Monday, February 11, 2008

Travel Day

Someone once called advertising billboards "litter on a stick." If that is the case, then I-75 between Tampa, Florida and Macon, Georgia is one of the most polluted sections of road in the country. Yet the subject matter of the billboards keep them from being a total eye-sore.

Aimed at "snow birds" who come South for the winter, and then drive back up again, the signs have a local flavor, the citrus themed postings giving way to pecan and peach advertisements once you cross the state line. Boiled peanuts are a popular delicacy on Georgia signage, which reminded me of one of my Georgia associations-- President Jimmy Carter, a former peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia. (His presidential museum is in Atlanta.)

"My most persisten impression as a farm boy was of the earth," The President wrote in his book An Hour Before Daylight : Memories Of A Rural Boyhood. "There was a closeness, almost an immersion, in the sand, loam, and red clay that seemed natural and constant. The soil caressed my bare feet and the dust was always boiling up from the dirt road that passed fifty feet from our door, so that inside our clapboard house the red clay particles, ranging in size from face powerder to grits, were ever present..."

This was a very different Georgia than the one we experienced from our limited vantage point, the Interstate and its service roads. On February 11, we traveled in the unpopulous area between Florida and Macon, Georgia, spending the night at an interesting motel in Vladosta. Instead of a lobby, it had a truck stop gift shop with a counter. You could buy boiled peanuts there, if you were so inclined, but there were no familiar floral sofas, complimentary coffee or continental breakfast. Breakfast could be found next door behind the plastic playground of a fast food franchise.

While we have no classes to discuss, it seems like as good a time as any to talk about hotels. The book Here Speeching American: A Very Strange Guide to English as It Is Garbled Around the Worldby Kathryn Petras and Ross Petras collects sings written by non-native English speakers around the world. I enjoyed this one from a hotel in China: "Invisible service is available for your rest being not disturbed." I like "invisible service," service so seamless that you're unaware of it. You never even see hotel staff around, but your room is always miraculously clean.

That is how I picture the upscale hotels of this world, the Hiltons, Sheratons and Marriotts with their bevy of pillows and encounters with what Jay Leno calls "minthead." "Minthead," he told travel writer Peter Greenberg, "is what happens when you get back to your hotel room and go to sleep. But the maid has put a chocolate mint on your pillow and you end up sleeping on it. You wake up with all this white cream in your hair."

That doesn't happen to us. We're more likely to find ourselves in accomodations like those Ogen Nash described in 1942:

"I know a renegade hotel,
I also know I hate it well,
An inn so vile, an inn so shameless
For very disgust I leave it nameless"

Ok, that is overstating things a bit. With rare exceptions, our hotels are clean, staffed by friendly and courteous people, and while they may not have amenities like infinite piles of pillows and little chocolate mints, they have all we need to get by: wifi, television and beds.

And when we lack "invisible service for our rest not being disturbed" it is usually not the staff doing the disturbing. If we lack sleep it is due to thin walls and noisy neighbors, like the one who fell asleep with his television on full blast and couldn't be woken by repeated pounding or calls from the front desk at 4 in the morning.

Thus is the glamorous life of a touring artiste.