Oh, The People You’ll Meet, or “Best of Times”

May 15, 2009 at 5:41 am Leave a comment

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Little known fact – this is a Dickens’ blog entry from 1856 following yet another business trip to Paris. It started with long security lines at Heathrow, the ensuing rubbery chicken airplane meal and the insufferables working the rent-a-car counter.

That’s all followed by a magnificent meal in Paris and the great company of the bistro’s sommelier who poured an outstanding 1850 Medoc. Yes, both best and worst of times.

Not technically considered a travel writer, Dickens proved to have an amazing aptitude for the craft. And his opening line of A Tale of Two Cities is well understood by any frequent traveler. The rest of this novel is a bit off topic.

As a frequent flyer myself, I quickly learned to focus on the “best of times” aspects, ‘cuz the worst is gonna happen and there is nothing you can do about it. For me, that “best of times” revolved around the people I met much more than the places I’ve been. The worst, some really bad airplane food, and those same car-rental folks. Chuck, you were so right.

Airplanes are seldom fun, but they help you reach amazing places, and provide unbeatable sunsets.

Airplanes are seldom fun, but they help you reach amazing places, and provide unbeatable sunsets.

I was reminded of this recently when a Facebook friend invited me into the game of List The States You’ve Visited and Describe. My friend’s list was a “worst of times” remembrance. I hadn’t before counted the states I’ve seen, but I played along. And as I did, I instantly recalled “best of times.” The faces, names (mostly faces) and stories of people I’ve encountered have given me an amazing sense of the 50 States (at least the 45 I’ve seen) as travel destination.

Mississippi – Not a lot of business travelers visit Laurel, Mississippi. That’s a shame. During a couple visits here, I met an amazing family who invited me into their home for dinner. A plastic-topped dining table covered with boiled shrimp – no, I mean covered – with sides of corn-on-the-cob and homemade bread. After the meal (where the t-shirt-clad son-in-law ate dozens of shrimp, never said a word, then left early), we walked to the private catfish pond and fed the herd, er, school.

Oregon – Bordered by the most under-rated coastal stretch in the nation, Oregon is a treasure that the locals would like to keep that way. That doesn’t mean they’re rude to visitors. My wife and I spent a day or two in Newport, Oregon during – as our great fortune would have it – the area’s local micro-brew fest. It could be the amazing hand-crafted brews, or the incredible landscape – I don’t know – but these are some of the nicest people anywhere.

West Virginia – “Almost Heaven,” yes, but West Viriginia’s lesser-known tagline is “Home of the Misunderstood.” Outside the nation of Poland, no place is as ridiculed as West Viriginia. And after my first visit (I’ve since been about 8 times) I quit making jokes and I could be the loudest non-resident defender of the state and its people. Yes, it’s the kind of place where every head turns when a stranger walks into the room. But when the stranger takes one more step forward, he’s no longer a stranger as the locals welcome all. That, and the view from top or bottom side of the New River Bridge (flip over the West Virginia quarter) is unforgettable.

Endure the worst of times as you travel anywhere and you’ll be rewarded with the best of times, the best of people and the best of places. Most importantly, get off the freeway once in a while and explore.

I’ll have more travel remembrances in the near future, including more of these great states, plus a couple trips across the pond.


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