Monday, January 07, 2008

I think I might be ill...

On Tuesday, I'll be heading to Syracuse on business - driving, not flying, so I won't need an air sickness bag.

I have, however, been on one business trip when I did need one.

It was many years ago, and I got on a small, Bar Harbor (a now defunct airline) puddle jumper from Augusta, Maine to Boston after an extremely ill-advised (in retrospect) red-sauce Italian food lunch. Mama Mia!

In any case, the weather was a bit rainy and foggy, and the little plane had to circle Boston for a bit. The little bit became a longer bit, and we kept circling on. While the plane was circling, my stomach began moving in a slightly different direction - more or less an up and down lurch. Heavy Italian food is generally nothing for my stomach-of-iron, and I definitely felt that - despite the circling and lurching - I'd be okay. Just to be on the safe side, I thought I'd make sure that I had the air sickness bag in hand, so I reached into the magazine-and-air-sickness-bag holder on the seat back for the bag-of-interest. As I pulled the bag out I realized that it had already been used - and was still full. Half empty? Half full? I can't be sure, but in this case I'm thinking at least half full.

Well, the realization that my bag was pre-used was more than my iron stomach could withstand. Grabbing an empty from the next seat over, I proceeded to lose that Italian lunch. (No great loss - it wasn't that good to begin with.) I can still see the hairs on the back of the head of the man in the seat in front of me. I had never actually seen anyone's hair quite literally stand on end.

From that point on, Bar Harbor became Barf Harbor, that's for sure.

In any case, I was reminded of this episode in the annals of my personal business travel, when I saw a Boston Globe article a couple of days ago on a fellow from Hull (a fun, beautiful, and at least partially raffish sea-side town south of Boston) who is curator of The Air Sickness Bag Virtual Museum.

Steve Silberberg uses his site to display images of the over 2,000 barf bags from his collection - not all of which are from airlines. Apparently, companies use them as promotional giveaways, and they're occasionally used in political campaigns - for obvious reasons.

As for the illustrations below: Steve doesn't hawk much in his gift shop, but he does have a pretty nifty looking poster for sale for $10. I didn't make it through all 2000+ bags, but I did pick a couple off - based solely on the name of the airline - Buddha Air and Phuket Air. Now, the purple alone might make a Buddha Air flyer a bit queasy, and as for Phuket Air - resonant name aside - what's not to like about a smiley face and wanting to save the world. By the way, the Smiley Face was invented in Worcester, Massachusetts, but that is another story entirely. (Steve didn't have a Bar Harbor bag for this show and tell.)

FinalPoster BuddhaWithGirlA PhuketAir2003A

As with so many other curious hobbies, the Internet really opened this one up for Silberberg, who is by no means the world's only collector.

He has estimated that he possesses the 10th-largest collection in the world, not bad for someone who has never traveled outside of North America. (A Netherlands man named Niek K. Vermeulen holds the Guinness World Record, with 5,180 bags.)

A lot of the bags in Steve's collection comes from other hobbyists/traders, are listed on his site as "Patrons of Puke," and from the drop down list of patrons, there are plenty of them.

Alas, the branded air-sickness bag is going out of style, with airlines substituting generics. Hopefully, for Silberberg's collection, the promotional and political bags will continue on. (Living as I do in a state that borders on New Hampshire, I've been bombarded by TV ads for the current slate of candidates, and should probably have a bag or two around to get me through tomorrow's voting. If I hear yet another "I'm Mitt Romney, and I approved this ad" I think I just might be in need of one.)

Silberberg is hoping to open up a roadside attraction type of museum in Hull at some point. This town would be the perfect location for this sort of museum. Hull has definitely been missing something since the Lahage's salt water taffy shop closed. (Nantasket Salt Water Taffy...Oh, So Good...Tastes Mighty Fine: I still have one of the boxes, which was designed in the 1920's and never changed. Note to self: take boat to Hull's Nantasket Beach some day this summer. Ride merry-go-around. Play pinball. Find some other brand of salt water taffy.)

In addition to revealing that he has never traveled outside of North America, Steve Silberberg notes that "ironically" he is single.

Ironic might not be the right word here, but unsurprising sure is. A quick glance through his list of Patrons of Puke reveals very few names that sound female - and collecting air sickness bags doesn't strike me as a gay male type of hobby, either.

"I've found it's a really good litmus test that shows if I will get along with somebody," Silberberg said.

I can see that it would be. You never know, but if you're looking to get unsingle, I don't think that air sickness bag collecting is the best way to go.

But on the positive side, as obsessions go, this one seems harmless. It doesn't seem like it would be that expensive a habit to support. As long as you don't trade in bags that are fully-loaded, it's reasonably inoffensive (although the political ones might not amuse everyone). And I've got a suspicion that most of the hobbyists have a sense of humor.


katrog said...

Yes, the airsickness bag goes the way of the swizzle stick--and I am sure there is someone out there with the world's largest collection of that little bit of history, too.

When my husband's mother died, we "inherited" a bag of swizzle sticks that were a record of their travels in the fifties and sixties: little red propellers from TWA, plane-shaped sticks from Pan Am, and a skeleton head with rhinestone eyes from who knows where. Those little truncated red plastic beverage stirrers just don't have the same pizzaz.


Charles Green said...

Ha ha, Who Knew?! What a great laugh to start the day, thanks.

Anonymous said...

I've known Steve for years. Your conclusion about why he is single is very misguided. Perhaps you should know a little more about someone before you jump to conclusions.

Rick said...

Well, anonymous, why are you so sure that devoting a lot of energy to a massive collection of barf bags is NOT standing in the way of this guy finding anyone, male or female, to marry him? Sounds like a pretty good explanation to me.

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