THIS is the time of year when the Stay-at-Home and the Traveler have their annual debate about what constitutes an ideal vacation. The Traveler, as usual, starts the argument. In conversation, as in life, he can't let things lie. Taking a deep breath of soft summer air, he observes subtly (he thinks!): ``Happiness is a round-trip ticket to anywhere.''
When the Stay-at-Home lets this pass, the Traveler quavers into song: ``An airline ticket to romantic places...''
Pushed one sour note too far, the Stay-at-Home interrupts: ``The refrain of the song you're trying to sing happens to read, `These foolish things remind me of you.' Amen to that.''
The Traveler flings down his Rand McNally atlas and strikes back. ``Boy, are you negative! Hooray for not traveling! Hooray for not living!''
``That's your equation,'' the Stay-at-Home replies with a certain primness. ``Thoreau and I think differently - `I have traveled a good deal in Concord,' Thoreau wrote.''
```Thoreau and I! Thoreau and I!''' the Traveler mimicks. ``That's what happens when you don't travel - you have to quote. You live at second hand. Well, I could throw back a few quotes in favor of my side, but I'll just testify from exprience. Travel is freedom. Travel shakes the soul loose as well as the body.''
``Oh, really?'' the Stay-at-Home says with all the sarcasm he can muster. ``Some freedom! A year ago you were putting your vacation on hold because you worried that your plane might be hijacked by terrorists. This year you're worried about being hijacked by your airline. The horror stories a stay-at-home hears! Flights that never take off. Connections that never get made. Baggage that disappears into black holes in space, not to be seen again. Why, it's enough to send shivers down your back in July.''
``All right,'' the Traveler concedes. ``So there's a touch of inconvenience to traveling these days. That only adds to the adventure if you take it in the right spirit. Don't forget. Your ancestors traveled by sailing ships - and leaky ones at that - to reach this continent. Then, to cross the continent, they traveled by foot, on horseback, in wagon trains....''
``All that,'' says the Stay-at-Home, ``was child's play compared with just getting to the airport. You have to crawl at 10 m.p.h. for hours for the privilege of traveling at 400 m.p.h. - if a runway can be found, and your flight hasn't been overbooked. What's your motto? `Getting there is half the torture'? You give new meaning to Dr. Johnson's rule about Great Sights: `Worth Seeing? Yes - but not worth going to see.'''
``Not another quote!'' the Traveler groans. ``Forget your borrowed one-liners for a minute. Can't you feel the exhilaration of modern travel - the triumph? We've reduced the world to the scale of the little multicolored globe that spins in grade school classrooms, or used to. You can tap the globe and say, `This summer I think I'll go to China.' You can say it - and do it. With seven league boots. With magic carpet. Think of what that would have meant to your grandfather.''
``Not too much,'' the Stay-at-Home answers. ``Grandfather hated to travel, too. He didn't confuse extending his radius with intensifying his life.''
``Oh, now we're going to hear the famous line about modern travel being the shortest distance between two interchangeable airports, or two hotels of the same chain,'' the Traveler predicts. ``I sense the speech coming on - the one that mourns the century of the tourist for turning every country in the world into a Switzerland, if not a Disneyland. What if I say that, in the spring, travel is part of the hunger for a rebirth? What if I say that we travelers, like you stay-at-home people, are simply looking for happiness?''
``Well,'' says the Stay-at-Home, ``I'd have to tell you you can't get there from here.''
``Snob!'' cries the Traveler. ``Show a little mercy. We're all pilgrims here together.''
``You're right,'' the Stay-at-Home admits. ``I'll promise to take a little trip if you'll stop spinning and stay in one place for a while. It's the moment of extraordinary life we're both after. It may, in fact, be only a second, but it's worth everything, like the first kiss. Wasn't it Chesterton who said the purpose of travel is to glimpse your own country as a foreign land?''
``I knew it!'' the Traveler says. ``We just couldn't get out of here without another quote.''
A Wednesday and Friday column