Travel isn’t what it used to be.

Perhaps it’s the aftereffects of the COVID pandemic. The number of people wanting to break free from the recent stay-at-home mandates have airports, restaurants and hotels filled to capacity.

But most of those same businesses are having trouble meeting public demand due to the lack of available, willing, workers.

Or perhaps Connie and I are simply getting older and are expecting too much from our travels because of some all-too-wonderful past experiences.

I keep thinking of the old Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is?” when I find myself disappointed by a restaurant meal or hotel stay.

Whatever, Connie and I flew down to Florida last weekend so she could receive the National Newspaper Association’s 2021 McKinney Award. The McKinney honor is presented to one woman each year for her lifetime contribution to community journalism. The National Newspaper Association is made up of more than 3,000 papers serving smaller communities and with an average circulation of 5,000 homes.

We flew to Jacksonville, FL, the convention city, on Delta Air Lines out of Omaha, NE. It was a completely full plane. I’d printed our boarding passes at home and although I still hold Silver Elite status with that airline, we were surprised that we were among the last passengers invited to board the plane. It was only on the return trip home, looking at the tickets printed at the airport, that I learned I was reading the wrong set of numbers on outbound tickets, and we could have boarded right after first class and comfort seat passengers. It was one of those “getting older” experiences.

But we did have two issues that day that concerned me.

The first happened as we were ready to head down the jetway on our first leg out of Omaha. I was carrying my two bags — one holding my computer and a much smaller one with my earphones and book to read — and Connie’s under-the-seat carry-on.

“I’m sorry, Sir, but you can only carry two bags onto the plane,” said a ground attendant at the door.

“But he is carrying that white one for me,” answered Connie.

“Then you will have to carry it,” responded the young, female, Delta agent.

“But I’m recovering from back surgery,” my wife replied.

“You’ll still have to carry it to your seat yourself,” ordered the gate agent.

Not wanting to argue anymore, I handed Connie my smaller earphone bag and we quietly headed down to the plane.

The other surprise came during the second leg out of Atlanta where we found ourselves seated across the aisle from each other near the back of the plane, both in middle seats. With my years of loyalty to Delta I am usually always assigned an aisle seat and Connie the one next to me.

It was our first visit to Jacksonville, and I found it a contradiction. Supposedly a community dependent on tourism, my first surprise was the of $48.20 cab fare fee to get from the airport, at the edge of the city, to the Hyatt Riverside, the convention hotel. It seemed high for a ride that lasted less than 20 minutes. The amount, I am told, is set by the city and there is little alternative other than a city bus line that we were discouraged to take with our large suitcases.

As in most recent hotel stays we were told, at check-in, that because of COVID, there was no daily room service. I’ve often wondered if that limited service exists because of a worry about spreading COVID or because it allows the facility to have less help which saves payroll dollars. Or because the hotels simply can’t get help.

If you ever get to Jacksonville there are two experiences you’ll not want to miss: One is Sweet Pete’s Candy, where Connie spent a morning attending a chocolate making class and buying out the store. The two-story building was decorated for Halloween, she told me, and the malts — which she only saw from a distance — were huge, loaded with extra toppings and had fresh chocolate syrup and sprinkles around the top of the larger-than-normal glass cups.

The second is the shrimp. It is caught locally, large, fresh and delicious.

Outside out hotel, right next door on an expansive green space, the city was holding its annual Jazz Festival. The grounds were crowded every night and the local big bands featured were loud, exciting and enjoyable. For those who attended, and there were thousands, there was a good section of food and drink stands with the emphasis on groper, conch and other seafood. There also were a huge number of police officers keeping things under control. I counted over 14 police cruisers from our hotel window.

Following the convention Connie and I, along with her sister Cindy and brother-in-law Bob Parry, drove north to Savannah, GA, and then to Hilton Head. The weather was a good and the seafood and cooking truly exceptional. It was good break and a good time. But, again, perhaps because we are getting older, it also was good to get home.


Peter W. Wagner lives in Sibley. He is the founder/publisher of The N’West Iowa REVIEW and may be reached at pww@iowainformation.com.