In my continuing quest to provide my dear readers with dispatches from only the most exciting locales, I now bring you live updates from Camp Dodge, Iowa! Stay tuned for the next nine days as I answer the burning question all Minnesotans have about their southern neighbors: do they have electricity in that big cornfield down there?
I was assigned the driver of our Ford fifteen-passenger van; there were only three of us, but the gargantuan van was the only vehicle the unit was allowed to have, regardless of the actual number of people travelling. (Paraphrasing the old joke: “In Communist Russia, you don’t choose van – van choose you!”) The drive was mercifully brief – only about four hours – and as we neared Des Moines a thick fog set in, cutting visibility to maybe one-quarter of a mile.
We checked in at the Camp Dodge billeting office, and as is typical at an Army post, I paid in advance for my lodging. The Army will reimburse me after my trip (hopefully in a timely fashion), but until then, I’m on my dime. Since I’m such a high roller, I just slapped down some plastic and the specialist behind the desk handed me a pair of keys with a worn steel tag. Unfortunately, SGT Lantern turned out to be not so high-rolling; as he handed over his check card, he mumbled, “Uh, that might not go through.” SFC Crusoe and I looked at each other, mouths agape. Sure enough, no money – and he didn’t have a back-up credit card. (Well, he did, but it was Discover. I can hear the Visa commercial now: “When you’re attending the MCS Train-the-Trainer course at Camp Dodge, bring your Visa card – because they don’t take Discover. The Iowa National Guard and Visa – Everywhere You Want to Be.”)
Crusoe provided his government travel card, thus ensuring that Lantern didn’t have to spend the night in the back of the van, but this act of generosity has created a Kafkaesque money situation. To wit: Lantern now owes Crusoe for the lodging expense; so once he gets the money, no problem – he just gives it to him. But now Crusoe has two receipts for lodging and Lantern has none; Crusoe can only submit one receipt for reimbursement (particularly because he used a government card), and presumably can’t just give his other receipt to Lantern. So will Lantern just be screwed out of that money? Stay tuned to find out, but I’m going to say that it’s better than even odds that he’ll just have to count that money as a field loss.
It was dark by the time we arrived at our billets, and it was raining. The building was a small two-story brick affair, and it smelled strangely antiseptic – sort of like a hospital – on the inside. My room was spacious but oddly spartan, in a style that I described to Mrs Melobi as “Days Inn-meets-penitentiary.” The furniture was your standard cheap hotel equipment, all squared-off blonde wood. But the ceiling was high – ten feet or more – and the walls were painted cinder block. The lighting was harsh overhead fluorescents, and the windows were covered with blinds that I could almost convince myself were bars if I looked at them out of the corner of my eye.
For all that, it’s a pretty nice setup – wired internet, cable TV, mini fridge, microwave, coffee pot, sink. The bathroom is shared with my neighbor (SGT Lantern – so good thing the toilet isn’t coin-operated, since I don’t think he brought his e-tool to dig a trench out back), but that’s not a big deal. Apparently, this is supposed to be the field-grade officer’s quarters – I guess the company-grade officers get bare cinder block and candles for lighting.