Llewellyn King: Remembering when airlines cared; mills better to live in than to work in

Notebook

One expects the weather in Chicago in winter to disrupt travel plans, if you have to go through the city or are destined to visit there. However, one doesn’t expect to be trapped in clear but windy weather in Chicago because New England is having a winter convulsion.

But that is just what happened to me last Thursday. You get that sinking feeling when you get to the airport and you are told your flight has been canceled. Expletives escape otherwise elegant mouths, like air out of a punctured tire.

It seems to be somewhat worse than it used to be because the airlines no longer feel responsible for you. If a flight had to be canceled in times past, the airline would find you an hotel; reschedule your flight, possibly on another carrier; and, well, treat you as though you were a valued customer.

Deregulation put paid to that. Not all at once, but bit by bit to the point where you are of no interest to the carrier.

You can huff, puff, tweet (it is part of huffing and puffing circa 2017), but you might as well rage at a Northeaster. It does what it does, and airlines do what they do. They have shifted the responsibility of force-majure cancellations on to you: To be the customer of any large organization is to be inconsequential.

Do what you have to do: suck it up.

Snow, Let It Snow

The snows of New England are one of the joys of New England to me.

My love affair, in the way of love affairs, came to me when I was a young man, just turned 20, who had moved from balmy, weather-unchallenged Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, keen to see all of the wonders of the British Isles – and snow. I had imagined it, but I had never seen the stuff.

As it was, my imagining had got it about right. So it is hard for me to understand why people would desert the wonders of the Northland for the heat of the flat, hot Southland – Florida, in particular.

For my first snow, when I should have been editing at the old United Press International in London, I was to be found glued to a window watching my snow fall. Man, that was living!

All these years later, snow still thrills. You might think I ski. No, I just like snow, good, honest, New England snow -- like its lobster rolls, its snow can’t be beat.

Nostalgia for Hard Times

 

  The Royal Mill, in West Warwick, R.I., home of Llewellyn King and his wife, Linda Gasparello, and where Fruit of the Loom fabric used to be made.

The Royal Mill, in West Warwick, R.I., home of Llewellyn King and his wife, Linda Gasparello, and where Fruit of the Loom fabric used to be made.

There is nostalgia loose in the land for the days when factories hummed, belching smoke and steam and, incidentally, other pollutants, and men and women clocked in three shifts a day.

If you ride the train south from Boston to Washington, D.C., you can see the debris of that time: deserted red brick factories with their broken windows, like tears, lamenting their fall; beautiful mill buildings, begging for a second chance to serve.

The nostalgia is for a time when the sign you see from the train in New Jersey -- “Trenton Makes, the World Takes” -- was incontrovertibly true.

I live in a converted mill in Rhode Island, once the proud home of one of the great names in garment manufactures -- Fruit of the Loom. The result of the grand days of mills is, converted, a grand place to live. High ceilings and big rooms over a river are the stuff of realtors’ brochures. Big windows let in scads of light and the workmanship, mostly by Italian stonemasons, is a reminder of how it was when craftsmen “built things to last.”

It also, like most of those mills and factories, those stone or red brick tombs stuffed with memories of another time, must have been a hellish place to work. Freezing, unheated in winter, broiling in summer, filled with noxious fumes from the dyes and fibers from the cotton, where men and women -- near slaves -- had traded the misery of agriculture for the misery of repetitive, ghastly labor.

A sense of the horror of the mills can be got by visiting the museum at the Slater Mill, which opened in Pawtucket in 1793. A little shop of horrors!

Work is good, but factory work less so. Automation is confining repetitive manual labor largely to the dust heap, and is doing so even in China.

Your correspondent would much rather live in a mill today than have worked in one back in the day. One hopes that new technologies and materials will make for new work, better work.

Car Experts: The Luxury Surprise

Sitting through a hearing in Washington on infrastructure revitalization, an area where I am a recognized bore, a surprising bit of news surfaces: the head of BMW North America, Ludwig Willisch, tells the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that BMW, not Detroit’s American brands, is the largest exporter of cars from the United States.

Note that for future arguments about trade.

Llewellyn King (llewellynking1@gmail.com), a frequent New England Diary contributor,  is host of White House Chronicle (whchronicle.com), on PBS. He is veteran broadcaster, publisher, columnist and international business consultant, especially in energy matters.