Ah, the romance. The liveried driver stowed our bags and whisked us off to the airport in silence. We climbed the ramp to the plane, with the propeller turning lazily beside us, and sank into the thick, spacious seats.
Oooops. That was in 1961. Seems times have changed in this arena, too, and not entirely for the better. There’s no need to belabor all the irritations about the air travel experience — besides, my list is quite probably different from yours: why should anyone be allowed to bring anything larger than a briefcase onto an airplane? why are there only 8 seats that offer a modicum of comfort? why don’t airlines charge by the total weight of the passenger and his or her luggage? And since when does one size of ANYTHING fit all?
It does seem that, in real dollars, airline fares are slightly cheaper than they used to be, though not by a lot. And you can’t take the red-eye anymore to save money and be able to stretch out across several seats.
In exchange, most of the travelers I spoke to seem to have given up the idea that travel is about the journey as much as it is about the destination. (There are those who extend this metaphor to life itself, but that’s a different essay.) As we flew over the Grand Canyon, a magnificent amalgam of red, ocher, orange and blue, many of the passengers had their window shades drawn, the better to see the videos playing on their computer screens. Perhaps they had seen the Grand Canyon so many times it was a bore. I hadn’t seen it in more than 30 years, and I was stunned, again, even though I was six miles up in the air. And I didn’t mind the passenger next to me craning her neck over my shoulder to see better.
Since I’ve been back (it was wonderful to go, it’s great to be home), I’ve been looking at travel magazines, the newspaper travel sections, and online travel websites. Oddly, most seem to be about collecting as many passport stamps as possible, in the shortest amount of time. Details of meals eaten, hotel rooms slept in, and landmarks visited abound. Little or no time is spent describing the sense of a neighborhood at dawn, the butcher lugging in his wares through the crowded streets, or anything that resembles the everyday lives of the residents. Experiences like those are why I travel,, personally. I can eat and sleep just fine at home, thank you. Though it’s true that I have no idea how to make Crawfish Monica or that spinach dish I had at the Festival…
In any case, I long ago noticed that my chances of getting to be good friends with someone rise in direct proportion to how much time they’ve spent living in another culture – as opposed to “doing Europe” or “touring China.” Perhaps I’m a twentieth-century throwback. Modern travel is too much of a whirlwind for me.
And those damned seats are way too close together.