The very first time I arrived in the P.I. (Philippines
Islands) was when I was in transit on my way to the Midway. I was
there for about three weeks before reporting aboard the USS Dixie.
I remember the first things which appealed to me were all of the palm
trees and coconut trees that were everywhere on base and the weather was
like permanent summer. The base where I was in transit was Cubi Point, and
it was a marvelous place. There was literally everything to do right on
the base. The special services division in Cubi provided just about every
extra curriculum activity that an adventure seeking person could want to
enjoy. Cubi Point had bowling, a golf course, go-carts, archery, skeet
shooting, mountain climbing, hiking, boating, sailing, water skiing,
parasailing, sky diving, scuba diving, and some really fine beaches with a
breathtaking view of Subic Bay.
I was also amazed to see delicious tropical fruit growing wild in a few
areas of the base. In fact, just outside the transit barracks where myself
and other transit Midway personnel were temporarily berthing during
our first arrival in the Philippines, was a coconut tree (among many on
base). This tree was only about twelve feet high and it was laden with
fresh ripe coconuts. For a few days, I was grappling with an ever
increasing temptation to climb that tree and pick one, so one day
curiosity got the better of me. Another guy who was also a Midway
transit and I went out to this tree and he gave me a boost up.
Fortunately, due to some bumps which formed a sort of natural ladder on a
coconut tree's trunk, I was able to make it up the tree pretty easy and
within minutes, I had one of the coconuts in my grasp and was attempting
to pull it off the tree. Unfortunately, coconuts are attached to their
tree by a hemp rope-like vine and although I was twisting and pulling,
pulling and twisting on the coconut, the vine was not releasing its prize.
Then all at once the coconut came loose in my hand from the tree and I had
my prize. I felt like Gilligan, but man was that coconut delicious; it was
as sweet as honey!
Just outside Subic Base's main gate was the city of Olongapo; a city for
sailors! The main strip is called Magsaysay Drive and it extended for a
span of about two miles. On both sides of the strip are an endless
cavalcade of nightclubs, brothels, massage parlors, small hotels,
restaurants, pizza joints, more night clubs and a few movie theaters. My
favorite club was The Florida Club. Everywhere on Magsaysay Drive were
hundreds of World War II surplus jeepney taxis and side car tricycles
which were so colorfully decorated, they literally looked like mobile
piņatas. The Philippines was literally the USS Midway's second home
port. It was a Midway tradition for our ship to make port there at
the opening and at the conclusion of every Indian Ocean cruise the ship
deployed on. Aboard the Midway, I myself made so many port calls to
the P.I. that I literally lost count of exactly how many times I was
there. I think it was somewhere around eight or nine.
The Filipina girlfriend I would see each time the Midway went to
P.I. was Baby Manabat and she was a waitress at the Airport Restaurant on
Magsaysay Drive (see photo in The Lonardo Collection). She was a really
fun person. I remember the first time we went out, we went to Shakey's
pizza parlor on Magsaysay Drive and the funny sort of thing about Shakey's
was that it was entirely run by Filipino midgets (no offense or disrespect
intended to vertically challenged people). The lighting in the place was
all green and orange lights, so after a few bottles of San Miguel Beer,
all of the employees there started looking like Oompa Loompas. You know,
the little people from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Well,
wouldn't you know it, as we were leaving Shakey's, Baby accidentally
tripped over one of the midgets and the tray of dirty dishes the little
guy was carrying went flying everywhere!
Another memory I have is of this banana tree that shot up behind a
corrugated tin fence next to the small bungalow where Baby and her sister
lived. I used to always hear different guys on the Midway saying to
watch out for those banana spiders because they sometimes drop out of
banana trees and land on your head. One day, when I was with Baby at her
bungalow, her next door neighbor was outside in the small yard just going
about some chores. I told Baby about what the guys on my ship were always
saying about banana spiders and I asked her what did they mean by that?
She pointed at the banana tree and said "they live there!" Baby then spoke
in Tagalog to her neighbor and he went over to the banana tree with this
piece of long bamboo with a blade fastened to the end of it. He cut down a
huge husk of bananas that were hanging there and when he broke the husk of
bananas apart into bunches, several small grey and yellow tarantula-like
spiders about the size of a child's hand ran like crazy from the huge husk
of bananas. I have never eaten another banana since!