It’s great … un­til it’s not

Re­al­ity of travel falls short of hope­ful ex­pec­ta­tions

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Gary Smith Gary Smith is a re­cov­er­ing jour­nal­ist liv­ing in Rogers. let­ters@nwadg.com

When it comes to travel, I’m very much like those old car­toons, the ones where the sub­ject has a lit­tle an­gel on one shoul­der and a devil on the other.

Ex­cept on one shoul­der, I have the some­what nor­mal, happy-go-lucky soul I like to think I am. And on the other? A whiny 7-year-old. In need of a nap.

Case in point, last week. And just ev­ery­thing I did for the five or six days I headed west for a lit­tle break and the op­por­tu­nity to pro­vide some sup­port and “mus­cle” to the Lovely Mrs. Smith and one of her projects.

As with most things, the trip started with me pledg­ing, again, that this would be the time I ven­tured forth with the sort of wide-eyed en­thu­si­asm solidly be­fit­ting the voy­age. I was go­ing to be my best self, liv­ing my best life. A ver­i­ta­ble credit card com­mer­cial, com­plete with gaz­ing into a clear dawn and happy in­ter­ac­tions with lo­cals.

I said that at the time. And, po­ten­tially, I may even have be­lieved it. Just like I be­lieved I was go­ing to fin­ish the 500-page book and the five or six mag­a­zines that made my carry-on back­pack weigh about as much as a Buick. But hey, I was be­ing as­pi­ra­tional!

Take, for in­stance, the act of fly­ing in the first place. My happy travel glow is in full force when I board the plane, find my seat and con­sider I’m about to, lit­er­ally jump on a rocket that will blast me halfway across the coun­try in roughly the amount of time it would have taken the early set­tlers to get out of sight.

What an amaz­ing thing tech­nol­ogy is! Imag­ine how in awe of this process the Wright Broth­ers would be. Isn’t this cool?

Five min­utes in … you’d think this amaz­ing tech­nol­ogy would have ex­tended to mak­ing a seat that’s com­fort­able to any sin­gle per­son on this plane. And I guess I could be sit­ting closer to the tail if, say, I was in the cargo hold. And I’m try­ing to iden­tify ex­actly the com­po­nents of that “in­ter­est­ing” odor com­ing from the plane’s one lonely lit­tle bath­room. Sort of a blend of dis­in­fec­tant, toxic waste dump and the kind of cologne teenage boys grav­i­tate to un­til some­one tells them “no.”

And then there’s the air­port. Look, a John­ston & Mur­phy next to a book­store next to a cof­fee shop next to a Chick-fil-A! It’s like they knew I was com­ing and wanted to make me feel right at home. All the seats have power strips, the big blue board there is go­ing to tell me ex­actly when my flight will leave, I’m here in plenty of time and life is good.

Again, five min­utes in and … wow, the “big blue board” is so bright it’s caus­ing par­tial blind­ness. Which is OK, be­cause ev­ery de­par­ture on it is ei­ther late or doesn’t have a crew or a plane or all of the above. And my power strip isn’t pow­ered. And the only empty seat is in the mid­dle of a group of ju­nior high school stu­dents on their way to a na­tional ka­zoo com­pe­ti­tion (which, ap­par­ently doesn’t re­quire they pack their in­stru­ments in their lug­gage), right across from a cou­ple and their five emo­tional sup­port Chi­huahuas who seem like they them­selves could use some emo­tional sup­port. Or what­ever the ca­nine ver­sion of Be­nadryl is.

Once I ar­rived, I dis­cov­ered the moun­tains were beau­ti­ful, the food amaz­ing, the views mag­nif­i­cent. And … you get sick driv­ing through those self-same moun­tains, they don’t seem to be­lieve in queso or Diet Dr Pep­per and their two sea­sons ap­pear to be “hot” and “a whole lot hot­ter.”

The ho­tel is great! The bed’s not as com­fort­able as the one at home. This place is so easy to nav­i­gate! Traf­fic is ter­ri­ble. Look at all the birds! There is no way that stain is com­ing out of my jacket …

Per­haps the re­al­ity of my travel life is that it’s great in the ab­stract, not as great in the ex­e­cu­tion. Or per­haps I should just pro­ceed with the idea that life isn’t ac­tu­ally a credit card com­mer­cial (well, the bill’s real, any­way) and if you want to smell the roses, you’re go­ing to have to put up with the thorns. And the birds.

And be­sides, you al­ways get to come back to your own house. Ex­cept the leaves are turn­ing so I’m go­ing to have to rake them. And it’s so wet …

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