Word comes, but not from anybody who really knows, that the magnificent liner United States, long in idleness somewhere, may be refitted as a cruise liner and could appear someday to give the QE2 competition for the rich-man's buck.
This interests me a bit, as I crossed on the United States in 1953, going and coming on the two most boisterous trips she made. I hit the two major hurricanes of that fall and proved beyond any doubt that I'm an excellent sailor. I had been asked by our State Department to go to Germany to see if I could straighten out the boo-boos our Army had made in restoring its newspapers to defeated Germany.
Any journalist could have told anybody that any Army must never have anything to do with newspapers, but lacking good advice, our Army went ahead and floundered the job like a camel in a society swimming pool, and as the German people began getting papers again, wisdom called for me. Let us say I had an interesting time.
We left New York Harbor in the late afternoon, anticipating a landfall for Le Havre, France, three days later. But the staunch vessel ran into the jaws of hurricane Edna, and cajoled the disturbance into close companionship all the way to France. They told us the vessel had gone a thousand miles off course to avoid the breeze, which she didn't, and we docked on time.
That's all I know about the potential speed of the ship, which is classified.
On the second day out I was alone in the dining room for breakfast, and I asked the waiter for a poached egg on toast. He said, "Certainly!" and instantly placed a poached egg on the toast before me. "Enjoy," he said. To which I made reply: "Wait a minute! It takes time to poach an egg! How do you do that?"
"Easy," he said. "It's a first-class egg!" So the non-nautical reader will understand, the liner United States had three classes: first, cabin, and tourist. No second- and third-class folks! I was in cabin class.
My waiter told me in strictest confidence that his friend was a cook in the first-class kitchen, and with a wink he had snitched an egg already poached, and this was why my egg had been fetched so rapidly. What I had thought to be American efficiency was merely culinary drollery, and they could have done the same thing on the Queen Mary or the Ile de France. So I renewed the colloquy by asking, "So what is the difference between a first-class egg and a cabin-class egg?"
He said, "Parsley, sir." I have always believed, deep down, that this was a good thing to know.
Arrangements had been made for me to fly on my historical mission. Flight, in 1953, was the coming thing, and everybody knew the luxurious ocean liner was doomed to mothballs. They hadn't even considered cruise ships. So I said no, that I had never sailed beyond Bustin Island in anything but a canoe, and now that I had the chance I would go by vessel.
The liner United States (a "she" because of our American ways) was built for the United States Lines, but held rank in the Navy, as a possible troop ship if, so soon after World War II, we needed our Army somewhere overseas to read the newspapers (I speak with intended funniness).
Fortunately, no such contretemps prevailed, and they had room for me at that time. It was customary for our State Department to use the United States for interdepartmental traffic, which included me. By applying the reverse engines, Captain Anderson, (I think it was) brought his craft to a noble halt before the continuing force of hurricane Edna blew her against Le Havre village and on into Siberia, where at the moment there were no journalistic problems to be solved. Thus, I was in France and I said to the customs boy, "I'll fait du vent!"
He replied in the affirmative with a well-inflected, "Oui."
IN 1953, the United States merchant marine was not having a good year, and a great many competent masters of wind and steam in all waters were finding it difficult to get bridges in which to ambulate and display their seafaring talents. That is, jobs of their rating were hard to find. In consequence, the finest vessel afloat had its pick of the lot. Every officer aboard, right down to the one who set the clock every afternoon, was a top-rank tar with his framed credentials more imposing than a lease on the Vatican.
And every one of those framed "tickets" was displayed aboard the ship. If the Spaniards had had one-tenth our talent, the Armada would today have a pillar in London. After inspecting the certificates, I went to my berth each evening confident in security. I was told the captain who handled reservations for deck lounges had been an admiral until he retired the year before.
Because of the early hour for debarkation at Le Havre, caused by coming in ahead of the storm, all passengers were given box lunches as they came down the ramp in France. We ate them on the train to Paris.
When the great United States is ready to take well-heeled vagrants on cruise jaunts, I shall not attend. My sailing days were on perfumed seas in the golden era of yore, when a first-class poached egg had parsley. That is, cabin-class parsley.
What can they possibly do to the United States to beat breakfast on the train that morning, when, on 15 minutes notice, the staff of sea-captain cooks packed 2,000 box lunches while the French customs officers were marking with chalk on our valises? Ahoy!