Ninety feet. Just 90 miserable stinking unprintable feet – that’s all I need! I glance again at the scoreboard – still tied 3 and 3. One away and the bottom of the ninth – count, two balls, one strike. My gaze anxiously sweeps around – teammates on first and second – and here I am at third – ninety feet from a win. I look longingly toward the plate, just get some contact – get it in play – but, no, no, no – don’t hit into a double play. Just ninety feet.
Damn! The ball is lined low right at their shortstop and – IT GOT PAST HIM! Run you damn fool! Run! Ninety feet! Run!
My sole focus is that little white pentagon on the ground. I don’t look, don’t turn my head to see where the ball ended up – but I can see the catcher, I can read his posture, read his mind. Left field trapped the ball – and it’s flying for home – catcher’s got his mitt up – ready for the throw in. Gonna be close. Run Fool Run!
The world has closed in – all I see is that little island of white safety in the dirt below the catcher’s feet. Run! Close – time to get some air – time to get horizontal – time to get down – time to get my hand out – stretch, stretch, stretch!
I’m racing a five ounce sphere of cork and leather that’s a lot faster than me. It’s behind me, but catching up rapidly. Slide! Above me, I hear the thunk of the ball smacking the catcher’s mitt – but it’s too late – my hand is already on the plate – I’ve reached Home!
When the warship reaches home
When you book a cruise, you miss one of the best parts of ocean travel. At night, the floating resorts are lit up brighter than the Las Vegas strip. But on a warship, you travel “dark ship” – sometimes even the red, green, and white navigational lights are off if there are unfriendlies around. The night is dark! Darker than anything you’ll find on land. The US western mountains have some dark skies, but mid-ocean is about as dark of a place as you’ll find on this planet.
We were still a long way out – no moon, no lights on the horizon, nothing but the multitude of the Milky Way’s stars shining above us. I stepped out from the bridge – away from the low red illumination that didn’t destroy your night vision. Mid ship, I pressed back against the bulkhead and leaned back to stare up into the magnificence of the universe spread before me. Vaguely I could make out the ship’s superstructure from where the stars were blocked out. High above me, many feet above the waterline, I was similarly aware of the slow sweep of the massive air search radar dish, it’s electronic beam searching out hundreds of miles in the darkness.
Around the corner, I heard movement, then the flick of a lighter, then saw the brief flare of a cigarette being lit. The red glowing coal joined me to look up at the stars. I asked, “Anything happening?”
It was too dark to see anything, but I could hear the grin in his voice, “CIC (Combat Information Center) just picked up the top of Mauna Kea on the air search radar.”
Mauna Kea – 13,796 feet tall – highest point in Hawaii. The exposed tip of the tallest mountain on Earth if you measure from its base so far below the ocean. It’s on the big island of Hawaii – still a long way from Oahu – a long way from Pearl Harbor. But it meant the end of our voyage was almost in reach – we were coming Home!
The runway home
We were flying along the edge of a front sweeping in from the west. The rain had been mostly continuous. Dave and I had been keeping a close eye on the radar – and checking frequently with Center as to what they were seeing and asking them for pilot reports. We didn’t want to run into an embedded thunderstorm cell in the rain and dark.
We began our decent. Our boss, the guy that paid for the jet fuel, came forward and looked over our shoulders. “Think we’ll make it?”
“It’s kind of iffy, sir. Tulsa’s right at minimums.” I pointed at the radar, “And that squall line is coming like a freight train. Gonna be a matter of who gets there first. Might have to divert to get fuel. We don’t have enough to hang around waiting very long.”
Center vectored us around for an approach to Runway 36R, then handed us off to the tower. We picked up the ILS (Instrument Landing System) and started our final descent. The rain was like flying into a fire hose. Nothing in sight in any direction.
OK, keep everything centered and lined up. Watch the sink rate – watch for downdrafts. Get the gear down, flaps set, be ready to land – but be even more ready for a missed approach – don’t get behind the power curve.
“Dave, how far ahead of us are the thunderstorms?”
“Gonna be close.”
Down – down – runway close enough to taste it, but not a light in sight. Altimeter winding down – almost there – Decision Height coming up – two hundred feet above the runway – the point where you land or shove everything to the firewall.
Picking up some wind from the gust front – bouncing around – trying to keep everything centered. Still no runway lights, but the thunderstorm was putting on a diffused light show not far from the other end of the runway.
Moment of truth. “Decision Height! Got anything, Dave?”
“No, I don’t see – Hold it! I got the Rabbits!”
I look up from the instruments for the first time and there were the “Running Rabbits” in front of me – ALS, Approach Lighting System – a combination of lightbars and sequentially flashing strobe lights to lead you to the runway.
Still bouncing, coming in a little hot because of it. Rain still hitting like a tsunami. Little back pressure – and – and – touchdown! Wet runway – hit the spoilers, dump the lift – light braking, anti-locks do your thing – hit the thrust reversers.
The thunderstorm slammed in like a sledge hammer just as we pulled onto the ramp, but to hell with that – we were Home!
Everyone understands “home”
Birds have nests, ants have mounds, foxes have dens, and we humans have our upholstered caves that we call home. If we ever encounter aliens from the stars, the differences between us and them are likely to be incalculable. But I hope they will understand the concept of “Home.”
Yes, Dorothy – There’s no place like home.