I love that magazines have a lag time, known in the industry as lead time. It refers to the time between the month that an article is written and the month it hits newsstands or gets to subscribers. In the May/June issue of “AAA’s Travel’s Companion” titled VIA magazine, six essay finalists were announced for Triple-A’s 2007 Dream Vacation Contest. Readers were asked to submit essays about their dream vacations, and 1,800 readers responded. While the finalists were chosen by judges, the winner was to be chosen by readers; the six competing essays were printed in the issue. The third one, written by a teacher named Chondra Winger in California, caught my attention:

He loved the United States before he set foot on American soil. He had seen American soldiers ride through the streets of Macedonia, bringing peace to a land ravaged by violence. Then Kujtim arrived, a 16-year-old exchange student enrolled in my English class. I shared Capote and guacamole, and he, in turn, described his mother’s bread, Albanian hip-hop, and the lights of Skopje. Soon my husband and children welcomed Kujtim into our family. We reveled in his stories of complex Macedonian-Roman ruins gazing up at a newly democratic skyline; mosques and churches flanking the Vardar River; a confluence of cultures cradled by grape-studded mountains. My husband and I could see ourselves there, weaving through the Old Skopje bazaar and dodging into a dark cafe for Turkish coffee. Just as Kujtim loved America before laying eyes on it, so we came to love a place we had never been.

Again, this was the May/June issue of the magazine. May was the month that we found out Albanians from Macedonia were plotting to kill American soldiers at Fort Dix. Nothing like timing. Indeed, it would have been a good time for Mrs. Winger to ask Kujtim why Albanians are trying to sever parts of Macedonia for themselves in their supremacist Greater Albania project.

May was also the month that VIA readers were to vote for the winner from among the six final essays. The September/October issue of the magazine has just arrived, and it announces, “We have a winner!” Guess who.

That’s right: the month that the Ft. Dix news was in full swing, readers selected Mrs. Winger’s rhapsody about the Albanian student from Macedonia to be the winning essay. While I appreciate that readers may have been touched by the pro-American overtones of the essay, the term Stockholm Syndrome comes to mind. So does the word suckers.

For a prize, reads the magazine, “[t]he winning essayist will receive his or her dream trip from AAA Travel, which is celebrating 60 years of granting vacation wishes.”

Let’s pretend we’re in “The Price is Right,” and give the Wingers a sneak peek of their dream vacation, from Chris Deliso’s book The Coming Balkan Caliphate :

Another fascinating case of what is happening now can be seen in Macedonia’s southwestern town of Struga, an ethnically mixed tourist destination on Lake Ohrid whose civil administration changed from Macedonian to ethnic Albanian control….[P]ermission was given to remove a small Ottoman mosque, which had been built over a Byzantine church, replacing it with a huge, Saudi-style mosque…Built very close to a hotel on Struga’s placid lakeshore, the new mosque’s well-amplified minaret blasts out the call to prayers five times a day, something that has irritated local non-Muslims and, significantly, foreign hotel guests. As a manager at one hotel on the shore opposite the mosque sadly conceded, “the European tourists coming for a quiet vacation get jolted out of bed by the noise coming from the mosque…and don’t return.” When asked whether such a policy was fair to non-Muslims, an imam at the Islamic Community of Struga…suggested that music wafting from cafes in the evenings was equally offensive to Muslims.

Hopefully if the Wingers visit Struga’s beach, they won’t have the experience that two Macedonian ladies did in July, 2006:

a Wahhabi fundamentalist group from a nearby village converged on a beach close to the Struga hotel. The unprecedented sight of 100 bearded, fully dressed Islamists gathered on a Macedonian beach seemed both outlandish and frightening. According to one young Macedonian woman who was there, “I and my friend were the only two women on the beach, surrounded by these Wahhabis. They were staring at us, and we felt nervous and decided to leave. What is going on? Are we living in Saudi Arabia?”

While in Macedonia, the Wingers should make sure to visit Skopje’s Gazi Baba neighborhood and pick up a must-have souvenir, one of those Chechnya jihad videotapes that are circulating there. And hopefully AAA won’t be thrifty about the hotels where it puts up its winning essayists, or the couple could end up staying on the same floor as Kosovo-based jihadist Samedin Xhezairi, who has networks in Skopje and utilizes “innocuous facilities like cheap hotels as logistics bases.”

Fortuitously, the September issue of VIA with its announcement of the lucky winner was released just as seven inmates have released themselves prematurely from a Kosovo jail in an armed breakout, at least one of them headed to Macedonia to destabilize the country in the event that Kosovo’s independence is compromised.

The Wingers had better get a move on this dream vacation if they want to return in one piece! The question is, if they decide to take a side trip and visit next-door neighbor Serbia’s Kosovo, will AAA be there for them when Albanians start shooting at their rental car if it happens to have Belgrade plates?

AAA: “Celebrating 60 years of granting vacation wishes!”

Careful what you wish for.