For Valentine’s Day, we spent a romantic afternoon deep in the bowels of America’s war machines.
We started what was supposed to be a 4.5-hour road trip to Charleston stuck behind school buses and traffic after dropping the kids off with grandma for the weekend. It was then that I spilled the beans as to where we were going– Patriots Point, South Carolina.
It’s an odd destination for a Valentine’s Day getaway, to be sure, but she really loves submarines and had never seen one up close. It was my goal to rectify that.
The traffic was so bad that I was starting to worry we wouldn’t make it there on time, but Waze held true to its time estimate, and once we got on I-85 we had somewhat smoother sailing.
We arrived in Charleston late on Friday evening. It was impressive to behold, driving across the Ravenel Bridge at night and seeing the lights dotting the flat coastal landscape around us.
Super Red Roof Inn Plus+ Turbo
For this visit I had us booked at the Mount Pleasant Red Roof Inn Plus+. Red Roof Inn has taken its marketing cues from the 1990s school of nomenclature– why not just call it Red Roof Inn Plus? Why the additional “+”? And why are certain rooms marketed as “Next Gen?” Is this a hotel or the latest iteration in the Street Fighter franchise?
However they choose to sell it, the hotel was very nice, very clean and very close to Patriots Point. Most of the fixtures had been upgraded to a more modern style but the bathroom still had the look of a late-2000s extended-stay joint. We had to request toothpaste from the front desk and they did not stock deodorant samples (we had forgotten to pack both; I’m a terrible planner).
I slept through it but that night our loud and boisterous neighbors had a conversation that went something along the lines of:
“No, don’t go!”
“No, you can’t go! You’re not safe to drive!”
“Well, if you’re going to go out, bring me back some salsa.”
The next morning we went out for breakfast at the Charleston Cafe. There was a bit of a wait but we burned through it driving back and forth over the Ravenel looking for someplace with less of a wait. We were unsuccessful but when we returned to the Charleston Cafe in shame, at least we were seated immediately.
I ordered eggs, biscuits and “chippers” (home-made potato chips) with a waffle, and she ordered a Mexican omelet with pancakes. The eggs were great, as was the waffle. At first I wasn’t sure what to think about the chippers, as they were served a little bit soggy. By the time I revisited them at the end of the meal they had cooled and crisped into a more recognizable potato chip consistency.
All in all the food was delicious. We highly recommend grabbing breakfast there!
Finally, we headed out to see what we had come for.
Patriots Point has three vessels on exhibit– the submarine USS Clamagore, the destroyer USS Laffey, and aircraft carrier USS Yorktown.
The corridors were incredibly cramped, as might be expected of a submarine. The submarine was designed to house 80 personnel at a time, which seemed ridiculous given the space but the Navy makes it work. Bunks were everywhere, including above the torpedo tubes. Seamen are expected to sleep in shifts, and to do so just about anywhere. Not an inch of space was wasted.
All around us snaked more wires, tubes, and pipes than we could conceive functions for, and that was only on the main deck. I always hated crawling around under peoples’ desks to fix their computers and untangle the mess of wiring that was sure to be found. I couldn’t imagine trying to do diagnostics and troubleshooting of this mess while also suffering torpedo damage.
There were areas that were off-limits so we couldn’t see the full extent of it, but what we saw was enough to evoke pity for the crews who lived on these things.
Plenty of opportunities abound for a distracted seaman to lose a finger or two. This belt on the ceiling could probably also snag hair while in operation. I believe this was in the torpedo room.
I don’t think we’d ever seen so much steel in our lives. It’s crazy to think that when these things get scuttled, all of this steel just ends up at the bottom of the ocean. So much work had to go into mining it, refining it, and molding it into something like this, only for it to get destroyed and left unusable and unrecoverable on the sea floor.
I think I understand the war economy a little better now. A lot of jobs are created to those ends…
Submarines are so claustrophobic. To put it in perspective, the corridors are so tight, the exhibit is a one-way path since there is not sufficient space for people to pass each other going opposite directions.
The USS Laffey was a welcome change of space. Boarding from the rear, one can sit through some kind of theatrical demonstration in the rear turret but we skipped it since there were a ton of Boy Scouts in line ahead of us. So we carried on.
With the Laffey being a gunship, there was not much to see within its tight corridors. There were some floors we probably missed.
The USS Yorktown was cavernous by comparison. The wide berths and tall ceilings of the hangar were unbelievable in terms of scale, and this one was relatively small as far as aircraft carriers go. Up on deck, it was windy as all hell and the biting cold chased us back inside before long.
Both below and above-deck were many planes on display but I don’t know enough about airplanes to say anything useful about them. They did have one in the hangar that you can climb up and into for the sake of taking pictures (not pictured here); I’m under the impression there aren’t too many military museums that will let you do this.
We’ve heard some horror stories about the occupational accidents that happen on aircraft carriers. A guy had his leg torn off when the steel cable that catches incoming planes and helps tether them to the ground, snapped and lashed in his direction.
Some documents containing official orders were displayed throughout the bridge. I don’t think any of them were historically significant in and of themselves; most documented general day-to-day stuff, but we thought the directive calling for “no more sunbathing on the flight deck until we reach safer waters” was amusing.
We took some time to explore the lower decks as well. It was interesting to see how sailors live on these things, and also what these ships were outfitted with while in service.
For example, this is part of the primitive “computer” that functioned onboard the ship. The room that housed it was the size of a 2-car garage and every inch of it contained analog computer.
Just the same, the cafeteria itself certainly did not seem like it would seat very many people at once. The USS Clamagore had separate officer/enlisted galleys and eating areas, so in the spirit of avoiding fraternization we suspect there were other facilities elsewhere in the ship.
The medical facilities were ghastly. Basically a small closet with some ominous-looking pickle jars and a metal examination table the size of an ironing board, one must have hoped they did not get sick at sea. It is our understanding that the Navy throws opiates at seamen as treatment for any ailment, so there are a lot of sailors who bring home Vicodin addictions after lengthy tours at sea.
One supposes there are always worse things to bring home after a lengthy tour at sea.
The ready room, accessible from the hangar via some stairs. It was interesting in that beyond this room was the only escalator we’d seen on the ship. While military facilities are hardly the place to expect accommodations for the handicapped, it was jarring to see something like this, since pilots preparing to depart would most likely be suited up in flight suits and/or carrying heavy gear, hence an escalator to help them on their way.
You name it, it was metal. Perhaps it was a sign of the times, or perhaps it was the mentality of a man who painted steel for a living. Either way the basement was so industrially-outfitted there was nothing childhood me could have broken, except my own organic matter. What I remember most is how ugly-yet-indestructible all of his furnishings were. So many parts of our basement looked like the interiors of these ships. As testament to its indestructibility, if vehicular crash test data from that era is to be believed– cars of his time killed their occupants during crashes because they were too tough, leaving the occupants’ bodies to absorb the full force of the crash.
While things back then weren’t necessarily better (lead, asbestos, smoking and x-rays come to mind), looking around at the construction of this ship lends credence to older generations’ pining for the days where everything they bought was paid for in cash and built to withstand heavy ordnance. Nowadays we amortize our purchases of overpriced, fragile plastic electronics on credit over decades or more, and have nothing to show for it in the end besides another cracked LCD.
Speaking of industry, this is what a torpedo workshop looks like.
We decided to catch a movie while we still had some time to ourselves, a movie theater and were pleased to see it was one of the ones selected to screen “The Imitation Game” during its limited release. The movie was a lot of fun and was a fitting end to a very World War II-themed day.
I had planned dinner at Basil Thai but neglected to make a reservation because reservations are for plebs.
We did not get in to Basil that evening.
We ended up leaving Charleston earlier than expected and feasted on Taco Bell on the drive out.
Having gotten a “Winter Weather Warning” from Weatherbug, we tried to get back home before it hit. We were unsuccessful.
The next 5 hours were spent trying to keep the car on-course despite the blasting wind, which ultimately resulted in a descent into a sandstorm as thick as curtains, a strong smell of burning rubber, a lot of Monster drinks and the smooth, sexy sound of Dan Zupansky’s true crime reporting.
We made it home by 3am.
Happy Valentine’s Day weekend, my love!