Aircraft carriers are a magnificent masterpiece of engineering and seafaring. I visited my niece, Julie, who was stationed in San Diego. I was awed. It was the largest ship that I had ever seen. It made the cargo ships in the port of Duluth look puny. The carrier had just been repaired, repainted and was ready for “work-ups” to prepare the crew for a six-month deployment. It embarked and returned to be repaired, which takes about six months. Work-ups were underway when 9/11 occurred. As a result, the ship was sent out in October 2001 to the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman, several months before it was scheduled to leave port.
I was fraught with worry. I knew people helping at the World Trade Center Ground Zero site, Pentagon, and Pennsylvania and now a family member was being literally shipped out. The initial attack on Afghanistan was launched from the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier. I was anxious during Julie’s entire deployment. In February 2002 she contacted me to be her guest for a “Tiger Cruise.” I was honored and accepted, after receiving clearance from my boss and the Pentagon. I paid my Tiger fee, booked a round trip ticket to Los Angeles, and a one-way flight to Honolulu. I flew to LA on May 17th, 2002. Arrived in time to consume lunch with a friend in the fun LAX space lounge. I got the total pat down and questioning in LA as I transferred to the Hawaii flight. They asked what cruise line I was sailing on, I replied the US Navy. The response elicited a lot of chuckles and I handed them my boarding pass. Painfully long flight to Oahu but I sat next to a nice native Hawaiian and she let me know how not to insult Pele. I adore Hawaiian music so I listened on the aircraft radio when we weren’t chatting.
I stayed with friends of a friend in Honolulu. It was sweet to be greeted with a fragrant homemade lea upon arrival. They let me sleep on the couch in their spare room. Tourist has so many negative connotations. I prefer to be a traveling learner; I want to soak in the local atmosphere. I rode the bus all over Oahu and my hosts dropped me off a few times at various destinations. The volcano inspired architecture of the Hawaiian Capitol building is awesome. I visited several art museums and attended a Pow-wow. The gathering was almost identical to community Pow-wows in Minnesota except the fringe was longer and the clothing had more neon hues. I didn’t have the funds to go island hopping; I longed to see a live volcano. I did naively ask what the huge pole by the beach was for and a man growled back, tsunami. If it howls, head for the hills.
Road the “Circle Bus” around the island. It was fun getting off and on at the various stops and visiting with the locals. Completely flummoxed when someone spoke to me in Pidgin because they didn’t think I was a visitor. I had no desire to hang out with “tourists.” The behavior of some of the visitors was hideous. I only ventured to Waikiki Beach for an art fair and entertainment on the beach boulevard. My first experience with bubble tea, mmm good! Usually the residents despise tourists but because people were afraid to fly they were nice to me. Surprised that Spam was served in every restaurant I visited, except two. When I mentioned that I was from Minnesota, the people would ask if I had been to the Spam factory. Yes, I did tour the Hormel plant when I was a kid. The recent film, The Descendents, shows many of the places I visited on Oahu. Good movie but irritated that the Native Hawaiians were only portrayed in a negative manner.
I ran around Oahu for four days and knew the ship was to arrive soon. I asked my hosts to borrow their binoculars to look out at the ships approaching the harbor since we were located on a high bluff. I knew that I had a very slim chance of spotting the aircraft carrier but there it was CVN-74, moving towards port. My host was impressed with my timing. On May 22nd, I met the ship docked in Pearl Harbor. Disappointed that the museum was closed that day. It was a Wednesday so we walked over to the Flea Market at the Stadium. What a wonderful market, the best shopping on the whole island. The merchandise was diverse and half the cost of other retailers. We also ventured to the Naval Exchange to procure a few more items. I have been to a lot of military retail markets but this was the most impressive.
That night we attended a cheesy luau. The food was bland, entertainment was okay, and the drinks strong. We wore military nametags so the alcohol was 80% of the drink. I would always get an empty glass and a plain Coke to water down my rum-n-cokes. It was too strong otherwise. We sat next to a man with his ten year old son. I asked what he did on the ship, he said “Special Ops.” That ended that line of conversation. I was sitting across from a trained assassin. Not exactly dinnertime conversation so we talked about other topics.
To be Continued
© 2012 Ima B. Musing