October 16, 2003

A Viewer's Guide for Riding the Bus

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Between the time that I am writing this and the time you are reading it, one of the following two things will have happened: 1. The Red Sox will have tied the ALCS at three games apiece by rallying behind John “at least I can still throw harder than Wakefield” Burkett and forced Game 7 tonight, or 2. Jeter’s contract with Satan is good for another year and the Yankees are going to the World Series. Either way, I am nauseous and twitching and probably speaking in tongues right now.

When I think about nausea and twitching, two events come to mind — my senior prom and every road trip I’ve ever taken as a college athlete. Yes, it’s that time of year again; away games come two at a time and most Cornell fall athletes have spent more time in cramped Swarthout buses than in class. It’s fitting that those crushed-shag-polyester seats are about as comfortable as the rickety little numbers in Bailey Hall, both of which are designed for humans less than 5-5 in height and weighing under 120 pounds. The gymnastics team is in the lap of luxury.

We could discuss the smell involved with shoehorning 30+ people into a motor coach for upwards of six hours, the practice immediately following the arrival at the destination when the entire team is about as loose as Frankenstein and one’s nerve synapses are firing about as consistently as the spark plugs of a 1984 Ford Bronco II, or the quality of the food that Cornell athletes are able to buy with the University’s pathetic excuse for per diem (man cannot live on $15 a day), but I’d like to keep this column uplifting and happy.

The only upside of trav/scrg to Olean, N.Y. and Piscataway, N.J. is the best feature of every motor coach in the United States — the VCR. Nothing makes Interstate 88 go by quicker than losing oneself in a movie played on a 10-inch screen with crappy volume. It’s like heaven.

On the rowing team, the quality of the trip is directly tied to movie selection, so the money question is not “are we missing anybody” but “who rented the videos?” The front seat next to the VCR is most coveted, as it is the farthest away from the blissful aroma of the “bathroom” and holds executive sway over what movies are shown. Rebellions in the back of the bus are quickly put down, occasionally with extreme prejudice.

The actual selection of movies is a harder process than one might think; you can’t just throw any old flick as if this were a regular afternoon. This is the bus, and the situation demands certain types of movies. They must be mindless, or at least familiar enough so that they are easy to follow; no one wants to watch The Matrix for the first time on the way to Dartmouth. Comedies are usually a good bet, but they can get tired quickly. It’s better to go with an unintentionally funny drama or action film, mostly because fart jokes and sight gags only work the first two or three times you see the movie (notice how There’s Something About Mary isn’t funny anymore?). Of course, there’s always room for the inspirational / spiritually uplifting movie that’s shown on the way to the game, something with appropriate gravitas or a flick that will get the adrenaline flowing (if episodes of Sex in the City fill this category for you, stop reading immediately and bang your head against a wall).

It bears mentioning that a large selection of movies should be on hand, to be shown as the situation warrants. You’re not going to be in the mood to watch the same movie if you’d lost rather than won. Anybody who wants to watch Gladiator or something after losing to Harvard should be beaten with a garden hose.

Here’s my top five road trip movies of all time, all of which have that perfect mix of entertainment, familiarity, classic lines, and unintentional comedy.

5. American Psycho

Both violent and misunderstood, this is the best film that Christian Bale will ever make. It might be a tad complex if you’ve never seen it before, but the sheer bizarreness of the action makes up for it. The scenes where he’s describing his morning routine (“if I’m feeling a bit puffy, I’ll wear an ice mask while I do my stomach crunches”) are some of the funniest moments in the history of cinema. Of course, watching Bale’s Patrick Bateman kill a girl by dropping a chainsaw on her from the top of staircase may not be everyone’s idea of entertaining, American Psycho is chock full of repeatable dialogue sure to enhance the road trip experience. For example, try saying “don’t just look at it, eat it” while at dinner that night. Special points are awarded if you’re playing Columbia and make a reservation at Dorsia from the hotel room.

4. The Last of the Mohicans

“Stay alive! I will find you!” Just like any movie in the Braveheart genre, you’ve got to watch this one on the way there, because it’s heavy and makes the hair on the back of your neck stand at attention. This movie has something for everyone: desperate love, revenge, epic courage, and everyone’s favorite Native-American actor, Wes Studi. The story takes place in upstate New York, so you can look out the window and imagine that you’re running through the woods with Madeline Stowe and Daniel Day-Lewis rather than sitting on a bus. Plus, it’s historical so watching it is almost like doing actual schoolwork. The soundtrack is completely instrumental, but it’s the kind of music that stirs the soul and summons the kind of energy necessary to perform as if your life depended on it. And don’t we all want to cut out the still-beating hearts of our enemies?

3. The Shawshank Redemption

Because Andy Dufrane could be any of us. Because what he crawled through to escape prison probably smells better than the bus at this point. Because Morgan Freeman is one of the greatest actors of our or any generation. Because the movie attaches hope and excitement to riding a bus. Because no matter how many times you’ve seen it, the montage of how he escapes is riveting. Because winning a game or a race or a match makes you want to rip off your shirt and raise your hands to heaven.

2. Point Break

The last two movies on the list are the most unintentionally funny movies ever made. Point Break takes itself so seriously, yet it involves Patrick Swayze as a surfer/bank robber/skydiver. Who the hell came up with this idea? But it gets better. Keanu Reeves, doing his very best impression of an inanimate carbon rod, is a former Ohio State quarterback-cum-FBI agent named — wait for it — Johnny Utah. And, just for good measure, Gary “I’m with” Busey plays Reeves’s grizzled partner. This is the man who once confessed that the low point of his life was trying to do lines of cocaine off the stomach of his dog. I mean really, what’s not to like?

1. Pumping Iron

The piece de resistance. Pumping Iron is a movie that defies rational explanation and really demands its own column. It’s a documentary of the 1975 Mr. Olympia competition at which Arnold Schwarzenegger captured his seventh straight title by defeating Lou “The Incredible Hulk” Ferrigno and Franco Columbo. The whole thing is too bizarre for words; the first scene is Ahhhnold and Columbo practicing ballet in leotards. Did you know that Lou Ferrigno was a former sheet metal worker from Secaucus, N.J.? Neither did I, until I saw Pumping Iron. If you’re from Caleeforneea, you absolutely must see this movie. “When it comes to the day of the election, Gray Davis is a child and I am his father.” I’m excited just thinking about it.

Archived article by Per Ostman