L.B.: If you can make it there

Left Behind, pp. 126-129

Charter pilot Ken Ritz promised to fly Buck Williams to New York City, or as close as he can land. That turns out to be Easton, Pa. Perhaps to distract Buck from the fact that he's getting dropped off 70 miles from the city, Ritz changes the subject:

"You know," Ritz said, "these are the old stompin' grounds of Larry Holmes, once the heavyweight champion of the world.*

"The guy that beat Ali."

"One and the same. If he was still around, whoever was takin' people might've got a knock on the noggin from ol' Larry. You can bet on that."

I'm not sure what he means by "if he was still around." Larry Holmes is still alive and still owns a home in Easton. (And he would never describe himself as "The guy that beat Ali.")

Maybe Jenkins/Ritz is suggesting that the Easton Assassin is a LaHaye-approved, born-again Christian, whisked away in the rapture. If so, this is news to me — and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes was a Big Deal in my church youth group. But Holmes isn't completely out of place in this apocalyptic novel. In 1982, he beat Randall "Tex" Cobb, known to movie fans as the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse. (Holmes won a unanimous decision and took every round, but Cobb never went down. Howard Cosell quit announcing boxing after that fight because it was such a horrible mismatch. And it was a mismatch — a lopsided one-way beating. But still, Cobb never went down. For 15 rounds. There was something glorious about that.)

Lba_1
Buck needed to get from Chicago to New York, and in just about 24 hours, after spending more than $1,500, he has managed to fly from Waukegan to Easton (which is also, by the way, home of The Crayola Factory — 64 different shades of cool). He really should have just commandeered a rapture-victim's car and driven.

Here the travel narrative becomes difficult to follow. Jenkins is as obsessed as ever with the logistics of planes, trains and automobiles, but the rest of Buck's journey seems to take place in an alternate geography in which the subway goes all the way across New Jersey and the island of Manhattan is 30 miles long.

Buck learns that travel into New York City will not be easy:

"No cars in or out of the city yet, and even the trains have some kind of a complicated route that takes them around bad sites. … Some of the worst disasters in the city were the result of disappearing motormen and dispatchers. Six trains were involved in head-ons with lots of deaths. Several trains ran up the back of other ones. It'll be days before they clear all the tracks …"

This is, of course, the last we hear about these "lots of deaths" on the trains of New York. Buck's trip into the city will take him right by these sites of mass carnage ("lots" here probably means not hundreds, but thousands), but he will be too busy writing his report on his laptop to look out the window and actually see any of this or to describe it for the reader.

Someone identified only as "personnel in Easton" says he knows "a guy that can get [Buck] within a couple of miles of the subway." Then, we're told, Buck pays a "premium for a ride close enough to the train that he could walk the rest of the way. … A two-mile walk got him to the train platform at about noon, only to find himself among the last half who had to wait another half an hour for the next train. The zigzag ride took two hours to get to Manhattan …"

It's impossible to make any sense of this. The NYC subway does not cross the Hudson, let alone extend all the way across New Jersey to Easton. You can't even get an Amtrak train in Easton. The nearest train to New York is probably NJ Transit's Raritan Valley Line — Easton is only 20 miles or so from the High Bridge station (why he'd get dropped off two miles away is not explained).

So Buck catches the train there and — despite a complicated, zig-zag alternative route, which I don't understand how a fixed rail train could take — gets to Manhattan in two hours. This is pretty amazing, considering that this train usually takes more than two hours just to get to Newark, where you've got to transfer to the Path to get into the city. So maybe Buck's premium cab ride actually took him all the way across New Jersey to within two miles of Penn Station in Newark?

As difficult as that is to make sense of, what happens next is even more confusing. Buck gets off the train in Manhattan, from there: "Buck calculated about a fifteen-mile walk to his office and another five to his apartment." The island of Manhattan is about 13 miles long and Penn Station is maybe three miles from the southern tip. So the Global Weekly offices, apparently, are somewhere in the Bronx, and Buck's apartment is — who knows? New Rochelle, maybe?

In any case, it's a heck of a walk. Despite his being "in great shape," Buck is soon sweating and panting.

"Oh, God , help me," Buck breathed, more exasperated than praying. But if there was a God, he decided, God had a sense of humor. Leaning against a brick wall in an alley in plain sight was a yellow bicycle with a cardboard sign clipped to it. It read, "Borrow this bike. Take it where you like. Leave it for someone else in need. No charge."

Only in New York, he thought. Nobody steals something that's free.

I love the idea of community bike programs, but I wasn't aware that New York had one. The ad hoc cardboard sign here suggests that this bike isn't actually part of a formal program — that L&J intend it as a sign from God, an answer to Buck's exasperated prayer.

Buck has already stood unscathed at ground zero as millions of kilotons of nuclear weapons exploded over his head, so it's no surprise that he is unimpressed by the timely convenience of this bit of divine providence: "He thought about breathing a prayer of thanks, but somehow the world he was looking at didn't show any other evidence of a benevolent Creator."

Aboard this karmic two-wheeler, Buck soon "cruised into midtown between the snarl of wreckage and wreckers." So he gets off the train at Penn Station, walks for many miles, rides a bike several more miles, then arrives in midtown Manhattan. In the geography of LB, Manhattan is a Moebius strip or an Escher staircase.

  • Mabus

    Of course, this all proves that Fred has created that most horrific of creatures, An Addictive Blog!
    So that explains why I’m still here! ;)
    Dr. Science> I’m honestly not sure. Thinking back, I must have read the first book way back in 97 or 98, shortly after it came out, and the last one I read was a couple of years ago (I bogged down in a library copy of….maybe it was Assassins). So it’s been a while. Thinking about the way I read…I’m something of an exposition fiend. The fiddly bits that actually make a fictional world real, that a lot of people are impatient with, I often enjoy, and I’ve never been anywhere near New York, so I wouldn’t know an error there anyway. But I skip over sense-descriptions that I think are too detailed.
    I would imagine that I was anxious to see if Buck would make it to New York, but didn’t pay a lot of attention to how he got there, since I had no experience to verify it by. Now that I think about it, though, anxiety would suggest I was anticipating some incident on the way–a serious wreck with injuries or something of that nature (even though we had that at the airport and I didn’t think about it). Maybe that’s what kept pulling me along–the events that I expected to happen that didn’t.
    Wish I could be more specific. The only thing I clearly recall now is taking apart L&J’s proof texts–I’ve always enjoyed that sort of thing.

  • pepperjackcandy

    R. Mildred wrote:
    Some of us like the transportation bits, because they clarify how bad the writers are at anything, [snip] it has instead unreaserched geography that makes no sense and could have been fixed with a quick look in a road map with a ruler, but horror? tragedy? nope none of that.
    My sentiments exactly.
    I like the idea of labeling posts that are predominantly about L&J’s obsession with detail “Logistics” or something of that nature, and those who choose not to read them can skip.
    As for apocalyptic novels, I love Octavia Butler’s writing. I have a weird “thing” about apocalypses, due in large part to having attended an evangelical Christian high school during the Reagan years. Eeek!
    But I can get beyond the “triggering” of most apocalyptic stuff in Butler’s books. I’m not sure why, and I have no real interest in exploring the topic. I just breath a sigh of relief and keep reading.
    I would recommend, specifically:
    Lilith’s Brood, a trilogy in which the end of the world happens off-screen and the action centers around the interaction of the surviving humans and the alien species that “rescues” them.
    and
    Parable of the Sower, which is sort of peri-apocalyptic, I guess. The US, California in particular, is effectively dead, given up to global warming and gang violence. The protagonist, Lauren, founds a new religion, Earthseed, which teaches that “God is Change” and through which Lauren believes it is her destiny to lead humanity to the stars (and I ain’t talking Hollywood).
    Lilith’s Brood is a trilogy, and Parable of the Sower has a sequel, Parable of the Talents.

  • Grumpy

    Chris: “some of the objections to LB are objections to the genre.”
    Meaning, for this thread, the techno-thriller genre. As has been stated before, a lot of the travel & phone call material is intended to qualify LB for the genre.
    On TV, you’ll see characters on “24″ spend 85% of their time on telephones, clacking at keyboards, or transiting in vehicles. Coincidentally, “24″ has also often failed to deal with the ramifications of its scenario to the world at large (EMP bomb, anybody??) and comically distorts geographic distances.

  • Beth

    In a discussion of the film, Sin City, Majikthise wrote, “Pornography is a tool for stimulating the lizard brain as directly and efficiently as possible.” That’s what this “travelogue” is really about. Who can think about “cancelled flights,” “alternate routes” and “zig-zag paths”, and all the rest without becoming short tempered and anxious? In porn films, the pizza delivery scene is designed to raise the audience’s level of sexual tension With Buck racing against the clock and battling the worst traffic jam in human history, the authors here are building tension of a different sort, the kind that tends not toward sex, but violence.
    In spending so much time on Buck’s rush to cover the Meeting of the Elders of Zion (or whatever L&J call it), the authors seem to have invented a new literary device: the anti-McGuffin. McGuffins must be, or appear to be, of vital importance to the characters in order to propel the story, but they have no intrinsic value to the plot. The Meeting is just the opposite. This mysterious group is intriguing to Buck, but apparently, no more than that. Yet in the midst of the most earth-shattering event in human history, he can think of little else. It’s been the motivating force in nearly every scene involving Buck so far. The audience knows how important this meeting is — they were steeped in the mythology of the New World Order of the Antichrist long before they opened the book — but they also know that Buck does not. Hitchcock used his McGuffin’s to surprise the audience, sending them hurtling off one direction, when the real plot will go in another. L&J’s anti-McGuffin assures the audience that the story will go exactly in the direction they expect.
    In real life the important stuff often does come from unexpected directions. That’s why I hope Fred will continue in this series to examine the aspects of the book that interest him.

  • Ken Loch

    I’ve started my own left behind series called “The Philosophy of Aesthetics’ Left Behind”.
    You can use it to cross reference all philosophy’s and religions’ left behind.

  • Sandals

    You have to be in at least decent shape to walk 20 miles in 5 hours. It’s quite a distance, especially through city streets.

  • Brooke

    Okay, on walking times, here is a formula recommended by Land Navigation Handbook, by W. S. Kals (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1983), p. 49:
    1) allow 30 minutes per mile
    2) for every 100-foot-per-mile climb, allow an extra 3.5 minutes; for every 100-foot-per-mile drop, allow one extra minute.
    The base 2 mph seems quite slow, but is meant to allow for some carried weight and to include rest-stops into the average.
    Pedantically yours,
    Brooke

  • Power User

    One “Apocalyptic” book I have always liked is “The Dark Cloud” by Hoyle. It’s about how an interstellar cloud of gas and dust threatens all life on this planet. It is a bit old, but it still is very good and has aged well.

  • ronin

    I thought Manhattan was the bike theft capital of the U.S.!
    Kryptonite Lock advertised their “New York Lock” as guaranteed against theft in Manhattan. Perhaps that’s too bike-geeky for the authors to know, but how was the bike protected against theft in degenerate NYC? The Holy Force- Field?
    This is fun, although I have to say the theology criticism is much more important.

  • Doctor Science

    Grumpy: Yes, the techno-thriller genre has a lot of travel & telephoning, which LB is sort of trying to emulate. But all the examples people have cited of flamingly absurd geography & logistics are from TV or movies, not from books. TV&movies are superficially realistic, but they always radically disconnect the places they depict from ordinary space: for instance, when you go from an establishing shot of the outside of a building to an interior scene, the interior is almost never actually shot inside that building.
    Books have no reason not to respect actual physical location, so usually they don’t. IIRC, the post-apocalyptic journeys characters take in Octavia Butler’s Parables series and in Stephen King’s The Stand are much more physically realistic than travel in LB, and it would be disorienting if they weren’t. That L&J did this so outstandingly badly I think is something that needs to be explained: were they seeing it all as so much of a TV show that they didn’t both to pay attention to what they were writing? Or were they so hamstrung by their need to not notice certain things (e.g. how cruel their God is) that they couldn’t think their way out of a paper bag of their own construction?

  • Jay Denari

    Thought you all might find this link, um, appalling — Jenkins talks about his characters. He’s nearly as incoherent in person as in LB.

  • Jacob Davies

    leftbehind.com is head-explodingly bad. Who knew that they had a book called “A Kid’s Guide to Understanding the End Times”? Can you imagine receiving this from your parents and being told it was the truth?
    I love the tabs at the top of the site. “End Times”, “Kids”, “Products”. Beautiful.
    They give the hard-sell for the series on just about every page. This rather badly-written set of novels is apparently the key to surviving the impending disaster. Hmm.
    Here’s something from a sort of Rapture FAQ on the site:
    “God is good and loves us, right?
    “The Bible says God is good, but we don’t usually think about what that really means. To be truly good like God is something way beyond human experience. God never does anything wrong and always does the right thing. He is always loving, fair, honest, and pure. He knows everything, and he’s more powerful than anything else or anyone who ever has or ever will live. This is because God created everything.
    “So why is God going to do all these things, and why can’t things just keep on being as they are? The answer is because God loves his creation, but Satan wants to destroy it. Before Satan became jealous of God he was an incredibly beautiful and important angel. But one day Satan decided he should be worshiped just as God was worshiped—so he betrayed God and became separated from him. He allowed himself to become bitter and resentful. He began to hate God and everything God created.
    “Satan gets pleasure from hurting God, from hurting humans, and from destroying the beauty of the earth God created for his creatures. Satan decided to destroy human beings because they were created by God. He lied to Adam and Eve and tempted them to disobey God. Satan knew if human beings betrayed God by disobeying him, it would separate them from God, who loved them.”
    It sounds like the kind of thing a five year old would concoct between action figures. “Barbie kills Stacie with a machinegun!” “But why??? Barbie is good, isn’t she?” “Yes but she is TOO GOOD so you don’t understand her and also GI Joe made her do it. GI Joe is EVIL and BAD and Barbie doesn’t LIKE HER ANYMORE even though they were FRIENDS before and anyway Stacie is in HEAVEN now.”

  • Bo

    Yesterday my wife and I sat silently at an after dinner lunch meeting where two other couples were raving about the Left Behind series. I decided I didn’t know where to start, and it wasn’t worth the effort.
    Then they started in on Frank Peretti. Hey, Fred, when you finish the Left Behind series…can we tempt you to start with Peretti?

  • Bo

    …an after dinner lunch meeting…
    Gee, that didn’t make sense…was supposed to read:
    …an after church lunch gathering…

  • Informis

    So, the Rapture seems to have caused a lot of trouble for everyone who wasn’t sucked into the Holy Vacuum. Trains smashing into one another, buses crashing, planes nose-diving…all terrible accidents visited upon non-believers because they didn’t accept Jesus as their personal savior.
    Couldn’t God have just whisked people away in their sleep? Sure it’s less dramatic, but it makes God seem like less of an outright asshole, clapping with glee as weapons of mass transit rack up a huge body count when their pilots and drivers disappear in an instant.

  • Garnet

    God never does anything wrong and always does the right thing.
    *coughBookofJobcough*

  • Lisa L.

    Put me down as one who enjoys the critiques of the travelogue sections. I especially loved the part where Buck (! still can’t get over that name) spent a long time in the men’s room. Don’t know if that’s where I’d want to be in the midst of the End Times. I’ve never read any of the LB books, and thanks to Slacktivist, now I don’t have to (not that I was eager to anyway).
    RE the authors’ competence, or lack thereof: Anyone so clueless about something as simple and easily researched as the logistics of travel and the general layout of the NYC transit system could not possibly be correct about anything else. Do the people who read these books also think that “The Ten Commandments” was a documentary? Or do I not want the answer to that question?

  • Steve

    RE the authors’ competence, or lack thereof: Anyone so clueless about something as simple and easily researched as the logistics of travel and the general layout of the NYC transit system could not possibly be correct about anything else.
    If they can’t understand a road atlas, I’m not going to trust them to interpret Holy Writ.

  • chris Borthwick

    There are at least two reasons why Americans weren’t raptured in their sleep;
    1) the Lord God was being nice to people on the other side of the globe – there may well have been more chinese going up than Americans (north and south continents)
    2) having looked at the lb site yesterday, someone there was trying to work out why America doesn’t seem to have a starring role in the Bible’s account of the last times seeing as how it’s his chosen nation, and the most favoured reason seemed to be that the shock of the rapture would for exactly that reason be particularly acute in the US – all the armed forces will have gone, for example, while the russian and the ethiopian armies remain more or less intact. That explanation would presumably be assisted if the rapture was as violent and disruptive in the US as it could possibly be, and less so elsewhere.

  • R. Mildred

    Do the people who read these books also think that “The Ten Commandments” was a documentary?
    No they believe that Joan of Ark was Noah’s wife.

  • Keith T.

    Ya know… I thought the point of the 7 year period after the Rapture was to give the unwashed left behind a chance to mend their ways and repent. So what happens to all these hapless secondary (non-Raptured) casualties of God’s gracious wrath? They get a bit cheated out of the chance of redemption, don’t they?
    Anyway, NYC is The Big City. L&J are small-town red-staters who don’t understand the Big City except that it’s so darn BIG. So they invent an NYC that’s so big it’s bigger than the City of Heaven (12mi x 12mi, so they say, right?)… maybe to show off how blasphemous and godless The Big City (aka Babylon) is.

  • Keith T.

    Chris — Uh, they do realize that the Bible was written 1600-1700+ years before America was even a country — and 1800-1900+ years before it became God’s champion against world heathens — right?
    I mean, it seems so obvious. I gotta see this.

  • B-W

    2) having looked at the lb site yesterday, someone there was trying to work out why America doesn’t seem to have a starring role in the Bible’s account of the last times seeing as how it’s his chosen nation, and the most favoured reason seemed to be that the shock of the rapture would for exactly that reason be particularly acute in the US – all the armed forces will have gone, for example, while the russian and the ethiopian armies remain more or less intact.
    PLEASE tell me that this isn’t serious! (I have little doubt that it is, but it’s just SO absurd that even right-wing Christias would assume that most of the US armed forces are Christians ready to be Raptured.)

  • Rowandoll

    Uh, they do realize that the Bible was written 1600-1700+ years before America was even a country — and 1800-1900+ years before it became God’s champion against world heathens — right?
    Keep in mind that a literal interpretation of the bible doesn’t allow for the existence of more than three continents (Europe, Africa and Asia), and that in the 1200′s belief in antipodalism (that is, an existence past the equator) was considered to be outright heresy.
    It’s amazing the amount of ledgermain that needs to happen in order to be a literalist bible scholar, and yet preach from the United States, much less to believe that any person who puts on a uniform is immediately a god-fearing, gospel-obeying Christian.

  • cjmr’s husband

    What’s to assume? They’re actively working on it. Remember the chaplain in Iraq that would only allow soldiers to bathe if they were being baptised?
    Not to mention the flap at the Air Force academy.
    Because we can’t have the Rapture until our Army is converted.

  • pepperjackcandy

    NYC is The Big City. L&J are small-town red-staters who don’t understand the Big City except that it’s so darn BIG.
    Jerry Jenkins is the “writer-at-large” (?) for the Moody Bible Institute, which as you can see from this map is pretty much in the heart of the city of Chicago.
    Or maybe the lung of the city. But no farther than that.

  • pepperjackcandy

    So, while looking for JJ’s title, I found an interview with him at the leftbehind.com website (there’s no indication on the page who is interviewing him — for all I know, he could be interviewing himself).
    may contain spoilers.

  • cjmr

    What’s to assume? They’re actively working on it. Remember the chaplain in Iraq that would only allow soldiers to bathe if they were being baptised? Not to mention the flap at the Air Force academy.
    Now, really! Even LaHaye and Jenkins don’t believe that they could turn the entire US Armed Forces into “Rapture-ready Christians” just by getting every soldier to say the prayer and get dunked. From Fred’s review of LB so far it looks like there are a lot of people who thought they were Christians (said the prayer, been baptized, go to church, etc) even Fundamentalist Christians who didn’t get raptured. I read some of LaHaye’s more-theological, less-fictional stuff a few years back and he knows Christianity is a lot more work than that. (He wasn’t quite so fascinated with the End Times back in the 80s either.)

  • R. Mildred

    Hmm, seems 40% of active service personnel are evangelical christians with a further 60% of chaplains are evangelical christians:
    http://bodyandsoul.typepad.com/blog/2005/08/christian_soldi.html
    And if you add in the idea that christians who kill heathens get an instant ticket to heaven, well, a near total rapturing of the american military makes perfect sense.

  • sophia8

    “Then they started in on Frank Peretti. Hey, Fred, when you finish the Left Behind series…can we tempt you to start with Peretti?”
    Fred Perretti? Oh wow, that’s a name from the past! All those stories about small American towns being taken over by evil shape-changing aliens – oops, sorry, that’s another movie I think….
    Actually, the one Perretti book I read properly followed the plots of those “I Married A Monster From Outer Space” 50s scare movies, only with Satan and His minions in place of the Martians. Even at the time (this must have been in the 80s), I thought it was weird that God’s angels went into battle equipped with trumpets and swords. Couldn’t God afford to buy up some modern military equipment for His army?
    And as for the evil satanic witch who infiltrated the local college to teach (gasp!!!) yoga…..!

  • puckalish

    quote-R. Mildred
    And if you add in the idea that christians who kill heathens get an instant ticket to heaven, well, a near total rapturing of the american military makes perfect sense.
    wow… that whole philosophy sounds really familiar…
    hmm… i can’t quite place it, though… where else have i heard of religious leaders saying that killing disbelievers or opponents of the faith is a one-way ticket to heaven?
    oh, yeah, the… uh… terrorists we’re supposed to be so afraid of… ohhhh, yeaaah… i wonder if these folks know each other.

  • Jonah Falcon

    “Buck calculated about a fifteen-mile walk to his office and another five to his apartment.”
    As a 35 year old born-and-bred Manhattanite, I didn’t know my walking from my apartment on West 26th Street – a few blocks from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station – to Chambers St. was such an epic feat. I made the time go faster by walking down by the Piers, though. Having to trek through Chinatown always feels like an epic journey, especially since most Chinese believe in either Confucianism, Taoism or Buddhism, Chinatown’s probably still crowded.

  • Jonah Falcon

    “This brings me to Martin Bergman’s In the Shadow of Moloch: The Sacrifice of Children and Its Impact on Western Religions. Bergman’s another psychoanalyst, which means you have to read with a grain of salt handy, but he does a great job of showing how the theme of child-sacrifice runs through both the Jewish and Christian Bibles.”
    The man’s name is Bergmann, not Bergman, and by the way, he plays Dr. Louis Levy in Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors”.

  • Informis

    After a week or two of thinking on this “Raptured in their sleep” idea, I figured out why God doesn’t do it:
    If he did, then it wouldn’t be a cautionary tale to non-believers. The airline pilot would be Raptured, and 200 people would miss their connecting flight. Whoopee. But, if the airline pilot is Raptured at 35000 feet…you’d damn well better get Raptured, too or you’re going down in flames.
    Basically, LeHaye et. al. don’t value the lives of those athetists, heathens, agnostics, and new agers left behind…so why should their God? Let ‘em rot in Hell, as they say.
    Disgusting.

  • LM

    What I think is so strange about the boxer is that Stapelton Airport is mentioned earlier in the book. Stapelton was closed and replaced by Denver International Airport. Now, I’m sure it was still open when the book was written, but I’m also sure that boxer was still alive. ;p


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