Parking at the Speed of Sound


Parking at the Speed of Sound

Whenever I think I’ve seen it all, I’m proven wrong. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes it’s bad. Of course, I am arrogant to think my experience is so complete, but I have reached a stage in my life where cynicism is the rule, not the exception. My children are good therapy for my battle-scarred attitude, so there is hope that my outlook will one day return to the sunny side.
Several Sundays ago found me at March Air Reserve Base, formerly known as March Air Force Base, near Riverside, CA, for the 2010 March Field AirFest – “Thunder Over the Empire.” I won’t deny my fascination with jets any sooner than I’ll deny I used to watch “Star Trek” (the first two generations).
I grew up near March Field, where sonic booms were a familiar sound, where we were occasionally lucky enough to be passing by when something exciting, like a VTOL – a vertical take-off and landing aircraft – was in testing, and where, during the Reagan years, Air Force One was regularly in residence.
It was always very exciting.
Our military is a part of our country’s infrastructure that takes a lot of abuse. Some people question the need for its existence. Others disparage its reported disorganization, redundancies and outdated policies. And still others wear their yellow ribbons and wave their little flags with tears in their eyes.
I’m not part of any of those groups. I like jets and so does my husband, so we took the children and got a real taste for what the military, the Air Force, specifically, is all about.
We saw maneuvers by an F-22 Raptor, an F-18 Hornet, an F-15 Strike Eagle and a C-17 Globemaster, and a performance by the Patriots Jet Team. The jets were unbelievable, and hours later my brain was still rattling and my ears still ringing from the sound of their incredible thrust. The Patriots’ practiced “near misses” gave me heart palpitations, and I will never forget the empty C-17’s 60-degree take-off.
When you have 6.4 square miles at your disposal, parking shouldn’t be a problem. But who knew what to expect at an event put on for civilians by a branch of the military. It could go either way. Happily, we found the event to be well-run and enjoyable – not in the least because parking went smoothly on entry and exit.
Thousands of vehicles, with thousands of people, poured into the facility. Parking was offered in every possible nook and cranny, with officers directing at every corner and intersection.
What impressed me the most was the way the process of moving traffic into and out of the base was so orderly. They wanted us to find parking as quickly as we could and get to the show. Every lot was marked, every restricted area blocked with traffic cones, every car waved toward the closest available parking spot.
All this from an organization that does not specialize in parking, that on any other day would do everything it could to prevent our infiltration of its facility, that conducts an event of this magnitude on its turf only once a year. I never expected the degree of proficiency we experienced.
At best, I was prepared to spend half the day looking for parking and finding my way out of the labyrinth at the end. But our departure was almost easier than our arrival. After the last flyby, we dragged ourselves and our children back to our car, and were conducted calmly out of the lot onto a surface road and then directly to the freeway.
Sure, we had to snake through the base’s inroads and walk a moderate distance from our car to the air show, but it was a reasonable effort for the size of the event. We expected hot dogs, we expected spectacular stunts (which were actually more spectacular than we expected), and we expected to be impressed by the jet-fueled power in the hands of the Air Force, but we did not expect parking to go smoothly.
Maybe I am getting this all wrong, and all the sordid stories are true. But I was surprised by the competence, professionalism and goodwill I observed. Not a day goes by that I do not see a “War is Not the Answer” or “Peace” or “Bring Our Troops Home” bumper sticker on some yahoo’s car. And I agree with their sentiments but not their sweeping generalizations.
Yes, peace is absolutely the answer, but is peace actually part of human genetic coding? And when something bad happens to helpless people in other countries, just about everyone says someone should do something about it. Often, that someone is the United States armed forces.
I am not well-informed on the workings of our military and the global politics that prompt its deployments, but like it or not, the armed forces are part of what makes our country what it is. I might not be a weeping flag-waver, but I think they deserve some respect.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is PT’s amateur parker and proofreader. She can be reached at

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Melissa Bean Sterzick
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