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Armchair tourist is just fine where he sits

Armchair tourist is just fine where he sits

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When I was a young man, my parents’ friend, Mr. Young, invited me to his house to see a slideshow of his recent visit to Costa Rica. His wife, my parents and the mailman all warned me that this would be boring. It wasn't. I enjoyed the show and Mr. Young's accompanying discussion of Central American open-air markets and religious festivals. Mostly, I enjoyed the fact that I could have the entire Costa Rica experience without having to actually go to Costa Rica.

To me, the only thing better than taking a trip is looking at photos and videos of other people's trips. My life motto is I’m Fine Right Here, Thanks.

Go ahead, enjoy your safaris, cruises and coach tours. Upon your return I’ll gladly admire your videos of the trip. Staying home offers untold benefits:

-- You don't have to meet wonderful people. Much of the narrative of Cousin Jane's six-day motor-coach excursion to Branson, Mo., concerns the wonderful people she and her husband traveled with. I don't want to meet wonderful people. I already know too many wonderful people. My town is full of wonderful people. They're wonderful because they don't try to drag me on bus trips to Branson.

-- You don't have to suffer. After 15 Illinois summers, I have no inclination to visit Death Valley. And if I want to lose my extremities to frostbite, I don't need three weeks in Alaska. My local butcher would let me spend the night in his walk-in refrigerator for the price of two pounds of chuck steak. He'd probably amputate my fingers the next morning, too.

-- You don't have to alienate your friends. Dick. your world-traveling neighbor, has seen everything. You don't care. There's no middle ground, only a conversational minefield:

You: “Aren't these Iowa sunsets gorgeous?”

Dick: “Fair, I suppose, but not like the sunsets we saw over Lake Tipikala on the Inca Excursion.”

You: “Well, I still think our sunsets are pretty.”

Dick: “‘Pretty?’ Pretty is Eskimo maidens dancing in the Winter Solstice Ceremony. ‘Pretty’  is the day-lilies opening their petals at daybreak in the Acapulco Jardín Botanical.”

You: “Drop dead.”

Dick: “'Drop?' Have you ever been to the rockbound coast of Maine when the sea terns are flinging clam shells on boulders? 'Dead?' You should visit the catacombs of the Martyrs of LeMondrons, where death surrounds you like a funeral shroud, or 'manteau funéraire,' as the French so eloquently ... hey, come back. Did I say something wrong -- or 'grossiero,' as they say in Rio during Carnaval?”

Nothing broadens one’s horizons like staying home. Sure, some minor health consequences may result from spending your life in a recliner with Harlan Coben novels and buttered popcorn, but I take the long view. A trip is over in a few weeks, but a pot belly and leg muscle degeneration will last the rest of your life.

An important person in my life devotes significant energies to trying to drag me to distant states to see vast tracts of meaningless scenery and drop in on classmates I vaguely knew in college during the 1969-1970 academic year. I resist as best as I can. When my stockpile of anti-travel defenses is exhausted, I rely on the unassailable truth.

The fact is, I can't go on a trip because -- surprise! -- I'm already on a trip! This trip began 15 years ago on the East Coast.  I'm now resting up in Illinois. When I'm ready, I'll resume the trip. Meanwhile, please don't distract me with secondary excursions. I need to stay focused on this arduous journey.

Frank Mullen III is a former New Yorker who now lives with his wife in her Aledo hometown.


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