Blue Angels, Broken Eardrums

Another Fleet Week has come and gone in San Francisco. Was it an intrusive distraction or a welcome reminder of our country's military might?

We know what you did last weekend: You grabbed the kids, threw a picnic basket in the back seat, and headed on down to the waterfront for Fleet Week! You couldn't miss the event around town — the Blue Angels were rollin' and tumblin' in the skies overhead; traffic was clogged all along the Embarcadero as U.S. Navy ships paraded and docked for tour groups; and groups of sailors disembarked to have a good time in North Beach. Amid the roar of engines and the unfurling of masts, Fleet Week stirs up conflicting emotions in many San Francisco residents, who are unused to such overt displays of military might in the City by the Bay. But for every person who complains about the thunderous roar of the Blue Angels, there's another who appreciates the chance to climb on deck and get an up-close look at a turret. Are you an apologist for Fleet Week? Take our quiz and find out!

1) San Francisco has held an annual Fleet Week since 1981, and this year more than 9,000 crew members arrived in the Bay Area on visiting ships. The combined forces of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard were expected to attract 1 million spectators to the waterfront. What, historically, does Fleet Week mean to you?

A) Usually, it means waking up on a sidewalk in the Castro wearing someone else's pants. But maybe that's just me.

B) It's a chance to climb up on the roof and look at the sky. (Bonus point for adding: “Sober!”)

C) To me, Fleet Week represents America. If everyone were on steroids.

2) The Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy's aerial demonstration team, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, entertaining spectators with high-speed passes, fast rolls, and tight turns, flying just under the speed of sound. What do you think when you see or hear the Blue Angels F/A-18s flying overhead?

A) “Honestly, do they really need to practice on a Thursday morning? We're trying to have a meeting here.”

B) I can't help but wonder: “What happens when one of those things crashes into a major American city and someone has to explain why?”

C) I think about patriotism, I think about my forefathers, I think about the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. Mostly, I think about Top Gun.

3) The San Francisco Chronicle's Henry K. Lee rode along with the Blue Angels (at 7 G's and 761 mph) and wrote a story about his experience. Which one of the following lines from his article makes you feel the most as if you were right there alongside him in the cockpit?

A) “It's not your basic Southwest departure.”

B) “When this fly-along was set up earlier this year, I joined the gym, started doing yoga, headstands, ab exercises with a medicine ball … ”

C) “Me, I was drenched afterward.”

4) Many San Francisco residents were troubled by the noise and vibration caused by the Blue Angels this year, and some have lodged complaints with City Hall. Do you find the roar of the planes' engines a distraction or an inspiration?

A) It's terrible, even louder than that Rolling Stones concert last year. (Bonus point for adding: “Fine, I'll admit it: I live in Bernal Heights, and I just don't care for that heavy metal music.”)

B) Well, since I'm sure the U.S. Navy will come around this week to clean up all the urine and excrement my dog felt inspired to leave behind during the Blue Angels' performance, I have no problem with it.

C) An inspiration. You can't put a decibel limit on patriotism.

5) The Red Bull Air Race — a worldwide competition whose only American leg is held in San Francisco — also returned to Fleet Week; in it, stunt pilots flew at speeds up to 230 mph against the backdrop of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. What did you think of the event?

A) Dizzying, nauseating, made me feel like I had vertigo … your basic Saturday morning in the Marina.

B) Let's just hope the pilots laid off the Red Bull before climbing into the cockpit.

C) Hey, any event at which we can get free Red Bull into the hands of unsuspecting children says “Ain't that America?” to me.

6) In conjunction with Fleet Week, the Mayor's Office of Emergency Services organized a Community Disaster Preparedness Faire, held at the Marina Green, to give equipment displays and demonstrations to residents. Did you find the event in keeping with the rest of the weekend's activities?

A) You know, instead of adding the “e” on the end of “Fair,” emergency officials could capture the Renaissance demographic by dressing up in bodices and tunics. Just a suggestion.

B) It was great! There's nothing I like better when I'm watching Navy planes appear to miss each other by inches — directly above San Francisco — than a reminder that the Big One is right around the corner.

C) Honestly, I thought it was a drag. Fleet Week's not about earthquakes or fires … it's about our military's ability to fight earthquakes and fires with planes and ships. And win.

7) Given San Francisco's storied anti-war past and present — Market Street hosted a traffic-stopping rally against the war in Iraq last week on the same day the Blue Angels flew their practice sessions — do you find it at all incongruous that the city should be so enthusiastic about Fleet Week?

A) Look, it's not like Fleet Week is any kind of recruiting tool for the military or anything. Hey, wait a minute …

B) Not at all. My bumper sticker says: “Support the troops (especially the ones who do stunts in cool planes, because they're not killing anybody).”

C) Oh, please. When have you ever heard me say something bad about a man in uniform?

How to score:

Score zero points for every “A” answer, one point for every “B,” and two points for every “C.”

0-6 points: Yes, you can reuse your sailor outfit for Halloween in the Castro. But wash it first.

7-10 points: No, seriously, the fleet's really in. I mean it this time.

11-14 points: Congratulations! You're a true apologist for Fleet Week. Now get back home to Pinole.

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