The Cost-Benefit Analysis!

Fredericksburg had a hotel (see “I Like Not Camping!”); everything else was dependent upon that! From the early days of our marriage, my wife and I were enamored with the offerings of the Commonwealth of Virginia. From its eastern shore beaches to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west, we hit the road to explore its expansive natural beauty and historic landmarks. Our hotel was Central Command for the daily treks.

Fredericksburg is part of the Northern Virginia region, north of Richmond and approximately 45 miles south of Washington, DC. Although not known as the gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Fredericksburg had a hotel and it was from there that we embarked on a 200-mile westward day-trip to Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway – “America’s Favorite Drive”.

What may seem an arbitrary admission now, I must profess that my wife is of the “been there…done that” persuasion, which limited our exploration of any one location…“so many places to see, so little time!” Consequently, it was necessary to cram as many miles and destinations into the “here and now”, as the likelihood of a return visit to the region would be…well…absurd.

As you surmised, we had set an ambitious itinerary, covering many miles. Taking advantage of the pre-dawn promise of a pleasant summer day, we packed a picnic basket with an assortment of snacks and beverages and headed out the door. The analogy, however, between places and time is imperfect in that the shortest distance between two points is often boring. Avoiding the fast-moving, as-a-crow-flies, beeline byways, we targeted the less beaten, scenic path to our first destination…South Royal, VA…the northernmost entrance to Skyline Drive. One and a half hours and 70 miles through the agrarian Virginia outback. “Down the country” as the locals would say.

The second leg of our journey took us south along Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive is a two-lane, National Scenic Byway, which traverses the Eastern Continental Divide. The torturously meandering route boasts 75 scenic overlooks and 2 visitor centers (with restrooms), but can only be accessed (or egressed) at four evenly-spaced points; the southernmost point…Rockfish Gap…being our destination…105 additional miles or two “long” hours (without stops), if you’re tracking. For those that miss the escape ramp at Rockfish, Skyline Drive continues south as the Blue Ridge Parkway for an additional 469 miles.

For the final leg of our trip, we opted for direct, well-traveled thoroughfares; a two hour, 90-mile return trip to Fredericksburg…confident we’d arrive in time for dinner. The Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center is located at Skyline Drive milepost 51. Shenandoah National Park’s southernmost public facility operates on weekends between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.; we were burning through the oil of a late Saturday afternoon, nigh closing time. The sign indicated that Mr. Byrd, Sr. was an American newspaper publisher and political leader of the Democratic Party in Virginia who passed away in 1966. Unaware of the societal successes that justified his memorialization-by-name on this end-of-the-road Visitor Center, we were just as grateful for the use of his restrooms. And so we did, then headed back on the road to Fredericksburg.

But this isn’t really a story about Virginia or site seeing. It may as well be a tale on the subject of purses; that effeminate accessory that’s been at my wife’s side longer and more assuredly than me. Regardless of its form…backpack, baguette, bowling bag, bucket bag, clutch, doctor’s bag, envelope bag, feed bag, hobo bag, messenger bag, minaudiere, saddle bag, satchel, shoulder bag, sling bag, tote bag, or weekend bag…(deep breath)…the purse or pocket book has been an instrument of womenkind since the 15th century. Don’t take my word for it, the Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam, the Netherlands (yes, it exists), professes that “The introduction of pockets towards the end of the 16th century meant that the men’s bags slowly disappeared in the course of the 17th century. From then on, bags belonged almost exclusively to the women’s domain.” (http://tassenmuseum.nl/en) My wife’s purse was her sine qua non; indispensable. From my perspective, the purse, supported by the advent of the automobile, was critical to the success of marital long distance travel.

Fredericksburg had a hotel, to which we returned at approximately 5 p.m. Moving through the unlocked door, we tossed our belongings onto the bed and sat in the two opposing chairs to de-stress a few moments before heading back out to dinner. I shut my eyes…for one moment.

“Where’s my purse?” “Isn’t it on the bed? Look behind the picnic basket.” “It’s not there!” “Maybe it’s in the car…I’ll be right back.” I returned from the van, a little more exasperated. “Well…where could you have left it?”, which was less a question regarding its whereabouts, than my reconsideration of its historical significance!

“Well…we stopped at the Visitor Center to use the bathrooms.” “Do you remember having your purse then?” “I had to have had it…my toothbrush was in it and I remember brushing my teeth!” Another arbitrary admission…my wife is a dental hygienist. Factoid about hygienists…if they aren’t sleeping, they are, more often than not, brushing their teeth…it’s what they do.  What they have is super white teeth…it’s their superpower! She followed, “I may have left my purse in the Visitor Center washroom.” (“Way to go, Wonder Woman!”)

At 6 p.m., my wife phoned the closed Visitor Center and was lucky to reach an attending park ranger. I sat nearby in my chair, listening as my stomach growled. “You did…that’s great…yes…great…my husband will come and pick it up…great…yes, he knows the way…yes, ha ha…he would know that already…OK…yes…thank you so much! You have a good night too!” Click! “They have it at the guard gate and they’re expecting you.” In that moment, it was obvious to me that the fact that my wife had already made this journey once, coupled with the lack of her requisite purse, made it impossible for her to participate in the long, return trip! In that same moment, I also kept that conclusion to myself, only now sharing it with you to complete the obvious connection-of-the-dots. Been there…done that! My stomach continued to growl and my brain responded with the onset of a headache.

But this isn’t a story about Virginia or site seeing or purses. It is, I promise, a teachable moment on the value of cost-benefit analyses (CBAs). Stop me if you already know this. CBAs provide a systematic approach to estimating the strengths and weaknesses of alternatives (i.e., should I stay or should I go). Applying equivalent money values to the benefits and costs can help you decide which decision would be best for you or, in my case, which alternative I would have opted for, absent the decision being previously made by my wife and the park ranger. So out the door I went.

There’s a lot of time in 288 miles. As I gazed out the driver’s side window at the passing deja vu-packed scenery, I couldn’t help wonder if the trip was economically warranted. The premise was simple. Would the fuel and depreciation costs of driving a vehicle 288 miles (check my math) be greater than the cost of a purse and its contents? With each passing mile, I advanced the hypothetical scenario. The average cost of a gallon of gasoline (1997 dollars) was $1.50. We drove a 1997 Chevy Venture (van), which averaged 19 miles per gallon. Doing the math…a 288 mile, there-and-back trip would cost approximately $23 in fuel. In addition, the depreciation value of a year-old van (assuming average mileage, maintenance, insurance and repair costs) is approximately $0.20 per mile or an additional $57. From “my side” of the analysis, the total cost (without benefit) would be $80. That was easy.

To calculate “her side” of the analysis took me every remaining mile; what do I know about the contents of a woman’s purse (that’s sacred territory)?!

At mile 25, my headache gave me my first inkling:

  • Aspirin (1 bottle, 100 pills) = $3

At mile 50, the obvious came to me:

  • Wallet (cheap, unremarkable) = $7 (Note:  the CBA assumes that credit card companies would be contacted to report the loss.  Credit cards, themselves, have no intrinsic value. Nor does her library card!)
  • Traveler’s Checks and Checkbook (no intrinsic value; notify bank)
  • Cash = $17 (we discussed in the morning)
  • Change = $4.25 (mostly in dimes, nickels and pennies jingling at the bottom of the purse)
  • Van Key = $5 (replacement fee)

By mile 75, I was freewheeling:

  • Woman’s Compact (with mirror) = $5 (I read that all woman carry these and that the ones who don’t are dead; is that true? If not true, I’ll take a $5 deduction!)
  • Moisturizer = $5
  • Brush = $5
  • Planner = $2
  • Mini-Calculator = $2
  • Cheap Sunglasses = $3

At mile 100, any essential items escaped me:

  • Lipstick = $2.50
  • Nail Polish = $4
  • Nail File = $0.25
  • 2 Pens = $1
  • Candy Wrappers (no value)

I arrived at the guardhouse at approximately 9 p.m. I handed my driver’s license to the park ranger to confirm my identify and my relationship to the purse. “Here it is….you don’t look so good!” “Long day” I responded. “And I have a headache…you wouldn’t have any aspirin would you?” “No…sorry…maybe there’s some in your wife’s purse.” I gave it a quick check…no aspirin! “Ugghhh…no such luck…well, thanks for finding her purse.” “Oh…I didn’t find it…someone in the restroom brushing their teeth found it.” “Another dental hygienist!” I mumbled.

My headache continued as I circumnavigated the guardhouse, waved goodbye, and headed back to Fredericksburg (again).

  • Aspirin (1 bottle, 100 pills) = minus $3.00 (deduct)

Darkness filled the remaining 144 miles as the late summer Virginia night surrounded me. The throbbing in my head restricted my ability to fill the remaining dark voids within my wife’s purse:

  • Q-tips (really?)
  • Hair Pins, Clips and Ties = $1
  • Tissue Pak (unused, $1); Tissues (used, gross)
  • Coupons (no value)
  • Unmentionables ($2)

Satisfied that I had accounted for a reasonable assortment of contraband within the bag, I completed my assessment by adding in the replacement value of the purse itself.

  • Purse (cheap, unremarkable) = $15

I struggled to complete the CBA. My Side = $80…Her Side = $82. My headache intensified! I arrived back in Fredericksburg at midnight; the disappointing results of the CBA reverberating in my head. Ahead, the soft neon glow of the hotel sign beckoned me to Central Command one last time. Out of the corner of my eye, I observed the lights of a small 24-hour convenience store. Aspirin!! I swung right into the driveway, parked the van, and walked inside. “Aspirin?” I asked the clerk. “Aisle 3B.” was the response. I walked up 3A, past the woman’s purses; my headache intensifying. Quickly grabbing the 100-count, I returned to the front of the store to check-out. “We have a 200-count.” “No…the 100-count will be just fine…how much?” “Three dollars.” I paid the clerk, grabbed the aspirin, and walked out the door, smiling for the first time in a long while.

  • Aspirin (1 bottle, 100 pills) = $3 (My Side)

My headache dissipated as I drove the remaining block to the hotel; the unopened aspirin bottle lay at my side. Fredericksburg had a hotel, and I was finally there; satisfied this would be the last time I would pursue a lost purse in the Virginia outback.

Final CBA: My Side = $83…Her Side = $82!

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