Friday, December 21, 2007

Hell on Wheels

I thought this op-ed piece in the New York Times was pretty funny and true...

Op-Ed Contributor
Hell on Wheels
Published: December 20, 2007

YOU’D rather not think about it — and you never, ever talk about it — but you and I both know that you’ve run over feet.

You can rationalize. (The airport concourse was crowded. You were distracted, looking up at the departures board.) But come clean. You know it’s happening. You can feel your rolling suitcase treating a stranger’s ankle as a speed bump. You can hear the swallowed yelp of pain.

And do you apologize? You might mumble “sorry” over a shoulder. But you never break stride. Instead, you steer into the Chili’s next to your gate, your bag clipping a waitress’s shin as you wheel to the bar. (Go ahead, drown your guilt in that frozen margarita. It won’t cure her limp.)

Aboard the plane, the wanton destruction continues. For the central fallacy of the wheeled luggage trend is that your suitcase will roll smoothly up the aisle in coach. Lie!

Your bag lurches along, catching on seat handles, bumping knees and elbows. You pull harder when it gives resistance. You pull harder still. And you look back to see your bag scraping against the thigh of an obese seated passenger. His haunch has spilled into the aisle to meet the wrath of your ballistic nylon.

When you at last reach your seat, do you gracefully collapse your telescoping handle and lightly tuck your bag in the overhead compartment? No, your handle jams, holding up the line behind you. And your bag won’t fit because all the other bags up there also have huge, jutting wheels.

Plus — particularly if you are a petite, elderly woman (a demographic I am in most cases quite fond of, I promise you) — you sometimes can’t lift your bag at all. This is because those wheels have freed you from having to rely on your own muscle power, or a hired valet. You’re encouraged to over-pack to such a degree that you can no longer move your bag without wheels. So you stagger weakly under its weight until (if I see you) I assist you with it or (if I don’t) you drop it on my head — bludgeoning me with 70 pounds of toiletries.

People, you never need more clothes than you can comfortably carry in a shoulder bag. Soldiers in ’Nam got by with less gear than the average executive now packs for a two-day trip. Unless you are a deep-sea diver or, maybe, an iron-ore salesman, your luggage really shouldn’t necessitate load-bearing wheels.

Also: aesthetics. Your dorky rolling bag doesn’t say, “I’m embarking on a voyage.” It says, “I’m going to a conference in Cleveland.” And maybe you are, but you don’t have advertise it. The swashbuckling adventurer hoists a leather rucksack, or a battered canvas duffel. He doesn’t tug his bag behind him on a leash like a stubborn and especially boring pet.

It’s easy to see the appeal of wheeled luggage, of course. It eases our burdens and lifts the weight off our shoulders. It keeps our neatly pressed jackets un-mussed. But rolling bags are really functional only for the type of journey that goes taxi-airport-taxi-hotel-shuttle bus-convention center. Outside this comfortable circuit, they’re often useless.

I’ve been traveling a lot recently, in countries ranging from developed to less developed to dear Lord, is that a monkey attacking a naked child? In harsher conditions, a dainty rolling bag is absurdly out of place. It’s no fun rolling those wheels across a “street” that’s just a rain-soaked blotch of mud. Or bouncing them up the stairs of a packed train station. Or dragging them through a marketplace where puddles are indeed full of fish and goat entrails. (Enjoy that pungent odor when your bag is back in your room.)

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not trying to eliminate rolling bags altogether. I’m just trying to halt their unchecked proliferation. Perhaps we should regard them with the same mild disapproval that greets that fur coat your mom inherited. She won’t throw it away, but she is a bit uneasy about wearing it in public.

This will all become moot, of course, with the advent of the levitating suitcase, an invention that can’t be far off. When it arrives, we’ll immediately go gaga for it. And soon after, I’m sure, your bag will be levitating swiftly and directly into my groin.

I await your mumbled apology.

1 comment:

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