I grew into manhood in the Sinai desert: 1977-1980. Missed out on Disco, but it was damn well worth it. What you may choose to read below is the first installment of a personal history I am determined to write about the men and women I had the honor to know, to love, to work and walk among, and to call ‘Friend’, as we all tried in our way, to bring peace between the Egyptians and the Israelis after the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
The conditions were harsh; the boredom at times mind-numbing. Seventy-five percent of us were under thirty. Most of us were Texans. We were not actually building anything see-able, tangible, touchable: we were, in fact, civilian ‘Paid Political Hostages,’ not construction contractors, not U.S. military Special Forces, but we ended up building something immensely more important than bricks and mortar: The Camp David Accords—Peace between two enemies who had not known peace since before Moses was a pup. Some of us who spent too many years there, went slowly and surely insane…
A faint laughing snort escaped as I shook my head upon seeing that sign duct-taped to the door of the hooch belonging to some of my fellow drivers: ‘Rocket Tom’, ‘J.R. Mog’, ‘Jet’, and ‘Big Mo’. Big Mo wasn’t a driver per se; I mean he didn’t drive trucks or R&R passenger vehicles: He drove dozers, road graders, front-end loaders, and the occasional fork lift, although he considered fork-lifts “Too wussy for a Texan named Big Mo” to drive.
I gave the door a hearty knock.
Opening the door, I was enveloped in a cloud of smoke shoved out by the cold air conditioning. The contrast from the hot Sinai air shocked my senses, but felt oh, so… inviting.
I stepped inside the doorway and paused, giving my eyes a moment to adjust to the subdued lighting in the hooch. The sun in Sinai is blindingly bright. Seated around an empty cable spool (about three feet in diameter), were three fourths of the usual suspects: Mog, Jet, and Rocket Tom.
“You just gonna stand there, or ya gonna have a seat?” Mog demanded. J.R. Mog, a corpulent, charismatic, boisterous, ‘talks too loud’ Texan who generally had the first (and last) word in any conversation.
His full title was ‘J. R. Mog, Half-Man, Half-Alligator, Part-Time Hog; Tamer of Wild Women and Other Assorted Interests.” Or… simply just ‘Mog’ for short (Thank God).
“How y’all?” I said, taking a seat on one of the camel saddles which served as chairs. Scattered about the tabletop were a couple of small pipes, a chunk of hashish the size of a pregnant golf ball, an overflowing ashtray, three or four empty beer bottles (Amstel), a couple of magazines, a crumpled pack of Marlboros, a Moët & Chandon bottle with a burnt up candle stuck in it, wax coating it all around and down to the top of the table thus cementing it there, and something that looked like it might once have been an orange.
Mog answered, “We just finer ‘n frog hair. Wanna beer? You know where the fridge is.”
“Matter of fact, I do,” I said, getting up and tacking back and forth through the piles of dirty clothes, homemade furniture, shards of beer bottles, and stacked-up cases of Amstel, Heineken, and Tuborg Squash—a heavily carbonated orange soda from Denmark—the best thing on Earth for the morning cotton-mouth most of us suffered more mornings than not. (Had something to do with smoking hash and drinking late into the night, but… that’s just my opinion.)
I returned with a Heineken and sat back down, taking a swig as I did so.
“Well, Lancer, now that you’re all settled, we can fire us up a bowl.” (I had not done anything noteworthy enough up until this point at Sinai Field Mission to warrant a moniker other than my given Christian name). Using a Buck Knife, he proceeded to carve some hash off the golf ball, then mixing the slivers with some tobacco, stuffed one of the pipes and lit it with a Zippo.
We passed the ‘bowl’ around, refilling it a few times here and there, then settled back with our beers.
Jet, the oldest at the table–about thirty—wore a goatee, long brown hair on top of a head that looked a little too big for the rest of his frame. He had a laconic manner, but was not what one could ever call ‘brusque’.
He just didn’t say much. He seemed to save his words like cash money is what I’m saying. Presently, he asked, “Mog, when’s your next run to TA?” (‘TA’ = Tel Aviv).
Mog (who spent words with reckless abandon) replied, “I got the fuckin’ R&R run tomorrow. Shit! Hey Lance, what you got? Wanna trade?”
Mog hated the R&R runs mainly because R&R runs meant taking passengers. He loved driving the trucks into ‘Town’. Two reasons: He loved trucks and he loved to drive trucks very, very fast. Mog was a great driver, but riding with him scared the shit out of me.
“Sure Mog; I’ll trade with ya.”
“Which run you got?” he asked, now slightly wary at my all too quick agreement.
“Aw Shit No! Forget it.”
SFM Basecamp was about thirty klicks from the Suez Canal. Every day an R&R vehicle left SFM to rendezvous with one coming from Cairo. Passengers would take a small boat across the canal and continue on to Cairo or back to SFM. Incoming and out-going mail was also exchanged. Having
‘The Canal Run’ meant getting off-base only for an hour or two. Going to Tel Aviv meant driving only four hours, checking into the Sheraton and having the rest of the day and night to paint the town red with Per Diem and whatever else one wanted to contribute or muster out of his own purse.
Mog had an Israeli girlfriend in Tel Aviv, actually she was his fiancée, and he took all the Tel Aviv runs he could get, so he could go see ‘The Little Mama’. In fact all the drivers had Israeli girlfriends except Big Mo. His ‘Honey-Co’ was a Big-Boned, Tall Drink O’ Water, Texan Gal, working for SFM, just like us. Her name was ‘Big Mammu’ and if those two didn’t eventually get united in hellish matrimony, then I say ‘Fuck it.’ There is no hope for the rest of the world. Perfect for each other they were, is all I’m saying.
Rocket Tom was a wiry, slightly nervous-energy type about five-foot ten, with long dark brown hair and a full beard. Even though he was Pure Texan, his accent spoke ‘Tennessee’ to me: Probably genetic since most Texans have Tennessee bones buried somewhere in their family closet.
“Y’all just gettin’ back from the TA? Rocket drawled in my direction.
“Yeah. Had the Reefer Run. The KP’s unloading her now.”
“Well,” he went on, “I hope y’all brought back some ah that Israeli choc’late milk this time.”
“Sorry Bro; they still fresh out at the market.”
“Well shit-fire!” he yelled, standing up. “How they spec’ us to keep our mo-ral here in the Middle of the Fuckin’ East, Sinai fuckin’ field mission hot-ass desert without no Goddamn choc’late milk?” (He did love chocolate milk, especially after a smoked bowl or two of the hubbly-bubbly, which for us was another word for hashish, although technically, it means the water pipe we sometimes used to smoke it in, often mixed with a sticky sweet Egyptian honey tobacco—very pleasant aroma, that.)
Mog chimed in, “Hell an’ God-awmighty Rocket! Calm the fuck on down Son! Y’all need to lay off that shit anyhow. I believe you done put on a pound or two just this week, ‘specially round yer middle section there.” (Rocket Tom weighed about 140 pounds, soaking wet. With-his-boots-on).
Mog continued on the roll he was working himself up to, “Lancers, that reefer truck still got both its mirrors attached?”
Laughter all around. (Rocket, now sated and satisfied by his outburst, had sat the fuck back down…)
I had become notorious with the drivers (and somewhat despised & infamous by the mechanics) for losing the driver’s side swing-out mirrors off four trucks in the past two weeks.
The roads through the desert were quite narrow with no shoulders at all. And in fact, there was usually a sharp drop off which if hit, would cause a fast moving, top heavy, loaded-down truck to flip over.
I was cognizant of this and would never give up my half of the road. No Matter What. Too often I would encounter an IDF (Israeli Defense Force) truck with some pimple-faced kid, fresh off the Kibbutz at the wheel barreling down upon me from the opposite direction, taking his half of the road from the middle. Inevitably our mirrors would connect. And violently.
Since SFM’s trucks all had air conditioning, my windows were always rolled up, saving me from being smacked by the mirror as it smashed against the side of the truck. The IDF guys, well probably not, as their trucks, to my knowledge, did not come with factory air.
“Yeah Mog. She still got both her mirrors.”
“Well, did ya leave any crippled jackasses in yer wake this time?” Mog laughed.
On my very first R&R run to Tel Aviv I was driving our Chevy van loaded full with twelve passengers, two of whom were high-ranking State Department pukes. I was a bit nervous, and was trying to drive oh so carefully and safely, as I felt my future as a driver depended on it. Somewhere just south of Al Arish, we came upon a couple of donkeys in the road.
I started slowing down, but not wanting to hit the brakes too suddenly or too hard, thereby throwing my passengers forward, I misjudged and hit one of the jackasses square in the ass. His hind legs flew out from underneath him and his butt hit the road. He managed to get back on his legs, then turned and glared at me as he stumbled off. I drove on down the road as if nothing had happened and saw a Bedouin in my rear view mirror shaking his fist and spewing what I theorized were some choice words at me in Arabic.
“Naw. Overall it was a borin’ trip,” I said. Then added, “Mog, you sure you don’t wanna take my Canal Run tomorrow?”
“Son, you know damn well I don’t. Last time I had that run…” (Here it comes, another ‘Mog Story’) “I got stuck for two hours behind a broke-dick-of-a’-Egyptian-lame-ass-broke-down-convoy. They had the whole damn road covered up with their doubya-doubya-two wrecks-on-wheels. Musta been twenny of ‘em. I’m tryin’ to figure out how to get around, but they had the unmitter-grated gall to break down ‘tween two fuckin’ sand dunes. Nothin’ I could do but set an’ wait ‘em out. I’ll be Goddamn-go-to-Hell if their tow truck finally shows, and she pro-ceeds to break down her own self! Jesus, Mary and Yosef! My passengers getting’ all stupid worryin’ an’ frettin’ they ain’t gonna get to Cairo in time to catch their planes for R&R back to The Land of the Big PX and the All-Night Restaurant, I told them the other vehicle gonna wait there at the crossin’, so why don’t y’all just shut the fuck up!”
“Uh Mog,” Rocket interjected, “There weren’t no USG types in your vehicle, were they?”
“Ah Hell No! Rocket. You know I am always po-lite as pie when those State Department assholes are on-board. Anyways, as I was sayin’, we sittin’ there wonderin’ when the next tow truck gonna show, so I call ahead to Mohammad to see if he at the canal yet. Finally managed to get him on the radio and tole him to set tight. I’d get there when I got there.“
A word here about the convoys that travelled through the ‘Buffer Zone’. The Egyptians had nothing but World War Two era Russian trucks and every time they attempted a convoy, they broke down.
Sure as God made Texas, they were gonna break down. The Israelis, on the other hand, had all-new trucks and tanks, and planes, most of which they got from the U.S. when Nixon bailed them out during the first half of the two-week long Yom Kippur War when the Egyptians were actually kicking the ever’-lovin’ shit outta their asses.
There was a massive air-lift of new military hardware to the Israelis, so they would not get pushed into the Mediterranean. Now, I’m not saying the Israelis didn’t deserve credit for winning that war in the end, (and some would still call it a ‘draw’), but without the infusion of new equipment from Tricky Dick and Hank Kissinger, well…
Mog continued, “Well, with nothin’ to do now but wait her out, I went to see if I could find some ‘Gyptian could give me an idee of just how much longer they gonna be blockin’ my road. After wading through some wearing they jammies and wantin’ baksheesh, I found an officer who spoke some English. He tole me, ‘No worries. No worries.’ Well, directly here come another ‘gyptian tow truck. Took ‘em another hour to clear the damn road. We got to the canal just ‘bout an hour ‘fore sundown. I swear, I ain’t takin’ no more canal runs. Oh fuck no!”
There was a lot of bullshit talked at SFM, but for the most part, it was what you’d call pretty good bullshit (for the most part.) I enjoyed it terribly.
If you have come with me thus far, then you may be happy to know that there will be more to this story. Too much more.