Last week, I was in Las Vegas for a business trip. While I was there, I decided to take a day trip to Tustin, CA, where I was stationed during my enlistment in the Marine Corps. The base, MCAS Tustin, was closed in the 1990s, and has slowly been dismantled and converted to civilian use over the last two decades or so. My visit was designed to be a trip down memory lane, to see what little was left of the base before it disappears entirely.
I've got to start by saying that California is a lot less green than I remembered it. I expected to see palm trees lining the streets, like it was when I was stationed there. Instead, I was greeted by the gray of the freeways and the uniform terra cotta of the buildings. I also didn't miss the traffic, alternating between the crawling pace of overloaded roads and the speed of people trying to make up for lost time when traffic thinned out. Having had several years of experience with California traffic, it didn't bother me per se, but I found myself missing the ability to appreciate the scenery like I can do at home.
When I arrived in Tustin, I was downright discouraged. Essentially, all that remained of MCAS Tustin was a pair of massive blimp hangars, both suffering from years of neglect. I had forgotten how large these structures are, and I was momentarily awed by their sheer mammoth scale. But that fleeting observation was quickly replaced by sadness over their state of decay. One of the hangars had a large hole in the top, and they were both missing most of their windows and the majority of the paint had fallen away. They were surrounded by dirt and construction equipment that seemed to be waiting for the buildings to succumb to the ravages of time and gravity. I had hoped that my visit to Tustin would jog some fond memories of my time in Southern California, but what I witnessed made me feel sad. A significant portion of my personal history had been obliterated in the name of progress, and what remained was obviously uncared for.
Fortunately, I had made arrangements to meet up with a Marine Corps buddy. We had lunch at a restaurant in a shopping center that was erected almost exactly where I had spent my years working on the base. I was again saddened... my old stomping grounds had been eliminated to build a shopping center. Part of my heritage had been erased to build yet another place to spend money. That thought, however, quickly vanished. The food was good, and I enjoyed catching up with my brother in arms, as we filled one another in on the various goings on of mutual friends.
After our lunch, we walked around the marketplace. Though I still experienced a twinge of loss, I was happy to see that some of the architecture gave a nod to the base, specifically a store that had an arch motif, similar to the aforementioned hangars. The stores were designed with an open-air feel, making it comfortable to walk. I was pleased with the planning that had gone into the design and build of the marketplace.
The lunch and walk were relatively short, but my friend had other commitments, and I needed to get back to Las Vegas that night, because my flight home left early the next morning. On the way out, I was reminded again that I didn't miss the traffic of Southern California, but soon enough I emerged from heavy traffic, which allowed me to enjoy the rest of the trip back home.
The next several hours back to Vegas were pleasant. The music, the open road, and the trip to Tustin provided me a trip down memory lane. I thought about road trips that my friend Fred and I used to take when we were in the Corps. Certain songs brought back other memories of days gone by. The day ended on a positive note.
This was the second time I've visited Tustin since I left the Marine Corps, and it will probably be my last trip. I fully expect that the hangars will be gone in the not-too-distant future, because it seems that nobody wants to preserve them. In all fairness, I can't blame anyone for that position, based on their current state of repair. But those hangars are the last remnant of my time there, so once they're gone, there is really nothing drawing me back, with the exception of a few friends from long ago; and really, I don't need to visit in order to stay in touch with them.