In 1973, when we last looked in on Senior Writer Coles Phinizy, he was recuperating from another of his accidents, a badly bruised back that he had suffered while sailing aboard the ocean racer American Eagle. That was a minor mishap for Phinizy, a charter member of the SI staff, who previously had survived three airplane crashes, a 4,200-foot drop to earth under a burst balloon and a couple of attacks even he considers bizarre: one by a red kangaroo, the other by a gang of oysters.
Well, it is both gladdening and saddening to report that things have not changed for Phinizy. As A Rocket Ride to Glory and Gloom, his story (page 26) about the setting of a new women's land-speed record on a remote Oregon desert, proves, he is still willing to go anyplace to write about anything that moves on land, on the sea (or under it) or in the air. But, alas, while Phinizy was at work on the article, he was also enhancing his own legend.
When he arrived at the Alvord Desert, site of the record attempt, he already knew that his luggage, including a duffel bag containing the notes from three weeks of research, was in Denver. The airline had mislaid it, which was no surprise to Phinizy, who once arrived for an assignment in Fairbanks, Alaska only to find that his bags had been sent to Juneau and Point Barrow. While the airline arranged to ship his belongings to the bus station in Burns, Ore. (pop. 3,293), 110 miles away, Phinizy had to rough it with the clothes he was wearing, an old sleeping bag loaned by the airline and an emergency toilet kit that consisted, he recalls, of "shaving cream, a razor and just enough toothpaste to brush the teeth of one small fish."
Phinizy's work at Alvord concluded, he rushed to Burns. There he located the bus station—or what was left of it after it had been gutted by fire. Convinced that his notes had gone up in flames, Phinizy considered phoning New York to call the whole thing off, but first he inquired about the fire at a house next door to the ruined depot. To Phinizy's relief, the man who answered the door said that the bus transporting the wayward baggage had arrived after the blaze and that he had decided to hold the luggage until someone arrived to claim it.
January 17, 1977
Predictably, this was not the only near-disaster that Phinizy encountered while working on his story. Back in October he had spent days watching the rocket-powered vehicle undergo tests and talking with its designer and driver. He realized then that it would eventually break the record. To save time, he sat down to write a first draft, figuring he could add particulars from the record-setting attempt when it occurred. Just as he was finishing, Phinizy got a call from a marina owner in Norwalk, Conn. where he moors his 24-foot sloop.
"I have something to tell you about your sailboat," the man said.
"Yes?" asked Phinizy.
"It sank this morning," the man said.
His story safely on Senior Editor Bob Brown's desk, Phinizy was back in Norwalk last week repairing his boat. It was brought to the surface easily enough, but it was coated with ice. Phinizy chiseled off most of it, then mixed an acid bath to clean off the wires. Accidentally, he took a deep whiff of the stuff, let loose a violent cough—and busted a rib.