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This sprawling period piece is run by a retired army colonel, Robert Day, from whose office window can be seen the lawn where Richard Sears won in 1881 and where the U.S. tennis centennial will be celebrated next July. "Newport Week," played immediately after Wimbledon, is the only Grand Prix grass-court tournament left in this hemisphere. It is now called the Miller Hall of Fame Tennis Championships and mid the Victorian splendor, above the white chalk lines on the fog-fed green grass, under a towering red maple, the linesmen sit in little red boxes that read: IT'S MILLER TIME. Proof again: there's no such thing as a free lunch.
But the Casino carries on. Driving away from it, down mansion-lined Bellevue Avenue and around the bend to beautiful Ocean Drive, a visitor is reminded that most of the colony and its heirs have cut and run, turning their "cottages" over to the Preservation Society of Newport County and the paying tourists. These vacationers appear to be no different from their kind everywhere—the hideous tank tops, cutoff jeans, jogging shoes, loud children. They seem cowed by the huge scale of the mansions, awed by the detail, and there is very much the sense—this may be why Newport works so well—that none of this was ever real. "It's like, you know, The Beverly Hillbillies," a father tries to explain to his children at The Breakers, the 70-room Vanderbilt edifice.
The Preservation Society hostesses who guide tourists through these mansions say that very seldom do they express any resentment toward the Vanderbilts or the Astors and their ostentatious ways. The remove is too great. Certainly at, say, Williamsburg, there is much more of a feeling of history. And there is an identity there, too: our forefathers actually lived this. No one could ever feel that way about these opulent Newport houses. It is not like visiting the past, or even a different America; it is, for most of the tourists, a trip into a fairy tale.
Boats—and the America's Cup—fit in perfectly with the mansions. While expensive cars can make the average man jealous, because—Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish notwithstanding—we all do have cars, yachts are no longer real, either.
J.P. Morgan once said, "You can do business with anyone, but you can go sailing only with a gentleman."
Ted Turner says, "Why should anyone be resentful of us? It's just like the United Fund."
It is a summer Saturday, 5 p.m., the very apex of a week at the height of the season. Both the Americans and foreigners have been out racing today, and the gorgeous 12-meters are coming back to dock through a wall of fog that has just moved across the bay. But virtually no visitors look up. At Christie's, a Dixieland band is playing on the dock. Down on the wharves, more commemorative T shirts, mugs and posters get turned over. "You can sell anything with the name Newport on it now," says Jock West, who manages the new Newport International Sailing Show. "Anything." The day-shift waitresses and bartenders serve the night-shift waitresses and bartenders. No one seems to wonder who won the boat races. The America's Cup is merely an "attraction"—its name draws tourists to Newport. But once there, they don't see it, so who cares?
By contrast, a couple of hours earlier, Turner strolled down Bannister's Wharf. Courageous was not to race this day. People stopped in their tracks, came out of the boutiques to point him out. It was so nice to see something real, something that actually was part of the America's Cup.
But then he was gone, and it was back to basics, back to souvenirs. It is especially important to buy memories of the America's Cup, because, if you don't ever see anything of it, how can you remember it without a little memento?
America's Cup, Newport 1980, says the commemorative T shirt. Skippy Topsider III is in madras Bermudas today. "Time for a little chowder action down at The Pearl," he says. It is nearing night-shift time, when the day-shift waitresses and bartenders can become the customers. Someday, not so long from now, they will all be housewives and insurance salesmen in Harrisburg and Hartford, reminiscing about the America's Cup of 1980 in good old Newport, but for now—and good for them—they have put off the more earnest aspects of life and have bought one more hazy summer as a child behind an apron. "Are the boats back yet?" somebody at the bar asks without really caring.