If you've ever been to the IKEA in South Philadelphia, you know the sight.
It's an odd place for a sprawling furniture store, within a stone's throw of the Delaware River, in plain sight of the Walt Whitman Bridge and in a surprisingly sparse area when you consider the ZIP code. But when you go to IKEA, and you park between the store and the river, you'll take in a lungful of clear(ish) air and an eyeful of surprisingly-endearing post-industrial urban renewal. It's really a very pleasant experience.
Then you'll turn around to face the river and say to yourself, "Holy shit, there's a ship in this parking lot." Because, for lack of a more delicate way of putting it, there's a ship in the parking lot.
You'll turn to face the river and see the S.S. United States moored to Pier 82. And what a sight it is. Nearly a thousand feet in length, the United States is the largest American-built passenger ship, and the fastest ocean liner in history. With its combination of sharp bow and gently-curving hull, low-set superstructure and twin smokestacks canted back like the wings on a jet fighter, it's a beautiful sight.
There are machines that are more art than engineering, whose forms fit a purpose and also bridge the gap between the functional and, frankly, the erotic. The S.S. United States is one of those machines. Even with a patina of corrosion marring its hull, you can almost see it hurtling across the Atlantic, carrying thousands of passengers in supreme comfort in the final days before airliners rendered it and its kind obsolete for good.
Even though it's spent the past 17 years tied to a pier, you can't help but dream on the possibilities that ship represents. It almost seems wrong to keep it there, even though restoring it to seaworthiness would be perhaps the worst idea in the history of economics, when you consider the cost of such a project multiplied by the remoteness of the possibility that you'd find enough people dumb enough to buy tickets for the slowest, most expensive trip money can buy across a cold, faceless expanse. It's like going to the Moon if the Moon were Liverpool.
So now they're trying to make the United States into a casino or a hotel, which sounds like a great idea, except for the fact that you'd be dealing with smaller rooms for more money than it would cost to build on dry land. There's really no reason, apart from nostalgia, to keep the ship around.
Except...what nostalgia. What a reminder of the glamorous postwar years, when American industry and ingenuity build things of such scale and ambition. When our wealth was vulgar and our might self-evident. You can't help but want the rusting hulk in the IKEA parking lot to be worth something, to be useful. You want to live in days where it would be practical to restore something that impressive and beautiful to its prime condition.
And that's why a conservation group spent $3 million on a now-worthless behemoth that we once looked at with awe and on which we dreamed impressive dreams. Dreams that we now know will go unfulfilled for all time, but not before more well-meaning people waste more time, more effort and more money on something that will go unused.
So, yes, given the opportunity, the Sixers should get rid of Kwame Brown.