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Sent Packing

by Stephen Lautens


June 8, 2001

Exactly when did we become a nation of packhorses?

For some reason everyone around me seems to belong to a tribe of nomads, carrying all their worldly possessions wherever they go.

From the tallest businessman to the smallest toddler, everywhere I go I see people lugging around huge knapsacks. I'm not sure what a six-year old owns that requires carrying a backpack larger than the ones worn by the US Marines. 

Sure, we live in a consumer society, but it doesn't mean you have to keep everything you own with you at all times.

I think it has to do with there being two kinds of people - those who always over-pack and those who travel light. Personally, I've always travelled light. I like being the first one off the airplane and not having to wear an back brace. I've never understood people who pack a steamer trunk for a long weekend.

When I went to Europe for seven weeks I only took what most people would consider an overnight bag. If you're going to be away that long, you really only need a change of clothes, toothbrush and bar of soap. Maybe not even the bar of soap if you get a big enough tube of toothpaste.

I guess what others may consider unhygienic I think of as low-maintenance. Besides, I didn't have any friends in Europe, so it's not like I was going to be offending anyone I knew.

But people on a daily basis are dragging along with them tons of useless junk. The techno-junkies won't leave home without packing their cell phone, laptop and CD player. And because a single one hour CD isn't enough to get you where you're going, you've got to bring your whole music library. No doubt to suit the many festive moods of the commuter.

A book or knitting passes the time in transit, but unless you're a speed reader there isn't much point in packing two hardcovers, six paperbacks and a drug store's worth of magazines.

And of course hauling around everything you own all day takes a lot of energy. That's why overloaded commuters have to bring along plenty of food and water too.

Last week I watched a woman set out a full breakfast for herself on the bus. She took half a grapefruit out of a bag and followed it with a bowl of cereal. I was waiting for the pancakes to come out next. I was afraid to see what pocket she kept the syrup in.

I can't believe that packing a seven-course breakfast before you leave the house is really much of a time-saver. Maybe what she found so appealing was the ambiance of eating under the armpits of a dozen sweaty commuters.

Perhaps I'm just jealous. I can barely manage a newspaper in the morning, let alone balance a burger, onion rings and a shake on my lap over bumpy roads.

Of course all this carrying and eating makes you thirsty. That's why most of my fellow travellers carry water bottles that would get you safely across the Gobi Desert.

The result of all this is I'm very easy to recognize me if you see me on the bus. 

I'll be the hungry, bored guy with nothing to read.

© Stephen Lautens 2001

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