We all complain about air travel -- the size of the seats, the delays, the jet lag, the turbulence, the crying babies, the other passengers, paying through the nose for luggage -- I could go on and on (and often do). But for all our complaining, we can get from New York to L.A., door-to-door, in 10 or 12 hours. Half a day.
It took Lewis and Clark two years to go from St. Louis to the Pacific. And that was after two years of preparation. Their clothes rotted on their bodies. It took wagon trains months to go from Nebraska to Oregon and many people died along the way. Yet we complain about the peanuts they give us on a long flight, like if we go without food for four hours, we may start eating the sleeping passengers next to us.
Yes, air travel has become a soul-sucking, body-numbing experience, but compared to the long history of human experience, or even compared to 50 years ago, we have it sooooo good.
I saw a 100-year-old aerial picture of a nearby town recently and I was surprised by how little had changed; most of the buildings and roads were still familiar, and the downtown was completely recognizable. Then I noticed that in the backyard of almost every house stood a tiny white building -- an outhouse. That may sound charming and rustic to some of you, but not if you live in a place with a real winter. As a kid in Nebraska, I used to hear stories about people who went out to use the necessary during the middle of a blizzard and were never seen again. Of course, if they were from my family, I don't think anyone looked for them very hard or very long.
We all complain about things that, not so very long ago, would have been seen as near miracles. Ever tapped your foot while waiting in line at the grocery store? "Oh, why is she writing a check in the express lane?" "All day long, and as soon as I get in line they have to change the register tape?" How indignant we get, forgetting that not so very long ago, if you didn't plant it, weed it, water it and harvest it, you didn't eat it. Where would you have gotten a banana 200 years ago? A pineapple? A macadamia nut? Who had a refrigerator to put their groceries in 100 years ago, or a freezer?
Things we take for granted -- dandruff shampoo, indoor plumbing, air conditioning, satellite radio, smartphones, credit cards, cable TV, microwave ovens, the Internet -- are all life-changers that many of us would find it hard to live without. We have it so good, and we still find so many things to whine about.
I heard a friend whining about empty handicapped parking spots in front of the mall a few days ago, and it was so bizarre, it was funny. He was acting as if being disabled was a privilege, a dream come true because it meant they got great parking spots. I wonder what limb he'd like to lose or disease he'd like to have that would make that an even trade. How many times have you heard yourself say, "57 channels and nothing on" instead of saying, "I'm so lucky to have a TV to be able to know what's going on in Russia and Egypt the minute it happens" or "I'm so lucky to be able to see shows I liked over and over again."
We complain so easily, so thoughtlessly over the smallest slights and inconveniences that it must be deep in our nature to complain. It must give us some kind of satisfaction and pleasure or we wouldn't do it so much, or so often.
The bottom line is that flying isn't fun, but complaining about it is.
Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.