Trains, Planes, and Automobiles


As we do every year on the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving we watch the old classic Trains, Planes and Automobiles starring Steve Martin and John Candy, and just like we do every year we all end up shouting suggestions at the characters, ideas  for making better choices.

This movie came out in the late eighties, and it is stunning to realize today how many things have changed since then in terms of technology, services, and travel.

Starting with the fact that they don’t have cell phones. Just think if they’d had cell phones their lives would have been so much easier.

Then there’s  the fact that it’s two, count them two, days before Thanksgiving which should give Neal (Steve Martin) plenty of time to get home even if he rented a car and drove to Chicago from New York. I’ve done it, it takes twelve hours and once out of NYC and its environs it’s an easy ride.

And don’t get me started on the whole cab thing, it just reminds me of what arrogant jerks NYC cab drivers were back then when they were the only game in town. They deserved to get “Ubered” and “Lyfted ”as far as I’m concerned. Ever notice that in the past twenty years just about every industry and service organization that was a pain in the neck to deal with has been just wiped out by somebody who did it better? I love that.

Obviously, our friend Neal is not much of a traveler since he booked a 24-hour round trip to NYC a month in advance; and then paid for to go first class. It’s a fifty-five-minute flight for crying out loud!

There’s the thing about Del’s (John Candy’s) giant trunk. Really, how much overweight is that thing? That has to be costing him double the price of a plane ticket by itself every time he flies.

Of course, Chicago is snowed in. Chicago is always snowed in, that’s very realistic, no complaints from me there. Except when my flight is diverted because of snow in Chicago, then I do complain my head off.

So, they end in Wichita, once Neal, again get a car, and drive home!  If the airport is out of cars, take a cab to downtown Wichita and rent one there! The same applies to St Louis later in the movie when Neal does rent a car, but it’s not there in the lot, remember that? 

Rent a car in Wichita and drive home. This time it only takes ten hours to drive to Chi-Town and Neal would be home to his three million-dollar Kensington, Illinois home on  Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Are you getting frustrated yet?

But instead they have to find a dump of a hotel twenty miles from the airport. What’s up with that? If you are so desperate to get home for Thanksgiving? What’s up with having to have a good night’s sleep? I thought you wanted to get home ASAP! Man up! You sleep on the airport floor near your gate to make sure you get the first flight in the morning!

Now the next morning after a bunch of other ordeals I don’t quite understand, they get to St Louis. Stop right there. First of all, there are at least three trains from St. Louis to Chicago every day. Trains don’t get overbooked; they add another passenger car!

And three things here, as I mentioned earlier, take a cab to downtown St Louis, and rent a car and drive home. It’s only four hours! And what would have been so crazy to make a deal with a cab driver for a ride home from St Louis for three hundred bucks or so? His wife back at the three-million-dollar house could have paid for that when he got home.

But of course, I know, I know, you saw the movie too.  They did get that Chrysler LeBaron and did try to drive home but we know how that turned out.

And once again that good night’s sleep! They are less than four hours from Chicago, and they still have to find a motel.  Look when you’re travelling and have to get home, you keep moving, you don’t hang around in motels getting a good night’s sleep!

And then after sitting in a ice cold trailer truck they finally, thank goodness manage to get to Chicago, where I would think Neal would be so anxious to get home, he would spring for a cab., But no, he takes the commuter train home and gets there at what we assume is Thanksgiving afternoon. Jeez.

But I get it, the suspended reality thing for the sake of a few laughs. And it is a very funny movie. But what really struck me this time were the changes in technology.

First, what would this story be like with cell phones?  And what it would have been like with Uber and Lyft?  And with those great flight tracking apps on our cell phones where we can check on alternate flights and book our own?  Where we can find our own rental cars on our phones. Where we can find hotels, and motels, on our phones. Life really is so much easier now that you think about it. Now that you compare it to the late eighties.

But you know there is one more thing…In these Covid-19 days and even in the up-coming post Covid days, I don’t anticipate that anyone will actually fly from Chicago to New York for what I assumed was a two hour meeting! They would just have a Zoom call and get it done. 

Think about that for a minute. Round-trip first-class ticket: $500.00; Hotel for one night in NYC:  $200.00; Meals and expenses in NYC: $200.00; Miscellaneous: $100.00. That’s a cool grand right there, never mind the time lost, and all the pain and aggravation, especially  for these guys!

And it could all have been done with a two hour Zoom call for a few pennies.  And then Neal could have gone on with the rest of his schedule and been that much more productive. Never mind getting home early enough to fully enjoy his Thanksgiving. A big difference from what we are doing today and in the near future. That my friends is the new normal.

Trains, Planes, and Automobiles. Man, I love that movie! Can’t wait to see it again next year. It’s only common sense.

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