Monday, July 17, 2006

The joy of air travel.

Two of my closest friends left for their honeymoon in Florida today. They are taking a plane and renting a car when they arrive. While visualizing them driving to the airport and going through whatever hoops are now required to board their flight, I realized that I haven't been on a plane since before 9-11.

I can't really say my ongoing choice to not fly is a conscious one. There is no place that compels me to visit that necessitates air travel. I could make a long list of preferred destinations that would take less than ten hours by car. Once I run out of these targets, I will consider flying once again.

But maybe this is simply begging the question... exactly why haven't I flown? Do I honestly think that the specific flight that I choose will be highjacked by terrorists? Of course not. The main reason I dread boarding an airplane is the discomfort that is likely to result. I am 6'5", and a member of the American middle class. I can't afford to fly first class. So I'm stuck hoping that I can acquire a spot in a row that accesses the emergency exit. And of course this is the area of the plane most likely to inspire thoughts of impending doom.

The last time I flew I didn't have to worry about dread. I couldn't think of anything at all because I spent the entire transit in the fetal position, next to an obese wheezing lady who chewed her Cheetos with her mouth open. Had I imagined a radical fundamentalist with a box-cutter, I might have planned to draw his ire just so he would have to hack through my neighbor on the way to shred me.

So if you plan to move away from Pittsburgh, and still anticipate visits from me, you might want to consider staying within a radius of about 500 miles. Otherwise I'll be seeing you when (and if) you decide to come back to town.


Anonymous DeeA2Z said...

Excuse me, and why isn't Southeran California on your target list???? Huh???? WHY????? Jeez, even the prospect of free camping gear can't entice you to drive here; what do I have left?

As far as the "joy" of air travel goes, there's not much joy in mudville now that everything is "pay as you go" on the major airlines. Haven't tried Jet Blue yet, but I understand it has very high ratings. Personally, if I can drive to a destination while avoiding the 101 South, the 405 and the 5 South I'm happy. Fortunately I can take the PCH most of the way to LAX, and that's a good thing.

Air travel used to be a "fun" adventure; it has become more than rather tedious since 9-11. The tricks now are to figure a way to arrive at your destination with all your luggage and your spine still intact. I read recently that some airbus manufacturer is planning a "standing" type of accommodation for "short" flights. The horrors this conjures up for me are too many to list.

Air travel would be ideal if the actual flight time was the only time you had to take into consideration. (OK, excluding destinations that require more that 5 hours of actual flight) What I find most annoying is the extra time you need to allow for (1) driving to the airport (2) going through security (3)checking your luggage (4) and standing in a line for virtually everything. When I fly back to the East Coast, I know it's going to be a 12-hour (minimum) day, of which only 5 hours are devoted to actually being in the air. I don't even want to think about the number of hours I've had to spend on various runways waiting for my flights to actually depart. And let's not talk about lost luggage.

All things considered, my first choice would be to drive; sad to say, that choice is not always practical.

4:08 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

There used to be trains. Who is John Galt?

9:39 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

It's as you said... sometimes driving to a place is just not practical. Besides, I have always considered L.A. to be a "little slice of hell on earth". Perhaps I just haven't seen any of the good places?

10:38 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Uh-oh... John puts out his enigmatic "cry in the wilderness". Who will take up the clarion call for a new era of pure reason? (Just kidding, John... I know you are well on your way)

11:05 AM  
Blogger John Morris said...

I am not sure which event had a bigger impact on Pittsburgh- The decline of big steel or the decline of passenger rail.

Pittsburghs historic link to the country was rail and the entire geography of the city was oriented around that. Can you imagine if there were high speed rail connecting Chicago-Cleveland-Pittsburgh and New York ?

9:23 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


That would be amazing. An urban utopian dream. I get fairly irate when someone starts calling for the end of Amtrak subsidies. The point about letting the market dictate transportation options would be well-taken if every other form besides the railways weren't subsidized to an almost infinitely greater degree. It's always the same people complaining about Amtrak that constantly extoll the virtues of air travel, the form of transportation most likely to disappear forever in the absence of government subsidies. It honestly makes me nauseous.

1:31 PM  
Anonymous DeeA2Z said...

Two topics to comment on: first of all, LA is most definitely not all of Southern CA! Please do not make the mistake of thinking LA is all there is to this part of the state. I suppose there must be some nice places in LA, just like I suppose there are people there who are not superficial. I'd rather live in the "proximity" of LA, Burbank, Hollywood and Malibu. Nice places to visit, etc. etc.

As for rail travel, I would love to see a more expanded rail system! I can take the train from my home south to San Diego and north to Seattle, and probably beyond (I've just not looked into how far north I can travel via train). The train trip from Ventura to Santa Barbara is quite nice, and one of our travel wishes is to take the "Wine Train" to Napa Valley. I can take the train into downtown LA and if I worked there I probably would. I say probably because public transportation is not especially user friendly. It's unfortunate that in this part of the country the car is "King". The smog will, literally, kill you. (Not to mention the road rage.)

I think cities like LA are smart in building more metro lines and stations and are way overdue in their decisions. Now we need the smaller towns up and down the coast to build stations and encourage their use. I've travelled the metro systems in Washington DC, Seattle, Toronto and the UK and cannot understand why there is such a lack of reliable public transportation in many large cities. I say, bring back rail travel.

7:27 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

I can't argue with that. It is intereting to note that during the period when America was closest to having a free market ( we ain't close today ) that railroads were the dominant form of transit.

My personal guess is that private companies would leap at the chance to get back into the business. If it were allowed. ( and all the government strings were cut )

10:41 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


I don't find anywhere ypu listed as "the proximity" of L.A. that compelling that I would make it a point to visit them. Yet I'm sure there is something I would enjoy.

Also... it's not just in L.A. that the car is king... that's fairly a nationwide phenomenon. It's only in the most comsmopolitan places (umm...NYC) that it's not the norm for everyone to have at least one car.

10:41 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


I might consider privatization of the railways a benefit to society if it led to inreased expansion of the system. What do they do in Europe? Are those lines privatized?

10:43 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

No, they are not. They are all state run.

Whatever my leanings, I can tell you that major government funded rail expansion is just not likely here. Most people would not support it.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Maybe when gas goes up to $5 a gallon (and stays there), people will be singing a different tune. Ya know... If folks had to pay the true cost of air travel they damn well would start supporting an expanded railway system.

3:00 PM  
Anonymous DeeA2Z said...

Knowing you as I do, I believe you'd enjoy Big Sur and North much more than S CA. I'd much rather head north than south in CA, as long as I keep to the Coast. I prefer the microclimate at my home and will do almost anything to avoid travelling south on the 101.

Morrow Bay, Big Sur, Monterey, Carmel, San Fran, all the way to Seattle are the areas I most enjoy.

As for the commentary about cars and the railway system, I agree with you and with John. Unfortunately, I see a problem with many big cities going the rail way because so many of the big cities don't have the infrastructure to support such a system. This country relied on the railway system for everything from travel to every hard good imaginable until people decided it was faster/cheaper/better to transport hard goods via trucks on the interstate. Rails still move freight, but human passengers seem to want their own little bullet of steel (more like fiberglass now) in which they prefer to think themselves invisible.

Cars have become extensions of human creatures. There are so many people who define themselves by what they drive. I find that very sad and rather distasteful.

I saw a TV commercial the other day about the Hummer that I found to be really annoying. A mother and her child are at a playground, and the child is attempting to climb the ladder of a sliding board when another child forces in line and the rude child's mother replies "well, now we're next" when the first child's mother exclaims "I'm sorry, but Jake was next". The next scene you see is Jake's mother driving a new Hummer with an "I am woman"-themed song playing in the background. Puhleeeeeze. Never mind promoting rude children and their parents, but what could it possibly matter in such a scenario what type of vehicle a parent drives? Why do people need expensive vehicles to feel important? I see lots of very expensive vehicles every day; they're nice, but anyone can lease a car. I find it interesting that a product with such a rapid depreciation is held in such high esteem.

I once saw a very elderly, white-haired lady use a step stool to climb into a Hummer. Was that vehicle her personal choice? Now maybe she offroads every weekend, but if not, why drive a vehicle that averages 10 miles per gallon in a city filled with paved roads, freeways and cul de sacs???

And while I'm on the subject of vehicular situations that annoy me, why do very short people drive big cars that necessitate their viewing the road from the center of their steering wheel space? I have nothing against height-challenged people. Some of my closest and dearest friends are 5' 4" and under. I just think that if you need a block attached to your foot in order to reach the pedals, if the top of your head does not clear the top of your steering wheel, if you need to sit on a metropolitan-sized phone book in order to see over your steering wheel, then your car is too damned big. Drive something smaller! Besides, it's decidely creepy to look in your rear view mirror to discover the car behind you is being driven by an invisible driver.

OK, I'm off that particular soapbox.

7:29 PM  

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