In early February, I flew out to San Diego for a business school deans meeting, but added two extra days to get away with Janet and catch up with old friends. Remember the song by Simon and Garfunkel, “Old Friends?” It was my first time flying since the horrific news in January: Sky Mall had filed for bankruptcy. Their revenues dropped from $33.7 million in 2013 to $15.8 in 2014, spelling their demise, or so it seems. No longer do I have the chance to buy a Big Foot sculpture. I did plan to buy a velociraptor dinosaur sculpture, and a cat litter robot, but I waited too long. Or, maybe not. SkyMall.com reports that while there are changes in the air, we can still order online. Rejoice, I can still shop their Yeti collection, buy an iridescent toilet seat, or a posture aid. Pet crate end tables are trending!
We started our visit at Crystal Pier in Pacific beach. Crystal Pier cottages (see picture) were built in 1930 and, you guessed it, are on a pier. They are quaint, although a little in need of repair. The 24 hour crash of waves, early morning and late day surfers, and terrific sunsets make for a hard-to-beat vacation getaway. If you go that way, make sure that you take a long walk, run or bike ride (slow pace) on the boardwalk. There are no boards, but the walk winds in and around the small bluff above the ocean. The views are great and the restaurants and shops provide stopping points for whatever purpose.
I have been to San Diego many times. In recent years, I have had a growing interest in touring the aircraft carrier Midway, CV-41. I have a special reason to see it. My uncle Al served on the Midway during the Vietnam War, whoops conflict. He was an avionics guy. The Midway was based in Japan during the Vietnam conflict. Both of his children, my cousins, were born in Japan. So, Janet and I had our chance and our main docent was my good friend Jeff, a semi-retiree who lives in Pacific Beach and volunteers as a docent on the Midway one afternoon each week. We could not have been in better hands. Jeff and I had not seen each other in several years, so we had much to talk about as well.
The USS Midway was launched March 20, 1945, and commissioned September 10, 1945. It was built to assist in the invasion of Japan, but an earlier-than-expected V – J Day brought about a change in plans. It was decommissioned April 11, 1992 after and unprecedented 47 years of service. The ship was struck in March 17, 1997 and on June 7, 2004 it opened as a museum in San Diego. The Midway is a small aircraft carrier by modern standards, but very large in appearance. Even after significant modification in 1968 (it was re-commissioned in 1970), its flight deck was “only” four acres.
Aircraft carriers are amazing. Imagine 4,500 or so of your best friends, many, many under age 25 at sea for much more than a three hour tour, managing a very complex system. The flight deck itself is controlled chaos with jets being thrown off the deck at 170 miles per hour over and over in very short intervals. Young men and women who are barely drinking age are the main performers on the deck, safely moving aircraft from ready to launch, out to the catapults and then up in the air. Landing on these behemoths, especially at night, sorts the U.S. Navy pilots out very quickly. It takes a very special talent to land a F-18 on a moving carrier deck and at full throttle just in case the pilot misses a landing cable and has to get airborne again. Try that in the dark.
While in San Diego the USS Ronald Reagan, CVN-76 was in port for major repairs. The Reagan is one of the Nimitz class aircraft carriers, all with flight decks of nearly 1,100 feet long and all weighing more than 100,000 metric tons. The Midway, by comparison, weighted 64,000 metric tons at decommissioning and has a flight deck of 972 feet long.
San Diego is the birthplace of naval aviation. It was also home to the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, or Top Gun. The Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego also went under the moniker Fightertown USA. We all remember Top Gun from the movie with the same name starring Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Meg Ryan, Michael Ironside, and others. Who can forget lines like “I hate it when my finger does that,” “Son, your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash,” “That was some of the best flying I’ve seen to date, right up to the part where you got killed,” “You’re brighter than you look,” and of course “I feel the need, the need for speed.” The soundtrack was pretty good, including Kenny Loggins “Danger Zone,” Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” and of course the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” first lip-synched by Maverick and Goose early in the movie. The movie was full of people with cool call signs, nicknames, such as Viper, Slider, Iceman, Jester, Hollywood, and Merlin. Why don’t we have any call signs in the places we work?