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"Monterey"

[written January 26, 2003]

Let me tell you about Monterey, California.

You'll hear people talk about how great, how beautiful, how expensive it is. I think it's almost a rite of passage for the rich to say they've attended some conference there, based on what you hear about the place.

I remember quite vividly the first night I arrived here with the small group of other soldiers who traveled from Ft. Lost in the Woods with me. We touched down at a very small airport which has a drive-up baggage claim for the luggage cars. There was a bit of a chill, in early July, and it was slightly damp and foggy.

We'd flown in on the same plane as our battalion's sergeant major, and having just completed basic training, we hardly knew how to act around the guy, but he was very nice and helpful to us. He treated us with respect, the same respect we'd only gotten from other sergeant majors at FLW (unlike the staff sergeants and sergeants first class).

It doesn't take long to realize the weather is always going to be chilly. Monterey is actually not that cold in the early morning (which we see a lot of in the Army) but it gets colder around mid-day unless we're lucky enough to get sun. In the late afternoon, it gets freezing cold. Late at night, it warms up again for the next morning. I'm used to having fogged up car windows by now.

The Presidio is built on a big hill which I believe is made out of granite. It's solid and supposedly withstands earthquakes exceedingly well. Count on the military to pick the spots.

You can see fog sometimes rolling up the hill or across it, depending. The only other place I've seen fog going upwards was at Mount Vesuvius when my dad and I climbed to the very top to see the small plumes of smoke inside the collapsed cone of the volcano. If it's foggy late at night, visibility is bad and it feels like the ambience from a horror movie. Also, it feels lonely because people generally all go to sleep early on duty nights.

Also, when it's foggy, because Monterey is on a coastline, you can hear a foghorn all night. In my old barracks, my window was open to ventilate at night, and it was facing down towards the coast. You could always tell immediately when you woke up whether it was foggy or not. Also, you can often hear the barking of the sea lions all the way from the fisherman's wharf below, where they tend to hang out because there's a big metal emplacement they can lie on by the wooden stilts.

I don't quite get it, but it's very pleasant: there don't seem to be flies here. The only place I've ever really seen flies is at Asilomar, a beach on the other side of the peninsula where I've gone surfing twice. The surfing is surprising. The waves are choppy but you can still catch some huge ones. I am horrible at surfing. Paddling out through the chop is hard enough, swallowing tons of salty water and feeling nauseous from it, and then waiting for a wave that glides you along if you catch it. My problem is still the fact that I can't pop up and stand on the board yet. The board of course sinks when you're pushing down on it. Anyway.

Down by the wharf is a beach that has really smelled bad lately. Like rotten fish. It didn't always smell like that. You can go hang out at the beach as many do, and there's a volleyball court as well. It doesn't seem to smell when you're actually on the beach, just when you're driving by it. We tend to refer to the smell as "female". Like, "Man, it fucking smells like female, goddammit!"

The Army likes to go on runs on the trail that follows the beach pretty much all around our side of the peninsula. One way goes from the post through Cannery Row to Asilomar. We run to a place called Lover's Point usually. It's touristy. As is the run. Still, it's nice to see tourists gawk at us while we run. We pass the Monterey Aquarium which I haven't had a chance to visit yet (need the right company) and the fancy restaurants and places where you can rent bikes, which I mention because after 30 minutes of running, renting a bike is very appealing. Not to mention all the restaurants and bars we pass by as well.

If we run the other way, we call it running to K-Mart because K-Mart is out that way. When I first got here, there'd be a monkey and an organ grinder along the path. It cost a quarter to shake the monkey's hand and a dollar to take a picture with it. I never saw this damn monkey until last weekend when I decided to run 5 miles for extra PT. I was so happy after I saw it! Whew, I can move on now. Also, we used to run past the schoolkids returning home. They'd all highfive us and encourage us. Some would try to salute. Some older people would tell us to keep up the good work and that they're proud of us. It's a nice feeling.

Downtown Monterey is pretty lousy. There's a street market every Tuesday and you can get fried rice from Benihana's as well as other stuff there. Most soldiers like to go to Jamba Juice to get a drink, or go to the Mucky Duck at night to drink and sexseek. The Arabic students all know about India's Clay Oven, which is just an Indian buffet. I don't know why Arabic students feel obliged to eat at an Indian restaurant.

The highlights of the Monterey Coast are in the outlying areas. If you drive north towards SF, all you see are massive sand dunes. People climb them and make messages out of leaves and debris. Sometimes you'll see a smiley face or a marriage proposal or other cute messages. It reminds me of how in Hawaii, there was red rock everywhere and people would make messages by the side of the road using white rocks. Also around there, you see people floating in the air suspended by parachute high in the air. And fancy kites as well. Huge kites.

Fort Ord is a former military post which is now primarily housing for married military members. Most of the old buildings are boarded up and have huge "US PROPERTY" stamps on them. Really most of it is extremely ugly and saddening. The actual houses look sterile from the outside but are quite nice inside. Everyone wants to marry so that they'll get a place of their own there.

Carmel and Big Sur are beautiful. They are what I was expecting to see when I came here, when people told me it was "beautiful" here. I shouldn't say that; I love stepping out of my class building and seeing the entire bay. Sometimes the bay is dark, dark blue. Other times it is plain blue. Once I saw a big Navy ship anchored in the bay, another time I saw a cruise ship. Hope those tourists brought warm clothes!

Pacific Grove is tucked away inside residential housing blocks. I couldn't find it for the longest time. You take this anonymous turn and all the sudden you're driving in the dark through fancy houses. Then you turn the corner and fahjahtaan, you're in Pacific Grove. It opens up to this little commercial community that reminds me of the 1950's Back to the Future neighborhood with a large two lane street and quaint shops on either side. There's even a big department store with the old-fashioned name and logo, like where Billy Bob Thornton worked in The Man Without a Face. The people who seem to go to Pacific Grove are rich young people. There's a cool restaurant called Chili Great Chili's which is run by some Middle Easterners who love having us there to speak what little Arabic we've learned with them.

It's weird that I associate what I see here with movies I've seen. I don't know if that's a California thing or not. I don't usually do that. When I went up to San Jose to see my brother, we went to this neighborhood that had been expensively built up to have fancy stores with lavish apartments above them, like they were trying to build up their own little east coast neighborhood. Like Greenwich Village? I don't know. Anyway, it was all brand new and eerily clean and empty. I remarked to my brother that it all looked like it was built for a movie set.

This place is interesting to me. Like Austin it seems like the youth of the place is entirely dependent on the local institution, in this case being DLI, and in Austin's case, UT Austin. It's very snobby here except for us poor soldiers. Once we were outside a restaurant as a big party, clearly military, wondering if we could afford to eat there. A rather old man and his wife walked by and he said that we probably couldn't afford it. Well, whatever buddy, we'll risk our lives for you, and go eat at the Whaling Station not far from here, which is actually quite expensive, because we want to have our first really good meal in months since we've been bashed down by drill sergeants for a while. Is that okay with you?

Another time I was in a bar and I saw a clearly wealthy man because he was just wearing sloppy sweats and a t-shirt, but had these two big-breasted, tanned blonde women wearing skimpy black dresses climbing all over him. I thought it was amusing, but sad. Like I said, downtown Monterey is pretty boring. You see a lot of bored tourists ambling around at night. Most places seem to be open only hours at a time in this place -- things die quickly at night.

At any rate, I've observed a lot because, well, there's a lot to observe. I lived in a suburban neighborhood which doesn't have much to observe because deviation and peculiarity isn't really encouraged in those types of places. I've lived in that home for ages, but honestly, while I was there over Christmas, I wasn't that happy there. I felt like it was stagnant, never-changing. The neighborhood is utilitarian and boring. Neighbors don't know each other. I don't think I'd want to live in a suburb again.

Still, I love my old home and the house especially.

But for now, I have a new home, and will have many other homes in the future, given my new career. This doesn't upset me -- it's what I want. What is home for me now is being in the military community. People have a common bond in it, and for some reason, I guess because we've all made a sort of blood sacrifice, in varying degrees, we like to look out for each other. This isn't always the case, but in general I find it to be true, and I think what's sad about non-military communities these days that it takes something like a tornado or a terrorist plane attack to bring them together now.



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