I'm sitting alone in my barracks room on a weekend rocking a game on the PlayStation 2. Next thing I know I hear Bailey’s voice and an urgent pounding on the door. I open it and there’s Bailey, Farncomb, and the new rookie, aka platoon FNG (Fuckin’ New Guy) standing in the hallway.
And between them is an 8 foot tall wooden post with a Yield sign attached.
“Dude! We got this for you!” Bailey says. He and Farncomb look extremely pleased with themselves. I’ll never forget this moment. The FNG is amused too, but mostly because he got dragged along with the cool kids and clearly did a good job.
“What the fuck?” I ask. Of course, I understand why they’re holding a Yield sign. It’s because these are my two best friends and they know how much this means to me. I’m just stunned that it’s right there in Charlie Troop’s barracks.
They drag the entire thing into my room. Farncomb explains they were golfing on the neighboring Air Force Base and drinking one beer per hole. They took the FNG as designated driver so they could actually enjoy their afternoon. Price you pay for being the new guy, but the trade off is street cred among your fellow soldiers which is gold when you’re new to the unit.
I stare at this idol beckoning to me like a shining beacon that connects my past and future. The sign is red and white, fit to fight. Just like the U.S. Cavalry.
“We were a good way through and then we just saw this sign,” Bailey explains. “But to us, it didn’t say ‘Yield,’ it said ‘Hoss.’” He waves his hand across the invisible memory in his field of vision for emphasis. Meanwhile, Farncomb is laughing along with me at the whole situation. FNG is just happy to be included.
“We drove right through the main gate with this sticking out the back!” Farncomb tells me. This is extra funny because Bailey drives a 2-door Jeep Wrangler which cannot possibly conceal 8 feet of anything, let alone a full size street sign passing in front of an MP checkpoint.
At some point I had told my buddies about the time my friends and I “appropriated” a Yield sign from the streets of Tallahassee when we worked at Domino’s Pizza. One of my friends was pissed after a shitty delivery with no tip, and he got mad and ripped the sign out of the ground. We asked him where it was, then one of my roommates took his truck to the sight and unbolted the Yield sign which adorned the walls of our college bachelor pad as a trophy. When we all eventually went our separate ways, we left it with one of our friends. His wife eventually made him get rid of it, because..well...it’s a fucking road sign.
But as I had explained to my Army buddies, that first Yield sign wasn’t just a fucking road sign. It was a symbol that my old friends in Florida had used to bond over one thing we all loved: Pearl Jam.
My Florida friends had been Pearl Jam fans from the start, but I didn’t really discover the band until right before their album Yield came out in 1998. I listened to it a lot while delivering pizzas to broke FSU students. And then we all took a road trip down to Fort Lauderdale to see Pearl Jam live. And I loved it. That concert sold me. Their music helped me get through a lot of tough times in my life, especially while in the military.
So I’m standing here at Fort Lewis thinking about all of this in a flash of memory, and all I can say is, “Dudes. I don’t know what to say.” Bailey and Farncomb just grin and tell me to enjoy it. I make quick work getting the Yield sign off the post and ditching the wood somewhere. I know I can stash the Yield sign behind wall lockers, but Sergeants tend to notice shit like a sign on an 8 foot post during room inspections. Out of sight, out of mind. The United States military mantra for success.
In this moment I’m really happy because my friends know how much the Yield sign means to me. I have a deep connection with Pearl Jam’s music and they went the extra mile just for me. People might think a road sign is juvenile (college days, right?) but for me it’s not about the sign itself. It’s because my best friends risked getting caught by Air Force and Army MP soldiers to get the damn thing to me.
Flash forward to 2019. I went though a lot of bad years and had to abandon a lot of possessions in Oregon at some point. But I never got rid of that sign. After rising from my lowest point in 2006, I went back to college, got a degree, and great career job with the Government. In 2011 I bought my house and that Yield sign was the first thing I put up on my wall. It’s opposite my couch so I see it all the time, every day. I'm staring at it right now in South Philadelphia, yet I'm also seeing it for the first time back at Fort Lewis.
Friends who visit my house just see a scratched road sign. I look at it every day, especially when I’m playing guitar. And it doesn't say, “Yield.” It' reads:
From Zac & Cameron
1/14 Cavalry - Never Forget
"Here's a token of my openness
Of my need to not disappear."