The navy base lies low on our left, sealed off from the harbor by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Several large, ominous pipes issue from beneath the military installation and empty into the harbor. These drains are rusted, about four feet in diameter, and strengthened by circular ridges. Our guide reviews the history of submarine security; the navy no longer uses underwater nets for protection against enemy submarines, she tells us. The man with the telephoto lenses continues to take pictures of helicopters and submarines, the latter at rest, almost like whales asleep, at their tenders. The guy in the Bears cap switches from humor to commentary on military equipment. Then I notice that all around me people are taking pictures of helicopters and sub marines. Everything from Instamatics to Polaroids to state-of-the-art Nikons, in the hands of men, women, and children, recording —— for what posterity? — United States Navy ordnance.
A pair of jet ﬁghters passes overhead; more photographs. An older woman studies the war machines, her face solemn. She stares for a long time at the helicopters; I wonder if she knows someone whose ﬁghter went down in the Tonkin Gulf and who was then rescued at sea. For this woman’s generation “America” is almost synonymous with surviving the Great Depression, victory in World War II, conquest of the Nazis and the unbelievable horror they wrote into human history, possession of an invincible nuclear arsenal, freedom, democracy, wealth, and Christianity. Studying her face, I sense that the whipping concussion of helicopter blades does not put
this older woman at ease. Instead it suggests a level of technology, especially in the military, that she doesn't understand. But neither she nor I can escape the sounds of the blades. They are as much a part of our audio culture as the pumping base of small pickups ﬁlled with speakers, the relentless pulse of rap, the lonely smoothness of Spanish, the shaved gentility of Chinese-English.
The crowd on the Avanti is as varied as the species; their presence is a reﬂection of the changing colors of America, the human movements that are called political but are probably more fundamentally biological. In a crowded world, where cultures interact in many ways and the helicopter is a symbol for ﬂight in all directions, neither the ﬂow of genes nor the diffusion of ideas can be stopped. Yet we've all come together for an afternoon to watch whales; in three hours, no matter what our backgrounds, we’ll have a common experience, something to talk about that all can agree upon. The tour guide calls our attention to Point Loma, a lighthouse put too far inland; ships, trusting its signals, ran aground. Sea lions are draped, snoozing, on red buoys.
(NOTE: All Janovy books are available via amazon. I recommend the Gideon Marshall Mystery Series - BE CAREFUL, DR. RENNER; THE STITCHER FILE; and THE EARTHQUAKE LADY)