I’m in Baltimore right now, having spent 9 hours in transit from San Jose (the closest airport to my mountain lair). Here’s what I love best about travel: everyone approaches it a little differently. Some folks are infrequent travelers who dress up and act like the airport itself is an adventure. Some folks are more frequent travelers and so see the journey as secondary to the destination. For me, travel is stressful because it forces me into society where I may, at any moment, have to interact with strangers.
What would be the ultimate mode of transport? Of course, a private jet would be ultimate, but nowadays the sorts of people who are privileged enough to have such accommodations are vilified. To be sure, a private jet is hardly the most ecologically sound mode of travel. The amount of resources used to carry a single person to and from a destination are absolutely out of all proportion.
I might suggest, then, a mode of personal travel for the extravagantly rich that would be non-polluting, sufficiently opulent, and have the added benefit of solving the increasing problems of both unemployment and obesity. The Greeks had a ship called the trireme, which employed three rowers per oar to speed the ship through the waters. Let us imagine, then, a craft that combines the form of a trireme – a long bodied craft with men supplying motive power – with the mechanical advances of the steam engine – gears that convert the turbine-turning power of steam into the locomotive power supplied to the wheels.
I believe that the mechanics of locomotion would be easily adapted to the mechanics of rowing. A set of three cars – sleeping, baggage and dining – could certainly be pulled by 60 rowers (10 “oars” on each side of what would otherwise be the engine car). Using the existing rail system, if each rower were paid a fair wage, would likely be no more extravagant than the current cost of maintaining a private jet and crew. There would be no fuel costs, no need to maintain the expensive motor workings of an engine, no expensive insurance, since rail travel is less fraught with peril than air travel. To be sure, travel would not be quite as expedient between places, but is that so terrible? Modern life moves at a pace that I personally find unhealthy. People need time to relax, to ruminate, to reflect. Perhaps if travel were a bit less immediate and convenient, people would make more of an occasion of it. Perhaps they might dress up, perhaps they might be more conscious of their impression on their fellow travelers, and perhaps travel might be what it once was. And then, perhaps, they might leave me alone.