Friday, July 1, 2011
It's been over a month since my last post, but I have a good excuse this time--vacation! Policy dictates that those of us who are deployed in an overseas combat zone be given fifteen days, plus travel time, to get out of the theater and enjoy some rest and recuperation. While a few people take the opportunity for international travel--our tuba player went to Ireland with his wife--I decided to go home.
The 10th Mountain Division Band is broken into smaller groups, and the different groups each took R&R together, meaning that no performing ensemble was incomplete for the better part of a month and the remaining groups could cover any missions that came up. The Brass Quintet was the last group to go on R&R, and while waiting so long was difficult it does mean that we had far less than half the deployment remaining upon our return. I can't reveal much about the process of traveling back to the US for security reasons, but I did get to spend an entire day in a place I'll refer to as "Sandblastistan." I thought that the triple digit temperatures at KAF were bad, but Sandblastistan was even hotter. Imagine walking around on a hot day with a hair dryer blowing at full power three inches from the surface of your skin--that's what it felt like. I was glad to be away from there. The flight over was not comfortable for me because I was sitting in the middle of the plane--I'm about 6'2", and having such limited arm and leg room while flying halfway around the world did not make for a pleasant experience.
But it was worth it to arrive in Atlanta and be met by Julia, a lovely girl who I met through some mutual friends a while back. We made sure to stop at Chick-Fil-A for lunch and thought about attending the evening's Atlanta Braves game, but I decided I needed to stay in and rest up from the trip. We drove up to my hometown of Nashville the following day to stay with my family. That night we attended the Nashville Symphony's performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection." It was astounding--the orchestra has never sounded better, the Chorus was magnificent, and hearing it the exceptional acoustics of Schermerhorn Symphony Center made it easy to understand why many think that "Resurrection" is the best of Mahler's symphonies.
We spent the next day at my sister's house, where I got to spend plenty of time with my niece, who is about 18 months old, and we ended the day with a delicious family meal at Steak'N'Shake. The following day after I took my parents to the airport (they had made plans to vacation in Hawaii several months before my R&R schedule was finalized) Julia and I had breakfast with my sister's family at the Pfunky Griddle, a pancake restaurant that lets you make your own pancakes on a griddle in the center of the table--fun and tasty! After that, the two of us headed to McMinnville and Cumberland Caverns to enjoy Bluegrass Underground, a monthly event in which a bluegrass concert is held inside a large chamber in the cavern system. The opening act was a modern bluegrass group called Newfound Road, and the headline group was Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, a more traditional group that highlighted Cleveland's dazzling virtuosity on the fiddle. It was a fun performance, full of typical bluegrass subjects like trains, heartache, and murder, though after a while the constant 56-degree F temperature did begin to feel a bit chilly.
The next day, we headed back to Atlanta so Julia could squeeze in some time at work and I could visit some of my many friends from when I lived there. One of the hobbies I developed during my time in Atlanta was ballroom dancing, and so I made sure to get some lesson time with my teacher Natalie. We also joined a couple of Julia's friends for Mellow Mushroom trivia, where we placed a very close second. (Oddly enough, I'd gotten a photograph of these particular friends of hers--dressed as Indiana Jones and "the Bride" from Kill Bill--at DragonCon the previous September, completely unaware that they knew each other!) We met other friends at places as diverse as California Pizza Kitchen and Cafe Intermezzo--good food and good company.
The last few days were spent back in Nashville when my parents returned from the islands. Some quality family time was mixed in with a trip to Cheekwood to see the gardens and model trains, Ruby Falls (an underground waterfall located inside Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga), seeing old friends from college and high school, swimming at the neighborhood pool, catching up on the Harry Potter movies, visiting the famous Jack Daniel Distillery, and finding out that my Connect Four skills need some polishing. Then it was back to Atlanta, where I spent some of my last evening in the US enjoying the delectable tiramisu at Capozzi's in Decatur and enjoying the view from the Sundial revolving restaurant in the Westin Tower with my friend Jeff, an old Army buddy from my days at Ft. Benning and Ft. McPherson.
It was not easy going back to the airport to fly back to Afghanistan, but knowing that we're very close to being done with this deployment did help. I had a great time, made some great memories, and there's a lot of people I didn't get to see that I hope to meet up with next time. Meanwhile, there's more work to be done at Kandahar Air Field, so stay tuned!