SOS — Saving a Grand Old Ship

By Frederic Logghe [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

A long-ago time, and in faraway places, the S.S. United States was a bright and shining example of American ingenuity, achievement and spirit. She is still grand and imposing, but her shine has given way to age; her paint is peeling, her interiors are empty; she has suffered greatly from years of sitting still.

There are those of us who would dearly love to see her live on, to enjoy another incarnation so that present and future generations could be awed by the sight, the size and the story of her.

But, I fear that is not to be.

Three news networks this week have told her story. Those who are desperately trying to save her say that the deadline is near – maybe less than two weeks away – when they will be forced to give up the fight. Rent alone at her dock costs $60,000 a month, and before Christmas this year, the money will have run out.

Susan Gibbs, executive director of the conservancy that is seeking a benefactor, says the end of October marks the deadline. After that, she notes, negotiations with a “responsible recycler” will begin. This is not a new development, but it is no less disturbing. The ship has faced the wrecking ball before. But she has, in the past, been granted a “stay.”

For Ms. Gibbs, it’s personal. She is the granddaughter of the ship’s designer, naval architect William Francis Gibbs.

It’s personal for me too.

In a very real sense, the U.S. United States was a matchmaker; she was the reason I met my future husband almost 50 years ago.

At that time, she had been called into service to help move American servicemen and their families out of Europe, and specifically to move them home from France. She was still carrying paying passengers as well, but in some cases, American military families made a five-day passage to New York aboard this swift liner. They ate in the elegant dining rooms, were served by impeccably uniformed staff, and experienced a lifestyle that only a few tourists of the time shared. Luxury ocean liner travel then was the domain, for the most part, of the rich and famous.

But when General DeGaulle of France decreed on March 10, 1966, that foreign military in his country must withdraw or submit to French control, a massive logistical effort began almost immediately to relocate military families. The one-year deadline loomed large; time was of the essence. Even though air travel could accommodate the humans, shipment of household goods and automobiles had to be by sea. At the time, utilizing available staterooms and the cavernous below-deck holds of this great ship made a lot of sense.

So it was that the paths of one young U.S. Army lieutenant and one young working journalist converged one day on a dock in Le Havre, France. He was newly-assigned to help meet the deadline, charged with the responsibility of scheduling military travel and moving belongings. I had a story to write about the huge effort.

No, it wasn’t romantic; we were not her passengers. But she loomed large on the docks in Le Havre as we looked along her more than three-football-fields length and up at her 12-stories above-the-water countenance.

Just a little more than one year later, when there were no military personnel left in France, it was largely due to the S.S. United States and the numbers of people and tons of belongings that she transported back to American shores.

Yes, she was impressive then.

She is still impressive now. Her peeling paint and her empty decks do not detract from her presence and her lines. She still looms larger than life, even though she has sat silent far longer than she ever plied the seas. She was in service only from 1952 through 1969, silenced when she was only 17.

My personal story continues with her. In another tale of endings, my parents considered themselves fortunate to be among her passengers on a scheduled North Atlantic crossing in November 1969. They enjoyed the experience immensely, and they disembarked in New York. The ship was bound for Newport News and a refurbishing “furlough,” but she never returned to service. My father thought it ironic, in his later years, that he had sailed on one of the last troop-carrying voyages of Cunard’s Queen Mary, as it ferried American servicemen home after World War II, as well as on the final crossing of the S.S. United States.

S.S. United States, Philadelphia, 2005

The rebirth of cruising vacations came too late.

Today, the irony is that more people than ever before take to the sea for vacations. Cruising ships have grown larger, accommodations more deluxe, and onboard amenities overwhelming. The S.S. United States was the last American-flagged passenger vessel afloat. She was also the largest ship ever to be built in the United States. She is substantial even by today’s standards, although her passenger load was not quite 2,000 in 692 staterooms, with a crew of just over 1,000. But, she had a distinctive look about her, with two stacks towering almost 65 feet above her decks. And she was fast. She remains the Blue Riband-Hales Trophy winner. She set the speed record for crossing the North Atlantic on her maiden voyage in 1952, snatching it away from the Queen Mary. It has not since been broken!

Both Cunard’s Queen Mary and the S.S. United States were known for elegance and speed. Both were designed for passenger comfort, but built to carry troops in case of need. Both served well. Both today are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

View a slideshow of the S.S. United States.

There the similarities, unfortunately, end. The Queen Mary is now a popular hotel and tourist attraction in Long Beach, Calif. The S.S. United States rots at the dock in Philadelphia.

Surely she too has value as a destination resort, a museum, an office building, a shopping center, or a funky condominium development. Or, am I just out of touch with reality?

As Susan Gibbs and others have stated in recent news interviews, “We have never been so close to saving her; and we have never been so close to losing her.” Save Our Ship (SOS) efforts are ongoing. But, hopes are beginning to fade.

I will continue to hope. Yes, it’s very personal.

Along the road: The giggles are gone

The road goes on foreverIt’s hard to know just what will trigger a long-forgotten memory; it’s harder still to know just where that memory will lead. A small piece in last Sunday’s paper mentioned that the Highway Beautification Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on October 22 — 50 years ago. Of course, here in Texas we all credit Lady Bird Johnson with the impressive expanses of bluebonnets and wildflowers along our highways. That’s all good.

But highway beautification as a national mandate — Wow, I missed that one, I guess, in my youth. Actually, now that I think about it, I was living in Europe at the time — billboard proliferation along American highways was not something I concerned myself with then. But, on Sunday, that little news story suddenly brought back the memory of red and white Burma-Shave signs — and the realization that the act signed into law that long ago October day most likely spelled the end of a long tradition. Those clever advertising messages sometimes contained important messages; they certainly prompted adult smiles and kept young minds occupied for almost 40 years.

The 1965 Outdoor Advertising Control Program did not actually mandate the removal of signs, and it really didn’t force states to control those massive billboards. It was designed to discourage excessive signage along the Interstates, and stipulated that development funds could be withheld for non-compliance by the states. In that way, it was effective. And the Interstate highway system soon supplanted most of the older highways.

You had to be there: Missing one of the signs could sometimes be the cause of tears; more often, an attempt to fill in the missing word or phrase spawned uncontrollable giggles. It was, for generations of kids, one of the few fun things about road trips — often long, hot, dusty treks along not-so-good highways. Towns in most of this United States at that time were far apart, usually small, and boasted no readily available “fast food.” Gas station and rest room stops were the result of advance planning, for the most part.

Summer or winter, travel could be iffy — heat, cold, mechanical problems, flat tires, boredom, seemingly endless stretches of blacktop. Radio station signals made news and music unreliable across vast distances. But the signs — oh, those signs! We all looked forward to them. The “game” became who spotted the first sign first. Then, everyone “won” as the message was revealed across the miles. At the height of their campaign, Burma-Shave had 7,000 signs in all but four of the Lower 48 states.

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Yes, the occasional giant billboard may have ruined the view, distracted drivers and “polluted” the landscape. But, Burma-Shave signs? Although I haven’t thought about them for decades, I miss them. I’m also sorry  I  couldn’t play the game with my own child; I have trouble even explaining the concept to my grandchildren. But, then, today we travel on smoother Interstate highways — and the kids are plugged in to their own virtual world of movies, music or audio books.

The times have changed — but, the “road goes on forever.” I’ll just spend the rest of the day humming that tune and laughing about those verses! There’s currently a new interest in Route 66 and its associated memorabilia. Sadly, though, Burma-Shave signs seem to have disappeared forever.

Some of them were totally about the shaving cream. In 1932:

You’ll love your wife

You’ll love her paw

You’ll even love

Your mother-in-law

If you use

Burma-Shave

Others were just plain clever! From 1945:

‘Twould be

More fun

To go by air

If we could put

These signs up there

Burma-Shave

Sometimes they had important messages. Here’s a good one from 1949:

When frisky

with whiskey

Don’t drive

‘Cause it’s

Risky

Burma-Shave

Another:

Ashes to Ashes

Forests to Dust

Keep Minnesota Green

Or we’ll ‘

All go Bust

Burma-Shave

They could also be a little risque. This one’s from 1959:

Baby your skin

Keep it fitter

Or “baby”

Will get

Another sitter

Burma-Shave

You can read more of the iconic road-sign jingles, indexed by year at Burma-Shave.org.

The Color of Happy

I was privileged to attend Colormix 2016 yesterday at Dallas Market Center. It was a gathering sponsored by Sherwin Williams — a gala event that included displays from the market’s  furniture and decor showrooms as well as lunch. The business of the day, of course, was the unveiling of new color trends for the coming year.

Attended by more than 600 designers, style-setters, architects and merchandisers, it started me thinking about the effects of color — on our moods, in daily lives, in table settings, clothing, furniture and even food. I also considered how the color palette affects the palate as I read the luncheon menu. The tablescapes were impressive, decorated with freshness and verve. But there was a distinct color choice in the menu:  20151013_120250

  • Ancho chicken roulade, with spinach on a purple corn tamal cake
  • Golden corn salad, with purple tip romaine, purple cabbage, yellow grape tomatoes . . .
  • Purple cauliflower soup shooter
  • Lavender panna cotta with edible flower garnish

Can you see the direction this is going?

The subtle menu theme extended into the four individualized color schemes with the names, Pura Vida, Mas Amor Por Favor, Nouveau Narrative, and Trajectory. Each has at least one color that leans toward purple, lavender, plum or a grayed and mysterious color of dusk. There are brights as well. Explore the rationale    behind the collection and check out the full spectrum: It’s a treat!

As Paula Deen is fond of saying: “First you eat with your eyes.” Nutritionists recommend that we fill our plates with color in order to fuel our bodies properly in a natural way. Increasingly, mental health specialists study color in our natural and built environments to explain our moods, encourage wellness, spur creativity and create calm.

It is also obvious that we rely on color to express ourselves: Just consider “feeling blue,” “in a black mood,” “a sunny expression,” “in the pink,” “seeing red,” and “as clear as black and white.”

Does color have a single meaning?

What is this thing called color? Scientists tell us it has to do with the way light is refracted. Artists tell us that color is personal. And we know that different people see and experience color in different ways. We speak of the absence of color, of nuances of color, and of colorful language.

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The paint company does a great job of answering some of these questions. Predictions for 2016 are based on tradition, the economy,  environmental influences, the artistic climate, technology, and a multitude of other factors. The way in which new color palettes are determined and introduced is as creative and fascinating as the colors themselves.

So what is the Color of Happy?

For the coming year, according to Sherwin Williams, colors are  influenced by many factors, among them:

  • Fresh mindfulness
  • Vintage workmanship
  • Social engagement
  • Technology and materials that seem to come from out of this world.

The overriding theme of yesterday’s presentation, evident in everything from tablescapes to the audio-visual presentation, was the “passionate pursuit” of a shared color consciousness.

Here’s to adding a bit of color to your life next year, in whatever manner you choose to do so!

Meeting the New Girl

My new car sits in the driveway.
Well, let me clarify. The car that is new to me, the car that is to replace a vehicle that I loved, sits like a stranger in my driveway.
Oh, I know it’s a “thing.” But, this one is a “lady,” to be sure. She is shiny and pretty; polished and put together the way a debutante would be prior to her party. I liked her from the moment I saw her. She’s no spring chicken, but she’s got a great body and she doesn’t show her age!
Somehow, though, we haven’t yet been able to get beyond the “small talk” and the WP_002340awkwardness. I don’t even know her name!
All that will change, I’m sure.
Together, we will see to it.
It’s silly, I say to myself as I consider going to the grocery store, meeting a friend for lunch or just taking her on a spin around a few city blocks.
But I delay. It’s as if by embracing this new one I am somehow being disloyal to the “other one.” But, that one gave up on me. He — that’s right, he — simply decided one day to stop running. No argument, no warning, no comforting words at the end. Just. Stopped. Running.
Oh, yes, there was an interim vehicle. I didn’t simply give up driving waiting for a replacement. And I didn’t go on a hunt for the perfect replacement. In fact, I was less than enthusiastic about looking. Anything will do, I told myself. As long as it runs. I told my husband the same thing.
And so we replaced Reggie (yes, he was the one I loved!) with George. A workhorse, designed for hauling gear and heading for the back country, George (or Monty, short for Montgomery) is a gem, but he is also a proper British gentlemen. He seems reliable, but he’s older! Even though I drove him willingly for a couple of months, I wasn’t totally comfortable inviting him on a road trip.
Thus the dilemma. The remaining member of our vehicle family was also up in years. Sheila, a grand old girl, just wasn’t up to taking a trip.
As if by magic, opportunity knocked. My husband and I like to think that Reggie and Sheila met up somewhere in the old vehicle yard and are telling funny stories about the times they shared with us.
And here we are. This pretty, strange lady sits in the driveway, just waiting. In 10 days, she will take us through several states on a journey of close to 2,000 miles.
Maybe, before we take to the road, just maybe, she’ll tell me her name and I can give her a hug!

Originally posted by Adrienne Cohen on  Sept. 22, 2015, on freelancewriter.biz prior to the Road Trip

Exploring the world of fresh food on a road trip through America’s Heartland

A food writers’ conference, “Eating Words” sponsored by the Edible Institute, in Iowa City, Iowa, was ample incentive for a freelancer with that writing specialty; planned visits along the way at innovative restaurants, specialty food stores, farmers markets and a working organic farm with an aquaponics greenhouse promised subject matter for future stories. A brief respite from DFW’s mid-90s temperatures was yet another reason to drive away in early October. It all came together as a six-day road trip that spanned almost 2,000 miles.

There’s something about road trips! Turning off the highway can mean unexpected pleasures, even if it’s just the promise of a different pace. The stiffness that accompanies long hours of sitting seems to vanish quickly with the sight of a glorious sunrise, miles upon miles of golden corn fields, and the bucolic simplicity of cattle grazing on green hillsides. This trip showcased America’s Heartland at its best! And the unexpected pleasures just kept coming!

First dining stop was Anton’s in Kansas City, an unusual eatery that didn’t disappoint in any way. This relatively new taproom and restaurant, in an old brick building that once was Nabisco’s headquarters, began its life as a grocery store in 1898. Between bakery and today, it served for 30 years as Irene’s Restaurant and Lounge, the local “3 Martini” lunch spot. So, its current incarnation is entirely appropriate.

But it’s different.

There’s an aquaponics system in the basement, a great, funky bar and open kitchen on the main level and an art-filled dining room on the second floor. Waiters are friendly, the on-tap and bottled beers should satisfy any palate, the wine list is long and the food is delicious. Best choices, of course, in this beef capital, are the cut-to-size on-site aged steaks, your choice of grain-fed or grass fed.

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Being different, I chose a sampler of smoked salmon served with egg salad, olive tapenade and crostinis, with a side order of potato latkes. It was more than delicious. It was also more than I could eat. But smoked salmon for breakfast isn’t bad!

Following a morning walk to a nearby health food grocery that has been serving residents of the midtown neighborhood for more than 40 years, my “mate” and I drove to the impressive grounds of the World War I Memorial and Museum that dominates the skyline between KC’s Federal Reserve Bank and Union Station.

The site was originally dedicated in 1921, and the Egyptian Revival Liberty Memorial was completed in 1926. An underground museum and research facilities are more recent and the grounds are now designated as the National World War I monument. It was an unexpected surprise. Its grand dimensions, c20151002_095753oupled with its simplicity and its symbolism, combine to make it one of the most impressive monuments I have ever encountered. Visitors to the underground museum enter over a glass bridge spanning a field of red poppies — 9,000 of them, representing one flower for every 1,000 deaths in the “world war.” It boggles the mind. Visitors can also ride an elevator to the top of a 217-foot memorial tower for a spectacular view of the city and surrounding plains.

We left Kansas City then, driving on to Liberty, Missouri, for breakfast. But Kansas City will remain with us for a long time.