An e-ticket to paradise is no fun

In the '50s, before mileage clubs, before soft luggage and security checks, I rode ocean liners. The Queen Mary. The United States. Wonderful ships my parents took in style to see what was then a very big world.

For a child of 9 or 10, the anticipation of such adventures - dreaming of the sea and exotic places - was almost as exciting as the voyages themselves.

Then there were the tickets. Thick folders that said "Cunard," or "United States Lines." My father kept them on his bureau. Weeks before departure, I held them. Examined them. They told me something special was about to happen. Something joyous. And soon.

I kept those thoughts through most of my adulthood. Just as I kept tickets - for air travel, shows, and ballgames - on my own bureau.

Lately, though, that brand of excitement seems to be vanishing - from my life and, presumably, from the lives of others. Increasingly, we live in a ticketless world.

"Going ticketless" is the phrase. Sometimes, courtesy of computers, it's called "e-ticket" travel. You dial a number and an operator takes reservations and credit card accounts. Sometimes there's no human contact: a flat, recorded voice tells you what buttons to push. Certainly not the stuff dreams are made of. Certainly below the romance level of popular tunes that once rhapsodized tickets - and what they promised.

No "Ticket to Ride." No "Two Tickets to Paradise." And the old rejoinder, "that's the ticket"? Destined, I fear, for some museum of forgotten phrases. Worse, weeks before an event or trip, there may be nothing to hold in one's hands. No folders or pieces of cardboard to herald good times, great evenings, glorious trips. A confirmation number does little for my imagination.

Recently I took my 12-year-old daughter to San Francisco. The spring break trip had been planned for a month.

"Dad," she asked weeks before, "do you have the tickets?"

"No, kiddo. There are no tickets," I said. "The computers know we're coming. At least, I hope they do."

And, of course, they did. I showed identification at the airport and we boarded our plane. Didn't even get stubs, just boarding passes and baggage checks.

Easy, yes. But to me, something was missing. It always is in our ticketless world.

"So, Dad," my daughter asked later, "do you have the tickets to the game? Can I see them?" We planned an evening at downtown's glorious new ballpark. Giants-Dodgers. What could be better?

"No," I told her. "I don't have tickets. I bought them with a credit card, on the phone. At the park, I'll swipe my card in a machine. It will give us tickets."

"Well," she said, "I just wanted to hold mine."

"I know," I said. "I know."

Remembering long-ago games and different times, I wanted to hold mine, too.

Joe Honig, a former CBS and AP journalist, writes for television.

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