I was driving a van from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale just the other day. The man who gave me the keys had told me that he wouldn't want to be in my shoes, this van had 255,000 miles on it and was in real bad shape. Sure enough, it began to act up on me as I neared the Florida border, and in Valdosta it broke down. I found a nearby Firestone and barely limped into the driveway before it shut down completely. They told me it could be fixed up enough to finish my journey, but I would have to stay overnight.
The next day, as I sat in the Customer Lounge wondering much longer the work would take, I noticed the TV was playing DR. NO. I have always been a huge James Bond fan, and so I thought this would be a nice way to pass the time. Suddenly, a man who appeared to be about 70 sat down next to me.
"Oh boy, DR. NO," he said. "This is Jimmy Bond at his best, and his very first movie. I can remember the first time I saw this movie."
"Did you see it here in Valdosta?" I asked politely.
"Oh hell no, this was in the 60's, I was a teenager living in Illinois. Me and my buddies had to crawl on our bellies across a soy bean field to climb over a fence and sneak into the Drive-in. And let me tell ya, crawling on our bellies prepared us for Vietnam, which is where we went a few year later." He pointed at the TV. "This is the first Bond, and I still say Roger Moore was the best Bond. Just look at him."
"That's Sean Connery."
"Son, son, son, you are so wrong. That man is Roger Moore, and the woman is Jane Seymour."
"I believe that's Ursula Andress."
He laughed. "You couldn't be more wrong, but I won't hold it against you. My name is Roy, and I served my country proudly in Vietnam." He held out his hand, and I reached out to shake.
"That's a good American name. And it was America we were fighting for in Vietnam."
"I appreciate and respect you for your service, Roy."
"Thank God someone does. I killed a few men in Vietnam. Actually, more than a few. In point of fact, a whole, whole lot of men. I saw many of my close friends die bloody deaths. But there were good times, too. It was fun riding in those helicopters."
"I'm glad you made it out OK."
"Despite what you may think, it wasn't all fun and games over in Vietnam. The best movie depiction I've seen of that war was in that movie FORREST GUMP. I really loved that movie, except for that one character, the dumb guy who was always talking about 'Stupid is as like a box of chocolates.' I can't remember that character's name, but he got on my nerves. Really annoyed me."
"It was a good movie."
Roy stared at the ceiling and shook his head. "Guess I've had a good life. I came back from the war and ended up at a base near Dothan, Alabama. And one day I was looking out at a beautiful girl sunbathing in a bikini, and guess what?"
"You married her?"
"Hell no, she was already married. But she did have a very cute sister, and guess what?"
"She became your wife?"
"Nope, but she had a friend who had a neighbor, and I married her. She was from Tallahassee, a sweet little Tallahassee Lassie, and she was everything I could ever want from a wife. OK, I'll admit it, she wasn't as good in bed as some of those whores in Saigon, but I forgave her for that. She sewed her own clothes and was a heck of a cook. That makes up for a lot."
I smiled. "You really love her."
"I did until she died last year. Now I just try not to think about her. It reminds me too much of Vietnam. And now here I am, living in Valdosta, waiting for my car to get fixed. It broke down on me right in the middle of the highway and caused a traffic jam. One woman drove by and rolled down her window and gave me this." Roy gave me the bird with both hands. "Can you believe that? She didn't offer me help, she gave me the finger, in fact two fingers. But I memorized her face, and I will remember that face. And one day, we will meet again, and let's just say I wouldn't want to be her on that day. We knew how to deal with people like that in Vietnam."
"I'm sure war can take a toll on a man."
"Oh sure, men, women, children, dogs, cats. No one likes war." Roy began coughing harshly. "Did I tell you about my son?"
"I love my son. Well actually, he's my grandson, but I love him like a son. He's more of a son to me that my own son, who is his father. His name is Willy, and he's eleven, and boy oh boy can that boy hit a baseball. He makes that bat crack like nobody's business. I would have liked to have had him over in Vietnam. He could have killed the Viet Cong soldiers one after another after another with his bat. Though in reality, we used guns, it was a lot more effective."
"Did I tell you I'm a Gym teacher? P.E. class. That means Physical Education."
"Yep, I took P.E. when I was in school."
"And I bet you got a paddling when you stepped out of line, didn't you? Kids need a good paddling every now and then to keep them in line. A good swat with the board of education on the bottom. But now its forbidden, and that's why kids are running loose and crazy. Over in Vietnam a lot of those enemy soldiers could have used a good paddling, too. Though again, guns and knives were more effective as killing tools."
"I'm sure of that."
Roy pointed his finger at me. "Don't be too sure of yourself. Don't be too sure of anything, you may just find that you're wrong. Like thinking that's Sean Connery on TV playing James Bond. That's the kind of mistake that could have gotten you killed in Vietnam. Listen, no offense, but this whole conversation has really upset me, I need to go take a walk and get some fresh air. If you'll excuse me." Roy marched out the door.
I have nothing but deep respect for all Veteran's who have bravely fought wars for America, and I salute their courage and valor. But as I spent the next few hours waiting for the van to get fixed, I wondered about how the most interesting and unusual people always find and fixate on me-- even in the Customer Waiting Lounge at Firestone.