OP-ED: I Have Seen the Future and It’s in Queens
By Vincent Kish
On October 17, 1965, I took the bus to Flushing Meadows to attend the last day of the New York World’s Fair. As was my usual pattern, I went straight to the pavilions in the Industrial Area. First stop was Coca-Cola for a mini world tour including stops in Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro, then to Travelers Insurance for a walk through history at “The Triumph of Man” exhibit.
The Better Living pavilion seemed pretty lame, but they had a number of free samples, including a new grapefruit soda, “Wink.” Then I went to Bell Telephone for a tour through communications history, “From Drumbeat to Telestar,” and to beep away at the many new models of push button phones and, a real treat in pre-video game days, to play electronic tic-tac-toe against a computer.
Equitable Life Assurance had an outdoor exhibit that included a giant tabulator which tracked population growth in the U.S. In what I found to be a little creepy, their signage indicated that on average, a baby is born every seven-and-a-half seconds, a person dies every 18-and-a-half seconds, therefore the population grows by one person every 11 seconds. As best as I can recall, on that day the total was up to about 193,000,000.
For good luck, I tossed a penny into one of the fountains at The Pool of Industry. There was an urban legend going around that some kid had run away from home and was living at The Fair, fishing coins out of the fountains at night for food money. If so, his income source was about to dry up and it was time for him to return home.
I then walked directly to the Transportation Area, skipping the International and the Federal and State Areas, in which I had no interest, and the Amusement Area, for which I had insufficient funds.
The line at The Ford Rotunda was long, and I didn’t want to spend an hour waiting around just to see some animatronic dinosaurs. So I settled for looking at fiberglass versions at “Dinoland” at the Sinclair Exhibit.
At the Transportation and Travel Building, there was a guy demonstrating The Wonder Knife, a blade so sharp it could cut tomato slices thin enough to see through. When I forked over my two dollars, he assured me that the knife would never need sharpening. Although I sensed he was a huckster at heart, he proved to be quite a prognosticator. My mother would use that knife almost daily for the next 50 years, as would I for the last seven, and counting.
My favorite spot of all was General Motors. Everything about the Futurama Ride was cool, from the comfortable contour seats, the haunting lighting and atmosphere, to the hypnotic narration provided by actor Alexander Scourby.
And although this was my 14th visit, the exhibits were still captivating, although far from realistic as it turned out. The only thing they got right was lunar exploration, then just four years away. But they overplayed their hand by including things like regular commuter spaceship landings. There are still no farms in the desert or underwater vacation resorts, or weather stations beneath the Antarctic ice. And predictions for the City of Tomorrow, a tomorrow already long in the past, seemed to have been based less upon science or urban planning than on viewing episodes of The Jetsons. There are no roadways in the sky, high speed buses, or underground freight conveyor belts. And the only times I’ve been on moving sidewalks have been at airports, and, ironically, at Freedomland in the Bronx in 1962. But, accurate or otherwise, it was all great fun. And like so many other things at The Fair, it did much to warm my 13-year-old heart.
Later that afternoon, I was saddened to see that a number of visitors were beginning to vandalize the grounds, including digging up flowers. I really didn’t want to see or remember things like that happening at this special place. It was time to leave. On the bus ride home I proudly wore my GM “I Have Seen the Future” button. It was one of dozens of souvenirs I had collected over two years including maps, guidebooks, 45 RPM records, Unispheres, a Ford Pavilion badge indicating that I was from England (I was a big Beatles fan), and an autographed (paw print) photo of Lady Greyhound. I still have it all. When my time comes, I’ll leave the collection to my grandchildren. But, I predict, that day is far away, off somewhere in the future.