and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
June #1

Whether it's age or rage, travel losing some of its allure
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, June 6, 2008

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, entitlement-mentality society.

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 Mexico.

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 boat.

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 themselves.

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 carry-on.

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 items!

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 anyhow.

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 trains.

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.