You should take
your wife to Europe," the Travel Agent said. "It's quite simple really,
and it won't cost you a penny. Well, maybe a few nickels for incidentals. All
you do is accompany 30 people to the Olympic Games in Rome and you and your
wife go free."
It was a
frightening idea. Steering a collection of flag-wavers and old widows around
the Continent was not my idea of fun—or even of work. I am not a tourist type;
I forget important papers, and train and plane schedules confuse me. I pointed
this out to the Travel Agent, adding: "After all, I'm a sports editor, not
a travel guide."
it," he said. "You have the experience of covering three Olympics.
Everybody will rush to join this tour. And you won't have a thing to worry
about. You'll be met everywhere by couriers who will take over the details.
They will greet you at the airports, arrange for buses, check you into hotels,
explain the customs of the country and tell you how much to tip. This will be a
first-class tour: fine hotels, good Olympics tickets and special parties. Think
about it," I said. And that was my first mistake. I made my second mistake
that night at home by not thinking about it enough. "You just lost a trip
to Europe today," I told my wife. "Silly, isn't it?" And I repeated
what the Agent had said: "For each 15 people we get one pass. Thirty
people, two passes. He says a million Americans will tour Europe this summer
and Rome will be like Grand Central Station. He says he can guarantee good
accommodations and tickets. He says our friends will rush to join this tour
but, of course, it's out of the question." My wife, only half listening,
was already framing her shopping list—home and abroad.
before scheduled departure we had grown to 35 strong, and I was learning the
travel business. I learned of "wholesalers" who take over the handling
of tours from travel agencies for a commission of about 10%, and of
subwholesalers who specialize in certain cities. I also learned about what the
industry calls "members," the trusting souls who join such tours and
who, from disembodied characters known only through letters, phone calls and
checks, evolve into the actors of the Tour Leader's personal little drama—the
Star Salesman, the Quiet Doctor, Mr. Dignity, the Happy Foursome and, of
course, the Relatives. All of them turned out to be quite different from what I
With our group
secured, the Agent felt it was time for a hard lesson in psychology. He
revealed that there would be difficulties, small crises, now and then. "In
this business," he said, "you must be able to rationalize, to turn a
debit into a credit. You must remember that you are dealing with human beings
and no two humans are alike."
My career in
rationalization began a few days later. The Star Salesman telephoned to ask
what I was going to do about the change in the air schedules. He had heard (I
hadn't) that our midweek jet flight from New York to Lisbon, the first leg of
our 10-city tour, had been changed to a propeller plane.
"What are you
going to do?" he repeated.
check," I hedged. The check revealed that he had indeed scooped me. What
was I to do? There was no other flight possible that did not involve losing or
gaining a day, or revising the entire schedule. I phoned the Star Salesman.
"After all," I said, "the DC-7 was the queen of the skies only a
year ago.... Planes go faster west to east because of the tail winds.... Flying
is smooth over the water and we'll sleep like babies all night."
He didn't cancel.
We refunded the $10 jet surcharge to all members.