Are Avid Readers Better Travelers?

In On Writing Well (a terrific read for anyone who enjoys writing and would like to improve his/her writing skills), William Zinsser describes readers and writers as follows:

Who is this elusive creature the reader? He is a person with an attention span of about twenty seconds. He is assailed on every side by forces competing for his time: by newspapers and magazines, by television and radio and stereo, by his wife and children and pets, by his house and his yard and all the gadgets that he has bought to keep them spruce, and by that most potent of competitors, sleep.

If the reader is lost, it is generally because the writer has not been careful enough to keep him on the path.

Perhaps a sentence is so excessively cluttered that the reader, hacking his way through the verbiage, simply doesn’t know what it means. Perhaps a sentence has been so shoddily constructed that the reader could read it in any of several ways. … Perhaps Sentence B is not a logical sequel to Sentence A – the writer, in whose head the connection is clear, has not bothered to provide the missing link.

Faced with these obstacles, the reader is at first a remarkably tenacious bird. He blames himself – he obviously missed something, and he goes back over the mystifying sentence, or over the whole paragraph, piecing it out like an ancient rune, making guesses and moving on. But he won’t do this for long. The writer is making him work too hard, and the reader will look for one who is better at his craft.

As I read this passage and considered it in relation to a recent post by Gary Leff about the monk who lost his cool due to United and a post by Milepoint member SnowDogDad about a particularly vexing encounter with baggage claim agents at Chicago O’Hare, it struck me how similar readers and travelers are.

When faced with transportation system obstacles, inexperienced travelers will often blame themselves and their own lack of knowledge about the “system”. In the title of his post Gary wonders how “normal people ever manage to navigate airline bureaucracies”. I’d posit that these normal people probably often end up taking a circuitous route, and blame themselves much of the way. The agent told them to wait over here. The phone service representative told them they couldn’t fly there directly. The hotel clerk told them there was no reservation, but there was a smaller room available at only a slightly higher price.

Ok, I guess we’ll do as we’re told. We don’t know how this whole thing works and so can’t really argue.

Experienced travelers on the other hand will often give the benefit of the doubt to the industry. You should click through to read SnowDogDad’sĀ entire post, but in the way of background, he essentially gets the runaround from a host of baggage claim personnel – each of whom provides a different story as to where his bag is and when he might be able to get his hands back on it. Among the replies posted by his fellow travelers:

from the operations perspective. ORD and much of the Northeast was a mess yesterday, and while bags are scanned and they should have a reasonably good idea of where they are, no amount of technology is going to take them right to the bag (short of GPS tagging everything). ~webdes03

Once a bag is checked odds of the routing changing drop significantly. Even when they want to it is not always possible. Of course, it would be nice to be told that rather than get the runaround, but the bag not getting pulled is not too surprising since that flight didn’t cxl. ~Wandering Aramean

Neither webdes03 nor Wandering Aramean are wrong, mind you. But it’s interesting that their first reaction is to rationalize the cause of the issue, rather than address the clear failings of the baggage claim agents.

In fact, travelers might be even more generous than readers when it comes to hurdling the obstacles placed in their path. Why? Because, as Zinsser says, eventually “the reader will look for one who is better at his craft.”

Readers have an almost limitless number of options. Travelers, not so much.

At the end of the day, maybe rationalization is the only defense standing between a continuing journey or complete and utter madness.

Read Gary’s post in its entirety: How Do Normal People Ever Manage to Navigate Airline Bureaucracies? United Strands a New Mexico Monk Edition

And read the thread initiated by SlowDogDad in its entirety: Sneaky inconsistencies….

PS – I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, my readers. While I strive not to depend too much on your tenaciousness, I’m acutely aware that it comes in handy in more of my posts than not.

Stuck at the airport” by Thomas Leuthard. CC BY 2.0

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