Wednesday, April 3, 2013

California Dreamin' - Touring the Midway

USS Midway
Photo by Chris.
All rights reserved.
The drive to San Diego was gorgeous. Spectacular sunshine. Blue ocean. Great conversation. Reggie had taken a day off from work to be with us, which was an unexpected and special treat.

As Dave drove south on the San Diego Freeway, we passed right through Camp Pendleton. The marines were apparently going to have some fun, as there were tanks racing along on the dirt roads and sandy dunes on both sides of the freeway. Camp Pendleton seemingly goes on for miles, and what a location! But I'm sure if you're stationed there, it isn't the paradise it appears to be, nestled as it is between the hills and the beach.

It was going to be a military kind of day. We were on our way to San Diego harbor to tour the USS Midway, one of the many aircraft carriers that are now museums. There's one by where we live in the San Francisco area, too, and there'll be more on that in a later post.

Watch your step!
Photo by Chris.
All rights reserved.
The Midway museum is impressive, with excellent renovation of not only the ship but also the airplanes. There's a self-tour that we took, and you have earphones so you can hear a presentation at each numbered station. I found it all very interesting, even fascinating. When you see a carrier pull into port, deck lined with sailors wearing their dixie cups at a jaunty angle, you don't realize the conditions they work under. The complete lack of privacy. The noise. The danger, too, and not just from the enemy. The work itself presents all kinds of opportunities for lost limbs, eyes, and heads. Be sure to duck when going down the “ladders,” or you'll quickly discover that sailors don't have headaches only because they were in port the night before!

Don't pay any attention to the recommendation to devote two or three hours to the tour. That's enough if you race through, don't read any of the signs, don't pause to imagine at any of the stations, don't have conversations with docents, don't try the flight simulators (ever wonder what it's like to land on a carrier?), don't stop at the gedunk (snack bar), and don't go back to take one more picture. It's a better idea to devote the entire afternoon, if not the whole day.

Photo by Chris.
All rights reserved.
Here are there, there are mannequins (some of them animatronic) in position at work stations. This gives the sometimes eerie illusion that you are not alone. Don't think about it too much. The situation rooms are designed to help you experience what it would be like to attend a briefing or debriefing. Those of you who have experienced real life on a carrier might not want to be reminded of it too realistically, but it helped me to understand what daily life in intense situations might have been like for the men on the Midway and other ships like it. Thank you for your service, guys.

Much better.
Photo by Chris. All rights reserved.
The enlisted men's bunk rooms were a revelation. One can only imagine the steamy stench emanating from the sardine-like quarters occupied by young guys who might be too tired or busy after a hard shift doing dirty work to shower on a regular basis. Okay, don't think about that too much, either. The officer's quarters were much roomier and nicer, but it isn't as though there was any space to waste there, either. I am thinking it would be better to be an officer than to be an enlisted person.

The galley (kitchen) was impressive. Reggie and I were both intrigued by all the equipment, the ovens, the massive mixers. Food (such as it is) for thousands of people is prepared in the galley on a fairly constant basis each and every day. I am thinking it might be fun to tour the galley on the next cruise ship I board. Anyway, I had visions of peeling, slicing, and dicing bushels of potatoes and carrots and onions. Somehow, that made the job much less glamorous to me. But perhaps it's your cup of tea. More power to you.

Not the enlisted silverware.
Photo by Chris. All rights reserved.
The mess hall (dining room) for the enlisted personnel was like a school cafeteria and very utilitarian, whereas the mess hall for the officers was like a restaurant. Not a five-star restaurant, mind you. But maybe so by comparison. There's a beautifully appointed table-for-one in the corner. It's the MIA/POW table. Sobering.

Harry and I, visiting the brig...
Photo by Dave. All rights reserved.
We visited the brig and the laundry (That must have been a hot, unpleasant job) and the sick bay and the surgical center and the dental clinic...all the things that make the carrier like a city on the high seas, the center of the group of ships headed off on a mission somewhere far away from home. And all of that was before we went out on the flight deck and up into the tower. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes when you go. It's quite an experience, and I recommend it. We decided to visit the Hornet upon our return to the Bay Area.

"Hotel del"
Photo by Chris. All rights reserved.
One of the things I'd never done while in San Diego was to go to Coronado. I know it's hard to believe, but there you have it. Specifically, I wanted to see the Hotel del Coronado, that storied place on the beach that oozes romance and history and elegance. Instantly recognizable, it is a place where I'd like to spend a long, luxurious weekend someday. Hint. The tide was low, the beach was wide, the waves were curling, the sun was setting over the Pacific. It was a moment to fill the senses. Breathe in. Breathe out slowly. Feel the stress leaving your body. Ahhhh....
The four of us. What a great day!
Photo by the docent. All rights reserved.

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