Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Travel Rules

Years ago before he died, my father went on a world tour with his new wife.  They went down to Machu Picchu and climbed the thousand steps. Then, they decided to take a charter plane to Easter Island.  Unfortunately, they didn't coordinate very well with each other as to how to look out for one another while traveling.

My stepmother checked in at the airline ticket counter, grabbed her bags and ran out on the tarmac and boarded the plane, leaving my father at the ticket counter.  My father had his passport, tickets, and wallet in a belly pack which he set down on the floor next to him while he talked with the ticket agent.  The ticket agent was probably in on the whole thing, too - encouraging my step-Mother to board the plane to "save a seat" next to her.   While he was talking with my Dad, somebody else snatched his belly pack.

When he noticed it missing, he panicked.  And his wife was nowhere to be found.  She had to be called off the plane, and instead of trying to be helpful she actually got mad at him.  "How could you let someone steal your belly pack like that?"  Of course, nobody was there to ask the pointed question as to why she ran off and left her husband at the counter and jumped on the plane when she should have stayed with him when they were both elderly and travelling a foreign country where they didn't even speak the language.

Traveling is stressful.  While you're traveling, you are very vulnerable.  If you are away from home or in a foreign land, and you are without your wallet, passport, cell phone, and the like, life can get very difficult in a hurry.  Also, if you become separated from one another and lost, it can create a panic-like situation.

During the recent art association festival, a young man came running to us, asking us if we'd seen his daughter, who is only 7 years old.  She had wandered off while nobody was watching, and fortunately someone called the police.  They found her, a few minutes later.  She had wandered off to the pier.  It's unclear how they got separated, but it illustrates how if you're not paying attention in an alien environment, it can cause a lot of trouble.

It's very easy to get confused and lost in a strange environment.  I stopped at a rest area once in Ohio and thought somebody had stolen my van.  The rest area was located between the eastbound and westbound lanes of the interstate, and to get to the rest area, you had to walk across a pedestrian bridge on each side.

Unfortunately, the architects of this rest area believed in absolute symmetry.  So both sides of the rest area were identical down to the last detail.  So, I walked across across the bridge over the westbound lanes and used the restroom.  When I came out, I took a wrong turn and crossed over to the eastbound side.  I looked in the parking lot where I thought my van should be, and saw that it was missing.  I went into a panic and ran around the parking lot looking for it, before I walked back across the pedestrian bridge to find a security guard.

It was only then that I realized that I'd taken a wrong turn when I exited the restroom. I walked back across the walkway over the westbound lanes and found the van right where I parked it.   It is easy to get lost and confused while you were traveling.

Recently, Mark "ghosted" me at a rest area on the Florida turnpike.   These are located in the center of the road, between the north and southbound lanes, and there are a number of symmetrically arranged buildings, some of which were under construction.   Mark wanted to get coffee and we talked about that.  So, after using the restroom, he left, saying, "I'll see you there!"

See me where?  I was still pissing, and before I could ask him, he vanished.  So, I figured he must not have but a ten-second lead on me, and I could find him.   But there was an elderly guy with a veteran's hat ahead of me, painfully walking slowly out the double-doors, which for some reason were narrow.  I couldn't just knock him down and say, "Hey old man, who cares if you are a veteran, younger person comin' through!"   I mean, Donald Trump might do that, but not me.

So after Dad lurches through the final glass door, I pass him and look around and.... no Mark.  And I have no idea where "there" is. I didn't see a coffee shop or anything, other than a pavilion about a quarter-mile off.   There was another large building behind us, so I went there, only to find it was the turnpike administration building.

So, I call Mark.   He either has his ringer off, or has decided not to answer the call, thinking it is yet another robo-call from a 703 area code number (another reason why telemarketers are evil and should be destroyed).   So he doesn't answer.   Where the fuck is he?

Well, he was at the coffee shop, hidden behind the gas station.  I didn't see it.  Fortunately, there was no line there and he popped out a few minutes later, as I was on my way back to the truck (I figured he would eventually have to go back there).

I was upset.   There was no reason for him to run off so quickly (instead of waiting two seconds for me to finish).  And there was no reason to use a vague passive-aggressive term like, "I'll see you there" instead of "I'll see you at the coffee shop behind the gas station."

But fortunately, it all worked out OK.   In other instances with other people, things don't work out OK.  They get robbed, they get raped, they get lost, they get confused.   And it needn't be that way.  You just have to set up some ground rules when traveling, so that there is no confusion.

Of course, some people don't listen to rules.  I've traveled with friends and family members who are, well, utterly clueless about travel. When we take them anywhere, a group of us have form a phalanx around them, in a diamond formation, fending off beggars, pickpockets, and thieves, because the person in question is a like a kid in a candy store - all they see are colored shiny things and think, "oooh, I have to go see that!"   Left to their own devices, they wander off, like dementia patients, only to be found, blocks away, in some soap and candle shop.

It gets tiresome to travel with such people.

While you don't have to be paranoid when you travel, having some basic habits and rules that you understand with your travel partners can save a lot of time and hassle.  Having a secure place to keep your wallet, cell phone, passport, etc. for example, saves a lot of time and hassle.  Trust me, you don't want to travel with someone who constantly is putting everyone on paranoia level alert five because they "can't find their wallet" or whatever, only to realize after fifteen minutes of frantic search that they left it in a jacket.   Being consistent helps.

Anyway, here are my basic rules for travelling:
Stay Together:   Like I said, I wonder if the ticket agent didn't encourage my step-mother to board the plane ahead (and separately from) my Father.   It would make it easier for a pickpocket to snatch his belly pack.  Wandering off on your own in an alien environment is a sure recipe for disaster.    Stick together and do things together.   If you don't want to do this, ask yourself why (another one of those dark questions).

Communicate:  One problem Mark and I had, was that he said, "I'll meet you there" without being more specific.  I talked before about the famous stone crab incident, which foundered on the fact that in Maine, "dinner" means "supper" and "supper" means "lunch"  - or whatever (who the fuck really cares what Mainers call things?  The other 49 States do not give a rat's ass, let me assure you).   But poor communication ended up causing problems with an intransigent step-mother (not mine, this time) who was needing medication, in retrospect (may she rest in peace).   Being specific about when and where you are to meet is important.   Don't say, "We'll meet by the hotel" when  you are checking out of one and into another - it is unclear which hotel you mean.   Use explicit language.  As a lawyer, I had to learn this.  Lay people largely never do.

Carry Cell Phones & Ringers ON:  One problem we had was that when I tried to call Mark, his cell phone ringer was off (or he wasn't answering calls).  Imagine you are a widow of someone who died in one of those 737 Max 8 crashes, and your husband tried to call you at the last minute to tell you goodbye - and you didn't pick up the call!    Meanwhile, he's struggling with, "If you are satisfied with your message, press 8, if not, press 9 to re-record!"  (And, by the way, why do we have this stupid message on most cell phone voicemail systems?   We really don't need talking Sally to walk us through this high-tech world of answering machines!)

Meet up Place:  Always have a default meet-up place, should one or both of you get lost.  When we travel by RV, it is the truck.  Oh, and make sure you are explicit about where this meet-up place is.  "If we get separated, we meet up at the meet-up place, right?"  He thinks it is the car, she thinks it is the ticket counter.  Hilarity ensues.   Have  a default place in mind and make sure you both are on the same page and discuss this in detail.   This is not a "yea, whatever" kind of deal.

Look Out For Each Other:  We like to go to New Orleans (been there five times, now, I guess, so we must like it).  It is a crime-ridden city and a tourist trap.  It is rife with pickpockets, con artists, bums, and outright criminals (who will put a gun in your face or even shoot you).  You have to be on your toes.   You can't wander off into the 9th Ward just to see what is like, or worse yet, one of you wander off there.   You have to keep an eye out for each other and look around you and be situationally aware.

You may not see anything, of course.  But the fact that you are being vigilant and keeping an eye out will discourage most amateur thieves and criminals.  The pickpocket goes for low-hanging fruit - the tourist who is gazing at all the colored shiny things and leaving their purse on the table.   They are less likely to bother someone who eyeballs them.

I am not ragging on my step-mother, as she may have been manipulated in a complex rip-off scheme.  But instead of hopping on a plane without her husband, she should have stood by him and waited for his ticket to be printed (again, why this required to separate transactions makes me suspicious).   If she had stayed there, it was less likely a thief could have snatched her husband's purse.

Lock You Car - Always:  I noted before that in some gas stations, "homeless" people (criminal beggars) will try to insert themselves between you and your car.  They may be trying to distract you (Excuse me!) while an accomplice opens the passenger side door and rummages through your purse.

Again, you don't have to be paranoid, just astute. Don't walk down dark alleys after midnight (particularly in the French Quarter!).   Know where you are going and don't be "that guy" in the middle of the street, reading a tourist map at 2 in the morning.  If someone is following you, cross the street or change direction.  If they keep following you, step into a local business or head to more trafficked areas.   It is basically common sense.

When you read about travel tragedies, often the common denominator is lack of communication between people, and getting separated or failing to look out for each other.

Of course, if you travel alone, it is a whole different ballgame.   All I can say is, tie your boots to the bedframe because in those hostels or on the train, people steal them.