Last week, Maureen and I had a marvelous adventure, not far away, just up the road in Long Beach.
For three years, I’ve traveled to Long Beach for Pacific Tugboat Service. The route is 120 miles one-way but a grind. Until last September, I had an out. My friend, Alan Hicks was a geographic bachelor with an apartment in downtown Long Beach. I would arrive in mid-afternoon for a round of golf at the Long Beach “Little Rec 9.” Afterwards, we had dinner at a nice restaurant. Our favorite and most visited was the Whale and Ale, a true British pub in downtown San Pedro. I would sleep on his sofa and the next morning conduct my training and head home.
But Alan retired nine months ago. Subsequently, my trips became grueling one-day round trippers wallowing through the nightmare of Los Angeles commuting.
So I cooked up and executed my scheme. Maureen and I left Bonita mid-day last Tuesday to play golf at the “Little Rec 9,” an executive course affordable to all comers in perfect weather with a father and son who were both learning the game.
The course is surrounded by older, well-kept homes and the Colorado Lagoon, an estuary being cleaned up for neighborhood access. The Long Beach Recreation Center reminds me of Baird Park in Lebanon. In this recreational area, Long Beach State plays at Blair Field, a great venue for baseball. Across the street is Joe Rodgers Field, a fast-pitch softball complex. The park includes another golf course, an 18-hole layout; walking and biking paths; and picnic areas. Our golf was a relaxing two hours.
Afterwards, we drove through downtown Long Beach on streets where the Gran Prix had been raced the past Sunday. Tire marks and barricades made me feel like I was in the race. We crossed the bridge to our destination: the “RMS Queen Mary.”
The “Queen Mary” served elegantly as the premier cruise liner between Europe and New York from 1936 through 1967 except for WWII where she was modified to be a troop carrier. When she was retired, she became an attraction in the Long Beach harbor alongside the “Spruce Goose,” Howard Hughes’ failed investment for a WWII transport plane that flew once. The Goose is now in a museum in McMinnville, Ore.
The Queen Mary remains, although the downtown Long Beach she gazes upon from her berth on the quay across Queensway Bay has changed greatly. I first saw her when stationed aboard the “U.S.S. Hollister” in 1973. The “Spruce Goose” was still there and perhaps a bigger attraction than this lovely lady. Downtown Long Beach had fallen into disrepair. The elegant hotels were on the downslide. Downtown was more of a sailor’s town with bars, x-rated movie theaters, and, I suspect, some red lights not traffic related. But now, the downtown is a bustling, bona fide tourist and business center with diverse attractions and restaurants.
Our original plans had been to dine at Alan’s and my favorite Whale and Ale, two bridges away in the town where I lived in Navy housing 40 years ago. But the trip and the golf dictated we didn’t need to be wandering around.
After checking in, we cleaned up and walked up from our berthing area to the promenade deck, a deck below the ship’s bridge, and forward to the Observatory Bar. Originally a first-class lounge, the bar is pretty much the same as it was in the ship’s sailing heyday. We sat a table for two at a large porthole looking past the masts to downtown. The Ferris wheel, a feature of the waterfront since the early 1900s, was the highlight of the light show the city gave us.
We ordered drinks and an hors d’ oeuvre, then sipped and nibbled in a forgotten elegance. The old mariner in me tried to conjure up what it would have been like crossing the North Atlantic in turbulent seas as a first class passenger, nursing a martini as the spume of the sea crashed over the deck below.
Although Maureen was not so enthralled, I could have spent several days on self-guided tours. The ship is as close to living maritime history as one could get.
The experience induced my sea dreams, but a steak at Cherokee looking out on Old Hickory Lake seems just as good.
Jim Jewell, a retired Navy commander lives in San Diego but was raised in Lebanon. His book, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems, is now available through Author House, Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. Jim’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.