For months, rumors and facts have conspired to paint a trip to New York on Liberty Weekend as something akin to a small military excursion.
* No hotel rooms! was the first cry. Threats of terrorism! came later. More than 8 million people expected! Maybe 11 million! All of lower Manhattan closed to traffic! A possible cab driver work stoppage! Not one inch of space in all of lower Manhattan large enough for even the most petite to perch for a glimpse of the 40 barges shooting off fireworks!
"If anybody had said to me two months ago I would be there, I would have said, 'You're out of your mind,' " says Misa Smith of Alexandria, who, along with her 84-year-old half-English, half-Irish mother who didn't want to miss this, will be there.
"We'll be on a Greek cruise ship -- We'll have 48 exorbitantly expensive hours just sitting," she says laughing. "It's an expensive foolishness. It better be good."
But Smith and her mother will have achieved one goal -- they'll be on the water, rather than in the crowd.
Desperate times calling as they do for desperate measures, Liberty Weekend strategists are at work, mapping out ways to survive the madness.
The very rich, the very lucky and the very hopeful have spent the last few months waiting for just the right invitation. Roofs with views of New York harbor are good, air-conditioned apartments downtown with views of New York harbor are better, but boats -- preferably the kind of boat referred to as "our 150-foot yacht" -- that can actually slog through the 40,000 other boats expected in New York harbor are best.
*And hosts with a sense of responsibility are best of all.
"We've arranged for buses to take people up to New York -- we're calling them the Liberty Blast," says Aliki Bryant, wife of Washington land speculator William Bryant. The Bryants, owners of the 160-foot Fantasia, will play hosts to 90 friends for the 3rd and Fourth. They've been planning for three months, reserving New York hotel rooms, hiring two bands and sending out invitations complete with green foam rubber Statue of Liberty crowns. A "further communique'" with the details went out recently, including the schedule of twice-a-day private buses running from the hotels to the harbor "to make everyone's life a little easier."
"We had a lot of offers for the yacht from companies through our ship's broker," says Bryant, "but it's once and then that's it, so we're going to do it for ourselves."
Several hundred, including Marine Commandant P.X. Kelley and car magnate Mandell Ourisman, will be the guests of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Navy Secretary John Lehman on board the USS Iowa and USS Kennedy on the Fourth for hot dogs, potato salad and a great view.
Whether because they wanted to be at the center of everything or because they thought they wouldn't be invited to a party, about 2,000 people paid $5,000 to sit on Governor's Island with President Reagan on the night of the 3rd and watch the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. Steven Spielberg, Milos Forman, Edgar Bronfman, Marvin Davis, Richard Zanuck, Felix Rohatyn and a slew of CEOs bought tickets in response to invitations, but when it became clear many of those invited to buy the seats would be elsewhere (Malcolm Forbes' yacht, for example) the general public was allowed to write out the $5,000 checks.
New York and Liberty Weekend officials are spending much of their time insisting it won't be all that bad. There are still hotel rooms. The subways will run often. While thousands of cab drivers may not work that weekend to protest rates that haven't been raised in six years, mass transportation is a better bet anyway. And all this talk about security and possible terrorism is, according to Jack MacBean, a New York Convention and Visitors Bureau spokesman, purely a media concern.
"The only people who have raised that question is the press," says MacBean.
Like other members of the Liberty Weekend machine, by now MacBean spews out facts about what he calls "The Big Weekend" with the efficiency of a very enthusiastic tape recording. "I look forward to all of these celebrating weekends," he says. "I'm sure it will be the most exciting weekend in the history of New York City."
Only when he talks about the newly announced lower Manhattan press facilities does MacBean even in a backhanded way allude to potential Liberty hassles.
"There will be an Operation Sail press headquarters at Manhattan Community College, with phones, desks and a huge beautiful auditorium to use," he says. "You can go in there and sit down and collect your thoughts. The college is giving this as a gift to the city. Just sitting down is going to be a great gift. Being able to use toilet facilities -- that's a lovely gift."
About 4,500 members of the press will be accredited, according to Liberty Weekend spokesman Jonas Halperin. "That represents 1,500 more than were accredited for the Reagan-Gorbachev summit," he says. "It's quite a tribute to the statue, I must say."
*But tribute or no, those attempting to chronicle the weekend's events will need more than a beautiful auditorium. To meet deadlines, The Record in Bergen County, N.J., will hire four or five marathon runners to run film from photographers trapped in the crowd to waiting motorcycle messengers several miles away.
"This appeared to me to be the only logical way to move film through hundreds of thousands of people," says graphics director Phil Nesbitt. "At first I thought of bicycles, but even on a bicycle I don't think they're going to have much of a chance, so it was just a hop, skip and a jump to marathon runners."
Runners will get $50 and front-row seats at choice locations for the first half of a variety of events. Then they will take off for runs of a little more than two miles, which they are expected to complete in about 10 minutes. All runners have to be under 30 and "certified practiced runners, not just people who want to be involved and will die of a coronary halfway to the pick-up point."
The paper also has hired a hydrofoil to get film around the harbor. "But it's going to be so congested," Nesbitt says, "if a hydrofoil is going at 80 miles per hour, it's probably going to kill 10 people."
Even on Liberty Weekend, the press will only go so far. Chances are, Nesbitt thinks, the hydrofoil is out.