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Jewish World Review August 26, 2002/ 18 Elul, 5762

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports

Fly me to the moon, but I'd rather drive to Florida | I feel guilty that, like more and more Americans, I've opted in recent months to drive relatively short distances rather than to fly. Not because I'm afraid of terrorists, but because life is short.

Here's more or less how the 400-mile decision-making process goes:

Option One: Drive to airport, find parking in satellite lot, wait for aptly named terminal bus, load luggage on bus; wait for stragglers; ride to terminal; unload luggage; wait in line, check baggage, make ridiculous promises: "I solemnly swear that I have not let anyone else handle my bag or even speak to me while I was packing."

Wait in new line for security clearance: Unpack carry-on, remove shoes, jacket, belt; submit to wanding, patting and other stranger inspections of my person; try to keep straight face and not make amusing comments about the impressive state of airport security these days.

Wait at gate for airplane that is late owing to humorous remarks made by other passenger in originating airport. Fly in wrong direction for 30 minutes in order to land in another airport and wait another hour for connecting flight. Get flagged for random search at boarding; find seat.

Wait on tarmac for 27 other planes to take off, try not to worry about airborne viral bacteria and, with luck, land two hours later. Only to wait at luggage carousel and car-rental counter, where sign reminds you that if you'd rented a car in the first place, you'd already be there. Time lapsed: 6.5 hours.

Or, Option Two: Get in my car with a cooler of food and drinks, cell phone, CDs, book on tape, open road and no one to annoy me for 6.5 hours.

Gee, give me a sec to put the finishing flourishes on this revised theory of relativity and I'll give it some thought. But first, did I mention truck-stop showers?

I realize this item would not be in the plus column for everyone. To the list of people who would never consider taking a shower at an Interstate 95 truck stop, one could add my name without fear of contradiction.

But there I was Tuesday en route to Florida when I found myself in a truck-stop shower stall, trying to imagine all the infection-free people who had stood there before me, examining the drain for possible clues, and scanning the walls and ceiling for telltale camcorder spy holes.

Of course, the event necessitating my shower is, coincidentally, the one argument one could make in favor of flying. So far airport security personnel have not begun dousing ornery travelers with gasoline, as a certain pump at a station that shall remain unidentified did to me.

Short version: The gas pump malfunctioned and drenched me, a side effect of which, I discovered, is the instantaneous dismantling of the human profanity inhibitor. Here's what else I learned.

Truck stops have nice showers and nice people who inspect and manage them. They give you towels, soap, a bathmat and hot water, but not free gas for the inconvenience.

The thought did occur to me that I was part of a candid camera experiment (or perhaps a perverse Homeland Security exercise) as in: "Lone female on Pump 4!" Whereupon a geyser of gasoline soaks unsuspecting woman, who then is ferried to Shower Stall No. 1 for the amusement of all.

Leaving my clothes in the trash, I thanked the nice people at the truck stop and completed the remaining four hours of my trip without incident. Except for the wild pig grazing on the side of the road near Jacksonville that seemed (I could be mistaken) to want my car.

Despite these unplanned diversions, and notwithstanding my guilt over contributing to airline bankruptcy, I'm still not tempted to fly. Until the airlines -- which can manage to make tons of metal fly in the sky -- figure out how to get me from Point A to Point B faster and less stressfully than I can get there by auto, I'll take my chances with unpredictable pumps and possible interstate pig incidents.

Besides, after six or so hours of dodging road warriors and wild animals at death-defying speeds, not to mention battling hostile gas pumps in the mid-August heat, life doesn't seem that short at all.

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