Although for years the celebration moved around the calendar a bit more than in the past and was therefore somewhat difficult to track down (no pun intended), today -- we are full of joy to announce -- once again is that most grand fest, National Train Day. At least it is here at Elisberg Industries, and that's good enough as a starting point. You won't find it on any calendars for any number of reasons, but the most important is that since Amtrak funding got cut back they stopped promoting it after 2016.
(And the reason for it moving around the calendar is that it was never a set day, but the Saturday closest to May 10. Why May 10, I hear you cry? Because that's the anniversary of the Golden Spike being driven in at Promontory Point, Utah, to complete the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.)
But whether or not it remains an officially promoted holiday by the government -- and isn't being celebrated here on a proper Saturday due to prior commitments, think of it as the train running behind schedule -- National Train Day (or as it was known around these parts once upon a time, but no more!, as "Let's Make Chris Dunn's Head Explode Day") is nonetheless still one of the most joyous holidays of the year.
(This was taken in a family trip when I was a kid. For reasons that won't be shocking, it became part of family lore. I believe that the Bob Train was in Switzerland.)
For our part here, we celebrate National Train Day on these pages by posting a list of the greatest train movies. These are films in which trains are absolutely central to the story. Where a train is the driving force of the tale, without which you can’t properly describe the plot.
(Think of it like the classic and beloved Santa Claus song, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Santa Claus isn't actually in the song at all. He hasn't even shown up yet. In most ways, it's about "you" and what you should do -- or better not do. But even though there's not a hint of Santa Claus even appearing in the song, without Santa Claus...there's no song.)
We're strict about this. A friend once recommended The Taking of Pelham-1-2-3, and it was strongly considered, but that was a subway train or light rail. This list is for full-bore trains, the kind that either have sleeping cars and dining cars, or could if they were hitched on. But I've added it to our Honorable Mention list this year.
I should also note that, since the list is fluid, we've added another new movie to the list of Great Train Films, this time a movie thriller from 2016, The Girl on the Train.
There are two other categories: Honorable Mention is for movies which you can tell their stories without using the word "train," but they have some connection to trains -- usually a great, standout train sequence -- that makes them memorable. And a few years I added a new category of Special Mention, for works that don't qualify as a train movie or perhaps even as a movie at all, but deserve a place of honor. For instance, Stephen Ambrose's excellent book on the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, Nothing Like It in the World.
And as I noted in the past, though something I think is likely very obvious, I love train movies. Here is the current list of Great Train Movies.
Around the World in 80 Days
Back to the Future 3
Bridge on the River Kwai
The Darjeeling Limited
Emperor of the North
The Girl on the Train
The Great Locomotive Chase
The Great Train Robbery
The Lady Vanishes
Murder on the Orient Express
The Narrow Margin
North by Northwest
Night Train to Munich
Strangers on a Train
Von Ryan’s Express
Throw Momma from the Train
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
The Greatest Show on Earth
At the Circus
Great Railway Journeys of the World (TV documentary)
Nothing Like It in the World by Stephen Ambrose (book)
The Railrodder (short)
The Taking of Pelham-1-2-3
I've also added another new feature last year -- a scene from one of the Great Train Movies, or another entry on the list. We're going to go with one of my favorite scenes (if not my favorite) from the original 1974 production of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express -- the good version. This comes early in the film after all the set-up and we finally see the legendary train depart from Paris. It's a love letter to trains, with the wonderful score by Richard Rodney Bennett starting softly and then soaring.
On this week’s ‘Not My Job’ segment of the socially-distanced NPR quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the guest is Kellee Edwards – pilot, scuba diver, sailor and explorer – and host of the Travel Channel series, “Mysterious Islands.” She has a fun, enthusiastic conversation with host Peter Sagal about her adventuring, survival skills – and especially being a pilot and able to fly around to different places during the pandemic.
Gallup released its latest poll, and Trump's approval was down to 38%. What's notable about this, beyond being so low, especially four months before an election, is that Gallup's results have been higher than most other pollsters over the past six months. They even had him at 49% as recently as May. So...we'll see.
It's not terribly surprising, of course, give how completely completely nuts the administration has gone. And yes, I know that's a subjective term, but consider the four issues Trump and the RNC were talking about yesterday -- four months before the election, in the middle of a pandemic, with massive unemployment, national social change and Russians bounties. There was Trump’s tweet that NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace should apologize for a noose being found in his driving team's garage, another tweet about how unfair it was for sports teams to change their nicknames from ones that are racist, the RNC slamming Joe Biden for his “assault” on the Declaration of Independence by him writing an op-ed that refers to “all people are created equal” rather than “all men.” (All that was missing was for spokesperson Liz Harrington -- say, a woman said that -- to have started her complaint with, "Hey, Ladies!") And the White House Press Secretary proudly proclaiming that the world looks at the United States as the leader in COVID-19. Yes, honest, she said that, without even a hint of irony.
With their approval plummeting to 38%, these were the issues the administration thinks are winners that will expand their base. In a pandemic. With massive unemployment. Amid national social change. And a Russian bounty scandal.
And as a bonus note: the upcoming book by Trump’s niece has gotten so much attention that the publisher announced they had moved up release two weeks to July 14. Happy Bastille Day!
But rather than spin the Trump Wheel o' Wonder and pick a topic wherever the dial lands, I've decided to take a look, not at the news of the day, but a very interesting article about one area that is affected by it all. And an area that, on the surface, seems somewhat limited in its scope, but actually has much wider implications.
On the heels of my vacation over the weekend to my guest room -- and yes, I've recovered from jet lag for anyone curious -- here is an excellent interview in the Washington Post with travel expert Rick Steves, who has spent most of his adult life traveling through Europe, writing about it and leading tours. His observations on the future of travel are insightful and honest, not being overly pessimistic or optimistic, but how things will adjust to changing realities.
For Steves, travel isn't just about seeing the sites, but even more it's the human experience, interacting with other cultures, having a beer in an Irish pub and chatting with the locals next to you, getting a kiss on the cheek in France, making it all accessible to everyone, and that's what he sees most impacted.
"The only way somebody can have a quality experience is to pack the house," he says. "You’ve got to pack the theater. You’ve got to pack the bus. You’ve got a pack the airplane. You got to pack the hotel because then you can generate enough revenue to provide a service that’s top notch. If you have to have every other seat filled, you’ve got half the revenue. So the little mom-and-pop restaurants that I love to feature, if they can only have 50 percent capacity, they can’t pay their rent. And that’s what scares me.
"If the airlines can only put half as many people on the plane, it’s going to cost us all double. Then travel becomes an activity just for wealthy people. And I’ve always wanted travel to be affordable and accessible to people who just, you know, are reasonably employed but not necessarily wealthy."
He also draws an interesting connection to travel and the necessity of people staying at home, and why in today's world that isn't and should be a luxury but important to all.
"Travel is the best way to get to know your neighbor," he explains. "If a community is going to function, you need to know and respect your neighbors, need to trust your neighbors. You need to collaborate and work together. That’s not just a community thing. Community is global now. That’s a scary thought for a lot of people, especially people who don’t travel, who are afraid of people who are different.
"When you travel, you celebrate diversity. When you travel, you’re not afraid."
You can read the whole interview by Natalie B. Compton, my favorite travel writer for the paper, here.
Or "Around the World in in 800 Minutes."
I had a brainstorm last night and after over four months here sheltering at home, I finally decided to travel and take a vacation.
My plans began when I realized that I have a guest room and a bed that has never been used. I only moved to my new place a year or so ago, from a one bedroom apartment to a three-bedroom condo. And though I'm largely settled in now, there are still features I'm getting used to. And having a guest room is one of them.
Anyway, upon that realization, that I had someplace to travel to, I began my itinerary.
Instead of the dining room, I had dinner al fresco on my porch. (I didn't have a porch before, so I still don't use it as much as I should -- though it was one of the features I required when looking for a place. Glad I did!) I then watched my favorite world travel-food series on Netflix. (Somebody Feed Phil. It’s great. The episode last night took me to Saigon and was a total joy.) Beforehand, I also put a little piece of chocolate on the pillow in the guest room to wait for me (really). I packed my world atlas and lounged in the guest room browsing around the globe. And spent the rest of the night watching the local television to see how people from that part of the world lived. And in the morning, I used the guest room bathroom that was fully stocked.
I traveled home this morning and can give the report. I look forward to future trip.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote here about my friend, novelist and ad litem children's advocate Gay Courter who was quarantined on the Diamond Princess with her husband Phil. The happy news is that they're well and finally back home.
She said it all played out like a B-movie and even had a crazy ending. As Gay explained, "When the mayor of San Antonio said we radioactive zombies couldn’t enter his town, one of my travel insurance policies went into effect and they sent a private jet to take us home. That part was fun."
There's sort of an an odd bonus ending to the tale, as well. During the quarantine, the cruise line put out a notice on behalf of the passengers, which I came across on their website when trying to track down news of the Courters' status. It said --
“Because of the extraordinary circumstances onboard Diamond Princess, the company is refunding the full cruise fare for all guests including air travel, hotel, ground transportation, pre-paid shore excursions, gratuities and other items. In addition, guests are not being charged for any onboard incidental charges during the additional time onboard. Princess Cruises will also provide guests with a future cruise credit equal to the cruise fare paid for the voyage."
I thought, boy, was that ever clever of Gay and Phil. The lengths some people will go to get out of paying for a cruise. And get another for free! Mind you, I'm not sure if going on another cruise is high on their list, at least for now. But perhaps in the future. After all, they have it in writing, and as Gay wrote back, "Yes, now they are stuck with the deal!"
We have one final (at least for the time being...) of those wonderful air safety videos that are shown on Air New Zealand flights. The classic gems are those that deal with Hobbits and Middle Earth, but the others are wonderful in their own right. This one, titled "Summer of Safety," would be a total treat compared to most any other airline's efforts, though compared to the others from Air New Zealand it will have few touchstones for most travelers (and viewers...) from other countries, since it features celebrities from New Zealand. But supermodel Rachel Hunter should be familiar to many
Let's check in and head back down to New Zealand for another of those oddball and absolutely wonderful in-flight safety videos for Air New Zealand. This one is called "Safety Old School Style" and stars Betty White, along with some guests.
We haven't had one of those absolutely wonderful (and unique) on-board safety videos from Air New Zealand for a while, so let's correct that. This one is titled, "Bear Essentials of Safety" -- and it features Bear Grylls, here taking you on his own adventure to help make your flight as safe as possible.
Last week, I wrote about and posted here a spectacular in-flight safety video for Air New Zealand, "The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made" that was an extension of The Lord of the Rings I noted that the airline has a history of making wonderful and elaborate air safety videos, including several others based on Middle Earth.
Here's a second of those Middle Earth safety videos. It's not as near-operatic as the original, but great fun on it's own -- and would stand out even more if it wasn't for the "Most Epic" one that was, indeed the most epic.
A while back, I posted a video that I titled, "The most epic safety video ever made." But that wasn't my name that I gave to the little film, it was what Air New Zealand called their own video. And the thing is -- it is. It turns out, though, that Air New Zealand has a history of making outlandish, funny and extremely wonderful safety videos. I've tracked a bunch of them down and will post them here in the coming days.
But first, as a reminder, or for new people to these pages, before we get to the others, I thought it best to repeat that original video. So, here is it is and the article I posted about...
"The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made."
* * *
And no, that is not hyperbole.
In fact, the video itself begins by saying on-screen, "The most epic safety video ever made." And it's being low-key and polite. To be fair, "Epic," in this case, is sort of a tongue-in-cheek reference, as you will see. But it's nonetheless epic in the generally accepted sense, as well. This is far and away like no in-flight safety video you've seen, or likely will ever seen. It's so far away that everything else is in third place. Just leave second place empty. And, honest, that's not an exaggeration.
The in-flight video is for the safety explanation aboard Air New Zealand flights, and...well, let's just say as a reminder that New Zealand is where they filmed The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. And we'll leave it at that, and let your imaginations take over..
There are twists and turns here, and a lot of tongue-in-cheek fun, and some surprises. And further, when is the last time you ever saw credits at the end of an in-flight safety video?
As a safety video, I'm going to guess that patrons aren't going to be paying the closest attention to what's being told them, which probably isn't ideal. On the other hand, a) most people by now have a pretty good idea of the safety procedures on an airplane, b) in some ways, people are going to watch this much closer than the regular in-flight safety videos they zone out of, and c) this is going to be see FAR more by people who are not on an airplane, so there's no risk of going down in the water.
Which brings up the other point.
Beyond being the Greatest (and Most Epic) In-Flight Safety Video Ever, this is also a brilliant promotional video for the next film in The Hobbit series. If I had the opportunity to bet all my cash money, it will go viral around the world, if it hasn't already. However much it cost, there will be no need to buy TV air-time (which is so expensive), and you wouldn't anyway, since it's 4-1/2 minutes long. Maybe they'll cut down a 30-second version, but it's really not necessary, and it won't do it justice.
This is so wonderful and so smart. Just a brilliant idea, and whoever came up with the idea deserves a major promotion and bonus, and hats off to all the people on both sides of the aisle who approved doing it.
So, here, then is the most epic in-flight safety video ever made. Really.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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