In Afghanistan, whenever a Marine was seriously wounded or killed, every base and outpost within the immediate area of operations reverted to “River City” condition 1, codeword for a state of minimized communications in which all long-distance interfaces with the civilian world were temporarily dropped, sometimes for days on end. The intent was to ensure the proper authorities were the first to notify and offer condolences to the families of the victims. For me, “River City” obtained a religious quality, a reliable moment of solemn reflection amid an otherwise bureaucratic and/or nihilistic routine. It was this awareness about those suffering and expiring “outside the wire,” both literally and figuratively, that followed me back to the states. Perhaps, then, the origin of the term “River City” is instructive. It derives from the Broadway musical The Music Man, particularly the tune, “Ya got Trouble,” where Robert Preston (in the film version) famously belched,
Ya got trouble, my friend, right here, I say, trouble right here in River City.