Or Why the Hassle of Air Travel Really Isn’t. In which I muse about travel, history, human nature, and complaining (And why complaining is actually good for us, in my opinion)
Having just returned from San Antonio and the annual RWA conference, I was thinking about travel and other miracles. That’s right; I called it a miracle. Think about it. I went from Albuquerque to San Antonio in four hours, plus a couple more because of check-in, security, and my own paranoia about being late. A day of travel to go 616 miles (that’s 991.5 km for those of you who are sensible and use the metric system). And then back within a week’s time.
We complain about the hassle of travel: the late flights, the delays, the bus-like feel of those crammed flights. We don’t like paying baggage fees (thank you, Southwest Airlines, for not being one of those), so people shove their stuff into oversized carry-ons, then fight to close the overhead bins, and that doesn’t even talk about the people who think one personal item is a backpack the size of a Newfoundland, that hits everyone on the head as they’re trying to force their carry-on into a space that it clearly wasn’t meant for. We grow angry when weather (WEATHER!) cancels flights and spoils our plans. What an inconvenience! We grudgingly accept the security checkpoints and rail at the examples of stupidity they generate (Hey, you can’t underestimate the levels of ineptitude when you combine blind rules with the human factor. Mass hilarity ensues.).
We’ve become so blasé about travel that we complain about it. We are traveling better and faster than our ancestors could ever imagine. I can get to Europe to visit relatives in a day. It took Mark Twain months. St Louis to Oregon took three months by Conestoga wagon. Now you can drive it comfortably in two days. My parents took five days to cross the Atlantic when they came to this country on a ship. Phileas Fogg took eighty days around the world.
Today, my daughters went to school on the other side of the country and we kept in touch by phone or Skype, and they came home for the holidays. In the past, when a family member moved West because of lack of jobs or opportunities, they often said goodbye for forever.
So, yes, we are spoiled, but I’m not going to ask you to stop complaining. Mind you, we should continue. Complaining pushes us to new innovations, inventions, and industry. Complaints make us identify what can be enhanced and inspire us to search for better ways of doing things. Airlines should strive to improve performance, service, etc., but sometimes it’s just nice to sit back and think about just how good we actually have it. And here’s a chuckle to make that point.
I am a huge Harry Potter book fan. I liked the movies okay, but the books are what I return to over and over again.
So a few years ago when I was traveling in Germany, I picked up the German copy of the first Harry Potter book. Why I didn’t buy more I’ll never know–probably because I didn’t have a lot of room for books with all the clothes I had to bring and all the souvenirs that came home with us on that trip–but only one book came home with me. I read it as soon as we reached home. And enjoyed it. (Although I have two gripes about two translations–one: while Schnurrbart can colloquially mean a cat’s whiskers, it threw me right out of the story to picture a cat with a mustache; two: Ein Junge überlebt does NOT have the same effect as The Boy Who Lived). So my goal became tracking down a complete set of Harry Potter in German.
Okay, you’d think–go to Amazon and order. Well, I don’t want them as ebooks (I have no problems with ebooks, but some books I must have in tangible form), and since the first one I bought was paperback, I want them all in paperback. New, not used. The paperback versions cost between $40 and $50. I understand the cost of importing, etc, but really? For a brand new unsigned, not rare paperback? Because of my upbringing (immigrant parents who were the products of war, poverty, and communist takeover), I have a very strong frugal bone that I try hard to overcome. Often with little success. I have a really hard time spending money on frivolous things (On the plus side, I live with very little debt. House mortgage, that’s all). So the quest for Harry Potter in German became a real adventure.
I thought acquiring the second book in the series would be easy-peasy. My mother and niece were traveling to Hungary. They had a four hour layover in Munich. Airports have bookstores. I asked my mother to go to the store and buy me book two in the series. I assured her that everyone in Germany speaks English (and that’s true for the most part. When I was there, no one let me speak German. They all spoke English to me. I was quite depressed about it. I know my accent has become terrible over the years, but I have no chance to practice here at home.) and Harry Potter was ubiquitous enough that any bookstore would understand Book 2 in the series. She couldn’t do it. For whatever reason, my mother couldn’t handle going to the bookstore and asking, and my niece was too shy to carry out the task herself.
Now the story could have ended here. My mother simply could have said, “I didn’t get it.” I would have dealt with it. Not that big a deal. But no, my mother involved my cousins on my mother’s side who live in Karlsruhe. These cousins are two of the nicest people anywhere. They would give you the shirt off their backs if you needed it. I can’t ever repay their kindnesses toward me–how they entertained me in Budapest when I was a student abroad, how they hosted my entire family when we traveled to Europe a few years ago. They always go above and beyond. So when they heard I wanted this book in German, they pledged they would get it for me and send it to Hungary to my aunt’s house where my mother was staying, so my mother could pick it up there. Now,these cousins aren’t readers, and don’t understand the worldwide impression that HP created. When they went to the bookstore to get the book, the store didn’t have it. They had #1, and #3-7, but happened to be out of #2. So they left the store and called me to tell me that, see, your mother wouldn’t have been able to find the book even if she had tried, but they could have the book store order the book for me and they would still send it. I immediately said, no, this wasn’t that big a deal, but I believe I mentioned above that these cousins go above and beyond. They wouldn’t hear of me not having this book if I made a special request, so they ordered the book. Interestingly, the bookstore received it the next day because it was already on order (Yes, HP is that big a deal). So they picked up the book and sent it to their parent in Hungary. The guilt I was feeling by this time was enormous. I blame my mother (don’t we all?) for having told these cousins about my quest.
Meanwhile my mother, who is getting up there in age, wasn’t feeling well on her trip. Her blood pressure was elevated, she was feeling stress from having to watch my niece, and so decided to travel home with my niece instead of staying for the two more weeks she had planned. (Don’t worry, Mom is fine now; the blood pressure thing has been taken care of; the good news is that with the levels she reached, if she didn’t blow an artery then, she never will). The book, of course, arrived after my mother left.
So my book, which was supposed to be a time killing task at the Munich airport, was now sitting in my maternal aunt’s house in Hungary.
Fast forward to this spring. My paternal aunt (also Hungarian) decides to travel back to Hungary for a visit. The two sides of the family know each other, if only because they have the emigrants in common. My maternal aunt is willing to get the book to my paternal aunt, if the paternal aunt is willing. Well, it was pretty smooth from there. The book was delivered, and HP#2 in German is sitting in my paternal aunt’s house…in California. My mother lives about 60 miles away from her, which means a good hour and a half drive or longer in SoCal, a drive not taken lightly at their advanced ages. My mother does not have the book yet. And I believe I mentioned that frugal bone I inherited above. Even when she does get it, she won’t mail it to me because we shall be visiting at some point, so she can wait until we get there. Save some money.
I never thought collecting a series could be so complicated. I suppose if I tweak a few of the details, it might make a grand farce. Meanwhile book #3 was easy to acquire. A dear friend traveled to Germany with her husband on his business trip and brought it back for me. She doesn’t speak German either and was able to find it without difficulty. It’s now sitting on my table. I can’t read it though. Not until I read book #2 first. There are rules, you know.
Books I’m reading now:
A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin
A Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (and yes, there’s a reason I’m reading this now; stay tuned)