Thursday, August 12, 2010

"All are bored!" Why I prefer trains

The way folk hero Steven Slater quit his job almost makes me wish I had one.
I think it’s healthy these days anytime a disgruntled worker decides to express his or her dissatisfaction without resorting to gunplay.
Shouting a few tart profanities into the intercom, grabbing a beer on the way out and bounding down the inflatable sliding board seems like a perfectly reasonable release in a world where petty rudeness often prevails.
In fact, work place violence could be reduced to near zero, I’m sure, if every office included a giant inflatable escape hatch right next to a big cooler of beer.
If the justice system was interested in justice, Slater would be free and there would be a bounty on the head of the gal who lit his fuse. She is symptomatic of the problems with our worst run industry, the airlines.
Who enjoys flying? Nobody.
I for years have promoted fun ways to make flying better and safer. 
These include things like encouraging seatmates to hold hands; having someone wearing a nun costume aboard every flight; and letting passengers quiz the pilots before takeoff to gauge their states of mind.
I like the idea, too, of having polka music played throughout each flight. It’s impossible to be troubled or tense when a really good oompa band starts cranking up the tubas and clarinets.
But the one I thought of when Slater, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the bouncy “Johnny” character from “Airplane!,” involves turning each flight into a reality game show.
Flight attendants would divide the passengers into two groups. The groups would then ask each other a rapid-fire series of questions to determine who on board is the biggest jerk.
This entertaining in-flight diversion would do wonders for air travel. Everyone’s behavior would have to improve dramatically because the losers would be given parachutes and shoves.
Whenever I hear of something like this Slater incident, I’m always reminded that you never hear of cases of train rage.
“I’ve ridden everything with legs or wheels and nothing beats a train.”
Those were some words of wisdom from my friend, the late John Clouse. He was for years the world’s most traveled man, according to Guinness. He’d been to 343 of the world’s 345 islands, countries or territories.
I love taking the train and have done it dozens of times, mostly to New York City where thanks to reasonable prices in the bar car I’ve never drawn a sober breath.
Really, having a drink on a train as the countryside rolls along will always be among my favorite travel memories. The spacious seats all recline and are the perfect place to spend hours reading or napping.
And the people who travel by train are a much more relaxed breed than frequent fliers. They’re rumpled, happy to engage in conversation, and don’t have that business-like tension crackling off all the big shots on airplanes.
I think it’s because trains are among the last places in the world where you’re at boredom’s mercy. You can’t make the train go faster and you can’t do anything if the train is late or simply comes to a stop for hours -- and that happens all the time. 
I’ll never forget the time my train from Latrobe to Penn Station was seven hours late.
Seven hours!
I just stood there on the unattended platform all by myself. I’d call Amtrak for updates and they’d say, “Well, it could be there in 30 minutes. You’d better just wait there.”
When it finally got there, I got on board expecting passengers in revolt. Yes, I expected train rage.
Instead, I got chicken.
There was no anger, no outrage. I asked a fellow passenger why the place was not in a state of revolt.
“Well, people get on and they’re pretty angry, but most of them understand that these things happen with Amtrak,” he said. “And, hey, they’re giving away free chicken up front!”
It was true. Amtrak sprang for KFC dinners for all the passengers.
Until today, I’d always thought the word “locomotive” had Spanish etymology, with “loco” used to describe the crazy motion of our early trains.
Wrong. It’s a Latin word meaning “from a place.”
Well, that spoils a tidy ending for me. I had been wanting to write that now all the locomotion happens on jet airliners.
So instead of something profound or witty on the Slater situation gripping the country, I’m left with one conclusion.
The colonel makes a damn tasty bird.


David Alton Dodd said...

Free chicken may be the answer to almost any situation involving frustration and general crankyness. I hate to fly, and avoid it when at all possible, which is most all of the time. Trains are freedom defined. No one makes you stay in your seat at any point during the trip. You could, in fact, dance in the aisles, which would be a delightful way to pass the time on a long journey, and might inadvertently entertain others in the process.

Dancing up and down the aisles of a train, drumstick in one hand and a martini in the other, what could be better?

Four feet, eight and one-half inches is music to my ears.

Chris Rodell said...

We are of one mind, David. I like your description of train freedom. There's nothing relaxing about plane travel. I believe years from now we'll all look back and say, geez, can you believe we used to travel all the time in those coffin-like contraptions they called airplanes?

I wonder if the Colonel could make it bearable.

Thanks for your comment and have a great, earthbound weekend!