The message I held in my hand confirmed my first overseas trip in support of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. The Secretary would attend the Conference on International Economic Development in Paris on May 28th. It was proof that I didn’t have much time—I’d better get my shit together.
LIMITED OFFICIAL USE
250950Z MAY 77
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO AMEMBASSY PARIS IMMEDIATE
INFO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4424
LIMITED OFFICIAL USE SECSTATE 78450
PARIS FOR CRO, BONN FOR RCO, OC FOR CEO-R MATTHEWS
E.O. 12065: NA
TAGS: AVCE, AVIP (SECRETARY VANCE) SUBJECT: VIP TRAVEL SUPPORT
REF: STATE 834008
- CEO-R MATTHEWS ARRIVING PARIS DEGALLE MAY 26 TWA FLIGHT 742. CEO CARRYING SIX (6) CONTAINERS OF RADIO EQUIPMENT IN SUPPORT OF SECSTATE VISIT. PLEASE PROVIDE PICKUP AND ASSISTANCE AT AIRPORT.
- REQUEST HOTEL ACCOMODATION CEO-R MATTHEWS PERIOD MAY 26 THROUGH JUNE 3.
- PLEASE ACKNOWLEDGE DEPT AND RCO BY IMMEDIATE CABLE. VANCE
LIMITED OFFICIAL USE
<feature photo by pinterest.com
At 5 p.m. the radio shop was vacant. I looked behind me. The radio equipment scattered across the floor overwhelmed me…
Duplexers and Repeaters: More finicky than your Grandma
“Looks like somebody is working overtime,” a voice rang out as the entry door slammed shut.
“I have to retune everything,” I said. “This gear was last used in Haiti. They operate on special frequencies there.”
“I know,” my boss Norm Bates said. “I was the one who retuned it.” He shook his head. “Port Au Prince, wow, what a shithole that was.”
I suddenly felt better.
He pointed and said, “Need some help retuning that kludge? Those duplexer’s can be a bitch. You need a minimum of 30dB isolation between the receive and transmit ports.”
The duplexer, the size of a large suitcase, allowed the transmitter and receiver parts of the repeater to share a common antenna. “I can use all the help I can get,” I said.
Two hours plus later we hooked the duplexer up to the repeater on the floor into a dummy load antenna and tested it. The repeater, typically installed on a high building, extended the radio cover from the base station at the S.Y. control room to the agents carrying handheld radios in the city.
By 9 p.m. we had tuned the handhelds and checked all the various pieces of equipment. Tomorrow I would pack everything up in containers for the trip.
I took Norm in my car to the local pizza joint. We ordered a pitcher of beer and a large Italian sausage pizza.
Assignment: Accra, Ghana?
Norm gazed at me and said, “There’s an opening coming up at Accra, Ghana. I was assigned there for two years. It’s not bad.”
“Hey, I’ll take any assignment.”
Norm’s expression, which wandered past disappointment to puzzlement, and then to fascination lifted when he laughed. “You think you’d like Accra, huh?”
“I’ll be coming up on a year here before long. I think I’ve got the tools needed for the 60% part [the technical expertise] of your 60/40 hypothesis. I need to get my feet wet with the 40% part.”
He grimaced. “Yeah, the 40% part.” He thought for a moment and said, “You want another pitcher of beer. It’ll take them another twenty minutes to fill it. They don’t make the pitchers as big as they used to. I swear the new pitchers only have 80% of the volume of the old ones.
Norm never settled for one pitcher. “Why not?”
Twenty minutes later we started on the second pitcher of beer. Norm said, “Yeah, about the 40%…” like the narrator of a movie that begins with a lost treasure map.
I watched him stare off into space. Finally he said, “You know, in West Africa a lot of times you can’t get stuff done without paying out bribes. Bring plenty of small change when you travel… and candy bars.” He nodded to himself and said, “Yeah, they like candy bars.”
Norm, as if struck by an epiphany, chuckled.
He said, “Check under the bed in the hotels. You never know what you’ll find. They—the snakes, spiders, and critters—like dark places. Make sure and check all the dark places. I found this huge…”
Norm gave a noticeable groan. His goiter was probably bothering him again.
“You all right, Norm?”
“Yeah, I must a twisted something wrestling with that duplexer.”
Monkey Brains With Rice
After a quiet interlude and a few sips of beer a smile replaced Norm’s angst. He said, “I’ll never forget the time in… Was it Niamey or Bamako? Anyway, the CRO there in West Africa was this gal named McElroy—I don’t recall her first name. In her mid-thirties, ten years in third world countries had taken its toll. Still, she wasn’t bad looking with blond hair and blue eyes…
… McElroy caught the eye of a member of the Sultan’s family—a prince or somebody like that. Yeah, it must have been Am Embassy Niamey where she got the invite to the palace. The invitation came through the ambassador. McElroy said the ambassador tried to talk her out of it. ‘No way am I passing this up,’ she said. ‘Not on your life.’”
Norm smiled as the beer went down smoothly. “I left that evening for Ouagadougou, but I heard stories about McElroy’s date with the Prince. Apparently, he served a stately dinner. The main course was monkey brain in the skull served with a silver platter of fragrant rice. Rumor had it that if she wouldn’t have partaken in the monkey brain it could have become an international incident, which turned out to be a moot point. The prince tried to get in McElroy’s pants. She didn’t want any part of him…
Norm, who appeared to be caught up in the same suspense as me declared, “McElroy fled the palace.”
I couldn’t help but smile at Norm’s frozen smile (and the monkey brain story).
“The Sultan summoned the ambassador the next day. His Royal Highness wanted McElroy PNG’d… Persona Non Grata… kicked out of the country. The ambassador stuck up for her though. What a guy, that ambassador.”
Norm’s entire body partook in his glee.
He gazed in my eyes and said, “You know what?”
Was something wrong? “What?”
Norm glanced at the pizza clock on the wall. He turned to me and said, “I understand that to this day McElroy can’t eat rice. Ironically, her next duty station was Am Embassy Rangoon.”
His laughter was like a good vibration—low in amplitude, but finely tuned. I signed on to the quiet but jovial salute to another Foreign Service soldier. Norm emptied the pitcher into my glass.
We made a final toast: “To McElroy.”
“Hey Sport, I gotta go call the wife to come and get me,” he said.
As Norm ambled off to the pay phone, I wondered if he would ever take another international assignment.