Meanwhile, Back at the Snake Ranch

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

In an earlier diatribe on life in a non-rated man's submarine approved Snake Ranch… I told about our low rent Shangri-La above Ocean View out Willoughby Spit, going toward the bridge tunnel. It wasn't one of the featured tourist attractions of the Norfolk area… I mean, you couldn't buy postcards or tour books that mentioned the place.

What it was, was a sanctuary and rest home for exhausted members of our undersea forces afloat… Who guarded the saltwater expanse resting off our coast. It was a haven where submarine serfdom came to drink beer, listen to shit-kicking music, take hour-long hot showers, play cards, cuss Chief Petty Officers, nuke sailors, Nikita Krushchev and everyone in France, catch up on sleep, and hold Bacchanalian feasts and seek the pleasures beyond panty elastic.

Life at the Ranch was great. It was one of the best-kept secrets of the Cold War… It was never mentioned in any Tom Clancy book or found its way into one of those Discovery Channel documentaries on how we won the Cold War.

That's a shame… It was the home of the world's largest collection of randomly tossed empty Budweiser beer cans and the location where Naval personnel joined in a joint effort with female civilians to field test damn near every birth control method other than Saran Wrap, then available in the Norfolk area.

It was the place where hanky-panky got raised to a major league sport. We had no TV and nobody ever missed it. On a heavy beer drinking night you had to sign up for a place in the pee rotation on a clipboard nailed to the single seat head's door. In an emergency, you could always step out the rear door of our estate and hose down the world's largest empty beer can collection.

And there were the card games. Jeezus, did we play cards! We wore out decks of Bicycle cards at a rate that must have supported a shift at the Bicycle Card factory.

We played Hearts and straight cowboy poker… Five draw, seven stud… No Girl Scout Camp… Over and under things with one eye… Men with axes… Clubs wild if Wednesday is an even day… None of that shit. We allowed no activity at the Snake Ranch that took more than 30 seconds to explain to a drunk. This kept everybody happy.

There was a Laundromat on the highway to Virginia Beach. It was a great place to meet women. Most of the gals that became regulars at the Ranch, were also regulars at the Laundromat. We called trips to do laundry, "Going to check the traps…" After three or four weeks of punching holes in the North Atlantic, twenty minutes of watching girl's panties passing by a dryer window over and over… And over… Could have your average boat sailor barking at the moon.

In the evening, we would grab a gal, a blanket, a cold six, and a radio, and walk over to the beach. We'd watch the Ocean View roller coaster… The ships passing old Point Comfort and the Thimble Shoals Light… And fumble with blouse buttons. If it got any better than that, they hid the instructions in the wardroom.

We never had a parking problem… We only had one car. We owned stock in it… I sold mine for several reasons… First, the sonuvabitch always needed some kind of work and the 'partnership' always needed money. It was a four-wheeled money evaporator… And the fool thing went to New York all the time. In short, the damn thing never went in any direction I was heading in. I can't complain, I doubled my money… When I left SUBRON SIX, the 'Tidewater Torpedo Joint Holding Company' was alive and well… And the torpedo had bad tires.

'Dixie' and 'Tiger' were two barmaids who shared their delights with numerous subsurface afloat force members. Many a boat sailor has wonderful, long ago memories of laying alongside a set of 'double Ds' on a chilly night or having his back scratched by one, or both of the greatest barmaids in the history of professional barmaiding. The guys who married Tiger and Dixie got great gals who did their part in the Cold War and could do stuff that would set a Hindu sex manual on fire. They were great gals!

The only interior decorations were an RC Cola sign and a naked lady calendar from some welding equipment supply house… If you don't count all the carry out menus tacked on the back of the kitchen door with the 'Fill this for us, Santy Claus' sign.

We didn't have trash and garbage collection service, so we had to bag it and take it back to pier 22… And we had water and electric bills comparable to an auto assembly plant… I've never had one close to what we shelled out and that includes damn near forty years of inflation… That industrial cooling box and the large capacity quick recovery hot water heater sucked up kilowatts like an atom smasher.

We used the phone at the Esso station since we didn't have one… Going down to make phone calls meant picking up a couple of free (remember FREE?) road maps. Someone made the incredible discovery that an unfolded Esso map would cover our entire kitchen table for crab feasts.

Some of my best memories center around the Snake Ranch… Always called 'The Ranch', it was long before there was anything called recycling… We left enough aluminum beer cans in the backyard to build a 747 or 1,500 Yugos. No one above E-4 was ever told of the existence of the place… All 'Rancheros' were single, mostly broke and could survive for long periods of time on beer and pork rinds.

The Ranch is still there… It's painted… Looks respectable and nice people live there. But there was a time… Remember that line in the song…

"Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam…"

Every room looked exactly like buffalo had roamed there for weeks.