They say, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” And I believe it to be true. Having known my younger brother, Kenny, both before and after his service in the U. S. Marine Corps, I’m convinced that being a Marine is much more than a brotherhood of comrades; it’s a unique way of looking at life.
Allow me to explain.
Ordinary people—myself included—play by the rules of life. We drive the speed limit, arrive on time, stand in lines, say “please” and “thank you,” watch our cholesterol, and change our oil every 5,000 miles.
Marines—including former Marines—view the items above as roadblocks in the game of life; a temporary setback if you will. To them, a speed limit is merely a suggestion, an appointment time is pushed to the very limit, courtesies are closer to guttural sounds and cholesterol concern is a complete waste of time.
A Marine views any roadblock as an obstruction to be scaled over, tunneled under, run around or blasted right through the heart. It’s a mindset that is instilled into their very being during basic training. And once it’s been turned ON, it never gets turned OFF.
Truth be told, I wish I possessed just half of this USMC mindset. Instead, I tend to follow the path of least resistance. I’ve have always thought that my little brother has lived his life a little fuller than I have lived my own. He eats, drinks and smokes whatever the hell he wants and doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks about him. He has been his own boss—and his own man—ever since he left the Corps. And whenever I visit him and his family, it’s fun to go along for the ride.
Kenny commutes like a NASCAR driver swapping paint. When he takes the four of us out for sushi, the bill always exceeds $300. He has missile-locked on the 747 that was transporting the space shuttle, destroyed several of my father’s transmissions while driving on railroad tracks, (“Smell this clutch, Tiny. This was a heavy-duty clutch,”) and played “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC over WHLS radio during the live Sunday morning service broadcast from Griswold Street Baptist Church. He even turned my mother’s wake into a legendary party (among my friends, anyway) at the Brass Rail, (“Mare, Mare, just one more, Mary.”)
Visiting Kenny in Arizona is always an adventure. (I wish I could go more often.) Thanks to my brother, I have hot-air ballooned over Cave Creek, raced Mustang Cobras at Bondurant, shot a fully-automatic Uzi, Jeeped rocky trails in the desert, watched the sunset at El Tovar and celebrated New Year’s Eve at the largest block party in the world—The Fiesta Bowl Party—with over 100,000 revelers. (Thanks, little brother.)
So, you would think I’d be used to his Type-A personality, but no, he still surprises me.
A few years ago, we flew out to Phoenix for a visit. Kenny arrived with his Yukon XL just as we walked out to the Arrivals curb. (Again, pushing the time envelope.) Always the good host, he asked us if we wanted some fast food for the hour drive north, and we did.
He pulled into a McDonald’s on Scottsdale Road only to find the drive-thru line backed up to the street. There were eight cars in front of us. At two minutes per car, we were looking at a 15 minute wait, but not Kenny.
Without any hesitation, he drove past this real-life roadblock. He rounded the back of the restaurant, drove past the menu board and pulled right up to the cashier’s window.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked.
Kenny shushed me. The drive-thru window slid open.
“That’ll be twelve dollars and eighty-seven cents,” said the McDonald’s employee.
Kenny did a quick head count and handed over a twenty.
“And add four large Cokes,” Kenny said.
“Instead of the coffee?” asked the clerk.
“Yes,” said Kenny.
“Your new total is seventeen dollars and sixty-three cents,” said the cashier.
He handed Kenny his change and we pulled forward to the next window. I was dumbfounded. WTF?
“But you didn’t order. You don’t know what we’re getting,” I said.
Kenny shrugged and replied, “We’ll get burgers, fries…you’ll see.”
They handed him a bag of food and the four Cokes. He handed the bag to me and drove away. I opened the bag and—sure enough—there were burgers, fries, a Big Mac, and a couple of pies inside.
“See? I call it Mystery Meal,” he said.
Within one minute of pulling into a very busy McDonald’s, we were back on the road — with a bag full of food.
“But Kenny, you screwed up everybody’s order behind you,” I said.
He popped a few fries in his mouth as he processed this (apparently new) information with raised eyebrows.
“Oh yeah,” he said with a nod.
Once again, the ordinary person’s rules of life did not apply to my brother.
“Once a Marine, always a Marine.”