Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Terror Train

Saw part of a movie the other night, and its prescience spooked me a bit.

It was called, you guessed it, "Terror Train", and it starred Jamie Lee Curtis, back in her slasher film heyday. It came ou about the same time as "Prom Night", a kickass little film in which Leslie Nielsen plays the bad guy. You don't see that every day. The movie takes place during a train ride on new year's eve, while a masquerade party is in full swing (I kept thinking of "Trading Places", though this was a lot less funny). Some loser they pulled a bad prank on years before is killing people. Though I never finished the film, I feel confident in my assessment.

Near the beginning of the film, the conducter and the engineer are talking about the conducter's side business. He sells motor homes.

The conducter is confident in his choice. There's little future in rail, he figures, and the wide open highway is a road paved with gold. The engineer is more sceptical. "With gas prices the way they are," he suggests, "you won't be able to afford that tin can." I'm misquoting. He merely points out that rising fuel costs will soon render RVs pointless, inefficient, expensive and a losing proposition. "Sooner or later, people'll return to the rails."

The conductor counters, "When was the last time you saw them build a shopping mall near railroad tracks?" (the answer is probably more than he thinks, but it's simply because the road and the tracks are often nearby).

Nearly 30 years have passed, and this shitcan little flick predicts peak oil. The conductor was right: for the next quarter century, highways were the way to prosperity and wealth. Twenty-five years, three-and-a-half wars in the Middle East, peak oil and climate change later, the engineer is right.

Sooner or later, we're going to have to return to the rails.

Less than 100 years ago, this continent was crisscrossed with railroads leading to, through or near every small, medium or large sized community. Residents of Buttfuck, Rhode Island could get on the train and visit their relatives in Whogivesashit, Saskatchewan, and see Backwater, Ontario, on the way. It took a few days, but they got there, and I don't know that they complained a whole hell of a lot.

In the century of the automobile, we stopped subsidizing rail, and built roads. We left the rails to rust, and patched the asphalt every spring. We demanded the "freedom" that an automobile gave us, and gave the finger to the community that was supported by the railroad.

In essence, we told sensibility, sustainability and our children to go fuck themselves.

Now that the train is becoming economically viable again, we have to rebuild all those fucking rail lines, and those god-forsaken highways are still pitted and shitty. And our society is structured around the road, so that there'll be pain when we try to go back to the old way.

I'm annoyed, for the usual reasons. We were short-sighted and impetuous, and the fuckers who decided that old-fashioned was square don't have to pay for their mistakes. I will, and my daughter will even more. I'm also annoyed that the cost of maintaining those rails would have been a fraction of what it will cost to rebuild them.

I'm also annoyed that some half-assed little slasher flick from 1980 was so fucking sensible, so prescient, and so wise as to see this coming. I feel like I did after watching Rambo III. Why did no one listen to these screen writers? Rails are good, and wars in Afghanistan never work out for the occupier.

How the fuck did we get to be the dominant species on the planet when we're so spectacularly stupid?

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