“How can such an innocent request become soooo complicated?”
It seems simple enough when the Squadron Commander calls me into his office and says, “Sgt. Roche, how about picking-up a mixed case of liquor for me while you are up in Gibraltar”? Hauling around a 60 pound case of liquor is not exactly my thrilling delight but, hey, he’s the boss. ”Can do sir, do you have a list”? “Right here, as he extends to me a small slip of paper and $50 dollars in green backs. “That should cover it, see you on Monday”.
I’m stationed at Sidi Slimane Air Force Base in northern Morocco. I’m taking a short 100 mile flight for a fun, half day visit to Gibraltar.
I know no one on the flight but have an enjoyable morning sightseeing the city with all of its bazar and unique oddities, and it has a bunch. Too soon it’s time for a 1:00 O’clock lunch at a street-side café just across from a large liquor store. The plane is not scheduled to return to Morocco until 3PM and I enjoy the pleasantries of ‘Lunch in Gibraltar’.
At just 2 O’clock I look across the street and watch the owner pull a metal grate across the front of his liquor store. What the hell? Panic! “Waiter, why is he closing-up shop,” as I frantically point across the street? The waiter casually shrugs his shoulders and replies in a heavy British accent, “The whole bloody town closes from 2 to 4 every day. Not to worry, mate, he’ll re-open at 4”.
I pay my bill and race for a cab parked at the curb. First words, “I need to buy a case of liquor within the next 20 minutes”! Hey Yank, the town’s closed-up, you’ll have to wait ‘til 4”. “You don’t understand I’ve got to catch an airplane at 3”. The disinterested response from my cabby, “OaY say, it’s against the bloody law to sell liquor between 2 and 4,” “Will $5 bucks help you to find a place right now and not at 4 o’clock”, I plead? (Side note: Hey, it’s 1956 for god’s sake, $5 bucks is not today’s $5 bucks) Apparently it was more than ‘enough’. Down the darken allies of Gibraltar we ‘fly’ in this maniac cab and shortly, without killing a soul, – WA la, he indeed DID know where to find the ‘stuff’. The cabbie passes the order list through a slightly open crack in a large, heavy, wooden door. These back alleys make me feel like I’m in a cavernous castle; I’m somewhere down in the dungeons. It is damp and it feels like 8 at night. Water runs down the center of this eight-foot wide street. One could get mugged down here and no-one would know or care. Within minutes an open case of liquor slides out through the crack, – no words are spoken.
Back in the cab and off to the nearby airport. We arrive in minutes; the airport is right in the middle of town. I pay the cabby plus a healthy tip as I hear the sound of an airplane lifting off the runway. I look up, “That’s MY plane!” I shout at no one in particular. Have you ever tried to run 50 yards with a 60 pound pouch pounding on your paunch?
I look up and there they are, up a two story staircase to the control tower and me totally out-of-breadth. This damn case of booze is still trying to drive my belt buckle through my belly button. As I reach the top. I shout between gasps. “That’s my plane”! There I stand, an American in wrinkled civilian clothes shouting at a group of British military Air Controllers who are absolutely CERTAIN that that C-47 is most certainly NOT my airplane.
An all too long explanation finally persuades them to contact the plane. The cavalier response from the pilot is, “Oh Shit, we picked-up a hitchhiker didn’t we! We miscounted. “Not to worry down there at Gibraltar, there’s another aircraft heading your way that will be landing there later this afternoon, – they’ll get you down South. Over and Out”. (It’s wonderful to be so loved)
Needless to say, the ‘promised afternoon ‘savior’ never arrives; nor do they arrive all the next day. Without taking you through the miseries of that full day and a half, guarding my case of booze without a lid in an all military environment and ME wearing only the solitary civilian clothes I flew in with. Know I’m not a happy camper waiting next to the ‘solid rock of Prudential’. Finally, around midnight, in the drizzling rain, a Navy spy plane plunks me down in Port Lyautey.
There is one SMALL problem. I am still some 30 miles from my air base at Sidi Slimane; its midnight; it’s raining; and I have NO VISIBLE MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION OR LODGING! I’m in Morocco for God’s sake! WWII is hardly over and Rommel turned this place over to the meandering Arabs; it hasn’t changed much in those 12 years!
It is a Navy plane, they learn I’m in Intelligence; all personnel in Navy Intelligence are Officers; I am in civilian clothes. You can put the puzzle together. My private jeep drives me all over town until I finally recognize the apartment of a fellow Air Force guy living in town; I have a place to sleep and a ride to work.
After a short night, I arrive just in time to report to work, — with my case of booze and all its 12 bottles in residence. Walking into military offices with my open case of booze on a Monday morning DOES INDEED turn heads.
Hum, “What to say to the boss.”? That case of liquor would have cost just $80 right here at the base PX. Because of the circumstances surrounding my purchase, ‘I have paid $85 for that booze. That, plus the $5 to the cabby and the bonus tip to the cab of another $5 bucks; I am out some $45 bucks over the boss’s original $50’. Hells bells, I only make $200 a MONTH. After going through a summary of the humbling details with the boss, we split the difference and settle for $80 bucks. ‘One hell-of-a-lot of screwing around for
“Just a Case of Booze’’.
by Edwin G. Roche
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