If I had had my way, the day would have started at 10:00 am, with the sun well up and me well rested. But there we were shoving t-shirts and socks into Ziploc vacuum bags and generally ignoring each other on account of it was 5:00 am. Adam is delicate with me at this time of day as he wants to live through it. He cooked fried eggs, poured coffee, and excessively burnt the toast, so we crunched our way through breakfast the morning of our Harley cross-country trip.
We pulled out of the drive, me waving the selfie-stick around, already realizing that dignity was a lost cause, and roared off to our first stop: Shreveport, Louisiana. We had planned around Shreveport’s Air Force base for us to stay the night inexpensively. While stretching our legs at a roadside gas station, chugging Red Bulls and wolfing down granola bars, Adam remembered he had a friend in the Shreveport area from his old squadron. He gave him a call, and Galen invited us to stay in his home instead of on base. Adam and I sighed with relief and gratefulness. The military life is chockfull of tough moments, what with deployments, 2-3 year moves, and general scheduling chaos, but as a perk you also get a cross-country network of family members with couches to crash on.
Completely exhausted, we rumbled up Galen’s driveway and squeezed Annie (the bike—a 100th annie-versary Roadking) into his garage for the night—a blessing in itself. Stepping into his home made me snort with laughter and took me back to Adam’s bachelor days: the kitchen counters strewn with empty soda cans, cereal boxes, drills, wrenches, drained wine bottles, pizza boxes—and pirate cutlasses.
Galen looked embarrassed. “There wasn’t a whole lot of time to clean up…”
I stopped him, “Doesn’t matter. We’re just thankful for military family who takes care of us.”
He sighed, “I miss the old squadron. Man, it’s good to see you guys.”
I paused at the island in the middle of the kitchen; it was transformed into what looked like a medieval tanner’s workstation. Several leather belts, some with buckles, some looking freshly cut, were stretched out across the surface, along with the various tools needed for dying and shaping the leather. Parks and Rec’s Ron Swanson had clearly invaded and taken over this B-52 crewdog’s kitchen.
But Galen grinned and swept a hand across his workstation. “Just cut a couple of these last week,” he said, indicating the belts. He bent over, and when he straightened again, he was hauling a massive roll of extra hide on one shoulder. “Got a great deal on this stuff. I’ve already cut a vest for my Jack Sparrow costume, and I’m thinking about another belt for my Wolverine one. Also gotta dye a couple of these a shade or two darker.”
Lamenting about how Comic Con attendees would always take photos of him in his cosplay creations and credit him online, he led us further into his home. The aforementioned Jack Sparrow vest was hanging up over the tub in the guest bathroom, and I couldn’t contain another snort of laughter. Having just completed dying the vest blue, Galen had left the room looking like some sort of alien murder scene. As rivulets of blue dye trickled down the side of the already indigo-filled tub, Galen chewed on his lip. “Yeah, I’d probably better clean that up for ya’ll in the morning. Sorry.”
He shrugged, and we followed him into the next room. Shelves of miniature Wolverines in his various outfits lined one wall. On another wall were several versions of bright yellow foam Wolverine masks. “Can’t see a damn thing in these things,” was Galen’s only comment, “I think I can fix that for my next event, though.” On the floor lay a pile of Jack Sparrow wigs with bits of bead and whalebone jutting out at odd angles. He picked one up and commented, “I think I can make this one look a little more natural.”
“You made all of this yourself?!” I asked, impressed.
He nodded, “Yeah, I mean, it’s not that good. I’m gonna make new versions. This stuff is crap.”
I just rolled my eyes at his humility. The creativity involved in all of these projects was just awesome. I never realized that cosplay was such an art.
After the tour was over, we headed to eat dinner, cracking up on the way over at Galen’s colorful and varied outbursts of profanity at Shreveport’s pothole-riddled roads. Our tailbones having just recovered from the ride in, we were relieved that it wasn’t just us. We had felt a little like pansies.
We ordered some much-needed drinks before dinner after a hard day’s riding. “To old friends in new places,” Adam said, raising his Glenlivet in a toast.
“To family,” I added as we clinked our glasses, all three of us warmed by the hint of the familiar in the unfamiliar.
We sat around and talked about old times and old friends back in Pensacola, Galen diligently checking in on each squadron member. He regaled us with stories of how he had convinced a civilian that a B-52 had an absurdly ridiculous mechanism (which was more suited to the Millennium Falcon than a ’50s bomber) that he had made up on the spot. I was crying with laughter as he described the civilian’s wide eyes and complete acceptance of his invention. “It’s the details that really convince them,” he said, “but the flightsuit doesn’t hurt.” After splitting a cheesecake for dessert, we asked for the check.
To Adam and I’s loud protests, Galen motioned the server to give him the entire bill. We were blown away. Not only did the guy give us a free place to stay and great company, he also provided a free meal on top of everything else. Here’s to you, Galen.
Around 7:00 the next morning, Galen called us and asked if we wanted to grab breakfast somewhere. He was practically on a lunch break, having been at work on the base since 3:00 am. The Harley barely made it to the coffee shop after more spine-splitting Shreveport roads. Adam and I integrated a few of Galen’s vocabulary words to our opinion of Lousiana highways. At the coffee shop, we threw down breakfast burritos and chugged coffee with our old friend. We rode (bounced, got jostled?) away from Shreveport with a new appreciation for our generous military family, smooth roads—and for the art of cosplay.