Travel tips à la Lewis and Clark-lite

I'm not a person who dreams about exploring unknown lands, but I do think it's a good idea to leave home once in a while and see what's happening beyond the horizon. Being around other travelers is always fascinating, and somewhere along the way I usually end up discovering interesting tidbits of information that I might never have learned otherwise.

Based on my observations during a short trip over Memorial Day weekend, I have some suggestions that may be useful to other worldly wanderers - or college grads who are considering a career in the hospitality industry.

For starters, there's no longer any point in getting irritated by all the people in airports, shuttle buses, or hotel lobbies who are talking endlessly on cellphones. Wireless technology is now securely embedded in American culture. Our national motto could be lifted from that guy on the Verizon TV commercials - "Can you hear me now? Good!"

I actually enjoy listening to phone conversations when they involve people conducting business. Commerce keeps the economy rolling, and the wide range of specialized products being marketed every day is truly amazing. One airport talker recently left me spellbound: His company sells cables that are attached to helicopters for aerial hauling. It was the sort of work that stays below the media radar. I wanted to tap the guy on the shoulder and ask if he'd ever been invited to speak at a high school career day.

What does bother me about the consumer- electronics field is the reliance on tiny buttons. When I look around at other passengers vigorously operating their palm-size devices, I'm mystified. The keypads are barely the size of a gum wrapper. Do they all have tiny fingers? My wireless phone is a clunky old model that makes me feel like I'm carrying a bratwurst in my jacket, and I like it that way because I know immediately when it's not there.

The same problem affects my attitude toward clock radios in hotel rooms.

So many options, so many little switches. I really miss those big knobs that said "Off-On/ Volume" and "AM/FM." And I have no affection at all for the button that says "Pause/Snooze." To me it might as well be labeled "How Does This Work?/Don't Bother."

But those are minor glitches. On the plus side, my spouse booked the trip through an online travel service. It was our first such attempt; everything went off smoothly, and the price was remarkably low. However, as a dog owner, discount travel has a strange side effect: The major cost factor of our journey wasn't the hotel or airfare but the kennel bill when I got home.

"So what?" you say. "Just take the dogs along next time." Right. A yellow Lab that wants to play with every child in the world and a black one that eats socks and any other laundry items within range of his lips. I know Lewis and Clark had a dog on their journey, but they were brave pioneers.

In my world, that option is staying permanently off the map.

Jeffrey Shaffer writes about media, American culture, and personal history.

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