The disclaimer: (Please note, after publishing this, I was contacted by the fine folks at the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, concerned about my experience. This is slightly mortifying. This story happened well over 20 years ago and I'm sure that my experience would be very different today. And, I'm kind of given to exaggeration. A little. I'm putting this disclaimer at the top of each part of the story, lest someone searching for this fine vessel think it is an accurate portrayal of what the experience may be today.)
Jenny stood before us, all business, her permanent grin now forced. As the crowd circled around her, she raised her megaphone and with false cheeriness informed us- "There will be a slight delay in the performance by the Blue Angels." The crowd groaned. Or perhaps it was our stomachs, all growling in unison as the prospect of being filled floated further away.
The reason for the delay, of course, was fog. The everyday 'oh isn't this charming' fog of the San Francisco Bay had turned into something even the elite Blue Angels could not penetrate.
"I'm sure we'll see them soon!" Jenny said, smiling at the hostile faces in front of her. These people were hungry, they were chilly, they were moist, and most of all they wanted their damned Blue Angels. Jenny raised her megaphone as if to say something else, then thought better of it. She turned and scurried away below.
"I bet she has food down there." my brother said, his eyes narrowing.
"Shane, no." I whispered. My brother, while merely delinquent on an average day became positively threatening when hungry.
"You could distract her..."
"If she gives us any trouble, we'll just throw her..."
"I was just kidding. Heh heh."
"What are you two whispering about?" my mother interrupted. I rolled my eyes, my brother shifted on his feet. My dad leaned on the rail and chain smoked. She looked at me, "Aren't you glad we're at least spending the day together?"
In the more than twenty years since that day, we have given my mother countless amounts of grief. We have made jokes at her expense and exaggerated the events of that day to the extent that even we're not sure exactly what happened. Looking back at things with a different perspective - a mother's perspective - I realize that she didn't care where we were, or what we were doing. Her children were growing, one close to gone, and all she wanted was a day without distraction where we could focus on being with each other.
If I'd had this perspective then, I might have said "Oh, Mom. You're right. At least we're together!"
But I was 17 and I would rather have been anywhere on earth than stuck on a fucking ship without food in the middle of the San Francisco Bay with my family. "This is the worst day of my life." I told her.
Half an hour went by.
An hour went by.
And then, in the distance, we heard the roar of jet engines. We could hear them, but we couldn't yet see them. All the waiting, the lack of food, Jenny, the banana - all of it faded into the background because finally, finally the Blue Angels were on the scene! The air vibrated, the crowd stood with upturned faces, awaiting our saviors. The Blue Angels would redeem this suck of a day! The Blue Angels would restore our faith in God and Country and Bay Cruises! From a giant sized boombox atop a card table, the strains of Lee Greenwood mingled with the near deafening sound of the approaching aircraft.
"Where are they? Where are they?" my Dad was searching the sky, his gaze like a laser beam cutting through the fog.
And I'm proud to be an American...
And the planes and Lee and my Dad - oh my God, is my Dad crying? - I am 17 years old and fuck my dreams of Greenpeace because I AM GOING TO DIE OF PATRIOTISM RIGHT HERE ON THE DECK OF THE SS JEREMIAH O'BRIEN!
The Blue Angels flew right over us! They were, there were - completely invisible.
We could not see a goddamn thing.
Not a spin or a dive or a wing or a nose of a plane. For all we knew, it could have been a 747 landing at SFO.
"Fuck." my mother whispered.
The sound from the crowd was something like the long, low hiss of a balloon slowly losing air. Unsure what to do, we all lined the deck railing and looked woefully into the distance. If this were a better story, we would have turned all Lord of the Flies on Jenny and stoned her with her banana stash. But we never saw Jenny or her megaphone again.
It was another hour before we made it into port, another fog delay in getting a tug out to the big ship. We didn't speak as we disembarked, or as we drove away from the Pier. It was only after we'd finally stopped and ate a little that we once again felt human, and able to communicate.
"Well," my mother smiled, "We'll laugh about this someday."
2 weeks ago