I recently returned from the trip of a lifetime. Eight days in Paris with my wife, celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. How was Paris, you ask? Great. Fascinating. Beautiful. Crowded, yes, but truly worth seeing and not one person was rude. Really. Everyone we met was friendly and patient and happy to help two clueless Midwesterners making a hash of their language. Even the cab drivers were pretty cheerful –and driving in Paris is no treat. One day behind the wheel on those streets and I’d probably end up on the six o’clock news: “American Tourist Goes Berserk After Discovering Every Street Pointlessly Returns to its Starting Point.”
But I was strictly a passenger on this trip –and happy to leave the driving to others.
The flight? Well, that’s a different story. I was a passenger there, too, but that’s where the similarities end. Anyone who has flown in the last ten years knows where I’m heading with this.
First, airports themselves are now outrageously overcrowded, overpriced and impossible to navigate without encountering one security checkpoint after another. Thanks to the lunatic stunts of some very deranged people in recent years we all now have to shuffle through metal detectors in our socks while holding our pants up with one hand. Visiting several airports in this international odyssey I got so programmed to this endless routine that getting in line at MacDonald’s upon my return I had to fight the urge to remove my shoes and belt and put them on the counter when I ordered my food.
And speaking of food, why is airport food so absurdly overpriced? One restaurant in the Toronto airport in which I rested my weary butt while waiting several hours for a connecting flight offered a burger and fries for $24.00. Well, that must be Canadian dollars, I thought. A quick conversation with a fellow American at the next table confirmed this. What is that in U.S. dollars, I asked. He thought for a moment before answering, “About $24.00.” I had a Coke.
The flights themselves were largely uneventful –as long as you don’t require any more personal space than a Hobbit. I am of average height and build and I felt like Shaquille O’Neal in a compact car –for an eight hour flight. Six hours in to this hopelessly cramped odyssey I was as fidgety and fussy as an overtired toddler. “I wish there was something I could take that would just knock me out,” I muttered to my long suffering wife, who sympathized and offered that if she had such an item she would gladly give it to me. I had been thinking of a sleeping pill but her tone suggested something more like a mallet. Luckily for me security had stripped us of anything larger than nail clippers so I knew that she was powerless to act. With this in mind I confidently continued my running monologue about my various discomforts until we touched down several hours later. It helped to pass the time.
Upon arrival as everyone unfolded themselves and prepared to disembark, the kindly looking elderly woman sitting next to us who had learned of our anniversary en route turned to my wife and congratulated her on making it 20 years. To me she said nothing but I did receive a steely glare before she made her way up the aisle. “Boy, what’s her problem?” I asked my wife but I don’t think she heard me.
Paris itself, as I mentioned, was a delight, but two days before our return I began to dread the approaching homeward leg with mounting unease, not unlike the disquiet one feels for an upcoming root canal. The first trip was still too fresh. I knew what was in store for me. This time, however, I kept my feelings to myself, mostly because I didn’t want to spoil the time we had left (I have learned some things in 20 years, like knowing when my complaints have gone on long enough), and because Paris is loaded with lethal weapons -if one has a mind to use them. My behavior remained exemplary, I’m proud to say, but inside I was filled with dread. I didn’t mind the thought of going home, per se. I was eager to see the kids and the dogs, to sleep in my own bed. I was ready to BE home, I just didn’t want to GO home. But the only way to BE home was to run the gauntlet of airport/air travel hell. I had to become cattle again, moving laboriously through the stockyard chutes, shunted from one holding pen to another, crammed together with my fellow bovine travelers.
The day before our departure I found myself studying various sleeping aids in a Parisian pharmacy, unable to decipher the writing on the boxes. “How many of these can I take without overdosing?” I asked the pharmacist but he didn’t –or wouldn’t- understand. “I want to be totally unconscious for eight hours but still wake up.” I tried, smiling cheerfully to show I wasn’t a lunatic. His response meant nothing to me but I deduced that he was trying to tell me to take two, no more. “I don’t think two will do it,” I sighed in English, more to myself than him, and took my leave empty handed.
The return trip was worse than I’d expected. Worse! Fighting headwinds east to west on an international flight adds an hour to the flight. An hour! A two hour layover in Toronto (Home of the $24.00 Burger!) turned in to a five hour layover thanks to some inclement weather somewhere over the Midwest. Finally reaching U.S. soil again our luggage, apparently enjoying itself, took the scenic route to the baggage carousels and didn’t plop into sight until forty minutes after we landed. Exhausted and stiff to the point of delusion I had to fight the urge to chastise my suitcase with a warning finger and a disapproving tone: “And where do you think you’ve been?” Blessedly, just enough lucidity remained to know that would have raised some eyebrows:
Nudge, nudge: “Check out the guy yelling at his luggage over there.”
“Poor man. His wife looks very nice, though.”
“What do you think she’s going to do with that mallet?”
The cherry on the top of the trip, the pièce de résistance -as our French friends would say- was the fact that neither one of us had the slightest idea where we’d parked our car a week earlier inside the cavernous five-story parking garage adjacent to the airport terminal. At the time, preoccupied with gates and check-in, fumbling for boarding passes, and eager to be on our way, we’d left the car without a backward glance and hadn’t thought about it since. With a practiced sigh, I positioned my wife (who appeared close to finally cracking up herself I was pleased to note) with the luggage at a central location and trudged off in search of an anonymous silver sedan somewhere amongst the thousands of parked cars. I can now report that silver is an extremely popular color choice for cars.
Half an hour later we were on our way home, worn to a frazzle but enjoying the privacy and comfort of our own vehicle. Twenty years of wedded bliss was now in the past and if I could just keep my mouth shut until I’d had a good night’s sleep I was reasonably confident that I could look forward to twenty-one years.
And that was the end of that. A joyful reunion followed and gifts were handed out to all. Pictures were passed around and a solid nine hours of sleep did wonders. And the reason for this diatribe, you ask? Written off-topic for a blog that focuses on all things RV? Because I can’t count the number of times during the travel portion of this saga that I thought to myself how happy I would be to snap my fingers and find myself behind the wheel of an RV, traveling at my own pace with my own space, sleeping in my own on-board bed, moving at leisure around this big roomy country we all call home. RV travel has always had its advantages and anyone that has owned one or is currently considering one already knows what those are, but today I can declare with complete confidence that it’s a better option than ever. Commercial air travel, long the pinnacle of efficiency and convenience, has lost its way, done in sadly by necessary security measures and overwhelming hordes of travelers confined to spaces ill-suited for the volume.
Vacation and travel are meant to recharge, to allow us to enjoy family and friends, to see distant places of beauty and wonder and I had all of that in spades on my recent trip, but there is no denying that a portion of that was diminished when bracketed at both ends with a highly unpleasant travel experience.
There’s still a full summer ahead of us and I’m going to enjoy it, but my next trip will be of a different sort –and I can say with absolute certainty that it won’t involve air travel.
Thanks for listening everyone. I hope my venting wasn’t too annoying but I wanted to make a point. Also, some of our recent articles have been a bit heavy with talk of recalls and such. I felt we could all use something a bit lighter.
In appreciation of those of you still reading we’d like to offer a complimentary copy of our very popular Pre-Purchase Inspection Guide (usually $24.95) to anyone that orders either a Bonus or Ultimate Package today through next Sunday. Just drop us an e-mail at Info@JRConsumer.com with your Invoice number (dated 6/23 – 6/28) and we’ll e-mail you the PPI Guide –at no charge.
As always, feel free to sound off with questions or comments.
John D. Toffler