New and Improved

Ft Sam and Brook Army Medical Center Complex

by Celia Hayes

Having been in pretty good health over the last two or three years, it has been that long since I had to make an appointment to see a doctor – which since I am a military retiree, usually meant a long trek into the wilds of Brooke Army Medical Center, or BAMC – or as I liked to call it ‘the world’s largest red-brick Skinner box’. I was better acquainted with the grounds around it though; during a time when I worked in an office nearby. During my lunch hour, I used to walk across the street, flash my retiree ID at the gate, and walk briskly around the footpath which circuited the grounds – skirting the parking lot at the top of the hill, around the back of the tall brick structure, down to the complex of new dormitories, the park at the bottom of the hill, around past where the original Fisher Houses are, and where they were building a pair of new ones, the bright and shiny new dome of the state of the art rehab center, up the hill past the helicopter landing pad, and a wide and empty grass field and back to the gate again.

All that has changed since I worked that job – and I probably couldn’t walk anything like the same route today. The empty field has been filled in with an extension to the main building of practically the same size, and a huge parking garage. Now there are apparently twice the numbers of employees coming onto the BAMC complex daily as there were when I last went in for a routine appointment … so, I was not much looking forward negotiating the acres of parking lot and miles of corridor. But now it seems that the routine outpatient clinic has moved out of BAMC altogether and into it’s own bright and shiny building on Fort Sam itself. This, I feared, would not be an improvement. Fort Sam has been overtaken by changes too.

For those couple of years after I retired in 1997, I thought that Fort Sam was definitely getting pretty shabby. I would drive through and notice that the old warehouses and loading docks were looking exceedingly crumbly, and even the stolid old Spanish-colonial style blocks of dormitories and administrative buildings had the paint peeling off them in sheets. What was the Army coming to, I would wonder, that they couldn’t even send out the troops to slap another coat of paint on those buildings? The old hospital building looked like one of those mock structures that fire departments practice in, and it all looked dispiritingly shabby. Such were the benefits of the peace dividend, and the end of the Cold War.

Such have been the vagaries of current events and the realigning of military missions that things are also looking up on Fort Sam itself. This I discovered, finding my way to an appointment last week at the outpatient medical center, for treatment of a persistent bronchial cough. New units have moved in, the old buildings repurposed, scrubbed up and revitalized – and a number of new ones added to the current inventory. Among them was the brand-spanking-new outpatient clinic, as modern and up to the minute as anything that I ever saw on an Air Force base – which, as the Air Force was the newest of the armed services, usually featured built-to-purpose and relatively modern buildings, rather than the Army or the Navy’s usual century-plus relics. I don’t know what will happen next at Fort Sam – but I am pretty well certain that General Eisenhower and all those other Army officers who passed through early in the last century would not recognize much of it at all.

Mac and Cheese

Comfort Food – Mac & Cheese

by Celia Hayes

When my younger brother and sister and I were in elementary school, my father was a grad-student in hot pursuit of a doctorate in zoology, and my mother was – in the tradition of the time – a full-time stay-at-home mom. This was in the late 1950s to early 60s, and it was the commonly accepted practice. As there were three of us (later to be four) it was really the only practical option – and one of the reasons that it worked was that Mom was a fair to middling cook, very much into the traditional D-I-Y household arts (including sewing children’s’ clothes and decorating our home with cast-off and inexpensive furniture. I would hasten to add that it was usually quality stuff; ages later, when Mom and Dad were figuring out the insurance claims after the fire that burned their retirement home in 2003, it turned out that the teak Danish Modern style dining room table and chairs were worth a bomb, although Mom had originally picked them up for next to nothing. I hated that set, by the way – the edge of the chair seat hit the back of your knees like a karate chop – and bore the loss of it cheerfully.

We almost always ate family dinners around that table, when we had guests, and at holidays, since there was an insert which enlarged it substantially – but for everyday, we ate at the table in the kitchen, and when my parents moved to their retirement home, at the table in the sunroom. Then we had plain ordinary comfort food; things like meatloaf – which in my mother’s version only contained about 50 percent actual meat – and the classic stand-by of macaroni and cheese. Mom prided herself on making it from scratch, and although I have tinkered with her basic recipe over time, I still follow many of her precepts, such as undercooking the macaroni just slightly, and making the cheese béchamel sauce slightly runny, so that it all cooks together in one delicious symphony.

Drop into a generous pot of boiling water, one half-pound (8 oz) macaroni shells or elbows, or even cavatappi pasta, and cook until almost but not quite done. Drain and reserve in a covered dish which the mac and cheese will bake. Slice up a quarter to a half-pound length of kielbasa sausage and mix with the cooked pasta. Cover and set aside.

In the pot in which the pasta cooked, melt ¼ cup butter, and blend with ¼ cup flour. Add ½ teasp dry or whole-grain mustard, a dash of pepper and a dash of paprika. If feeling really adventurous, substitute a dash of cayenne pepper for the paprika. Add 2 cups milk and blend with the flour mixture. When slightly thickened, add 2-3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, or a mixture of cheddar, jack or mozzarella, and stir until cheeses are melted. Pour over the pasta/kielbasa mixture, and top with 1/4 cup additional grated cheese (of any kind – Parmesan works really well) mixed with ¼ cup dried bread crumbs and 1 tbsp. butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, until bubbly, and topping is browned. My father always liked his mac and cheese with a dash of tomato ketchup. When made with kielbasa, this makes a very satisfactory main dish

Alamo Drafthouse

The Drafthouse and the Hobbit

by Celia Hayes

You know, there are some ideas which are so logical, simple in concept and satisfactory in execution that you wonder why it hasn’t been done decades ago. I speak of the Alamo Drafthouse, and the whole notion of going to a movie, and having dinner and drinks in the theatre while watching the movie. Yes, you’ve always been able to get candy, drinks, popcorn and nachos and dip, and take them into the theater with you. Back in the day when we were overseas and the movie show time at the AAFES theater was the exact same time that the NCO and O-Clubs served dinner, we would openly carry bags of hamburgers and fries into the theater with us. And there may still exist a movie house in Landstuhl, Germany – the Kino which showed first-run American movies on two or three screens and had a luxurious full bar in the lobby. You could have a couple of drinks beforehand, and carry them into the theater, where there were little tables and a tiny desk-light attached to the back of the seat in front of you – it was all very logical, and very, very civilized. The nearest thing to it in the States back then was a community dinner theater, where indifferent food and indifferent acting combined for your evening’s pleasure.

But it took to the late 1990s for the dinner-drinks-anna-movie concept to spring into being – in Austin, no less – and actually have drinks and a full dinner – appetizers, main course, desert and all – served inside the theater during the movie. What a concept! We were actually rather blown away by the efficiency of it all; waiters coming in and taking our orders before the movie, delivering the food relatively noiselessly, and coming around to settle up the bill in the last half hour. And since the movie involved was Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit – Part One of Three and Oh My Aching Tushie! – some very sustenance was required for the almost three hour running time. The substance provided the other night at the Alamo Drafthouse at Blanco and 410 was pretty darned good, at that – freshly prepared and reasonably priced. You could spend a heck of a lot more at a restaurant, a bar and then at the theater on an evening out and have a worse evening out. The only criticism that I would make about the Drafthouse is that of course, you are eating in the dark … and that the seats are not quite as luxuriously comfortable as at the Palladium IMAX. But the no-talking, texting, unescorted teens and children under six more than makes up for that; Blondie and I cannot count the times that we have been to a movie and had the experience comprehensively wrecked by inconsiderate people of every age being loud.

About The Hobbit itself? Well, aside from the aching tushie at about an hour and 45 minutes – it was all visually gorgeous, but I do think the director could have held himself to a two-part Hobbit and not repeated quite so many tropes from Lord of the Rings, but that’s just me.