Thursday, August 27, 2009

Confessions of a Reformed Over-packer

I can’t believe it. Finally after almost thirty years I have learned to pack light. (Should it be lightly ? That sounds a little precious to me). Three suitcases for three people…and none of these are huge. Three backpacks each with emergency clothes, books, toiletries…and we are set for three months. Oh how times have changed !

Cue flash-back music. Close-up of my streamlined bag with wheels and pull-up handle which dissolves into a 1970’s plaid bag of ungainly proportions.

For my high school graduation in 1976 I received a set of American Tourister luggage (just like they gave away on The Newlywed Game!) My mother, who gave me this gift, was very proud of the fact that the suitcases had wheels. And they did. Except that the wheels were the size of olives and became useless on any terrain that was rougher than the surface of an ice rink. This was before the widespread use of the pull-up handle, so my suitcases each had a leash. It was exactly like a dog leash so there really is no other term one could use to describe it. If it was not lost by the airline, which would be a miracle, the user could pull the suitcases with it. This made carrying the luggage as effortless as pulling a stack of cinderblocks. Pulling two or three of these suitcases at once was absolutely impossible. It was almost as though the designers at American Tourister were just daring you to succeed, knowing all the while that you wouldn’t. As soon as I’d get one rolling at a nice clip, the other would tip over, its wheels unable to fulfill their purpose. Then I would right that one and in doing so I would knock over the first. Usually a nice man in a business suit would take pity on me and help me with the bags. Maybe that was the entire purpose of the design come to think of it: sort of a lure for good samaritans.

I used these suitcases for many years. Most memorably I took one of them on a trip through Devon in southwest England. My goal was to see the moors, but I was to find out that there was no bus that would simply pull up to the moors and let me out. So there I was in the little hamlet of Bovey Tracey, pulling my red and blue checkered American Tourister by its leash, thumbing for a ride. Did I bring the small suitcase ? No of course not. I brought my middle-sized one which would have easily clothed a family of four for a week. In a surprisingly short period of time an elderly woman picked me up. I guess I looked trustworthy and hapless, and I suppose few serial killers are accoutred as I was. She took me back to her house which was adjacent to the moors. After feeding me lunch she provided me with a map of the moors and I left for an afternoon hike. How much easier it was to maneuvre without my suitcase ! This all happened in December of 1978. That afternoon began one of the largest snowfalls in the history of Devon and so I was snowed in with this very interesting, very kind woman and I spent New Year’s eve doing a jigsaw puzzle with her by the fire. I think I stayed there for almost a week. When my mother visited me a few months later (I was studying in London for the year) we all had lunch at her son’s house in a suburb of London. It turned out that her family had been much relieved to know that somebody had been staying with her. They’d been worried about her being alone during the storm and were glad that she had somebody to help her bring in coal for the stove. We kept in touch until her death in 1985.

This experience proved to me that chance and opportunity are closely related in travel. And I have to say that if my luggage was not the smartest choice for the journey I always think that it must have made me look so ridiculous that all the other wonderful events ensued as a result. I looked so ridiculous that it was possibly inevitable that a total stranger would take pity on me. I’m glad it was her.

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