By attending Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration school in the spring of the year, I had more than met 1968’s obligation to the two-week ACDUTRA – active duty for training – which the Navy required of all reserves on an annual basis. However, a posting on the Yeoman’s Bulletin Board at the Aurora Armory announcing a two week training cruise aboard a reserve destroyer based in Seattle, Washington caught my attention. I submitted the appropriate request, which was approved, and at the beginning of November 1968, I was off to the great Northwest.
Weather-wise Seattle was pretty much as promised, particularly since it was November. It did rain quite a bit. But also, as promised, when it didn’t rain, and the sky cleared, it was indeed spectacular. The sparkling Puget Sound, the tall, well washed, verdant green pine trees everywhere, and the magnificent, craggy, snowcapped mountains looming above it all made it one of the most beautiful places one might imagine.
Like my now long ago first shipboard experience – two weeks aboard a Chicago based reserve destroyer escort – we didn’t really go anywhere. We left Pier 91 on several occasions to cruise the sound; to Tacoma and back. And once we ventured out through the Straits of Juan de Fuca to somewhat tentatively poke our bow into the cold North Pacific. But we spent a lot of time tied up to Pier 91 performing maintenance (in the guise of training). Since I was now an “expert” on refrigeration systems, this is how I spent much of my time. But if you ignore the cold, grimy conditions of the nearly hidden spaces in which some of the refrigeration equipment was mounted, the work was interesting, instructive, and not too difficult.
I know I enjoyed Seattle in the broad sense, but my somehow my strongest memories are the songs “Both Sides Now” by Judy Collins, a lasting favorite, and “Wichita Lineman”, by Glen Campbell. And the rotating bar at the top of the space needle, where the stunning view was constantly changing; repeating itself every 30 minutes.
Another lasting impression is of a very large, very ornate, old-style theater on Pike Street where I saw Jane Fonda in the movie Barbarella. I will admit that in costume she was visually stimulating, but I didn’t then, nor do I now, forgive her antics during the war. That said, the movie, though more than a bit silly, was entertaining.
A couple of nights before I left Seattle, I was in a cocktail lounge somewhere, grumbling conversationally about the weather. One of the gentlemen – strangers all – with whom I was chatting said to me in all seriousness, “You say that now, but after you leave you’ll want to come back”. And you know, he was right. Although in all these years I never have gone back to Seattle, I have always wanted to. And as I write this I say to myself yet again, maybe this year.
The flight home from Seattle to Chicago was the perfect finale to a great couple of weeks. I was traveling in uniform, and “on standby”. After the paying customers had all boarded, I was not only awarded a seat, but a seat in First Class! This proved to be one of two new experiences that day; the first of course being my upgraded flight status. And since the drinks were free – and because it sounded so cool and sophisticated – I ordered my first, and only ever, scotch and soda. But it really was fun all in all, and ever after, when I’ve traveled in the cattle car of coach, I’ve known what I was missing.
A final thought. I wrote my first poem while in Seattle for my two-week training cruise. Bad as it probably was, I’m sorry I no longer have a copy.
On my first visit to the Space Needle, on the grounds of what was formerly the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, I was struck by the carousel, and the “wild carnival horses” with their “toothy grins”. The bright colorful paint now, some years later, chipped and faded, as they stood silent and neglected on a damp, foggy, and still November day. And so, inspired by the works of Rod McKuen, I sketched out a short, sad poem titled “After the World’s Fair”.
That it is gone forever is no real loss to anyone. But I do wish I had more than just a vague memory of my first poetic effort.