Monday, October 7, 2013

You're Never Too Young to Start Kicking the Bucket List

Despite my stab at clever wordplay in the title of this blog post (and in my act of "stabbing" itself), technically, I don't see a bucket list merely as something to be kicked -- in another word, beaten -- or all about death. It should be a series of enjoyable, savorable experiences to be recalled and recounted long before you're gone. Shouldn't completing your bucket list be rewarded with plenty of time to brag about it?

Apparently, not to the modest likes of Katherine Chancellor, the late, great matriarch of The Young and the Restless. In a recent storyline, Mrs. Chancellor, who had been diagnosed as having a brain tumor, lied to her loved ones that the surgery she underwent to remove it had been successful, and she was taking a few months off to travel the world with her husband and enjoy her new lease on life.

In soap reality, the dying mogul was embarking on an off-screen trek to fulfill all of the travel obligations on her bucket list, to get it all done before death got her. (Mrs. Chancellor's portrayer Jeanne Cooper passed away on May 8 at age 84, also off-screen, while her alter ego was on her incredible journey.) Mrs. Chancellor died peacefully in her sleep before she had a chance to go home and tell her loved ones all about her trip, but at least she lasted long enough to send each of them one postcard apiece from a different exotic location.

I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't the brain tumor but all that walking -- along the Great Wall of China, up to the heights of Machu Picchu -- that ultimately did in Mrs. Chancellor's frail, 84-year-old-body. She may not have gotten to share her travel stories -- or the news of her impending death -- with her family and friends, but she did get to spend a few months living the physical life of a woman one-third her age.

The Asian-American couple -- he's from San Francisco; she's from Chicago, where they now live -- who were in my Galilee tour group on Saturday, had a similar thing in mind, though they certainly didn't appear to be wobbling on the precipice of death. They were one of three well-past-middle-age twosomes on the tour and the latest in a string of couples of a certain age with whom I've had mealtime conversations (regular topic: travel, of course) since I met up with Lori in Tuscany three weeks ago.

Yes, the retired husband was overweight, and he perspired profusely under the mild Israeli sun, but so do many guys his age and size who go on to live for many years well past the age of 65. Look at Marlon Brando, for one. His obese, unhealthy years far outlasted his youthful, virile ones.

As for the wife, she was on holiday from work, and she didn't appear to be a day over 55. Only the strands of gray that were beginning to grow in at the root of her dye job gave away her approximate age. She was by far the most energetic member of our group and certainly the most chatty. I think I heard more from her over the course of the day than I did from the tour guide. She didn't have to be back at work until October 29, so she was taking suggestions for their next travel experience after Israel. ("We're Asian, so that part of the world just never interested us," she said with a laugh when I mentioned Thailand and Cambodia.)

They'd just completed a trip to Germany (where they hit Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt and Cologne in one week), and just the day before, they'd taken the same company's tour of Jerusalem. "Our kids are in college now, so we're just seeing everything we've always wanted to see before we die," she explained, speaking rapidly as if she was trying to finish as many sentences as possible, just in case death arrived in the middle of one of them.

Getting to experience new cities and countries wasn't the only lure of the road for her. Its biggest draw was staying in the world's most expensive hotels and rarely leaving them except when the tour bus for her latest group excursion drove them away. In Las Vegas, they stayed in one that cost $4,000 a night! She went down the price list of their recent accommodations with a mix of incredulity, boastfulness and snobbery. I could have sworn that she turned up her nose at me when I told her that I was renting an apartment in Tel Aviv. How lowly of me!

When I told her that there are plenty of five-star hotels in Dubai that cost much less than the $1,000 they paid for theirs, she shrugged. "We're old, so we just want to treat ourselves, see what these places are like," she said, referring as much to the hotels as to the cities in which they are located. In Tel Aviv, that meant the David Intercontinental, which she appeared to love mainly for the breakfast buffet. It was the only thing she mentioned about the city from the first course to dessert.

"You're young, so you probably wouldn't understand yet," she said to me as if she were talking to someone just out of college, not a middle-aged man who probably wouldn't dare to splurge on a $4,000 hotel room even if he could afford to. After I started talking about all of the places I've visited and am planning on visiting while I'm still "young," she held on to her misconception -- they're ancient; I'm a baby -- until I mentioned my recurring back pain. "Maybe you're not so young," she said with a laugh. In spite of her questionable travel ethic, I liked her.

I wanted to explain to her that she had her priorities all wrong. Traveling shouldn't be about crossing things off a to-do list before you die, but about the experience of immersing yourself in a foreign culture, surrounded by the type of people and scenery that you won't find at home and getting a taste (at the very least) of both the food that locals eat and life as they live it. Step away from the breakfast buffet, get off the tours, and stop thinking in terms of how little time you have left. Half the fun of going on holiday is going home and talking about it for years to come.

I have my own travel bucket list, and I'm already kicking it, while I (hopefully) have a few decades left to whittle it down, and add new destinations to it. When I'm walking toward my death bed, I hope not to be doing it months, weeks, days or hours after walking along the Great Wall of China as part of a week-long tour of one of the world's largest countries. What's the point of going anywhere or doing anything unless you can share it with your Facebook friends and enjoy all the "likes" and comments that your photos are still receiving months, sometimes years, after you post them?

Personally, I don't think I'd like to spend my own twilight years gallivanting from country to country as I'm doing now, booking flights and hotels, constantly removing my belt and shoes at airport security checkpoints and dealing with surly Customs agents. I'd rather live them out mainly in one spot, sipping Singapore Slings on my mountainside balcony overlooking a perfect ocean view and only occasionally going away for a change of scenery.

Preferably with a fabulous hotel that costs considerably less than $1,000 a night as my base. That said, in the increasingly likely event that my next trip ends up being my last, I might reconsider. If I must expire while on holiday, as Mrs. Chancellor did, I'd rather to do so under 1,000-thread-count covers in a $1,000-a-night king-size bed while dreaming of a yummy cheese omelet at tomorrow morning's breakfast buffet.
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