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Jewish World Review July 24, 2002 / 15 Menachem-Av, 5762

Bob Greene

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The great escape -- or, ultimately, a moving target?

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | MERINO, Colo. Getting away from it all has never sounded more enticing.

The phrase "the world is too much with us" has never sounded more accurate.

There seems to be no escape. Nowhere in the United States -- not even in isolated places such as this one -- can a person feel truly removed from the distressing news of mankind's meaner precincts. Since last September, the full alert under which Americans have been living has begun to take its toll. Some leader of a terrorist group makes a vague threat halfway around the globe, and office buildings go into lockdown all across the U.S.; someone pulls out a gun in an airport in a major American city, and the rest of the country knows about it within minutes.

So the dream of leaving everything behind -- of sailing away from the world's woes -- holds special appeal this year.

Which made me decide to check up on a project I wrote about almost five years ago -- a project I doubted would ever make it off the drawing boards.

The project was a ship -- a 12-deck vessel that proposed to call itself The World. Its full name was going to be The World of ResidenSea. ResidenSea -- as in residency. It was going to be a ship that you lived on -- a huge luxury ship meant not for cruising vacationers, but for very wealthy men and women who could afford to purchase anything they wanted. A ship upon which to live full-time.

The builders of The World were betting that what people that wealthy wanted most was to leave the turmoil and confusion of the world, as the rest of us know it, behind -- that what they wanted most was to buy an extravagant home that was not a home in the traditional sense. A home that was not anchored. Their own world.

Just lock the door and sail forever -- with a different view from your windows every day of your life. Never stop moving -- your bedroom and your dining room and your furniture stay the same, but your vistas never stop shifting.

I thought it was an interesting concept, but I didn't think it would ever actually happen. The way it was explained to me, there would be 250 condominium-sized residences on The World; potential purchasers of the floating homes would have to prove they had net worth exceeding $5 million before they could even be considered. The homes would sell for $1.2 million to $5.4 million.

Robert W. Burnett, who was president of the U.S. division of the ship project when I first heard about it, said: "The residents of our ship will travel the world without ever leaving home. This will be their home. . . . The World will set out on a continuous circumnavigation of the world. . . . You sleep in your own bed every night -- but there is a constantly changing background. One day it may be Sydney, one day Venice -- but you will be at home."

I didn't hear much about the ship after that -- it hadn't even been built when I was asking my questions -- and I half-assumed it had died a fantasy. But with the world in such a churned-up condition these days, I thought I'd check.

And guess what?

It's out there.

It took a little longer to build than had been hoped for, and not all the units have been sold. But The World is right now sailing the world -- reportedly 76 on-ship homes have been sold, the owners have moved in, and the ship has shoved off. Things seem not to have worked out precisely according to the original plans -- there are units available for rental as glorified versions of regular cruise-ship accommodations, which would seem to take away from the exclusivity inherent in a residents-only setup -- yet The World is out on the high seas, on a constant escape from real life.

But is such an escape possible? Can you run away from reality -- can you remove yourself from the problems of life by electing to be in perpetual motion, with solid ground never under your feet?

At the time when The World was just an unbuilt dream, Robert W. Burnett said:

"We will be an 85,000-ton steel fortress, with only one door to get in."

But now that it has come true -- now that a ship carrying multimillionaire residents, most of them from the United States and Europe, is out there eternally on the oceans, a tiny speck on an enormous globe. . . .

Now that the ship is afloat, against the backdrop of a new kind of war, how would you feel if you were a resident? Even with professionally trained on-board security guards and all the electronic surveillance gear money can buy, how well would you sleep at night?

Before anyone had ever heard of the word "terrorist," there was another word that was instantly recognizable on every continent:

Pirate.

Same thing, conceivably, in our new age of neverending jangled nerves. May the residents of The World have nothing but smooth sailing. In a world -- lower case -- where such a thing at times seems just about impossible.

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JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. His latest book is Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.

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