During my illustrious Naval Career (cough, cough, ack….sorry, something in my throat), I, like many other sailors was lucky enough to actually travel around the world. This might not be as common as you think. Many sailors are attached to shore facilities or the sub service where any port calls are almost nonexistent. I like to tease some of my colleagues who were former “sub sailors” deprived of numerous port calls with a variation on the old recruiting slogan; “Join the Navy; see some pipes!”
Anyway, it was during some shore leave in Barcelona, Spain that I found myself in a taxi taking a ride back to the ship at 2345; or at 11:45 PM. How do I remember this so well? It was because I was an E-3. In civilian terms, the enlisted ranks go from E-1, where most of us started in boot camp, to E-9. An E-1 is a Seaman Recruit. An E-2 is a Seaman Apprentice. An E-3 is a Seaman. The sailors in these categories are the back-bone of the Navy. On a ship, the “E-3 and below,” get called upon to complete many tasks on top of their “normal every day duties.” They load stores, and supplies, clean the sleeping quarters, and complete 90 days of Mess Cooking. It is this 90 day stint where they are not-so affectionately called “mess cranks,” due to their long hours, un-pleasant disposition, and abuse by anyone above them, or those who have already completed their “crank duties.”
For the point of this story, E-3 and below, is also the category of sailors serving in the Mediterranean Sixth Fleet who’s liberty call expired on the ship by midnight; the old “Cinderella Curfew.” So there were four sailors and the driver going back. We were all watching out watches except for the driver who in universal cab fashion was watching the meter. Our ETA was not looking so good. The smart thing to do that evening would have been to factor the ride time, and gauge taxi availability to get to the ship on time. E-3’s are not that good at such things at this point in their service. I suddenly remembered one of my motto’s in life (not knowing it was one of my life motto’s that evening). I like to say; “it’s not how you get in trouble that matters, it’s how you get out of trouble!” Sailors are good at this, so it was no surprise to my shipmates that the following words suddenly blurted out of my mouth to the cab driver; “SENOR, get us back to the ship by midnight, and we will double your fare!” The word “fare” was not out of my mouth when the cab speed seemed to explode. The details after that were fuzzy. I’m not sure if it was the fear struck to our hearts, or the pitchers of sangria that we made disappear earlier. What I do remember is the following in rough terms; through the red lights, over, and down the sidewalks, through the rotary in the opposite direction, a few “hand gestures” to the local police advising caution to the driver, up the one way streets in reverse, through the pedestrian walkways, past the lovers kissing on the park benches, and finally up the pier with headlights flashing, and horn blasting. We jumped from the cab, and proverbially kissed the ground we walked on. We paid the driver his “added bounty” and with hearts racing, and knees knocking in fear, we ran up the gang-plank. As we ran, the comments rang out in the salt air. “That was insane!” “We’re lucky we’re not dead!” “Craziest cab ride ever!” With 2 minutes to spare we leapt onto the Quarterdeck with sighs of relief all around. 4 seconds of golden silence, and then I yelled out; “hey; next time, let’s wait an additional 5 minutes, and do it all over again!” “Aye, Aye!!!” came all the voices in unison.