2005-12-08 / Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

It’s always better than where you are
By Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
It’s always better than where you are

The next time you take a trip or go on vacation, go into a travel agency when you arrive at your destination. Without mentioning where you’re from, tell the agent you’re thinking about going to the general area of your hometown for a few days.

In other words, if you’re in Ft. Lauderdale, but live in Rhode Island, just tell the local Florida travel agent that you’re considering a visit to the Narragansett Bay area because you heard that New England was nice. That agent will bend over backwards to sell you a vacation of a lifetime that could be within six blocks of your house. It’s true. I guarantee it.

The agent will ask if you’re spending the holidays there. If you say you’re thinking about it, you’ll get a sales pitch that will have you believing you live somewhere else. “A great choice,” the agent will say. “I can book you in a fabulous hotel on the water with a room overlooking the bay. New England is definitely the place to spend the holidays. It has Christmas written all over it. Quaint little villages, snow, holiday decorations — it’s unbelievably charming. You’ll feel as if you’re in a postcard. Everywhere you turn is a beautiful picture. It’ll be so nice to get away from this tourist trap, the heat and humidity. I am so envious. Believe me, the place I’ll send you is one of Rhode Island’s best kept secrets.”

Funny how the frigid temperatures aren’t mentioned.

You see, this just happened to me. I used to live in Fort Lauderdale. I was recently there on business and I stopped at a travel agency to buy a ticket home when the agent gave me the aforementioned sales pitch.

The experience made me think. While I was standing in that Ft. Lauderdale travel agency listening to a stranger tell me about places to see and things to do in the town where I live, all of which I never considered seeing or doing, some poor slob was probably in a Rhode Island travel agency hearing the same speech in reverse.

“Fort Lauderdale? Lucky you — a fabulous choice,” the agent is telling him. “Warm weather, sandy beaches, girls in bikinis everywhere you look. The beautiful people, the nightlife, the golf, the deep-sea fishing — you’re gonna love it. You won’t want to come back.”

Isn’t it interesting how the heat, humidity, and tourist trap aspects of the area were deleted from the script?

The difference between that unsuspecting customer and me is that he has probably never been to Ft. Lauderdale. He has no idea that he will soon find himself standing three deep at a noisy, hurricane-ravaged saloon hoping to get a lukewarm beer while the guy behind him is shouting about the “wicked good” oysters he bought at an overpriced raw bar. Only then will it dawn on him that he’s surrounded by Rhode Islanders. He doesn’t know that when he goes to the beach, all he’s gonna see are pink overweight tourists slathered in something akin to 10W-30 motor oil. When they return to their hotel, they’ll be so sun burned they won’t be able to move.

By the time this guy goes to Ft. Lauderdale, I’ll be back in Rhode Island watchin’ some Floridian tourist shivering in my seat at my bar that I didn’t know was famous until the travel agent in Florida told me it was. The Floridian will have just walked in from a howling nor’easter, and the wild look in his eyes will be clear evidence that he’s never been anywhere colder than his refrigerator in his entire life.

As far as this tourist is concerned, New England’s picturesque, quaint little villages need to be redefined. This man will describe the entire northeast region of the country as little more than uninhabitable arctic tundra punctuated by a few remote outposts occupied by the deranged. He’ll go back to Ft. Lauderdale and tell his friends that the major mode of transportation up here is the dogsled.

The Rhode Islander will return to Jamestown from Ft. Lauderdale and say, “I don’t think anybody really lives in Florida. The only people I saw were a bunch of Rhode Islanders suffering from sunstroke. All the seafood in the restaurants came from New England. It was weird.”

The point is, wherever you go, the chance of having a good time is 50-50. Every place has its advantages as well as its drawbacks. Whether or not you enjoy your vacation depends on who you meet, what you do, the weather, etc., ad nauseam.

Travel agents sell therapy thinly disguised as a change of scenery. However, therapy is hard to sell and a change of scenery isn’t much easier; so they glamorize their product to make you feel good about parting with your money. It’s all part of that system we can’t understand.

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