Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Know Thyself

There are many ways that we classify ourselves--by nationality, profession, religion, ethnicity, gender, hometown, or political affiliation. We align ourselves with various causes, sort ourselves by our marital status, whether we have kids, our level of education or which professional sports teams we support.

On an otherwise glorious trip to Jackson Hole, WY, I discovered another very important way that humans divide: those that take bus tours and those who would rather pull their own teeth out with rusty pliers. Turns out, I am in the latter faction. Now, I was fairly aware of my status in this realm, but the tour in question, which was a 3 hour jaunt through Grand Tetons National Park, seemed different. For starters, it embarked at the Four Seasons Hotel, and was part of a conference that, until that point had been beyond flawless in terms of logistics, organization, luxury and general well-thought-outedness. This excursion was the exception to the rule. Little did we know, we had embarked on the Highway to Hell.

For starters, we were part of a two bus caravan that involved a large number--80 in all--of seniors and families with young children. The number and composition came as a bit of a shock. Somehow, I expected to be in a small van accompanied by about 8 hale and hardy hikers who would breeze from panoramic vista to panoramic vista with frequent forays on foot to even more scenic perches. I was disabused of this pretty vision immediately. Simply boarding the bus seemed to take days. When we finally departed, 20-odd minutes late, I had a sense of foreboding.

The temperature on the bus was quite warm; the AC seemed to be faltering and only served to blow hot, dry air from its ventilation system. This continued remorselessly throughout the afternoon, invoking the sense, despite the altitude, of a descent to the blazing fires of Hell. This infernal feeling was enhanced by the appalling conversations that surrounded me, many that took place via cell phone (digestive distress, self-declared professional brilliance, children's sleep patterns, traumatic manicure episode).

Our intrepid and knowledgeable guide was a plus; he had seemingly endless information about the park's history and politics at his fingertips, and was extremely conversant in the geology, flora and fauna of the Teton region. Sadly, he did not have sufficient assertiveness to make my fellow excursionists move any faster than the glaciers we were scheduled to view. Before we arrived at our first destination, a mere twenty minutes into the outing, the other bus requested a bathroom break. For reasons that remain a mystery, both buses were required to stop at the one-latrine roadside facility, and naturally, once the bathroom was made available, at least 30 of our lemming like bus riders availed themselves. Need I repeat that there was only one unisex loo, and the stop lasted nearly an hour?

By this time, I was fuming, both literally and figuratively.

We pressed on, and as we passed an old homestead that the guide mentioned in passing as a registered historic site (though not significant in any way, like, say, The Liberty Bell or The White House) and one of our number asked to stop to take a photo. I am not sure what type of genetic or constitutional flaw a person possesses that enables him to inconvenience 79 other people for his caprice and self-centeredness but I had the ill-luck to be seated near one. Naturally, we stopped, and 50-odd people de-barked to snap a picture of an old barn. Twenty minutes later, we resumed motion, now 2 hours into a 3 hour tour and yet to arrive at one of the 2 scheduled stops.

When we finally did reach Jenny Lake, an idyllic and pristine spot, we were given a whopping 15 minutes to explore the area--because the wretched sods who hadn't sense enough to void their bladders before boarding a bus and the shutterbugs who wanted to snap an old barn had eaten up the time allotted there. And when we returned to the bus (self promptly, of course, my cretinous fellow travelers not), we learned that the second scheduled stop at Jackson Lake had been scratched due to time constraints.

I think the fact that you did not read about me in the paper shows remarkable self-control.

So, Graces, Socrates was right. When making travel (or any other type of plans), Know Thyself. If you are someone who enjoys striking up conversations with strangers who share details of their medical histories and family trees, if you don't mind deviating from the itinerary, and will sacrifice a trip to the Eiffel Tower or Sistine Chapel in favor of the souvenir shop, then bus tours may be for you. But as for me, I'll go it alone, or with carefully screened companions.