April 8. 2007

Luggageaholic

With the exception of guitars and fly rods, and maybe tools, I am not really much of a collector of things. I don’t clip articles out of magazines, save coupons, butter tubs or other things that some people are prone to let accumulate; besides, I could argue that the things I do collect are valuables that may be worth more some day than they are now.

There is one embarrassing exception, luggage. I am not exactly sure how this has happened; ok, I know exactly how it happened. It is my quest for the perfect size, shape, and weight bag to carry my stuff on any trip I go on. Surveying my basement I see duffel bags, rolling duffel bags, backpacks of various shapes and sizes, rolling tote bags, shoulder bags, hydro-packs, suitcases, rolling suitcases, and things that I am not sure what they are. There are the backpacks that a much younger version of my wife and I hauled across Europe. This was in the days before some genius figured out that putting little wheels on the luggage would allow the owner to roll it instead of carry it on his back. I have fond memories of hoisting these packs into overhead bins on trains while my obviously impressed European seatmates said things like, “look at the cool backpacks that the Americans have. I am so envious of how they are backpacking across Europe.” Of course, I don’t speak German or French so that is what I imagined they were saying as I whacked them with the loops and belts dangling from my trusty luggage. I don’t want to know what they were really saying. In retrospect the actual miracle was that my wife got everything she needed in one backpack for three weeks in Europe! Those days are over, but I still can’t bring myself to get rid of the backpacks(see below).

There is the giant black duffel bag from army surplus in which my son packed all his belongings for a semester in Spain. On its journey the luggage tag was torn off and it did not make it to Spain with its owner. Eventually they were reunited but not without some anxious moments including a strange call to me from the airline that somehow identified me as the owner of the bag. “That bag is supposed to be in Spain, not New York,” I told them, “and it’s not mine.” I should not have added the last part. Airline officials have no sense of irony or humor.

I think all this started during my backpacking days. I became so obsessed with packing light and small that I even whittled down the handle of my tooth brush. When you are hauling a pack up a mountain you are happy to save as many ounces as possible. That thinking made its way into my everyday travel and thus my quest for the perfect bag.

After 9/11 the bag search became even more difficult. The first time I tried to take a fly rod case on the plane I was told by an officious TSA agent, “You could hit someone with that.” Yes I could, but right now it would not be anyone actually on the plane! Also, fishing flies were banned. I use mostly size 18-22 barbless dry flies for fishing. I have received many involuntary body piercings from these flies during the course of fishing and believe me; they are less dangerous than an ink pen. However, with fishing gear banned I had to find a suitable bag for transport. Since my wife does not read my blog (and is actually kind of proud that she doesn’t) I can say that my fly rods are quite expensive and passing them through security and putting them in the hold of a plane out of my sight made me very uncomfortable. Obviously I needed a secure bag; and one with a proper lineage such as Orvis, Cabelas, G. Loomis, or Sage. These things are important to fisherman though hardly anyone else notices or cares. The problem is that the one I purchased weighed about 20% of the allowable weight of fifty pounds before it was packed and needless to say made it difficult the get all the items needed for a fishing trip in the bag and under the allowable weight. If the bag was not completely filled, it was hard to maneuver. Fortunately the TSA relented and is now allowing rods and flies on the plane again. They probably hired a fly fisherman as the new boss; so my oversized bag sits in the corner.

I am writing this because yesterday I got my new travel bag. It is perfect. It has a place for wet things and dry things. It rolls and has an adjustable handle. It is made of tough ripstop nylon and has the perfect pedigree. Soon it will occupy a special place in the basement alongside my Travelpro (my favorite for business travel) and all the other once perfect luggage. I can’t help it. My name is Alton, I am a luggageaholic.