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A View From the Midway

Six stories above the bay on the flight deck of the USS Midway, the bartender is running out of ice. He urges us to scramble down the ladders to another bar in the hangar bay. But no one leaves. We stand on deck and watch a bold disc of gold drop behind point loma. The Midway is anchored forever now near navy pier. Its top deck offers an energizing new overview of our San Diego.

All along the midway's lofty open-air platform, twilight breezes glide past, lazying down the harbor. I stare at a boot shaped san diego bay that i've never quite seen before.

Coronado snuggles there at our left. North Island looms wide and deep enough for us to cram in another airport runway or two. To our right, in the long arc of shoreline, San Diego unfurls upward from its harbor.

Amber lights begin to flick on. Our stately old county building sparkles in vertical bars of spotlighted brass. In this contentious city, how did we ever manage anything that lovely as a public structure? It was a gift from outside, built by Franklin Roosevelt's WPA.

It was a federal reward for civic good behavior. There have been other federal prizes, like Linda Vista and Convair, and particularly the navy and the marine corps. From hard scrabble depression days to World War II, it was considered unpatriotic to quibble much with city hall or Washington. Japanese submarines lurked off San Diego. Camouflage nets draped Convair.

In that war, this gallant midway helped to win the peace.

Now the carrier makes its debut as a noble museum. Uniformed veterans stand by to instruct us civilians to hold on and watch our feet in the gangways. I won't try swapping war stories with them. Their ribbons are far tougher than mine.

Yet we all share one remarkable happening. After World War II, we stayed on in San Diego, or came back to live.

I look far down to the water and try to plot the course of the old nickel-snatcher, a motor launch that ferried tens of thousands of sailors across this harbor. Several wars ago, a Santa Fe train brought me here, backing into San Diego. A gawking kid from Carolina asked a porter how to get to North Island. At the harborfront I paid my nickel and heaved my duffel aboard. It was sundown. I never really left.

In the dark, the Midway's hangar bay hatch stands open like a proscenium arch framing the lights of Coronado Bridge A trio booms out "Moonlight Serenade? and "String of Pearls.? Here on the midway, it feels like 1945. (this lower bar, indeed, has not run out of ice.)

We dance.