September 17, 2008
Posting date: 9/17/08
Stationed in: Kabul, Afghanistan
Hometown: Binghamton, NY
Milblog: Cheese's Milblog
It's been a long couple of days. We're in the middle of one of the most tragically entertaining ordeals of which I have ever been a part. We knew it would be a multiple-day convoy to help deliver some supplies, but we have been more than plagued by vehicle breakdowns. Some of the cargo is being hauled by "jingle trucks", semi-trailers named after the metal wind chimes that the Afghan drivers hang from them to ward off bad luck. Let's just say that the jingles aren't working. Everything that can break has, and the mechanics that were sent to ride along with us are about to just give up and walk.
There are plus sides to help weigh out the delays and frustrations. When we were stranded at a small outpost in the absolute center of nowhere, my squad volunteered to guard the locals and their trucks while we waited for parts. Keep in mind, we were just watching the drivers and we were inside a secure area -- none of this story took place "outside the wire."
Now, I cannot explain the intensity of, or even the reason for, my desire to drive one of these jingle trucks. I could try to tell you how hilarious they look, with their flamboyant paint jobs, carpet-covered interiors and overall jalopy appeal, but I guess I'm still the only one who would love to own one of these things back home.
Well, my lieutenant had promised me that he would let me drive one of the need ever arose -- and it did. We had to move the trucks off of the road to let traffic by, and the driver was nowhere in sight. I ran to the LT and told him what was up and he just shrugged his shoulders -- which was all the permission I needed.
We both climbed in, and I adjusted the mirrors and felt the steering column for the key. It wasn't there. At this point I could see the driver sprinting towards the truck in the rearview mirror, but I didn't want to miss my chance. I looked on top of the sun-visor, under the seat, everywhere. I had just accepted my defeat when the door opened. The driver stood there, heaving from the long sprint, then reached his hand out and gave me the key!
I fired it up and tore down the road. (The shifter wasn't labeled and I'm pretty sure I took off in second gear). I had to make a right hand turn down a sharp embankment, so I pushed the clutch in and put it into first. Or so I thought. I ended up accelerating through the 100 degree turn and stalling to a stop at the base. I didn't think it was so bad until I parked and saw the faces of the guys standing around. I maintain that I wasn't even close to rolling it -- no matter what anyone else says.
Needless to say, I was pretty content. The drivers made us tea, cut up watermelon for us, and one told us, through an interpreter, about "learning to kiss" from a Czech girl in Russia. Halfway through the story, an Afghan came down the road on a motorcycle. Now, if you know anything about Afghanistan, you know that there are more motorcycles than cars. And if you know anything about me, you know that it's been driving me crazy watching all these guys ride motorcycles while I'm stuck on the roof of a Humvee. Jokingly, I pointed to myself and then made the motion of holding handlebars. Without hesitation, this guy came to a dead stop and handed the motorcycle over to me.
I'd like to say that I thought long and hard about whether or not this was a good idea, but that would be a lie. I hopped on, jumped on the starter and left a rooster tail behind me. I think I caught a little bit of accidental air while navigating the terrain, but I held my own pretty well. It was definitely the best Afghanistan day ever.