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Gilbert: Luggage And Baggage

12/29/09 7:55AM By Peter Gilbert
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(HOST) While he was traveling recently, two incidents got commentator and Vermont Humanities Council executive director Peter Gilbert thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of new versus old - and about all the baggage we carry with us.

(GILBERT) I'm walking through JFK Airport in New York with my carry-on suitcase.

Most carry-on bags these days have wheels, and the handle is on the narrow side of the bag, along with the extension handle for pulling the bag behind you. They stand vertically. Mine, on the other hand, doesn't have wheels, and it stands not on its skinny end, but horizontally, on the wide side. Its handle is on the wide top, like. . . well, like the handle of a suit case - before somebody thought of adding wheels and a retractable handle for pulling it across polished floors of airport terminals that have grown exponentially in size in recent decades.

In the line to go through security, a woman in her 'twenties and fashionably dressed, compliments me on my carry-on bag. "I love it," she says, "It's so retro." I hadn't thought of it as retro, and I certainly don't think of myself as particularly fashion-conscious, especially when it comes to my carry-on luggage. I had been given the bag, and its larger companion suit case, for Christmas the year before I headed off to college. It was a rite-of-passage gift -- a practical one -- from my parents more than thirty-five years ago. But I didn't say any of that to the woman. I smiled and thanked her warmly. But come to think of it, the brownish-green twill of my classic carry-on does have a certain "je ne sais quoi" about it, compared with the countless modern bags of identical black nylon.

Another story: last summer I went hiking in the Sierra Mountains of California. Driving the last few miles to the trailhead, I see two college kids hitchhiking with their backpacks, and I stop and pick them up. It's pretty clear they're not dangerous, just anxious to not have to walk the last five miles of road before the hiking trail even begins.

As they toss their backpacks into the car with my pack, one of them asks me with remarkable specificity, "Is that a Lowe Alpine Systems Expedition pack?" "Well, yes it is," I reply. "I bought it in 1978."

"My father used to have the same pack," he said.

My only solace was that he didn't say his grandfather. I sensed they looked at my pack as one of two relics in the car.

Admittedly, a carry-on bag with rollers /would/ be more convenient, and a new back pack would be a bit lighter. But it's part of the old New England motto, isn't it - "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." I know the two bags won't last forever and that's OK, but they carry, along with clothes, a lot of good memories for me. They're like two old friends; we've seen a lot together. Between us there's a lot of history, and not a lot of baggage.
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