My last ground-level experience with Fleet Week in SF occurred a few years ago in a Chinatown dive that happened to be crawling with Navy that night. A friend of mine, fried to the hat and hell-bent on initiating the most ill conceived social experiment I’ve ever witnessed lurched unprovoked from our corner booth and shouted to no one in particular, “What the fuck are you looking at?” Since then I’ve resolved to take a pass on Fleet Week. Of course, it’s hard to avoid the fuss altogether, what with a week’s worth of fighter jets barnstorming downtown like the world’s forgotten what it looks like when an airplane slams into a building, but I do my best. Because I’m a glass is half-full kind of guy I like to look at it as a good excuse to stay indoors and bitch endlessly about the crowds and the noise. And isn’t that, after all, the fundamental pleasure of city living?
Given my take on Fleet Week, it’s strange then that this little drawing would catch my eye:
Not bad when you compare it to its inspiration:
Beyond the simple observational ease of the drawing, there’s a purposefulness in its presentation that I like, as though the inclusion of the badge and the prominent date reflect a conscious effort to mark the occasion of the ship’s stopover in San Francisco during the city’s 1919 Fleet Week celebration. Intrigued, I looked into the story of the USS Arkansas and was surprised by how much history was reflected in the activity of a single ship. Built in New Jersey in 1912, she sailed with the Atlantic Fleet for seven years, serving in the Mexican War and supporting the British Fleet during the tail end of WWI. In 1919 the Arkansas traveled the Panama Canal to join the Pacific Fleet on the West Coast and operated there throughout the 1930’s. During this time she underwent extensive modernization, including alterations to her towers and an increase in armor. In 1941 she was employed in escorting wartime convoys across the Atlantic and was present during the Allied invasion of both Normandy and Southern France. In 1945 she was relocated back to the Pacific where she was charged with supporting battles on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Finally, after being declared unfit for service in 1946, the Arkansas was used as a target in atomic bomb tests and now rests on the bottom near Bikini Atoll.
While it might not be enough to change my feelings about next year’s Fleet Week, it’s amazing that a small drawing can salvage such a big ship.