On the John
Training with sharks
Originally completed April 15, 2010
In three hours, I depart via train for Phoenix, Arizona. The trip consists of a 31 hour, 36 minute trek on the Southwest Chief from Chicago to Flagstaff. I then take a 15-minute “self-transfer” from the Flagstaff station to some other station, followed by an hour and ten minute layover, followed by a two hour and 40 minute Greyhound south to Phoenix, leaving me to be picked up by my cousin (Thanks Dave!) at 2:35 am, Saturday morning.
Compared to flying, this sounds like heaven.
And frankly, the entire process of flying straight from Chicago to Phoenix would probably feel close to a two-day trip anyhow. So why not go by train?
Why indeed. My friends grilled me about this very decision last Friday night over cards. It was Rummy 500, and we were all trailing Josh, who kept coming up with aces and nearly no negative points in his pile whether he closed out the hand or not. Things were getting testy, so we decided to discuss Ric’s recent trip to South Africa. He’d gone by plane, with a ten-hour layover in Germany, and he’d had a wonderful time wandering Cape Town with an entrenched friend, watching soccer at the bars, and drinking lots.
One thing he refused to do, however, was shark cage dive. Three days before he left, I was sitting in the Blue Line Bar doing some writing and enjoying a few White Russians when a woman approached me and asked what I was working on. We started talking, and somehow conversation led to me telling her about my friend who was headed for South Africa in three days.
“Oh my! Is he interested in shark cage diving? I know a great outfit…” And she gave me the information, along with her name so that Ric could use her as a reference. I called him the next day to check.
“Are you fucking insane!” he stated. “I’m not swimming with sharks.”
“But they’re in cages,” I reassured him. “And you’re not in the cage. And I’m pretty sure you go down there with a Professional Shark Cage Diver.”
“Look.” He was breathing heavily. “Human beings were not meant to swim with sharks. There is no earthly way you will get me underwater near a god damned shark cage. I’ve heard some people watch from the boat. That might work. But no way I’m going in.”
…and so I was baffled Friday night when Ric made all the usual arguments about why airline travel is safe, proceeding to give me all of the Numbers and Possibilities, breaking it all down to a Scientific Certainty that I was better off in the sky.
My feeling is this: let’s say the shit goes down. I’d like to think that on a train, if I just maintain focus and composure, I could survive. Like holding on to a rail or jumping out of a window at the Exact Point.
I don’t give two hoots what the Numbers say: when you’re traveling 30,000 miles above sea level doing around 400 mph for close to two hours, if the shit goes bad, you’re done. There’s no “bracing yourself,” no “well-timed ducking or jumping,” no “staying alert.”
Or, as the good Dr. Thompson once wrote:
“I have better sense than to fly 2,000 miles in an airtight aluminum tube full of circulating germs, viruses, & deadly killer parasites from every country in the world. Even the pilots are Sick in most planes, and at least One passenger will be coughing up Ebola spittle or contaminating the Lavatories with some kind of lice & microscopic vermin.”
I made similar arguments to Ric, but he could not hear me. He, like Rota and I, was trying desperately to refocus since Josh had just capitalized on another pile of aces, and was getting dangerously close to 500…
Of course, the very next morning, I awoke to news of the Polish president being slammed into foggy tree branches along with 95 other poor souls.
And now we have news that volcanic ash from Iceland has disrupted flights in the UK and Scandinavia.
So there we have it: you don’t even need lightning or terrorists to derail an otherwise peaceful cross-country flight. Fog, trees, and ash will do just fine. I have no problem scaling it back a couple centuries and rolling with the Great American Train Ride. Even setting aside my computer for two days, and since I am one of the last remaining non-mobile Interneters of my generation, it seems I will be out of touch until I awake Saturday in Phoenix round about noon to watch the Bulls storm the beaches of Cleveland.
There are still some fans out there that think Rose, Noah and the gang are crazy for wanting to play the Cavaliers. During a post-game interview following the win over Boston, the Pony-Tailed Rebounder seemed positively giddy with the prospect of jumping into the cage with LeBron. And why not? Can’t learn much from the boat.
Copyright 2010, jm silverstein