So many people were taking trips all over the globe with Thomas Cook Travel that when the agency declared bankruptcy the other day, a “massive tourist airlift’’ had to be organized.
The agency, according to a newspaper story, was formed in 1841 by a Baptist minister who wished to take 500 or so people across England to a temperance meeting. From that humble start, a world-wide travel agency blossomed, until last week.
A publication called Business Insider said the travel company was unable to get a $250 million emergency loan and went bankrupt. I saw sources that put the number of stranded travelers anywhere between 150,000 and 600,000. Either way, that’s a huge bunch of people looking for a lift home.
When I read the newspaper story, the first image that came to mind — and I mean no disrespect to the soldiers and sailors of World War II — was of the evacuation of those thousands of stranded troops at Dunkirk. That, of course, was a life and death situation with the fate of the free world hanging in the balance. It was a deadly grim business.
This recent tourist airlift was serious, of course, particularly if you were among those people left high and dry thousands of miles from home. Many of those stranded probably were on business. Others no doubt were on personal or family matters. I’m sure a fair number of those stranded travelers were on holiday — a weekend lark, a few days in Cabo or the Bahamas or Greenland or maybe Panama, whatever the latest vacation hot spot is for the smart tourist set. There seems to be a passion in society today to be going somewhere all of the time. Maybe it’s the same urge that sent Daniel Boone heading west.
I’m not jealous. At least, I don’t think I am. I don’t envy the people who travel regularly. That much I know. I’ve never been much of a traveler. If it didn’t involve a work assignment, I didn’t go. Oh, a few trips to the Black Hills when the kids were younger, with a swing through the Badlands and a stop at Wall Drug. But not London or Paris or Moscow (not the one in Russia and not the one in Idaho). Not anywhere, really.
I haven’t flown commercially for almost 25 years. I’ve never owned a passport, although I toyed briefly with getting one when the Real ID law brought tighter identification requirements to the process of obtaining a federally compliant South Dakota driver license. I’ve never gone through a TSA checkpoint or worried about removing my shoes or having liquids in my shaving kit or whatever all else travelers worry about. I wouldn’t have the first clue how and what to pack for an air flight. I don’t even own a piece of luggage with wheels and a handle.
If I were to find myself on a tour bus on a rainy morning somewhere in the mountains of Spain, I’d probably lean toward the person next to me and ask, “Do you suppose we’re getting any of this moisture back home?’’ Next thing you know, I’d be standing by myself on the side of the mountain, watching the bus disappear around the bend in the road.
As a kid, I could count on Dad to take us to the Black Hills once a summer. We stayed in a self-contained cabin near Canyon Lake and did nothing but travel around seeing the tourist sites we’d seen the previous summer. Dad organized a couple of ambitious trips; one east as far as Niagara Falls and back through Canada, the other west to the Oregon coast by way of western Canada. Mostly, we stayed close to home. Gosh, just planning a trip from the farm near Reliance to Mitchell for a shopping day was like Patton organizing his campaign to take Messina.
When our retirements approached, Nancy and I talked about doing some traveling. She wanted to see Hawaii. I wanted to visit the Civil War battlefields. I suppose we could have found a way to do both. Wisely, we compromised and did neither.
I say wisely because we haven’t been stranded anywhere.