three short followed by three long klaxons



The Queen Mary, New York Harbor, circa 1938

Due to circumstances too bizarre to recount here, I found myself spending the last two nights on the Queen Mary. Built in the early 1930s in Scotland, it pretty much defined luxury transatlantic passage for Rockefellers too rich to be touched by the Great Depression. Pictures of the ship in its heyday are stunningly opulent, usually including the greatest statesmen and movie stars of the time.

Now it sits dry-docked in Long Beach, California, and it’s sorta like the Empire State Building: if you live there, you’ve probably gotten really good at ignoring it.

Most of the ship has been transformed into a hotel, accessible by ramps on various levels, and I have to say, it’s an abject lesson in missed opportunities. There are still many details left over from its days as working ship – well, I’ll post a few:


the view from my porthole window


the vents that control hot/cold air over the bed


faucets promising a hot salt bath (welded shut)


my favorite: the toilet handle with a roaring flush

But here’s the deal – like most things in America, the Queen Mary was ruined by disastrous home decoration decisions made in the early 1960s. It was like our farm in Columbia County: built in 1818 yet completely covered in yellow naugahyde and fake wood veneer siding. What were these people thinking?

The Queen Mary was two things – art deco and luxurious – and neither of those took kindly to plastic. And thus you have this ship that was synonymous with world travel and sumptuousness, moored forever in Long Beach and decorated by my grandmother.

It reminded me of the panther in Rilke’s poem, or the sad, old lions caged at the zoo in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Ships want to be in the water, undulating. The windows should be sprayed with Nordic ice, and the passengers should be barfing. The silent Queen Mary still longs for the waved hankies from the harbor in Cherbourg.

If not that, somebody needs to fix all the restaurants (except for the delightful Sir Winston’s) and bring the rooms back to their original splendor. The miserable tours need to be shitcanned, the shops need to stay open all night, and the land all around it needs to be razed and re-landscaped. It needs to be run by someone who can provide peerless service clicking at 100% efficiency with scads of excitement, bringing in huge amounts of money to one of the great pieces of world history sitting right here in America.

In short, it needs to be run by Salem Suber.

0 thoughts on “three short followed by three long klaxons

  1. scruggs

    As we get ready to move from Atlanta, one regret is we never made the relatively short drive to the Jasper Steakhouse!!!

  2. emma

    We have an old theater in our town whose life mirrors the Queen Mary it seems. Built in the 1930s, it was gorgeous. The original owner died and the theater was turned into a movie house in the 1960s. The original theater was sheetrocked and the ceiling dropped down. It is under renovation now and behind the sheetrock, they discovered two beautiful skyboxes. The original ceiling have been salvaged and will be put back in. Just six months ago, they dicovered that there was an orchestra pit that had been covered up. The birthplace of Cecille B. DeMille needs this theater in its town. The second stage of renovation will renovate an upstairs dinner theater. Imagine what the combination of Salem and Sean could do with that!

  3. LFMD

    Your shout out to Salem reminded me of one of my all-time favorite posts. . . . the one with Jeeves at the wheel! I had to go back and read that one, look at the truck, look at poor Jeeves’ confused puppy face. . . .It made me laugh out loud again. I have gotten so much enjoyment out of this blog, you have no idea.
    And I agree with Stephanie. . .. you can tell us how you ended up on the Queen Mary. I am sure it is an interesting story!

  4. Ian

    To allay one concern: I was NOT on the QM because Tessa and I were fighting! Although that would be a very dramatic, 1970s-soap-opera thing to do.

  5. Rebecca

    The QM is dead in the water, but the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach is really good. My son actually really liked the Russian submarine and Titanic exhibit at the QM last year. Anyway, next time you’re down that way, I’m sure Lucy would love to see the fishes!

  6. salem's little sister

    I posted so early this morning, I didn’t even spell my name right. Jasper is about 45 minutes from ATL I think if there is no traffic. I live in Charlotte, so I’m not quite sure about exact miles. I’m sure Salem would love to host any who made the trip.


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