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May 24, 1946

Hello; this is Alan Scott saying things about this and that. We have a special feature planned for this morning’s edition. It’s one I think you’ll find interesting. You’ve probably been reading about the big league spelling bee which has had the boys and girls all over the country sharpening up their vowels and consonants. Today is the day for the big finals. The boy or girl who spells down all opposition today will be crowned national champ and will carry home, when and if there are trains to carry him or her home, some plumb prizes. Whoever wins it today though will have to be mighty sharp. The field for the finals represents the toughest competition there is in the great American indoor sport. Every contestant is the winner of his respective regional contest. So they’re all champs in a sense and this final round will seek out the champion of champions. I understand that there are millions of school children tuned this way right now . . . and for good reason. They’d all like to have a look in on the final round and see what it’s like. But we can’t all get to Washington without that special carpet patented by Sinbad. However, the magic carpet is provided by the mutual broadcasting facilities. Just sit right where you are . . . the railroad strike can’t stop you . . . and let’s look in now on the National Press Club in Washington.


Pretty grim set of ground rules isn’t it? Even if I had some idea how a few words are spelled. I think after all that I‘d have been sacred. I couldn’t remember the names of the letters. I half expected the pronouncer to wind up by saying no hitting in the cubicles. Shake hands and come out spelling.

Well that was a pretty smooth trip wasn’t it? No bumps . . . .no waiting in line for tickets . . . not that a ticket will get you anywhere today. No spelling either for that matter. But it was a quick trip to the National Press Club in Washington and enough to give you the feel of what it’s like to be sitting in on the National Finals of an old fashioned spell-down in a streamlined edition. You’ll get the results later in the day. And a quick trip anywhere today is something you can negotiate only by radio.

I don’t mean to make light of the railroad strike . . . because it is certainly no lightweight issue. But it’s extraordinary how scrambled and at loose ends the nation finds itself because the trains have stopped moving. I don’t know. Maybe we’re more conscious of the paralysis here in New York than some of you are. Where you are perhaps is not so dependent on the movement of trains. But come to think of it . . . is there any such place? Even out on North Lonesome Road in Easter Egg County which is eight miles from a flag stop . . . there’s something missing today. The neighbors know it’s five o’clock when the Limited goes through and sounds its wailing whistle at the crossing. No Limited; no five o’clock. It’s like the legend of the rooster who invites the sun to rise by crowing.

It’s an arresting fact that a nation can be rendered so completely numb in its mobile muscles. It’s as if some giant foot had stepped on a cosmic nerve center. And yet it wasn’t long ago as time is reckoned in the history books when there were no railroads. People managed to survive. And yet it’s true that now we have become so dependent on them, it takes no more than a casual glance to observe that we can’t get along without them.

There is no validity in the argument that our great grandfathers didn’t need railroads to live reasonably full, complete, self sufficient lives. No argument at all. A good deal of history was etched in the archives before Benjamin Franklin teased some electricity out of the storm but what a slow up and chaos there would be if . . . for example, the bomb they drop experimentally on the Bikini Islands does something to the physical properties of this planet which neutralizes all electrical energy. Or even something less drastic. Suppose the bomb reaction upsets the ether and silences all radio transmission? For all that you are sometimes annoyed by your neighbor’s radio . . . I’ll bet you’d miss it. Just try to imagine what it would be like without that all around utility infielder . . . electricity. I imagine there are some fellows who wouldn’t know how to shave with a scrape razor. It’s no comfort whatever to say that we ought to be ashamed of ourselves . . . big grown up country like this . . . wearing long pants and going out with girls and all . . . and floored simply because the trains sit down in their tracks.

It’s true that great great grandpappy . . . Jamie Scott could walk from Heather to Glasgow with nothing to aid him but a stout walking stick and a pair of sturdy leather boots . . . and at the age of 84. The thing is that great great grandpop Jamie didn’t live 24 miles from his place of business . . . as his great great grandson does. Many New Yorkers live fifty and sixty miles outside the city. They have to. No room for them any nearer. That’s what makes New York, the dramatic barometer it is, to tie up like this. I know that New York likes to play at being the whole works and will only admit with condescension that the rest of the country is something of a roomy suburb . . . and it annoys me too. But for a city that claims to have everything right in its maw, it sure is a scrambled egg when the trains get a cramp in the wheels. It isn’t just a case of people not being able to get to it. It’s also a case of half million or so who don’t belong in it trapped and unable to get out.

I was thinking of those boys and girls down in Washington and their parents or teachers who have them in tow. They hail from all parts of the country and they went down to the Spelling Bee Final with nothing worrying them but how to syllabilize mnemonics and eleemosynary. Now they’re going to be stuck. I’m sure the kids will like it. Free movies . . . no school work . . . sight seeing trips . . . one long holiday. Of course I’m aware that this is a much too frivolous slant to take on a sober dilemma. We should be rubbing a grave chin about long range problems of transportation of essentials goods and so on. But everybody else is doing that. I’m going to change the subject.