Courtesy of the Navy League, today I boarded the USS Makin Island as an official ship’s greeter. My visit was a bit more fraught than past experiences have been, so I thought I’d walk you through the girl’s guide to visiting the USS Makin Island, starting with pre-visit preparations:
- Review boarding instructions at last-minute and realize that I’m supposed to wear “slacks.” Who the heck has slacks? I live in jeans, either blue or black. Burrow through closet and discover antique pair of bland brown slacks.
- Breath sigh of relief that slacks still zip. I vow not to do any inhaling for the rest of the day, lest the slacks become rebellious.
- New problem: After a harried search for the sole, and ancient, pair of brown shoes I own, I find that they are scratched and dirty. This is bad. Worse is that I have no shoe polish. A frantic hunt for something oily to help liven up the leather yields only Tea Tree oil. Did you know that if you polish your shoes with Tea Tree oil you go around the rest of the day smelling like disinfectant? I know that now.
- Leave house in order to arrive at Pier 80 (in the southern-most part of the City) by 2:30, since the last, best word is that I should be there at 3:00. I figure a half-hour of wiggle room is a good thing.
- Halfway to Pier 80, I get a timely telephone call telling me that the USS Makin Island is actually going to be at Pier 30/32. Under these circumstances, San Francisco’s maze of one way streets becomes the enemy.
- Arrive at Pier 30/32 at 2:30, blithely assuming that I’ll be on board by 3:00. Hah! But more on that later.
- Learn that, because of snafu, while I am approved for entry onto the pier, my car is not. I begin the hunt for San Francisco street parking. Rather to my surprise, I find a spot only a block away, a distance even my dodgy knee can tolerate. I spend a few minutes struggling with the new-fangled ticket machine, which charges me a hefty $12 for four hours of street parking. Four hours should be enough, right?
- Arrive at pier, and saunter self-consciously across a vast parking lot and staging area, which is empty but for a handful of people who clearly belong there, including five spit-and-polished Marines. Here’s a picture of that vast space:
- With feigned coolness, because I’m neurotically certain that everyone there is staring at me, I casually seat myself on one of the comfortable-looking, bright orange security barriers.
- Learn the hard way, when my weight compresses the barrier on which I’ve seated myself, that said barriers are filled with water.
- Come to terms with the unpleasant realization that an objective observer, unacquainted with the facts, could reasonably conclude that I wet my pants.
- Check out spit-and-polished Marines to see whether they noticed that I’m suddenly looking remarkably foolish, not to mention incontinent. Happily they appear oblivious — or perhaps they’re just too polite to point and laugh.
- Try to air-dry my butt as discretely as possible. This involves my skulking along the parking lot with my back to the cars, trying to get the benefit of the stiff breeze blowing across the pier. I am suddenly very grateful that the Navy is running late.
- Begin casting longing glances at the Porta Potties. Why the heck are they in such an exposed location? Think dry thoughts (which is hard to do with wet pants).
- Due to extremely brisk breeze, my pants finally begin to dry. I also give thanks for very expensive all-weather hair style.
- Begin to wonder if the thrill of welcoming an amphibious assault vessel is worth it. I fight urge to beat strategic retreat. I remind myself that dry pants are a good omen and, feeling courageous now that my butt is dry, I slink off to the Porta Potties.
- The intelligent, knowledgeable half of the Navy League greeting committee arrives. Thank God!! Then I get the bad news: I arrived an hour early for a ship that is going to be at least an hour late. Oh, and I’m the point man for the Navy League presentation. Have I ever mentioned that I’m terrified of public speaking? I’m not shy. I can show up to a party knowing no one and still have fun. It’s having all those eyes looking at you (see items 9 and 10, above). This blind panic is made worse by knowing that those staring are (a) mostly male and (b) mostly younger than I. When I was 25, this would have been cool; now that I’m . . . ahem . . . my current age, it’s just nerve-wracking.
- Go to car to regroup. I try to freshen up, only to realize that I’ve forgotten to bring lipstick. This girl doesn’t feel fully dressed without lipstick, but I focus on the fact that I no longer look as if I’ve wet my pants. I’m ahead of my own curve. With lunch a distant memory, and no eateries nearby, I eat a stale power bar that my son left in the car donkey’s years ago.
- Return to pier, which is filling up. The USS Makin Island appears. It is magnificent:
- Attach myself like a limpet to my wonderful Navy League point man who patiently listens to me as I nervously babble. I know I should muzzle myself, but I’ve got so much adrenalin pumping through me at the thought of public speaking that nothing is going to stop my mouth from moving.
- Finally! Only an hour and a half after I first report for “greeting duty,” we board the ship. Dozens of ridiculously handsome/beautiful, polite, incredibly young people, all of whom look spiffy in their uniforms, are everywhere. Is it really possible that they’re all staring at me? Remind myself I am no longer 13, and that it’s not all about me.
- One of said spiffy young people leads us to the wardroom, where we receive a very polite welcome and are offered food and drink. I recoil at the thought of food, but demand water like a starving man in the desert.
- Briefing commences. The Captain welcomes all of his visitors aboard. I’m shocked. How can someone be so fresh and young, and have so much responsibility? I later check out the ship’s web page and learn that Captain Pringle isn’t that much younger than I am — he just looks a whole lot better.
- Fortunately, I’m not the first speaker. Before I speak, representatives from the Fleet Week board, the San Francisco Police Department, and the NCIS speak. They are all composed and quite interesting. This worries me.
- Oh, my God! It’s my turn. There must be about — oh my! — 50 (or could it actually be 3,000?) people sitting there waiting to hear me speak. I introduce myself and my fellow Navy Leaguer, and am more grateful than I can say that I remember our names. I’ve been known to forget my own name in public speaking settings.
- I subscribe to the theory that, if you’re obviously at a disadvantage and the people you’re with aren’t your enemy, you should throw yourself at their mercy. I therefore apologize in advance for a few things: (a) I’m shaking with nerves; (b) I’m a vast chasm of civilian ignorance; (c) I’ll be reading from a prepared script; and (d) I don’t have my reading glasses, so I can’t see the prepared script. I am off to a rip-roaring start here.
- Things are going well. I’m making it through the list of goodies that the Navy League is providing for our maritime guests, and I’m only stuttering a little bit. I get cocky. When I come to the part about tours up in Wine Country, I ad lib: “This is up in the Sonoma/Napa area, north of San Francisco. It’s really beautiful up there and wine tours are fun. Just be sure not to drink or drive.”
- Did I just do that? Did I tell a room full of Naval and Marine officers not to drink and drive? Could I have been more disrespectful to them? I don’t know if recovery is possible, but I try: “I can say that, because I’m a mother.” Okay, just kill me now.
- I finally wrap up my mercifully brief presentation with only minimal hyperventilation and no tears. Showing that they truly are officers and gentlemen/gentlewomen, several of the briefing attendees come up to me afterwards and tell me that I did a fine job. What nice people these are!
- Return to my car three hours and fifty-seven minutes after I first arrived. Hurray! I didn’t get a parking ticket. I go home giddy with excitement. Mission accomplished!
Despite my own neurosis, I had a wonderful time. As I told the assembled officers, the USS Makin Island is a lovely ship, and I was truly honored to be on board. If you’re in or near San Francisco this weekend, don’t let the crowds deter you. As you can see from the Fleet Week website, there are so many things to do and see, and it’s your chance to thank personally the men and women who serve our country.Email This Post To A Friend
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