Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 7, 2004
PATRIOT GAMES: Getting (Almost) Away From It All
Fourth in a series of reflections by "Andy Tollhaus," an Army officer currently serving in Iraq.
July 20, 2004
Taking a break from war is an idea that has been around for thousands of years. Along with warfare, this concept has evolved with society and technology. Back in the day, the Romans would allow their armies to rape and pillage captured enemy cities as a way to blow off some steam. In the latter stages of World War II, soldiers in units relieved from the front lines were often allowed passes to Paris. During the Vietnam conflict, a certain amount of time in country would pay dividends with a rest and recuperation trip to places ranging from Saigon to Australia to Hawaii. The R&R program here in Iraq is as different from those R&R programs as this war is different from those past wars.
The program here affords soldiers the opportunity to take 15 days of leave from the war that they’ve been surrounded by for the past several months. It’s a way to relax, recuperate and recharge the batteries. It’s an awesome experience to get to go, but it certainly doesn’t mark the end of the war, not even for that one individual.
Tuesday’s All Star Game was the only game that we hoped to watch in a bar, being this close to the Southernmost Point. We went to the famous Duval Street to find a place to eat, drink and watch baseball – is there anything else? After sampling some of the Happy Hours near the historic marina, we couldn’t find a suitable place. So, we hailed a signature Key West pink taxi cab and asked the cabbie for advice. The license plate didn’t say “Fresh,” and there weren’t dice in the mirror, but we did think to ourselves that this cab was rare. This cabbie, from Andover, MA, played baseball at Boston College and told us of his AAA career for the Baltimore Orioles and his one and only at bat in the Bigs – against Nolan Ryan. Not sure who was happier, the advisor or the advisees, but off to the Green Parrot it was. As I ordered our first beers, two guys at the bar pointed to my Milwaukee County Stadium Sausage Race T-shirt and said, “Hey, watch out for Randall Simon!” This was, no doubt, the place to watch the game.
Sarah and I sat down at the bar next to the other Sausage Race fans. We watched Piazza tip Clemens’s pitches to the American League sluggers and watched Manny and Ortiz hit their homeruns. The bartender from the south-side of Chicago laughed when we asked for umbrellas in our beers so we could blend in with the locals. He then educated me on the fact that his Sox were in a longer World Series drought than were our Sox. I didn’t believe him, but luckily enough, my brother-in-law was awake at 11:45 PM, standing by on Google for me. After hanging up the phone and conceding that the bartender was, indeed, correct, I did what any honorable man would do – I bought him a beer. There was a Mariners fan there who resented the Red Sox because of trades involving Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, and Heathcliffe Slocumb. We also talked about the Key West High School baseball team and their contributions to the Major Leagues. To my surprise, Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo was a Fighting Conch alum. I couldn’t figure how I could be so lucky to have taken my wife to two games and now be sitting at the Green Parrot with her, watching baseball.
As I stared straight ahead, I noticed that I was staring at a bottle of Tullamore Dew, Irish Whiskey. I hate whiskey, but for some reason, ordering a shot of whiskey seemed to be fitting right then. The fact that my shot was the last in the bottle seemed like it meant something, too. In reality, though, I drank that shot of whiskey not to make a point or honor anyone or anything poetic like that. I am pretty certain, however, that when I do see Tullamore Dew in the future, there will be a link to that moment and I’ll be reminded of those who died too young in Samarra, Iraq, Afghanistan, and anywhere else where the ultimate sacrifice has been “laid on the altar of freedom.” I don’t think I’ll make a big deal of it, but I know I’ll close my eyes, as I did then, during the All Star game, and say a quick prayer for those who won’t be coming home to pick up their life right where they’d left it.