More often than not, my drive back to civilian living occurs before close of business. Occasionally, though, I find my trip home way laid by Retreat. It’s an uncanny scene: rows of bustling outbound traffic slow and stop to pay their respects to the flag. Some folks roll their windows down so they can start moving just as soon as the music fades, some roll them down to listen. I turn down my heavy metal, roll down my windows and use those fleeting moments to think.
The smell of fresh cut grass drifts through in tandem with the brass and I’m taken back to hacky sacks and high school lunches. A breeze brushes past and reminds me of a boat ride to Catalina island, and the flying fish that kept pace. I think about autumn in New England. I remember road tripping through Texas with my father and the thousand plus billboards for FREE Big Texan 72 oz steak. The warning lights of my fellow drivers-turned-honor-guard remind me of midnight stoplights across the nation.
I imagine other bases, and other drivers in other time zones the world over and wonder what they think about during The Star-Spangled Banner. Do they silently recite the lyrics? Do they imagine the 4th of July in New York? Do they think about the National Cherry Blossom festival in Washington DC? Do they think about memorials in Arlington? Are they anticipating the big game or are they thinking about family?
For me, “the land of the free, and the home of the brave” calls to mind both; my parents and siblings, carne asada on the grill, and backyard football, and baseball season, and spring. I think about the coming holidays and wonder if I’ll be spending them back home with the ones I hold dear. I think about the girl I love.
Then the music’s over and the cars start moving again. The cacophony resumes. Another Retreat runs its course and another day is done. On military bases across the country men and women take time out of their busy schedules to honor the American flag and reflect on what it represents for them. It’s quite a sight. Whether you’re standing outside or parked in the middle of the road, what do you think about during The National Anthem?