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It Is Not About the Destination, It Is About the Journey

Joe Sellman (2L)

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Where can we go for Christmas to forget about Law School and avoid the travel chaos, I asked myself… oh, what’s this? I have a 50% off voucher for VIA Rail. Clearly, I should catch the train from Edmonton to Jasper! It is only one stop away and then I can spend Christmas in the mountains. It will be beautiful! I mean, I know no one catches the train, and I’ve heard it isn’t great but who cares if it takes longer than driving? I can enjoy the mountain views and I’ll be in vacation mode. I can take it slow and relax, I told myself.

VIA’s tag line should be “it is not about the destination, it is about the journey” because boy can they deliver a journey that makes the train ride more memorable than the vacation itself.

“Schedule,” as I was soon educated by VIA, only means one thing for certain: the time you can guarantee something will NOT happen. I can only imagine that the schedule is built by VIA’s Dreamers-in-Chief who do not concern themselves with irritations such as reality or physics.

The train to Jasper was scheduled to leave at around 7:30 am, and ended up leaving at 7:00 pm. Of course, not satisfied with this delay, the train ended up arriving in Jasper at around 3:30 am the next day. From Edmonton, you can travel 20 hours and 10 mins to Wellington, New Zealand by plane, 21 hours and 35 mins to Las Vegas by car, or 20 hours to Jasper by train. Of course, the delay was never that explicit, but rather a creeping delay with an extra hour being added as each prior estimated time passed. I can only speculate this is to prevent one from taking alternative actions in the face of being fully informed (for example, had I known at 7:30 am I wouldn’t get in until 3:30 am I would have told them to [insert expletive here] themselves and gone and hired a car and driven myself there). The journey back was a less exhausting ordeal, but still took around ten hours.

At first, I was angry and I thought it was terrible, but as time wore on I started to understand. VIA is at the forefront of a new corporate management strategy. Where we see social norms, they see opportunity! We should not be bound by schedules or normal expectations. “We now live in a post-truth world,” VIA tells us through its actions. The riches from such an approach have been seen in politics and VIA is at the vanguard of adapting this methodology and applying it in the world of business. Imagine the progress, profit, and success that awaits!

Now, the skeptical among you may be tempted to disagree with me and just judge VIA Rail as inept, but I can easily rebut your cynicism. At every point during my experience, I asked myself “could I have designed a worse, more ineffective, more inefficient, more infuriating, more Kafka-esque way to do this?”. The answer was always NO! I marveled at the creativity, the attention to detail, and the flawless (to the extent it looked effortless) execution by VIA. There is only one conclusion, it has to be intelligent design. The way VIA operates is irreducibly and specifically complex and cannot be explained away by such flawed notions as ineptitude, incompetence, or bad luck.

If you are still not convinced let me provide another example: going to the toilet. A simple task. What could I possibly have to say about it you ask? Oh, how little you understand the forces we are dealing with at VIA! The toilets on the train lack any indication of whether the bathroom is in use or not (a problem that has long been solved by linking the locking mechanism to some sort of indicator to show the room is “engaged” or similar). Once you manage to enter the toilet, the next issue is flushing the toilet. On the same wall the toilet is mounted on, there are two flushing “instructional” images. Image 1 shows a hand holding what appears to be a screwdriver which the user has stabbed into the wall beside the toilet. Beside this is an up/down arrow (the way in which you would draw an arrow indicate a bird’s wings’ motion). There is no such flapping screwdriver in the wall. Below this image, image 2, is a separate “instruction” that simply says “WC” and shows a line of dots emanating upwards from nowhere to nowhere. Hmmm, I say to myself pondering and overthinking what happens next. And then the handle to the washroom starts to rattle with a sense of urgency that indicates either the person on the other side of the door cannot understand if the washroom is occupied, or they are in urgent need of the only type of scheduled/express service that can be found on a VIA train. The pressure is on. I frantically start waving in the hope there is an automatic sensor somewhere. Nothing. I start pushing everything I can in the hope it is a button, and somehow this works. For the record, the “WC” image is itself the flush button.

Canadian National Railway (CN), who own the rails that the trains run on, must be in close collaboration with the management of VIA. Without hesitation, CN prioritize freight trains over passenger trains, leaving one in a constant state of fear. Every time the train starts to slow, you panic that another hour of sitting and waiting will be added to the journey. The effects of this are not temporary. Since my return, I now speed to make an amber light as I no longer have confidence in the concepts such as “slowing down” or “short wait times”. I am a changed man, no longer bound by the constraints of predictability or reason. Instead, I have constant low-level fear and dissatisfaction. I merely thought I was going on vacation, but instead it was a philosophical awakening! Travelling on VIA is the critical response to existentialism and the enlightenment, where one does not know outcomes are connected to the choice one makes, nor is there any evidence of a rational, empirically understandable world.

So, take pity on me next time you see me running down the hallway to get through the doorway before the door closes. Take pity and hold it open for me, as otherwise I am likely to sit on the floor and stare at the closed door, unable to believe I have any agency in the world to open the door and control my own destiny.