Stickman Readers' Submissions September 11th, 2007

Confessions Of A Mechanic Part 1

Dear Stickmanites, please forgive my poor English grammar. First a little background: I came to the US at age 24 and was very happy working for the same company for 11 years. Was engaged to be married and had just bought a house. Three nights before our wedding I got a call from the police saying that my future wife had been in an auto accident. A drunk driver had run a red light. She was badly injured and had been taken to the local hospital. When I got there I was allowed to see her briefly. I think she knew who I was as she reached out with her hand which I held. One hour later the doctor came out and told me she was gone. Sometimes a person’s life can be changed forever without any warning.

When I got home from the hospital I turned out all the house lights and went outside to sit in an armchair on the porch to try and make sense of what had happened. Just then my dog climbed up in the chair with me, put his head on my lap, gave me a sad look as much as to say it’s OK, I understand.

He Clinic Bangkok

That night the wind was blowing and making a moaning sound. There was also a full moon with the sky full of heavy black clouds. One second it was like daylight then it went to total darkness.

It seemed like the moon was just rushing from one dark cloud to the next to hide his face to keep from crying. It was a difficult time for me but sometimes man must fight his own battles and grief alone. Life is a lot like the game of poker, you must play the hand you were dealt. Over her grave I vowed never to drink alcohol as long as I live and today you can add drugs.

To help me forget what had happened and move on with my life I quit my job of 11 years and signed on with a combine of American companies doing the major construction in Vietnam during the war.

CBD bangkok

I remember boarding a very large cargo plane along with 40 marines. The plane had fold down canvas seats along the sides and the rest of the plane was loaded with military cargo.

My first impression of Saigon was kind of a shock to see the main street intersections a sea of humanity on bicycles, however I did notice that some of the ladies riding side saddle and wearing a unique white dress looked very attractive.

I was very lucky my job assignment was at Cam Rahn Bay half way up the coast of former South Vietnam, a fairly secure and beautiful area. Living conditions were kind of primitive until the camp and facilities were built… We worked 60 hours per week which was good and helped me forget the past. After completing an 18 month contract I had earned a 3 week vacation, which I had already decided to spend in Thailand.

June 1967. The morning I left for vacation I showed my replacement his vehicle. He raised the hood (bonnet for some) to check the engine oil and water and made eye contact with a cobra snake that had wrapped

itself around the engine. He took off like he was practicing for the 4 minute mile.

wonderland clinic

It was unsafe to travel on the roads. Our trip to Saigon was on the company cargo plane and was uneventful. There were 5 of us and we checked into a Saigon hotel.

The next morning we had to go to the Vietnam Immigration to get an exit visa. I was the first to turn in my passport. The young man said in very poor broken English passport ready to pick up in 4 days. I said WHAT and asked for my passport back and in front of him I placed $10 worth of piasters in it. In perfect English he said “Sir your passport ready to pick up at 3:00 PM today.” Sometimes one must grease the corrupt machinery of government. It also seems to improve their knowledge of the English language.

We had to spend the next day Sunday in Saigon. In the afternoon two of us were sitting on a bench in a small park area 3 blocks from our hotel just relaxing and watching families enjoying themselves. All of a sudden there was a swish, swish noise overhead then a loud explosion, followed by a large cloud of smoke and dust rising skyward. Within seconds we were the only two people left in the park. We both slowly turned to look at each other with the same thought. Christ did that rocket hit our hotel? The rocket missed our hotel but went through the roof of the garage next door and killed the security guard.

I had just laid down on my bed when my friend was at my door asking to move in since his room window was blown out and mosquitoes had taken over his room. The room was large, had a high ceiling with a fan probably installed by the French many years ago. My friend took the bed directly under the fan, all went well until about 3:00 AM when I was awakened by my friend screaming along with a lot of profanity. The problem was the fan electrical motor was burning up and the molten hot bearing grease was dropping on his bare back. Not a good way to start a vacation.

Saigon Airport 1967

We headed for the airport early hoping to avoid the confusion, frustration and stress but that was not to be. The airport had no air-conditioning and was already a packed sea of humanity. We joined a mob of people in front of a counter with a very small sign that said Air Vietnam. After about 2 hours of frustration and short tempers a man showed up and said Air Vietnam not flying today and to go to North West who had a charter flight going to Bangkok.

Three hours later we boarded the flight to Bangkok. Of course before we can take off we have to listen to instructions on how to fasten the seat belt. If you don’t know how to fasten it you probably should not be travelling alone unsupervised. I would like to add a couple of items they don’t tell you. Health: If you must use the restrooms please wear your shoes, bare feet and poor aim are a bad combination! Mental health : Forget how much fun flying used to be and learn to practice patience and lots of it as you will be well tested before you get to your destination.

Back to the story. It looks like we are ready to take off but it takes one more check to make sure every one has mastered the mechanics of the seat belt. Finally the engines are screaming the brakes are released and we on our way to Bangkok.

Just before the pilot ran out of runway he put the plane in what seemed like a vertical climb. The seats were all in an upright position but with the steep climb it looked like they were all fully reclined. I thought to myself the captain must be an ex figher pilot. I was unaware a passenger plane could climb at such a steep angle. As the plane leveled out and the engines went quieter I overheard the lady in the seat ahead of me ask her husband why were we climbing so fast and steep. His reply was you have to remember the Viet Cong down in the jungle below would like nothing better than to shoot us down. The thought of ending up in a vertical dive at 500+ miles per hour into a rice paddy is not the ideal way to start one’s first day of vacation.

After a short time flying, maybe 20 to 25 minutes, the plane banked steeply and went into a spiral descent high above a city and runway. Later the Captain announced we were landing at Phnom Penh to pick up a diplomat. When the plane pulled up to the terminal no one was allowed off and 2 Cambodian military men with AK 47 rifles came aboard and told the passengers that no-one was allowed to take photos. What had happened was that the Khmer Rouge had attacked the airport the night before and blown holes in all the parked planes with explosive charges. That explains the spiral descent instead of the normal glide in approach.

After a wait of over one hour in a very hot plane, the diplomat boarded and received some verbal abuse from some very irate passengers. Finally the door closed and we were again racing down the runway at 150mph on to our next unknown adventure

Hope to have part 2 ready for you soon.

Stat tuned


Stickman's thoughts:

Nice start – looking forward to part 2.

nana plaza