I would love to say that I had lived in San Diego, but Marine Corps Boot Camp and Marine Corps Combat Training don’t really classify as living – and that was all the experience I had in San Diego and San Onofre. I’d left Redding by joining the Marines (which again, for the record, was a stupid decision – if I would have had good guidance from the adults around me – I would have gone to college at Stanford or Berkley). The Marines had been impressed by my test scores and promised me a career in aviation. I’d always dreamed of being an astronaut and becoming a pilot seemed like a good step in that direction.
Unfortunately, I’d been misled. You needed to be an officer to become a pilot and after bootcamp, my choices were to either become an enlisted navigator or an air traffic controller. During the flight swim qualification, the beefy monster I was trying to demonstrate rescue technique on decided he should really ham it up as a drowning victim and dragged us both under. That left air traffic control (ATC). ATC school was in Millington, Tennessee – near Memphis. I’d been told that because of my scores, I would be assigned to one of the bases I’d chosen on my ‘dream sheet’ but that was a lie. Instead of being sent to Okinawa, Japan or Kaneohe, Hawaii or even San Onofre, California – the USMC sent me to Millington,Tennessee and Jacksonville, North Carolina. These were the only places I saw during my time in the service and frankly, both of them were cesspools.
I liked Memphis. I loved the blues bars, Beale Street, and the whole black southern vibe of the place. Millington, on the other hand, was a typical military pit filled with strip bars, tattoo shops, pawn shops, and other businesses that appeal to 18-20 year old men who are away from home for the first time – as well as the predators that prey on them. Millington was filled with hustlers, scamsters, sharks, and criminal elements preying on the military. I got my first fake ID in Millington, I was 19 and about 5’7″ – pretty obviously male. The ID said I was 24, female, and 6’3″ – but it worked everywhere I went.
I did what you might expect in Millington. I was robbed once in Millington and I got jumped and beaten by a group of angry guys on a corner in Memphis once. My crime was being an obvious military guy, by himself waiting for friends to show up. Memphis gave me a lifelong love of the blues and a taste for soul food and Southern barbecue. I lived there for a bit over four months.
I can’t really say very much about Millington. The base closure and realignment act of 1993 changed the base and I’m sure the town is different now as well. If I would have enlisted a few years later, my ‘A School’ would have been in Pensacola, Florida – which is a much more desirable location. It was in Millington that I first learned the term ‘Hobo Jungle’ – it was one of the places forbidden for us military personnel to go – the bushes where the hoboes drank. Millington was a transient camp in the 1930s during the great depression and apparently the hobo jungles never went away.