I just took a trip with old geezers. I signed up for a dreaded package tour, this one for Ireland, and found myself surrounded by a mix of oldsters and retirees. How could that happen?
Other than three 20-30-somethings traveling with their parents, everyone on the tour was just the kind of person you would expect to join such a procession — in their 50s and up, in no hurry to go anywhere. The group shuffled from tourist site to gift shop, with time in between filled with ancient buildings, protected vistas, historical replicas, unexpected museums, and more.
Until those final sunny days few locals ventured forth in shorts. And none of my fellow travelers did so. The collective response to my bare legs was a mix of amusement, befuddlement, and consternation.
Surely I didn’t belong with them. I’m not old. It wasn’t that long ago when I joined my parents and members of their church on a traditional Holy Land trip to Israel. Well, maybe a little while ago. After all, both of my parents have passed. Admittedly, a number of my traveling companions had a lot more color in their hair than I do. In conversation I discovered that some of them had birth or graduation dates later than mine. Most of them hadn’t had four knee operations. Indeed, my joints creaked more than most of theirs going down stairs. Well, I suppose I was around the median age. Or perhaps even above it. Which is really scary. I’ve become one of the old geezers who I always feared traveling with!
Indeed, there was a nasty incident with Turkish Airways a couple weeks before my Celtic jaunt. I booked a flight involving connections, making two very long flights in coach. I consoled myself with the expectation that I could grab an exit row seat, only to have the website inform me that I was too old. By just a couple weeks, but that was enough. I routinely take the exit row on U.S. and other foreign airlines. But Turkish Airways has now certified that I am too old. I guess that officially makes me an old geezer.
The tour, a bunch of Americans with a few Canadians tossed in, was well organized and headed by a solicitous but firm tour director, who herded the maximum number of cats with the least amount of pain. The chief drawback of the trip quickly became evident — to give everyone something of interest requires giving everyone something not of interest. For me the latter included scone-making and watching a farm dog drive sheep hither and yon. I am as likely to make my own scones as to scale Mt. Everest, while viewing dog and sheep running about ranks alongside attending a chick-flick and getting a root canal in the pleasure provided.
Still, Ireland was a delight. Most everyone we met was friendly. Stunning geography and verdant hillsides offered a relief from congressional offices and think tank salons. Although Dublin is a big city, the many smaller towns that we rolled through and past exuded a very different feel. Architecture and pace highlighted a different time and place. Indeed, age was everywhere: traditional stone walls crisscrossed fields, ruined homes and churches adorned rolling landscapes, and old manor houses reminded of an aristocratic age. Most profound was the sense that the Irish focused their lives on each other, not the far reaches of the world. Dublin didn’t waste a lot of time trying to boss around, let alone bomb and remake, more distant lands.
Still, connections with the U.S. were strong. The Civil War, which ravaged the American South, remains a major formative event on this side of the Atlantic. In Ireland it was the Famine. Mass death and emigration slashed the population, which remains below its 19th century peak. Museums, displays, books, historical sites, and public art commemorate the tragedy, which sent so many Irish to the U.S. Six decades ago President John F. Kennedy was considered Ireland’s favorite son. Today President Joe Biden is all the rage. (I didn’t hear a word of criticism of him, so even after his latest stumbles at the G-7 meeting perhaps we could arrange a trade for Irish Taoiseach, or prime minister, Leo Varadkar — once nominated as Ireland’s Most Stylish Man — plus another politician or two to be named later.)
Relations with the United Kingdom remain complicated. Painful history continues to dominate Irish feelings toward their nearby cousins. Particularly notable were Oliver Cromwell’s depredations, the Great Famine, suppression of the Easter Rising, the battle for Irish independence, London’s retention of the island’s northeast, Ireland’s neutrality in World War II, and the bitter “troubles” of the 1960s to the 1990s. Complications from the UK’s European Union exit, including the threatened breakdown of the Good Friday Agreement have added new perturbations to bilateral ties.
Although history was always evident during our counterclockwise bus ride around Ireland, little current detail was offered or sought. Indeed, the ongoing details of Irish politics received not one mention. It was my first leisure trip in a couple decades, a rare moment when I didn’t feel compelled to query the locals about the local political environment — in this case to track down some fellow policy nerds to discuss the latest ideological permutations in Ireland and their impact on the European Union and euro, along with other international esoterica.
However, in one way, at least, I upheld the banner of youth. During the trip temperatures typically ranged in the 50s. The reading occasionally dipped to the high 40s overnight and — this is Ireland after all! — rain constantly blew in and out. The tour ended unexpectedly with a couple days of brilliant sunshine and briefly reached the low 70s. I spent almost every moment in shorts and sandals.
My view is that a day without wearing shorts is a wasted day. As I explained to a group member intrigued by my sartorial choice, shorts was my natural default. Even when facing falling temperatures as the seasons changed — during late fall or early spring — I almost always regretted the few times I chose long pants. When I ran — before those unfortunate knee operations — I would wear shorts down to freezing temps. Although in the 50s I typically don a sweatshirt or jacket, my bare legs still feel glorious. And for anything but work or the most serious social occasion, at home it is flip-flops from spring through fall. I had no reason to adopt a different routine across the pond, other than a switch to sandals to make traversing Ireland’s endless hills a bit easier.
Until those final sunny days few locals ventured forth in shorts. And none of my fellow travelers did so. The collective response to my bare legs was a mix of amusement, befuddlement, and consternation. A couple of times an Irish guide or host would worry that I must be cold. Far more often one of my traveling companions would ask with evident concern, “Aren’t you cold?” Other than a couple brief moments when we were on an overlook peering at the Atlantic as the wind whipped in with a storm in its wake, the answer was no. During a warmer spell one of my traveling companions told me that he wished he had brought a pair of shorts so he could join me. Alas, everyone else seemed horrified by the idea.
Only on a couple nights out did I switch, as I explained to my new friends, to prove to them that I actually owned a pair of long pants. When we ended our trip amid sunshine, I took credit for the sun’s dramatic emergence: it took a week, but dressing for sunshine obviously finally brought it forth! Alas, I’m not sure my compatriots were entirely convinced.
As always, it was good to get home, back into the normal routine. Still, I’m prepared to go hang out with the old geezers somewhere overseas again. It turns out that being with them and, even worse, realizing that I was one of them, wasn’t so bad. Frankly, spending time thinking about something other than U.S. politics is likely to grow even more attractive as the 2024 election gets closer.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington and Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.