The View from a Drawbridge

The random musings of a bridgetender with entirely too much time on her hands.

The iconic Seattle Seafair was cancelled/reduced for two years running due to the pandemic. Personally, I didn’t miss it, because I’m always working on my drawbridge for the three main days, and they are some of the most hectic days on my bridge. In an 8 hour stretch this past Saturday, I opened for 26 vessels, and each time, street traffic was backed up for miles. The shift definitely went by quickly, but I had to get rude just to eat my lunch, and I got no blogging done. I’m home now, but jittery from the adrenaline dump.

I think that most Seattleites would agree that the crown jewels of Seafair are the performances by the Blue Angels and the Hydro Races. I’ve never seen the races, but I hear they’re pretty spectacular. Of that I have no doubt, but the pollution and the carbon footprint would be forever on my mind while watching them.

I have seen the Blue Angels multiple times. When I was around 19 and could rock a bikini, I used to drive out to the beach every chance I got, and the five jets would often blast past, hugging the Florida coastline. We girls would wave, but I have no idea why. I’m sure for them we were just a blur. So now, more than anything, the Blue Angels make me nostalgic for my 19 year old butt.

In Seattle, the flight path they used to take always had them buzzing the South Park Bridge, where I used to work on Sundays. The first time they did that on my watch, it scared me half to death. I was out on the balcony, washing windows, and my back was turned to them. By the time I heard the roar of the engines and turned around, they were right over the top of me, flying in formation, quite low, making my tower shake and the windows rattle. That’ll wake you up.

And at University Bridge, where I work now, I used to be able to see a little bit of their performance on the horizon. But not this day. Their flight plan has been altered. I could hear their engines, but not see them.

Seattle used to close the 520 Bridge for this event, because back in the day drivers would get distracted by the jets and get into accidents, causing a city-wide traffic snarl. (520 is one of the primary east-west arteries for the county.) So they decided to close the bridge instead, which also causes a city-wide traffic snarl. This year, they planned their flight path to avoid having to close that bridge or cause a distraction, which I suppose makes sense, but the Blue Angels still caused a city-wide traffic snarl.

My commute home falls right at the beginning of their scheduled afternoon performance, so, although I would have pulled into my driveway 38 minutes later on a typical Saturday, on this day it took 1 hour and 25 minutes. Not only were there several accidents on the interstate as people tried to take pictures of the jets as they blasted past (heck, I almost rear-ended someone while taking this not-so-good picture below for your viewing pleasure), but then the Department of Transportation, in its chronic shortsightedness, chose to continue their weekend construction work despite the festival, narrowing the highway from five lanes to two, right at the same spot where the jets were flying overhead. This caused the slowed down drivers to slow down even more to take in the spectacle. Can you say clusterf**k?

So, yeah, exciting performance, but the cons are starting to outweigh the pros for me. I’ve written about some of those cons before, in a blog post called What Price Patriotism? In it, I disclose how much it costs the taxpayers to keep these 5 jets in the air, the amount of jet fuel they burn in the average show, causing the carbon footprint from hell, and the noise pollution that terrifies every dog in the city.

That post was written in 2018, so the numbers, if anything, have only grown. But frankly, after a Seafair day on the drawbridge, I’m really too tired to do the research to bring the figures up to date. But if you read that blog post, the 2018 numbers will curl your toes.

The Angels are basically a big PR push to recruit cannon fodder for our military industrial complex. They make the military look fun and exciting, even though their target audience for recruiting is young people from backgrounds that are so impoverished that they see the military as their only ticket out of their situation. Most of those will never get within a mile of these fancy jets, let alone fly them. And these poor kids will quickly discover that much of the time the military is not fun and exciting. In fact, it’s usually pretty darned boring unless you’re being shot at, and then, if you’re injured, you get to spend your life being neglected by the very government you joined up to protect, even as you beg to be cared for by their understaffed and incompetent VA hospitals for illnesses you got on duty which they will refuse to acknowledge.

It can be argued that the Blue Angels allow Americans to feel patriotic. And I’m sure I would have eaten that up with a big ol’ spoon when I was a kid, but the more I learn about the fraud, waste and abuse in the military, the more I see how they have devastated other countries, overthrown democratically elected foreign leaders, caused some of the worst pollution in the world’s history, and have disproportionately placed our nation’s minorities and poor on the front lines, all while holding back the children of most politicians (along with the politicians themselves), it doesn’t feel like patriotism to me. It kind of makes me sick.

Those taxpayer dollars would be put to better use by recruiting teachers for our public schools. They could allow us to have guaranteed health care like every other industrialized nation on the planet. They could fund much needed social services. All these things would make me feel a heck of a lot more patriotic than acrobatic machines that glorify war will ever do.

Since many Seattleites view their performance as a tradition that they’ve enjoyed since 1972, I’m sure this blog post won’t be popular with many of them. But there’s an increasing number of complaints about the noise, and the fact that they fly so low over residential districts. If and when one of them falls out of the sky, as has happened before in other places, it is sure to take out entire neighborhoods.

I have enjoyed their performances more than once, mainly because they couldn’t be avoided. But the environmental impact, the taxpayer expense, the glorification of war, and the potential for major disaster makes me think that my desire to wax nostalgic over my 19 year old butt is not worth the price that we all pay. And, you know, two years without them did not seem to cause the end of the world as we know it. (The pandemic is doing that all on its own.)

Maybe it’s time to move on. Maybe it’s time to get patriotic about doing good, peaceful things that benefit mankind and the planet. Maybe it’s time to appreciate education and compassion for our fellow man. Maybe true patriotism is about not doing stuff like causing an insurrection in the nation’s capital that was ginned up by a president who was a poor looser, a liar, and a power-hungry fascist, whose destruction will be with us for decades.

Stay safe. Get vaccinated. You can enjoy my book while you wait in line. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

8 thoughts on “My Love/Hate Relationship with the Blue Angels

  1. Angiportus Librarysaver says:

    You said it better’n I ever could.
    I by chance was by the runway once when one of those things took off. An amazing spectacle, even if I had to cover my ears. But I really don’t need all that racket, just like the rest of you don’t. They could at least come up with mufflers for them or something. But more than that, what you said about glorifying the military that really seems not all it’s cracked up to be, as you explain. I respect our veterans, but I’m not real keen on the system they came out of–not since WWII.
    I think your bridge and the others of its kind are way more fun to watch, with the added bonus of being quieter. Although I suspect it would be fun to fly one over town, if that was possible…

    1. It definitely would be fun! And it would certainly make for a much shorter commute for me, but a longer one for much of Seattle. I hope I dream about this next time I’m asleep. 🙂

  2. Lyn says:

    Grew up in very large a military family that was affected by much of the negatives you point out. By the time I was a teen I had conflicted feelings about the military and patriotism. All my aunts and uncles were in the military. I suppose they saw enough hypocrisy, up close, that they didn’t encourage us kids to join. Even my recruiter uncle tried to help my brother when he was about to be drafted. There was no glorifying patriotic talk at get togethers and no one berated me when I stopped pledging allegiance, as I felt there was no liberty and justice for all. Still, some are buried in military cemeteries and had military funerals. They were pretty conflicted themselves, especially when the truth came out about the Vietnam war. I now live in a military town and there’s no escaping the negatives of the military system. We’re treated on a regular basis to to the aeronautic noise and pollution and army training explosions. Sometimes it’s bad enough that the news puts out a warning to secure pets and check on your loved ones with heart problems. When they start training for the annual air show, we cover our ears and then hold our breaths, for weeks, anticipating a crash.

    1. Yeah, there’s very little to recommend it anymore. Sorry you have to deal with that, too. And what an interesting/complicated family dynamic.

  3. Lyn says:

    True patriotism isn’t in the words of a pledge you repeatedly recite or in the fabric of the flag you display. It’s in the everyday positive actions you take, that make your community, city, and country safe, equal and inclusive. One doesn’t need to join the military to serve.

    1. I agree completely. Sadly, civic pride and responsibility seems to have fallen by the wayside. Selfishness seems to be the rule of the day, and it’s the source of many of our problems.

  4. Lyn says:

    Barb, thank you for your constant civic service.

    1. I really do try. But there’s so much need out there, it takes all of us. Thanks.

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