I read the following travel piece this past week, and marveled at how much I loved the writing. The topic is one that we are musing over too. Since CP is nothing if not eclectic, I offer the first part of Neil Genzlinger’s Full Steam On The Mississippi for your consideration. This is just a grand story.
FEW who survived it — and, in truth, we all survived it — will soon forget the Great Yazoo Steamboat Wreck of 2012. For one thing, it seemed briefly as if it might disrupt our 5 p.m. dinner seating, which would have raised a howl loud enough to send a hog to church. For another, it was the most exciting thing that happened during our pleasantly lazy six days on the American Queen, a grand steamboat that made a much anticipated return to river cruising this spring after several years at rest.
But I’ll tell more about the wreck by and by. Let’s have this odyssey of history, economics and gastro-economics start where it begins, in New Orleans, city of the curious and the wicked.
Many in that town took time out from their curious wickedness on a Thursday in April to come down to the waterfront and get an eyeful of the American Queen as it sat alongside the Riverwalk Marketplace preparing for its first paying passengers in four years. Anyone who says he wouldn’t want to pass a few minutes staring at the American Queen is either a liar or cross-eyed. It’s the biggest steamboat ever built, people who know about such things swear, and when it’s floating on the Mississippi, one of the biggest rivers ever built, something just feels right about the world.
Most sources list the boat at 418 feet long. A few say 419. Me, I’ve presided over enough laundry mishaps to know that where there’s water there’s shrinkage, and I own enough sponges to know that where there’s water there’s also expansion, so I believe that the length of the American Queen depends on when you measure it. For the purposes of this tale, just accept that it is a very large boat and that fish from Minnesota to Louisiana warn their grandchildren about the formidable red paddle wheel on the back.
The American Queen’s history has been short but eventful, and lovers of the gentle, genteel pastime of steamboat cruising have been watching to see if that history would have any new chapters. The boat, built in 1995 by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, had some fine years on the Mississippi and elsewhere. But no craft made can outrun hard times, and in 2008 the Majestic America Line, which had come to own the American Queen, faltered.