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2004-08-27 - 4:19 p.m.

From what I understand, most whales don’t exactly have teeth. Instead they have what looks like an extremely dense tooth brush, with tons of fibers running close together, able to filter out just about anything that might be floating in the water. In essence, they suck in the equivalent of a water tower into their mouths and process out all the little buggers floating inside it. They spew the water out and are left with what I can only think of as organic bowl of cereal.

I think of this image often after I get off an airplane. While to the naked eye, one might not see the parallels here, if you consider my dense tooth brush of hair, atop my head, and the little critters running around in the recirculated air in an airplane, you start to get the picture.

Without fail I emerge from the aeroplane looking like my head had just been dipped in pig lard, and feeling like I should run to the hotel, fill my bathtub with vinegar, tomato juice and possibly a little turpentine, and get the horrible stank off my disgruntled ass.

Combine this with the fact that without a car every airport in the city is a pain in the ass to get to, (Subway to the airport? Who the hell would use that? And no, the Airtrain doesn’t count.) and chances are, so long as I’m not changing continents, I’m riding the train. Train hair isn’t that much better than plane hair, but at least I don’t have to contend with asinine sight seeing tid-bits from the train’s conductor.

“To your left you’ll see a few homeowners who watched their property value drop two-hundred and fifty percent since we built the very tracks you’re riding on.”

I just like the lack of fan fare. No huge line for security, or to check in, or to get on the plane. You go to the track, and you sit your butt down. Brought luggage, no need to check it, we have lovely storage shelves built apparently out of wicker and placed immediately above your head. In the event of structural failure, please cover head to avoid concussion. None of this is said, it’s just understood.

You don’t spend your time way up in the air, cushioned on a blanket of never ending white, you get to roll through the worst neighborhoods in any given town and watch what urban decay has done to a once beautiful landscape. You’re right in there, taking in the local color, and graffiti, and cows…it can be extremely enlightening.

I know the railroads have lost a lot of their mystique over the years. What was once considered a modern marvel, decked in finery and wonderment, is now a jammed, rusted tin can, packed with as many plush brazenly colored deck chairs as can possibly fit in the given space. Even the classic bar car, which by the way no longer allow smoking, makes the worst dive you’ve ever seen look like the China Club. I’m not saying I expect a man in a funny hat to sit in the corner with a baby grand, knocking out the hits of the sixties, seventies and today…but could you drop in a ratty old jukebox that knocks out the hits of the eighties, nineties and today. You can’t drink Miller High Life and eat the worst hot dog ever made without at least hearing John Bon in the background. Sadly, almost every one can agree on “Blaze of Glory.”

Still, while sitting in my cramped little seat, reading the paper, and smoking on my pipe, I like to engage other weary travelers with conversation on Manifest Destiny and those damn redskins. On a plane, they’d throw you out the side. On a train, they simply recognize yet another locomotive kook, a tamer and much more erudite brand of the bus station kook.

Sometimes I wonder if the whole reason I prefer train travel is the simple fact that I don’t have to wear a seat belt.

I feel like a rebel.

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