The real truth in travel

& I just Stumbled Upon a web page for the Condé Nast Traveler. Behind all the type on the current issue’s cover there lies, cuddled by the sand of an Aegean beach, a shapely, bronzed Greek goddess in a toga-white swimsuit. She’s waiting for me, I can tell.

It reminds me that I once had something to say about another issue of the Traveler, which each month carries the slogan, printed in small type under the main title,  TRUTH IN TRAVEL. Here’s what I wrote about the mag back then. Not much has changed…

Behind all the type on the cover is a picture of vastness in the South Pacific: A shimmering white scythe of sand, slicing through water as blue as a baby’s eyes and, undoubtedly, as warm as the same baby’s bottom.

Approaching me, as I stand there just off the picture’s edge, with my feet planted in the warm sand, is a lovely lady in a bright white swimsuit hiding tiny portions of her bronzed body, a colorful sarong around her shapely hips and a demeanor that tells me that she’s been waiting there just for me, all these years, on that beautiful beach in paradise. In the rippling stretch of sand between her feet and mine, there is the message: “THE GREAT ESCAPE…An island idyll worth the trip.”

My God. For a moment, I’m Dudley Moore, running with wild abandon through the sand toward the waiting arms of my own personal “10,” my own Bo Derek. I am beginning to hear the opening strains of “Bolero.”

But, for veterans of middle-age like me, practicality quickly kicks in. This is truth in travel? Tell me: Just exactly when did you last romp with a bronzed beauty on the white sands of Palau? And when do you plan to set off on your next island idyll?

You can bet that before you next stroll along the Seine in the springtime to the sounds of violins, you’ll find yourself stuck behind Claude & Shirley’s diesel-belching Bounder motor home in a traffic jam in Branson. That’s truth.

For every time you jet off to Greece to beachcomb the Aegean and throw glasses at fireplaces, there will be a hundred trips to theme parks in Florida, canyon overlooks in Arizona, alligator farms in Florida, and even a couple of stops at Wall Drug in South Dakota. That’s truth.

And before you next have your breakfast on the roof of Santiago’s five-star Hotel Carrera, wondering at the view of the soaring Chilean Andes, you’ll no doubt find yourself scarfing down undercooked, overpriced eggs at a Days Inn, marveling at the sight of a postage stamp-sized swimming pool populated by porky pink-skinned people prancing about in tiny bathing suits.

That is truth in travel, isn’t it?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like to travel.

I like to stand at the southern rim of the Grand Canyon (not too close, mind you) in the chilly dawn and watch the world turn red. I like to spend a Sunday strolling the San Francisco Embarcadero, and finish the day with an Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista before I climb aboard a clanking cable car that takes me, not halfway to the stars, but most of the way back to my hotel. I even like to spend some time, occasionally, at Wall Drug. (After you’ve driven across the South Dakota badlands to Wall, this drugstore theme park — where they’ll still give you a free glass of water — is more a paradise than Palau. Trust me.)

When I go travelling again, you’re welcome to come along. But if you’re not old enough to remember when Dudley first fixated on Bo and tracked her into Mexico in the movie, you’ll probably want to choose another traveling companion. This bus probably won’t stop at Club Med, the Hard Rock Café, or the beaches of Cancun, at least in the spring. You might see me on the ski  slopes, but I won’t be the bronzed one in the high fashion parka. I’ll be the gray-haired guy in jeans and beat-up old boots.

And if I do go to Palau, I won’t be cruising a shimmering stretch of sand in search of a bronzed maiden. I’ll be looking for two palm trees, between which I can sling a hammock.

& I’m outta here.

(Revised from original, published 2004)

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