Tom boards a plane, which never works out well for him

As I might have mentioned in the past, we once had a columnist here who signed on with the paper and then promptly went to Madagascar. She was a good writer, but after filing her first few columns from the Indian Ocean, she wasn't around long. I stay out of office politics, but I get the feeling that the Weekly's patience only extended as far as the African mainland.

I've always been a bit reluctant to write travel pieces, partly because of what happened to that other columnist, but mostly because I don't travel much. Or well. However, our editor apparently does, and since he's out of town this week, I'll tell you about a trip I made recently.

I went to Ithaca, New York to visit my daughter, Darlene, who's at Cornell. Seeing as how Ithaca is in a lovely location at the south end of one of the Finger Lakes in western New York, it's pretty much impossible to get to without resorting to some sort of travel triathlon.

By the time I arrived, I felt like Sir Henry Morton Stanley.

To be fair, it is possible to fly into Ithaca, but when I was looking up airfares online this past summer (OK, it was online, so I couldn't possibly have been doing it; when my daughter was looking up airfares), we learned that it was around $300, round-trip, if I were to fly Tucson to Buffalo. But, if I were to fly that last 150 miles to Ithaca, it would be $700.

Now, I understand that airlines are in business to make money, but that doesn't make sense. The route is shorter, the plane is smaller, it doesn't use as much fuel, and the pilot's not as good--otherwise he wouldn't be stuck on such a crappy route--and so, you don't have to pay him as much.

First off, air travel is unnatural. If God had wanted us to fly, he would have told Pat Robertson about it. Air travelers lay themselves open to all sorts of ills--incontinence, constipation (those first two can be especially bad if you get them both at the same time), popped ears, swollen glands, skin rashes, Stale Pretzel Disorder, boils, lesions and locusts.

There's also that jet lag thing and the paper cuts from the Sky Mall magazine (with its feature on Patrick Dempsey and his favorite places to eat in Atlanta; I couldn't have made that up if I had banged my head against the wall for an hour). On the commuter jet from Chicago to Buffalo (The Flying Toothpick), the seat was so small, Kate Moss would've needed an extender for the seat belt. I didn't even try to buckle that sucker; I just told the flight attendant that I wanted to sign a waiver so that if we crashed, someone could use my carcass as a flotation device.

I don't know how frequent fliers do it. It's such a drain on the mind and body. Richard Pryor used to make fun of his friends who would boast, "Aw Man, I can (have sex) four or five times a night!" To which Pryor would reply, "You a lyin' mother--. I'm good for about three minutes of serious (intercourse) a night, after which I need eight hours' sleep and a bowl of Wheaties."

Along those lines, I'm able to fly maybe once a year and not even then if I can avoid it.

I left Tucson before the sun came up and got to Buffalo as it was setting. Then, I had three hours of driving to do. I got out onto I-90, which is one of the roads built back in the 1950s by our parents' and grandparents' tax dollars as part of a National Defense Network. Sort of the Homeland Security scare of the day.

I hadn't gone five miles when I came to a toll booth. I got up to the window and asked, "Isn't this an interstate highway, built by tax revenues?" The guy said it was, but New York State still charges a toll.

I said, "You realize that that's like giving a crack whore all the drugs she wants and then she still charges you for sex."

The guy deadpanned that he would pass that analogy along the next time he and Gov. Pataki were having lunch. But I knew he was impressed by an old, fat white guy's proper use of the term "crack whore."

That Buffalo sunset was the last time I saw the sun until I got back to Tucson. It rained six straight days. Darlene and I (and about four other people) sat in a driving rainstorm and watched the Cornell football team beat Harvard, which had gone undefeated last year. Then we walked across the street and watched the Cornell women's volleyball team take over first place in the Ivy League by beating Yale. It was pretty cool. And squishy.

I've run out of space so I can't even tell you the story of how we drove through five New England states so Darlene could buy Starbucks coffee to win a contest she was having with a volleyball teammate. Perhaps another time, like during the editor's next vacation.

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