Monday, August 6, 2007

Nuptials, Nostalgia, and Nuclear Submarines

Today finds me back in Sioux City after a whirlwind trip to the Pacific Northwest for the wedding of Lady M's sister in Port Townsend, WA. (Apologies to everybody in the area that I didn't call or visit--I was there for less than 48 hours.)

I left on Friday afternoon following noon conference, flying out of Sioux City's Col. Bud Day Field (which bears the rather unfortunate three-letter airport code SUX). My connection was in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and as we descended over the downtown in our Canadair Regional Jet there was much rubbernecking as the passengers tried to catch a glimpse of the collapsed I-35 bridge. It wasn't visible from our angle, which is just as well since everyone rushing over to one side might have unbalanced our little jet. On the flight out, however, the site was fully visible from the air.

I got into Sea-Tac late that evening, rented a car, and set out across the Tacoma Narrows bridge for Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. For most of the drive there wasn't much to see in the dark except at Bremerton, where the three-quarter-full moon silhouetted the US Navy warships moored there.

The next morning I awoke to find myself at a lovely Victorian bed and breakfast on a bluff over the ferry dock with a magnificent view of Admiralty Inlet and the Olympic Mountains. After breakfast most of the morning was a flurry of wedding preparations. The bride's party was getting ready in our rooms, so I did a little ironing and otherwise tried to stay out of the way. The ceremony itself was very nice--simple and brief, with an appropriate amount of crying. We had perfect weather, which made the backyard garden reception all the more enjoyable. Great food, including oysters on the half shell, although apparently Oyster Guy made a pass at both Lady M and her brother, Big M. And, although I haven't made a formal toast for a while now myself, I got to vicariously relive past toastmaster glories by huddling with Lady M's other sister as she prepared her Maid of Honor toast to the bride.

But no wedding goes off without a hitch or two. Towards the end of the reception we learned that Big M's keys were in a car that had already left. And it was a cliffhanger: the folks with his keys were heading to catch a ferry--if they made it onto the ferry, Big M's car and room keys would be heading to the other side of Puget Sound. So we piled into my rented Elantra in hot pursuit, frantically trying to get through on the cell. We were closing on them on the road to the Hood Canal Bridge when we saw a line of stopped cars on the highway up ahead. The geography of Puget Sound means that many routes are dependent on a certain key bridges with no alternate way around, so a stalled line of cars was a bad sign--and we knew that our quarry had already crossed the bridge. We pulled up to the end of the line at mile marker 13, turned off the car, and waited with an inlet of the sound visible through the trees less than half a mile away. We worried that there had been a car wreck, or that a vessel had run into the bridge. Luckily, after about 20 minutes the line started to inch forward and then Big M discovered the cause of the delay. Through the trees he pointed out a pair of dark rectangles moving low on the water--the conning towers, or "sails," of two nuclear submarines. The bridge had been opened for them to pass.

Within minutes we met the other car and retrieved the keys. Then, basking in the glow of our successful showdown with America's undersea strategic nuclear deterrent, we turned back toward Port Townsend. Back at the B&B, Lady M and I shared a quiet moment sitting in comfy chairs on the bluff, watching the sound and the coastline and the mountains fade into the twilight. Later folks in our party went out to the local blues festival, but, having boarded the plane straight after a day and a half on duty and an overnight call, I was too exhausted to go out.

The next morning was quiet and hazy and I hit the road early, waving goodbye to Lady M as the Elantra's taillights disappeared into the marine mist. I was overwhelmed with nostalgia for the Pacific Northwest--the mountains, the water, the tree-lined valleys, the morning mist that burns off into perfect summer afternoons. I crossed two major bridges on the way back, the Hood Canal (low on the water) and the Tacoma Narrows (very high off the water), and each time both the far end of the bridge and the water below were obscured by mist--bridges through the clouds.

Sadly, my flight left while I was still standing in the TSA's half-mile-long security line at the airport, so I didn't get home until quite late last night. Finally descending through the dark towards the Missouri River I considered my baggage claim tag with its printed inscription "Sioux City SUX" (they really need to change that), feeling awfully homesick for Puget Sound. But after spending an eventful day in the hospital and clinic, and treating myself to dinner at the Cow, I'm back in the western Iowa saddle and looking forward to the next two weeks of my sub-internship; rejuvenated, if not actually rested.



At August 7, 2007 at 1:20 AM , Blogger Tom said...

I may seem to be missing the point of your post but I'm bound to remark that:

A) The Bombardier CRJ (formerly known as the Canadair Regional Jet ... cough...) is quite a stable aircraft, thank you very much. It is perfectly able to remain level even when a bunch of American passengers all crowd to one side to see their broken bridge, another CRJ, or even Canada.


B) Why didn't the nuke-you-lor subs just submerge enough to get under the bridge? (Not a 'sound' enough idea?)

At August 7, 2007 at 7:52 AM , Blogger Ben-Bob said...

Excellent points from our peripatetic Canadian correspondent. I certainly didn't want to cast aspersions on Canada's highly successful aerospace industry--I'm a big fan of the graceful CRJ, myself.

As for the second point, I don't know enough to "dive" into it.

At August 7, 2007 at 6:29 PM , Blogger Tom said...

I have a "sinking" feeling we'll never resolve this submarine issue. The risk is that those submariners could never surface again unless they worked out on their "nautilus". Shall we "torpedo" the discussion?

At August 7, 2007 at 8:45 PM , Blogger madame_leiderhosen said...

oh, ow. stop. aigh....

At August 8, 2007 at 8:06 AM , Blogger Ben-Bob said...

Yikes, now I'm really "under pressure" to respond. I'm so stressed out I could go ballistic! Maybe I'm out of my depth....


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