Mr. B’s

I don’t know if this was the “official” name of the Randolph AFB, TX Flightline Cafeteria or not; and at this juncture, I really don’t much care – it’s gone anyway.  It was our name for it – “our” being the line Instructor Pilots (IPs) and crew dogs from other commands in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s – and that is what is important here.  “Mr.B’s” was named after Mr. B, and I am sorry I can’t tell you what his actual name is, or was.  It kinda saddens me as I sit here this morning – not knowing his name…

Mr. B. was a short, middle-aged black man who was the cafeteria’s cook.  No, actually, he was the cafeteria’s chef!  He was our “noon chef” for so many years at that cafeteria.  No matter what the weather, or the length of the waiting line or whatever, Mr.B always had an infectious, broad smile on his face for us.   “What can I get for ya, Captain?” was his typical greeting for you, as he stood there behind the counter, in front of the hot grille.  Didn’t matter what rank you were – lieutenant, captain, major or colonel  – it was always, “What can I get for you, Captain?” accompanied with his beaming smile.

I can’t remember when I first met Mr. B.  Was he there in 1970, when I was going through UPT (Undergraduate Pilot Training?)  I don’t know.  But I well remember him through the ‘80s.  He was always such a refreshing break from the daily drama of a flying squadron.

We would stand there, in line, and when it was our turn, he would look up and ask, “What can I get for you, Captain?”   It might be the “special” one day, a burger the next, or something entirely different.  Your order was often followed by a second question from Mr. B., looking up with a broad smile across his face, “You want a ‘stinger’ with that Captain?”  A ‘stinger’ being a few jalapeños on the side.

Day after day we would eat at Mr. B.’s without giving it a second thought.  And then one day, it was gone.  Not just Mr. B.’s – the whole damn cafeteria!

In the mid-80’s I watched a “movement” by AAFES, the Army, Air Force Exchange Service, to grab any and all “money-making” enterprises on base.  They just swallowed ‘em up.  The first to go was our (the 560th FTS) squadron snack bar.  It was a “money-maker,” and once AFFES discovered how much it made, it was “toast.”

I don’t know the origins of squadron snack bars; seems like they were always there.  The one in the 560th was a beauty; manned by trainees as they went through the T-38 Pilot Instructor Training (PIT) program.  Before PIT was at Randolph, I remember manning the snack bar as a student.

The squadron used proceeds from the snack bar for a myriad of things including, going away gifts for those departing, baby gifts for those of us still “begetting,” and the occasional squadron party.  And, unfortunately, there were the occasions where certain squadron commanders used squadron snack bar funds as their own “slush fund,” for “personal gain.”

(An aside here:  These squadron snack bars did make money, and at one time, I knew just how much.  When I took command of the 12th Student Squadron at Randolph, one of the first things I floated at a DO (Director of Operations) staff meeting was the idea that the two flying squadrons (the 559th and 560th) each provide our squadron with $200 from their proceeds.  Holy crap!  Neither ‘Frick’ (559th Sq. CC), nor ‘Frack’ (560th CC) realized I knew exactly what their take was; from their respective snack bars.  Of course they both balked – at first.  Then I threatened to restrict my squadron members from manning their snack bars.  (“Trainees” were assigned to the 12th Student Squadron for administration purposes in those days.)  That brought the level of whining up a notch, but to no avail.  I had done my homework.  In the end, I had commitments for checks, and 2 squadron commanders pissed off at me.  That, was a great staff meeting!  And it took quite a financial burden off my folks.  Until then, every time we had a need for a going away gift, a baby gift, squadron party or the like, we would have to “pass the hat.”  It got quite expensive after a while.)

After AAFES took over, everything in our squadron snack bar was replaced with vending machines.  It soon became a very pristine, sterile and empty, as did Mr. B.’s.  Ya can’t replace “intimacy” with vending machines.

My first exposure to Air Force flightline cafeterias was at Chambley AFB, France, in 1962.  They had a 24-hour cafeteria that was opened all night.  One night my mom got me out of bed, around 2300 hrs. or so, and we went for coffee.  She had just “fallen down the stairs,” and wanted to talk.  (Funny, since we were living a “single-wide” at the time.)  That night was also my introduction to coffee.  It was a chilly October night, and how well I remember how nice that warm mug of coffee felt in my hands.  From that night forward, there would be many, many hours spent in flightline cafeterias throughout the world, talking just about everything, and anything, with my hands caressing a hot mug of coffee.  Two “incidents” in flightline cafeterias come to mind here this morning.

The first was at McGuire AFB, NJ early one morning – very early one morning, like around 0100hrs.  I had ordered a cheeseburger, with fries.  When the cook placed my order upon the counter, it wasn’t “shinny” enough, so I asked for a side order of grease!  Not a good move for a humorless cook, near the end of her shift.  I never did that again.

The second incident occurred at Tinker AFB, OK.  Butch and I had flown up to Tinker from Randolph on a day-night out and back.  We needed to log some night time, and a “Tinkerburger” sounded pretty good.  This would have been in the mid-80’s sometime.

When we got to Tinker it was off to the flightline cafeteria.  Butch and I were the only two customers in the place.  The cook took our orders, not anywhere near as enthusiastic as Mr. B., and began creating out Tinkerburgers.  Shortly thereafter I inquired if I could get some fried onions on my Tinkerburger.  Without turning around, the cook just pointed upward, to a sign above the grill.

“No Special Orders”, by order of the Base Commander.”  With time on my hands, I asked why not.  The cook turned around, and as if it were a great inconvenience to her, she told me that it held up other folks in line.  I pointed out to her that Butch and I were the only 2 customers in the place.  She just turned her back on us, and once again, pointed upward to the Base Commander’s sign.  Now I was pissed!

When the burgers were ready, she placed them on the counter.  I told her that I had changed my mind, and that I was having a tuna fish sandwich, out of the case.  Now somewhat really annoyed, she asked me what she should do with my Tinkerburger.  (Game set, and now, match!)  Without the slightest hesitation, I told her to give it to one of the guys standing in line behind us, or send it over to the Base Commander.  Ahhhhh!

Here last month I was down at Randolph AFB, TX for a couple days.  I had the opportunity to visit the 560th, and the ‘space’ where Mr. B’s used to be.  It’s now gone!  The “emptiness” kinda hit me in the chest, and I didn’t stare at it very long.  Too many memories of “corporate lunches,” student debriefs and a special visit from Greg Loser and Sig Hall one afternoon.  (Greg and Sig had flown up from Laughlin AFB, TX the day I left the 12th Student Squadron.  It is as heartwarming today, as it was on 30 November 1987…)

“They” may have taken the building; but they’ll never be able to take my fond memories of “Mr. B.’s!”

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