Is there a way to tie together some of the big local, national and global stories of the past week — the Kalakala, the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, Greece – in one tidy package with one unifying theme for your Sunday reading pleasure?
Why yes there is. We’ll title today’s ruminations “the fun and downside of living on other people’s money.”
The Kalakala, the Art Deco ferry turned rescue project turned floating (and listing) money pit and navigation hazard — wound up on the scrap heap, having finally exhausted its options and nearly everyone’s patience.
As a fan of old transportation technology — planes, trains, cars, boats — your columnist is sorry to see the Kalakala go. Had he the money, he might have opted to restore it not to operating and floating condition but as a land-based display piece (similar to what was done with the paddlewheel snag-removal boat in Anacortes) to double as museum exhibit, restaurant or event center.
But he doesn’t have the money nor, apparently did any of the ferry’s various owners in its later years. Their ambitions far outpaced their financial resources and planning abilities, which were enough to get the Kalakala out of the Alaskan mud and down to Puget Sound, but not enough to come up with a viable plan for restoration. The plan, such as it was, was to rely on other people’s money. When it turned out there was no “other person” with sufficient interest or money to take on the Kalakala, off to the scrappers it went.
It’s sad, but it happens. To cite one other local example of a lack of a “someone else” stepping in to rescue some interesting vintage transportation equipment, Point Defiance used to be the home of the Camp 6 logging exhibit, whose collection included a Shay steam locomotive. But there wasn’t enough money or interest locally to maintain and sustain the collection, never mind the hundreds of thousands it might take to restore that steam locomotive to operating condition. Would it have been cool to see and hear the locomotive trundle through the big trees? Sure. You got the money to make that happen? Didn’t think so.
On occasion, there is a someone else whose investment in hobbies, pastimes and personal interests wind up adding to the community. Harold LeMay assembled a car collection that might be impossible to duplicate today even if you had the financial resources. Because his family decided to transform a part of that collection into a museum, Tacoma gets an amenity to enjoy and an attraction that is an integral part of its tourism industry.
Similarly, the quirk of history that led a German retailing executive with an interest in art of the American West to take a liking to a city in the Pacific Northwest led to Tacoma being home to an enviable and remarkable collection to be enjoyed by residents and visitors.
We’re not freeloaders on these civic assets; frequently the locals are asked to pitch in with their own contributions (and when those contributions involve public funds, controversy often ensues). It’s also not always true that such projects have to come from the someone else — which brings us to the matter of the Seahawks and the Super Bowl.
Had history not taken the fortuitous (for fans here, anyway) turns that it did, we might be preparing the chips and dip for watching the third Super Bowl appearance of the Los Angeles Seahawks. That assumes a lot, starting with the notion that the Seahawks’ competitive abilities would have improved under owner Ken Behring after he moved the team.
But we don’t have to assume any of that, because Behring’s attempted move was thwarted, and Paul Allen stepped in to buy the team, get a new stadium built (with the public’s participation and no small amount of the aforementioned controversy) and turn its on-field performance around. While he was already a pro-sports-team owner, the idea of also owning the Seahawks didn’t originate with him. But lucky for local football fans that Allen was here when the opportunity arose; he was the someone else that kept the Seahawks here.
Some people are notorious about going through life relying on the support and intervention of other people and their money. So are some countries. We could make that case about the U.S. and its deficits being underwritten by foreign investors. We definitely can make that case about Greece, which has just elected to political power a party whose main platform can be summed up as, “Ha ha, not only are we not going to cut spending and pay back what we borrowed, we’re going to spend and borrow more.”
Now it’s up to those who purport to run Europe to decide to indulge Greece one more time or stop throwing more money into a listing, sinking economy of no great international import. We shouldn’t get too smug about it, whatever the decision. Ours is an economy of huge international import, but maybe even we’re capable of exhausting the patience and wallets of the world’s other people.
In the meantime, if you have some major endeavor in mind, know how you’re going to pay for it before you embark on it. If you don’t have the resources in hand before you start, don’t count on a someone else dramatically materializing to rescue you; that worked for the Seahawks, but not the Kalakala. Otherwise, your dream may wind up figuratively or literally scuttled.
Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at email@example.com.