Before we had kids and were therefore locked into the academic year schedule, our preferred time of year to take a vacation was late September. With most of the summer tourists returned to work and school, we didn’t face huge crowds that you often deal with at tourist destinations, but we found we were often the youngest people around by as much as 40 years.
For the most part, this wasn’t a problem. We weren’t huge socializers and were never really looking to meet people on vacation. Those times we did wind up speaking to others, we were certainly happy to listen to stories of those with a bit more life experience than we had.
On our summertime trip to Alaska, we noticed that there were two distinct groups on the Alaska Railroad - the elders, who were part of a tour and were travelling to meet a cruise ship, and the serious backcountry hikers, closer to our age and equipped with packs and sleeping bags, off to brave the bears at Denali. We didn’t exactly fit into either of those groups. We were staying in a cabin at our destination, and though we would be hiking, there would be no overnights in the woods, at least not on purpose.
At one point during our stay we encountered an older couple we decided we wanted to be when we grew up. They rose early in the morning and took in a full day’s hike with the proper equipment and supplies. Their fitness and activity was impressive. We would be like that in 30 years we told ourselves. Pretty funny considering we weren’t much like that even back then.
When we were first married, and had little money to travel, I used to worry that the tour groups would be the only way I would get to see most of the rest of the world; elderly, cranky and not terribly mobile, shuffling around in a housedress and clutching my nitroglycerin pills. Never mind that we usually were travelling when I would say things like this.
See, in large groups, these elders could be overwhelming, and rude. After several encounters I named them the Silver Foxes after the bus tours. Never get between a Silver Fox and a souvenir T-shirt sale, trust me. You may get an elbow to the ribs.
Although not all of these people looked like they walked out a Far Side cartoon, their behavior might lead you to believe that they had.
Ugly American behavior is certainly not restricted to age, but my first notice of it ever, was a couple at a neighboring table in Canada where an older man with a distinct twang was complaining that his green salad was “too green.” He was, it turns out, expecting the wedge of iceberg lettuce, drowned in Thousand Island dressing and accompanied by a few slices of cucumber and some orange-looking cherry tomatoes.
Another time we found ourselves near some elders who took turns complaining about how awful their grandchildren were. That was a most depressing conversation, and we didn’t even have kids at the time.
Too many of my bad encounters involved bathrooms. There was that time on the ferry to Nova Scotia that I was waiting for an empty stall when maybe two dozen elderly women tried to cram themselves into the space where I was waiting. It was chaos, there was nowhere for all these women to stand let alone try to form an orderly line. Finally, a taller, Bea Arthur- type woman took charge. “Okay,” she said, looking directly at me, “everyone with a bladder problem goes to the head of the line.” I left.
Later on the trip back, I was actually in the stall when there came a knock on the door. “Just a minute,” I called. Whoever was on the other side responded by pulling on the door to see if it would open. “Just a minute,” I called again. Another tug on the door. “There’s someone in here” I yelled. Another yank, and the door burst open, the force of the invader enough to loosen the latch.
“Hey!” I yelled, grabbing for my pants.
“Well,” the old woman said crossly, “you left the door unlocked!”