When Travel Was Civilized.
There was a time when long distance travel was only undertaken by train or steamship and was almost always a pleasurable experience. None more so than when the ocean liners Matsonia and Lurline crossed the Pacific transporting visitors to and from Hawaii.
In the 1920s and 30s, vacations in Hawaii typically lasted many weeks simply because it took so long to get here. Sometime in the early 1930s, my grandfather brought his entire household here for the entire summer: his wife, their four children–one being my father–and the family housekeeper. From Connecticut, it was almost a two-week trip for them—by train to Chicago, then on to San Francisco, all in comfortable sleeping car accommodations; then by steamship on to Honolulu.
Boat Days were special here, especially when the Matsonia or the Lurline were departing from Honolulu for the West Coast. Passengers boarded the ship well ahead of the departure time and many would host champagne receptions in their staterooms for friends they had made here during their lengthy stays. Of course, all their friends brought leis as parting gifts and the travelers—men and women alike— would soon be piled high with the fragrant garlands.
When the “All Ashore” was announced, guests left the ship and reassembled on the pier below to wave and shout their good-byes. Up on deck, the travelers would appear at the railing, calling and waving to those below. The ship’s whistle would blow a long mournful blast and, as the moorings were released and the ship eased slowly away from the pier, passengers tossed some of their leis into the water, the legend being if the flowers floated back toward shore, they would someday return to Hawaii. Finally, the Royal Hawaiian Band would strike up “Aloha Oe” and that was when everyone—passengers on board and friends and relatives on the pier—burst into tears.
By the time I arrived in Hawaii in 1962, the jet age had begun and the scheduled trans-Pacific steamships were in their final days. And that was a great pity because I only experienced Boat Day once and I don’t mind telling you, I bawled like a baby.
Over the past 60 or 70 years, we seem to have forgotten that those steamships and long-distance trains were the public transportation of that time. Somehow we were able to make travel for all classes of people a civilized and, for many more than the elite few, even a gracious experience. Passenger rail has always had that capability. It still does. Surely, with this country’s limitless talent and resources, continuing to allow our passenger rail system to shrivel and decline would be a national disgrace. It cannot be permitted.