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.