Project Vintage Thunder

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Fifth Avenue on Wheels

I'm sitting in JFK airport as I type this ... awaiting yet another connection on a food-less, cramped, noisy, and illness-inducing commercial flight.

Traveling via air is not as much fun as it used to be, at least for me. Sitting in coach with a bag wedged between my feet, trying to find a moment of peace between endless interruptions "from the cockpit" and a well-meaning crew of flight attendants, well, it's not much fun. I have come to dread every step of the process: check-in lines, removing my shoes, struggling with the overhead bin, having the operation of a seat belt explained to me, baggage claim ...

Even though air is faster (usually), traveling by road is more enriching. Traveling by road, I get to spend time with my wife and daughter, which I like. I get to stop and see new things. And I travel like a king: with all the comforts of home beside me, or handily stashed in the rolling yacht behind me.

Saved on my computer I have a radio interview with Wally Byam from 1954. In it, Wally is asked why he would want to travel by trailer, and he replies, "Oh my goodness, it's the finest way in the world to travel. You see, with a trailer you have all your things with you. Why, there's my long distance radio, and there's my record player, and we have wonderful beds, and we have a good shower and toilet and bath. My wife has a wonderful little kitchen with a refrigerator, and gas heat, and gas cooking ... and we have everything with us. We call it traveling with 'Fifth Avenue on Wheels'."

Fast-forward to today, and Wally would be talking about his laptop, his mobile Internet connection, his CD changer, and undoubtedly other little bits of gadgetry that caught his fancy. (Wally was a gadget man, by all accounts.) But even with modern devices, he'd still extoll the comfort afforded by having "all your things with you."

Wally knew what he was talking about. Some things never change. Seeing America on your own terms, free to "move about the cabin", sharing the experience, the thrill of the unknown -- it all has an appeal and mystique that has been relentlessly pounded out of air travel. It's still the finest way in the world to travel, Wally. If I don't need to get there today, I'll take my Airstream.


At 8:26 PM, Anonymous said...

Rich, once there was a promotion from a ground carrier, either a railroad or long-distance bus company. It invited riders to "see America at See-level" There is something to be said for taking the "low route".


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