Riding the Gravy Train
I was recently telling a friend about the success of my book. “I don’t get it,” he said. “You write a few math jokes, and you’re riding the gravy train!”
This raises a few issues.
First of all, what the hell is a gravy train? Have they started carrying gravy by rail? Are there people at the train station with satchels of mashed potatoes, waiting for the five-fifteen to arrive?
Second, creating jokes is hard. Creating math jokes is even harder. And creating funny math jokes is nearly impossible — as anyone who reads this blog can attest.
Third, I am not riding the gravy train. According to Wiktionary, riding the gravy train refers to “any lucrative endeavor that generates considerable income whilst requiring little effort and carrying little risk.” My book has sold well, and I am thankful for the minor level of celebrity it has brought me. But it has not allowed a lifestyle change. It’s not like the profits are enough for a new car. Heck, they aren’t even enough for a new bike! Maybe a helmet, if I shop at a second-hand store.
Finally, where did the expression riding the gravy train come from? The phrase everything else is gravy is sometimes used to describe a situation where expenses are covered and a significant profit remains. In addition, train rides are enjoyable — while you relax in comfort, a train takes you where you want to go. Conventional wisdom says that gravy train is the result when you put these two phrases together.
Here’s a math joke involving trains.
Q: You board a train in Newark that travels south at 15 mph. At the same time, your friend boards a train in Trenton that travels north at 25 mph. How long before you pass each other?
A: What the hell are you doing in Jersey?
Here’s another, though you’ve probably heard this one before.
Some math and engineering students boarded a train to a convention. Each of the math majors had a ticket, but the engineering students had only one ticket between them.
The math majors were laughing about this when an engineering student shouted, “Conductor!” With that, all the engineering majors squeezed into a bathroom. The intrigued math students watched as the conductor knocked on the bathroom door and said, “Ticket, please.” The conductor took the single ticket that was slid under the door, and left.
Not to be outdone, the math students boarded the return train without a ticket. The engineers laughed.
The engineer lookout yelled, “Conductor!” All of the engineering students crowded into one bathroom, while the math majors piled into another. Then, before the conductor entered the car, one of the math majors came out of his bathroom, knocked on the engineering students’ door, and said, “Ticket, please.”
And if you like Ozzy Ozborne, or if you enjoy terrible poetry, then you might appreciate the following revised lyrics for one of Ozzy’s songs.
Gravy Train (to the tune of Crazy Train by Ozzy Ozborne)
Gravy, for mashed potatoes
Millions of gallons ready to flo-o-o-ow
Maybe it’s not too late
To learn how to love
My liquid brown freight
Potatoes so appealing
Other sides are lame —
I’m rolling down the rails on a gravy train
I’m rolling down the rails on a gravy train…