James Thurber, the noted author and celebrated wit once said, ““Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.” If he wasn’t thinking of travel when he penned those words, he should have been.
The intrepid traveler is akin to a playwright who painstakingly crafts the perfect dialogue only to have his script handed over to a troupe of actors at the local improv comedy club.
Weeks before you travel, you begin to meticulously plan every detail of your trip. Yet, it is virtually guaranteed that you will cram too many activities into way too short a span of time with “emotional chaos” being the inevitable outcome. You will hardly have begun your trip when reality (such an ugly word) will materialize like an uninvited former girlfriend at your wedding nuptials.
In the “OK, NOW it’s funny” category, here are a couple of random episodes from my personal group escorting history. Neither was remotely amusing at the time.
Picture yourself responsible for one hundred or so choir directors, each more tightly strung than Charlie Daniels’ fiddle. You are traveling through a tiny Romanian hamlet on two large motorcoaches weaving your way between ox carts, sheep and milling pedestrians. This was my unfortunate fate a few years back.
I had a local tour guide on the first coach and I was sitting in the front right seat of the second coach trailing by a couple of hundred yards. I noticed that the first coach had made an unscheduled stop in the middle of the road. I could be pretty confident it was not a stop light because there wasn’t one for several hundred miles.
By the time our coach pulled up behind the first . . . it had to be less than sixty seconds. . . I could see a gaggle of gypsies gathered around the coach throwing rocks and screaming what I assume were time-worn, traditional obscenities at the occupants. I can assure you that there are no chapters in the travel escort’s nifty little handbook for mollifying highly agitated gypsies. It was only after disembarking from my coach that I noticed a young girl lying on the ground being attended to by other gypsies. My heart sank with the realization that she might have been hit by the coach. (Let me hasten to add, she wasn’t!)
Only after a trip to the police station, a three-hour delay and no doubt a hefty “fine” paid by the tour company (don’t ask, don’t tell) were we again on our way. The local guide and drivers assured me this was a common gypsy ruse. They have one of their younger members slap the side of the bus, fall to the ground and claim to have been hit all in the hope of extorting a few bucks from their hapless marks. Welcome to Romania! (Notwithstanding this incident, a stunningly beautiful country.)
THE TOUR GUIDE’S WORST NIGHTMARE
For several years I took groups to England and used the services of a rather large and established tour company. At one point, two of the people I was working with left that company and formed their own concern. They solicited me to follow them and, given that I was satisfied with the service I had received, I did so.
Our group arrived at London Gatwick airport ready to begin our grand adventure which we all would have gladly done had our coach driver shown up. Take thirty or so otherwise quite amicable people, put them on an eight-hour overnight flight, trudge them through immigration and customs lines a mile long and then tell them their transportation is missing-in-action and you suddenly have a cast of extras for the next Frankenstein remake requiring angry villagers with torches and pitchforks.
The coach eventually arrived and we headed off to London for the first couple of days of sightseeing. Fortunately, that portion passed without incident and the tattered sleeve of my credibility if not mended, had at least been largely forgotten. Off to the Cotswolds with a stop in Oxford. Nothing like the bracing fresh air of the British countryside to put everyone in a congenial mood. We pulled up in front of the hotel and I asked the passengers to wait on the bus momentarily while I gathered up room keys from the front desk.
Most of you will have guessed by now that there was a slight problem. Not a living soul at the hotel, including the Irish Setter napping by the fireplace, would admit to having ever heard of me, my group or my fledgling inbound tour operator. By some miracle for which I still burn candles and say Hail Marys (and I am not even Catholic), there was a hotel just down the road that had only opened that week that was largely empty. Even though utter disaster was averted, faced with having that little chat I thought seriously about sneaking out the back of the hotel, catching a train to London, flying back home and buying a fly-fishing lodge in Newfoundland under an assumed name.
I should point out that this happened very early in my travel career and I have ever since only worked with carefully vetted and highly experienced destination management companies.
The point of my little morality play, if there is one (my poor readers often search these posts in vain for one) is that time has a way of transforming temporary disasters into lifelong anecdotes. I would not be retelling these incidents were it not for the fact that, in both cases, the trips turned out quite successfully in spite of the hiccups described.
As has been astutely observed, if nothing bad ever happened when you travel, you would have absolutely nothing to say at cocktail parties. Travel misadventures are like noses, everyone has one. Some are just funnier than others. Especially with the passing of time!