Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Unexpected Uncertainty

This is a continuation of a series of writings about my time in the Navy. The first in this series of posts can be found here or go here for the most recent.

We arrived back in San Diego from our deployment to the Western Pacific on April 11th, 1979. The pier was packed with people welcoming us home but I had no family waiting for me; they were all back in Minnesota and Pennsylvania. Honestly, I was in serious need of some alone time after having been cooped up on the ship with several hundred others for the past 7+ months. Seeing my family could wait.

I wasted no time getting off the ship and out into the city on my bike with my duffel bag over my shoulder headed for the laundry mat. While my clothes were washing I'd be able to make my rounds of McDonald's, Winchell's and the bike shop, all at the intersection of Highland and 16th street—the little corner of San Diego I'd previously written about. Mine was a simple life.

The Eisentraut frame I'd been building up while on deployment was nearly complete but it would be another month before I'd have enough cash to buy the remaining parts and have it fully assembled. There would be nothing anticlimactic about this project. If anything, building the bike would only work to strengthen my love for bikes but any real affirmation that this was no short-lived phase would take years.

While in Hawaii the previous week, I'd heard about Supertramp's new album and that they were touring with it. Of all the music being put out in the '70s, theirs was easily some of my favorite and I remember thinking how great it would be to see them when they came through San Diego. I wouldn't have to wait long as I learned through somebody that they were in town that night. I hadn't gotten my hands on the new cassette so my first time hearing anything from it would be at the concert. The ship was all but deserted with the exception of those who were part of the duty section so being unable to find anybody to go with me, I went solo.

I remember that the band was late taking the stage because Roger Hodgson's wife was giving birth to their daughter in their motorhome in the parking lot of the venue. I had no idea then how close they came to having to cancel the show but would hear Roger speak of the night years later and how he'd told the band that his wife and child came first even if that meant he'd have to pass on the gig. I thought it rather cool to have been a part of that night. There are several days of my life that I'd like to relive: April 11th, 1979 is one of them.

Gas lines over a block long were a new part of the landscape that I'd have to occasionally negotiate on my bike. With gas prices rising from .80c to $1.00 a gallon in only a few months, I had no desire to own a car and even more so now.

I was definitely counting the days until my enlistment was over but that only brought about a new stressor: what would I do when this gig was up? I had some ideas but I couldn't tell if I was serious or only fooling myself. My dream was to be an architect but I was fearful that I couldn't cut it in school. I'd shown no reason in the past to be encouraged or even believe in myself more than just a little. Rather than map out a plan to confront my fears, I pretty much ran from them.

I fell into a rut unlike any I'd been in during my time in the Navy. I was hanging out with a few guys at night, hitting the bars and discos, doing anything but focusing on what I was going to do with my life post-Navy. I was really losing my identity now and even my bike couldn't right me. I'd find time to ride during the day after hours and on weekends but once the sun went down, the other side of me took over and my simple life would give way to one complicated by late nights and living beyond my means. There was a structure to Navy life that kept most of us from being too irresponsible and I was becoming concerned about how I'd manage my life without the expectations placed on me by the military.

Several visits to a guidance counselor I'd made appointments with would have me leaning toward community college rather than jumping in at the university level when I got out. That seemed to put my mind at ease although I was still looking up at a long climb ahead of me to get to where most of those from my high school graduating class were. I couldn't help but compare myself with them and that comparison wasn't one I felt all that good about. Yeah, I'd served my country and grown up a lot but it didn't help to remedy my fears.

One thing that kept coming back to me though was my sense of independence and not wanting to go back home to live with my parents. I couldn't do that; at least not for long.

My final time out to sea would be a short two-day run up the coast to Seal Beach to offload munitions prior to entering a yard period for overhaul. I'd pass under the Coronado Bay Bridge one last time on May 18th and toss my hat into the water: tradition. I experienced a lot of relief knowing my sea-time was done but it was also a bittersweet moment because while I enjoyed being at sea, I enjoyed my time in port much more. For the moment, maybe too much.

To be continued...

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