by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
FOR RETIREES, THE WHEELS GO 'ROUND AND 'ROUND
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- The road trip home from Charlotte, N.C., by way of Washington, D.C., for one last look at the new cherry blossoms meant we would have to make an overnight stop before arriving home in St. Simons Island, Ga., by mid-day Monday. Fayetteville looked like just the place to rest our weary bones. Travel may be broadening but exhaustion is part of the package deal.
A bright and shiny Sleep Inn just off Exit 49 of I-95 looked like the right place. Although we could see by the brochures that Fayetteville had a lot to offer to tourists looking for Civil War sites and other historic sites, we wanted a glass of wine and the evening news on television. We considered a visit to the Ava Gardner museum, but, really, why?
Usually, I'm the first guest in the 6:00 a.m. breakfast room; not this time. At about four minutes after the appointed hour, they were already replenishing the coffee carafe. Where did these people come from? The newspapers were already delivered and stacked on the registration desk. The hostesses were wiping tables quickly for the next group of guests, and I asked two women if I could join at their table.
There were over twenty seated - the women freshly made up, coiffed, dressed comfortably in coordinated outfits in the Spring colors of hot pink and lime green. The men were clean-shaven and snapping newspapers open to the sports pages. Tiger Woods had been playing that day in Charlotte, N.C., and in Fayetteville, that's local news. No news: He won.
The two women at my table were African-Americans of that certain age where dressing for the occasion is all important. They each sported hats giving the inimitable flair most of us have lost but still yearn to convey. In the days before the 1960s, women chose hats for all occasions - mostly to "top off" an outfit already saying it all. They were charming. The younger of the two got up for more muffins; the older declined her offer.
I sipped coffee too hot to enjoy just yet, so we spoke of where they were from (Cherry Hill, N.J.) and where they were going (Myrtle Beach, S.C.). They were on a chartered bus tour with most of those now having breakfast, the older woman offered. They've made the trip before and enjoyed it very much - $600 for six nights and five days, including most meals. They would see three shows, be let off at a shopping mall for leisurely shopping on their own, enjoy a few days at the beach, and see the sights. "It's restful and refined, and we meet so many nice people," she said. Her slightly younger friend continued to relish the muffins.
"Are those dark muffins bran or chocolate?" I asked as she savored each bite.
"Well," she answered, "I'm not going to say they're bran, and I'm not going to say they're chocolate. I will say they're moist. Yes, they are moist. And they are delicious." She thought further and added, "I will say they are a little bit bran and if I have it right, they are even a little bit chocolate. See these little specs? I suspect they are bits of chocolate," she said quietly, still looking and analyzing. "Oh," she continued wide-eyed, "and did I say they are moist?"
"You most certainly did," I said, getting up to be sure I would be first to take the last one on the tray. Yes, they were moist and delicious, with dark chocolate and whole bran.
The ladies left to return to their seats on the bus and another group filled the room where I sat sipping coffee and reading USA Today, feeling guilty about occupying a seat while I brought my mind and body to ready-alert with my morning coffee.
A couple joined me and they told me about their trip, one of many they have taken since retirement. I asked them what had been the best feature of the trip - or any of the bus trips taken - and they agreed it was their driver and guide. He made everything pleasant.
Although he'd made the trip over a hundred times, he made it seem like the first - for himself and the passengers. He had not only a planned itinerary but his own experiences to offer. If there were options, he'd suggest his favorite. Yes, the guide made it worth taking the trip, they said.. He kept a long bus trip from becoming a bore.
Many of the passengers were widows; some traveling together, some alone. They all became friends before arriving home, however, and broadened their band of friendships. There were couples, but no widowers or unattached men.
I asked if, aside from the guide they all enjoyed, there was anything else special about the vacation. "Oh, yes. It breaks the monotony," the wife said in a joyful rush. Her husband laughed. "There are worse things to do than having nothing to do," he said.
"Are there better things to do than having nothing to do?" I asked with a smile.
Like my wife said, it breaks the monotony. So, whatever breaks the monotony, relieves the boredom, is a good thing, he said. "Frankly, this bus trip is a change of scene for me, but it's still monotonous. My wife always wanted to go on this tour, so with her it's a need." She nods in agreement. "So she feels good. I'm filling a need in her, and they say you live longer if you're needed. It's a better thing than having nothing to do, I say."
He gave me a self-satisfied grin, his palms upturned, and I laughed with him as he stood up, pulled back his wife's chair and they ambled toward the door for the last leg of their great adventure.
Here they were, 70-plus seniors about to settle into their seats with the excitement usually reserved for kindergarten kids on their way to visit a farm.
I can almost hear them singing: "The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round, 'round and 'round, 'round and 'round; the wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round, all through the town."