Getting there is half the fun Essay


The older I get the more I realize there are some things in this
world I’ll never understand. One is how you can get to be my age
and have so many things you don’t understand. Another is why so
many people are happiest when they are anyplace but home.

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A man pays $3 million for a house in Bel Air or Beverly Hills, his
wife lays out $500,000 to redecorate it exactly to their taste, they
throw in another $100,000 redoing the pool and the landscaping and
putting in a lighted tennis court, and after all that they move in and
two weeks later they’ve locked it up and are off to enjoy the back
alleys of Tangier or the sights, sounds and smells of the lower Ganges.

What’s amazing is that they’re not the exception. They
have company at every level of income; enough to make the travel
business a billion-dollar industry. For some, getting away means the 2
weeks of the year that make the other 50 bearable. Others only come
home long enough to pick up the mail, holler at the kids, get some clean
underwear, feed the dog and leave again.

Everyone is someplace else. If you were planning to go to Tokyo to
see the Japanese, forget it. They’re all over here snapping
pictures of Marineland. The Germans are in Spain; the Spaniards are in
North Africa; the North Africans are in France; the French are in Italy;
the Italians are in Arabia; and the Arabs are everywhere. So are the
Americans. If you want to see all your friends, go to London, Paris and
Rome. If you want to meet interesting, exotic-looking foreigners, stay

I’ve seen lots of tourists in my time, and there are as many
different kinds as there are countries. Some want everything done for
them. They travel with groups on charters or organized tours where
every detail is taken care of. When they get home they can’t
always tell you where they’ve been, but they’ll do two hours
on how smoothly things went.

Others are just the opposite. They wouldn’t think of going
with a group. And they don’t even use travel agents, they do it
themselves. I know a couple like that. Every time they go anywhere they
spend months looking at maps, doing research, making up itineraries and
writing away for reservations. They love planning their trip, and they
love talking about it when they get back. The only thing they
don’t love is the trip itself. That they could do without.

Some people are only happy in out-of-the-way places, staying among
the natives and living as they do. Others can be in France, India,
Egypt or Tibet–it’s all the same to them, because they’re
always in an American hotel where they eat only American food and stay
in their room all day watching “I Love Lucy’ reruns and
sending local picture post cards to everyone they ever knew.

Then there are the shoppers. They don’t go to see a country,
they go to buy it. Wherever this year’s bargains are is where
you’ll find them. One woman I know spent $10,000 dragging her
husband all the way to Italy just to buy a pair of Italian alligator boots. They didn’t tell her the alligator was from Florida. It
was caught in a swamp about 15 miles from their condominium in Fort

And how about those happy travelers who only want to know three
things about their trips: Where do we eat? What do we eat? and When
do we eat? This is quite a large group, and they’re getting larger
by the meal. When they check into a hotel they don’t want to see
brochures on points of interest, they go right for the room-service
menu. And they eat their way from country to country.

The other day I overheard two Jewish ladies in a restaurant in
Beverly Hills. One had just returned from Paris and the other was
asking about her trip. This was the conversation:

“So you liked the Champs?’

“Fantastic. Best crepes I ever had.’

“And you got to the Eiffel?’

“Wouldn’t have missed it. But the portions at the bottom
don’t compare to what they give you halfway up.’

“And how about that Notre Dame!’

“They got a restaurant there?’

At least she enjoys herself. Some tourists complain from the
minute they leave to the minute they get back: The bed’s too hard,
the bed’s too soft, the room’s filthy, the bus is too hot, the
guide’s rude, the chateau’s a bore, the Riviera’s a
ripoff. If you give them the Seven Wonders of the World, they might be

That’s another thing I don’t understand. What makes the
Seven Wonders so wonderful, and who decided on them? I’m not
putting down the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China, but when it comes
to traveling these are some wonders I’d like to see:

A cabdriver who understands English, especially in America.

A place in the world where you can’t get a Big Mac and a Coke.

A headwaiter who hides his scorn when you order the house wine.

A cruise ship that advertises “no gratuities’ where you
can actually skip the tip without running the risk of being thrown

And what about an airport, train station or bus terminal where you
can understand the person announcing the departures and arrivals? That
would really be a wonder of the world!

If you’re getting the idea that travel is not any my long
suit, you’re right. And yet I can understand why so many people
can’t wait to get away. For them it’s an escape from the
pressures of daily life. I’ve never had that problem. I’ve
always been able to turn it on and turn it off, although lately it seems
to turn off easier than it turns on. And sometimes I don’t have to
turn it off, it turns off by itself.

The truth is I’m not a sightseer. I don’t applaud
anything that can’t applaud back. And I’m not the kind to lie
on a beach in the sun waiting for my skin to shrivel up. It does enough
of that while I’m moving around.

I must say if I were the beach type and a year or two younger, I
might give that Club Med a try. They have locations all over–the South
Pacific, Mexico, the Caribbean–and their ads make it look very
inviting. Lots of great-looking male and female bodies in lots of
tanned skin. And what activities! Tennis, golf, volleyball, sailing,
scuba diving, surfing, dancing, drinking and something I think I left
out. Oh yes–investment counseling. I knew there was something I could

Actually, the only kind of travel I really enjoy is when it’s
a working trip. That gives it a purpose. When Gracie and I were in
vaudeville we went all over the country to do our act. And when we
traveled to England, it wasn’t to go through churches and museums,
it was to play the Palladium or do a command performance for the royal

In 1982, years after I started working alone, they asked me to
appear at the royal gala of the Barbican Centre in London. Prince
Charles and Lady Diana were to attend. When I arrived in England the
newspaper reporters met me, and one of them asked what I thought of Lady
Di. I said, “She’s a little too old for me.’ Not the
biggest joke in the world, but it made all the papers.

After the show all the performers stood in line to meet the royal
couple. When they got to me, Lady Di said, “I understand I’m
too old for you.’

I said, “No, ma’am,’ and Prince Charles said,
“And she’s not too old for me, either.’ I had a funnier
line than “No, ma’am’ for Lady Di, but I don’t go
around topping royalty. I love playing England.

It reminds me of another time I appeared for the royal family. This
event took place at the Palladium for one of Princess Margaret’s
favorite charities. After the show they took me up to the royal box to
meet Princess Margaret. Well, this charming lady was sitting there, and
I said to her, “Your Highness, I’d bow, but if I got down I
wouldn’t be able to get up again.’ She said, “Mr. Burns,
I’m not Princess Margaret, I’m the lady-in-waiting.’

Just then the princess came in, and after we were introduced, I
said, “Your Highness, I just told a funny joke and you missed
it.’ She said she was sorry, and she was also sorry she missed some
of the lyrics of my last song. I said, “Would you like to hear it
again?’ and she said, “No, once was enough.’

I figured it was time to leave, but as I started to go the
attendant stopped me. “No, no,’ he whispered, “the
princess leaves first.’ I sat down, and after the princess left I
got up and he stopped me again and whispered, “The lady-in-waiting
goes next.’ So I just sat there–I was afraid to move. Finally
the usher came in and said, “Mr. Burns, everybody has gone,
we’re ready to close the theater.’ So I got up to leave, and
he said, “No, I go first.’ I said, “Oh, you do?’
“Yes,’ he said, “and don’t forget to lock up on your
way out.’

Photo: Where are the real wonders of the world–a cab driver who
understands English, especially in America, or an airport where you can
understand the person announcing the arrivals and departures?


I'm Tamara!

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