We spent all day today in San Francisco enjoying the Fleet Week celebrations. I hustled my family out of the house good and early, which was a fair amount of work, but worth the effort. As we were leaving, it occurred to Mr. Bookworm that it was probably worthwhile checking in with the children to see if they had any idea what this was all about. “Who knows what the Navy is,” he asked. A moment of silence. Then, my seven year old piped up: “They save us with boats that kill the bad guys.” Works for me.
Our early start meant we got the perfect all-day, free parking place and a prime spot in line for a tour of the U.S.S. Chafee. The tour was wonderful. Every person we met was friendly and helpful. One of the guys giving the tour (and I’m sorry to say, I never figured out his rank), was a weapons specialist who was able to dazzle my son (indeed, all of us) with information about the weapons systems on the ship. I’ve never had a more interesting tour.
Funnily enough, the weapon that left the greatest impression on me was the lowest tech weapon on the ship: the Gatling gun. As our tour guide said, that’s the gun left when all else has failed. That is, when all the high tech stuff that’s intended to keep the bad guys at bay doesn’t work, there’s the handy-dandy Gatling gun for close combat. What so amazed me is that this gun, although it had some pretty fancy technological bells and whistles, still uses basically the same technology as the original 1860s version of the gun that Richard Gatling first invented. This modern one, though, is capable of firing 75 bullets per second, which is an almost incomprehensible volume of fire.
After a lunch break, we headed over to Fisherman’s Wharf to watch the Blue Angels. I usually avoid Fisherman’s Wharf like the plague, showing all the snobbery of the native. It’s especially awful on special event days, because the crowds are so overwhelming. Still, a little pushing, a little shoving, a little wiggling here and there, and we ended up with front row seats on the Wharf Beach (seats made a bit more pungent by the smell of dead crab).
Have any of you seen the Angels fly? Except for a few off years, I’ve seen them every year for the 26 years San Francisco has hosted Fleet Week. However, I’ve never really watched the show from an audience position. Instead, up until today, I’ve always seen them as they buzzed the office towers in which I worked, circled over the Pacific Ocean (a view I could see from my childhood home) or, in later years, made big passes over the Marin Headlands and even over my own home. Experiencing the show from the front row was very different.
As always, the noise bothered me, but the show was magnificent. Watching those jets roar by in close formation, traveling several hundred miles per hour with only inches separating them is an amazing experience. Even as I watch, I can’t quite comprehend the risk and skill involved. It looks so effortless somehow. The trick that gave me a heart attack every time it happened was the one where two jets fly directly at each other and then, at the very last second, each rolls on its side to give the other room to pass. I was absolutely convinced I was going to see a head on collision — but, instead, I only saw flying perfection.
What also interests me about Fleet Week is how wholeheartedly the Bay Area turns out to support the military. The Bay Area may be moonbat central but, within a reasonable driving radius, there are thousands of people who believe that the military is an honorable and interesting job, and who aren’t shy about showing this approval. Even the moonbats seemed cowed by all this, since we saw only one little, poorly attended rally, quite early in the morning: “Stop the illegal war.” “Stop the torture.” That kind of stuff. The only other moonbattery I saw was when we were heading home. For a brief while, the car in the traffic jam next to us was plastered with bumper stickers earnestly assuring us that 9/11 was an inside job by the U.S. Government. The driver was a young, neo-beatnik right down to the goatee and small beret. I was tempted to laugh at him until I recalled that up to 30% of Americans think the government was somehow involved in 9/11. Scary stuff, and stuff that makes me more grateful than ever that we have a simultaneously strong and docile military. And by that I mean strong as to our enemies, and docile as to our Democracy.