Here is Jon Carroll on the joys of spending money on Tumi luggage. It is worth it? It appears not. Enjoy! It sounds like it may not be the time to buy luggage, and fly.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
e're going to start with a nice anecdote about Ludwig Wittgenstein, and then we're going to talk about luggage.
Wittgenstein, the philosopher who brooded about "atomic facts," which are just like real facts only smaller, was having a conversation with a student when he said, "The one thing I've never understood is why ancient man believed that the sun revolved around the Earth."
The student replied, "That's obvious; it's because it looks as if the sun revolves around the Earth."
Wittgenstein thought for a moment and then asked, "How would it look if it looked as if the Earth revolved around the sun?"
I take this story to mean that the more obvious something seems, the more closely we should examine it. You may take the story to mean something else. We do know that Wittgenstein was probably not thinking about luggage when he made that remark.
There is a company called Tumi, which makes high-end baggage. When I say high end, I mean $895 for the Generation 4 FXT ballistic long-wheeled garment bag. The word ballistics means the science or study of the motion of projectiles, as bullets, shells or bombs -- ballistic means of or pertaining to ballistics. It also means bouncing, so I suppose you could say those long wheels -- are the wheels really long? Wouldn't that interfere with the roundness so important in wheels? -- bounce when they go over rough pavement, exactly like every other garment bag.
More colloquially, "going ballistic" means "exploding," which is not a quality one values in a suitcase. So the suspicion is that Tumi selected the word "ballistic" because it sounded sexy. Or something. This is a company that makes $235 tote bags, so anything is possible.
Every Tumi suitcase comes with "the exclusive Tumi Tracer Worldwide Product Recovery Program." If you sign up for the program, you get a "20-digit Tracer registration number." It's interesting. A billion billion can be expressed as a 1 followed by 18 zeros. So the Tumi database can handle somewhat more than a billion billion suitcases. It's a very far-sighted company, because it would take a million elves a million years to make a billion billion suitcases -- I made that up. On the other hand, Tumi made up the ballistic suitcase, so we're even so far.
I am lucky enough to know someone with the means to purchase Tumi products. This person travels a great deal, so she was intrigued by the notion of the exclusive Tracer number. Lost luggage can be a nightmare, but of course a high-end company would not let its customers kill time in a dismal Reykjavik hotel while their evening wear was rotting at a tertiary airport in Ireland.
In due time, my friend got her card with her exclusive 20-digit tracer number. It came with a letter. Here is the relevant paragraph: "In the unfortunate event that your Tracer-registered bag is stolen or lost, we ask that you not call Tumi to report your loss. The Tracer program does not locate lost bags, but it does help reunite customers with their bags once they are found and called into our system. If your bag is found, we will contact you immediately with the information you need to get your bag back."
So the Tracer does not in fact trace bags. The 20-digit number acts in the same way as the rather more prosaic name-and-address tag that all fliers are required to have on their luggage. If you lose your bag, and if someone finds it, and if that someone is public-spirited and not a felon, then he can call Tumi, which will in turn call you. Or he could call you. That might be the easier way.
And note that Tumi does not want to hear about your lost luggage, nor does it volunteer to facilitate in its recovery. It has other things to do. It wants to hear only from the finders of luggage. We all want to hear from finders of luggage; that's the fun part. It's those whiny luggage losers who are difficult to deal with.
So we have to ask, as Wittgenstein might, what would a Tumi bag look like without a Tumi Tracer Worldwide Product Recovery Program? It would look exactly like a Tumi bag with the Tumi Tracer Worldwide Product Recovery Program, which would in turn look exactly like the suitcase you have in your closet except without the fancy top-stitching.
I do not mean to pick on Tumi -- well, I do mean to pick on Tumi, but I realize it might be unfair of me. There are many commercial depredations out there, and Tracer programs that don't trace anything are by no means the most egregious examples. Still, it's nice to know that the well-heeled have to put up with the same marketing wiggle-waggles as the rest of us.