What about Bob?
Many years ago I was sitting on the stoop of a small neighborhood pub called Gene’s Beer Garden. One of the local yokels was pontificating on the evils of labor unions and after I’d heard enough of the unchallenged diatribe I jumped into the conversation with both feet. We argued, he bought us a beer (a full on pint!). We argued some more, I bought us a beer. We kept up this routine for far too long and both of us ended up the clear winner of the dispute.
This is how I met my dear and trusted friend Robert C Anderson Junior. We had no idea then the roads we would travel together. Together we would venture from Morgantown to have some of the most trying and memorable times two folks can share.
Here is your only warning. This story is told in the style of Bob. Therefore brevity is an impossibility. Get a fresh beverage or two, take out the dog, take off your shoes and settle in. Oh, and this story isn’t about two missionaries either. By that I mean our time together included a lot of beverages of the hops and barley variety.
Sometime after we met at Genes, Bob came to work with the same firm I did. I’m not sure how either of us managed that but we were/are both vets and it was a jobs for vets company. The job required quite a bit of travel so we were off to see the wizard.
On one trip together we were doing a whirlwind European flyby. Kaiserslauthen, Pirmasens, and Monchengladbach, Germany, then Zutendaal Belgium and finally Burtonwood.
You may have guessed from the way we met that Bob and I were largely opposites. He was big and tall, I was short and skinny. He was neat, me, not so much. He was organized and all planned out, I was and still am more of a fly by the seat of the pants sort of guy. A genuine Odd Couple.
Bob was so organized I’m sure his picture is right there with the definition of obsessive-compulsive. Folks in the office used to rearrange the things on his desk just to watch him mumble profanities as he carefully placed every object back in its rightful place. The grumbling mumbles were even more entertaining after Bob had all of his teeth pulled.
When Bob and I shared a hotel room it was obvious who was bunking on what side of the room. My room, depending on how many days we’d been there, looked like a stiff breeze had been blowing or a full forced hurricane had just gone through. Bob’s socks were folded.
Bob taught me how to snore. Seriously. Dude could rattle the windows. As long as I got to sleep first or had consumed a fair amount of the amber beverage it didn’t bother me. Otherwise I simply didn’t sleep. One night in Monchengladbach we paid for my fly by the seat of the pants traveling style by finding a hotel room at the very top of four flights of stairs. There was no air-conditioning and we shared a common bathroom with the other two rooms on this level. The heat was terrible. No breeze dared to enter the solitary window in our room. Out the doorway, across the hall was another window. We discovered that if we left our door open and opened the window in the hallway that we could coax a small breeze into our sauna.
That night as Bob slept, he had beaten me to sleep, neighbors came to the door to complain about his snoring. Yea. I wasn’t sure what they wanted since my German language skills only included words like beer, good morning, two beers please and thank you. You know, words you need to know to get by. Once they pointed at Bob who continued to saw away blissfully unaware that the villagers were out with their pitchforks, and then to the door, I knew what they wanted. They actually wanted me to close the door. This of course would have stifled the tiny breeze and amplified the noise even more. I declined the neighbor’s repeated requests as humbly and apologetically as I could given the language barrier.
On to Zutendaal, Belgium. Our mission here covered several days and nearing the end of the trip we were nearing the end of our funds too. We were staying in a nice hotel near town that had a restaurant, pool, beautiful 18 hole golf course and most importantly a guest bar. As the cash ran out the beer nuts and other condiments offered at the bar became the main stay of our diet. When the hotel hosted weddings or private parties they usually made us leave the area while the guests were arriving. We were welcome to mosey down later and join the party. Food, glorious 5 star restaurant food, champagne and of course, beer. Did you know that Belgium has more beers than Germany?
After a while Bob had established quite a rapport with the kitchen staff. They had never heard of a cheese platter so Bob quickly educated them on the finer points of preparing one. The finest point being that the more cheeses there were the better the plate. After a while heaping plates of various cheeses were frequently deposited in front of us without even asking.
One night while sitting at the bar I mentioned that I was looking forward to the next leg of the trip to Burtonwood Army Depot. I talked about how I was looking forward to going to England, a country I had never visited before and where at least I could understand the language. Bob, having been there several times before, just laughed. Finally he said “Good luck with that language thing”.
Within 5 minutes of him saying that two huge tour buses pulled up and unloaded a battalion of Brits. All of them eager for the loo and of course the pub which is where they found us. Upon discovering Yanks in the ranks they were eager to converse. So much for the same language thing. Were I to fill my mouth full of marbles and attempt to talk while being poked in the ribs at odd or infrequent times I would still speak more clearly than these blokes. Bob was in heaven. He had so much fun watching me ask folks to repeat themselves over and over and over again. He never tired in the re-telling of this story.
Burtonwood Army Depot came to be a favorite destination . Situated 2 miles northwest of Warrington, Lancashire, England, Burtonwood had been the largest airfield in Europe during the war (WW2) with the most USAAF personnel and aircraft maintenance facilities.
There was a small family owned hotel we always tried to stay at because the price was right, the food was terrific, they loved Yanks and yes, they had two bars. One for the general public and one for quests of the hotel. The guest bar was open until the guests got weary of the good company or too intoxicated to make out what their brilliant English hosts were trying to say.
Our room was on the second floor in the back of the building. It was a huge room with high ceilings but without air conditioning. It overlooked a grass and dirt courtyard complete with a goat for weed control. One night I was lying in bed reading while Bob took a shower. The tall doorway into the bathroom had a magnificent wooden header. When Bob came out of the shower room he stopped just inside the room to ask when I wanted to go to dinner. As we were discussing it that huge door header came loose and fell to the floor with a loud and solid crash. Had it hit him it would certainly have killed him. Not to be outdone by the near miss’s failure to undo him he jumped so quickly that his wet feet nearly sent his head to the floor at the same speed the door header had just encountered it. I had no idea he could move so fast.
This being my first time in England I initially refused to drive. At some point on the way to our hotel from the airport I opened my window and presently something paper like flew out. We had no idea what it was or that it might prove very important. It didn’t, but it could have.
One Saturday while driving around looking at the sights I became concerned that Bob was drifting too far to the left as he drove. You might think you’d be prone to drift to the right but that wasn’t the case with Bob, or me as it turned out.
I mentioned that he was getting pretty close to the parked cars but this did nothing to influence Bob’s operation of the vehicle. Wham! We hit a parked car.
Bob stopped the car and got out to have a look. I opened the glove box and started looking for the rental agreement. Remember that piece of paper like litter that went out the window? This is when we figured out what it was.
As I got out of the car a troupe of huge guys were filing out of a pub on the way to where we were. Meanwhile we were looking at the bumper of the car we’d hit. It was lying on the ground. I, we, thought we were in for it. These dudes were huge. All as big as Bob and some larger. Bob started explaining what had happened when the guy leading the pack said “Yanks? Owh, don’t wurry bout it matey. Appens all da time.”
He and another guy grabbed the bumper, snapped it back on the car and invited us in for a pint. I love that country!
A last cheese story. We had been at the hotel’s guest pub for too long and I had excused myself to go to bed. Sometime later I was awoke by dogs barking in the courtyard and banging against the wall. Then squeak, squeak, thump, squeak, bump and finally “Hey Brother watcha doin?”
Bob was climbing in the window trying desperately not to spill a tall pile of cheese chunks and other cheese plate stuff. When he left the bar area with the cheese plate he realized too late that he didn’t have a key to get upstairs. So he went around the building and found a ladder that he had to fight the goat for to use to climb in the window. If you know Bob’s grin, that’s what he was wearing. The Cheshire cat had nothing on Bob. I wish I’d seen him battle that goat.
There are so many many stories I could tell but you have to know this one. During the first Gulf war Bob and I deployed to Saudi Arabia working on separate missions. He went first. Vesta, Bob’s dear mother gave be a box of homemade peanut brittle to take to Bob. It was so long before we managed to be in the same place at the same time the only thing left of the peanut brittle was the box and some crumbs when we finally met up. I don’t think there was even half a peanut left. He laughed and hugged me anyway.
When the war started Bob’s work ground to a halt and he and the team he was with came to the Sheraton hotel in Riyadh where I was already well established. They sat in the hotel drinking coffee all day. I was a one man team working every day unloading hospitals from the trains, staging them and coordinating their movement forward.
From our rooms high above the city we noticed fairly quickly that the Saudis always seemed to know missiles were incoming long before the alarms went off. We’d see them running for their cars and scurrying out into the desert. They became our early warning system.
Bob was frustrated. Sitting in the hotel every day watching me go to work for 12, 14 or more hours a day and not allowed to help was getting to him. So Bob gave himself a job. Every night while I slept he would keep watch on the activities below. When they ran for the desert, he would wake me up and we would seek shelter until an all clear was sounded or we just didn’t care anymore.
Several times I would wake and look toward the windows. There he was, sitting in the dark, silhouetted against the lights of the city with the red ember of his dangling cigarette flaring up when he’d take a drag.
I will never lose this image.
If Bob had your back, sleep was easy.
Bob died on September 23rd, 2013. I found out just a few hours ago. Sleep will be elusive and troubled tonight. Bob’s watch is over.