Letter from Barbados. I have witnessed two “green flashes” during my two-week winter holiday in balmy (84 degrees, bright equatorial sun, and steady and cooling Caribbean breeze) Barbados.
The green flashes, a moment of no more than a second or so, occur every so often at sunset, just as the last slice of sun is disappearing below the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean. Scientists confirm that the rarely observed green flashes are for real — not just the tricks that a rum-addled brain is playing on a Yankee tourist. The flashes are caused by the sun’s light refracting in the atmosphere, with the spectrums of light disappearing one by one, with that brief but bold green flash the last light shining.
I don’t see a column in those flashes, but a few other ideas have flashed across my mental horizon on an otherwise non-work related vacation.
I gave up my cell phone for two weeks, but thanks to my low-level addiction to E-mail one subject has followed me to Barbados: the February 17 column on Dr. Bob Rivers and his account of growing up in Jim Crow Princeton in the 1940s, and then earning a ticket out of town with an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a medical degree from Harvard. One reader is urging me to follow up that story with a cover story on Princeton’s historically black Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood.
As interesting as the column on Rivers was, the reader suggests that U.S. 1 look even more closely at the neighborhood, including Shirley Satterfield, a sixth-generation Princetonian who became a guidance counselor at Princeton High School, and Jim Floyd Sr., the first black mayor of Princeton Township (and also the father of the college classmate cited in my column).
Another E-mail writer also appreciated the history of the Witherspoon-Jackson community, but also was drawn to my description of Rosso’s Cafe in the 1970s, the workingman’s bar on Spring Street that even then was one of the few social spots where blacks and whites in town regularly came together. “We need to talk about Rosso’s Cafe,” the reader says.
Great idea, I reply, but I’m on vacation in Barbados, and memories of Rosso’s will have to wait.
His response: “Wise man. We were there a couple of weeks ago; should have stayed longer. By the way, if you are interested and have some time, there is a Concorde on display in a museum hangar at the airport. We found it quite interesting.”
The Concorde, the marvel of aviation and technology, on display in Barbados of all places. Who knew.
A few days later we are there. The sleek supersonic passenger jet, developed jointly in the 1960s and ’70s by the British and French, is quite a sight: A 203-foot-long aircraft that carried anywhere from 92 to 128 passengers at a maximum speed of over twice the speed of sound — 1,350 miles per hour — at an altitude of 60,000 feet. The plane is visually unlike anything else, with gracefully curved and sculpted delta wings to permit both the supersonic flight and the delicate landing, and a flexible nose that droops down at takeoff and landing to provide pilot visibility.
It’s also an engineering marvel, down to the type of paint used on the fuselage to reduce the heat created by the supersonic speed.
A book for sale at the museum gift shop, written by one of the pilots who frequently flew the Concorde, described the strange sensation of flying over the top of, say, a 747 jumbo jet three or four miles below. The jumbo jet seemed to be flying backward. And passengers bound from London or Paris to New York may have felt they had traveled back in time. With a five-hour time difference between the continent and the states, and three and a half hours of travel time for the Concorde, you could arrive in New York earlier in the day than when you left Europe.
Back at the hotel restaurant after the Concorde tour I see someone on the muted television wearing a red hat with white lettering that says “Make America Great Again.” In the case of supersonic jet passenger travel, the United States was never really that great. In fact, it wasn’t even in second place. The only other commercially operated supersonic passenger plane was the Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-144, which ran for only two or three years before it was retired due to safety concerns and budget problems. The American supersonic transport (SST) never got off the ground in terms of commercial viability.
That red “Make America Great Again” hat brings me back to another lingering idea in my semi-functional, on-vacation brain. How am I doing with my political picks? Back on January 6, I made a New Year’s prediction in the presidential primary races:
Hillary Clinton, I predicted then, “will win the Democratic nomination but not before Bernie Sanders throws her a scare in New Hampshire.” By the time I left for vacation Sanders had won that primary, was poised to win more, and was backed by an army of small donors who seemed likely to guarantee him a prolonged battle in the primaries.
I’m sticking with my prediction but I’d feel better about it if Hillary learned how to take a hit and then move on. Yes, Bernie, I have made some money giving speeches to Wall Street and you have done great with small donors. But in this Citizens United era we will need both big and small money to beat the Republicans in November. And we have to do more than win the presidency. If Democrats lose many more Senate seats the GOP will have the votes to override presidential vetoes. The TV at the hotel is muted, but I suspect I will never hear that kind of statement from Hillary.
On the Republican side, I predicted in early January that Donald Trump would eventually — after some prodigious deal-making — be the nominee. I haven’t seen any deal-making whatsoever, but voters continue to be enthralled by Trump’s “make America great” message. So far he has proved to be much more than a rare green flash on the horizon.