As a taxpayer activist and free-market realist, I
complain about the gas tax, but not the price of gas.
Having lived in Europe, where gas prices have always been high, I find
Americans whining about them an example of a spoiled,
How many more dinosaurs must die to satisfy our demand for cheap fuel
for our commute-by-truck lifestyle and for affordable airline flights at
ridiculously low prices considering that some of these trips once took
weeks of stagecoach-bouncing or seasickness and scurvy.
My passion for travel began with the whistle of the train passing
through my hometown. It expanded with a childhood book, "Children of
Other Lands," with the cover drawing of an Arab boy on a black horse. I
took imaginary trips to The Lands of the White Elephant, Windmills, the
Vikings and the Pueblos. When I had to choose between being an exchange
student in the Land of the Sombrero or starting college, I picked
My parents, who left home only for a visit to relatives in The Land of
the Maple Leaf, must have worried about my knapsacking around Europe,
not to mention moving their only grandson at age 5 to Greece; they may
have regretted the book club in which they enrolled me for one teen-age
birthday, providing a country a month for my imaginary travel.
Real vacations were expensive, though the Navy-wife years took me
places; and later I saved up to join the International Taxpayers
Association in various countries. Chip and I flew before he got his
Travel may have been a hassle, uncomfortable, even dangerous. But I was
young and never noticed. Planes, trains and automobiles; I loved them
not just because they got me places, but because they were fun in
When we drove across country to live in Long Beach, we tossed the
3-year-old, unbelted, in the back of the car, where he happily played or
stretched out to sleep. On the return trip, we took the train to Erie,
sitting up in coach at night. We flew to Greece, and from there took our
small son on military transport flights connecting with trains from
Madrid to Paris to London.
Younger fliers, having little recollection of comfort, probably don't
mind today's travel experience. I "get" the security thing, the cost of
fuel thing with the new fees; I have no sense of entitlement to cheap
travel. Yet I'm getting to be a crabby consumer. Maybe it's just age.
This trip I took the train one way from Boston, paying more for sleeper
cars from Albany to Chicago; and from there took the California Zephyr
through the Colorado Rockies to Reno. The price included three excellent
meals, a chance to meet different passengers each time; wonderful
scenery, including a buffalo herd along the Erie Canal, the spring-wild
Colorado River with its rafters and mooners , and a brilliant double
rainbow over the high desert.
If I were younger I wouldn't have minded the overnight lack of water in
my car, requiring a rockin'-rollin' climb to the second level and
crossover to the next car to useful bathrooms for the last two nights;
it was the only inconvenience. But three days was long enough, and I was
glad I made reservations with Delta to fly back — until, that is, I
showed up with two bags packed for checking and two light items for
I was told that the rules had changed since I bought my ticket and I now
had to pay $25 for the second checked bag. So I checked the heavy
suitcase and carried the heavy knapsack containing prohibited liquid,
and then learned later that only three items could be carried on the
plane. I talked them into letting me keep the prescription potassium,
then stuffed my purse into the shopping sack. See, just two carry-on
I remember the leg room and seat room of the past. Now the armrests stay
up so three normal-size people can be crammed intimately into a row, and
the seat-backs barely recline. I remember the free meals, but don't mind
paying for a sandwich; there's no room for elbows operating utensils
Doctors suggest an aisle seat so you can stretch your legs during a long
flight; but there is no aisle really, just a beverage cart you can't
squeeze past. I used to love the movies, the music channels, but with
the controls now in the buried armrests I read my book and remind myself
never to fly again. Crabby.
I think the airlines should charge whatever it takes to cover the cost
of the flight and airplane maintenance, and charge more for extras —
with proper warning to customers. I suppose it wouldn't hurt some of us
to lose weight to better fit in the seats. But in the future I think
I'll meet my family someplace between Boston and Reno, serviced by
And perhaps I'll plan an imaginary trip in my reclining armchair, taking
my grandchildren to meet Children of Other Lands from the comfort of
home sweet home.
I'm not an expert on foreign policy, and am also not terribly impressed
by many who supposedly are. But in a few months, we ordinary citizens
must choose a president who can tell the difference between those world
leaders who can be talked to, and those who want to destroy us no matter
what we say.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.