Play it safe, or seek richer experience?

March 02, 2006|By PETER MANDEL

Listen to people talking on trains. Scan the headlines. Watch some TV.

With the news stacked up with Iraq, with fear of pandemic, these are our concerns: Is America protected? Is it dangerous to travel?

Just how safe do we feel?

Listen to the talk, catch the top of the news. According to a state of Hawaii study, "security and safety" are now the most important factors when we pick a place to vacation.

Not adventure. Not exotic landscapes. Not the sights or tastes of taking on the world.

Some imperialists we are. Global leaders? We won't try a sip of aquavit. Or a taste of steak tartare.

We wrinkle our nose. And we spend holidays at home. According to LonelyPlanet.com, a travel Web site, "fewer than 23 percent of Americans carry passports."

Researcher Alkman Granitsas, writing in YaleGlobal Online, notes that "fewer Americans have passports, and U.S. citizens travel less than their counterparts in other developed economies."

He adds: "The number going overseas in the past 20 years - not just to neighboring Canada and Mexico - has grown at a slower rate than the number of overseas visitors to America or the growth in international tourism in general."

Are our cities safe? In case they're not, we flee to exurbs. Is it dangerous to drive? Your car is small: Get heavy armor for the road. Terrorism spooks us into voting for incumbents, for the status quo.

Even out in space, our worries are the same. Shuttle astronauts have died. We should explore with robots instead. We must forget about Mars and the moon.

With all our stickers and our flags, you'd think we'd live for risk. Our anthem builds in a crescendo for the last word: "brave."

Do our colors run? Do we believe what we sing?

Bravery is not just in aiming guns, but in the simplest stands. Just once, let's ride a bike without our helmets. Let's skip the antiseptic spray. Let's shut off the filtered air.

Let's eat rare meat when we want to and swallow the danger with the onion and bun.

Can we go beyond Disney and Vegas? Reach up to planets and dig down deeper than the oil for our houses and cars?

The answer isn't out there, I think. It is inside.

It is in choosing challenges for our lives and leaving their length to fate.

Keep your long, calm cruises in protected waters. A quick adventure in the Arctic or the jungle brings the hour alive.

Leave that lettuce that is triple washed. And risk a taste of raw tartare, or might-be-poisonous blowfish, or coffee that is hot enough to burn.

A taste of something.

That's for me.

Peter Mandel is an author of children's books, including "Planes at the Airport" and "My Ocean Liner." He lives in Providence, R. I. His e-mail is pmandel@worldnet.att.net.

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