“This is not the greatest song in the world, no. This is just a tribute.”Tenacious D
One morning on the cruise, Melissa and I ate breakfast with several other writers in the Windjammer. The opportunity arose to tell the story of how Melissa and I met. It’s one of my favorite stories to tell because it involves a lot of build-up.
The thing about the story of how I met Melissa is that there are two stories. In the Windjammer, talking to Jamie, Shawn, and John, I was able to tell the first part without interruption.
Melissa and I were both in the Air Force, and we both lived on the same floor of the same dorm. After a long day, on my way to my room, I passed Melissa and her best friend Smith sitting on the hallway floor. I heard Melissa complaining about the hot chocolate they were drinking. Something about the drinks being “chalky.” As I entered my room, I remembered that I recently received a care package from my Mom. I heated up some water, cleaned a couple of cups, and brought out a hot apple cider and offered it to Melissa. She hadn’t had hot cider before, and loved it.
Not long after that, I was playing pool in the dayroom downstairs. Melissa sauntered in, leaned against the table, and asked, “Do you have a car?” I said that I did. Then she asked, “Do you want to take me into town to see a movie?” I agreed.
This is the nice half of the story, because everything is fresh and new, and you can imagine the two of us finding happiness with each other. I managed to tell this part of the story without interruption. But then things got interesting in The Windjammer.
When there is an alarm for the crew, an announcement is made over the loudspeaker in code. “Bravo Bravo Bravo” means there is a fire somewhere, for example. We heard “Alpha Alpha Alpha” which meant that someone needed medical attention. I paused the story so we could talk about the alarm and the implications, because I’m not a monster.
The thing is, the story of how Melissa and I met is best told without interruptions, because of the flow and the build-up. To resume, I had to reveal more details and draw it out a little more, to make sure the timing and emotional impact is just right.
If one were to consider going out to dinner and seeing a movie as a date, then Melissa and I had our first date in late 1994. Her friend Smith came with us, so maybe it wasn’t a date. Who can say? From a certain point of view, Melissa and I never really dated. We met, some stuff happened, and then we got married on July 29th, 1995.
I had a trip coming up where I needed to drive to Albuquerque to pick up my friend Arison from the airport. It’s a 4 hour drive from Alamogordo, and I asked Melissa if she’d like to go with me, thinking she’d say no. To my surprise, she said yes.
In Albuquerque, I took her to Yesterdaves, a restaurant with a 50’s diner feel. Melissa was very impressed, but not nearly as impressed as when we went to the airport and Airson greeted her. Arison was tall and imposing, and he emerged the gate wearing garb, with a huge bag slung over his shoulder. He bowed and kissed Melissa’s hand, another first for her.
On the way back to Alamogordo, with Arison sleeping in the back of my car, Melissa and I held hands for the first time.
In the Windjammer, another alarm sounded, and we stopped to listen and interpret it. At this point, the interruptions themselves became a humorous part of the storytelling. I wondered if I was going to be able to tell the story at all. Since the timing was thrown off so much, I didn’t think it would land correctly. The emotional payoff wouldn’t be worth it.
The thing is, everything I just told you about how Melissa and I met… it wasn’t really our first meeting. We thought so at the time, but the actual first meeting was something much less romantic. I figured it out later, not long before we decided to get married.
To understand what our first meeting was really like, I have to tell you a little about what I did on base, and I have to talk about Building 1020.
As I relayed this information to the people at the table in the Windjammer, several of them started laughing. They provided their own interruptions. I laughed, too, but I worried that the story was already ruined.
I was attached to the 83rd Air Control Squadron, but I was on loan to the base, fixing computers for the Comm squadron. I’d get a list of trouble tickets to resolve, borrow one of the vans, and drive around the base with my bag, resolving both hardware and software problems. One morning, I needed to go to Building 1020.
What happens in Building 1020? To this day, I have no idea. I pulled up in my van, got out, and approached a fence. On the other side of a gate was about 20 yards of “killzone,” with a couple of guys guarding the space from an elevated position with M-16s. At the gate, a telephone hung, waiting for visitors. There are no buttons on this phone to dial. You pick it up, put it to your ear, and it automatically rings to someone at the front desk of Building 1020.
After they answered, I said, “This is Airman Buhl from the Comm squadron. I’m here to fix a computer.” The person at the front desk pushed a button and I heard a click from the gate. I opened it, walked across the killzone, and entered the building. Just inside, they took my bag and searched it while someone else patted me down. Once they were satisfied, they returned my bag, then reached under the desk and flipped a switch. Blue lights mounted to the ceiling throughout the building came on and started spinning. This was the signal to everyone in the building that a stranger was in the area, and they needed to take whatever they were working on and put it away until the stranger left.
This was my experience of visiting Building 1020. From the outside, it looked like it might have been 3 stories, but it could have had subterranean levels. Maybe they worked on fancy new weapons. Maybe they researched alien technology. I don’t know, and I will never know. It was a mystery that spawned rumors and fireside stories, and I kind of love it.
In the Windjammer, we heard 7 short blasts, followed by a long blast. We knew this as the signal for everyone to go to their muster station. Upon boarding the ship, everyone is taught this, so we all got up from the table and headed for the door. No one else in the Windjammer seemed to be acknowledging the alarm, though. At the door, we asked one of the crew why no one else appeared to be headed for muster.
“It’s a drill for the crew,” they said. “You don’t have to worry about it.”
We were relieved, and we laughed and went separate ways. I did not get to finish the story. I told them if the chance came up later, I’d give them the rest, but the opportunity did not arise, so they didn’t get the emotional payoff I hoped to deliver. As told, the story must have been somewhat unsatisfying. They heard me describe how Melissa and I met, and then I talked about some weird, high security building. What did one have to do with the other?
I didn’t get to finish for them, but since you’ve read this far, and you’ve been patient with all of these interruptions, I’ll give the rest to you now. You’ve been a good audience, and even though this post is about the telling of the story, I’ll deliver to you what I could not deliver to them.
After I left Building 1020, I had a number of other jobs to complete around the base. None of them were as intimidating as the experience at Building 1020. None of the jobs were particularly complicated or memorable, either. Not until I drove out to the 7th and 8th Fighter Squadron, which is where the F-117A stealth fighters were stationed.
As I understand it, the F-117A is a fighter in name only. It’s an air wing and it cannot fly without the computer on board constantly making adjustments, just to keep the plane flying straight. It can reach mach-1, qualifying it to be called a fighter, but it’s really a small bomber. It’s not meant for dogfights.
These planes were super expensive and high profile, so when I went to the front door of the administrative building, I was not surprised to see a phone hanging just outside. Earlier that day, I’d visited building 1020, so I knew the drill. I picked it up and called inside.
Someone answered and I said, “This is Airman Buhl from the Comm squadron. I’m here to fix a computer.”
“So?” the young woman on the other end said.
“Can you buzz me in?”
“Open it yourself. The door is open.”
When I saw the phone hanging next to the door, I didn’t bother trying to open it. After I hung up, I opened the door and made my way to the computer that I was supposed to fix. The young woman that answered the phone pointed and laughed at me, and kept laughing at me while I worked.
“What a bitch,” I thought.
And that is was the actual first time Melissa and I met. Weeks later, I met her again in the hall of the dorm, but neither one of us recognized each other. It wasn’t until later when I found out where she worked that I was able to put it together.