October 24, 2019 By Ken Mackie

Navy Brat Caught in the Act

As is the case for many military brats, I was fortunate to be able to avail myself to part-time jobs on base at the exchange and O club. And so it was in the spring of 1959, I nailed a job at the Navy Exchange cafeteria (also known as the “geedunk”) at Naval Air Station Alameda, California. My duties were to tend the cash register on a relief basis and do other fill-in jobs but my primary assignment every Saturday and Sunday at closing time was cleanup of the floor. Specifically, I had to put all the chairs on top of the tables, sweep down the cafeteria floor, swab it with a mop and then run the buffer before resetting the chairs on the deck. I was happy for the job which paid about $1 per hour. That said, it wasn’t really much fun!

One day the weekend manager, a 23–year-old sailor who was from Treasure Island, learned the driver/cashier for the mobile canteen was a no show and he looked around for someone to take the driver’s place. “Mackie,” he said, “Can you drive the mobile canteen?” “Sure,” I replied, “no problem. Beats swabbing the deck here!” I failed to mention to him that I was not yet 16, and had no driver’s license, but then, that was not what he asked. I knew how to drive a three-speed as my mom had taught me. How difficult could a five-speed be?

So, for about three weeks, I was in tall cotton, working part-time in the cafeteria and then doing a tour or two on the circuit with the mobile canteen. Offerings included coffee, doughnuts, premade sandwiches, soda, candy, Twinkies and cigarettes. The mobile canteen went from the main cafeteria to Pier 3 where the carriers tied up, to other work areas, to the gym and pool and to base operations before returning for replenishment. Customers would enter via the rear door, make their selections of geedunks (Navy talk for snacks as well as the venue for dispensing of same) and then check out with the driver/cashier up front.

So, one fine Sunday at about 1630, I was making the rounds and stopped at Base Operations as the final stop of the day. A few customers came through and then I noticed that the last one was a lieutenant commander in working kakis with gold wings and a name tag that read MACKIE! Ooops! I had forgotten that my dad was the duty officer that day.

“What are you doing?” he asked incredulously. “Ahhh, driving the mobile canteen, sir,” I replied. Speechless, he nodded, paid for his coffee and sandwich and left through the front door and went back to the base ops building. As I recall, he spoke with the Navy Exchange Officer, LT Harry Blackwell, SC, USN, on Monday morning and the following weekend, I was back sweeping, swabbing and buffing the deck in the main geedunk.


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