Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fear and Loathing in Abingdon --part two.

Just about everyone on the tour was retired, semi-retired or planning to retire in a year or two. Only a few of them did travel as a full-time gig. Most of them were from the Midwest.

Bob from Minnesota (now living in Florida) put in 30 years with the 3M Corporation before he and his wife 
Mary started working for a tour company that specialized in group trips for seniors.

They were a nice couple who'd met in a bar over 40 years ago. Bob had kind of been a schmuck back then. He didn't call, but they still found each other. 

It was his second marriage; her first and Mary said that had been a terrible scandal at the time. She was raised Catholic and he had kids, too. 

"My mom didn't like it one bit," she said.

But circumstances changed her mind. She wanted to see her little girl married and after a terminal cancer diagnosis, Mary's mother made peace with her daughter's choice. 

Forty-plus years and a daughter together, it looked like it had worked out OK.

They liked to go on cruises. Bus tours were ok, but it wasn't as much fun for them. 

Jan from Chicago spent years teaching art before starting a website based business through Expedia. She was almost 70, had a daughter older than me and a son in his 20s who'd just gotten out of the military. 

Jan dressed like a cheerleader for Aerosmith, wore black nail polish and a black, leather trench coat. Her hair was a suspiciously authentic-looking dirty blond and she spent the first two hours on the bus talking almost nonstop about her nice house, her Porsche, her husband's former fantastic job and how he was going to pull some strings to get her son a job in Chicago.

She just wouldn't shut up. Nerves, I guess, but after the first hour, I sort of wanted to stow her with the luggage.

She was semi-retired and was on the substitute teacher roll for the Chicago school system. The travel business was a sideline. She got most of her bookings from online, but also helped arrange trips for the teachers she encountered in her day-to-day.

The way she talked about it was like she was a pot dealer.

Fae was a former social worker and somehow worked in dentistry before coming to work at her father-in-law’s business in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

A small, round woman with short, curly hair, she laughed easily and seemed like she might have been a fairy godmother in a previous life. She had no idea how she'd wound up doing this sort of job. It wasn't what she wanted to do, but she liked it well enough --maybe because some of the places she took her clients were far, far away from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

She really loved the west coast, northern California and, I think, Oregon. The scenery was beautiful and the people seemed very nice to her.

The three-day Post-Fam tour of scenic, rural Virginia (during the desiccated, dead of winter) was just an extra 50 bucks a head after they’d paid their fees for the convention in Charleston. It included motel accommodations, a couple of shows, a few attractions and practically all meals –plus a seemingly never-ending line of people ready, willing and practically begging for the chance to kiss your ass.

As far as getaways go, if you weren’t too particular, it was pretty decent deal.

There were plenty of stories on the bus about much better deals and insider only trips, but generally, the gravy days of travel were all over for these people.

Donna, an agent from got a deal to go to Singapore for two-weeks because she knew somebody in another office who was just looking for warm bodies. She had to pay $500 for that one, but it included airfare, accommodations, meals and who knows what else.

“It was too good to turn down,” she said.

Nobody was getting those kinds of deals now, though sometimes if they booked a certain number of clients onto a cruise somewhere, they got a free ticket.

They shared their horror stories. A couple of them had spent nights in hospital rooms, sitting with clients who'd taken a vacation only a couple of weeks after a heart attack or major surgery. A few of them had seen people die.

All of them seemed to be struggling to keep on doing their jobs and living their lives. Competition was fierce. Nobody thought much of a tour company called Diamond.

A guy named Tim, who knew more dirty jokes than any man alive, called them the K-mart of the touring business.

"They get the cheapest rooms, use the cheapest buses and the customer gets dick."

Just across the Virginia border, the bus stopped at a welcome center manned by a couple of grandmothers who'd brought cookies and cake to welcome us to the middle of nowhere. It was supposed to be a scenic rest stop, but it looked like the sort of place bored, middle-class homosexuals might stop for anonymous sex in the bushes with other bored, middle-class homosexuals.

There were also vending machines if someone wanted to grab a diet coke or maybe some skittles afterwards.

It was a clean, if sort of non-descript location. Inside, dull-as-shit travel pamphlets, brochures and maps papered the walls. I found myself wondering, who in the fuck would stumble in here and be inspired to drive from here to Monticello, to see how the third President of the United States might have lived --you know, if you took away all the slaves and replaced them with poorly-payed state employees in polo shirts with name tags?

I pretended to look at the pamphlets then bolted for the bus after the stop was concluded. I left the cookies, which were a little bland, and grabbed a spare bottle of water out of reflex.

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