Before I met Raj, I'd never been on a military base. Starting with Lackland, where he was staying in San Antonio, I visited him or went with him onto at least ten in the US that I can think of since then. In Pensacola, I'd go to the base somewhat regularly to use the gym or run on the track. None of which really prepared me to not only live on base, but to live a life centered around multiple bases.
A few days after we arrived, Raj and I were walking back to our temporary housing after seeing a movie. He asked me whether I felt like I was in Asia. "No," I said, "it feels like being in America, except..."
"America of the 1950s."
Pretty much. It was getting dark out, but there were still plenty of kids out riding bikes and skateboarding. Prior to the movie, we all stood for the playing of the national anthem. I was getting ma'am-ed all over the place. It did, in fact, feel like a simpler time or at least a very small town. And that was on the big base. Where we live is even tinier, with even more unsupervised kids running around, because why not? I'm going to run over a kid in the road? The speed limit is 25. That's in kilometers. In case your kilometers to miles conversion skills are rustier than mine, that comes to just over 15mph. (I'd like to thank whichever poor teacher had to leg-wrestle me into learning proportions and whoever decided that races in the US should be in kilometers for my ability to divide by 5 and multiply times 3 so I have any idea of speed and distance here.)
Anyway, I thought I'd tell you some things I've discovered about living on base, in case anybody is curious.
First, there is something called Colors. I discovered Colors while still in Pensacola and rushing into the gym at 8am for the 8am yoga class. There was a bugle call played over the loudspeaker and suddenly, everyone stopped where they were. Fortunately, I noticed this and did the same. They then played the national anthem and everyone continued standing still (those in uniform saluting) until it was over, when everyone went back about their business. I was even later to yoga than I would have been. I've since learned that this occurs at 8am and sunset (with a 5 minute warning before sunset) and is intended to show respect for fallen servicemembers. So if you need to be anywhere on a military base at 8, make sure you're early. And if you see everyone stop and all of the cars pull over, follow suit. You often can't see a flag from wherever you're standing, so I asked Raj how everyone knows which way to face. Toward the music, he said. Now you know.
Second, we have shopping at the commissary. In many ways, this is like any other grocery store. Except you have to show your military ID when you go in. I can also never be quite sure what they may or may not have, especially when it comes to produce, meat, and dairy products. The first time I saw plain Greek yogurt, I bought four packs, two of which are still in my freezer. When we decided we'd like to try out almond milk, we waited a month for them to get any in stock. Today, there was no spinach and only bright green bananas, but there were blueberries and cilantro. And I stopped myself from buying ground turkey I didn't need only because I'd never seen it there before and might want it at some future time. I probably would have gone ahead and gotten it if I weren't already so far over the 15 item limit for self-checkout. A thing about commissaries is that they employ baggers who work only for tips. You don't have to tip them, but I'd feel like a real jerk if I didn't. Except today, I had zero American dollars and the equivalent of a hundred dollar bill or sixty cents in yen. So I took my far too many items through the self-checkout. If it helps, I felt pretty bad about it. Also, some of the good parking spaces are designated for people of certain ranks. Raj accidentally parked in a flag officer spot and was called on it by a guy who said he knows most of the flag officers on the island and Raj didn't look like one. Which would have been a fun opportunity to play the Oh, because I'm brown I don't look like a flag officer? card to make the guy really uncomfortable, but probably it's for the best that he didn't.
For non-grocery needs, we have the Exchange, which I have recently learned is referred to as the BX (for base exchange) on Army and Air Force bases and PX (for post exchange) on Naval bases. (I also recently learned that while Navy=Navy, Naval=Navy and Marines. For instance, the Naval Academy, which produces both Navy and Marine officers. They're sister services. Which is why Raj is in a Marine squadron. The Marines have no doctors, instead using Navy docs. Also, you are welcomed aboard Naval bases and instead of "floors" they refer to "decks". But I digress.) The Exchange is a strange mix of Walmart and Macy's. Paper plates and Coach bags! And cute sundresses you think will be $20 but turn out to be Michael Kors and cost $90, which is a real bummer. But tax free!
The next thing is the sort of Twilight Zone effect of going into your house, but not your house. Our neighbors' house is ours, but flipped. They brought their own couches, but do have the government dining set we have. She says our countertops are nicer (white formica: on the upside, you always know if they're dirty; on the downside, you always know if they're dirty) and they have tile in the kitchen instead of the wood laminate. I went into another house just like ours where they had painted the living room. It looked nice, but I'm not sure I'll get that ambitious and/or bored. You have to paint it back to cream before you move out and while they used to give out the regulation paint, sequestration has ended that particular gravy train. It's my understanding that they don't sell paint on base, so you have to take your chances with figuring out what's what in the Japanese hardware store.
Here's something you might not find surprising: Marines are crazy. I say that with all possible affection, Marines and former Marines. You are a hard-working and dedicated people. I want you on that wall. I need you on that wall. I just don't understand your desire to start things so early. For our newcomers' brief, we were picked up at temporary housing at 6:45am. Because the brief started at 7:15 and went until 2:00. Why couldn't it be 8:00 to 3:15? Because Marines are crazy. Or exceptionally early risers, at least. Raj tells me that when he goes to swim at 5am, the roads are already busy. I hope to never have occasion to see it for myself.
Something I was completely unaware of is Armed Forces Network. We have AFN for both TV and radio. While we get several cable channels, all of our network TV comes through AFN Prime, AFN Family, AFN Extra, AFN Sports, AFN News, and AFN Movies. Instead of commercials, we get educational spots about preventing grease fires and not publicizing information about deployments. Meaning that when I look to see what's playing at the movie theater, I often have no idea what these movies are. On AFN radio, we generally get the same seven or eight songs repeated a lot, interspersed with songs that make you go, "I haven't heard this in years." It's a strange assortment. And again, we get lots of educational material from AFN. The AM station is sometimes the same as FM, but sometimes has talk radio, with what can be whiplash inducing transitions between NPR and Rush Limbaugh, for instance. I can sometimes pick up a Japanese station, but these tend to feature lots of talking or terrible pop music.
The last thing I already covered a little bit, having to do with being so identified with our husbands' careers. I've been to two events for spouses of members of Raj's squadron. Both times, I've been introduced to the group and to individuals as "The New Doc's Wife". Which announced to everyone at the mixed meeting that I'm an officer's wife right off the bat. And even at the officers' wives group, came with the baggage of how The Old Doc's Wife never came to anything. I don't know if they attributed that to snobbishness on her part. I don't typically advertise being a doctor's wife or an officer's wife on my own because it can sound like bragging and what do I have to brag about? Raj did all the work. Not having set out to bag a doctor, I don't count having done so as an accomplishment. There was some grumbling among the officers' wives about the enlisted guys' wives not bringing food to the potlucks, as I assume there is talk about the officers' wives when we're not around. Though I'm told it's better than it used to be. Wives used to throw their husbands' rank around as if it were their own, demanding privileges and refusing to associate with underlings. When I asked one of the wives who is very involved with the Marine Officers Spouses Club about it, she said that yeah, women who were going to be bitches anyway are bitches about their husbands' rank, but most spouses aren't like that anymore.
So, there you have some things about living on base. Stay tuned for our next exciting installment: Some things about living in Japan. Spoiler: chopsticks!