I am not a lonely person. I love solitude. There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. Writers know that. I have never met a writer who does not crave to be alone. We have to be alone to do what we do.

—Mary Ruefle (via sometimesagreatnotion)

On the last road trip, someone mentioned he was getting old.

“Old? I’m getting better,” he said.

Felix Hernandez and Seattle, a love story

Across the country, there were thousands of places just like it, places that were not only isolated but insulated, places that had gone through the growing pains of America without anyone paying attention, places that existed as islands unto themselves with no link to the great cities except that they all sang the same national anthem to the same flag at sporting events. They were the kind of places that you saw from a plane on a clear night if you happened to look out the window, a concentration of little beaded dots breaking up the empty landscape with several veins leading in and out, and then bleak emptiness once again.
It was a view that every traveler had seen a million times before, and maybe if you were a passenger on a plane bisecting the night, you looked down and saw those lights and wondered what it would be like to live in an Odessa, to inhabit one of those infinitesimal dots, to be in a place that seemed so painfully far away from everything, so completely out of the mainstream of life. Perhaps you wondered what values people held on to in a place like that, what they cared about. Or perhaps you went back to your book, eager to get as far away as possible from that yawning maw that seemed so unimaginable, so utterly unimportant.

—H.G. Bissinger, Friday Night Lights

brightwalldarkroom:

As a Seattle-based site, we can’t not make some mention of the Seahawks on here this week.
So: GO HAWKS.
(We strongly advocate taking one day off from watching movies to instead watch the Seahawks dismantle the Broncos in the Super Bowl this Sunday.)
(Or, you know, at least watching something like Necessary Roughness or North Dallas Forty.)

I whole-heartedly endorse this statement.

brightwalldarkroom:

As a Seattle-based site, we can’t not make some mention of the Seahawks on here this week.

So: GO HAWKS.

(We strongly advocate taking one day off from watching movies to instead watch the Seahawks dismantle the Broncos in the Super Bowl this Sunday.)

(Or, you know, at least watching something like Necessary Roughness or North Dallas Forty.)

I whole-heartedly endorse this statement.

I wasn’t born into a football family. My father apparently loved it, so I might’ve been introduced to the sport sooner if he hadn’t passed away.
As it was, my mother and I were first and foremost a baseball family. I knew the Kingdome as the home of the Seattle Mariners, the place where Ken Griffey Jr. would knock off homeruns to the tune of exploding fireworks.
We would regularly catch games for as long as I could remember, and eventually had the lucky timing of being season-ticket holders during one of the most exciting times to be a Mariners fan. I recited stats like I was constantly being quizzed. I knew how each player did against righties and lefties, who their best and worst match-ups were, if they were better in certain uniforms, certain stadiums, or times of day. I even skipped going to my senior prom in favor of watching Freddy Garcia beat the Yankees, and have zero regrets about that decision to this day.
Football was another world. It was big, burly men getting drunk and screaming at the television while watching other big, burly men hit each other. A few people who were into the sport passed through my circles, but no one I was close with, and no one who ever seemed interested in explaining the finer points of the game to me. I was a geeky, shy girl who hung out with a lot of geeky, shy kids. In high school, the only reason I went to football games was to look at butts.

I got to college, and more people I knew were into it. At some point, they began commenting to me on how well the Seahawks were doing. So, yes, I first started paying attention to the Seahawks during what would eventually become their first Super Bowl run. I watched the game, I saw the questionable calls (which, admittedly, I only understood were questionable thanks to a friend I was watching with), I came away wanting to know more about football, anyway.

I remained a casual fan for years. I was afraid of being labelled a band-wagoner (I have plenty of feelings about this, too), still didn’t know a ton of football fans, and still didn’t fully understand the game and how it was played. I watched from afar, picking up pieces of football knowledge here and there, catching Hawks games when I could (which is plenty hard on the East Coast). Occasionally, a friend and I would get together for a game.

But the team just didn’t feel like mine. Coming around to the Seahawks when I did, it felt like I was peering in on something as an outsider, watching a film that was halfway over. I didn’t know all the stories and struggles, and with limited access to games, and limited knowledge of the sport, it felt like I would never catch up.  As an obsessive, that just didn’t sit right with me.

Everything changed for me when Pete Carroll came to town.

Even as someone who didn’t know much about football, Pete Carroll was fascinating to me. His rah-rah enthusiasm and positive attitude, his past failures as an NFL coach contrasted with his unparalleled success at USC, his rivalry with Jim Harbaugh… The Seahawks’ slate was wiped clean, and from that point on, I started following football more closely than ever. I learned more about Carroll, about players he and new GM John Schneider brought on, guys like Marshawn Lynch, and Richard Sherman.
Most people who are Seahawks fans right now will tell you that when Marshawn Lynch had his “Beast Quake” run against the Saints in the first round of the playoffs that year, that was the first time the tone for this team was set. Most of us probably remember where we were when that happened. They were the losingest football team in history to make the playoffs that year. Then they got their hands on Russell Wilson. This year, many pundits predicted them to make the Super Bowl before the season even began. And here they are.

I wasn’t born into a football family. My father apparently loved it, so I might’ve been introduced to the sport sooner if he hadn’t passed away.

As it was, my mother and I were first and foremost a baseball family. I knew the Kingdome as the home of the Seattle Mariners, the place where Ken Griffey Jr. would knock off homeruns to the tune of exploding fireworks.

We would regularly catch games for as long as I could remember, and eventually had the lucky timing of being season-ticket holders during one of the most exciting times to be a Mariners fan. I recited stats like I was constantly being quizzed. I knew how each player did against righties and lefties, who their best and worst match-ups were, if they were better in certain uniforms, certain stadiums, or times of day. I even skipped going to my senior prom in favor of watching Freddy Garcia beat the Yankees, and have zero regrets about that decision to this day.

Football was another world. It was big, burly men getting drunk and screaming at the television while watching other big, burly men hit each other. A few people who were into the sport passed through my circles, but no one I was close with, and no one who ever seemed interested in explaining the finer points of the game to me. I was a geeky, shy girl who hung out with a lot of geeky, shy kids. In high school, the only reason I went to football games was to look at butts.

I got to college, and more people I knew were into it. At some point, they began commenting to me on how well the Seahawks were doing. So, yes, I first started paying attention to the Seahawks during what would eventually become their first Super Bowl run. I watched the game, I saw the questionable calls (which, admittedly, I only understood were questionable thanks to a friend I was watching with), I came away wanting to know more about football, anyway.

I remained a casual fan for years. I was afraid of being labelled a band-wagoner (I have plenty of feelings about this, too), still didn’t know a ton of football fans, and still didn’t fully understand the game and how it was played. I watched from afar, picking up pieces of football knowledge here and there, catching Hawks games when I could (which is plenty hard on the East Coast). Occasionally, a friend and I would get together for a game.

But the team just didn’t feel like mine. Coming around to the Seahawks when I did, it felt like I was peering in on something as an outsider, watching a film that was halfway over. I didn’t know all the stories and struggles, and with limited access to games, and limited knowledge of the sport, it felt like I would never catch up.  As an obsessive, that just didn’t sit right with me.

Everything changed for me when Pete Carroll came to town.

Even as someone who didn’t know much about football, Pete Carroll was fascinating to me. His rah-rah enthusiasm and positive attitude, his past failures as an NFL coach contrasted with his unparalleled success at USC, his rivalry with Jim Harbaugh… The Seahawks’ slate was wiped clean, and from that point on, I started following football more closely than ever. I learned more about Carroll, about players he and new GM John Schneider brought on, guys like Marshawn Lynch, and Richard Sherman.

Most people who are Seahawks fans right now will tell you that when Marshawn Lynch had his “Beast Quake” run against the Saints in the first round of the playoffs that year, that was the first time the tone for this team was set. Most of us probably remember where we were when that happened. They were the losingest football team in history to make the playoffs that year. Then they got their hands on Russell Wilson. This year, many pundits predicted them to make the Super Bowl before the season even began. And here they are.

If the Seahawks’ resident chatterbox Richard Sherman doesn’t do it for you, try Marshawn Lynch on for size. Lynch has been previously cast in negative light by the media, and these days avoids it to the extent that the NFL nearly fined him for not participating in mandatory media sessions.

Now when he speaks, it’s in charmingly short, candid statements like these.

Deion: “You’re kinda shy.”
Marshawn: “Nah.”
Deion: “You just don’t wanna talk, really.”
Marshawn: “I’m just ‘bout that action, boss.”
Deion: “You’re ‘bout to go get it, you just like to do it.”
Marshawn: “That’s what it is. I ain’t ever seen no talkin’ win me nothin’.”

On harnessing my (sports) emotions.

It took roughly 24 hours for me to get tired of defending Richard Sherman for his emotional outburst following the Seattle Seahawks’ defeat of the San Francisco 49ers in stunning, exciting, glorious playoff football fashion (on a perfectly executed play by Sherman that was sadly over-shadowed by his sideline interview).

This isn’t to say that I suddenly changed my mind that he was worth defending, just that it took that long for me to realize that there’s no point in my trying. While it’s ridiculous that people are condemning him for a few heated words at a key emotional moment – after hours of physical brutality, including NaVorro Bowman’s knee bending in a way that knees shouldn’t bend, the footage repeated ad infinitum – I realized it’s a different kind of ridiculous for me to spend time and energy spewing repeated comments in Sherman’s defense to people that, by and large, won’t have their minds changed by my opinion or by the many links I can provide as evidence that he is an intelligent, talented, team player. Most sports debates, like political ones, have little to do with actual facts and more to do with which side you’re on.

But then, that’s part of why I understand Richard Sherman, because I too am prone to emotional outburst about sports – and in this instance, I’m not even in the game.

Generally, I am fully capable of being a rational person. But sports, and Seattle sports in particular, reduce me to a crumpled mess of emotions. I long to be of the “bend, don’t break” philosophy of the Seattle Defense, but when it comes to the Seahawks, I do reach snapping point eventually, erupting forth after feeble attempts at containment. There have been a handful of times where I’ve cut loose on commenters, particularly on major sports reporting websites, only to come to my senses a few minutes or hours, later, with a mild twinge of regret along the lines of, “I guess I didn’t really need to do that.”

So it was that last night I realized that if I don’t do something productive with my nervous sports energy, I’m going to drive myself and everyone around me totally insane in the next week plus that leads to the Seahawks’ second Super Bowl appearance. (Oh also, I’m going!) Thus, you may actually see some activity on here, while I attempt to harness some of this unwieldy fandom into words, preferably words that might be interesting to those of you not stricken with the same obsession.

You see, I wasn’t always like this. I wasn’t brought up in a football family. Until recently, I hadn’t played any sports for longer than a summer camp or a middle school season. My football addiction just kind of happened. And maybe that’s where this endeavor will start.

Not that you care now that it’s 2014, but here are some things I liked in 2013.

Not necessarily the best, but things that I enjoyed.

FILMS:

Stoker
Before Midnight
Gravity
The Great Gatsby
The Heat
Room 237
Upstream Color
The Wolverine
Behind the Candelabra
Insidious 2
Catching Fire
Side Effects
Trance

TV:

(Some of these started this year, some of these are perennial favorites… the only show I normally love that I didn’t this season was “Mad Men.” I got bored/tired of Don Draper and stopped watching halfway through. I’ll catch back up, eventually…)

"Top of the Lake"
"The League"
"House of Cards"
"Orange is the New Black"
"Impractical Jokers"
"Game of Thrones"
"New Girl"
"Walking Dead"
"Real Time with Bill Maher"
"True Blood"
"Nashville" (but still haven’t seen the new season…)

MUSIC:

Black Angels, Indigo Meadow
Neko Case, The Worse Things Get…
Classixx, Hanging Gardens
Haim, Days Are Gone
Crystal Stilts, Nature Noir
Disclosure, Settle
Javelin, Hi Beams
Washed Out, Paracosm
Ariana Grande, Yours Truly
Charli XCX, True Romance
King Krule, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon
Julianna Barwick, Nepenthe
Lorde, True Heroine
Speedy Ortiz, Major Arcana
Blood Orange, Cupid Deluxe
Fitz & The Tantrums, More Than Just a Dream
William Tyler, Impossible Truth

There was plenty I missed out on in all three categories, and some things I just haven’t spent enough time with to feel strongly about yet, but there’s a selection of the things that stuck with me.

Of all the films that I saw this year, Room 237 probably stuck with me the most, and I wrote about why in this essay for BWDR.
brightwalldarkroom:

Excerpt from our December issue: Taylor K. Long on one of her favorite documentaries of the year, Room 237:

"Kubrick’s notoriety as a meticulous, detail-obsessed, perfectionist auteur makes his films ripe for this kind of hyper-analyzation, and a single viewing of The Shining is enough to understand why the film draws so much attention and obsession. It’s a horror film without the usual horror tropes, a claustrophobic thriller based on an almost childlike fantastical premise (what if you lived in an empty hotel?). It’s a balancing act between psychological madness and supernatural terror, and we’re never quite sure which is responsible for what. A little knowledge of Kubrick would suggest that he wanted it this way—he felt that knowing the intentions of a film often ruined it for the audience, that they (we) want to be mystified. And in that vein, it surely seems like Kubrick would’ve taken great pleasure in Room 237.
However, in a recent New York Times interview with Leon Vitali, Kubrick’s longtime assistant, Vitali states that Kubrick “wouldn’t have wanted to listen to about 70 or maybe 80 percent of Room 237,” because it’s “pure gibberish.”  Which raises a series of interesting questions. Does it really matter how plausible these theories are? Most of the interviewees seem aware, to some extent, that they’re in the minority when it comes to their interpretations of The Shining. While it’s clear that their beliefs are firmly-held, what comes across most is their enthusiasm. The goal here doesn’t necessarily seem to be convincing anyone else, but simply the excitement at sharing what they’ve discovered. And isn’t the ultimate testament to The Shining not whether or not it’s understood, but simply that it has moved so many people to try to understand it, to research it, to watch it over and over and over again? How important is it, truly, for there to be a right or wrong answer?”

To read the rest of this essay, as well as receive full access to our December issue (and all previous issues and archives), try a free 7 day trial of Bright Wall/Dark Room magazine today.
(illustration by Brianna Ashby)

Of all the films that I saw this year, Room 237 probably stuck with me the most, and I wrote about why in this essay for BWDR.

brightwalldarkroom:

Excerpt from our December issueTaylor K. Long on one of her favorite documentaries of the year, Room 237:

"Kubrick’s notoriety as a meticulous, detail-obsessed, perfectionist auteur makes his films ripe for this kind of hyper-analyzation, and a single viewing of The Shining is enough to understand why the film draws so much attention and obsession. It’s a horror film without the usual horror tropes, a claustrophobic thriller based on an almost childlike fantastical premise (what if you lived in an empty hotel?). It’s a balancing act between psychological madness and supernatural terror, and we’re never quite sure which is responsible for what. A little knowledge of Kubrick would suggest that he wanted it this way—he felt that knowing the intentions of a film often ruined it for the audience, that they (we) want to be mystified. And in that vein, it surely seems like Kubrick would’ve taken great pleasure in Room 237.

However, in a recent New York Times interview with Leon Vitali, Kubrick’s longtime assistant, Vitali states that Kubrick “wouldn’t have wanted to listen to about 70 or maybe 80 percent of Room 237,” because it’s “pure gibberish.”  Which raises a series of interesting questions. Does it really matter how plausible these theories are? Most of the interviewees seem aware, to some extent, that they’re in the minority when it comes to their interpretations of The Shining. While it’s clear that their beliefs are firmly-held, what comes across most is their enthusiasm. The goal here doesn’t necessarily seem to be convincing anyone else, but simply the excitement at sharing what they’ve discovered. And isn’t the ultimate testament to The Shining not whether or not it’s understood, but simply that it has moved so many people to try to understand it, to research it, to watch it over and over and over again? How important is it, truly, for there to be a right or wrong answer?”

To read the rest of this essay, as well as receive full access to our December issue (and all previous issues and archives), try a free 7 day trial of Bright Wall/Dark Room magazine today.

(illustration by Brianna Ashby)

Oh hey, it’s a thing that I wrote. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
brightwalldarkroom:

For your official day-before-Thanksgiving reading pleasure:
Staff writer Taylor K. Long’s essay on Planes, Trains, and Automobiles from Issue #4 of BW/DR Magazine.
(illustration by the ever brilliant Brianna Ashby)
—
My family doesn’t have many family traditions. Ever since my father passed away, when I was about 3 years old, my immediate family has consisted of just my mother and me. As such an insular family, we tend to bounce around between various branches of our extended family for holidays and birthdays. We drive out to see this or that grandparent, this or that collection of aunts, uncles, and cousins, this or that group of family friends. When you’re adopted by a larger group of people, you don’t generally start the traditions. You bring your side-dish and you get initiated into someone else’s rituals. But my mom and I do have one family custom that’s ours, one that has endured over the years, through cross-country moves, family feuds, and a rotating list of participants. And that tradition is watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles every Thanksgiving.
Holiday travel is one of the few kinds of travel that isn’t especially fun, interesting, or exciting but, having grown up traveling through most holiday seasons, I’ve become something of an expert. For example, I know that you should always bring snacks and refreshments (regardless of the mode of transportation, none of the food options are ever tasty or reasonably priced) and should always go to the bathroom before leaving (or when you stop for gas, or if others in your row are going, too). You should definitely try to travel directly whenever possible (less chance of getting stranded), and always arrive early—it’s far better to wait in the bar with a beer and a good book than to miss the boat completely. Most of all, though, I know that adopting a zen approach is the easiest way to get through it all.
Of course, disasters happen: ticket reservations get subjected to human or machine error; you lose your cab or your wallet or your phone; you get stuck sitting next to someone who won’t shut up, or someone who snores, or in front of a child who won’t stop kicking your seat; weather reroutes planes or simply prevents them from leaving at all; trains or buses or cars catch fire. Any combination of these is enough to make the average person snap, which is why it’s especially hysterical to watch Neal Page (Steve Martin) and Del Griffith (John Candy) be subjected to every single one. 
Neal, an advertising exec on his way home to Chicago, and Del, a traveling shower-curtain ring-retailer, are stranded in Wichita, Kansas, after a snowstorm reroutes their flight. Thanksgiving is in three days, and all Neal wants is to get home in time for his kids’ pageant and the family dinner. Del—the embodiment of an overly-chummy salesman—steps right in with his business connections and helps Neal find a hotel room for the night. It doesn’t take long for proper, uptight, leave-me-alone Neal to snap at gregarious, slightly crude, overbearing Del for his spilling beer on a bed they’re forced to share, and his guttural wheezing, and his incessant chatter, and his restlessness, and… 
Though I’ve seen it dozens of times, watching Neal lay into Del is still difficult. Because at our worst we’ve all been Neal, harshly judging someone we barely know for the shallowest of grievances. This scene, and the next morning’s now-infamous "Those aren’t pillows!” moment, sets the tone for the way the film deftly balances the harsh realities between the ways we sometimes react to strangers with hostility, and the times when we manage to see beneath situational or personal annoyances and rise above them.
My Thanksgivings have changed a great deal since my mother and I first started watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles all those years ago. We used to watch it with my mom’s side of the family back in Seattle, but for the past few years we’ve been watching it with my father’s side of the family. After I’d moved out to New York City for college, we started joining them in Connecticut for Thanksgiving and, for maybe the very first time, we were invited to bring our traditions along with us (coincidentally, by my uncle, who reminds my family of Steve Martin). Planes, Trains and Automobiles was our only offering—and now they own it on DVD, too. There have been times when, fittingly, unforeseen circumstances have barred us from watching it— technological difficulties have arisen, one year we went to Boston instead—but inevitably we always make up for it in some way, catching the last half on cable somewhere, or watching it later, closer to Christmas. And, much like the company and surroundings, my emotional relationship with Planes, Trains and Automobiles has evolved with age and circumstance, as well.
Watching the movie growing up, it was the humor that always drew me in, but as an adult it’s the humanity (and, sometimes, the cruelty) behind that humor which often keeps me watching. When the rental car company assigns Neal a missing car, he’s forced to hike back across the runway and quickly proceeds to unleash the word “fucking” on the woman at the front desk eighteen times in a single minute. The humor in the scene, though, comes not just from the rampant profanity—or even from Steve Martin’s brilliant physical comedy—but also from the fact that most of us have likely been Neal at one time or another, ripping into some poor and undeserving person who just happened to be the face or voice behind a company that did us wrong (Comcast, Time Warner employees, I’m sorry). Revisiting the film with more life experience under my belt, I can see all the raw, emotional undercurrents that run beneath the laughter and how they resonate with my own flaws or losses—the times I’ve been judgmental and rude to strangers who didn’t deserve it, the absence of male role models in my life to illustrate all the ways in which husbands and fathers are supposed to interact with their wives, families, and each other. 
When I was younger, Planes, Trains and Automobiles felt like a peek into this secret world of men that I knew so little about. And it took some time for me to understand all the ways in which Neal and Del are both flawed, deeply and almost unbearably so. Neal, behind all of his frustration and anger, is really just a man trying to get back home to his family. Growing up without a father around, I always liked that about Neal. I wanted to think that all fathers would be that way, just doing whatever it took to get home to their kids, and that my father would’ve been that way, too. As a kid, I tended to cast my sympathies moreso with Neal because of this – seeing John Candy as the goofy man in a devil costume who was a burden to regular guy Steve Martin. But these days, I find my heart going out to Del, just wanting so desperately to be liked, to connect with someone, that he seems oblivious to all the ways he’s overwhelming and occasionally rude. He is put through the very same hell as Neal (or worse, even), but always manages to keep a smile on his face. And so now, every time I want to pull a Neal and unleash a hellstorm on someone, I try to remember Del first, to grin and think, “Shit happens.” 
As our first Thanksgiving together approached, I discovered that my boyfriend’s family has a Planes, Trains and Automobiles tradition, too. And, reading various articles and essays about the movie and its associated traditions over the years, it sounds like I share this tradition with many other families as well. But I was  surprised to discover that there are those who actually don’t like it, people who feel it’s too clichéd, or that Neal and Del aren’t likeable, or that the underlying sadness simply overrides all the humor. However, that doesn’t much bother me, or make me argumentative like it might with other films. Because for me, Planes, Trains and Automobiles exists in its own world; it’s not just a movie, it’s a tradition. Revisiting Neal and Del’s road trip every year is about more than just having something to put on the TV after stuffing ourselves full of food and attempting to come down from our own holiday travel nightmares. It’s a reminder that strangers, like family, are worth some extra patience and kindness. Whether it’s the person sitting next to you or the one standing on the other side of the counter, everyone comes with their own life experiences and things to offer, be it the last hotel room in Wichita, or a free truck ride to the train station. And out on the road (or rails, or skies), we can all use a little help.
Taylor K. Long is a writer, editor, and photographer. She lives in rural Vermont with her cat, Alcatraz.

Oh hey, it’s a thing that I wrote. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

brightwalldarkroom:

For your official day-before-Thanksgiving reading pleasure:

Staff writer Taylor K. Long’s essay on Planes, Trains, and Automobiles from Issue #4 of BW/DR Magazine.

(illustration by the ever brilliant Brianna Ashby)

My family doesn’t have many family traditions. Ever since my father passed away, when I was about 3 years old, my immediate family has consisted of just my mother and me. As such an insular family, we tend to bounce around between various branches of our extended family for holidays and birthdays. We drive out to see this or that grandparent, this or that collection of aunts, uncles, and cousins, this or that group of family friends. When you’re adopted by a larger group of people, you don’t generally start the traditions. You bring your side-dish and you get initiated into someone else’s rituals. But my mom and I do have one family custom that’s ours, one that has endured over the years, through cross-country moves, family feuds, and a rotating list of participants. And that tradition is watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles every Thanksgiving.

Holiday travel is one of the few kinds of travel that isn’t especially fun, interesting, or exciting but, having grown up traveling through most holiday seasons, I’ve become something of an expert. For example, I know that you should always bring snacks and refreshments (regardless of the mode of transportation, none of the food options are ever tasty or reasonably priced) and should always go to the bathroom before leaving (or when you stop for gas, or if others in your row are going, too). You should definitely try to travel directly whenever possible (less chance of getting stranded), and always arrive early—it’s far better to wait in the bar with a beer and a good book than to miss the boat completely. Most of all, though, I know that adopting a zen approach is the easiest way to get through it all.

Of course, disasters happen: ticket reservations get subjected to human or machine error; you lose your cab or your wallet or your phone; you get stuck sitting next to someone who won’t shut up, or someone who snores, or in front of a child who won’t stop kicking your seat; weather reroutes planes or simply prevents them from leaving at all; trains or buses or cars catch fire. Any combination of these is enough to make the average person snap, which is why it’s especially hysterical to watch Neal Page (Steve Martin) and Del Griffith (John Candy) be subjected to every single one

Neal, an advertising exec on his way home to Chicago, and Del, a traveling shower-curtain ring-retailer, are stranded in Wichita, Kansas, after a snowstorm reroutes their flight. Thanksgiving is in three days, and all Neal wants is to get home in time for his kids’ pageant and the family dinner. Del—the embodiment of an overly-chummy salesman—steps right in with his business connections and helps Neal find a hotel room for the night. It doesn’t take long for proper, uptight, leave-me-alone Neal to snap at gregarious, slightly crude, overbearing Del for his spilling beer on a bed they’re forced to share, and his guttural wheezing, and his incessant chatter, and his restlessness, and… 

Though I’ve seen it dozens of times, watching Neal lay into Del is still difficult. Because at our worst we’ve all been Neal, harshly judging someone we barely know for the shallowest of grievances. This scene, and the next morning’s now-infamous "Those aren’t pillows!” moment, sets the tone for the way the film deftly balances the harsh realities between the ways we sometimes react to strangers with hostility, and the times when we manage to see beneath situational or personal annoyances and rise above them.

My Thanksgivings have changed a great deal since my mother and I first started watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles all those years ago. We used to watch it with my mom’s side of the family back in Seattle, but for the past few years we’ve been watching it with my father’s side of the family. After I’d moved out to New York City for college, we started joining them in Connecticut for Thanksgiving and, for maybe the very first time, we were invited to bring our traditions along with us (coincidentally, by my uncle, who reminds my family of Steve Martin). Planes, Trains and Automobiles was our only offering—and now they own it on DVD, too. There have been times when, fittingly, unforeseen circumstances have barred us from watching it— technological difficulties have arisen, one year we went to Boston instead—but inevitably we always make up for it in some way, catching the last half on cable somewhere, or watching it later, closer to Christmas. And, much like the company and surroundings, my emotional relationship with Planes, Trains and Automobiles has evolved with age and circumstance, as well.

Watching the movie growing up, it was the humor that always drew me in, but as an adult it’s the humanity (and, sometimes, the cruelty) behind that humor which often keeps me watching. When the rental car company assigns Neal a missing car, he’s forced to hike back across the runway and quickly proceeds to unleash the word “fucking” on the woman at the front desk eighteen times in a single minute. The humor in the scene, though, comes not just from the rampant profanity—or even from Steve Martin’s brilliant physical comedy—but also from the fact that most of us have likely been Neal at one time or another, ripping into some poor and undeserving person who just happened to be the face or voice behind a company that did us wrong (Comcast, Time Warner employees, I’m sorry). Revisiting the film with more life experience under my belt, I can see all the raw, emotional undercurrents that run beneath the laughter and how they resonate with my own flaws or losses—the times I’ve been judgmental and rude to strangers who didn’t deserve it, the absence of male role models in my life to illustrate all the ways in which husbands and fathers are supposed to interact with their wives, families, and each other. 

When I was younger, Planes, Trains and Automobiles felt like a peek into this secret world of men that I knew so little about. And it took some time for me to understand all the ways in which Neal and Del are both flawed, deeply and almost unbearably so. Neal, behind all of his frustration and anger, is really just a man trying to get back home to his family. Growing up without a father around, I always liked that about Neal. I wanted to think that all fathers would be that way, just doing whatever it took to get home to their kids, and that my father would’ve been that way, too. As a kid, I tended to cast my sympathies moreso with Neal because of this – seeing John Candy as the goofy man in a devil costume who was a burden to regular guy Steve Martin. But these days, I find my heart going out to Del, just wanting so desperately to be liked, to connect with someone, that he seems oblivious to all the ways he’s overwhelming and occasionally rude. He is put through the very same hell as Neal (or worse, even), but always manages to keep a smile on his face. And so now, every time I want to pull a Neal and unleash a hellstorm on someone, I try to remember Del first, to grin and think, “Shit happens.” 

As our first Thanksgiving together approached, I discovered that my boyfriend’s family has a Planes, Trains and Automobiles tradition, too. And, reading various articles and essays about the movie and its associated traditions over the years, it sounds like I share this tradition with many other families as well. But I was  surprised to discover that there are those who actually don’t like it, people who feel it’s too clichéd, or that Neal and Del aren’t likeable, or that the underlying sadness simply overrides all the humor. However, that doesn’t much bother me, or make me argumentative like it might with other films. Because for me, Planes, Trains and Automobiles exists in its own world; it’s not just a movie, it’s a tradition. Revisiting Neal and Del’s road trip every year is about more than just having something to put on the TV after stuffing ourselves full of food and attempting to come down from our own holiday travel nightmares. It’s a reminder that strangers, like family, are worth some extra patience and kindness. Whether it’s the person sitting next to you or the one standing on the other side of the counter, everyone comes with their own life experiences and things to offer, be it the last hotel room in Wichita, or a free truck ride to the train station. And out on the road (or rails, or skies), we can all use a little help.


Taylor K. Long is a writer, editor, and photographer. She lives in rural Vermont with her cat, Alcatraz.