Well, let us address airplane travel. How are we to deny Americans this unparalleled experience? First there is the arrival at the airport, a metallic-and-white palace of pleasures that would make Kubla Khan swoon. There you may buy a T-shirt that bears the name of the place you are, a piece of information known only to the place’s visitors, and a picture of a local product (“Nobody Visits Ohio Just Once,” “Wisconsin Was Formerly Known to Have Cows Before the Green New Deal,” “I Bet I’ve Been To Illinois, Huh,” “Don’t Tell Ma What’s in Michigan,” “Keep Indianapolis at Least Superficially Normal”).
You wait in a line where you must show someone a picture of yourself, and also your phone, and then you experience some interactive theater as a fun lagniappe with your ticket price. You and your fellow travelers enter a world of collaborative make-believe where you pretend that removing your laptop from your bag and isolating your liquids in small containers is contributing to America’s safety. It’s like Sleep No More, kind of!
You then strike a fun pose while a machine takes what the airplane employees claim is a picture of you. On this picture, something that is obviously your wristwatch lights up as a little green dot, so you are treated to a firm arm massage from someone looking at you as though you are suspicious (probably some people are really into that) before you can retrieve your shoes and go about your business. This, of course, assumes you are playing on the “Easy” setting as a white lady.
After you get to the gate (like hell, airports are replete with gates), you board the plane.
Perhaps the best part is when you go up in the plane and the plane bounces a little bit, just to help you feel alive. No, I think it is when the flight attendant rushes up the aisle and you see all the flight attendants muttering together in low, urgent tones. No, it is when the in-flight announcement system seems to turn on, then turns off, and then you hear a series of ominous dings.
We can certainly agree that this is the best part of air travel, because you will hear there is “slight chop,” and then for the next hour to two hours, you get to think about your mortality, something we too seldom do in this society. You get to make all kinds of silent promises and vows. Maybe you can even think about greenhouse gases — the plane emits a lot of them — but then the plane bounces again and you are comforted by the thought that you will not have to deal with the ramifications of that because you are going to perish right here, your in-flight magazine open on your lap to a crossword someone else began to fill out incorrectly, in pen. You get to think about everything in your life you regret, and then someone brings you a pretzel.
And then you land, if you are lucky! Even if you aren’t lucky, I suppose, you land. Then you know the unspeakable joy of retrieving your baggage from a wild merry-go-round full of other bags meticulously designed to resemble yours as much as possible to sow confusion. This keeps you mentally sharp!
We cannot deny Americans this rare occasion to drink tomato juice while regretting everything they have done in the past, is the point.
To those of you who still shun planes, have fun whizzing splendidly across the nation in the hideous luxury of a train, fidgeting in a surpassingly comfortable chair as cows (pending approval), fields and all the glories of the continental United States slide by, forced to weep with emotion at the sheer beauty of its whistle and the majesty of its motion.
The time I spent on the Amtrak Residency for Writers (a real thing), zipping along the exquisite coast of California and winding through the plains of Montana as I consumed three round meals a day then retired to my Superliner Roomette was one of the greatest tribulations of my life. I do not envy you one bit. No one should.
Read more from Alexandra Petri: