.

    Signed,
    The Pentagon Office of People Assigned to Read what Ranger Rick Writes

    Still another minor difference between the Washington, DC metropolitan area and the Baghdad, Iraq metroplex (that's just to irritate Ranger Rick's readers in Dallas) is this.

    In Old Town, a "Do Not Enter" sign is not accompanied by a notice stating that "DEADLY FORCE IS AUTHORIZED."

    Further, in Iraq, streets themselves are mere suggestions for travel; white lines mean nothing at all, and; it is not at all unusual to find someone coming the wrong way down even a six-lane highway - directional travel being optional in a war zone.

    Ranger Rick, being unarmed, followed many of the established rules while on this trip.

    During his visit, Ranger Rick had several discussions and meals with real, actual reporters all of whom wanted to know why things were going so badly in Iraq.

    Ranger Rick, being unarmed, patiently explained that things were NOT going badly in Iraq. In fact, he argued, if a reporter had been told a year ago - February 2003 - that by February 2004 there would be an active and peaceful debate over the form and timing of elections to establish a permanent government in Iraq the reporter would have laughed so hard that the BEER HE WAS DRINKING ON RANGER RICK'S TAB WOULD HAVE COME SHOOTING OUT OF HIS AND/OR HER NOSE!

    Ranger Rick has not lost his highly acclaimed ability to make a point - armed or not.

    Oh. You know that there are many, many sandbags where Ranger Rick lives:

    These are placed around his very excellent trailer for his protection against someone trying to drop a mortar round on his head or in any other part of his anatomy.

    In Old Town Alexandria, Virginia they also have sandbags. These are used to hold back the Potomac River when the occasional hurricane comes roaring up from the south. Here is the last one:

    One hopes the sandbags around Ranger Rick's trailer are more useful than this lone sandbag and its pals were in Old Town. They had approximately the same success in holding back the river as King Canute had holding back the tide.

    And you thought Ranger Rick was just another ...

    Another point Ranger Rick made to his reporter friends was this: The veneer of civilization is very thin. To make his point Ranger Rick pointed to the two goofballs who, a couple of years ago, were running around the Washington, DC region shooting at people through a hole they had drilled in the trunk of their car.

    This was brought to Ranger Rick's attention because a piece in the Washington Post indicated that John Allen Mohammed had been refused a new trial.

    Mohammed and his kid-friend had successfully paralyzed the entire region during their killing spree and, Ranger Rick pointed out, imagine what life would be like if just one IED was set off on the Beltway during rush hour.

    Most reporters understood Ranger Rick's point which was, more-or-less, "there but for the Grace of God "

    -----

    Several times, Ranger Rick, still in his undercover disguise, went to bars and had a glass of wine. He was able to completely slip in-and-out without being discovered while, still, having others pick up his tab.

    Ranger Rick is more clever than you might have suspected from reading these reports.

    In this particular case, Ranger Rick was regaling the entire bar at the Morrison House (piano bar on weekends, private rooms available for group gatherings) with stories of derring-do in which Ranger Rick had either actually participated or had heard about other people being involved with and he might have, you know, sort of pretended - not in a bad way but in an entertaining way - that he had actually taken part never mind.

    At one point Ranger Rick actually went into this place:


    to look for military-type stuff and, as long as he was there anyway, to see how much his own personal, keep-forever, 9mm pistol might cost.

    Too much, is the answer. Ranger Rick will keep his $13 holster, but he's turning the pistol in when he leaves.

    After being in Your Nation's Capital for a week, Ranger Rick set about returning to duty in beautiful downtown Baghdad.

    Here's one of the things he cannot get in Baghdad which makes his hazardous duty pay a reasonable add-on to his meager wage:


    If you don't know what Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray is, ask someone who grew up in New York.

    As this is being written, Ranger Rick is sitting in the lobby bar at the Four Seasons hotel in Amman, Jordan. Tomorrow morning he will board a plane to return to Baghdad; tanned, rested, and ready to return to duty.

    But, there's no sense in rushing things.

    Be safe.

    -- END --

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