Archive for November, 2013

“Be careful what you wish for…you just might get it”, so goes the old saying. Ever since I was young I wanted to travel. I was impressed by two books, The Wealth of Nations , The Travels of Marco Polo and  any documentaries/photojournalism work from the wild world outside my tiny corner. By the time I was eighteen I had been infected by the travel bug so that as soon as I was able to get my first passport and the inoculations necessary  I was gone. I have been traveling or planning to travel ever since.

‘Getting away’ has always been a personal obsession. The preoccupation with foreign countries and cultures has been a distraction. While I should have been in university with my cohort I was exploring my fantasy world. I missed all the usual benchmarks anyone of my generation strove to achieve and the knowledge of those that did has faded like a mist. I have never attended a wedding or a funeral. To my family I existed only as a postcard or a phone call at Christmas time, appearing only in the event of  some catastrophe.

I learned so many things on the road that I can’t share with anyone. My relationships are transient by practice. Time away has severed all ties.   I pay a price for my wayward ways. I am more comfortable in a hotel room or short term rental bungalow than in the house I own. I prefer the company of strangers. I go home and feel like an alien when nothing looks familiar . The cross streets of New Delhi or Bangkok are more recognizable than the place of my youth.

And yet I get emails from people who say they envy the travel lifestyle. I say to anyone who considers what we do as a permanent choice for themselves, “Be careful what you wish for… because you just might get it”.

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Trish and I have a thing for open markets. We’ve visited them all over the world, from folksy parking lot affairs in Finland, the famous Chatachak Market in Bangkok to what is probably the largest open air weekend market on the planet. The cooler fall weather has brought an enormous number of people out to sell their household overflow and sideline business items. Today there are over 4000 vendors on the massive site over one square mile at Traders Village, Grand Prairie Texas…..located about 14 miles outside Dallas. You really have to wear comfortable shoes for this adventure.

Everything from used clothing and toys to tires, mattresses,  Santeria magic concoctions  and live animals are for sale somewhere on the site. This is a primarily Mexican influenced market. People assume you speak Spanish if you’re here. The atmosphere is friendly, familial and raucous. Music blasts from car stereos and DJ bars for sale almost every ten feet. The isles are crowded with children in strollers as the average family appears to have at least six children per unit. Young moms all have a second baby muffin top spilling over their jeans.

If I was to guess I would say that there was at least 350,000 to 500,000 people at the peak of the afternoon . Unlike many city markets most goods are $1.00. I wonder who would buy so many used children’s clothing items and junk stereo equipment but it’s obvious people are packing items into trolly carts and winding through the crowds towards a vehicle. Tools of every kind can be had here…if you want saws , wrenches or landscaping equipment , this is the place to come. If you want to see the Mexican American influence in Texas you simply have to come here.

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November is a month that brings change to thousands of peoples lives who live in northern latitudes. Call them snowbirds or escapee’s, they all have one thing in common, a driving compulsion to leave the northern latitudes for sunny southern climates. The exodus of Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, is as predictable as the migration of birds. Leaving Canada or Finland for the winter months has become a cultural norm… a statement of your financial status. Those left behind are considered ‘unfortunate’.

Suntan holidays became popular when soldiers returning from the tropics after WWII arrived home from the Pacific with ‘sunshine skin’.  There was a huge demographic shift  in the late 1940’s when rural populations moved en mass to the cities. The balance flipped from 80%  rural and 20% urban to the exact opposite. The changing economy and increased post war wealth introduced a new aspect to the North American culture…recreation. Suntans on the streets of New York and London became a status symbol. It said you could afford to get away.

It was fashion mavin Coco Chanel that put tropical leisure on the map for the masses. She appeared on the cover of Life magazine sporting a suntan. This was a shocking display at that time, rather like a Lady Gaga moment. The confluence of adventure seeking ex-soldiers, sudden wealth and a new found societal acceptance of sunburn bloomed into a tourism crush in between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. It was suddenly cool and possible to winter in Mexico and the Caribbean. Aviation technology produced long range commercial passenger planes and locations like Hawaii and the South Pacific became accessible.  The cruise ship and retirement community industries were born.

In November the Boomer generation of Europe flock by the million to the southern shores of the Mediterranean, the North Americans focus is on Florida, Mexico and S.E. Asia. The post war economy has been very generous to the Boomer generation. It was a time when education and competition for seats in university was cheap and easy. Industries were still wanting for a few good men and opportunity for advancement was abundant. Inflation has made many Boomers rich with the passive holding of real estate investments. A prosperous and beneficial retirement is within sight for a great many  because defined pension benefits were once the norm.

We take the tourism industry for granted but it didn’t always exist. It wasn’t until the advent of ‘sunshine skin’ that it became possible to visit the undeveloped islands and continents of the third world. Now when  millions of tourists flock south for the winter they have forgotten the struggles of a preceding generation who didn’t enjoy the access to infrastructure available today. I shouldn’t take for granted that I can fly to Mallorca or Bangkok on a whim, because it wasn’t always  so easy. When the cold wind begins to blow we should thank a diminutive fashion mavin named Coco for the birth of modern tourism and the post war economic boom that produced the incredible wealth and leisure we enjoy.

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