The following observations were inspired by our recent holiday travels and Christmas card response from an old and distant friend (the Mad Russian) from New Hampshire.
And now, given a little time to reflect on (and recover from) all of the conveniences of modern travel, I’d like to – once again – ponder just how far we’ve really progressed.
“Homeland Security Theater”: This is an older and recurring rant, but, let’s just recap thusly: Airport security procedures are an utterly humiliating and offensive, obscenely costly, and mostly useless pretense designed to more effectively convert a free people into “sheeple” than to actually protect air travelers. How this farce could accomplish more than simply locking a secure cockpit door and/or arming flight crews remains a great mystery to me. More to the point, the TSA’s notoriously high threat detection failure rate might actually suggest just how much worse (for the sheeple) it might have to get in order to achieve meaningful levels of protection. Worse still, this form of “security culture” has, as we ought to have expected, engendered increasing brutishness on the part of TSA personnel and a correspondingly cowed demeanor in erstwhile citizens, who are becoming well-primed for a docile walk to the “showers”. In short order, it seems, we’ll be quite happy to “freely travel” in itchy, florescent orange, one-size-fits-all jumpsuits and leg irons, fully refreshed from the latest round of anal cavity searches as we sip from $20 bottles of mineral water. Enough said.
Basic Necessities For The Traveler: Happily, on these recent excursions, I was, at least, able to carry on my own food, including: Italian salami, a variety of exotic cheeses, fresh fruit and vegetables, almonds, greek olives, marinated artichoke hearts, and dark chocolate. (You’ll note, I suppose, that I do happen to have special dietary needs.) With inspiration from my practical mother, I also realized that I could also bring along an empty travel mug so as to refill at the drinking fountain. How long this particular “boon” might last is anyone’s guess…perhaps until the next hapless fanatic attempts to detonate a cheese sandwich, I would suppose.
Airline Comforts: Comfort? Huh? So, what does it mean when you can’t actually open a laptop when seated on your flight? Why it means you have no lap, that’s what it means. It also means you’re far more likely to pay extra ($109 as I was quoted on one flight) for the 5″ extra legroom you get in the emergency exit row. It means that, even if 1st Class is only barely nice enough to really matter, you’ll still pay an exorbitant amount for the upgrade. It means that, in order to ensure that those relatively minor comforts have maximum value, the rest must suffer all the more. It might mean that the (typically smaller statured) Asian world has already won the next century.
Note: For the next generation of those paying for their travel in dollars, I suspect that 1st Class will be “tre-classier”.
Baggage: Here the travel mystery deepens. Though we’ve not yet “progressed” so far as to be seeing passengers with crates of live chickens on their “laps” (regardless of special dietary needs), we might well be close. Unlike almost everyone else encountered on this trip, Mrs. T and I elected, in a classic Faustian bargain, to pay a significant surcharge to check one large bag, thereby reducing our carry-on needs. This proved somewhat providential, for the volume of our fellow traveler’s carry-ons was so overwhelming that more than half had to be gate checked anyway. There simply wasn’t much, if any, room left on board beyond your “lap”. In the future, however, I suspect that the best value might be achieved by paying for 1st Class and simply wearing all of your clothes in layers.
Technology: This is just an extraneous observation from the trip since I really don’t get out all that much and, as a result, rarely get to observe modern humans in their “natural” environment. Anyway, it is now apparent that my
laptop mobile desktop is oh-so-20th-century, more akin to an old Underwood typewriter than an actual modern computing device, and my “dumb” pay-as-you-go phone more akin the old “brick” phone of yesteryear. As I joked with my brother, the closest thing I have to a SMART phone might be my smart (wool) socks. No surprise here, but I do tend to fall behind the technology curve a bit.
More to the point, anywhere you go you can expect to be virtually surrounded by nervous chain-twitterers and sallow facebook addicts who’d rather text you than talk to you (never mind actually looking at you while they talk). Again, it shouldn’t surprise me just how ubiquitous this sort of personal technology dependence has become, but it does.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate technology in my own life. Far from it. There’s little question that, on occasion, I too would benefit from 24/7 mobile access to email, GPS, and the web. (Operative words: “on occasion”.) As I’m a reader and media lover too, I can even appreciate the potential benefit of a dedicated e-reader, or an mp3 and video player.
But, after having been tempted by the many new “toys” on display this Christmas, I have spent some time shopping around since my return. And, as expensive as these toys are, the real shocker for me is the monthly expense of most wireless plans. It’s likely true that my “needs” are a bit more modest than most, but, I’m still having some trouble believing that “occasional” benefits of such cutting edge technology can possibly outweigh the mortgage-your-children costs of these plans, addictive satisfactions notwithstanding.
As a frequent business traveler, I’d surely feel differently about all this, but it seems that every kid on the planet – with virtually no pressing business to attend to – must also be capable of getting the latest twittered updates from every other kid on the planet. And, though this surely reflects my own dated culture, that just seems bizarre to me; not the “having” or “using” of such technology, mind you, but, rather, the clearly addictive dependence on it that continues to develop.
Assuming a “reasonably affordable” compromise can be found, I’m likely to slowly modernize too. But, first, I’ll merely pause to reflect on whether the ability to play video games in ever more novel locations or get constant updates on what everyone else is doing (right now) truly reflects the best use of my time, money, and attention.
Maybe the need for such distraction is really just a sign that many of us are simply making the best of an otherwise bad situation….like being trapped in your average airport, for instance. Perhaps we’d all rather have stayed home and found something better to do. (Obviously, I couldn’t possibly guess just how well your home life might stack up against the average airport experience.)
As for my friend from Dunbarton, his response to our now annual ritual invitation for a visit, as passed along by his wife: “What with the chickens and the swimming pool, he says he’s never leaving Dunbarton again“. I definitely know what he’s talking about. Were it not for the opportunity to be with my family for Christmas, I’m sure I’d have made the same decision.