Friday, August 04, 2006

Blue Angels

I work out of my house on Beacon Hill. If you're not familiar with it, it's the hill that begins at the cross-section of I-90 and I-5, and heads south, sandwiched between Boeing Field and Lake Washington. At this particular weekend each year, that's a pretty hopping place to be. Seafair happens this first weekend of August, with hydroplane races and air shows. Up on the hill we hear the roar of the boats, we get all kinds of fun airplanes roaring around the back yard, and we get our roofs taken off during the Blue Angels shows.

You can spout all your politically correct arguments about why the Blue Angels are 10 kinds of wrong -- from the obnoxious display of pompous military might, to the extreme waste of fuel, to the snarling traffic inconveniences and public safety issues. But when they arrive in town, screeching overhead and leaving a thunderous wake, it's heart-stopping and exhilirating. We all run out onto the lawns, climb out 2nd floor windows onto roofs, stand out in the middle of the street -- because almost all the maneuvers, circles and dives happen right over our heads, closer than anywhere else. Since we're so close to the lake, ground zero, we see it all. And as they let loose the smoke, zip off around downtown, shoot like rockets straight into the air, we can practically see the pilots gritting their teeth. Ok, slight exaggeration. But it's really low and really loud over here. And I love it.

I used to work at Seafair, so I have a special fondness for it. I worked for Gretchen's Of Course catering for years, and we did all the food concessions, VIP tents, barbeques for the pits, etc. And not to brag, but a couple of those years, I managed the whole shooting match. It was months of advance planning, about 2 weeks of solid prep, meaning 12 hour days. And then the actual weekend. I think we slept about 10 hours in 4 days, working from 4am until midnight or something ridiculous. We had our little "camp" off to the side with 2 refrigerator trucks and a couple of equipment trucks (semi trucks!), a fleet of golf carts, and hundreds of walkie talkies. Sorta made you feel important. That one year, the air show had a Harrier jet, the plane that can hover in mid-flight like a helicopter. Swooped in, stopped over the water and demonstrated a rescue maneuver, whipping up a froth of waves. Really incredible. I'll never see something like that again, probably.

Anyway, those days are long gone. And now I'm at Anacortes each year when the fun comes to town, and in Tacoma on the Thursday before. So I've been missing all the action dreadfully.

But yesterday I took the day off from Tacoma and went down to the lake to see the Blue Angel practice runs, not content to just see the drive-bys here from the house. I wanted the full-on show, the view of the white tents scattered around the park, the bustle of the pits. So me and the parents headed over in the morning, but the planers were mostly just doing wide circles, getting familiar with the geography. I took a ton of pictures, which are either blurry or look like little specs. We came home, and had lunch while they finished up, beginning to do a few formations and screeching through the back yard. The battery to my camera was dead already, after having been on high alert, zooming in and out for an hour.

The afternoon practice started promptly at 1:30pm. I raced outside to try and get a perfect photo of the underside of the plane 6 inches from my rooftop. I really wanted to post the ultimate picture for you. I got blank sky. Electric lines. A whiff of smoke. The formations were happening right over me. The racing back and forth, upside down, wheels out, the giant circles in the sky. It was breath-taking. And I didn't get a single good photo. I have excuses too. The shutter speed was too slow. The planes were too fast. The sun was in my eyes. But truthfully, every time they came around and thundered overhead, I flinched and ducked, thinking they were going to part my hair. So the picture here is the best I could do. Aaaah, but it sure was fun.