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Thu, Jul 10, 2014

Traveling used to be enjoyable

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As summer comes to a close, my mind wanders back to a time when travel was fun.

Do you remember fun?

It might seem utterly alien to most millennials, but my family would spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon driving in the country all day just to relax. My parents, my little brother and I would pile into the car with the radio on WSM for NBC’s Monitor, a mix of music, news, sports, features and DJ patter that reflected a less factionalized America.

Gas was 35 cents per gallon. It rose to 50 cents eventually, but we still went on Sunday drives when the weather was nice.

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard anyone, even a senior citizen, use the pejorative expression “Sunday driver” to describe someone who is aimlessly piloting his vehicle down the road at a slow pace and won’t get out of the way.

When I was in college, I couldn’t afford a car. So, I used the bus to go home for weekend visits.

Sometimes, I took the local, which stopped at every hamlet along the way. But, there was one express bus which had a nice hostess who served each passenger a sandwich, an orange and a carton of milk.

She would distribute pillows, blankets, magazines – anything you needed. It was like being on an airplane without having to yawn to reduce the pressure on your ears.

There was a time when even the common people could travel without having to suffer or grovel. Those of us who were in the low-income or lower middle-class brackets could be assured of dignified treatment and a comfortable atmosphere when we traveled—not luxury, just decency.

Now two airlines, JetBlue and WestJet, are going to cut legroom in their coach seats, while increasing legroom in their business class seats.  

The changes will enable JetBlue to take in an additional $150 million this year. WestJet will rake in more revenue by using the extra room to add more rows of seats to its planes.

Kathleen Robinette of Oklahoma State University says the airlines measure legroom from the back of the tush to the front of the knee.

Seriously? Your calves, ankles and feet don’t count?

The enormous changes in both mass transportation and individual travel serve collectively as a metaphor for the ever-widening chasm between the haves and the have-nots in this country.

Passengers on trains, planes, buses, taxis, boats, ships and all manners of getting from one place to another are no longer courted, no longer treated as though they have choices. In some cases, they can’t even count on clean traveling environments.

Paying various prices for different accommodations is one thing. Being treated like chickens being crammed into cages in the back of a tractor-trailer is quite another.

In the late early 20th century, ocean liner passengers, such as those aboard the Titanic, who bought the cheapest tickets were crammed into an area known as “steerage.”

Today, regardless of your mode of transportation, if you’re not wealthy, you’re always traveling in “steerage.”
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