Exciting journey, for sure, but still stupid

Date Published: 
April 25, 2014

The notion of being a “stowaway” has intrigued me from the time I was a child.

There were times I would daydream about slipping onto a cruise ship without anyone noticing my arrival, hiding deep in the bowels of the ship’s engine room and surviving off the peanut butter and jelly sandwich I had stuffed in my jeans pocket. The destination wasn’t as important to me as the journey itself, but I still had visions of coconuts and sandy beaches in my head, over industrial parks and office buildings.

I mean, a daydreamer has to have standards, right?

These fantasies of mine were not restricted to sneaking on board cruise ships, or any other water vessel. No, I would imagine stealthily gaining access to trains leaving Union Station in Washington, D.C., and evading watchful eyes of workers on the train while I casually made my way cross-country to find myself in Hollywood or San Francisco or Paris. Yes, I had a flawed sense of geography at the time, but I just knew there were beautiful and exciting places for me to see, if only I could get there.

It was a restless soul I carried around at that time of my life, and I never really cared about where I was heading, just so it was away from where I was at the time. It wasn’t that things were all that bad around me at any given time, I just wanted to see what the rest of the world had to offer. I knew my neighborhood. I wanted to see others.

There was one thing keeping me from ever setting off on one of these grand adventures. No, wait. There were two things. The first was that I really never had the courage to just set off and do it. The second, and probably more important reason, was that I was terrified my mother would find out about my little escapade and spend the next 35 years of our lives alternating between spanking me and telling me how bad the spankings would be when my father got home.

I just didn’t really want to spend 35 years doing that.

Regardless, I never did stow away anywhere. Nor did I ever climb the Washington Monument with spikes taped to my shoes, bat leadoff for the Baltimore Orioles or become a cowboy, rustling up wandering cattle as they roamed along New Hampshire Avenue. Those fantasies remained just that for me over the years, and have now been replaced with grand visions like staying up to 10 p.m. to finish a show I’m watching or getting through a 30-minute drive without having to pull over to use a restroom.

But a certain part of me still enjoys living vicariously through the exploits of others.

For instance, I caught a headline on the msn.com site the other day that immediately forced a “click” from my trusted mouse finger: “16-year-old survives in wheel well of Maui Flight.”

Well, hello.

According to the article, officials said a 16-year-old boy is “lucky to be alive” after stowing away in a plane’s wheel well on its flight from California to Hawaii, surviving cold temperatures at 38,000 feet of altitude and a lack of oxygen. An FBI spokesman said the boy was unconscious for most of the five-and-a-half-hour flight and didn’t remember the flight.

Security footage from the San Jose airport reportedly shows the boy hopping a fence on Sunday morning to get to the plane. Airline personnel saw the boy on the ramp in Maui after the plane landed and alerted authorities, and he was miraculously unharmed. Eventually, the boy was reportedly released to child protective services and not charged with a crime.

The article pointed out that a 16-year-old boy was killed trying this adventure in 2010 on a flight from Charlotte, N.C., and a man fell onto a suburban street in London in 2012 after trying to stow away on a flight from Angola to London. So, yeah, this boy was extremely lucky.

And maybe not so smart.

For me, this is yet another reminder that, while it is natural and healthy to daydream and fantasize about a more exciting life, actually doing things like this boy did is reckless and stupid. I don’t know the kid’s life, and he might have had every justifiable reason in the world to get away from the situation he was in at the time — or, hey, maybe he just wanted to get to Hawaii.

But the ends do not justify the means here. He could have easily died doing this stunt, and probably should have.

Besides, nowhere in the article did it say he had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on him. That’s just common sense.