Courtesy of the Navy League, we spent several hours yesterday enjoying the hospitality of the crew of the USCG Cutter Pike, an 87′ Marine Protector Class Coastal Patrol Boat. In other words, we spent the afternoon on an active duty patrol boat. Rather than a chronogical recitation of a day that was basically very relaxed (although soooo cold), I’ll just give my impression of a few things:
The men and women in our Navy and Coast Guard are hardy people. Did I mention that it’s cold out there? Really cold. I was bundled up, which was a good thing, because my tendency to sea sickness kept me on the deck the whole time (and this was despite having taken pills to help out). Did I mention I was bundled up? I was. Heavily. And I was still cold. And meanwhile, members of the crew hung out on the deck in their shirt sleeves. Only when I’d veered into freezing territory did some of them put on jackets. I felt old and wuss-ish next to these vigorous young people.
The San Francisco Bay must be one of the most beautiful waterways in the world. The Pike’s mandate yesterday was to keep ships and boats out of the “forbidden zone” — namely, the corridor into which ships are not allowed to travel when there are air shows going on over the Bay. Up and down the Pike went, politely moving boats aside if they crossed that line. I stayed on the port side of the ship. When it went up, I admired the beautiful San Francisco skyline. When it went down, I gazed at the wonders of Alcatraz Island. All around us were bobbing sail boats. There was an almost dream-like quality to the scenary around us, as if someone had written it for a book, and then summoned it into being.
People in the American military like their jobs. Yes, I know that not all of them do, but I keep meeting people, active and retired, who think the military is a wonderful life. In this they contrast strongly with the lawyers I meet, few of whom claim to like what they do. (And yes, that could be a sophisticated, self-denigrating pose for some, but I happen to know from a lot of them that it’s not.) The crew members approached their work with good cheer, an attitude that may have been boosted by the presence of a USCG RADM on board. I got the feeling, though, that they feel as if their job is interesting and worthwhile. I also spoke to two retired Navy people (one male, one female) and a retired Marine gal, and all three waxed lyrical about the pleasures of their time in the service. The Navy people were career; the Marine gal was a short haul. Each felt their time was worthwhile.
It’s disappointing when the Blues don’t fly. Yup, you heard right. After all that cake, we managed to miss the icing. The fog was sufficiently think that it wasn’t safe for them to perform. They made the right decision, of course, since safety must always come first when recreational flying is at issue, but I was still sorry to miss the soaring excitement of the show — especially when we were positioned to be right under them as they flew by. C’est la vie. We’ll catch them next year and, after all, this year we got to meet them face to face, which was its own pleasure.
And my last thought is that, when you get that cold, you stay cold. It took me hours to feel as if I’d warmed up to my core again. Did I mention that America’s seafaring troops are harding people?