Travel Tales & Tips

Ole and Olga

By Dave Fox
Seattle, Washington

By the time you read this, I will no longer be here (“here” being defined as sitting in front of my computer, writing this column). No. Instead I will be writhing in pain on my floor, shrieking obscenities in a variety of languages, and vigorously rubbing my forehead, where a bump the size of a small rodent has developed.

The reason I have this gerbil-sized bump on my head is that I have just crashed into a door frame. Crashing into door frames is one of the many ways I inflict pain upon myself each year as I undergo my annual pre-European-departure ritual.

Ole Hanson never had to contend with flight delays or jet lag.

You might think that I, Dave Fox, professional tour guide, would have this packing thing down by now. But for me, packing involves approximately 23 minutes of putting things in my backpack, and another 2.7 days of throwing things around my condo until I decide I like a random combination of clothes, Scandinavian history books, and unnecessary travel gadgets that has landed in the southeast corner of my bedroom.

International travel is one of the most abusive things we can do to our bodies. Humans were invented a really long time ago – long before it was possible to fling ourselves across nine time zones in half a day. And as miraculous as it is to start out in Seattle, climb into a metal cage with wings, sit for ten hours with our knees lodged in our esophaguses (or is that esophagi?) and disembark in Copenhagen, our bodies really weren’t cut out for this sort of thing.

There has not been a major overhaul of the human body since the upgrade from Neanderthal to modern-day Homosapien. This last upgrade happened a long, long time ago, shortly before my parents were born. Technology has since caught up with us, and now that air travel is more widely affordable than it was in prehistoric times, I propose that someone make a new and improved Human Body Millennium Edition. This new edition would be built to withstand the rigors of modern day air travel.

Here are some of the features it would have:

  • Naturally produced muscle relaxants. Once our bodies reached a certain altitude, they would secrete hormones that would enable us to actually fall asleep in one of those 12-inch-by-12-inch airplane seats. Of course, it would be dangerous for these secretions to be based on altitude alone. Think of what would happen if the muscle relaxants kicked in just as you were climbing Mount Everest. So our muscle relaxant secretion glands would be sensitive to subtle electrical stimuli, only producing relaxant hormones if there were a “Fasten Seat Belts” light on within our immediate vicinity.
  • Super-flexible joints. I have to admit, being 5-foot-4, I rather enjoy watching super-tall people try to scrunch their bodies into economy class seats. These super-tall people are probably the same super-tall people who used to extort my lunch money from me. Nevertheless, I propose that the Human Body Millennium Edition have joints flexible enough that we could all rest our legs on top of the seat in front of us. To stop us from kicking the person in front of us in the head, headrests would have built-in stirrups to hold our legs off to the sides. This way, our legs would actually serve a purpose similar to the winged head-rests in business class. When it was time to snooze, we could rest our heads on the calves of the person behind us. This would be a vast improvement over the current system, in which if you are unfortunate enough to have a super-tall person behind you, rather than using their calves as a head rest, you must endure their knees poking through your chair into your spinal cord for ten hours.
  • Detachable eardrums. If you have ever been stuck on an airplane next to someone who wanted to convert you to their religion or give you an hour-by-hour rundown of their vacation plans, you will understand the importance of this feature.
  • Detachable taste buds. This would greatly improve the quality of airline food.

The Human Body Millennium Edition would also include passports digitally encoded into our noses so we would not lose them. I once spent a horrible night sifting through the dumpster behind my apartment building searching for my lost passport. And I once spent 90 bucks on cab fare from the airport, home, and back to the airport because I, Dave Fox, experienced travel professional, showed up for a flight to Norway without my passport. Nasally implanted passport microchips would help avoid these situations.

Just a few hours ago, I had a new missing-passport experience. I solved this problem by throwing stacks of papers around my condo and swearing loudly until the Missing Passport Gremlins, who haunt my every journey, decided I’d had enough and led me to a shelf in my closet where the little blue booklet magically reappeared. I fondled the cover. There is something very sensual about holding a passport, knowing that in less than 24 hours, a customs officer with a big ego will pound his rubber stamp down on the pages with a thudding kerchunk, and I will officially be a foreigner in the land of my ancestors.

So in spite of my Twentieth Century body, which gurgles nauseously every time I fly – from time zone disorientation, sleep deprivation, and congealed airline food – I welcome tonight’s flight. It’s easy to complain about the pains of modern travel. But I think about my great-grandparents, Ole and Olga Hanson, who came to the New World from Norway on a ship that must have taken a week or more. They had no headsets to watch a movie, no microwaved chicken and free beer, no lemon-scented hot towels upon arrival. Their voyage went so slowly, the jet lag was unnoticeable. They crossed the Atlantic once and never went back. I think about their journey, and 12 hours of meager leg room seems trivial.


Published on Monday, May 14, 2001

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