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Getting there is half the fun.


The older I get the more I realize there are some things in this world I'll never understand. One is how you can get to be my age and have so many things you don't understand. Another is why so many people are happiest when they are anyplace but home.

A man pays $3 million for a house in Bel Air or Beverly Hills, his wife lays out $500,000 to redecorate it exactly to their taste, they throw in another $100,000 redoing the pool and the landscaping and putting in a lighted tennis court, and after all that they move in and two weeks later they've locked it up and are off to enjoy the back alleys of Tangier or the sights, sounds and smells of the lower Ganges.

What's amazing is that they're not the exception. They have company at every level of income; enough to make the travel business a billion-dollar industry. For some, getting away means the 2 weeks of the year that make the other 50 bearable. Others only come home long enough to pick up the mail, holler at the kids, get some clean underwear, feed the dog and leave again.

Everyone is someplace else. If you were planning to go to Tokyo to see the Japanese, forget it. They're all over here snapping pictures of Marineland. The Germans are in Spain; the Spaniards are in North Africa; the North Africans are in France; the French are in Italy; the Italians are in Arabia; and the Arabs are everywhere. So are the Americans. If you want to see all your friends, go to London, Paris and Rome. If you want to meet interesting, exotic-looking foreigners, stay home.

I've seen lots of tourists in my time, and there are as many different kinds as there are countries. Some want everything done for them. They travel with groups on charters or organized tours where every detail is taken care of. When they get home they can't always tell you where they've been, but they'll do two hours on how smoothly things went.

Others are just the opposite. They wouldn't think of going with a group. And they don't even use travel agents, they do it themselves. I know a couple like that. Every time they go anywhere they spend months looking at maps, doing research, making up itineraries and writing away for reservations. They love planning their trip, and they love talking about it when they get back. The only thing they don't love is the trip itself. That they could do without.

Some people are only happy in out-of-the-way places, staying among the natives and living as they do. Others can be in France, India, Egypt or Tibet--it's all the same to them, because they're always in an American hotel where they eat only American food and stay in their room all day watching "I Love Lucy' reruns and sending local picture post cards to everyone they ever knew.

Then there are the shoppers. They don't go to see a country, they go to buy it. Wherever this year's bargains are is where you'll find them. One woman I know spent $10,000 dragging her husband all the way to Italy just to buy a pair of Italian alligator boots. They didn't tell her the alligator was from Florida. It was caught in a swamp about 15 miles from their condominium in Fort Lauderdale.

And how about those happy travelers who only want to know three things about their trips: Where do we eat? What do we eat? and When do we eat? This is quite a large group, and they're getting larger by the meal. When they check into a hotel they don't want to see brochures on points of interest, they go right for the room-service menu. And they eat their way from country to country.

The other day I overheard two Jewish ladies in a restaurant in Beverly Hills. One had just returned from Paris and the other was asking about her trip. This was the conversation:

"So you liked the Champs?'

"Fantastic. Best crepes I ever had.'

"And you got to the Eiffel?'

"Wouldn't have missed it. But the portions at the bottom don't compare to what they give you halfway up.'

"And how about that Notre Dame!'

"They got a restaurant there?'

At least she enjoys herself. Some tourists complain from the minute they leave to the minute they get back: The bed's too hard, the bed's too soft, the room's filthy, the bus is too hot, the guide's rude, the chateau's a bore, the Riviera's a ripoff. If you give them the Seven Wonders of the World, they might be satisfied.

That's another thing I don't understand. What makes the Seven Wonders so wonderful, and who decided on them? I'm not putting down the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China, but when it comes to traveling these are some wonders I'd like to see:

A cabdriver who understands English, especially in America.

A place in the world where you can't get a Big Mac and a Coke.

A headwaiter who hides his scorn when you order the house wine.

A cruise ship that advertises "no gratuities' where you can actually skip the tip without running the risk of being thrown overboard.

And what about an airport, train station or bus terminal where you can understand the person announcing the departures and arrivals? That would really be a wonder of the world!

If you're getting the idea that travel is not any my long suit, you're right. And yet I can understand why so many people can't wait to get away. For them it's an escape from the pressures of daily life. I've never had that problem. I've always been able to turn it on and turn it off, although lately it seems to turn off easier than it turns on. And sometimes I don't have to turn it off, it turns off by itself.

The truth is I'm not a sightseer. I don't applaud anything that can't applaud back. And I'm not the kind to lie on a beach in the sun waiting for my skin to shrivel up. It does enough of that while I'm moving around.

I must say if I were the beach type and a year or two younger, I might give that Club Med a try. They have locations all over--the South Pacific, Mexico, the Caribbean--and their ads make it look very inviting. Lots of great-looking male and female bodies in lots of tanned skin. And what activities! Tennis, golf, volleyball, sailing, scuba diving, surfing, dancing, drinking and something I think I left out. Oh yes--investment counseling. I knew there was something I could do.

Actually, the only kind of travel I really enjoy is when it's a working trip. That gives it a purpose. When Gracie and I were in vaudeville we went all over the country to do our act. And when we traveled to England, it wasn't to go through churches and museums, it was to play the Palladium or do a command performance for the royal family.

In 1982, years after I started working alone, they asked me to appear at the royal gala of the Barbican Centre in London. Prince Charles and Lady Diana were to attend. When I arrived in England the newspaper reporters met me, and one of them asked what I thought of Lady Di. I said, "She's a little too old for me.' Not the biggest joke in the world, but it made all the papers.

After the show all the performers stood in line to meet the royal couple. When they got to me, Lady Di said, "I understand I'm too old for you.'

I said, "No, ma'am,' and Prince Charles said, "And she's not too old for me, either.' I had a funnier line than "No, ma'am' for Lady Di, but I don't go around topping royalty. I love playing England.

It reminds me of another time I appeared for the royal family. This event took place at the Palladium for one of Princess Margaret's favorite charities. After the show they took me up to the royal box to meet Princess Margaret. Well, this charming lady was sitting there, and I said to her, "Your Highness, I'd bow, but if I got down I wouldn't be able to get up again.' She said, "Mr. Burns, I'm not Princess Margaret, I'm the lady-in-waiting.'

Just then the princess came in, and after we were introduced, I said, "Your Highness, I just told a funny joke and you missed it.' She said she was sorry, and she was also sorry she missed some of the lyrics of my last song. I said, "Would you like to hear it again?' and she said, "No, once was enough.'

I figured it was time to leave, but as I started to go the attendant stopped me. "No, no,' he whispered, "the princess leaves first.' I sat down, and after the princess left I got up and he stopped me again and whispered, "The lady-in-waiting goes next.' So I just sat there--I was afraid to move. Finally the usher came in and said, "Mr. Burns, everybody has gone, we're ready to close the theater.' So I got up to leave, and he said, "No, I go first.' I said, "Oh, you do?' "Yes,' he said, "and don't forget to lock up on your way out.'

Photo: Where are the real wonders of the world--a cab driver who understands English, especially in America, or an airport where you can understand the person announcing the arrivals and departures?
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Title Annotation:anecdotes on travel
Author:Burns, George
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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