That Santee has its own nuclear deterrent force is well known to anyone who drives that road and casts his or her eye south. It's an older rocket, an Atlas, the launch vehicle for the Mercury spacecraft. This nation once had hundreds of them pointed at the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This one sticks up far above the surrounding landscape instead of being buried in an underground silo, but its message is still clear—don't screw with Santee.
I had nearly forgotten I was supposed to get my car fixed because it wasn't really broken. The last time I bought tires some hard-working tire-changing person had screwed one of my lug nuts on practically sideways, which went unnoticed by me until that tire went flat. Then, while changing it, which I was doing, even though I had AAA and they would have come out and changed it for me, because I regard any able-bodied man who calls AAA to change a tire for him a complete wuss, I demonstrated my prowess at the tire changing process by using the lug nut wrench to break that lug nut clean off.
I took the tire back to the place I had bought it to get it fixed. Not only did they do that for free, they openly acknowledged that the broken lug nut was their fault. This surprised me, because in my experience only physicians take less responsibility for their mistakes than people in the auto repair field. Mechanics and doctors generally just shrug if what they try doesn't work and just charge you for another part or another operation. I half expected the tire shop to accuse me of putting the lug nut on wrong myself, or having another tire shop do it for me, as if randomly screwing on lug nuts wrong was the main preoccupation of my days, to get out of repairing it without charging me.
But no. The tire shop wouldn't fix the lug nut bolt themselves, though. Although they would pay for it, I would have to see a specialist. I had to make an appointment. Since the car was running smoothly, I had loaded the dog into it and we were driving away for a hike in the park when all of a sudden I remembered I was supposed to be getting the car fixed.
I had neither Mapquest nor GPS available to me. I only had a map on the back of the lug bolt fixing shop's business card to guide me. It wasn't the greatest map I had ever worked with, and it turned out the street sign I was looking for was only visible if you approached it from one direction, which wasn't the direction I was coming from, so I had gone more ways than Donald Trump's hair when I finally arrived at the shop, twenty minutes late.
The Atlas was right at the end of the street. "Why didn't you just put DRIVE TOWARDS THE ROCKET on your card instead of this stupid map?" was what I was tempted to say, but since they hadn't actually fixed the car and not charged me yet, I handed over my car keys without offering any criticism and said to my Chihuahua "Come on, Cujo. I know you've never wizzed on a nuclear weapon before," and walked him down the street towards the ICBM.
It turned out there was much, much more than a missile there. It was a the spare parts outpost of the San Diego Air and Space Museum, which keeps its shiny, cleaned-up, give us $18 bucks to get in version in Balboa Park, near downtown. In Santee, there's no charge, or even gate, and your dog is welcome, or at least there's no one there who objects to you bringing him. And there are treasures there. There's a whole line of mothballed fighter jets, American ones from the Sabres of the Korean war to anF-102 from the Vietnam era to a Tomcat right out of Top Gun, plus a tiny Soviet-era fighter made in Hungary, all real warplanes I had made smudgy, gray plastic models of and had mock dogfights with in my youth. Except for the Hungarian one. Patriotism kept me from making models of Soviet bloc equipment.
There was the plane pictured above, a craft the Blue Angels, maybe the original ones, flew, barely bigger than an overpaid CEO's desk, in which some long-dead pilot had barrel-rolled in the skies of the nineteen-thirties. There was an experimental craft that apparently was launched straight upwards, in imitation of the ICBM out front, and a gigantic model of the Spruce Goose.
All of these relics humbled me. It made me realize that even today, even as I word process this, bright and able people are building new machines that will take us faster and further than we've ever been before, and brave people will step forward to pilot them.
It just looks like we all do nothing but play on our cell phones.