Jesus fucking Christ, it was right out of a bad Hollywood movie. No shit, there I was, wearing some ugly sweatpants, a green t-shirt and a brown coat that was altogether ugly and far too big for my scrawny figure, yet at the same time I was supposedly working for the highest tech organization in the world. For an agency that pulls in $3.5 billion dollars for its own budget (at the time), you would think they could find some god damn clothes that fit. I hear you get a nice uniform when you join the service.
But why the hell am I complaining about my wardrobe arrangements when I’m being hunted by a bunch of assholes with guns? It’s like I’m playing hide-and-go-seek with a bunch of Farsi-speaking superspy wannabes. Oh wait, I am.
Anyone who has seen the movie The Recruit has an idea of what the CIA’s student trainee program is like, but, like any Hollywood production, they really went overboard. I was sad to see that my fondest memories of training for the CIA, that is, being dumped in the woods, never made it to the film. The training was also far more team based and less horribly competitive.
Yes, yes, they do blindfold you and put you in a prison cell to see if they can “break you,” but this is not for another week, and it is portrayed completely wrong in the movies anyways. I’ll tell that one another time.
So here I am, in the woods, with no waffles and there is not a Belgian in sight. The trees are kind of nice. It’s sort of relaxing actually, if you don’t take into account that there are MEN WITH GUNS CHASING YOU. God damn. I’m not sure how boot camp works, as I’ve never gone through the program, but if it is as hellish as I imagine, it must be half as stressful as this moment, right now. I have no idea if their guns are supposed to be loaded, but I’m not about to find out.
“Just because you want to be a technical operations officer doesn’t mean you are exempt from this exercise.”
Thanks a lot captain Steve (try to imagine a cross between Morgan Freeman and Stephen Hawking). Sure, I’m honored to be selected for this program, but this is NOT what I signed on for. I’m lost, in the middle of the woods, with no food, no water, no camouflage, and no weapons, and there are men with guns chasing me. In real life this would never happen. I’m a god damn satellite technician, not MacGyver.
So this is all very stressful and I am hungry for some waffles. James Bond waffles.
The waffle house in Lynchburg, Virginia is somewhere within 15 miles of my location. I’ve eaten there a few times with Sridhar, a weirdly upbeat DS&T hopeful, and we’ve shared some good stories, him living in India, my adventures in Greece. It was all very kosher.
But now I have to find that fucker in the middle of nowhere and get to the waffle house by Thursday morning or god knows what will happen to us. I assume we will be deported, or at least honorably discharged, if there is even such a thing in the CIA.
I do have a leg up, however. In my pocket there is a topographical map of Virginia. I just need to know where the hell I am and where the hell I’m supposed to find Sridhar. I suppose the men with guns probably have the same Rand McNally style map. Sheese. You would think that they could give us some kind of satellite imagery or communicator or something. Why the hell did I have to skip breakfast? I’m starving.
So I do what any sane CIA trainee in my situation would have done. I took a nice jog through the woods. I guess I was extremely lucky that day because I ended up finding the river before the sun started to dip below the horizon. I’m thinking, “Oh good, a river. Now every asshole with a sniper rifle can shoot me from a mile away.”
This is how it goes, you know. First you start arguing with yourself that you will never get out of the woods, then you start mumbling about how you are going to get shot. It’s all very depressing, really. The river was the first exciting thing to happen to me all day, despite my sense that I would die at any moment. I’m not exaggerating. Knowing that death is on your heels is better than a Red Bull. Hell, it’s better than a case of Red Bulls. I’m wired, I’m invincible. Let’s see them catch me now.
Unless they are already on the other side of the river.
This conclusion comes to me quickly after about 10 minutes of watching someone walk along the opposite river bank, waving to me. For someone who is graduating summa cum laude with a concentration in satellite communications, I’m a fucking moron. I wouldn’t last 5 hours in the real world.
As fate would have it, however, this person on the other side of the river doesn’t have a gun. It also turns out this person is a DS&T hopeful who enjoys long walks on the beach and being chased by CIA trainees.
I love Sridhar. I think at this moment it is a mutual attraction. He keeps waving to me like an idiot. But how the hell am I supposed to get across the river? I don’t want to yell over to him because I don’t want to give away our positions. Hindsight, 20/20 as it is, shows that it was probably a stupid idea to go anywhere near the river anyways, as I found out later that the trainees chasing us could only track us when we were walking in the soft soil near the river.
By the time that I had figured out how I was going to make a log boat and forge the river in stealth, Sridhar had already swam halfway across. That cocky bastard.
So there we are. The river is cold, Sridhar is cold, and wet, and complaining in his wonderful accent, and I’m nice and dry trying to figure out the map in what remaining sunlight we have.
That night is very, very uncomfortable. I hate bugs. I hate frogs. I hate not having a proper bathroom. Mental note to self: This sucks ass.
So the next morning, Sridhar and I are in very bad moods. After staring and arguing over the map, we finally come to a consensus on where we are by walking along the river and noticing where it twists and turns. This consensus, of course, tells us that we are walking away from Lynchburg. In fact, we are taking a route directly opposite the location we are trying to get to. The beautiful thing is that this makes us instant GENIUSES.
You have to see the beauty of our plan. If the men with guns know where we are going, they are obviously going to chase us. If we can assume that they don’t know where we are now, then to avoid them we simply have to go somewhere unexpected. It’s a perfect, flawless strategy.
Except now we are trudging through a marsh. It’s a scene right out of the Lords of the Rings. Dead trees, about a foot of brown water, and little weird plants that you can use as stepping stones. Luckily for us, we were through the marsh quickly. You would be amazed at how fast someone can move through a marsh with the proper motivation. For us, it was impossible to stop. Mosquitoes would have eaten us alive.
So now we are exhausted, itchy, dirty, and wet, but we are grinning like idiots. You see, on the other side of the marsh is a fence. On the other side of the fence is a rural highway. It’s like we are escaping from prison. “Let’s hitchhike to Lynchburg!”
The owner of the Ford Escort was very kind to us, in fact. She was an older woman who looked like a burned out hippie, wearing tie-dye pants and a hideously revealing V-neck. The car kind of smelled like a bad mix of body odor and rotting plants. Oh wait, that was us.
So she drops us off in Lynchburg, right near the waffle house, in fact. It was nice, really, but the fact of the matter is that we were a day too early. We were supposed to be at the waflasfkjsd...
They are coming out of the waffle house. We jump behind a dumpster near an art supply store. I recognize them from our training group. The black guy was sitting in front of me when we were taking an exam.
“They don’t look like they have guns,” Sridhar offered.
It was then that we saw captain Steve, our training instructor. His “real name” was Steven Kowecki, odd considering he doesn’t look Polish at all. I said to Sridhar, “We must be observing the exercise that you and I went through a few days ago.”
It made me wonder if I would recognize the contact or not. Sridhar and I had been in the waffle house before, but it was only because we were being briefed on an exercise (a boring social engineering exercise which required finding out who the owners of the waffle house were and their nationality). I think this is what we were observing, as the two trainees didn’t look like they had been in the woods at all.
After an hour or so we decided that the safest place for us to hide was behind the dumpster. We could stay there overnight, and when the waffle house was filled with morning patrons we could discreetly run in and meet our contact.
That was a stupid idea. Apparently, garbage trucks like to empty dumpsters in the wee hours of the morning. I thought I would go deaf. Hey, at least we didn’t decide to hide IN the dumpster.
So Sridhar and I casually walk away from the dumpster and hide behind the art supply store, in plain view of the somewhat busy street, as the garbage truck does it’s business. God that was nerve wracking.
So anyway, later, after the sun comes up, we end up at the waffle house. We have no money, so this is a little awkward. We are fucking dying of starvation at this point, but we are far too honorable to order food. We also are looking for someone, but we don’t know what they look like.
“You gentlemen can sit wherever you fancy.”
Sridhar gives the waitress an overly too happy grin and takes a seat in the back, away from the windows. We order a water as we stare at our menus, stalling for time.
This is where things went horribly wrong. God damn the Belgians.
“What’s the difference between Belgian waffles and normal waffles?”
Sridhar has to ask this as he examines the menu for the third time this month.
I tell him, “These ones are imported from Belgium, obviously.”
Joking now, Sridhar replies, “I really doubt that Belgium exports anything, let alone waffles. What the hell has ever come out of Belgium? I don’t even think they are a real country.”
This is where the physicist comes in. Dressed in a red plaid shirt and Carhartt pants, the physicist turns around to face us and says something like, “I beg to differ, young man.”
He sounded insulted. I couldn’t tell if he was Belgian or just a fanatic, because I honestly didn’t know what a Belgian was supposed to look like. I had seen plenty of fanatics.
The physicist told us that that without Belgium we wouldn't have the internal combustion engine, the saxophone, or the electric railway. He also went off on this huge spiel about how he spent his years in graduate school studying the revelations of Georges Lemaitre, a Belgium Nobel Prize winner for his Big Bang theory. I’m still not even sure that this is true.
I learned more about the Big Bang that morning than I ever wanted to know in my life. It was terrible. Then the man said something interesting.
“You two should go down to the Lynchburg Public Library. They have a copy of his thesis work. I highly recommend it.”
It was the way he said it that was important.
After plopping down a 20 on the table and taking off, we were now left alone again, in the waffle house, with a waitress asking us what we want, and no physicist. It was obvious to Sridhar and I that we had met our contact, and that our mission was now to find the local library and see Georges Lemaitre’s thesis work.
So we left the waffle house. This really pissed off the waitress, as we must have ordered 3 waters each.
We found out from the locals that the library was only about a mile down the road. We started walking without a care in the world. We were invincible on a crowded street. No one was stupid enough to chase us with guns now. This makes us laugh. Ha ha ha ha. HA HA.
Oh but we sucked and we knew it, so we kept walking until we got to the library. We soon found what we were looking for, but there was one problem.
“May I see your library card?”
Fuck! We weren’t allowed to go downstairs (supposedly where they kept the more expensive books and research papers) unless we had a library card. To make matters worse, we couldn’t get a library card. We were totally fucked and we complained so loud that they asked us to leave.
Sridhar notes the obvious, “This must be part of our mission.”
So we make a plan. Sridhar distracts the librarian, while I run downstairs and find this George guy’s thesis. It was a masterful plan involving all kinds of cloak and daggerness. We were impressed, frankly.
Too bad the librarian had to call the police before locking me in the basement. Jesus Christ, we sucked. The old lady outsmarted us! It was as if she did this a hundred times. First she pretended to chase after Sridhar when he ran to the children’s section, and then the next thing I know she is looking down the stairs at me while slamming the door shut.
I assume Sridhar escaped, because the next thing I know, I was handcuffed to the wall in the county police station. I spent that night in a temporary holding cell with some passed-out drunk. I was fucking HUNGRY.
Needless to say, the CIA picked me up the next day. I was the laughing stock of the entire group for the next three weeks when the story got out. Not only was I brought up on trespassing charges, but I had failed my mission horribly.
Apparently we never met our contact at the waffle house. She had waited for 4 hours before giving up, but when we finally met her she recognized us immediately.
She exclaimed rather excitedly, “You were the two idiots arguing with that trucker about the Belgians!”
You see, the purpose of this mission was to get out of the woods safely, not to take orders from some physicist in a waffle house. Apparently this must have slipped our mind as we failed to notice the older woman, sitting in the waffle house, with a giant CIA logo on her hat, waiting for us.