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Tuesday, 09 September 2008 00:00 Jennifer Devore
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Photo: San Diego Air and Space Museum archives

This guy came to mind as I was watching Rick Steves and feeling sorry for myself that I've been on a solely domestic-vacation run for a while now and it's absolutely time to get back to Europe. In fact, my Viking and I have been planning a Scandinavian adventure for next Spring.

Anyhoo, as I enjoyed Mr. Steves, (a fellow travel show auteur, although our global travel and fishing show of a few years past, Angling Adventures Magazine, was pulled by Disney the day WDC bought Fox Family Channel) and whilst I commiserate with him, travelling with equipment, crew, etc., I noted he tends to go on and on about "travelling light" like it is a great virtue los

t on us heathens or Barbarians of excursion. Fair enough when one's shooting on-location. Still, Rick tends to be a bit uppity about it. I do cut him some slack, though ... he is Rick Steves after all. Similar to Bill Gates wearing his little blue Oxford at all times, Rick Steves and Bill Gates may wear whatever they desire.

All this travelling light-business instantly brought to mind all those other light packers I've encountered and, most specifically, the I-Never-Check-Baggage Guy. You know him. He's an annoyance and makes his wisdom known at two points on his trip: both times loudly enough for those around him to hear. Caveat: I do think it is very wise to travel, certainly post-9/11, as simply as possible. Nevertheless, it does not make earn one a cookie or an EGOT.

First, he lets everyone in line at eCheck-in know when the screen asks "How many bags are you checking?" "None!" he chuckles loudly as he looks around for some metaphysical high-fives. (He is generally a lone traveller, so no wifey to pat him on the back.) "Got everything right here in my carry-on," he reminds us as he smacks his black, rolly, Carry-on secured by an old, striped belt around its bulging mid-section and looking like it swallowed a Christmas turkey. He hoists his equally obese backpack over his shoulder (his one Personal Item) then snorts audibly like a tiny bull as he catches sight of, say, my luggage, which I adore and includes a couple of Louis Vuitton pieces (birthday gifts from my Viking).

Our luggage (Now just one LV duffle and an old Liz Claiborne Safari model due to the mandatory per-bag fees) is nearly always within weight and quantity limits. Both pieces, plus laptop bags and my purse, carry both of our extremely versatile wardrobes and, except for one EasyBitch whom chose to punish me for being too happy in line one day at an EasyJet kiosk in Amsterdam, I have rarely been charged for excess baggage. (Which leads me to another topic altogether ... shouldn't each traveller have a total-weight allotment? Why am I charged for an extra five pounds in a suitcase; yet, a three-hundred pound seat mate with a tiny bag has no responsibility for fuel charges? That's always the baggage argument, isn't it? Heavier bags cost more fuel. No heavier weight overall costs more fuel. I'm just saying.)

Beyond all this, I have never asked anyone to haul my bags anywhere; if I pack it, I carry it, be it on a train, out of an airport or up those teeny tiny elevators in Tyrol and the Côte d'Azur. Wait, I lied. I did, one time in England during which I was deathly ill, my then-BFF, Nancy Owen Freeman, kindly offered to drag my stuff from our B&B to the York train station. Of course, she broke up with me years later, so I'm glad she had to carry my crap.

As referenced previously, we come to the second moment when Never-Check-Baggage Guy reminds us of his pending Sainthood: touch-down on the tarmac. He lets his third of the plane know of his packing prowess during those excruciating six to eight minutes after the Fasten Seatbelt-light has dinged off and freed everyone to half-stand awkwardly, hunching and hyperventilating over some stranger's bosom or some sweaty, bald dude's glistening dome as they wait to deplane. "Nope," he claims to no one in particular, "I am outta here!" Looking around for that one glance that makes eye-contact, he continues forth with vigor, "Nope. I never check bags, never! Just out the airport, straight into my Emerald Zone rental car and I'm gone."

Of course, moments later he is struggling as much to reclaim his over-stuffed, water rat of a carry-on from the unhinged jaws of the overhead compartment as he did forcing it in and, always in the process nailing some poor, overweight woman from Vista who's just doing her best to fit down the aisle and silently thanking the Baby Jesus for getting her back from Dallas and on the ground safely ... and not being charged a fee for her excess weight.

Naturally, as Never-Check Guy is repositioning his Corgi-sized backpack from shoulder to shoulder as he stands in the aisle waiting for Baby Jesus Lady to move forward, he tells us now how he's been travelling around South America for three weeks and everything he needs in his backpack and that questionably-sized carry-on. It is suddenly clear to you that he reeks and his breath has begun its own travel, presumably to get away from its pompous host, and finds your tempting nostrils, snuggling in there and when it realizes there just isn't enough room to lounge, lingering about your head, whisping in and out of your crystal, hoop earrings like they're golden tire swings.

I don't know. This guy just bothers me and I admit it's unfair to him. I'm just being a snot. Evil Snow White as my nearest and dearest call it. I guess it's his uppityness and presumption that no one's a more experienced traveller than he. Well, nobody likes a Spongebob Snootypants, especially when he's a Spongebob Stinkypants in olive oil-stained Travelsmith gear. Note, fair reader, I would never say anything to the fetid gent. In fact, in my best Evil Snow White timbre, I'd probably tell him I love his Travelsmith shirt and How cool is that? that the sleeve has a WiFi plug-in and then I'd ask him if he's ever read any of Bill Bryson's travel essays like his African Diary. He'd say Of course! I have it on my iPad! and that he'd actually been to those very locations and then we'd laugh and chat about Bill Bryson's brilliance until Baby Jesus Lady got her Wal-Mart reusable bag down from the overhead and eased up the aisle so we could all be on our merry, non-stinky way.

I'm sure Never-Check Guy is fine company for strangers at the next table at an outdoor bistro in Marseille in that, "I know I'm not French and I can't even say Bonjour correctly, but let me correct you on a few things you said about Sarkozy."-kind of way; and, I'm certain he's very well-travelled, and very well-read, but so am I and I've always found a way to pack for everything from lunch at a beachfront Ritz-Carlton to hiking in Switzerland to slumming in a Yosemite campground and have never been stinky once the whole time. I've been able to stand out and blend in all at the same time. Not that I'm ashamed to be an American, by contrast I'm always proud to be a California Girl and an American, but the Ugly American stereotype comes from somewhere and Never-Check Guy is a component. You can spot him a mile away in Washington, D.C., Ireland, France, Manhattan or Italy. Be it in a fine restaurant, a cathedral, a museum, the horse races, an OTB pub, the beach or on a mountainside, he's always donned in the same uniform: flip-flops or hiking boots, wrinkled, college tee or long-sleeve khaki shirt, baggy shorts or cargo pants, baseball cap or an old Indiana Jones crusher (which I do love, and own, when worn appropriately).

Dude, in the end, I'm sure you're a nice guy and have a world of stories and great advice to share. Just don't judge me and I won't judge you. Well, I lie ... I probably will, but I won't write about you anymore. Just pack some extra toiletries, a couple of button-downs, use the iron in your hotel room, or steam from the tiny shower/closet in your favourite one-star in Bosnia and lose the Padres cap inside the Prado. It won't kill your image or make you any more of a Gringo to check a bag or leave the PBS-donation-gift, money-belt back home in Richmond. Go to Nordstrom, too, before your travels. Get a free tester of cologne. They're tiny and free. (By the way, regardless of my issues with Rick Steves' packing guidelines, he is always wrinkle-free, polite, I assume never loud and obnoxious, and respectful of other people's customs and cultures, even if he does have a pretty bad accent. Yet, at least he tries other languages. I like Rick Steves very much ... and Bill Bryson ... and Bill Gates.)

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