My Blue Angel Blues

Marina Times - Enter Stage Left: A New Coast
By Evalyn Baron
November 2011

Could it be true? Have I found something about this glorious city that makes me wish I did not live here? Could be. Last month, there were four days when all I could think about was getting away from this neighborhood I’ve come to love. Last month was my first San Francisco Fleet Week.

For those four days, I yearned for the quiet of New York City. Because in NYC, there are traffic noises, emergency sirens, and people yelling “Help! Thief!” far too often, but NYC does not annually invite fighter jets to rip through the skies, close enough to land on domestic rooftops. NYC has a Fleet Week, but in my decades there, I never wanted to leave town because of it. In fact, I loved it because of all the sailors and Marines roaming the streets in tight pants. Their only offensive noises were the ones they made when they saw women they didn’t have to salute. But epic airplanes terrifying the general populace? That would not wash in NYC. Especially after 9/11.

In S.F. last month, however, I came as close to enemy combat as I ever hope to come. At least that’s what it felt and sounded like. I know the meaning now of the phrase “I jumped out of my skin!” Indeed I do.

I wonder if there are any reported heart attacks caused by Fleet Week.

To be fair, I’m dismayed by the way people behave at such large-scale festivities in both cities. Every year, I left Manhattan on St. Patrick’s Day because the 5th Avenue St. Patrick’s Parade transformed citizens into rowdies behaving like they’d just been let out of juvenile detention. High school boys suddenly emerged from New Jersey, drinking green beer. When I saw a group of them relieving themselves right onto the stately exterior of the Metropolitan Museum, my love of parades ceased forever. Last month, the manager of our S.F. apartment building had to toss drunks out of our lobby as they tried getting to our roof to watch the air show. He worried that in their drunkenness, they might start flying too.

I admire the men and women who defend our country. I believe they deserve to be honored with all we have to give, especially with good body armor and higher pay. I love war memorials and think the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is inspiring. I do not believe in wars. But I do believe in honoring the people brave enough to fight them on our behalf.

I also believe in doing all we can to insure the prosperity of our city and I know that Fleet Week gives the S.F. economy a much needed economic shot in the arm. For that reason alone, yea Fleet Week!

However, I don’t believe in unleashing the hounds and scaring the horses for that honor and prosperity. I cannot say “yea” to sitting at my desk one moment and shivering in terror with abused eardrums and two terrified dogs the next. On one air show day, I sat writing at my table by a window facing Lombard Street. With the planes rehearsing above me, I had my pink earplugs in place and my dogs cuddled in my lap as I typed. But this was no defense against what happened in an excruciating instant: an airplane the size of a building suddenly swooped by with such forceful noise my heart nearly stopped. I now understand the “stealth” in “stealth bomber.”

This aircraft sounded and felt so close, I expected to see it buzzing right in front of me between buildings, using our block as an alleyway to get from one point to the next. If it had done that, wings slicing stone, I’d be on a train back to NYC once the doctors gave me the “all clear.” I don’t like boarding an airplane, so I don’t’ think I’d survive one buzzing past my window, no matter how cute the pilot and how jaunty his wave.

So bravo and congratulations to the people flying those aircraft in such pristine formation. They are marvelous to behold. But please understand why I’ll not be among those trying to cheer above the monstrous roar next year. I love my new home city. I intend to live the rest of my life enjoying the many pleasures it offers. So during Fleet Week next year, you’ll find me smothered in the quiet air of a Zen monastery up north, contemplating the age-old question, “If a jet breaks the sound barrier and no one is there, does it make a scary sound?” I’ll leave you to answer that one for yourself.