Thursday, February 26, 2009

Vietnam Hijinks

Random Bits About Vietnam

  • When our outfit arrived in Cam Ranh we were told that we should *not* eat in any of the village establishments, that they were not sanitary and the food was not safe.

    What actually happened with most of us was that we waited to see which places our medics would eat in and then followed suit.

  • At the end of a pier at Cam Ranh Bay I was waiting for a J-Boat. It was late afternoon and just beginning to darken. I was alone, at least until I heard a sound behind me. I turned and perhaps 30 feet away was a rat, by far the largest rat I'd ever seen. It was the size of a small dog, a cocker spaniel perhaps.

    My turning movement caught its eye and we looked at each other for a moment. I unbuttoned the flap on my .45's holster. That sucker isn't gonna get much closer to me if I have to blow the damn pier away.

    But he wasn't interested in me unless I was a threat. He was just scrounging for food, bits of fish probably, and after a minute or so he headed toward the shore.

  • As you would expect, there was a lot of slang used between the troops and the locals. Any thing that was very good was "numbah one" and anything that was very bad was "numbah ten." There didn't seem to be anything between the two.

  • Cam Ranh itself was a secure area, at least in 1966. We had several hundred thousand troops there, and while it was known that certain villages were Viet Cong havens, they were simply placed off limits to us. The VC weren't really a threat there - they didn't want to stir anything up in the midst of such a massive concentration of US troops - and our command wanted peace in the area too.

    One night two of our guys went to one of the off limits villages looking for adventure in the form of drinking and partying. They had fun for a while and then settled down with two Vietnamese women for the night. In the wee hours of the morning, perhaps two or three o'clock, they were awakened by kicks in the ribs. Looking up they saw two guys in black pajamas holding submachine guns.

    The VC took their wallets, watches, and boots, and sent them on their way. I believe they sneaked back into the outfit successfully and the Company Commander never learned about it.

  • Prior to leaving for Vietnam we were given all kinds of shots. One which amused us greatly was for bubonic plague. What are the chances? *That* was a painful one, by the way.

    As chance would have it, there actually was a small outbreak of the "black plague" in our area while we were there. Thanks to someone's forethought we were immunized and the affected villages were not placed off limits. Nevertheless, there wasn't much desire to visit them until the plague had passed.

Monday, February 23, 2009


I've had flat tires and other minor annoyances, but the only time I've ever had a car just quit right out from under me offered Dame Fortune the opportunity to provide at least partial compensation, and provide she did.

It was around midnight and I was on I-90, headed for Rogers Park from Chicago's northwest suburbs. All of a sudden everything on my instrument panel started blinking, my headlights dimmed, and the power steering went. The car started slowing and I steered what felt like a tank over to the right shoulder.

All lights disappeared and all electrical functions vanished. This was not on a weekend, and there was virtually no traffic on the highway, but about a mile ahead was a service area. I grabbed my briefcase, locked the car, and started for the oasis ahead, wondering where the state would have my car bedded down when I woke up in the morning. If I can just get to a phone, call a tow truck, and get back to the car first . . . .

I swear, I hadn't taken ten steps when I heard a vehicle slowing behind me. I turned to look just as an empty Yellow Cab passed me and pulled over to the shoulder, stopping a few feet in front of me.

A couple of minutes later we pulled into the service area. The cab driver waited while with the help of the Yellow Pages I found a towing service that would haul my car to the Rogers Park dealer from whom I had bought the car. I got a dispatcher, asked if I could get the car towed to Rogers Park and a lift to my home, a few blocks past the dealership. Done deal.

The cabbie drove me back to my car, was paid and tipped handsomely, and resumed his original journey. Perhaps a half hour later I was in the tow truck's cab, yukking it up with the driver.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sound Advice

Sometimes you just gotta hit 'em over the head.

Twenty-five or so years ago, an area I managed had several people in positions based on a modified version of matrix management. These people were in place to coordinate and report on large projects within the corporation. The formal reports occurred monthly and were made to the president and senior staff. Those people comprised "steering committee" sorts of bodies and the senior staff members varied from project to project, signing off on plans and through these reports monitoring progress. I attended these reporting sessions.

To qualify for this process a project had to have a budget of a million dollars or more and had to cross vice-presidential lines.

It was the responsibility of my managers in this process to be lightning rods, among other things identifying slippage or new problems in projects to these governing bodies. One result of this responsibility was that they could not actually "manage" these projects, as they were to have no parochial interest in not reporting problems in any aspect of the effort. Another result was that they simply *had* to report honestly, fingering different areas with project performance problems. This was done as tactfully as possible, of course, but still the reporter was sometimes intensely disliked, at least briefly, for having done this.

All that is the long way, I suppose, of saying that they had very important responsibilities and reported to people who were very important, at least within the company.

One of the managers (who were all women, by the way) was Taylor, who was thirtyish, and who had responsibility for a twenty million dollar project, then the largest ongoing such effort in the company. She was more than competent - good at coordinating, good at mediating conflicts between areas, and good at reporting to the president and senior staff.

Until . . . overnight she acquired the bad habit of interjecting "ah" between sentences and even between phrases in her presentations. "So the . . . ah . . . this process was . . . ah . . . moved back a week to . . . ah . . . accommodate the new requirement."

Taylor's boss was a director, Kim, who reported to me, and after the first "ah" session I spoke with her and we agreed that she would talk to Taylor about it.

In her next report, Taylor did much better, but the report after that was a disaster. I kept count on a sheet of paper, and if my memory is correct there were something on the order of seventy "ahs" in an hour.

After the report I went back to my office to drop off some papers, and before I could head for Kim's office she entered mine. She said, "I know, I know. How do you feel about sending her to some kind of course on public speaking?"

We agreed on that and off went Taylor to a five day seminar. When she returned the "ahs" had disappeared completely.

For a few months.

One day they reappeared mysteriously, but were held to a reasonable minimum. I went to Kim's office and she wasn't there. A few minutes later she popped into my office and said "I've spoken to Taylor and she's calling the instructor of the course she attended. I'll keep you posted."

A few minutes later she returned and said, "I'm going to check in on Taylor and see what the instructor said. Want to come along?"

We went to Taylor's office. She had had to wait for a return call and was just beginning her conversation with the instructor. She waved us in and we sat down in front of her desk and listened to half the conversation.

Taylor: "Hi. This is Taylor and I attended your course on speaking several months ago."

Silence on our end.

Taylor: "Well, you may remember that I had the problem of saying 'ah' a lot. When I finished your course that had disappeared, but now it has started to happen again. What can I do about it?"

Longer silence.

Taylor: "I see. I'll keep that in mind. Thank you."

We subsequently got the other half from Taylor, and the whole thing went something like this:

Taylor: "Hi. This is Taylor and I attended your course on speaking several months ago."

Instructor: "I know who you are, Taylor."

Taylor: "Well, you may remember that I had the problem of saying 'ah' a lot. When I finished your course that had disappeared, but now it has started to happen again. What can I do about it?"

Here there was a pause of perhaps ten seconds, followed by

Instructor: "Well, Taylor, you just have to realize that it makes you sound like an asshole."

The instructor had read his student well and during my remaining time at the company, perhaps two years, she never said "ah" again.