On the John: Training with sharks

On the John

Training with sharks

Originally completed April 15, 2010

This is how I feel while flying in an airplane.

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

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12 comments

  1. Torff · April 15, 2010

    To be fair, I was arguing that it’s irrational to not take a plane in light of the fact that planes are statistically safer than any other mode of transportation. That is, it’s fine if you want to take the train, just as I feel fine in my irrational fear of getting inside of a cage to see sharks—I just wanted acknowledgment that it’s irrational, and in this case actually more dangerous. (The official stats, in fact, are that there are 0.05 deaths per billion kilometers of air travel, versus 0.6 on trains. In other words, on a trip of equal distance, you are 12 times more likely to die if you take a train than if you fly.)

    P.S. I’m an asshole.

  2. rota · April 15, 2010

    So I think its funny that, in his comment, Torff continues to insist he will be in the cage with the sharks.

    Though I think Ric’s point is probably a good one. At the end of the day, even if theoretically it is easier to maneuver your way in a train accident, train accidents are more common so, on the whole, as per the stats, it’s way more dangerous (though this doesn’t take into account the notion of disease spread on planes, as per the dr. thompson quote).

    I am with you though, Jack. Flying just blows. Especially for tall people like me. I would probably prefer to drive so I can stop at Waffle House(s).

  3. readjack · April 15, 2010

    I don’t know who Torff is but I like him. Oh, I just figured out who he is. And I still like him. If I have my facts straight…and you’d probably be better off betting you can beat Josh in the game, the Polish pilot didn’t want to try to land the plane and was advised against it by air traffic controllers, so that’s not a fair argument.

    I’m looking forward to your next piece, assuming you give your readers your opinion based on actual experience. I, for one, am glad to be risking life and limb hurling through the air in an enormously heavy bag of metal which by all rights should always stay on the ground. At least it’ll be over lots sooner…it referring to the trip and not my life, of course.

    See you soon!

  4. readjack · April 15, 2010

    hmm, i see people, unnamed, get into my computer and leave their footprints. i’m not responsible for this!

  5. z · April 15, 2010

    Should not have read this before my flight…. thanks

  6. dustin silvers · April 15, 2010

    I feel that Jack Silverstein will benefit from the train ride. He should keep a notebook of what he sees out his window /who/what/when/where/why/…all neatly scribbled in your third eye.Observe your traveling companions,their children(the rug-rats whose eyes pop over the back of their seat and than just stare at you. You are reading but you feel those eyes and glance up. The response is up to you BOO!) Take a walk between cars if you can to the club car or if their is an observation car with open glass ceilings lay back, Jack and as your eyes get accustomed to the dark see the stars more than you have seen before. I guarantee it>
    Well Jack o boy….see ya soon. David will be tired and wired. Keep yourself belted. its the law. Cavs and Bulls will be fine with the cheese and wine.

    xoxoxYour infamous Uncle/ dustin silvers of the dustin silvers bandxoxoxo

  7. Avril · April 21, 2010

    The first, and likely last, cross-country train ride I took was traveling from Chicago to Syracuse heading back to school my sophomore year. What should’ve been a ten hour ride turned into fourteen and half due to equipment problems, there was no possible way to get comfy in those horrid chairs and snag some sleep and there was no bar car. For SHAME.
    Yet even without this scarring experience, I’m a flier through and through. I heart airports, especially my beloved O’Hare, and there’s something about strapping into a plane seat, feeling the pressure push you back into your chair and watching the world become smaller and smaller as you get closer to the heavens. Looking out that window and seeing everything nature has to offer from a view you normally never get to see never ceases to thrill me. I feel like I’m dancing among the clouds, and though I’m always looking for something new I can also simply relax and enjoy the ride.
    Of course it doesn’t hurt that my sister was terrified of flying when we were kids, so I pretended like I wasn’t to look like a bad-ass.

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  10. Marc Frost · July 27, 2010

    Hi Jack,

    I liked your decision to ride the Amtrak trains and your defending that decision amidst your friends. I have been in a similar position many times as I am now an avid train traveler and have all but stopped taking flights (except overseas).
    After living in Europe for a few years, I have come to believe in the value of train systems, especially high-speed rail, as an economically, socially and ecologically superior form of travel, especially within distances of 400-500 miles where a fast -speed train can halve a car ride and almost equal a plane ride (when you add in airport connections time). Often, the great thing about trains is that they take you right from city center to city center, so that you don’t have to take a taxi or bus from the airport.
    I am glad you decided to go to Phoenix by train and bus, it’s too bad that they no longer have a direct train connection there. A woman I traveled with from Chicago to DC told me that. Which leads me to my last thought on trains, though Amtrak is not up to snuff with othe first world train services (Europe, Japan, etc.), what is a great advantage of train travel is the time you have to meet and talk to people while sitting on a longer journey. In today’s world of internet communication and have-it-done-yesterday rapidity, I find it nice to have time for both solitary reflection and face-to-face human interaction. For me, I’ve found people to be much friendlier on a train, where they can spread out and settle in for a nice journey.

    P.S. To respond to Avril, I much prefer the enormous coach seats on Amtrak to any economy class airplane seat I’ve ever had.

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