Forty Freakin Years Ago

As the days, weeks and time itself slides by, I am slowly coming to the realization that I’m now a borderline “old folk,” otherwise known as “a senior-in-training.” I very likely have more life experience behind me now than I have in front of me.

That’s perfectly okay. I don’t miss doing the things I did when I was in my twenties, that was for then and I confess I haven’t the energy anymore. Now things are different, and I approach things differently, with hopefully a lot more wisdom and patience than I had back then.

At my old blog I wrote about a guy who’d disappeared into the ether of my personal history, a guy that I probably drove absolutely nuts on board the US Navy ship I called home for a bit over three and a half years, First Class Boatswain’s Mate Powledge.

A former shipmate had friended me on Facebook and sent me the pic below. That’s him. Tough as nails and not to be messed with! Powledge, who I will always know as “BM-1,” was my division supervisor, and, well, I’ll put it this way… when I first saw the photo I commented to my sailor pal, “Thanks a lot Jeff, after seeing that pic I ran and hid for about a half-hour!”

Old habits die hard.

BM-1 Powledge, circa 1979

But this post isn’t necessarily about my shipboard past, or BM-1 himself. It’s more about connecting, and today’s social media.

This is because after I posted about BM-1 Powledge on my former blog (you can read that post HERE), guess who popped up? YEAH, FORTY FREAKIN’ YEARS LATER.

It turns out he’s quite a nice fella (never let on to that back in our day, but he had to be tough to keep us hooligans in line). Just had his 69th birthday, so he’s nine years my senior and had been in the Navy for a few hitches by the time I came along as a fresh, green kid in 1979.

I won’t publish his current Facebook photo because I haven’t asked his permission, but 40 years of life has melted the jet-black mustache away, and a bushy grey beard has replaced it, along with a road-map of life’s twists and turns now visible on his face, much like I’m starting to get.

It’s kind of funny how our life history tends to get written on our mugs as we slip toward that twilight. Reminds me of a 1981 TV movie with Henry Fonda and Myrna Loy, called “Summer Soltice.” They played a couple of older folks reminiscing about their lives together when he tenderly caresses her face in one scene and says, “This is the face I love.” She replies, “Phht, full of wrinkles now!”

Without missing a beat he says, “Well I put most of those wrinkles there, so let me enjoy them.”

I kind of wonder if BM-1 has a wrinkle or a few grey hairs that are solely the work of his 1st Division crew on the USS Fanning ages ago. I’d like to take at least a little credit for that!

This Earth we all inhabit has always been somewhat of a small world, but the population has exploded in recent centuries, making it the same size geographically but a helluva lot bigger human-wise.

But along comes social media and alla-sudden it seems small again, when I can say something about a human connection from 40 years ago, only to have said human pop-up suddenly as a result, tilting his hat and saying,”Howdy!” after all these years (BM-1 is a true-blue Texan).

He’s certainly not the only one either, since I found and joined a closed Facebook group that consists only of former shipmates from that same vessel. The only requirement for that group is to have served on that ship at some point during it’s useful service; it was commissioned in the early seventies and lasted until being sold off to Turkey in 1994. They scrapped it about five years later *sniff*

The USS Fanning, dockside at San Francisco’s Hunters Point Shipyard when I first arrived in 1979 / photo by Ted Bannister

Ergo, I don’t know a lot of the guys on the group since we were aboard at different times, but I’ve reconnected with some I knew back then, and man, IT’S REALLY WEIRD. Why? Well, one of them served as Executive Officer at the time, and now he’s long since retired and wants me to call him “Hugh,” which makes sense because that’s his name, but it’s hard to get my head around.

This is because he WAY outranked me back then (along with BM-1), and if he walked by, I was required to salute and say, “Good Morning, Sir” or “…Commander.”

I would have been chewed out by BM-1 and assigned to clean toilets without any implements of cleaning if I called the guy “Hugh” back in the day.

So it’s quite strange to connect with these guys as we’ve all had different life paths over the years and haven’t kept up with each other, then suddenly here we are, calling each other by first names and finding out that we’re all just a bunch of humans doing the best we can as we cling madly to this spinning ball of water and dirt we call Earth.

I’ve sadly found that two of the three captains I served under during my time aboard are now deceased. I wrote about one of them — Commander Dalton — in a recent post describing how much he didn’t care for the band “Pink Floyd,” which was evident when the US Navy used a song from that band in a sonic test we were involved in around 1980 or so.

Once in a while, social media has nothing to do with “small-world” encounters, which I’ve had occur naturally a handful of times over the years. One of my favorites isn’t from my days on that particular ship, but just slightly earlier than that, from Navy basic training, aka “Boot Camp.”

These days I’m a tour guide in San Francisco. Our company runs a shuttle up to Muir Woods so that guests can wander up among the giant redwoods on the coast of Marin County. That’s a different gig than what I do; I host SF city tours on a tour bus that hits all the San Francisco landmarks.

“And that would be The Golden Gate Bridge, which isn’t gold at all…”

A couple of years ago the driver for the Muir Woods run had to have surgery, so he was out of commission for a couple of weeks. They approached me to host the Muir Woods tour but they’d contracted a shuttle driver, so in other words, the guy they were renting wasn’t required to give a tour, he was only there to drive. I’m not licensed to drive that type of shuttle, so I’d just sit beside him and would give the tour.

On the first day, I’d caught our regular bus out to Sausalito and then met the driver down at a bus loading area. We were going to do four runs to Muir Woods that day, just going back and forth with a lunch break in the middle of it.

This particular driver was a Filipino guy named Jimmy, who was around the same age I was.

On our lunch break after the first two runs, we were sitting on the shuttle with about a half-hour to kill before the next batch of guests arrived. Jimmy said, “I heard you tell the guests you were in the Navy, when was that?”

I answered, “1978 through ’82.”

“Me too,’ he said. “where did you go to basic? (Boot Camp)

“San Diego NTC.” (Naval Training Center)

“Hey, me too. What company were you in?”

“210,” I said. “The fall of 1978, we graduated around November of that year.”

“ME TOO!” he said. He stubbed out his cigarette and gave me a strange look. Keep in mind I hadn’t told him my last name, we only go by first names in the service/tourism industry for privacy reasons.”

“…uh, RHODES?”

Suddenly he looked familiar, but 40 years removed, so I had to picture a skinny little Filipino kid. “Damn… JIMMY?”

At that point we remembered each other and had a good laugh. In a basic training company of about 32 guys, here we were, 40 years later and 600 miles North of San Diego, taking tourists up to Muir Woods and back, and Facebook didn’t have a damned thing to do with it.

In an odd twist, we didn’t Facebook friend that day or anything, so that was it. Haven’t seen him since.

I guess I’m just pointing out what a marvel it is to connect with people one hasn’t seen in decades on today’s social media, no matter how you feel about platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and some of their political and social decisions that aren’t so popular and cause a lot of users to just throw in the towel and give it all up.

Of course, there’s also the addictive nature of it all, as I see while riding a city bus here in San Francisco and just about everyone aboard has their face glued to a phone screen, including me.

Frankly, I remember the 1980s when we didn’t have any of this, and I much prefer what we have today. I think cautious moderation is the right approach to using this stuff, at least for me. The rewards are astounding, and I’ve only just now stopped hiding whenever BM-1 sends me a friendly message.

As for “Hugh?” Yeah, I’m going to have to stick with “Commander Doyle,” it’s in my blood.


“The Lone Sailor” monument at the North Vista Point of The Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County / Photo by DW Rhodes.

Any ‘small-world’ stories of your own? Ever run into someone from years ago and miles away? Tell us in the comments below.

4 Comments on “Forty Freakin Years Ago

  1. This is a Great Read ,I like you could never call one of my former Officers by their 1st name ,Like you said its in my Blood ,and my friend you can share my photo anytime you want I am very proud of those gray hairs and wrinckles

    • Hey ‘Boats,’ thanks for the kind remarks, it’s nice to see you on here after all these years. The only gray I have is in my little beardy thing on my chin, but so far it’s left my hair alone, but that’s going away. No wrinkles either, yet, but I’m working on it.

      Nice to know you’re relatively happy, healthy and married to a great lady for a bunch of years now. Me too.

      Stick around 🙂

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