Four Wrecks

As you might be able to guess by the title, this post is quite a bit longer than the earlier ones, since there are four stories and some rambling.

When I finally got to my duty station in Okinawa—the Awase Transmitter Site—there was another consolidation going on. There were originally two sites, the HF Site provided communications to, from and between ships (ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore) and the LF Site, which was for sub communications. But they were just finishing up merging the two site when I got there, moving all of the antennas and the control building for the HF antennas to the LF Site. As far as I can tell by recent maps, The old HF Site is now some sort of sports park. 🙂

Shortly after I moved in to my new digs, I also bought a motorcycle since I was going to need a way to get to and from work. The taxi station right outside the fence around my place was convenient and all, but I wasn’t going to spend eighteen months riding everywhere in a taxi. So, I took out a small loan via the Navy Federal Credit Union and bought a Honda 450-2 from one of the guys who was transferring on to his next duty station within the next few weeks.

Honda450

My actual bike. This is one of only a very few surviving photos from my navy days. Most of them were eaten by mold demons when I left the photo album in a damp, dark, musty place for a long time.

(1)

It was a dark and stormy night . . . well it was drizzling at least, and it was night . . . and I was on my way home after the eve (second shift) watch. Shifts ran from:

Day watch = 0600 – 1400

Eve watch = 1400 – 2200

Mid watch = 2200 – 0600

Willie was behind my in his car. One of us usually followed the other every night. I didn’t know this at the time, but quite a lot of the people working at Awase lived up on the same hill I did, but I was the only one who had a private little place surrounded by a stone wall. 🙂 🙂

Anyway, just before the stoplight at the intersection to the main thoroughfare through Awase town, there was a side road where rolling stops—if they bothered to slow or stop at all—were a common thing. The general rule for coming off that side street was: if you thought you had enough time and space to make it, GO FOR IT.

Even though I’d only been there for a very short time, I was well aware of how the Japanese tended to drive. (One of our indoctrination tours at NAS Naha included a trip through some weird place in Naha City where five or six roads all converged at one big circle and nobody stopped for anything. It was one helluva free-for-all.) However, on that night, in that weather, the guy coming off the side road didn’t see me when he decided he had enough room and time to get out into traffic.

I still remember every last detail of the next few seconds. It’s amazing how much shit can happen in a very short time.

First there was the crunching sound as my front tire hit his rear quarter panel just in front of the wheel well.

Then there was me watching the guy’s trunk passing by below me as I sailed over his car, not like superman with my arms out in front of me and on my way to save the world from evil, but rather more limply, my arms kind hanging there at my sides, or maybe waving about slightly.

Then I was sorta twisting around in the air, managing to land on my ass and my elbows and watching my bike come around the end of his car as said car sped away into the mist and the dark. The bike landed on my left foot, which hurt like hell, so I put my feet up against the seat and let it push me down the road until it stopped. (About 15 or 20 feet, maybe.)

Then I heard Willie—who thankfully did not run me over—yelling “God Damn It!” and many other profanities I won’t repeat here. He’d seen the whole thing, including the guy speeding off, and was really, really pissed. (He told me later he thought I was dead.) But he stopped yelling and just stared at me when I got up and limped over to his car. He asked if I was okay and I said something like, “Well, my foot hurts.” or something close to that, and he stared at me some more, then started swearing again. (I don’t know why.)

Then the police got there, and shortly after that the guy I hit came back (in a different car) and there was a lot of discussion in Japanese (Willie spoke it, I didn’t). The gist of it was that the guy offered me 30,000 yen as compensation (Sounds like a lot but at the time it was about $100) but I said no and pointed to my bent front forks and other damage, and then he offered to pay for the repairs, which the police encouraged me to accept and which I finally did. I think the police were happy with whatever caused the least amount of paperwork.

Willie took me home, my bike got repaired . . . eventually (thank god for that taxi stand right outside my wall) . . . and most everyone was happy.

(2)

This one was my fault, obviously, and the first case of plain stupidity.

I had two favorite hang-outs while I was in Okinawa. One was Noah’s Ark, a little album bar near MCAS Futenma.

Emiko Matsushima 3 - Okinawa (Noah's Ark) - 1977

Emiko, Emi, Chiemi (partially hidden) & some guy inside Noah’s Ark

The other was an after hours place between Gate 2 and BC streets just outside Kadena Air Base. I can’t remember the name of the second place because I didn’t go there as often, but, if it’s still there, I bet I could find it. (A few blocks up from Gate 2, turn left toward BC Street, turn right at the first little alley, three or so doors up on the left.) It’s slightly below street level and even smaller than Noah’s Ark.

I’m starting the story there because, well, that’s where it starts. I was giving a marine friend a ride back to the barracks (one of them) from that place off Gate 2 Street at around 3 am or so when this happened. We were just off of Gate 2 Street and onto the main road between the two bases, and pulling up to a stop light. I was expecting him to put his feet down at the light and he was apparently expecting me to put mine down. Neither of us did, so we fell over. (I probably should have taken that as a warning sign.)

We had a bit of a laugh about that while I picked the bike back up (as did some of the people around us) and we made it to Futenma without further incident. I dropped him off there, then left to go home, myself. As I was leaving the base, I cut the corner a little too sharply and clipped the curb, which took the wheels out from under me. Luckily, no-one was coming from either direction at the time, and I was wearing a helmet.

The funny thing about those wrap-around helmets is that they don’t protect your chin when you slam your face into the pavement. The bike wasn’t damaged except for the left hand mirror, which I ended up having to replace, but I wasn’t quite so lucky, though I didn’t know it at the time.

I went home and went to bed and didn’t get up until my roommate, JJ, (that’s his bike behind mine in the picture) showed up with a couple other guys from work. He saw a lot of blood on my pillow and stuff when he left for work and they came to see if I was okay. Apparently I got a fairly deep cut on my chin when I hit the road, but I never felt a thing and had no idea I was bleeding all over the place.

The bleeding had stopped long before, but they took me to a medical facility on some other base I can’t remember, where I got a couple of stitches (four, I think) and yelled at for waiting so long to get treated.

This one’s not really a wreck I suppose, but I count it because I did have to replace the mirror.

(3)

This one was my fault, and is the second case of plain stupidity.

I was on my way to work when I started to pass a guy who was going too slow for my tastse. This was on the same road where the first accident happened, incidently, though not the same guy . . . that would just have been weird. Another Japanese driving quirk is, while they do use their turn signals for the most part, it’s more sort of just a thing that happens as their hand passes the lever. In plain words, they’re already turning when the signal comes on.

This is significant because I was already passing this guy when I saw his signal come on out of the corner of my eye, and I thought Oh shit! It was pretty much too late to do anything that was going to work, but I sped up anyway and tried to veer around his car. It didn’t work. My bike slammed into his car just ahead of his rear wheel well (Déjà vu) but, amazingly enough, it didn’t knock me over. I managed to keep the bike up as I went across the road, into the dirt, and over a covered (thankfully) benjo ditch.

For those who don’t know, benjo ditches are the Japanese version of a sewage system. They’re usually covered with cement slabs about 18 inches wide and 2 or 3 feet long. All but one of those slabs was properly laid flat, but I happened to hit the only one that was sticking up out of the ditch. I still managed to stay upright, but the corner of that slab put a nice, neat hole in the crankcase of my bike, and all the oil drained out. Also, the foot lever for the rear brake was bent back 180 degrees.

I stopped the bike and went back to check on the guy I hit. He was fine, and also spoke English, but his car had a seriously nasty gash through his right rear quarter panel, caused by my brake lever, I’m sure. He was mostly going on about how it was my fault and that he’d even signaled and everything (I didn’t see any point in arguing about when he’d signaled) when the police arrived. I just agreed with everything, gave him, and them, all of my insurance and other info, and everyone was eventually satisfied, (that paperwork thing) though I was a bit late for work.

On a side note, GEICO, my insurer at the time, covered both repair bills and neither canceled my policy nor raised my rates. :O

(4)

This one is the extraordinarily stupid one.

We had a ping-pong table at the T-Site, and one day I signed a friend of mine, John, and our girlfriends onto the site so we could play (the girls were pretty damn good) and we played for a couple of hours or so and had a pretty good time. Before we left, though, John and I took our bikes out into the antenna field and were having fun doing donuts and speeding around and stuff. I was a ways away from the LF building, where the ping-pong table was, and saw John riding in circles around one of the tower’s guy-wires, spinning his rear tire and slinging mud about ten feet into the air behind him.

Awase, Okinawa LF Antenna

600 ft. LF tower and the control and connection buildings. Cyrus Brooks and I climbed that thing-once-to change the warning lights. 😀

Not to be outdone, I decided I was going to jump the road leading to the LF building, which was slightly raised from the rest of the field. Too late I remembered that there was a drainage ditch on one side of that road. It was another ‘Oh Shit!’ moment.

Luckily, I suppose, that ditch was one the same side of road as I was, and I saw it in time to slow down (though only slightly since the field was grass, after all, and also wet) enough that I only popped about five feet or so into the air and landed short of the road. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if the ditch had been on the other side of the road and I’d jumped into it.

Anyway, everyone came running or riding over to see if I was okay. I wasn’t seriously hurt, or hurt at all, really, except maybe my pride. It was rather embarrassing. It took a while to get the bike restarted (flooded, I guess) and it ran pretty raggedly when it did finally catch, so I took my girlfriend home and my bike to the shop.

I guess the bike wasn’t too badly damaged, and the owner was getting to know me pretty well by then. He only charged me a bottle of Johnny Walker Red, which I could get much more cheaply than he could. 🙂

#

Much as I beat the hell out of that bike, I loved the thing, and was very sad when it came time to sell it. Good thing CarFax wasn’t around back then. 😉

A Stooges Moment

Even though there were only two of us involved, I’m pretty sure this qualifies. I probably should have posted this one first, but I didn’t remember it until now.

When I first arrived in Okinawa (Jan. 1976) the navy was in the stages of moving the Naval Air Station from Naha (The capaital of Okinawa) to an expansion area at Kadena Air Base.

Kadena Air Base 1

Aerial view of Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan.

Got to NAS Naha a little late and was pretty worn out from the flight and stuff, so after getting to my assigned place, I went directly to bed. Sometime in the early morning hours I experienced my first earthquake. It wasn’t a very strong one as far as these things go. In fact, I thought someone was shaking the rack just to screw with me, except no-one was there when I woke up.

I went down to the lounge and found several other guys there, all having either been up during the quake or woken by it. Since we were up, and there happened to a pool table there, some of the guys wanted to play, but … while there was a pool table, there weren’t any cues. Not to be deterred, someone unscrewed the handle from a broom, and they used that to play. (Worked pretty well, too.)

But that’s not what this story is about. Since I had to spend a week or so there before being transferred to my final duty station at the Awase transmitter site, they (those in charge) had to find things for me and the others in the temp barracks to do. Me and another guy … we’ll cal him Frank … were assigned the job of going through some old quonset huts, dragging all of the old, useless crap out of them, and sorting that crap into piles of varying degrees of uselessness. (Or something like that.)

Naha quonset

Typical quonset hut.

It was typical make-work, of course, and while moving some of the larger things was physically demanding, it wasn’t really all that hard from a decision making standpoint. Pretty much everything in there was useless, and we didn’t find any desks with secret compartments containing long-lost riches, treasure maps, or coded messages, much as we were hoping otherwise. 😦 What little furniture we did find was so rotted it would probably have been dangerous to attempt using.

Around noon or so we had a couple of them emptied and sorted into three piles:

  • Dangerously useless junk

  • Questionably useless junk

  • Intriguing junk that we wished we had a private storage area of our own to hide it in and go through more thoroughly later but couldn’t and didn’t.

Since it was around lunch time, and since we had found nothing worth sitting on and didn’t feel like sitting on the ground, we improvised. Frank found an old two-by-six about eight feet long and I found an old crate about two feet high and the same wide, and sturdy enough to support our weight. We balanced the board across the box and each sat on one end. (I’m guessing you can see where this is going, but I’m going to finish the story, anyway.)

While we were eating, an officer appeared from around the corner of one of the huts and was coming our way. Not being idiots, Frank and I looked at each other and nodded our agreement to rise at the same time. HOWEVER, I decided to put my sandwich down before getting up and Frank didn’t. He got up immediately. I, of course, went to the ground and rolled off the end of the board. (I did manage to save my sandwich.)

When that happened, the other end of the board rose with Frank and must have struck a nerve just right or something (so he claimed afterward) because he sank back down onto the board. But, since I was no longer on the other end, it kept on sinking to the ground, and he rolled off the other end.

The officer had reached us by the time we were scrambling to get back up, but he was laughing too hard to say “As you were.” and just kinda waved us off.

As unlikely as it sounds, this really did happen to me.

A Rescue Operation

I don’t remember exactly when they moved in, but for the last six months or so that I was in Okinawa an Air Force family moved into the other house next door to my little place on the hill.

Awase, neighbor's roof

This is not my neighbor’s house, but it approximates the view of their roof that I had from my back porch.

The dad was a helicopter pilot (Air Force Lieutenant, I believe) and the mom worked in personnel. They also had a young son, maybe 6 or 7, who was quite active. *(A lot of his toys spent a considerable amount of time in the air.)*

All of them were very nice (the dad offered to take me up in a helicopter any time I wanted) but mostly we didn’t really see each other very often since our work schedules were very different. Sadly, I don’t remember any of their names, but at least three of my stories involve them, including this one, so I’m going to have to make some up—just for storytelling purposes you see.

So, I figure I should use easily remembered names, and the first three that popped into my head were Larry, Curly, and Moe, but that won’t really work for this. Then I thought of Dick, Jane, and Sally, but if by some chance the boy ever found out about this post and read it, I don’t think he’d appreciate being called Sally. Probably come kick my ass or something.

Then I thought of Joseph and Mary, which would of course make the boy’s name Chester, or Chet for short, so that’s what I’m gonna call them. And here we go.

One of the days, a few months after they moved in, that I was home and they weren’t, I was standing on my back porch and noticed *there were quite a lot of the boy’s toys on their roof.* (My little house above the garage was on a slight rise compared to theirs.) I also noticed an easily-climbable tree near the back corner of the house and decided it would be friendly (and fun) gesture to gather all of those toys and leave them in a pile at their front door.

So that’s what I did, and also left a note taped to the door that read: Compliments of your friendly neighborhood Spider Man.

I didn’t see them for a couple of days due to our work schedules and the fact that I went out after work quite a lot, but when I did finally run into Lt. Joe he had a big grin on his face. Aside from asking if I was the one who’d retrieved the toys (duh) and how I’d gotten up there (showed him the tree), not much else happened at that time. We had a laugh over it and went our own ways, but it was a prelude of things to come. 😀

A Particularly Beautiful Branch

Awase, Okinawa

When I was stationed in Okinawa (Jan. 1976 – Jul. 1977) I lived at the top of a very high and steep hill overlooking the city of Awase (also the name of the transmitter site I was stationed at.)

Awase, Okinawa 4

(Not my original picture. My place was much higher up the hill and from an angle further to the left. You can see a couple of the T-Site antennas in this photo, though.)

It was just a tiny, three-room place—kitchen/dining room, bedroom, bathroom—over an open garage. There was a stone fence surrounding my place, the yard, and a larger, two-bedroom house next door. There was also a taxi company outside the fence and slightly down the hill, which was very convenient for the several times my bike (a Honda 450-2) was in the shop. The neighboring house stood empty for the whole first year I was there, which was awesome as far as privacy went. 🙂 The phone line came in at the back of the house, running through the branches of a tree as it did. (This will be come relevant soon.)

My humble abode 1 - Okinawa - Jan. 1976 to Jul. 1977

My humble abode

Situated where it is, the island of Okinawa is prone to suffering from occasional typhoons, and the first one occurred shortly after I moved in to my little hilltop home. I worked at the naval transmitter site in Okinawa then, and we (all personnel) were always called in to work during such emergency conditions. After the storm was over, I returned to my house only to find that the phone was out. Apparently the high winds blew the branches around forcefully enough to detach the line from the house.

I, of course, had absolutely no idea who to call and probably wouldn’t have been able to speak with them even if I did. I went out to sample the Okinawan night life (as usual) and had duty the next day. I did ask my bosses what they recommended I do about my phone problem, hoping they’d have some useful suggestions, but, in true military tradition, their only advice was “You’re required to have a means of contact while living off-base at all times so you’d better get that fixed.”

Needless to say, this was not the answer I was looking for, but further action proved to be unnecessary; when I got home after work I found that the magic phone fairies had reconnected my line without me ever having to tell a soul it was broken. 🙂 🙂

However, when the next typhoon came along, my phone line was once again detached, and while it was also reattached (by those phone fairies?) within a day, I was getting a little upset and frustrated by the constant loss of my phone line, since it happened any time there were strong winds; not just during typhoons. After about the third or fourth time, I finally grabbed a hand saw and went out onto the back porch, determined to remove the offending branch.

I was out there with the likely suspect in one hand and a saw in the other, ready to do the deed when I stopped to think about it. I mean, who was I to stop the tree from growing where it wanted to. The telephone line intruded on its space, not the other way around. Plus, the telephone company obviously knew about the branch and its propensity to knock that line out during strong storms, but they (or the magic phone fairies) chose to repair the line automatically after every storm, rather than remove the branch. This was clearly a very important and beautiful branch!

I know it’s probably a stereotype, but I am aware that the Japanese have a deep appreciation of nature, and often write poems about butterflies, trees and even just the wind, among other things. In fact there was a novelty song from the 60s called ‘Ue O Muite Aruko‘, which my girlfriend at the time translated as ‘Walking Along, Looking Up‘, but which the US record companies released Sukiyaki, that was about that very poetic nature.

In any case, after reconsidering what I was about to do, I put the saw away and left the branch alone. Of course, it knocked my phone out several more times before I left in 1977, but if it didn’t bother the phone fairies (I assume it was magic phone fairies since I never once saw any actual person fixing the line) to come out and repair it every time, I wasn’t going to let it bother me.

Besides, it really was a very nice little branch. 🙂 🙂 🙂