Travel Can Be Enjoyable, Exciting


We all dream of traveling. Well, most of us anyway. Some people seem happy to avoid travel if they can. And they go on proving it week after week by staying home. Who knows? Maybe they’re the smart ones.

I’ve traveled a lot. And “enjoyed” it. But to be honest, I have to admit that “enjoyed” may not mean what you think it does.

Here’s a list of things “enjoyed” doesn’t include:

Parking at the airport.

Getting through security.

Surviving baggage check-in.

Sitting in the waiting room.

Lining up to get on the plane.

Waiting for the plane to take off.

Living through all those air miles.

Circling the airport in the stack.

Wading through inbound security.

Retrieving the luggage (maybe).

Finding a reasonable hotel.

“OK,” you may be saying, “so what does ‘enjoyed’ include?”

Mainly, it includes seeing the things you came to see, which can sometimes be a challenge. Have you ever noticed that when people get back home they always say the same things? “Whew! What a whirlwind! We just never slowed down. We saw so many, many places we never thought we would see. And the food? Incredible! And inns? The quaintest! We just have to go back!”

Translation: “The tour bus drove 80 miles an hour and never stopped anywhere for more than five minutes. The %$#@! guides took us to all the wrong sites. Meal prices were exorbitant. The inns had antique plumbing. And we seem to have lost one of the kids.”

Ah yes! Travel. Exciting. Lots of memories. Like scrubbing week-old dirty socks in a sink because your bags got swiped.

But I will admit it. Some exciting things do happen. Take the first time I flew into Tan Son Nhut International in Saigon.

There we were, tootling in for a landing. Our aircraft, a super constellation, was spacious and comfortable, with wide seats and plenty of leg room, unlike the sardine cans they cram people into these days. And there were no charges for “extra” baggage.

As expected, we had flown the thousand miles from Manila without incident.

It was 1959, and officially there was no war going on in Vietnam. In fact, the first “official” combat death wasn’t due to occur until 1961, although I was sitting next to an Army captain on his way back to Vietnam, who described how Victor Charlie had come into the mess hall one evening and machine-gunned 11 men, including him, as they were watching a movie.

I won’t get into the who’s-right-and-who’s-wrong about combat data — or anything else about Vietnam. Waste of time. Why? From the very beginning, literally everything about that mess over there was classified, and it still is.

Last thing I heard, every minute of every day the National Security Agency was turning a stack of classified material 6 feet high, 6 feet wide, and 6 feet long into paper slurry. In fact, I recently read that as far back as 10 years ago, NSA was making a tidy $60,000 a year turning classified documents into pizza boxes. Nice way to hide the truth.

Anyway, there we were coming in for a landing. The pilot, a Navy commander, had just announced we would be “wheels down in two minutes” when suddenly four recip engines roared, the nose of the aircraft leapt upward, we banked hard left, and a string of very innovative curses — some I’d never heard before — filled the air.

A minute or so later came an announcement: “In case you’re wondering, folks, a %$#@! Air France aircraft taxied out onto the %$#@! runway just as I was setting the %$#@! aircraft down.”

Well, we landed without incident a few minutes later, but I will say that was a bit “exciting.” Another few seconds and we’d all have died in a large, colorful ball of flames.

You gotta call that exciting, right?

And looking out the window can be ... hm-m-m-m, I couldn’t honestly call it exciting. Let’s settle for “interesting.”

Yes, looking out the window of an aircraft can be interesting at times.

Cities look fairly decent from up there. Crime doesn’t show from 20,000 feet.

You can’t smell anything from that high up. All the air pollution is invisible, and smog gives the whole panorama a nice sepia tone. And if you come in at night, even the streetlights that blot out the night sky look kind’ve nice.

And natural sights — say mountains — can be interesting. Not counting the mountains I’ve seen in the States, I’ve seen Mount Fuji, the Matterhorn, Mount Everest, and lots of others. Nice.

Rivers? The Indus, Nile, Thames, Rhine, and Ganges. Also nice.

Oceans? The North and South Atlantic, Pacific, and the Arctic, Indian, and Mediterranean. All nice.

Seas? Oh, yeah. Lots of seas. All ... uh, nice. And wet too.

Continents? Well that’s where they stash all those mountains and rivers, so they’re hard to miss.

Saw a part of West Texas one day that intrigued me as we flew over it.

Whole lot of streets, each one flanked by dozens of round “lots.” Really puzzled me. Thought at first it was a flying saucer landing field, or that maybe the Texans had decided to develop everything west of the Pecos into round, flat homesteads.

But then I realized what I was seeing. Oil wells. Had me fooled for while there. No derricks, you see. When I think of oil wells I think of derricks.

There was one right on the grounds of the state Capitol building in Tulsa, Okla., last time I was there. They were downright proud of it.

But since then, I’ve lived near two really big oil strikes in Texas — Spindletop and Burkburnett — and they didn’t have any derricks there either. I suppose they don’t need them after the well comes in. Just install a one-lung engine with a huge flywheel and pump, and chug out a barrel of oil at each turn of the crank.

Must be nice to own a few wells. At 80 bucks a barrel you could have a lot of fun counting chugs. You know? Chug. Eighty bucks. Chug. Hundred-sixty. Chug. Three-twenty. Chug. Six-forty.

Anyway, where was I?

Oh, yeah, travel. Exciting stuff, isn’t it?

Well, I’ll work on it. Maybe I can come up with something a bit more exciting next week.


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