Friday, June 13, 2008

Trains vs. Planes

When I was young, I used to travel a great deal with my parents. As a result, I was so accustomed to air travel that for a long time it never bothered me. Even after 9/11, I was never really nervous, flying out of National about 3 months later. But around the time I turned 18, I started to have a lot of anxiety around flying. It didn't help that I somehow managed to watch Die Hard 2 on TBS the night before every single flight. At the same time, I began to hear about people not flying for reasons related to global warming. This, along with disgust over how the industry was run, led me to swear off air travel in all but the most urgent and important occasions.

At first, I thought this would be like any other self-denial; like a no-carb diet. And though I've never done Atkins, I feel like keeping my feet on the ground has been more radical than that. For many Americans, at least those with the means to do so, there is an assumption that one can travel anywhere, at any time, in a matter of hours. Challenging that assumption not only surprises people, but it changes how I see the country and the world. The two times I've traveled so far: visiting friends in Chicago and attending a wedding in Houston have made me think how we as a country might get away from airplanes and cars as our primary form of transportation.

In the short term, this is unrealistic. Taking Amtrak from New York to Los Angeles takes 61 hours, 45 minutes and requires a 5 1/2 hour layover in Chicago; meanwhile, we have a culture of driving tied into a rugged individualism and a spectacular (though fast and dangerously decaying) Interstate Highway System. Yet for some trips, some of the time, train travel may be viable, and could be even more so with more infrastructure investment. Considering the extent to which airports, airlines, and roads are subsidized by the government, further investment in railroads, a relatively safe, relatively efficient form of transportation.

My plan is to spend the summer (or a large part of it) traveling by train and seeing the country (and bits of our neighbor to the north). I'll be starting in Los Angeles, visiting friends. More importantly (at least for this blog) I'll be taking the Southwest Chief, which has been described as one of the most scenic train trips on earth. Among many other things, I'm trying to find a way to blog a wireless device over 35 hour trip.

1 comment:

Alex's Mom said...

Alex, while I respect your decision to "swear off" air travel, I must say selfishly I missed having you with us on the last couple of family trips. I am really enjoying reading the blog and I wish you Godspeed throughout your travels.

Lots of Love,
Mom