Archive for September, 2008

Unforgettable discoveries at Kalaeloa

September 17th, 2008
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coastguardhelo.jpgThe sun was hot. I hadn't been to Kalaeloa. It's flat and hot even around the oasis of the Coast Guard Air Station there. Parking was hard. I walked from my car and around the front of the hangar. There were thousands of people inside and spilling out and flowers everywhere and a hush.

The men and women of the Coast Guard, with their spouses and children, were there in that hangar, one huge family, embracing, huddling together to deal with the day. The fire department was there in force. So was the police department and DLNR. I didn't know DLNR had a police force. There were uniforms I'd never seen before.

Everyone outside had come crisp but everyone was wilting in the sun. I stood in the shadow of a helicopter propeller. It wasn't very wide but it saved me. Some people were looking so hot you knew they were suffering. But if they were overcome, it was rather by the power of the event.

The memorial opened with chaplain's prayers. Well done, straightforward prayers, decent, sincere, tasteful and appropriate. There were many Hawaiian words, as is the custom. Then there were remarks from their captain about the four lost crewmen, a rescue swimmer, a flight mechanic, a pilot instructor, and the executive officer of the air station.

It wasn't lost on me that the Commandant had flown in for this funeral. His plane and attendants were on the tarmac a few feet away. He would leave to handle Galveston a short time later. He spoke of the four, with pride and thanks, and he decorated them each posthumously. We could do no less, but of course it could never be enough.

It came through to me, and everyone, that even though we don't know exactly how they died, we do know they died as heroes in the performance of duty. Heroes not only in the moment but heroes in the quality of their careers, and they would not be forgotten. Nor would they be easily replaced.

Their wives and children were there in the front, hardly visible from the back, but you could feel them there, and we were all with them. It was sad, and unforgettable.

There was a flyover, fast and close. Coast Guard helicopters whipping across the field right over our heads, taking a lei to drop at sea where they died. As these survivors flew by, a rifle squad on the other side of the field fired salutes in the air. They were far away from us, but the reports were loud and sharp, tearing.

When someone said that this will conclude our memorial, people stood there for the longest time without moving or saying anything. There were tables of food in the hangar next door, but people didn't go there right away. They were not done yet.

The admirals, at least three, moved into the hangar next door, and the people followed and began to talk to each other again.  The event was palpably surreal. I think people were truly touched and having a hard time trying to make sense of it. I know I was.

One thing is that the Coast Guard is more complex, and perhaps demanding, than it was when I was in, and somehow it's also better at what it does. It struck me that the Coast Guard has many friends here. It's a working part of the community, touching so many, closer than before.

And I thought of what others were thinking. I thought that they are thinking what I'm thinking - how lucky we are to have people so dedicated doing what they do. That these men and women spend every day to protect and save others. That they are our guardians, and that they are genuine and good people.

So I walked away from the crowds in the hangar and through the orange and white aircraft on the tarmac, and I thought of the men and women charged with caring for them, and us.

The Coast Guard driver saw me in the hot sun and he took me to my car. It was a kindness, and an expression of the ethic of that place. I didn't know him but I liked him and those he worked with, and those who taught and encouraged him to be what he was - a guardian.

Then I came home, slowly, in thoughts of my country.

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Rip Van Winkle Goes to the Bike Shop

September 1st, 2008
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Cinelli BadgeIn the 1970’s I rode bike every day, to work and back. Once in a while, I raced. I had 5 bikes, all terrific full Campy bikes. If you didn’t know, Campy refers to the Cadillac, the king of bike components, the most evocative word in my then bike world, Campagnolo.

Campagnolo - even now, the way it rolls over your tongue, it has a music about it, a song that you keep hearing in your head. Like Maria, from West Side Story.

While I was thinking of other things, my bikes went south in the 1990's and started down that long-slow-then-quickening rust process, and by this year they were all end of the line wrecks, looking ready, beyond redemption, for the junkyard.

But a few weeks ago my friend Dale called me and changed all that. He said he had a friend Andy who would take some of those bikes in trade for painting others among them, and that is what I did.

Presto – a kaleidoscopic resurrection of the symbols of the past, a Recherche du Temps Perdu, expanding your memory like a Petite Madeleine out of Marcel Proust.

So now I have two of the five, my dear Cinelli and my darling Colnago, nicely restored and freshly painted, winking and blinking at me, beckoning – ride me, ride me. So I decided to go to the next step and do some riding, the first time in years.

But there are certain lost perishables that needed to be replenished - a helmet, a pump, a spare tire, riding shoes and some of the rusted appointments that bring any good bike back to life.

Motivated, I decided to go to the bike shop (The Bike Shop) for adventure and for fulfillment, knowing it wouldn’t be easy, and that’s where I had my epiphany in the time machine.

I felt like Rip Van Winkle. They seemed so young and serious about things bike. But they live in a universe so completely different than the days I visited their predecessors 30 years ago, where I spent my weekends trading stories about parts and performance.

Walking through, I didn’t recognize some of the things I saw. Bikes from science fiction. Frames in weird shapes. Handlebars like twisted trombones. Brakes all black (instead of brushed aluminum) with hidden cables. And for all this, the prices were daunting.

I was lost and discomforted. The power trains were curiously different with lots more gears, and shifter types I’d never seen. The labels, except for Shimano and Specialized who have lasted through the years, were all from NASA.

More and more I thought how I cared for my old bikes, which now seemed so simple and giving, so philosophically pure and perfect, a classical expression of my well-worn view that the bicycle is the most efficient machine ever designed. Why couldn’t those designs have been perpetuated? Why have all these convoluted new shapes invaded that purity?

In the old days, I did the Zen of Bicycle Maintenance on all of my bikes, and I know I will do that again. I could not imagine putting the same kind of loving care and attention into these new alien frames – I doubt I could find the ardor, or that they could respond.

Is it relentless technology or just planned obsolescence? I can’t be sure, but for now I’m not going there. I’m going to stick with my friends. I’ll trundle around on them and feel the obedient clunk of the chain into gear, the tight spring of the Columbus tubing, the confident grab of uncompromising brakes. No obsolescence there.

It’s distant through the veils of my personal experience, but so familiar. It’s like learning to ride a bike – you never forget. I may admire tech, but I’m not ready to jump 30 years ahead in technology to learn new sensations with equipment that is still so unfamiliar.

For now, I’m just going to revel in the nostalgia. It may be the slow lane, but like Proust it brings back the sweetness of so many other memories of my youth, and that’s where I’m staying. At least until those new electronic shifters come out next year, anyway.

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