Whenever I enthusiastically blather to military acquaintances how much I love calling Hampton Roads “Home,” the majority only laugh at me or they downright sneer.
A few even feel the urge to hiss angrily right smack in my face.
Nobody wants to get orders to Norfolk, they constantly remind me with the regularity of Ex Lax. Nobody wants to re-enlist and stay here either, military folks are forever quick to add. (Usually with the sharp punctuation of a sleek stiletto stabbed in blood-thirsty fashion at the heart of my seemingly-absurd enthusiasm.)
How tragic it seems to me that such a thriving, spectacular community in which to plant roots and raise families continues to bear such a blemished reputation among those transplanted here while working for Uncle Sam.
Especially among those who’ve made a successful exodus from their own economically-challenged tiny recesses of the good ol’ US of A to establish stable, secure ways of life for themselves in uniform here in Hampton Roads.
Maybe it’s because my own hometown is nothing more than a mere cough of civilization lost deep in northern Minnesota. A teensy slice of life called Duluth that’s only a hop, skip and a jump from the Canadian border. A wondrously-beautiful No Man’s Land where opportunity is about as close to zero as you can get that compels me to think the way I do.
Many of you whole-heartedly departed your own tiny birthplace havens and boroughs tucked in nether regions of this great country to chase after what you dreamed would become stellar careers in the military.
That place you come from where the interstate never fails to become an icy goat trail a good five months out of the year. Where sunrises are nothing short of stunning as they gleam their way across the wretched emptiness of the horizon. Where a family breadwinner is considered to be among the Chosen Few miraculously bringing home more than a paltry minimum wage while struggling to make a living in such severely-depressed regions economically.
Where I was born and raised, there is essentially only one language, one accepted form of communication. It typically involves a friendly wave and smile followed by a distinctive, generations-old Scandinavian accent curling every native’s tongue, initiating most tête-à-têtes with a jovial, “I need some help here, good neighbor!” ending with an appreciative gush of “Ya, thanks much!”
Littered in between are such apt articulations as, “Mind helping me get that doggone moose out of the driveway so I can deliver this load of lumber, eh?” or “Got time to lend me a hand with the bear sitting in my car? I left the window down with a bag of dog food in the backseat and now can’t get that 300-pound SOB out myself, doncha know!”
Here, there are many languages, many forms of communicating. My sons convey an entire encyclopedia of dialects and jargon to me merely by skateboarding and playing video games with their multi-cultural, ethnic friends in our Norfolk neighborhood.
I consider myself to be all the richer for the experience.
Maybe it’s because I’ve traveled the good ol’ US of A to see what I wanted to see and wasn’t all that impressed with what I saw. Maybe I just don’t know any better than what I’ve come to consider a good, comfortable, thriving way of life for the past twelve years.
The truth is, I love living in Norfolk.
I’ve loved being a part of this amazing community where those who wear military uniforms don’t just live but actively participate in an important way of life for all Americans everywhere. Where friends and loved ones aren’t blessed with the luxury of taking ordinary things, like to time to share with one another, for granted.
Where school kids not only learn about the routine business of patriotism and defense, they experience it personally, everyday, just by being members of their own military families.
Would I trade any of these gifts for the quiet, humdrum slice of life I left behind in northern Minnesota? Not for all the venison and Swedish meatballs I could possibly eat back in Duluth.
And yet there are times I get so peeved, so steamed, so downright PO’d with the way military people here in Hampton Roads treat each other that I could practically become a stowaway on the next barge leaving the pier for ports of call elsewhere.
When military parents bring fussy babies and unruly young children to movies they have no business bringing them to. The rest of us are attending these movies MINUS our youngsters and do mind very much that you are too cheap not to get a babysitter for your own offspring.
Fast food workers who clearly have bad attitudes while serving us. If you hate your job, do the right thing: quit and move on! When we pull up to that drive-through window on base, we expect and deserve nothing but the best service as we spend our money, which – needless to mention – pays you for the work you do.
Cashiers at the Navy Exchange and the Commissary who have no customer service skills whatsoever. Is it really that difficult to hire people who know how to smile and project friendliness as we’re worming our way through those congested shopping aisles? Apparently, it’s a huge challenge – if you’ve visited either of these military shopping venues lately.
Insecure “gotta-try-to-be cool” military members who have loud, obnoxious subwoofer systems installed in their cars. Those of you who drive around Hampton Roads and have them jacked to the max only demonstrate how immature you are, reminding the rest of us of that song in the “Wizard of Oz” sung by the scarecrow, “If I only had a brain.”
Road ragers on the interstate with DOD stickers on their cars. What is it about gripping a steering wheel and finding a gas pedal at your feet that turns so many of you in the near equivalent of the devil’s disciples?
Heaven help us if we venture out into a lane of traffic and aren’t sure which exit we want to take. Or we attempt to dodge you speed demons just to try to stay alive. You do your darnedest to try to make us cause an accident. Shame on you and the state that looked the other way while giving you a driver’s license from that cracker jack box you were eating from.
Those who transfer to Hampton Roads from San Diego and harp on the subject of how golden life is on the “other” coast. We’ve all heard how San Diego is about as close to heaven as you can get in the Navy.
Sailors stationed in San Diego, from what I hear, practically wear tank tops and clogs to work every day. They eat lunch while lounging on the beach and knock off ship’s work before they even have a chance to get their hands dirty
To a diehard Norfolk fan like me, San Diego is little more than a tiny speck on the West Coast. I’ve never even remotely considered the possibility of visiting San Diego, once, in all the years I’ve been an official card-carrying Navy dependent.
So what if they get gorgeous sunrises and sunsets interspersed every now and then by a couple of noteworthy storms on the Weather Channel? Hampton Roads is where the Navy truly lives. If sailors who transfer from San Diego can’t deal with real life right here, I know a couple of fast food restaurant chains that could use some good help.
The point is, life is good here…it’s a great place for sailors and soldiers to call “home” and raise families. Look around you and you’ll see nothing but military retirees who have chosen to spend their lives here.
That says a lot when it comes to defining a “quality way of life”.