Viking Night: Planes, Trains and Automobiles
By Bruce Hall
November 22, 2015
One of my guilty pleasures is watching travel movies made before 9/11. If you’re old enough to remember the world before this event, then you know it was a simpler, more innocent time. It was a wondrous age when you could arrive at an airport and make it to your flight without standing in long security lines, getting undressed, or having a TSA agent snicker at your genitals while his scanning machine gives you cancer. In fact if you go back far enough in time, the world as it was becomes positively alien.
The only people with cell phones were Michael Douglas and Michael Jackson (speaking of aliens), which made that whole “planning ahead” thing a normal part of life, unlike today. If you were Ronald Reagan or Tom Clancy, you had access to GPS. The rest of us had to use something called a “map” (which was made out of a material called “paper”) or engage in a long lost, ancient ritual called “asking for directions.”
If you’re reading this, then you’re old enough to have a computer, and presumably at least semi-independent from your parents. This means you’re probably old enough to have had a travel nightmare. Perhaps a flight got cancelled, your rental car broke down, or maybe that jerk Kevin Bacon stole your cab. But if it happened within the last ten years of so, all you probably had to do was find the nearest Starbucks, sit down, open the appropriate app on your phone and start bitching.
Within minutes, emergency service personnel will be on scene, the video will be on YouTube, and lawyers will be lined up outside, ready to help you sue someone.
That’s the world we live in today, but there was once a time when you had to solve your own problems. And if you didn’t, or couldn’t, the world simply laughed in your face and moved on without you. THAT is the America I knew as a boy, and THAT is the America that proudly lives on in 1987’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles. This beloved holiday classic not only brought together the talents of John Hughes, John Candy and Steve Martin, but it either is or SHOULD be everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving movie.
And if after watching it you are not thankful, joyous, and convinced of the merits of on the go dry-cleaning, then you are clearly a monster who has never been loved, and for that I pity you.
Although not as much as I pity Neal Page (Martin), a super punctual and uptight Chicago ad executive who has the misfortune of having to fly out of New York on Thanksgiving. Delayed by business, Neal has trouble finding a ride - in part due to a portly slob with a big ugly steamer trunk who steals his cab. At the airport, Neal runs into the same man, who introduces himself as Del Griffith (Candy), a traveling shower curtain ring salesman. I don’t know if that is or ever really was an actual profession. It’s probably a metaphorical story beat. But, in a world without cell phones, GPS or Starbucks, all manner of horror is on the table.