In 2010, an opportunity came up to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Miami. I had just one problem: at the time, I didn’t fly.
As I have grown older, I have tried to become more aware of social issues and in touch with social activism. And as I broadened my horizons, I became very aware of the travesty that is the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA. Although the attacks in late 2001 changed the security landscape forever, more recent threats had led to the deployment of millimeter-wave scanners in all major commercial airports. The questionable legality and constitutionality of the TSA and its actions was being chronicled by many, including Jon Corbett (who got so fired about about these issues he decided to study law and became an honest-to-goodness lawyer so that he could actually litigate the problems he saw!), and I felt the frustration that many feel when they see something that’s not right but is too big, too entrenched for them to do anything about.
Anyway, I decided that my reaction was to not fly anymore.
This opinion was fairly loosely held, to be honest. When I decided to take my first international trip a few years later, I gave up this conviction. But in 2010, I held that position strongly enough that I decided I wasn’t going to fly to Miami.
I was going to take the train.
Amtrak have a line that goes along much of the East Coast, from New York City to Miami. I would board the train in Cary and then ride the down to its final stop. In doing so, I would prove that there are viable alternatives to air travel.
Long story short, I feel I proved the opposite.
The train ticket was not cheap…in fact, a round-trip ticket was no cheaper than a flight! I still had to have someone drop me off and pick me up, which was especially inconvenient considering that my return train arrived at something like 6am. And although the train experience is somewhat less cramped and marginally more fun (there is a dining car, and you can usually see more than just clouds out the window), the fact that the train trip is over 20 hours compared to the two hours of flight time means that the train would have to be ten times more comfortable to be worth it.
Spoiler: it is not.
To be fair, a 20-hour plane trip would be agonizing misery. A 20-hour train trip was merely extremely boring. I did determine that I can’t sleep on trains any more effectively than I can sleep on planes, so that’s not even a benefit.
I had some friends who were driving down. Before the trip, I felt like I was making the better choice: rather than being in a cramped car, I could walk around the train and stretch my legs. I had more alone time. I could go to the bathroom whenever I wanted without stopping my progress. After the trip…I wasn’t so sure.
David Foster Wallace referred to a 7-night cruise as “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” I don’t know if a 20-hour train trip is supposed to be fun, but I can assure you of one thing:
I’ll never do it again.