My concentration had reached its apparent nadir, and I was mulling over the options: Another “Facebook break,” a second look at the project plan, additional product testing, or perhaps a rap on the door of one of the project managers to ask for more work. It was all bad, but I had to do something.
This sort of thing happened to me frequently as a child. “Mom, I’m bored!” My mother absolutely relished those three words. Cheerfully, she would rattle off a list of potential cures: I could do some laundry, I could clean my room, I could organize the garage, I could wash her car, I could do the dishes…
You know, she was right. On second thought, I wasn’t bored at all. I would slink away, slowly, under the apparent belief that as long as I didn’t make any sudden movements, I could make it back down to the basement where my toys and video games were making me a slightly better offer than the one I had just received.
Unfortunately, my project manager is not inclined toward reverse psychology, and there was no basement full of toys. So, just when I had committed myself to another few inglorious hours of product testing, I was jarred by the sudden electronic whirring that passes for a telephone “ring” these days. Who should be on the other side of the line, but yet another project manager, and as his voice came slightly-warped through the Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol, I had in the back of my mind the pixelated image of a limp stogie gripped tightly, and I was able to make out the words: “client… week-long… requirements… travel… booking…” Thus, in a flash, I was off to Denver, Colorado.
I was prepared for a week – and we gave it a good effort, too – but by Friday morning the work was finished, and I don’t expect the client to be thrilled with our hanging around mulling over Facebook breaks. So, it was off to the airport to avail ourselves of the complimentary Wi-Fi to work on other matters, and perhaps a libation from the Lieutenant’s Lounge. Eventually I found myself seated in front of a window, reaching for my book, and getting ready to set my mind at ease for the first time since that one, ill-fated Facebook break.
Suddenly I was jarred back to consciousness by an explosion of “oh-my-gods,” “likes,” “awesomes,” and sickening and familiar smell of those fragrances which are only ever purchased on allowance, rather than disposable income. Hoping not to further disturb the sleeping dragon, I squinted as though to watch a landing plane, twisted in my seat a bit, and imperceptibly rolled my eyes over to brewing disturbance. My worst fears were confirmed. It was teenagers.
There was no use fighting it. I packed up my work and my book, and succumbed to a complete disturbance. Their conversation unfolded in the aforementioned “oh-my-gods,” and “likes,” and “awesomes,” and I reached back into the depths of my memories to try to recall what it all meant. (I must admit, I was once a rather fluent speaker of the damn gibberish myself.) It took a while to reacquaint myself with the basic syntax, and to find my “sea legs” such that my stomach could handle the lilt without emptying its contents. Nevertheless, within a few minutes, I had it, and set myself to translating their conversation.
It seems one of them had recently been to Mexico, another to Peru, another to China… They were sharing tales of international jet-setting: you can imagine my surprise. By Jove, they were having at it! One of them knew enough to compare the merits of local cuisine in Peru to that of Singapore. Another had an opinion – dare I say a valid opinion? – on hotel accommodations in both Paris and Alaska. A third specimen had approximately double my own knowledge of Central American beaches.
It was not unlike discovering a hand-written first draft of The Decameron, scrawled in crayon.
My mind flitted back to when I myself was a child. There were a few of my peers who, at the time, had been whisked off to Europe or Mexico by the grace of their wealthy parents. (I am told they had to remove the silver spoons from their mouths when they passed through airport security – and this was before the time of the TSA.) Still, back then, almost no one I knew had traveled abroad except for religious purposes. Certainly no one had an opinion of the local sites, nor had I ever heard anyone make suggestions for what to do in Beijing when you “only have a long weekend to fill.”
It was another world back then. Travel existed, but it was not for people like me. And it certainly was not for people like these yoga-pants-bedecked walking Baby Gap commercials. International travel was a mark of wealth and taste. It was the passtime of playboys and playgirls, or perhaps captains of industry. It required real money. Some of us had it, but most of us didn’t. It was an experience we all dreamed of, but few could afford. Flights to Berlin were described as “once-in-a-lifetime.” The vast majority of us only knew what New York City looked like from watching television.
In a mere handful of decades, something had changed. Either allowances had increased or prices had fallen. It’s possible, of course, that all allowances had increased, resulting in nominal inflation, but that wouldn’t explain it. It had to be that real prices for airline tickets in proportion to the general wealth possessed by most people had greatly decreased. Capitalism really worked. Mankind’s ability to produce in plenty had supplied us not only with more goods and services to enjoy, but also with more leisure time and sufficient spending money that even the basest, commonest teenager could “oh-my-god” her way to Tripoli and come back with an assessment of the local saffron. (I’ve never been, but I understand it is “like, totally awesome, oh my god.”)
To paraphrase Uncle Milton, “We are all Gullivers now.”
Finally, the stench of drug store perfume got the better of me and I began to lose consciousness for real. As my eyes rolled back into my skull and careened into darkness, I recalled a passage from Professor Mises’ Human Action:
There was a time when only the rich could afford the luxury of visiting foreign countries. Schiller never saw the Swiss mountains, which he celebrated in Wilhelm Tell, although they bordered on his Swabian homeland. Goethe saw neither Paris nor Vienna nor London. Today, however, hundreds of thousands travel, and soon millions will do so.
That was published in 1949.