Rats on the Hoof

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

If you were lucky, the exec was happy, your division officer had an early tee time, the COB wanted to get an oil change, and Lady Luck wasn't in the middle of her period, they put down liberty at 1300 on Fridays.

For qualified non-rated personnel, there was only one way to see Norfolk and that was though the rear view mirror of a vehicle getting the hell outta town.

Trouble was, on E-3, sub, sea, and foreign duty pay, owning a car all by yourself was impossible. Flying was out of the question... No passenger trains in Norfolk... Round trip bus tickets could take a 50% bite out of a months pay... That left hitchhiking.

These were the pre-wierdo days. The days when a few beers and adventures behind bra hooks and panty elastic was as good and as far out as it got. Nobody wrapped themselves around chemically concocted crap that highjacked your ability to interact with the entire human race.

Somewhere between 1300 and sunset on Friday, half the naval vessels of the known world dumped their liberty sections, and Routes 460 and 17 became lined with raghats hauling AWOL bags. It was easy to pick out the boat sailors... The cheap bastards had those stupid looking green bunk bags... Those goofy things with four snap straps. You could overlap the two in the middle, snap 'em together and make a handle. What you created by doing this was a hootinanny arrangement that folded in the middle, was green and ugly and told every submariner operating without a seeing eye dog, that you were a boat sailor. It was very unsatisfactory luggage but a smoke boat sailor would burn flat spots in new tires to pick you up... It came with Dolphins.

(Author's note: Ray Stone, possibly the only man on the planet to still own a diesel boat bunk bag, a flat hat and Bells' locker club membership card, has recently been inducted into the Cheap Sonuvabitches Hall of Fame for calling his old, worn out bunk bag, carry-on luggage.)

There was an art to hitchhiking out of Norfolk. You had to develop a gimmick because the compitetion was astronomical. There were ten billion raghats and only "X" number of yankee tourists heading back to New Jersey. By the time you got to the York River bridge, the herd had thinned out... If you had a crutch (the duty hitchhiking crutch) and you stood at the stoplight, you always got a ride.

Above Yorktown there was a town called Gloucester, Virginia. It was a municipality populated by the most unpatriotic, worthless, no 'count, bushwacking sonuvabitches God ever made. If ever a community deserved an atomic bomb drop, it was Gloucester.

Gloucester was the county seat and had the county courthouse smack in the middle of town in a square... Literally, a square. You had to make four 90 degree turns to get through the gahdam town. The devious bastards created a zone where auto traffic went from 55 miles an hour to 12 miles an hour in a little over fifty feet. All the civic improvements in the county were subsidized by the systematic Friday Night Fleecing of the Fleet

The low-life animals of Gloucester set up a Winnebago-looking portable courthouse in a high school parking lot and created a drive through traffic court designed specifically to separate John Q. Bluejacket from his liberty money.

A one-legged midget wearing a deep-sea diving boot could get through town faster than you could legally drive. I personally own $32.00 worth of something down there.

Once in a P.O.W. indoctrination, the instructor asked,

"What do you think your breaking point would be?"

"Chief... If the Russians got me, I think I could hold out until (A) they made me listen to two hours of Porter Wagner music or (B) attached high voltage electrodes to my testicles, at which point I would have no other choice but to tell them about the ultra-secret National Military Command Center concealed directly below Gloucester, Virginia."

If you're a citizen of Gloucester and you die... You go directly to Hell.. You don't pass "GO" and you don't collect two hundred dollars.

Up Route 17 there was a "Stuckeys" at Bowling Green. They made a living selling pecan logs to old ladies heading north. They also made great chili... Dime store chili with wall-to-wall kidney beans. We used to stop and get wrapped around a bowl of chili... I always got out of the car around DC, but I've heard stories about carloads of boat sailors driving past Baltimore in 20 degree weather with all the windows rolled down, once those kidney beans kicked in. If there's one thing all smoke boat lads fully understood, it was "BAD AIR."

On Sunday night heading back from DC, you had two choices. Trailways and Greyhound rolled out their 'old, worn out, pre on-board restroom vintage, wooden spoke-wheeled, worn out seats' buses with soon-to-be embalmed drivers. They were called N.O.B. Specials... The sign always read "NAVAL OPERATING BASE" and they left at midnight. They guarenteed you would make Monday morning quarters and set you back twelve bucks... Somebody always had to punch out one or two drunks so you could sleep.

Somewhere south of Tappahannock, the bus pulled off the highway so members of the sea-going armed forces could deliver processed Budweiser to a cornfield.

If you missed the last bus, your best chance for a ride was the parking lot at the Dixie Pig Bar B Q on Route One. The Dixie Pig was the place bluejackets who flirted with missing movement, stopped to find kindred spirits with gas money.

From 2200 to dawn, Routes #1 and #460 looked like the nocturnal return of the Mongol horde. While America slept, men whose sole purpose in life was the projection of naval power throughout the world, were moving through Gloucester at 10 miles an hour, heading back to their ships.

Rumor had it Rickover sent limos with wet bars, TV and stewardesses for the lads who romanced radioactivity. Those guys had keys to the subterranean Gloucester by-pass... And the God-given good sense to stay the hell away from Stuckeys chili.