I could have killed an entire group of feeble old people. I mean, grabbed them, walkers and canes and all, and tossed them one by one over the side. It was on the Norwegian coastal steamer, the Hurtigruten, and all I wanted was a cup of morning coffee before we left the ship.
No big deal. I'll take that in a paper cup. Don't need a stirrer. I don't need a top or one of those insulating grips for the side. Just a single bloody cup of black coffee.
But I was queued behind 39 elderly group tourists who, God bless 'em, had SAVED ALL THEIR LIVES FOR THIS, and who, for some reason, because they weren't in Toledo, or Wichita, or wherever it was they came from, but on their TRIP OF A LIFETIME in A FOREIGN LAND, were way beyond their abilities in a cafeteria line.
They had the same keen grasp of logistics and situational awareness as the guy in front of you in the grocery checkout who doesn't help bag the groceries, so the poor old bent over clerk does that while he stands there and stares out into space all entitled and bored-looking, and then once it's all done and the clerk says it's $73.19, only then does he think to get out his checkbook.
At the checkout end of the cafeteria line it was like all these people saw these FOREIGN COINS in their hands for the first time and they WEREN'T NICKELS DIMES AND QUARTERS. And one by one, all 39 froze. What were they possibly to do?
On the road in general, I say go with the company of people from the local culture, on the theory that you can hang out with Americans in America.
Once I bought a ticket on a chancy Nepalese charter flight from Kathmandu up to see Mt. Everest. We'd just fly past the peak and turn around and come back so both sides of the plane could have a look. I took this photo.
It was short and cheap and you got what you paid for, and things came down to waiting in the cold on the tarmac, where I learned a trick that has served me well since. There were lots of American accents and most of them were nervous (you buys your tickets, you takes your chances) and a little loud. They cast about for comrades in their dicey little adventure.
My trick was not to have spoken within their earshot. They may have thought I was Italian, Spanish, anything they wanted, but they didn't know I spoke English. I found the most pleasant little man at the far end of our group who spoke English quietly, with an Indian accent, and I enjoyed his company entirely more than Phil and Stephanie's from Phoenix.
I remember once in Bangkok when we shared a hotel shuttle from the airport with a group about to set out on a tour of Burma. They quizzed the guide about whether the sandwiches in their packed-lunches-to-come would be cheese or something else, because they really preferred cheese, but they might be okay with peanut butter and jelly.
Good Lord, these were people going to a land ruled by a junta named SLORC where the money was denominated in 45 and 90 kyat notes to match the leader's astrologically auspicious favorite number of nine, and what was on their minds? Sandwiches. And the tour leader answered patiently and I knew I would never, ever become a tour guide.
So we don't do groups. That is, until next week. We're off before dawn next Thursday morning with seventeen people we've never met.
Whatever happens will all play out here. Please check back.