Tuesday, July 1, 2008

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Lately I've been compiling all my humorous essays into one Microsoft Word document. I've amassed several dozen over the years, maybe half of them previously published. Because I'm not as organized as I should be, this is not an easy task. Many of them are already in my document files, but others are in a box under my bed in the form of newspaper and magazine clippings. I also have quite a few old blog entries that read like essays.

I'm weeding as I go. Some are more worthy than others. My writing has improved over the years, and even some that were published are not indicative of what I can do now.

I've sent a few queries out to publishers to see if anyone is interested in taking on a collection of humorous essays. Traditionally this type of thing sells well, if the author is a known entity, but I don't fall into that category. I also contacted Newsweek to see if I could get permission to reprint a piece I had in their My Turn column a few years back. Originally they said there was a fee of $150 involved, then when I emailed back and said I'd take a pass, it was too much, their legal counsel responded and said I could use it--they'd waive the fee. Wasn't that nice? I let my subscription to Newsweek lapse some time ago, but I think I'll renew it now. Karma and all that.

Below is an essay I'd almost forgotten about. I sent it around at one point, and although a few editors said good things, no one bought it. It held up pretty well, I think and I'm planning on including it in the collection.
“Coming to a runway near you: the world’s biggest passenger Jet. Airbus is pitching its new ‘superjumbo’ as a flying cruise ship to replace Boeing’s 747 as the wings of choice for globe-trotters.” --Newsweek


By Karen McQuestion

I’ve never been fond of air travel, which is another way of saying it terrifies me. Every time I’ve flown the same question enters my mind, “What the hell is keeping this thing up?” You can talk about lift, thrust and drag and all the other elements needed to get a plane airborne, but none of it makes sense to me. I’m always amazed to see people on flights calmly reading and watching movies, selfishly leaving all the worrying to me. And I do worry; in fact it’s the cornerstone of my traveling philosophy. I’m convinced I’ve warded off many a disaster using my strategy of armrest clutching, measured breathing and promises to God. It’s not easy, but I always get the job done. At least I did before someone changed the rules.

I first read about the new supersized jumbo jet, the A380, in a Newsweek article a few years ago. The report said that Airbus, a consortium of European companies, was planning to build an enormous passenger jet that would make 747s look like the Mini-Me of airplanes. Despite my fears, I tried to stay open to the idea. It was in the planning stages then, and known as the A3XX, a more appropriate name I think—sort of like an XXXL, a popular size at the Big and Tall Men’s Store. In theory, this new aircraft would revolutionize air travel and make current plane trips look like a bus ride in Bolivia, minus the chickens.

The article enthused about the possibilities of an aircraft with so much additional space. To give you an idea of the size of the thing, the article said it could accommodate between 550 and 840 people and would have a wingspan almost the length of a football field. The accompanying interior diagram showed two decks connected by a wide staircase; think Star Trek merged with a luxury ocean liner. Down below, there would be extra room on the lower deck for any number of recreational possibilities. Altogether it sounded festive—a sort of Carnival Cruise Ship in the sky.

Some of the possible uses for the space below the deck intrigued me. Airbus executives suggested the extra area could include an exercise room or tennis court. Arguably that’s just what’s need on a long flight: an opportunity to get winded and sweaty, but I thought it was a fine idea nonetheless, as long as they planned for some shower space.

Other ideas included a McDonald’s, to insure passengers won’t have to go too far for their chicken nugget or French fry fix, and a casino—perfect for those folks who don’t like to arrive at a destination with too much money. Luxury sleeper cabins were the most sensible idea. With a little pharmaceutical help, someone with my phobia might be able to sleep the whole experience away.

Just when I was convinced the A380 might be the answer to my own air travel fears, I read about the logistics of taking off and landing such a huge jet. Their massive size and weight would require reinforced runways. And horrifyingly enough, pilots would have to steer the plane on the ground using a video system. What kind of madness is that, I wondered, the thing will be so large they can’t see where they’re going by looking out the window? As if I didn’t have enough to worry about.

Recently the A380 was back in the news but this time the concept is a reality. For its US debut, the biggest airliner ever built made back-to-back landings in New York and LA, and in much the same way crowds gathered to gawk at the Titanic, thousands turned out to see the big jet.

The real version is more practical than I first envisioned. None of the fantasy amenities made the cut. There are no casinos, no McDonald’s, no tennis courts. What the A380 does have is an interior complete with seat back entertainment screens, more luxurious seating than most other commercial jets, and a grand staircase connecting two decks. The cabins feature a lighting system, designed to mimic day and night, and superior air quality as compared to conventional flights.

On a more practical note, the A380 is reportedly quieter and more fuel-efficient than its largest rival. A USA Today article compared its gas usage per passenger per mile to that of a Ford Taurus with three people carpooling.

It all sounds so good and yet I can’t get past the size of the thing. We live in a society where everything has to be new and improved, but I don’t believe bigger is better in this case. And I have questions. Do we really need a plane that’s almost double the length of the Wright brothers’ first flight? How can an aircraft eight-stories high make it down a runway, much less up in the air? And lastly, why does knowing that seventy cars could be parked on each wing make me a little uneasy? I know the wings will never actually be used as a parking lot, and yet the very thought makes me fearful.

I think my reservations all come down to one thing: I seriously doubt I have enough worry in me to keep an A380 in the air. I am only one person, after all.

Perhaps someday this behemoth aircraft will be the new standard and today’s traditional jets will go the way of the single-propeller plane. It could happen, I suppose. In the meantime I wish only a safe and enjoyable trip for all future passengers of the A380.

As for myself, I’ll be the one on solid ground.


Therese said...

Karen-I hope you don't mind but I tagged you!

Karen McQ. said...

Therese, I don't mind at all, but now I'm going to have to show my ignorance, because I have no idea what that means.

Please enlighten me!

Karen McQ. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen McQ. said...

Oops, never mind, I figured it out. Now all I have to do is figure out who to tag. I'm short on blogging friends.