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Friday, January 24, 2003

Taking the Anti Train

Coming a week after a pleasant train trip I had the misfortune of traveling to Chicago by plane. My flight was fairly early so I had to ignore my more frugal instincts (both monetary and environmental) and take a $30 cab to the airport. As soon as you open the door of the cab at the airport they start with all of the threats and warnings that are supposed to protect us from the TERRORISTS! If I can just interject here and give a few words to all of the homeland securers: Ease up at the airports, fuckos. All of the precautions don’t make me feel safe and I doubt that any of this stuff will make a difference.

As I was standing in the cattle line waiting to be X-rayed, I told the guy next to me about my train trip to Portland. We both agreed that if there was a train that could take us speedily to our destinations no one would suffer through the indignities of air travel.

I had a direct flight from Seattle to Chicago O’Hare on United. Thank God for that--one small plus in a sky full of negatives. I noticed right away that people aren’t very friendly on planes. The confined space sets off peoples’ passive-aggressive tendencies and petty territoriality notions. You are given barely enough space to stow your carcass, the food is atrocious, and the in-flight movie starred Reese Whitherspoon.

Try this sometime: Try watching a few minutes of a bad movie (Sweet Home Alabama, for instance) and you will quickly see how unskilled most Hollywood people are at their craft. I watched about five minutes sans sound of this Reese gal screwing up her face in pathetic contortions that, I would presume, were meant to be subtle nuances of human emotion. Reese is to acting what an airline meal is to food.

I lucked out and had a great book for the flight. The gal at the used bookshop in my neighborhood recommended Dispatches by Michael Herr. This $2 used paperback saved me from immeasurable discomfort on the three and a half hour flight.

A former correspondent for Esquire, Herr was a young guy himself when he volunteered to go to Viet Nam to cover the war. He was mostly scared shitless, just like every one of the troops he talked to and spent time with. Herr wrote about the Army tradition of writing on helmets and flak jackets (now forbidden in the new, more professional Army). GI’s would write the names of old operations, or girlfriends, or their own war names on their gear. Stuff like LESS THAN FEARLESS, HELL SUCKS, and my favorite JUST YOU ME AND GOD—RIGHT? I think that Herr probably embelished a lot of the stories he tells, and I don't think that there is much in the way of journalism in Dispatches, but I read the whole damn thing on the flight.

It is, like, five fucking degrees here in Chicago and I don’t mean five degrees of that fucked-up European thermometer celsius crap. I mean five fucking degrees. I am also far north of the city of Chicago in suburbia. Shoot me please. I am writing this from the Hyatt in Deerfield. I am looking out the window at a suburban wasteland so incredibly vast that it truly boggles the mind.

Interstate 294 lies directly behind the hotel and the next bit of civilization is probably ¾ of a mile away. There isn’t a bar, a restaurant, a store, or anything else that might be of use to a human being staying in this hotel. You couldn’t possibly walk anywhere from the hotel (even if it wasn’t five fucking degrees). Why would anyone build a place that isn’t fit for human beings?

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