By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
Summing up, I was lost and certain I would never see my family again.
And then I saw a small woman at a desk—Kathleen—and I said hello. She said hi and almost immediately passed me off to a very nice woman named Tracey to show me the facilities. Tracey told me they had two rooms and suggested we take a look. She showed me the 100-person Colonial Room, a rather straightforward, if not drab, place that would probably be a nice room for a bingo game or model-train enthusiasts, but I couldn't see it hosting a function with any life to it. (Indeed, Tracey later told me, the Colonial had the day before hosted a wake.)
We walked out to the adjoining patio and bar. She pointed over to the lawn, just before the landing strip, and said there were plans to put a gazebo up so the base could host weddings. "We already do some weddings, but we just put up temporary arches," she said.
I think she could tell I was less than impressed. She suggested we go over to the larger—300 maximum capacity—room. Nice. This place seemed not only twice the size but also had a much better feel about it: posters for such movies as Shall We Dance on the walls, thick carpet, columns, nice art-deco lighting fixtures. It was the kind of room you see at a nicer hotel, except the hotel probably wouldn't call it the Militia Room. Tracey said they had a dance floor they could put down and that the DJ—whom we would have to provide—could set up in the corner.
And then she took me over to the pub.
* * *
Now, I think it's important for me to tell you how normal all of this was. Yes, I was on a U.S. military installation at a time of war, and yes, those were rockets on those helicopters, and yes, I'm sure there was other heavy-duty stuff in those other buildings and warehouses, but as I wandered around with Tracey, I might as well have been checking out the Airport Ramada. It was all so typical, except the part where Tracey said how nice it was to sit on the pub's patio, have a drink at night, and watch the Blackhawks take off and land.
I guess I was surprised by the typical-ness of it all, but I don't know why I would have been. I grew up in the '70s, when every other Southern Californian worked in aerospace—my mom worked for McDonnell Douglas—and those who didn't usually worked in a business that served aerospace. My first job was as a pizza-delivery boy in Downey, many of my deliveries taking me to a Rockwell plant the size of a small city. As a high school kid, my best friend Chris and I used to spend our summers driving south on the 405 to the beach, driving past the aboveground bunkers of the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station. The bunkers couldn't have been more than a few hundred yards from the freeway and were a lot closer to the farm workers working the fields in front of them. Like everyone, Chris and I used to speculate what was in those bunkers: Artillery? Regular bombs or good stuff? We'd all heard there were nuclear warheads in there, and in the '70s, we wondered if those nuclear weapons didn't include a few neutron bombs, which was a very hot weapon at the time, though I'm not sure it ever existed. Driving past the bunkers, Chris and I would discuss how fast we'd have to drive our VWs to get away from nukes when—never if—the Soviets lobbed them at the weapons station. "Really fast," we figured, but, alas, not fast enough, since we also figured there were too many people living in and around the weapons station—not to mention the 30,000 students at Long Beach State—and the roads would be jammed. Anyway, we reasoned that even if you escaped the blast by heading south, you'd get vaporized by the nukes hitting Pendleton or San Onofre, and if you went north into LA, you'd get smoked by the stuff thrown at LAX. We talked like this back then.
Today, my kids talk about anthrax and dirty bombs and North Korean missile capabilities.
* * *
After we'd looked at everything, Tracey took me back to her office so we could talk price and she could show me a menu. And an impressive menu it is: Tuscano grilled chicken sandwich, Italian concha shells, grapefruit salmon and lots more. Plus, Tracey said, they could customize almost any dish if given the proper time. I asked her a few more questions but then became aware I was asking a lot of questions. It's a strange thing to be talking grapefruit salmon and thinking about treason. Here I was discussing facilities, realizing that's exactly what a spy would want to know. So I knew I had to ask about the facilities, so as not to seem uninterested, and yet not to ask too much about them.