Shadow Government #52

Shadow Government #52

Trouble waters

by John A. Jackson

Wendy Perrin is a columnist and consumer news editor for Conde Nast Traveler. Her "Perrin Report" in the magazine's May 2001 special issue relates how she spent her honeymoon a year ago.

Perrin had decided to tour the South Pacific. She and her new husband would linger on Fiji, she planned.

Problem: a military coup had taken place, and the U.S. State Department was warning Americans to stay away.

Perrin's solution: go anyhow. Hunt for bargains.

Reasoning: "Every time I've headed to a place the State Department was advising against -- Lebanon, Bosnia, Croatia -- I have found it a great time to be there. The locals have been gracious and thrilled to have visitors, and security measures have been tightened in the wake of whatever crisis occurred."

No lines, no pickpockets, vacancies in all the fine tourist hotels-what could be better?

And so Perrin found it. At the military roadblocks, the soldiers smiled, waved and shouted "Hello!" in Fijian. Where room rates weren't cut outright, she and her spouse got a handsome free upgrade. They paid $550 a night at the Nukubati Island Resort, for example, but were treated to the $660 honeymoon bungalow.

At the Sheraton Fiji Resort, normally $544 a night, they paid only $113.

The moral: "Wait until you get there to book rooms, cars, tours and guides." If you do that from home, you will be made to pay the much higher peacetime rate.

Also: "Seek out stores that have lost their clientele. Do some early Christmas shopping."

The column, one must say, does include cautions and caveats: find out precisely where the fighting is and don't go there; see what the British Embassy says; dress like a local; don't flash cash or a gaudy camera, and avoid places where they target Americans.

But overall Perrin's tone is relentlessly upbeat. Indeed, one has to read the story two or three times to make sure that she isn't kidding. But the Traveler is just that kind of magazine, a box of treats for the giddy rich.

Perhaps next month she will report on "Quebec Without Tear Gas."

Do you know the old saying "Nero fiddled while Rome burned?" It refers to the antics of that ancient realm's zaniest emperor. Fecklessness among the powerful was thought then to be a moral flaw, and even fatal.

You may have to take my word for it.

Back in August, 1965, I had a medical appointment in Beverly Hills. Afterward, with time to kill, I drove the family's Pontiac convertible over to USC where I illegally bought French cigarettes in the campus store. Then I took the Harbor Freeway home.

There were no cars on the freeway. None at all.

It was the first day of the Watts Riots. People were sniping at cars on the Harbor Freeway. I found that out as I drove. Teenage self-absorption, teenage delusions of immortality. Teenage obliviousness.

That night from a friend's patio in the Hollywood Riviera we watched the horizon to the north and east outlined in flames.

I could number shame with confusion, fear and ignorance among my reactions.

But Perrin's response toward strife in duskier climes strikes me as so much more fashionable than mine was in '65, so much healthier. She knows there is blood on the money. She seeks it out.

Perhaps she can get a job in the Bush Administration. She has an aptitude for free trade, in the current style.

John A. Jackson may be reached at TomShadwell@cs.com.