If Tracey picked up on my panic, she didn't let on, not until she mentioned how it can be a little nerve-wracking coming on the base for the first time. Tracey isn't part of the military; she's an independent events planner who arranges things on the base. I told her about my own M-16 moment.
"Yeah," she said. "I know. I felt that way at first. You feel guilty for some reason. You think you've done something wrong when of course you haven't."
She said her first few weeks on the base she was nervous. Once, she'd brought her eight-year-old son on the base, and he had been so excited he kept asking her to slow down so he could check out the military gear. She panicked that she'd get stopped. "But," she said, "eventually you get used to it."
And isn't that the truth? I still pass the Seal Beach bunkers when I head to work, but it seems the only time I actually look at the bunkers—which, I'm told, still house nuclear warheads—is when they fertilize the fields in front of them. It doesn't seem odd for me to drive by it every morning going to work. It doesn't seem odd that the bunkers are just across the street from Leisure World or that the Naval Weapons Station stretches all the way down to PCH and just across the street—not more than 300 feet from McGaugh School, home of elementary school kids, various swim teams, the Seal Beach Kids Baseball and the place I used to play recreation-league basketball. (Oh, by the way, McGaugh has a Choral Program coming up. You can't miss the school—it's the one across from the weapons station.)
And it didn't seem odd to me as I left the base, taking one last look at the Little League fields, that the moment my car left this armory, it entered a neighborhood, with lawns and basketball hoops and inexpensive restaurants where people talk about their day and anthrax and North Korean missiles. Maybe it should have, but it didn't. You get used to it.