Sometimes the world does change. For some reason the habits of the people shift from one mode to another. The American attitude toward divorce is the most obvious example for someone my age. I can recall my parents saying, “There’s no way he can run. He’s been divorced!” By the 80’s, I don’t think anyone cared much at all about the marital history of public figures. In one generation, divorce went from being a deal breaker to a non-issue for public figures. That’s a big change that people could watch happen in their lifetime.
Then other times you just start noticing something that has always been true, but for some reason you did not know it. All of us are prone to thinking that something new to us is actually new to the world. Millennials are especially prone to this. They carry on about the mundane as if they just discovered fire. But, it is not always easy to know if what you are seeing is a change in custom or just the accumulation of experience leading to a better understanding of something, that has been there all along.
Traveling, I cannot help but notice that I now have to navigate a thicket of thieves, hustlers and bandits, most of whom fly the colors of authority. For example, I check in at the airport and I’m told I will be charged $20 to check my bag. The airlines used to include this in the fee, but now they lie about it so they can pretend they are giving you a deal when you book the flight. Somewhere on the on-line booking site, I’m sure, there is language indicating that someone at the airport will rob you, but no one ever reads it.
When I was in the land of elves, I was charged $47 to check my bag. I fly often and on almost every flight, they beg people to check their items because they lack space in the overhead bins. Inevitably, there are people trying to rob the airline out of free stuff in exchange for them checking the carry on item. This feels new to me. I don’t recall having to go though this sort of stuff with the airlines. You paid a fee, they encouraged you to check your bags at no extra charge, and that was that.
It’s not just bag fees. Airlines have a million ways to rob the unsuspecting passenger. They charge for food, of course, but they also charge for things like a desired seat. I just flew on American and the man at the counter tried to “upgrade” me to an aisle or window seat. I reminded him that I was already booked in first class, where there is no middle seat. He tapped away at the keyboard for a minute, pretending to examine my claim against his company’s information, and then finally handed me a boarding pass. He had no shame.
This is not unique to airlines. Travelers are now familiar with the many people, who have their hands out, expecting something from the traveler. My swank hotel normally charges for water. Not bathing water, but the bottled water they leave in the rooms. The absurdity of this is never noticed, even when you point it out. I was once presented with a bill at check-out for a newspaper, as part of “guest services.” If they had not listed it on the bill, I would never have noticed, but it was like they wanted to rub your nose in it.
Highway robbery is not new, which is why we have the term. It just seems to me that the airlines, hotels and even restaurants used to go out of their way to let the traveler know they were not bandits. It used to be an axiom. for example, that you should eat where travelers eat, because you know the food is good and the proprietor is honest. Today, it seems like the opposite is true. Places that cater to travelers are crooks, working every angle to separate the traveler from his money.
Last night I was out to dinner at one of the many places in Miami that cater to tourists. In the fine print of the menu, our menus are now legal documents, is a notice that they apply a 12.5% gratuity to the bill. Most people, as was the case with my host, just assume they decide the tip, based on the service. They conduct themselves accordingly and often fail to notice the included gratuity. By definition, a gratuity is voluntary, but this is no longer the case at many places catering to travelers. It’s just another hand reaching into your wallet.
I’ve traveled a lot in my life, going back to the days before metal detectors and weirdos fondling your business at check-in. Air travel was always a hassle, but it now feels worse. It feels like people that talk like me and look like me are part of an organized plot to rob people like me. Everyone now has a grift, an angle they are playing to “increase their per client yield” as the business dorks say. That’s just it, behind these schemes are business majors with econ degrees looking at the customers the same way a serial killed looks at prostitutes. It is a transactional experience.
When I travel these days I’m prone to dark thoughts about the future because all along the way, I’m navigating around one hustler after another. They are kitted out in costumes and language intended to fool me into handing over my credit card, which they will pillage like Vikings on holiday. This is the very definition of a low trust society. It did not always feel like this. Maybe it was and I never noticed, but I am noticing now. My default assumption when dealing with anyone while traveling is to assume they are a bandit.
On the way back from dinner, we passed a man waving his arms next to what one would assumes was his vehicle. My host wanted to stop and help. The man waving his arms looked Middle Eastern. I told my host to not stop as this has become a way to rob people. They pretend to be a traveler in distress, you stop to help and then they rob you. She gave me that look that women give to men when they are disappointed in them, but then she realized I was probably right and we moved on.
This is the dream world of economists and libertarians. They fantacize about the day when no one has any loyalty to anyone and everyone is a moist robot, calculating their advantage in every transaction. It is a world dominated by rootless men of commerce, who go from one deal to the next, without any thoughts of the future or the past. They invest in nothing because they have loyalty to no one but themselves in the moment. If you want to see the future, go to the airport. That’s what they are preparing for us.