We arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar for the Air Show, but couldn’t park any closer than one mile from the tarmac–where all the action was happening. I suppose if we wanted to upgrade from free to VIP status, we could have enjoyed preferred parking privileges closer to the airfield, but it was a beautiful day for a walk through a military base in sunny San Diego.
I was directed by Marine plebes to a general admission parking lot bordered by McDonalds and Chipotle. Leah and I opted to carry our own lawn chairs and snacks in lieu of paying for grandstand seating or any of the other enhanced options intended to pamper guests, including: a shaded lounge, gourmet food stations, a hosted bar, a commemorative coin, and less-frequented Porta Potties. But bringing our own chairs to the air show gave us more flexibility to move around the base. Besides, it was a beautiful day to schlep a heavy metal chair in a bag through a military base in sunny San Diego.
I think we were midway to the airfield, and steps away from the first security checkpoint when I saw something that deserved a second look through my camera. I peered through the viewfinder to discover the low-battery warning flashing in the frame before the screen went dark. Of course, it was my intention to exchange this battery with the battery charging inside the truck before we headed out, but I guess I was distracted by the notion of walking through a military base in sunny San Diego on such a beautiful day.
Leah found cover under a tree, while I dropped my chair and water bottle and hiked back to the truck to recover the freshly charged battery. Twenty minutes later, I rejoined her and we crossed the road where we were greeted by three security officers in camouflage fatigues.
The ranking officer addressed Leah first. “I’m sorry to tell you ma’am, but you can’t enter a secure facility with that fanny pack around your waist. For everyone’s security and protection, all bags…unless they’re clear…are prohibited.”
It was no use arguing with three people in uniforms on their own base, but Leah objected, “But I’m only carrying my water, my wallet and some snacks.”
The officer continued, “Your choices are to surrender it here and I can let you pass now, or return it to the safety of your vehicle if you still want to own it.”
And that’s when I remembered the graphic that caught my eye before my camera failed.
“Do you have any idea how far it is to our car?” I interjected.
“I’m aware, sir, and there’s nothing I can do about that. Clear bags are the rule for everyone’s safety and protection,” he reiterated.
“I’ve just about had it with this air show!” Leah exclaimed, and stormed away. But she never got very far. She was delayed at the crosswalk by the marine directing traffic.
“I have an idea,” she said sotto voce, as I caught up with her.
We crossed back to the other side of the road, and turned into a nearby barracks parking lot away from view.
Leah removed her black waistpack and emptied the contents. Out came the water thermos, the wallet, and a baggie of pretzels. She loosened the chair bag drawstring, and stuffed the waistpack deep into the chair bag with the fragile pretzels sitting on top.
Cinching the drawstring, “I’ll be damned if I’m gonna give them my fucking bag!” she exhorted. With her water in hand and wallet in pocket, we crossed the road for the third time.
I proposed, “They’re never gonna believe that we ditched the pack in the truck and made it back this fast. So if they ask, we tell them that we handed it off to a friend to hold for us. Okay?”
Leah indifferently, “Whatever.”
When we approached the security team, Leah mimed that the pack was gone. “Are you gonna let us in now?” she mocked.
“I’m sorry for the inconvenience, ma’am. I hope you enjoy the show,” he stated sincerely.
“Isn’t there some kind of shuttle for senior citizens?” Leah intoned, playing the sympathy card.
“If you cross to the other side of the road, there’s a golf cart that will carry you and your things to the gate for 3 bucks a person,” he answered.
“How far’s the gate from here?” I asked.
“Straight up this road, ’bout half a mile,” security responded.
Leah outraged, “Are you kidding? Six bucks for half a mile? No way!”
“You’re right,” I reminded myself. “It’s such a beautiful day for a walk, lugging a heavy metal chair through a marine base in sunny San Diego.”
After arriving at the airfield gate, we were stopped by a second security detail dressed in pressed khakis and carrying guns.
“I apologize, but those chairs can’t enter this facility because they’re in bags,” an MP declared.
“You’ve got to be shitting me!” Leah unloaded. Emphatically, “Then why didn’t those boys down the road stop us at the time. They saw us carrying these bags over our shoulders,” she declared.
I covered my face to hide my grin. This was turning into a huge clusterfuck.
I took a breath. “What if we took the chairs out of the bags, and carried the chairs to the airstrip?” I suggested diplomatically. “Then it’s just a chair and a bag, instead of a chair in a bag.
They looked at each other and shrugged. “No problem, sir.” Followed by, “Please enjoy the show.”
We stripped the bags off our chairs, with Leah being especially careful to reposition and secure the waistpack into the folded seat.
“Thank you for that, now may I please see your IDs?” stated the second officer.
Leah dug her wallet out of her pocket, thumbed through her cards to locate her licence, and handed it to the third officer, who scanned it with his portable reader.
I was incredulous. “You’re not gonna believe this…” I started out.
Leah was glaring at me.
Continuing, “…but my wallet’s in my truck parked a mile down the road, and I’ve already had to go back once to get a fresh battery for my camera. So, there’s no way of showing my ID unless you guys wanna drive me back,” I lamented, “even though it’s a beautiful day for a walk through a military base in sunny San Diego.”
He looked the two of us over. I desperately communicated telepathically that he was putting my fate in Leah’s hands, and that he needed to show some sympathy and mercy.
Surprisingly, the marine announced, “Don’t worry about it. Just enjoy the show. Beyond this point, no one’s gonna hassle you for ID.”
Taken aback and winking, “Thank you. You may have just saved my life.”
After clearing checkpoint two, we advanced to the third and final security detail whose job it was to scan our bodies. We emptied our pockets onto the tarmac, and stood with arms and legs locked in a frozen jumping jack, while a soldier ran his wand up and down and around.
“All clear,” he announced.
We collected our belongings, and shuffled along with full arms.
“That was a close call,” I whispered.
“You’re telling me,” Leah laughed. “They would have found my camping knife in my pack.”
We weaved our way around small pockets of people–on the left side of a thinly populated grandstand,
and settled three deep from the front fenceline to see what everyone else had come out to see–the elite precision flying squad known as the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels.
While clearance can be a serious issue when pulling a trailer–and I’ve had my share of close calls with our 28 ft. Airstream: like backing into a sleeve of an RV site with little to no front-end swinging-room; or negotiating a tight parking lot; or backing out into a busy road after inadvertently turning into a dead end–it still can’t compare to formation-flying in a $60 million aircraft with 22,000 lbs of thrust with only six inches separating the wingtips of two F/A-18 Hornets.
After fueling, the fighters lined up in take-off order,
and took to the sky in a burst of thunder.
A variety of formations quickly consumed an hour of time…
and approximately 4250 lbs of fuel (or roughly 600 gallons) per plane.
The Department of Navy estimates an average running cost of $11,000 per hour to fly each plane,
with a yearly operating budget for the Blue Angels at $35,475,000.
While I’m far from militaristic, it’s impossible to ignore the skill set and nerves of steel of the U.S. Navy’s most accomplished pilots, and their ability to control a mighty military machine for the purpose of entertainment versus destruction.
And that’s what I call a beautiful day in sunny San Diego!