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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Thumbnail Traveler's Ten Basic Rules of Travel...for Pinheads

“Travel is the best teacher. The only way to an open mind is by taking a plane out into the open world.” 
                                                            ― C. JoyBell C.


(Okay, dear friend, lean in just a little. It's about time we had a discussion, you and I. We've been talking about a lot of aspects of travel for the last couple of years, so I think we can have a frank and open discussion about something that needs to be addressed, and you've probably wanted to be the one to do it yourself. But I'll save you the trouble and take the heat. I'm talking about stupid passengers. We both know who I mean.)

I am not sure what happens -- or why it happens -- but something happens to a small group of people when they are dropped off at the front entrance of an airport terminal. They change. They become something...different. 

It's as if this small group of normally quite respectable Doctor Jeckyl upstanding citizens become sniveling, distasteful and sneering Mister Hydes when they walk through those front doors to the terminal, and they begin to behave in ways they would never think to do in other aspects of their lives. 

Their friends would never allow it, and even their children might be tempted to kick them in the shins if they ever did this sort of thing at home. Certainly their parol officers would find it cause to send them back to prison, and divorce attorneys could use to collect a far greater share of the estate from any judge with a frequent flier plan.

And that person is now and forever to be labeled The Pinhead.

Yes, yes. I see your hand fluttering, trying to keep me quiet. It's not politically correct, and you might say I'm being rude, but you know exactly the sort of person I'm referring to. In light of day they are nice, for the most part thinking, people. But when the suitcases are pulled from the back of the car and deposited on the sidewalk, they metamorphosize, Hulk-like, into...well, oblivious, mean and entitled wretches who put Ebenezer Scrooge to shame in even his most foul of pre-transformational moods.

Don't shush me, you know I'm right. 

None of the major media travel mavens would be so blunt, but trust me they're thinking it. Wendy Perrin, JD Andrews, Andrew McCarthy. They would gently tsk, tsk and roll their eyes and think dark, but private, thoughts. TV hosts Samantha Brown, Andrew Zimmern, Phil Keoghan and all the rest would turn away, silently dismissing the offender as an amateur, a rube.

A Pinhead.

Okay, Bourdain would say something. And Todd Carmichael. They would certainly react. The authorities might not even find the Pinhead's body. I grant you that. Barbecue and coffee, anyone?

But for me, it's gotten to the point I have to speak up. I have to call a Pinhead a Pinhead.

I am optimistic. I think they can be cured, if given enough love and support from the rest of the travel community. Perhaps the issue is one of ignorance, or a lack of love in their lives. All that may be required is that we hug them to our collective bosom, where they can be educated or, as necessary, gently snuffed.

So. In honor of that optimism, I want to do my part. To do my duty. To God and...wait. That's the Boy Scout oath. Sorry.

It's basic stuff. Follow the Rules. You, gentle reader, will recognize them all. But we, you and I, understand them and follow them already. We're the people who exchange the glances, the long-suffering rolls of our eyes, when the rubes, the Pinheads, begin their antics. They, in turn, don't see us as anything other than obstacles in the direct path of their self-absorbed and usually frantic wrestling of Subaru-sized Samsonites down the aisle or into the overheads or out of the hands of a particularly dedicated airline employee who is begging them to understand that a sailor's steamship trunk is really, really, really NOT a carry-on.

The Very Direct Rules are common sense which, as more than one comedian has observed, is rarely either with some people. But you will know, my friend: these are rules we recognize, we understand, we appreciate. 

I suggest printing them out, keeping them handy to offer, helpfully, as a kind gift to the oblivious, the rubes, the Pinheads.

Or roll it up and whack 'm with it. Same net effect, in the end.

Let's get to it. 

Here are -- for those miscreants who insist upon treating the airline industry as their own transportation system and the rest of us unfortunate fellow travelers as inconveniences along for the voyage -- a set of Very Direct Rules for Pinheads to follow. Ten of them. I wanted to do more, but am not sure these folks can count higher than ten, so we need to keep it simple.

I see you nodding in understanding. Let's begin.


1) COURTESY: Be polite to the flight attendants. Listen to their instructions. They have flown a lot more than you have and seen things that would make you drop into a fetal position and suck your thumb. They also know karate. If they tell you to stop wrestling with your bag and check it, or sit down and let other people pass, do it. Now.

2) BEHAVIOR: Be professional and courteous at airports and on planes. Follow established travel protocols and be thoughtful of your fellow travelers. We outnumber you.

- BOARDING THE AIRCRAFT: Board in your group, not whenever you damned well feel like it. They announce these things for a reason. Listen to the announcements. All of them. Yes, you might be far more interested in watching Sarah Palin's learned Fox News exposition on shooting dolphins from a helicopter, but trust me, the gate attendant is going to have a much more immediate and profound impact on your short-term future.

- Don't take oversized baggage on the plane with the fanciful expectation no one will notice you trundling down the boarding tube with the equivalent of two fifty pound sacks of grain under each arm. Everyone sees you and it immediately brands you an amateur traveler. A pinhead.

- If, once you've pummeled your way onto the aircraft and down the aisle, neatly connecting with the arms or heads of everyone politely seated to both sides of the plane, you realize you're having trouble getting the bag to fit, guess what? That's your first clue you should have gate-checked the damn thing -- go back, offer your apologies as you connect again with the collective noggins and shoulders of First Class, take the bag back to the front -- or follow flight attendant instructions, whichever is the least likely to get you throttled. Don't try to smash it into the bin. Don't shove everyone else's luggage around in an attempt to get more room. Don't begin rearranging things as if you're the Head Interior Designer at Macy's New York. Even if YOU don't care about the condition of the cra...er, stuff, in your bag, crushing it into the bin may damage somebody else's property and genuinely angers the people who are losing patience in line behind you as you make a public spectacle of yourself.

- When you're finally on board -- and have put your properly-sized bag in the overhead compartment quickly and cleanly -- sit down. Let the 57 people you've kept waiting board the plane, find their seats and stow their stuff now that you're done.

- EXITING THE AIRCRAFT: Wait your turn. Don't leap out of your seat like a member of the Joffrey Ballet as soon as the seatbelt light is extinguished. There's a polite protocol in allowing rows ahead of you to get off the plane before you begin barreling for the exit. This sort of behavior makes other passengers silently vow that if they ever see you again you're not likely to make it to the exit in event of an emergency. Just sayin'. Lots of chaos in those situations and someone just might get body blocked by the Big Guy in row 10. See the comments above and below marked "amateur" and "spectacle". Big Guy doesn't look too happy at the moment.

3) SAFETY FIRST: Speaking of which, if the seat belt sign IS lit, at any time, sit your ass down. Don't get up. Don't move about the cabin. Don't suddenly remember your video game is in the overhead and get up to retrieve it. Doing so immediately confirms you're an amateur. Or a self-important idjit. And an annoyance. An amateur annoying self-important idjit. Is this what you want on your resume, or is it already there in sparkling red letters? Oh, you need a restroom break? Too bad. Siddown.

(An exception would be a small child. They rarely plan ahead. But you're a full grown adult. Why would you want to effectively announce to the entire plane that you can, or won't, control your own bladder? YOUR Mommy and Daddy always told you to go before leaving the house. Or the airport. Whichever.)

4) A REWARDING EXPERIENCE: Enjoy yourself. Being a royal pain in the ass does nobody any good, nor does it win you friends. And believe me, with the way Big Guy is glaring at you, the flight attendants are the best friends you've got on this plane. Rude people get rude service. If someone is arguing with you, perhaps you ought to consider that maybe it isn't that person who is being obtuse.

5) FRUGAL IS AS FRUGAL DOES: If you're on a short duration flight and have paid economy rates, don't expect a full meal. You may not even get peanuts. Sip your cola and understand that if you're in the main cabin you've already traded economy for service.

6) CONVERSING WITH THE LOCALS: When you're boarding, and you approach your designated row to take the middle seat, if you find the two people on the window and aisle are already engaged in friendly chatter, do not sit down and cut off the conversation. Smile, excuse yourself and at the very least offer to exchange seats if you're not interested in talking.

On the same note, if you're doing 90% of the talking in a given row it might be a clue that the other passengers don't need to see every single photograph of your grandchildren all through the duration of the flight.

7) WHIPLASH ARISING: If the coast is clear, the seatbelt light is dark, and you want to get up from your seat, DO NOT grab the back of the seat in front of you and use it to haul yourself to your feet. The person in front of you suddenly feels their seat slip away and it's a disconcerting experience at the very least. Gravity tends to work, even at 33,000 feet -- so while you're casually leveraging yourself into the aisle, your unfortunate fellow passenger is enduring a roller coaster ride of backwards and forwards motion ideally suited to spill their coffee, the contents of their last meal, or disrupt a particularly pleasant dream.


For ANKLEBITERS: Control your children. Please. If you do nothing else. Control your children. This does not mean letting your four year old play in the aisle, nor does it mean it's cute when they kick at the seatback in front of them. Control your children, or at least have the courtesy to gate-check them.

For ADULTS -- WATCH THE LANGUAGE: And you, adults: control your language. I've heard pretty coarse words coming from seats next to and directly behind young ears. Not from guys, usually and somewhat startlingly, but from younger women traveling together and snickering not so quietly about some poor girl who's evidently not near enough to defend herself. Even if someone IS a bitch (or worse), don't announce it where little ears can hear and little mouths repeat. (You may find this amusing, but trust me you're in the minority opinion.)

9) LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: If you're in the first two groups boarding, put your damned right-sized luggage in an overhead near your seat. Don't put it in the bins over the first ten rows, figuring you'll just grab it on the way out. Use the one you're supposed to use, not the first one you run across.

(If you're in the latter groups boarding you're on your own, unfortunately, because some pinhead in row 28 popped their bag into row 10's bin. Also unfortunately, your bag is now over Row 28 and you need to wait out the debarkation to be able to get back and grab your bag. In the other hand, if you recognize the pinhead from row 28 grabbing his bag from the bin over your head, it's an ideal time to Accidentally head-butt them in the gizzard. Or the groin, whichever is handier.)

(Big hint for both of you: if it's bigger than a briefcase or computer bag, gate check it. Seriously, you're an idiot if you don't. A rude idiot. See rule #1 above. Yes, I'm being repetitive.)

10) GROUP THERAPY: Accept that this is a group experience, not an individual one. Under no circumstances should you ever -- ever -- have cause to stand on your seat. At the gate. In flight. While taxiing. Are you kidding? Ask a taller person for help, sure, but stand on your own chair? I rarely pray for turbulence, but you can bet your ass this is one of those times.

So, there you go. The Thumbnail Traveler Very Direct Ten Basic Rules of Travel for Pinheads. Hope you found this enlightening and amusing and something you can use to batter the pinheads with the next time they rear their ugly heads on a flight near you.

Next week, the year in review.


  1. Yet another brilliant bit of observational commentary my friend.