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Trials of travel

SELECTING post cards during one's vacation ranks among the great challenges of mankind. It is second only to deciding what to tip a Washington cabdriver who doesn't speak a word of English. First of all, the picture post cards on the rack never show immediate surroundings.

They are always of distant landmarks one never got to see.

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There is a wide selection of sunsets, however. They all have a lavish red quality, suggesting not so much a lovely evening as the end of the world. Also, if you are one who reads the printing, you find that none of the pictures were even taken in the area. I found that one sunset card I selected in Sarasota, Fla., was made in Buffalo, N.Y.

The average person feels doomed in the face of things like this.

Of course, one could write a note on all sunset cards saying, ``I have been here a week and so far have never seen a sunset this good.''

Usually I try for a card showing the local beach. Now, a typical beach scene would show a stout middle-aged gentleman standing in the surf wearing an ill-fitting pair of flowered shorts and handing his pleasant, round wife the remains of a starfish. One can search every store on the main street but will never find this scene on a post card.

Sometimes I try to find a card showing the flora and fauna. But the nearest thing in Florida is an assortment of alligator pictures. And there is always one of a posed alligator biting a frenzied native in the seat of the pants. It will have a caption something like: ``Having my afternoon nip in Florida.''

Mostly, I end up taking a free post card from the hotel (which is always a picture of the hotel) and putting an ``X'' on the window of my room.

My message: ``Having great time. Wish you were here. X marks my room.''