Some considerable time ago (SI, March 21, 1955) one Bayard Ashcroft of Boston wrote a letter to his Harvard classmate, Phipps Piper of New York, in which he described in detail the great adventure of his life, a birding expedition led by the famous ornithologist, Roger Tory Peterson. As may be surmised from the following letter, Piper was green with envy and has waited all this time to reply, hoping for some adventure of his own with which 10 confound the insufferable Ashcroft. At long last, fortune has smiled on Phipps Piper and propelled him, at high speed, into an exciting wonderland in which one just doesn't have time to watch birds.
Bayard Ashcroft, Harvard '14
My dear Bayard:
First of all I must apologize for not answering your last letter before this. As you shall see, I have been quite busy. However, I wish to say that I enjoyed tremendously your vivid description of the Peterson birding expedition on which you added the snowy owl to your Life List. As one who has seen literally dozens of snowy owls, I congratulate you and say, "Welcome aboard!"
I have just had quite an adventure of my own. It had nothing whatever to do with birding, but rather with modern travel. Specifically, it was an exciting journey to Atlantic City via high-speed bus. Do you remember, Bayard, when it took the better part of the day to make the trip from New York to Atlantic City in the family car? Would you believe that I had breakfast in New York's magnificent Port Authority Bus Terminal and lunch on the Boardwalk? And, thanks to the superb highways and turnpikes in New Jersey, I had no sense whatever of high speed—for which I must also give proper credit to the cool competence of our "skipper" at the wheel.
May 7, 1961
Of course, travel always presents certain problems and mine began with Mother. We had rather a frightful row. I take the entire blame for I should remember that the dear creature, although in excellent health and still a strong skater, is—after all—93 years of age.
It is Mother's contention, Bayard, that travel has become an absolute absurdity in these incredible days of jet aircraft in which we see greengrocers' clerks, television performers and all sorts of unlikely creatures being whisked about the world in their outlandish wash-and-wear wardrobes that can be contained in a single traveling case. Mother, who has not been abroad since President Hoover's Administration (nor, indeed, beyond our summer place on Long Island), never tires of telling me (and Mr. Pevely who comes to wind our clocks) that when she and Father went abroad, they always took 12 wardrobe trunks, at least as many cases and innumerable boxes of hats, shoes and books. Of course, one took one's own sheets as well as one's own maid and manservant.
Naturally, Mother has forbidden me to use aircraft and recently she extended this ban to include the New Haven Railroad, which, as you know, Bayard, keeps falling off the tracks.
I must admit that I share some of Mother's feeling about some aspects of modern travel. The thing has been carried to such lengths, thanks to the ridiculous go-now-pay-later schemes, that a recent issue of Vogue magazine actually reported that it was "old hat" to go to Hong Kong and that Tahiti was currently fashionable. I ask you, Bayard!
I did think, however, that Mother's opinions are extreme. I put the case to her: "What does one do if one is not permitted to use either train or aircraft?"
"One simply stays home," replied Mother. "One busies one's self with worthwhile reading, lunching at one's clubs, working on one's stamp collection, skating in season and birding when the weather is fair."
"One gets frightfully bored," I said.
Mother gave me a long look.
"Phipps," she said gently, "spring has always been a difficult time for you. Perhaps you should see Dr. Japes and have him prescribe a tonic."
At this I lost control of myself. "Mother," I exclaimed, "why must you persist in treating me like a child! Good heavens, I graduated from Harvard in 1914!"
"And none too soon," said Mother coolly, "judging from the sort that has taken over there."
I folded my arms and held my head high. Summoning some hitherto dormant inner resource, I said: "I shall respect your wishes concerning jet aircraft and the New Haven Railroad, but I must and will go someplace. I feel so out of things. Mother, you would have no objection to a bus trip to Atlantic City?"
"A bus trip," she mused. "Well, I must say, Phipps, that does sound rather sensible. The school buses that pass the gate seem to be efficiently operated." She thought a moment. "I will not object to a bus trip, Phipps. And the sea air at Atlantic City may do you some good. You will, of course, stay at the Glenville-Blanchflower. The Marlborough-Blenheim is also quite good, but I think you will find a more mature crowd at the Glenville-Blanchflower."
Do you grasp the point. Bayard, that Mother envisioned me as traveling on something resembling a school bus? I could scarcely hide a smile as I thought of what she might say if she knew my real intentions—that is, to take a scenic cruiser, a high-speed nonstopper!
"Bless you, Mother," I cried. "I shall call the bus station at once!"
An amusing thing happened as I made my reservation over the wire. When the clerk asked for my name, I automatically responded, "Phipps Piper, Harvard '14." The clerk inquired, "What is that—a name or a cheer?" I was then directed to report at Gate 16 on the lower level of the Port Authority Terminal at 9:15 o'clock the following morning. Coles, our chauffeur, drove me to the terminal at 7 o'clock. I wanted plenty of time to drink in the sights.
The terminal is a veritable wonderland of shops, restaurants, lounges, gleaming escalators serving two levels on which the buses arrive and depart. Drawing upon my memory of advertisements I had read, I visualized my own high-speed "scenic cruiser" with its plush reclining seats, rest room and (I was led to believe) a dog mascot. I was in for a shocking surprise.
After strolling through the terminal and marveling at the great crowds streaming up and down the escalators, I decided to take a table at one of the restaurants and have tea and a muffin. As I sipped my tea, I could hear the announcements over the loudspeakers and I was reminded of the song about "far away places with the strange soundin' names." One announcement might say, "Now loading at Gate 21, bus for St. Louis, Springfield, Joplin, Tulsa!" or again, "Chicago, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Portland and Seattle."
From time to time the waitress brought me more tea as I sat listening and making notes in the travel diary I had brought along. I somehow lost all sense of time and I was suddenly electrified to hear the loudspeaker announce: "Nonstop express to Atlantic City now loading at Gate 16. Last call." I jumped to my feet, flinging a bill on the table and, snatching up my traveling case, I literally ran from the restaurant. I had intended to allow myself time to "freshen up" but, of course, that was out of the question. I comforted myself with the thought that the modern bus (a point stressed in the advertisements I had read) boasted its own rest room.
I reached the gate in the nick of time and breathlessly gave my name to the gateman. The motors of the bus were already being "revved up" and as I hurried aboard I was directed to the last seat at the rear. I had barely time to put my case in the rack above the seat (I had understood from the advertisements that luggage was stored amidship) when the bus began to move, slowly at first, then gathering speed through the labyrinthian tunnels of the vast terminal.
I looked about the bus with dismay. It bore no resemblance to the buses pictured in the advertisements and, to my horror, there was no sign of a rest room. I glanced at my seat companion, an attractive, red-haired woman I judged to be in her early '40s. She smiled and I was emboldened to introduce myself.
"A Harvard man?" she said, "I've met a lot of Harvard men in my work."
It seems, Bayard, that the young woman operates a firm which specializes in providing round-the-clock secretarial service for businessmen attending conventions in Atlantic City. It seems that many executives wish to dictate memoranda late at night after the busy convention sessions.
"Truly," I said, "this is the age of specialization." Then I added in an offhand manner, "By the way, do you know if this bus makes rest stops along the way to Atlantic City?"
"No, Dad," she said. "This is strictly nonstop."
"Quite," I said.
Soon we were rolling along the parkway. Despite my disappointment with the appearance of the bus, it was clearly high speed and the expert handling of gas pedal and air brakes by the skipper left nothing to be desired. I studied this worthy carefully. He appeared to be a gentlemanly sort, and so, after about an hour, I made my way to the front of the bus and leaned over to speak to him.
"I was led to believe by your advertisements, Captain," I said, "that there was a rest room aboard."
"No, sir," he said. "No rest room on this bus."
"Well, I must say, young man, that your advertisements are rather misleading. They definitely state that all cruisers carry a rest room as well as a dog."
The young man laughed. "You've been reading the ads for the Greyhound long-haul lines, mister," he said. "This is a short-haul line. You're only aboard for two hours and a half."
I glanced at the other passengers and then leaned down and whispered: "But look here, I was counting on this accommodation. Isn't it possible to make a rest stop somewhere along the way?"
He turned briefly and looked at me. "All right, Pop," he said. "I'll call it an emergency. Sit down and relax."
Well, Bayard, it was most embarrassing. Unhappily, I was the only passenger to take advantage of the rest stop. As I reboarded the bus, a woman cried out: "People who want rest stops should have rested before they got on the bus!"
Returning to my seat, I murmured an apology to the young red-haired woman, expressing regret for having spoiled the nonstop aspect of the trip. She was most gracious. "It's O.K., Dad," she said. "When you got to rest, you got to rest." In my gratitude for her understanding, I suggested she might like to have tea with me at the Glenville-Blanch-flower. She explained that her business would keep her occupied and that not many of her businessman clients were likely to be staying at my hotel. As it turned out, she was quite right. Almost all of the guests at the G.B. were senior citizens like myself who had never actually engaged in business.
The balance of the trip was without incident and just before we turned off the highway the thrilling skyline of Atlantic City loomed in the distance. On an impulse, I shouted, "Well done, skipper!" and clapped my hands in appreciation. It is a sad commentary on the character of today's jaded traveler, Bayard, but the fact is that not a single one of my fellow passengers saw fit to follow my example.
In a matter of minutes, I was checking in at the Glenville-Blanchflower. The desk clerk was most courteous and, when I asked for an ocean view, I was rewarded with a perfectly splendid room directly over the Boardwalk. When the bellboy had left, I rushed to the window and drew up the blinds. I had an excellent view of an attractive billboard on which I could make out the words, "like a cigarette should." Beyond that another sign, this in full neon, then the world-famous Steel Pier stretching a half mile out into the Atlantic.
I might say, in passing, Bayard, that if the Boardwalk is the eighth wonder of the world, the Steel Pier is certainly the ninth. For a single admission of $1.50, one can enjoy a full day's entertainment on the Pier, including a first-rate vaudeville bill, films, the Fun Houses and Crazyville, U.S.A., an exhibition by a diving horse and a lecture about "the transparent woman," a figure made out of glass and plastic.
I raised the window and drank in great gulps of the invigorating sea air. Although Mother had instructed me to take a nap upon my arrival, I simply could not wait to get on the Boardwalk. I opened my case, found my cap and scarf and hurried downstairs.
If you were to ask me, Bayard, what is the greatest single change in the Boardwalk since prewar days (World War I, of course) I should say without hesitation that it is the self-propelled, battery-powered roller chair. The conversion to these scientific marvels is not 100%, but if one is patient one can obtain one without too much delay. The significant thing about the powered roller chair is that the operator sits behind one and operates the controls from this position.
I, of course, waited until a powered chair became available. I have never felt it was quite right to be pushed by one's fellow man and, of course, in these troubled times, the battle for men's minds and all that, I firmly believe that it is time for all of us visiting Atlantic City to sit down and be counted.
As my chair glided noiselessly away from the Boardwalk entrance to the hotel, I took out my notebook and consulted some of the interesting facts about the Boardwalk that I had gleaned in a quick check of the excellent library at the Glenville-Blanchflower.
Did you know, Bayard, that the Boardwalk will be 91 years old this June? And that it was conceived, not primarily as the grand promenade we know today but simply as the device of an innkeeper to keep the patrons from tracking sand into his lobby? The original Boardwalk was only eight feet wide and a mile long. Today's walk is eight miles long and sixty feet wide and, lined as it is by shops and auction rooms and booths offering all manner of health foods and the celebrated salt-water taffy, endlessly fascinating.
Not enough stress has been placed (in my opinion) on the educational values of the Boardwalk. I refer specifically to the lectures concerning health foods. As we glided along in the powered chair, I directed the operator to stop at several booths where lectures were in progress. At the first the lecturer delivered a bitter attack on aspirin. He said there was absolutely no need to take aspirin if one took the proper daily amount of certain vitamins. He was most persuasive and I purchased a bottle of vitamin capsules (at less than half price) and made a note to tell Mother about the hazards of aspirin. She has been eating them like candy for the past 60 years.
At the next booth we came upon, the lecturer was demonstrating a remarkable electric vegetable blender into which he put raw eggs—shells and all—celery, an unpeeled lemon ("a rich source of the reproductive vitamins"), raw cabbage, carrots, beets and pineapple. This was blended into a delicious and refreshing drink as I discovered when free samples were passed around. The lecturer denounced sleeping pills and calf's-foot jelly and said that a daily glass of the blended vegetables would strengthen toenails and fingernails and induce sound, restful sleep. The price of the blender was $69.95, but it was being sold on this day for $39.95. The difference would be charged off to advertising. I purchased the blender, promising to demonstrate it for my friends in order to justify the special advertising price. Alas, although my intentions were of the best, this was not to be. Testing the machine in my room at the Glenville-Blanchflower, I failed to notice that the current was DC. The blender was AC and it exploded in a great puff of smoke. I did not have the heart to return it since the lecturer had already suffered a loss in letting me have the device at the advertising price.
There are a number of "musts" along the Boardwalk. One should not miss sampling the Taylor Pork Roll, nor a shore dinner at Hackney's (which can serve 3,000 persons at a single sitting), the splendid buffet lunch in the Fjord Room at Hotel Dennis and the hot roast-beef sandwiches at Childs. However, for myself, I enjoyed nothing quite so much as the social evenings at my hotel. The social director was most inventive and something was going on all the time, with wheel chairs fairly racing through the great lobby and the game room filled with the merry cries of the middle-aged crowd as they played billiards, ping-pong and table shuffle-board. A musicale was given every evening and there were a number of informal symposiums. One symposium subject was "Recent Reading I've Liked." It was at this pleasant affair that I myself won warm applause for an extemporaneous account of a recent Reader's Digest article on the care of the feet, stressing the importance of changing one's shoes from day to day. It was voted "most appropriate" with so many Boardwalk strollers present. Only one mishap marred the social calendar. At a Saturday evening dance a senior citizen of advanced seniority thoughtlessly popped two pieces of salt-water taffy into his mouth (some young person had passed a box around), and soon the old gentleman was uttering the most frightening groans. Panic spread through the room and pillboxes appeared as if by magic. However, the hotel staff was prepared for just such emergencies. A swift examination of the groaning old man revealed that the salt water taffy had brought on a case of locked dentures. He was carried out to be treated by a resident dentist.
The incident cast a pall on the festivities and people began to drift off to their rooms. I decided to take a turn on the Boardwalk before retiring. It was a beautiful night with a full moon and I stood at the railing of the walk looking out at the sea and listening to the gently rolling surf. I was suddenly very tired, and I thought to myself that perhaps travel had become (as Mother insists) too frantic in the high-speed age. A feeling of melancholy came over me as it sometimes does when I watch the sea.
But then there was suddenly the sound of singing. I turned around and beheld a parade of perhaps eight roller chairs. In the first chair, which she shared with a man who was clearly of executive caliber in the business world, was my seat companion of the bus trip, the red-haired young woman who operated the secretarial service. In the chairs following were more young—even younger—women, each accompanied by an executive type. I thought to cry out to my friend of the bus trip, but decided against that. Instead I listened to the words of the song all were singing so joyously. It was On the Boardwalk a! AI Ian tic City.
I have never been so moved in my life, Bayard. My spirits were lifted enormously. With such young people about, Bayard, and with such energetic executives fairly radiating confidence in our free-enterprise system, I felt a little proud to be (along with Mother) a shareholder in so many of our great corporations.
But one does tire. I shall return home tomorrow. I do not feel up to the highspeed bus. I shall take the train, changing at North Philadelphia, and, of course, there will be stops at Trenton, Princeton Junction, New Brunswick and Newark. It will not be high speed, but I am in the mood for leisurely travel and there will be rest rooms on every car. And Mother cannot object. She forbade me to ride on the New Haven Railroad. I shall be taking the Pennsylvania.
With all good wishes, your friend,
Phipps Piper, '14