Getting there is half the fun Essay

GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN The older I get the more I realize there are some things in thisworld I’ll never understand. One is how you can get to be my ageand have so many things you don’t understand.

Another is why somany people are happiest when they are anyplace but home. A man pays $3 million for a house in Bel Air or Beverly Hills, hiswife lays out $500,000 to redecorate it exactly to their taste, theythrow in another $100,000 redoing the pool and the landscaping andputting in a lighted tennis court, and after all that they move in andtwo weeks later they’ve locked it up and are off to enjoy the backalleys of Tangier or the sights, sounds and smells of the lower Ganges. What’s amazing is that they’re not the exception. Theyhave company at every level of income; enough to make the travelbusiness a billion-dollar industry. For some, getting away means the 2weeks of the year that make the other 50 bearable. Others only comehome long enough to pick up the mail, holler at the kids, get some cleanunderwear, feed the dog and leave again.

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Everyone is someplace else. If you were planning to go to Tokyo tosee the Japanese, forget it. They’re all over here snappingpictures of Marineland.

The Germans are in Spain; the Spaniards are inNorth Africa; the North Africans are in France; the French are in Italy;the Italians are in Arabia; and the Arabs are everywhere. So are theAmericans. If you want to see all your friends, go to London, Paris andRome.

If you want to meet interesting, exotic-looking foreigners, stayhome. I’ve seen lots of tourists in my time, and there are as manydifferent kinds as there are countries. Some want everything done forthem. They travel with groups on charters or organized tours whereevery detail is taken care of. When they get home they can’talways tell you where they’ve been, but they’ll do two hourson how smoothly things went. Others are just the opposite.

They wouldn’t think of goingwith a group. And they don’t even use travel agents, they do itthemselves. I know a couple like that. Every time they go anywhere theyspend months looking at maps, doing research, making up itineraries andwriting away for reservations.

They love planning their trip, and theylove talking about it when they get back. The only thing theydon’t love is the trip itself. That they could do without. Some people are only happy in out-of-the-way places, staying amongthe natives and living as they do. Others can be in France, India,Egypt or Tibet–it’s all the same to them, because they’realways in an American hotel where they eat only American food and stayin their room all day watching “I Love Lucy’ reruns andsending 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 whereyou’ll find them. One woman I know spent $10,000 dragging herhusband all the way to Italy just to buy a pair of Italian alligator boots. They didn’t tell her the alligator was from Florida. Itwas caught in a swamp about 15 miles from their condominium in FortLauderdale.

And how about those happy travelers who only want to know threethings about their trips: Where do we eat? What do we eat? and Whendo we eat? This is quite a large group, and they’re getting largerby the meal. When they check into a hotel they don’t want to seebrochures on points of interest, they go right for the room-servicemenu. And they eat their way from country to country. The other day I overheard two Jewish ladies in a restaurant inBeverly Hills. One had just returned from Paris and the other wasasking 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 bottomdon’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 theminute 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, theguide’s rude, the chateau’s a bore, the Riviera’s aripoff. If you give them the Seven Wonders of the World, they might besatisfied.

That’s another thing I don’t understand. What makes theSeven Wonders so wonderful, and who decided on them? I’m notputting down the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China, but when it comesto 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 youcan actually skip the tip without running the risk of being thrownoverboard.

And what about an airport, train station or bus terminal where youcan understand the person announcing the departures and arrivals? Thatwould really be a wonder of the world! If you’re getting the idea that travel is not any my longsuit, you’re right. And yet I can understand why so many peoplecan’t wait to get away. For them it’s an escape from thepressures of daily life. I’ve never had that problem. I’vealways been able to turn it on and turn it off, although lately it seemsto turn off easier than it turns on.

And sometimes I don’t have toturn it off, it turns off by itself. The truth is I’m not a sightseer. I don’t applaudanything that can’t applaud back. And I’m not the kind to lieon a beach in the sun waiting for my skin to shrivel up. It does enoughof that while I’m moving around. I must say if I were the beach type and a year or two younger, Imight give that Club Med a try. They have locations all over–the SouthPacific, Mexico, the Caribbean–and their ads make it look veryinviting. Lots of great-looking male and female bodies in lots oftanned skin.

And what activities! Tennis, golf, volleyball, sailing,scuba diving, surfing, dancing, drinking and something I think I leftout. Oh yes–investment counseling. I knew there was something I coulddo. Actually, the only kind of travel I really enjoy is when it’sa working trip.

That gives it a purpose. When Gracie and I were invaudeville we went all over the country to do our act. And when wetraveled to England, it wasn’t to go through churches and museums,it was to play the Palladium or do a command performance for the royalfamily. In 1982, years after I started working alone, they asked me toappear at the royal gala of the Barbican Centre in London. PrinceCharles and Lady Diana were to attend. When I arrived in England thenewspaper reporters met me, and one of them asked what I thought of LadyDi. I said, “She’s a little too old for me.

‘ Not thebiggest joke in the world, but it made all the papers. After the show all the performers stood in line to meet the royalcouple. When they got to me, Lady Di said, “I understand I’mtoo old for you.’ I said, “No, ma’am,’ and Prince Charles said,”And she’s not too old for me, either.’ I had a funnierline than “No, ma’am’ for Lady Di, but I don’t goaround topping royalty. I love playing England. It reminds me of another time I appeared for the royal family.

Thisevent took place at the Palladium for one of Princess Margaret’sfavorite charities. After the show they took me up to the royal box tomeet Princess Margaret. Well, this charming lady was sitting there, andI said to her, “Your Highness, I’d bow, but if I got down Iwouldn’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, Isaid, “Your Highness, I just told a funny joke and you missedit.

‘ She said she was sorry, and she was also sorry she missed someof the lyrics of my last song. I said, “Would you like to hear itagain?’ and she said, “No, once was enough.’ I figured it was time to leave, but as I started to go theattendant stopped me. “No, no,’ he whispered, “theprincess leaves first.’ I sat down, and after the princess left Igot up and he stopped me again and whispered, “The lady-in-waitinggoes next.

‘ So I just sat there–I was afraid to move. Finallythe usher came in and said, “Mr. Burns, everybody has gone,we’re ready to close the theater.’ So I got up to leave, andhe said, “No, I go first.’ I said, “Oh, you do?'”Yes,’ he said, “and don’t forget to lock up on yourway out.’ Photo: Where are the real wonders of the world–a cab driver whounderstands English, especially in America, or an airport where you canunderstand the person announcing the arrivals and departures?


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