Santa is kind of like FedEx

Thing 2 (who’s 7 now) is having doubts and asked me the other day whether Santa Claus is real.

I asked him what he thought, and he said he wasn’t sure but that he didn’t see any way that one man on one sleigh could deliver all those toys to every kid on the planet in just one night.

I said that’s not how it works.

I explained that Santa used to deliver all those toys personally. back in the old days, when the population was a lot smaller, but that he uses a lot of helpers these days.

Santa is kind of like FedEx, I said. One truck couldn’t possibly deliver all those packages to all those homes and businesses in all those countries in one 24-hour period, I said, but a fleet of trucks and planes certainly could.

I said Santa runs the operation. He’s like the CEO. The toys are made by the toy companies, not elves. These days, the elves run the warehouse and oversee distribution.

The toys are delivered first to Santa’s headquarters at the North Pole and then, on Christmas Eve, they’re flown on big cargo planes from the central warehouse to regional distribution centers all over the world and then to local distribution centers, where the toys are placed on trucks and driven to people’s homes.

That’s a lot easier and a lot more efficient than trying to pile all those toys on just one sleigh, I said. The delivery truck drivers drink the milk and cookies and send any leftovers to the North Pole, where Santa shares them with the elves.

Thing 2 thought about it for a moment or two. “I don’t get it,” he said.

That’s OK, I said.

In this 1927 photo, Santa Claus (left) receives his pilot’s license from William P. MacCracken (seated) and Clarence M. Young of the U.S. Department of Commerce. PHOTO: Library of Congress

The Accidental Tourist: A literary guide to business travel, basically

It’s been a few years since my college girlfriend loaned me her copy of The Accidental Tourist, but it’s a book that’s stayed with me — not because of its theme of embracing life and moving outside your comfort zone but because of what it taught me about how to pack a suitcase.

Anne Tyler’s book is about a guy named Macon (William Hurt in the movie), who writes passport-sized travel books for “accidental tourists” — business travelers, mostly, who have to leave home and want to make the trip as painless as possible.

Of course, the point of the book isn’t to give travel advice. Being an accidental tourist is really just a metaphor for Macon, who divorces his wife (Kathleen Turner in the movie) after their son is killed, only to get involved with a free spirit (Geena Davis), who brings him back into the world.

I think that’s what it’s about, anyway. I don’t really remember much about the plot. What I remember, every time I take a business trip, is the travel advice:

  • “Bring only what fits in a carry-on bag. Checking your luggage is asking for trouble.” This is absolutely true. Since I read the novel, I think I’ve checked luggage only a couple of times, and both times, it got lost.
  • “One suit is plenty…. It should be a medium gray. Gray not only hides the dirt; it’s handy for sudden funerals and other formal events. At the same time, it isn’t too somber for  everyday.” One suit (I go with dark gray), a couple of shirts and a couple of ties, and you’ll be fine. I’m told it’s different for women, that they’re expected to wear something different every day, but I’m a guy, so no one expects anything of me, fashion-wise. One suit is plenty, and only the shoes you’re wearing.
  • “Always bring a book, as protection against strangers.” I used to bring a book. Now I carry a tablet. Either way, it’s good advice and worth following, even though it works only about 50% of the time. I don’t think I’m a rude traveler. I’ll smile, say excuse me and engage in small talk while we’re getting settled in, usually something like, “Boy, they don’t give us a lot of room, do they?” but then I’m done. I’d rather read. It’s amazing, though, the number of people who don’t notice or deliberately ignore basic social cues such as their seatmate’s refusal to make eye contact or his responding to their questions and comments with a simple, “Uh-huh.”

You might disagree and think I’m a jerk because I don’t want to talk for a couple of hours to the random person wedged into the seat next to mine, and that’s fine, you might be right, but trust me on taking only one carry-on bag.

Someone, please build this: the zero-gravity roller coaster

There’s a point on all roller coasters when you crest a hill and, for a heartbeat, you’re weightless. It’s the reason we ride coasters.

Well, I saw a story the other day in Popular Science about a new kind of coaster where you’d be weightless for eight seconds.

Count it out: one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi….

Eight seconds of weightless would last forever.

Right now, the zero-gravity coaster exists only on paper, but according to Popular Science, there’s a company in Southern California called BRC Imagination Arts that’s ready to build it. Cut them a check today, the story says, and you’ll have your coaster by next Christmas.

BRC isn’t some fly-by-night outfit. When I worked in newspapers, I covered the theme-park industry, and I met BRC’s founder, Bob Rogers, a few times. He’s whip smart and really clever. BRC’s worked on everything from the Test Track pavilion at Epcot to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. These guys know what they’re doing, and if Bob Rogers says he can build a coaster where you’re weightless for eight seconds, I believe him.

Here’s what he told Popular Science about the proposed coaster:

You’d sit in a capsule rather than an open car, so there’d be no wind and no visual cues telling you you’re moving. You’d be strapped in, but loosely.

Superman: Escape from Krypton

The track would be shaped like a giant letter “L.” You’d rocket along the track then curve straight up, like the Superman coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain (see picture).

You’d climb at about 100 m.p.h., and as you neared the top, the capsule would slightly but suddenly decelerate. You’d be thrown out of your seat, like a stone from a slingshot, but the capsule would instantly match your speed.

You would, in effect, be floating inside the capsule.

After a moment, you’d begin to fall, but so would the capsule, matching your speed on the way down and eventually slowing so that you settled back in your cushioned seat.

By the coaster came to a stop, you would have experienced weightlessness for eight long seconds.

If you were to fly NASA’s “Vomit Comet,” the plane the space agency uses to train astronauts, you would experience weightlessness for 25 seconds.

Popular Science says ordinary coasters cost about $30 million but BRC’s zero-gravity coaster would cost $50 million, which sounds like a lot — heck, that is a lot — but Disney spent a reported $100 million to Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom a few years ago. Fifty million dollars to a theme-park developer is nothing.

I have no idea whether when or whether anyone will actually build BRC’s zero-gravity coaster. I have no idea whether it’s a smart for untrained civilians to be subjected to eight seconds of weightlessness.

But if someone builds it, I’ll volunteer to test the thing, as many times as it takes.