The prime viewing point for the shuttle liftoff this morning was occupied by a battered VW camper with Arizona plates that left Montreal six months ago, successfully toured Mexico, blew its engine and transmission in New Orleans and rattled to a stop here yesterday morning.
The VW camper was occupied by Dominique Palvadeau, a Canadian bartender, and his companion, Sylviane Tromeur of Rouens, France. It was no puzzlement at all to Palvadeau why the park was packed with fellow travelers from all over the country.
"This shuttle, it's very special, even though it doesn't go anywhere. It's like me, you know? I spent all my money to go whereever I've never been before. Every time, I learned something I never learned in the school."
This park is the acknowledge best place to be this morning for these highway voyagers. It is a sandy spit about eight miles south of the launch pad, where pelicans fly low over an azure sea prickled with fishing poles. The launch is visible for almost 50 miles, but it's good to be close and on the coast since the rocket's trajectory takes it out to the sea.
Jetty Park is a tailgate party for which entire mansions fold down, and appropriate social rituals with them.
The biggest traveling house on the block belongs to Mrs. Alfonse Cenzi of Rochester, N.Y. It is an orange, multiwheeled vehicle with a plushed interior, a shower (the shower is full of dieffenbachia plants because they need the shade) and large closets. "The closets are superb," said Cenzi.
As benefits her role as hostess, she had invited the neighbors to dinner the night before. That meant she had spent the day over the stove in her trailer cooking her special lasagna sauce and spicy sausage, but she said she enjoyed it. However, there are tensions.
"We've been here already a month," Cenzi said, "and we moved the camper three times to get a good place. Then just yesterday some guy pulled right in front of our view. But you can't say anything. What are you going to say?"
Also, she can't watch her television set because it means running the engine, which would annoy othe campers. "It wouldn't be right," she said.
Yesterday the fifth grade of Highland's elementary school in Kissimmee, Fla., pulled up in a cloud of giggles and enough peanut butter and jelly to feed a Mars expedition. This is a special class fo gifted pupils, and all 26 of them have IQs in excess of 130.
"Sometimes that's good and sometimes that's not good," explained the mother of gifted Clint Grissom, 11.
Why are the kids watching the liftoff in person instead of on television?
"Because it's a field trip," said Jill Bruschke, 11.
Her teacher, Dan Grell, amplified: "These kids are reading history, but they're tired of hearing of what was done in the past. They want to see what we're doing now. And, of course, they don't remember the moon landing."
Jetty Park is a movable feast of transportation and it's remarkable how many Americans are able to sample the menu. They come by Starcraft and Open Road and Coachmen, and Delta, Airstream, Funcraft, Xplorer, Midas Champion, Travelcraft, Pace Arrow, Rockwood, Jayco, Winnebago, Ultracamper and Shasta. And from Ohio someone came on a Honda Goldwing 1000 motorcycle with stereo, cigarette lighter and CB.
They stopped these vehicles in front of the Atlantic at the very edge of terrestrial navigation. On the sea itself, motorboats and yachtsmen and shrimpers with 50-foot trolling booms spread like wings, and surfers and catamaran kids pick up the transportation torch and carry it onto the waves.
Planes and helicopters glide by with the birds -- and it makes perfect sense to everybody on the beach that a rocket ship was to roar straight up and away from all of it, a big fiery travel trailer in the passing lane.
There is a sense of enjoyment on this beach, of expectation, of things being right, of the marvel of spectating that is not often seen, even at Rfk Stadium. It's the calm part that's different. Several of the campers have signs that say, "Keep smiling, it makes people wonder what you're up to."
Harry and Helen Springer are from Wheeling, W.Va., but since he retired two years ago from the Army corps of Engineers they have made two six-month-long orbits of the united states. They have a sort of englarged pickup truck. Springer is 55 and tanned so deep you can hardly see the twin swallows tattooed on his chest anymore.
"In all our travels nobody ever stole anything from us and we wouldn't miss this blastoff for anything. I wouldn't have taken it when I was 40, but things look different to us now."
A couple of miles from the park, at Gate Two of the Kennedy Space Center, a small group of boeing Services International employees were set up to watch the launch. They weren't planning to enjoy it muchj because they are on strike.
"we stayed on the job until the engine tests were A-OK and then we walked out," said H. Buckles, a heavy-equipment operator who sometimes drives the shuttle's giant crawler-transporter. "We got the rocket on the pad for them, but that was all." According to Buckles, his job and many others have been filled by salaried employees from Boeing's home office in Seattle.
The picket line has a pretty good view of the shuttle path across the sky, but the picketers declined to say whether or not they would look up.
In order that the shuttle not go off without a bon voyage party, Allen H. Neuhath and his wife, Lori Wilson, threw one for 800 people in what Neuharth calls his "log cabin" in Cocoa Beach.
Neuharth is the chairman of Gannett Co., Inc., and his log cabin is not like Abe Lincoln's. The house is on three levels with the swimming pool in the living room and a large fireplace and was unaccountably burning, and it is set against aq quarter-mile of private ocean, wit palm trees illuminated by flaming torches. If this is a log cabin, then Cocoa Beach is Hawaii.
A trio played music, and bars were set up throughout the house for the guests, who were mostly NASA employes and contractors.
Alan Shepard walked in, with the approximate effect of Johnny Carson entering his studio audience.
Tom Brokaw walked in, with the approximate effect of Rudolph Valentino entering a beauty salon. Brokaw is a co-host of NBC's "Today" show, show, and many of his viewers apparently are attractive women.
Jerry Brown entered, with the precise effect of the governor of California.
Two astronauts, Mike Gray and Dr. M. Rhea Seddon, were chatting in a corner and chafing at the bit. They would, of course, both like to be flying the Columbia today.
"Well, at least I get to take the movies in my T-38," said Gray. He was scheduled to take off shortly after 6 a.m. in his sporty jet, and if you see any television pictures taken from above as the shuttle blasts off, he was the one who took them.
Seddon's job is to fly a helicopter in case anybody needs to be rescued this morning. She has long blond hair.
Many of the guests departed directly for the Kennedy Space Center 20 miles away, because hundreds of thousands of spectators were expected to be on the road and even a limousine in a traffic jam is still in a jam.
The campers at Jetty Park, meanwhile, slept peacefully. They were aleady there CAPTION:
Picture, Mrs. Alfonse Cenzi at Jetty Park; by James Thresher