Cambrian: Slice of Life

Senior travels & travails

The slick ads show sleek, slender, sexy senior citizens with golf clubs and tennis racquets in hand, heading for the vacations of their dreams.

What those ads don’t show is the troop of stagehands working behind the scenes to haul around the tons of luggage many seniors must tote along on their travels.

Face it — all that stuff our aging bods require every day, just to maintain, takes up space. Lots of it.

When the bellhop’s eyes glaze over as he rolls his cart into our hotel room, and then yells to his associate, “Hey Rick. Get a load of this! And while you’re at it, bring another cart” … well, that’s usually when I vow to become a mum nun and never go anywhere, ever again.

It wasn’t always this way, I grouse glumly under my breath. I can remember when I could go on vacation on the spur of the moment, when the most complex part of traveling was making sure I had enough gas to get where I was going and enough money to get back home again.

Saying to myself, “Self, I feel like going to Vegas (Catalina, Colorado, Jamaica) this weekend” was about as complicated as it got.

Back then, my luggage was little more than a duffel stuffed with a swimsuit, a toothbrush and a change of clothes or two.

Everything mixed, matched and (during my life’s rare 10-minute thin periods) was both flattering and trendy. I could sling everything I needed over one shoulder and still have the strength to take it somewhere.

(I’m sure I’m gilding the nostalgia lily a bit, but then, we tend to do that when we get old and cranky).

Then I got married.

At first, traveling was still pretty simple. So, maybe vacationing required two duffels instead of one, and we often added a camera case or other specialty baggage. No big deal. We each had two hands.

Then we had a baby, and everything changed. In spades. Especially when we took the quantum jump from one child to two. Then it felt as if we were trying to transport a rowdy troupe of hungry rhesus monkeys in an ancient, brakeless VW van with square tires.

Most of the time, we got nowhere very rapidly.

But there was hope, we reassured ourselves. “Once the kids grow up and leave home, vacationing will get back to normal again,” we mumbled like a mantra. “We can travel light again then.”

Think again, chum.

If we thought it took a lot of dreck to move children from Point A to Point B, let alone any sub-points along the way, we didn’t have a clue what the aching elderly would require on vacation.

To wit, some seniors we know (who shall remain nameless) carry with them:

• A bedpad to make concrete-like hotel beds a little more forgiving, and special pillows;

• A small HEPA air filter to combat asthma/allergy problems;

• Holders in which to safely overnight the bionic pieces they remove every night … glasses or contact lenses, partial plates, hearing aids, back belts, ankle braces, orthopedic shoe supports … all that fun stuff;

• That certain shampoo, a particular lotion. Cream to soften dry hands, soothe itchy skin, camouflage the bags under their eyes and to moisturize their nasal and other passages;

• A magnifying mirror in which to spot (with aging eyes) the forest of prickly hairs that pop up like errant political lawn signs in inappropriate locations, hairs that alert observers that “this body is getting SOOOOOO oooooooooold.”

• Clothes for changes in weather. Different attire for cool nights, rainy days, hot afternoons or if it snows (in San Francisco in June? Well, maybe).

• Changes of shoes to accommodate whichever leg or back parts were kvetching on the mornings after the nights before (which, in seniorland, means the day after you walked way too far);

• And all those prescriptions. Pills to make you sleep and pills to wake you up. Medicines for your lumbago, allergies, heart and other innards … and to provide the next payment on the drug manufacturer’s corporate limo.

Of course, by the time we pack all that into the suitcases, we’re much too tired to put it in the car and go anywhere. Ooops. Minivan. Because the idea of trying to shove all that gear into an MG or an Accord is fodder for an “I Love Lucy” segment.

Mercy. We are getting old, aren’t we? But it certainly beats the alternative.

Now all I need to do is find out where to hire those stagehands.

NOTE: This column ran first in The Cambrian on Aug. 12, 1999.