Roman Slave Galleys Beat Flying Commercial
By Chris Rodell
March 2005

After diligent research and a lifetime of cruel experience, I’ve brainstormed a solution to save the beleaguered airline industry: It’s time to turn all commercial flights into 1st century slave galleys, the kind brawny Ben Hur drove.

The epiphany occurred to me when I realized seat 26A was too confining to permit the comfortable reading of a daily newspaper. It’s true. Coach seats are now too cramped for an average-sized adult -- 5-foot-9, 175 pounds -- to wrestle a slim newspaper into a space that will allow him to stare cross-eyed at it without getting a telltale smudge of printer’s ink on the tip of his nose. I finally gave up, crabwalking over two other exasperated passengers to slam the thing into an overhead bin.

I took a deep breath to steel myself for the long flight. I glanced up the

It was row after row of passengers. Not a spare seat in sight. Judging by the backs of the heads, it was universally grim. No one seemed animated. No one was conversing. Not a single noggin bobbed from bubbly laughter.

I was struck by a dark revelation: Hundreds of passengers forced by fates and fellow man to endure a journey of hardship and deprivation? Hours of cruel treatment and inhumane conditions?

To me, it looked almost exactly like the scene from a famous movie about a man who was forced to endure a voyage on board a 1st century slave galley. But after a moment of thoughtful consideration, I realized I was wrong, wrong, wrong. The realization made me wince.

Conditions on the sweaty rowing deck of a slave galley were vastly superior.

Think about it. Or better still, check out a copy of the 1959 Best Picture
Oscar-winner, "Ben Hur," the rollicking historical movie depicting Charlton Heston as Judah Ben Hur.

That’s what I did after a grueling month of ill-fated flights so lousy with
mistakes they could only be called "error-planes." In one month, I suffered from delays, canceled flights and the cramped conditions that make today’s air travel such a common misery.

A 1st-century slave galley seems comparatively pleasant and incorporates many of the activities modern men and women pay to enjoy during their leisure hours. In our hyper-active society, many people spend upwards of $100 a month to participate in the cruel self-torture that is daily exercise. And, coincidentally, many of the most popular muscle-toning devices are rowing machines.

In "Ben Hur," fit rowers are given what seems to be in excess of four
spacious feet to manipulate the long oars. Rowers are driven by a burly man rhythmically beating a bongo drum up in the front of the ship. When the slave master orders "Ramming speed!" the drum is beaten with a tribal fury that sends the ship racing through the water with a speed smoke-spewing locomotives would envy. Lesson? Slave-powered vehicles are friendly to the environment and will lessen our reliance on foreign oil.

Having modern airline passengers row oars would be a wonderful bonding experience for airline passengers who sit in suspicious silence practically one on top of the other. The drummer could lead the passengers in jaunty camp songs. Plus, there would be enormous psychological benefits. I still have trouble understanding how airplanes get off the ground with stationary wings when even majestic eagles require a furious flapping of their feathers. Planes could be fitted with mechanical wings that actually flap when rowers work together, giving everyone a vital stake in doing his or her part to get the plane safely to its appointed destination.

Close-minded critics may point out that the slaves suffered cruel whippings, but there’ve been examples of similar treatment from despotic passenger screeners who inflict beatings on any passenger with the temerity to crack wise over invasive searches for nail clippers, nose hair trimmers and other grooming devices considered perfectly harmless anywhere but an airport.

Of course, the airlines would need to upgrade the food service to keep
passengers stout enough to keep rowing. Ben Hur and his shipmates subsisted on thin gruel, which would be a welcome improvement over the two stale crackers Delta gave me on a recent two-hour flight.

Sure, some people will complain about being treated like slaves, but that indignity ought to be liberated when passengers consider the following salient fact: Judah Ben Hur never paid $789.40 to endure a two-legged trip from Myrtle Beach to Pittsburgh that included a three-hour layover in Chicago.

Now, that’s cruel.
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