Long ago, I rode a Greyhound bus from Atlanta to Pensacola, Fla. Outside, the weather was cold and the rain was steady and hard. Inside, it was stuffy, stale and smelly. A man across the aisle was taking nips from a half pint of booze and spitting on the floor.
At one of the many stops, an old woman emerged from dark rain and wedged in next to me. She wore a worn-out wool coat that was soaked. She coughed like Doc Holliday, the tubercular gunman. I spent the rest of the trip trying not to breathe.
Shortly after dawn, when I emerged into the fresh air and sunshine, I swore an oath that I would never ride a Greyhound bus again. In all the intervening decades, I have kept that vow. In the meantime, however, the "Greyhound experience" has grown wings.
Now the airlines stuff you into small seats with as many people as they can cram on board. The flight is late and uncomfortable, the air stale, and there are long lines and long walks at each end of the flight. Being ahead of my time, I decided two years ago that my contribution to solving the energy crisis would be to give up flying.
I've kept that vow, too. Given how the airlines help the government spy on their passengers and the chance of encountering poorly trained but trigger-happy air marshals bored out of their gourds, I'm content to leave the high-speed travel to others. If where I wish to go is beyond walking or driving distance, I stop wishing to go there.
And, my friends (to quote Sen. John McCain), my method is the only solution to high energy prices that is available to the average person. Travel less, use less. I know from my own experience that a lot of business travel could be avoided with a phone call or an e-mail.
When I was in charge of tourist and industrial advertising for the state of Florida, I'd get calls from magazine salesmen in New York, usually in January or February.
"Can I come down and see you?"
"Sure, but I can save you a trip. We've already committed all of our advertising budget."
"That's all right. I just need to get away from the cold weather."
So they packed their golf clubs and, in between games, bought me lunch just to make their expense account "legal." They must have figured that an hour's conversation with me was a small price to pay for an expense-paid mini-vacation.
At any rate, all Americans need to cut out unnecessary travel. Planning your shopping trips properly can eliminate running down to the mini-mart two or three times a week. Look for places in your own or an adjoining state to take a vacation. You might be surprised. I've yet to find a place in America where I couldn't see beauty, and the whole purpose of recreation is to break your work routine. You can do that 40 miles away just as easily as you can 3,000 miles away.
I know this sounds heretical, but to spend less we must use less. Use a feather touch on the gas pedal and you'll save gasoline and tire rubber. Driving a steady 60 miles per hour will get you most places nearly as quickly as driving 70 miles per hour. And you will burn less gas.
In the meantime, I will wait for passenger trains and steamships to make a comeback. Going to Europe by sea is a lot more pleasant and healthy — provided you avoid icebergs, rogue waves and storms — than sitting on an airplane for 11 hours while your arteries clot up.
I miss the old Ile de France, which first took me to Europe. It was Ernest Hemingway's favorite ship, and a grand old lady she was, even if you were sleeping over the drive shaft on Deck E like I was. My criteria for good transportation are a pleasant journey and good memories. It's hard to find either on a modern airline.
June 4, 2008
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
© 2008 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.