I am, as I write this, traveling from California to Texas at the astounding speed of nearly 80 miles an hour. The more science-fiction minded of you may assume I’m in a landspeeder or piloting some sort of heavy mech. But no, the technology I’m using here today is called a “train.”
These days, getting halfway across the country requires you to choose between being mildly uncomfortable for a long period of time, or being deeply dehumanized for a few hours. You can drive for long periods of leg-cramping boredom, or you can fly and be treated as if you were a farm animal that might explode at any moment.
Or you can split the difference and take the train, which takes forever and gets kind of dull once you get over the initial “I’m on a train!” rush, but at least you can pay a lot of money to sleep uncomfortably through part of it.
All in all, the most efficient and pleasant approach to travel is to be drugged and thrown into the back of a van, only to wake up some time later in the well-appointed office of a crime lord, but that can be tough to book during the holidays.
Another alternative, one that’s gotten increasingly popular with the rise of social media, is what’s called “life swapping.” Instead of flying out to Urbana, Illinois to visit your parents for Thanksgiving, you find someone in Urbana who has family in your area and agree to be each other’s proxy. While they’re listening to your parents complain that you wasted your degree in marine biology, you’re close to home hearing your proxy’s fiancé discussed in icy tones. It’s still pretty tense, but at least it doesn’t involve being crowded by dozens of strangers at a luggage carousel.
In past years I tried to avoid travel by substituting voice chat, but trying to get a dozen of my relatives to install and configure voice conferencing software was, well, trying.
Trying to get a dozen of my relatives to install and configure voice conferencing software was, well, trying.
In the end the only thing we could all get working was the built-in voice chat on World of Warcraft. It was going pretty well until my cousin Verb made a crack about my great-aunt Leenie’s undead avatar being an improvement over her real face, and Leenie brought up Verb’s addiction to prescription antifungal cream, and everyone took sides and called each other names and then someone discovered the /spit command and that was pretty much it for that attempt at family togetherness. Still, it was better than most pick-up groups.
The next big step is, of course, video chat. I’m tempted to try to get everyone on Google Hangouts later this year, but I’ve realized that, bizarrely, it’s only physical presence that keeps certain members of my family in check. Without the threat of slashed tires or jus down the blouse, they have no real motivation to be nice to each other.
The train is fun for the first couple hundred miles, but in the end it’s still being locked in a moving vehicle with strangers who either didn’t like where they were or don’t want to be where they’re going. So for the upcoming holidays, I’ll probably have to put on my easily-removable shoes and pack my 3.4 ounces of vodka and take a plane.
I’m still hoping to piss off the right Mafioso, though.
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Born helpless, naked, and unable to provide for himself, Lore Sjöberg overcame these handicaps to become a vagabond, a vagrant and a vagodepressor.