Friday, July 20, 2012

New York: Space Shuttle Enterprise comes home

Text and photos by George Molé

The Space Shuttle Enterprise, finally at home on the deck of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on the West Side of Manhattan, opened to the public yesterday.

A lovely event; a new jewel in New York's crown.

But I was on the Brooklyn shoreline last month--Sunday, June 4, to be exact--when scattered groups of New Yorkers watched as Enterprise, newly-arrived in the Big Apple, was transported by barge from John F. Kennedy Airport, through the Verrazano Narrows, to temporary digs in Bayonne, New Jersey.  (Enterprise was transferred to a crane-equipped barge in Bayonne, then delivered a few days later to the Intrepid.)

For me, that event had the melancholy feel of a funeral procession--reminiscent, perhaps, of when Americans lined the railroad tracks along the route as Lincoln's body was brought home to Illinois for burial.  In this case, though, the corpse was that of America's beloved, world-changing space program.

In a USA Today opinion piece published in May of last year, three astronauts who commanded Lunar missions lamented the demise of America's manned space program.  One of the writers was the reclusive Neil Armstrong, whose Apollo 11 spacecraft was the first to land on the moon, 43 years ago today, and who was the first human to walk on the moon.

"America's leadership in space is slipping," they wrote.  "NASA's human spaceflight program is in substantial disarray with no clear-cut mission in the offing.  We will have no rockets to carry humans to low-Earth orbit and beyond for an indeterminate number of years...After a half-century of remarkable progress, a coherent plan for maintaining America's leadership in space exploration is no longer apparent."

The astronauts quoted President Kennedy, who thought of space as "the new ocean," which the U.S. must be prepared to sail upon.  "For 50 years we explored the waters to become the leader in space exploration," they concluded sadly.  "Today...the voyage is over.  John F. Kennedy would have been sorely disappointed."

So, looked at one way, Enterprise is only an evocative memorial to glories past.  Today's leaders dream of changing America's demographics through open borders, transforming the definition of marriage and ensuring free contraception for all.  With these noble goals before us, exploring the stars has no place on the to-do list.

But, who knows, maybe that strange-looking space plane, sitting on the deck of that old warrior ship, will nudge just one kid to look at the sky and imagine...

It doesn't always have to be like this; better times, wiser leaders and more American adventures in space lie ahead, let us hope.  Welcome, Enterprise!

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

New York: Cop jokes and old-time flavor at the Coney Island Nathan's

Text and photo by George Molé

Professional duties took me to the Coney Island section of Brooklyn today and, not one to waste an opportunity, I soon found myself on line at the original Nathan's, Surf and Stillwell Avenues, New York's hot dog cathedral.  I was with another cop, both of us in uniform.

A frail-looking older man, thin, a bit stooped, wearing a baseball cap, moving with the help of a wheeled walker, was in the place.  His walker, parts of which seemed to be covered in leopard-skin, had an American flag flying from the handlebar.  He said something in a low voice, and I asked for a repeat.

"Tell me a cop joke I haven't heard before," he demanded.

We were stumped, and said so.  "All right, here's one," he said.

"A cop pulls a guy over.  He looks at the guy's license, and tells him, 'Hey, this says you're supposed to be wearing glasses, but you're not.  You're getting a summons.'

"The guy says, 'Wait a minute, I have contacts!'

"The cop says, 'I don't care who you know, you're getting a summons.'"

We all laughed.

"One day," the man went on, "the Pope tells his chauffeur, 'I want to know what it's like to drive.  Let's switch for today.'  So they do.

"The Pope's not driving too well, weaving around, and he gets pulled over by a cop.  The chauffeur, who's in the back seat, says to the cop, 'Do you know who you're stopping here?'

"The cop goes back to his car and calls the sergeant.  'Sarge, I got a problem.  I think I pulled over somebody very important.'  The sergeant asks, "Who is he and what makes you think he's so important?'

"'I don't know who he is, Sarge,' the cop says.  'But the Pope is his chauffeur.'"

Okay, this guy is good.  "Are you a Coney Island lifer?" I asked.

"Yeah, I was born in Sea Gate in 1935," he said.

"What do you think of the changes they're doing here?" I asked.  Coney has been the focus of a lot of construction--and a tsunami of vicious destruction--by the developers to whom the city gave free rein to remake the historic amusement district.

"The changes are good, but they were going too far," he said.  "But I'd like to see them put in a bowling alley.  Maybe a pool hall."

"At least they saved Ruby's," I observed.  Ruby's is a classic old Coney Island bar that had been on the verge of being closed by the developers, only to be reprieved at the eleventh hour--but not without being forced to modernize their atmospheric place.

"Yes, that's good," he replied glumly.  "But it lost some of the old-time flavor."

Losing the old-time flavor--there's a lot of that going around lately.  The old Yankee Stadium.  Too much of the old Coney IslandPrime Burger, the lovely old Midtown eatery.  Our old Constitution.  So many of the old things that gave our lives flavor are melting away like snow in spring.

"Okay," the old man said, "an avid golfer finally gets sick of his wife.  He pulls a golf club out of his bag and hits her--one, two, three, four times, and she's dead.  The cops come, and the captain tells the guy, 'Well, you're going to jail, of course, and we're also going to alert the media.'

"The guy says, 'Listen, could you tell them I did it in three strokes?'"

By this time my partner had ordered and I was next.  "Excuse me, I have to order now," I told the old man.  And when I turned around again he was gone.


If you want to be able to remember some old-time things, including this old guy's old jokes, buy yourself a copy of Secrets, Tips, and Tricks of a Powerful Memory: The Memory Shock Oh-So-Easy How-to-Remember User's Guide for Your Brain by Barry Reitman--foreword by yours truly. It's now available on Amazon, in print and Kindle editions--click here to take a look. And if you want to read my foreword--which will definitely make you want to buy the book-- click here.

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