Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Tour with Dorothy and Toto in Ireland

It has been said that we get to choose our friends, and even to an extent, our neighbors and coworkers.  But we do not get to choose family.  I would also add, in the category of those whom we do not get to choose, our fellow tour mates.

When you climb those metal steps onto a tour bus you know that you are destined to spend the next several days of
your life with whomever is sitting in the seats not assigned to you and your spouse.  This can be a truly frightening prospect.

A sixty seat tour bus is a large vehicle, to be sure; but trust me on this, sometimes that is not nearly large enough.  One becomes privy to details of one's fellow passengers' lives about which one would much rather have remained unenlightened.  Talk about TMI.  I'm just saying ... 

They could be divided into roughly two categories; impatient husbands, and irritated wives; and nearly all of them had been married to each other for at least twenty-five or thirty years.  So they had their repartee down to a fine art.

"The cows are going to be just fine.  They don't know we are in Ireland!"  (Huh???)

"Honey, are you feeling any better? That sounded pretty rough last night."  (Eewww.)

"Did you remember to give the viceroy our contribution for the grand potentate's gift?"  (Okay, now that's just weird.)

Note to self:  the next time we book a tour, remember to ask if the majority of the tour is comprised of one major tour group.  This one was, and they were from Kansas Shriners, all seventy of them. 

Turns out the rest of us were just "filler bookings" - because seventy is too many for one bus, but not enough to fill up two buses, and thus, here we were - filling in among the Shiners from Topeka, on a two-bus tour.  Don't even get me started on the complications that arise from being on a two-bus tour. 

Don't get me wrong, they were by and large nice folks with good manners.  We were, however, badly outnumbered; there were seventy of them and about 22 of us non-Shriners, a total of 92 on two buses.  To describe them as homogenous travelers doesn't begin to touch it.  They spoke to one another in a kind of shorthand (I'm assuming you must grow up in Kansas and preferably also attend college in that state) in order to be fluent in Kansas-ese.  I had always hoped to become bilingual, but never envisioned my second language as one from the Great Plains.

They shared food preferences during meals (they liked the blood sausage, couldn't stand the tea); and they identified with the same ancestors (primarily those who had red hair - and in Ireland every third person is a redhead, so there was lots of ancestry identification going on.) 

"Marge, did you notice that little girl behind the counter back there?  She is the dead image of your Aunt Tilly."  All righteee then.

They also seemed to share sensory similarities.  As the tour bus lurched and bounced along over the dips in the bog roads - roads built over unstable ground with bogs beneath the paved surface - they would lean, dip and swerve in unison as though we were on a Le Mans course.  Guess all those years on roads where you can drive a hundred miles and never hit a bump or a curve, produces a kind of genetic resistance to rough roads.

Again, these were salt-of-the-earth, polite, genuine people.  But anytime they ran across anything that did not fit their repertoire of life experiences (which to borrow from Dorothy Parker, seemed to run the gamut from A to B) they would grin ear to ear and shout across the aisles of the bus to one another in wild abandon, "Well, Dorothy, guess we're not in Kansas anymore."

It was mildly amusing the first ten times.  But around day six I wanted to bang my head on the gleaming bus window, hoping it might produce temporary deafness.  No such luck.  Clyde especially just cracked himself up, every time they reminded one another that they were no longer in Kansas.

It never seemed to occur to them that the rest of us (what few of us there were) were no longer in Colorado or Oregon or California, either. 

The last Kansas / Shriner tribal ritual occurred on the final evening of the tour.  We were having a lovely dinner, in the main ballroom of a genuine castle. This was topped off by several presentations to, from, and about the grand potentate (the grand poo-bah of the whole dad-gummed Kansas clan, club, confab or whatever you call it.)

When I say the evening was topped off, I mean that quite literally, when three Shriner clowns performed for our viewing pleasure a trick wherein they called up the tour manager and somehow appeared to take her bra off without ever touching her person.  It was an illusion, at least I hope it was, and they were all hugely entertained by the performance.

At our table of eight, none of whom hailed from K. state, one new friend said, "You know, I'm beginning to feel like a second-class citizen here."

To which another table-mate immediately replied, "You just now getting there? I've been feeling that way all week."

I couldn't help but smile to myself.  I mean, good grief, what's next, Toto-envy?  After all, I got to make the acquaintance of Jenny, who was 81 years old, and on her twelfth tour with the Shiners.  It was the highlight of her year, and she could tell you great anecdotes from each one.  That alone made the trip more fun.  She was funny and spry as all get out.  I thought, "You go, girl.  Just don't forget, you are not in Kansas anymore."  :)
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(For any readers from Kansas, please keep in mind the above was all in good fun.  Sort of like those Shriner clowns. And all names were changed to respect the guilty.  :)


  1. Hey Marsha, what a hoot! I can't imagine anyone taking offense by your post.
    When Jilda and I toured Ireland, we got off the plane in Shannon, walked outside to our rented Opel, and I got in the passengers side of the car and drove off. Thankfully, the pedals on the floorboard are the same as cars here, but shifting with the left hand was a bit tricky at first.
    I did fine until I made my first right turn and ran a poor Irishman off the road. Right turns took a bit of getting used to.
    But we live in the rural south and driving on the wrong side of the road is not that foreign to me :)
    BTW, you are a very good writer.

  2. Ha ha! Great story! A few years ago we were on a tour bus at the Grand Canyon and the people setting around us were from Russia. They were very interesting (rude) to the least. I sure was glad when we able to get off the bus :-)

  3. Funny wonderful post! I was once standing on a corner in New Orleans with our German Shepard,
    a group of Shriners (who had been over served)
    carried on strange conversations about me and my dog. I guess in New Orleans, a woman standing on the corner with a big dog......let's leave well enough alone!

  4. So funny, Marsha!! Iv'e been on tours with my husband's business but never had an experience like yours. We went to Ireland too with a church group and again enjoyed every minute of it. But I went on a mission and there was one wonderful young man soon to enter the ministry. He wanted to use me to practice sermons on. I get carsick if I don't just rest and relax. That was one truly miserable trip, so I understand where you are coming from! Fun piece!!

  5. Wow...Thanks for sharing Marsha.

    I pray a blessed Holy week for you and your family!

  6. It's always interesting to me whenever a clan or group of any kind seems completely oblivious to their exclusive nature. It's a lesson for us all.