I know what you did last summer
It seems to be worse this summer. Or better. I haven’t decided. There’s definitely more of it, anyway.
Vacations. People take them, an interesting verb to use for something that’s supposed to be fun. “Take” implies will, intent, possibly aggression or force, certainly some thought and often planning.
Fine, if that’s your idea of a good time.
What’s changed this summer, as it has every summer for the past several years, is that more and more people are sharing their adventures away from home in some sort of online way.
They check in with Foursquare or Facebook, poking little virtual pins into virtual maps, letting us know their location and that they won’t be there long, oh no.
“Tomorrow London!” they post, making it more difficult because we suspect it already is tomorrow in London, while we’re stuck here in today. It makes the whole thing more obnoxious, really.
Right now, a couple of friends are in Hawaii, where it’s possibly yesterday, and an entire family I know has been traipsing around Europe for weeks, uploading a dozen pictures every time they see something spectacular, which apparently is always.
In the olden days, children, there was a vacation cliché so powerful that it crept into the culture almost immediately. This was the slide show, which became popular in the 1950s and ‘60s, often as a suburban stereotype, like backyard barbecues.
The cliché was that these were indulgent, boring events that were tolerated by friends and neighbors because eventually they’d have their own vacation slides to share and you’d have to come.
They were excruciating to us, the children, as back then we were expected to be well behaved and quiet, and no one allowed us to drink alcohol, which apparently helped the process along.
Those days are long gone, of course. Now we just upload our bazillion digital photos to Flickr or Facebook, and our audience can view them at their discretion and with as much alcohol as they want.
The intent remains the same, though: Photos are the DNA evidence of vacations, the accepted proof that you absolutely were in Paris because that’s you standing in front of the Tour Eiffel.
And there you are again, from a slightly different angle. And there’s the same picture on Instagram, this time with a funny filter that makes it look as though you were in Paris in the 1920s, searching for Hemingway and Picasso. How fun.
I’m not bitter. Do I sound bitter? I’m not.
What I am, though, is an outsider to this whole vacation concept. My wife and I, obviously not understanding anything, have spent most of our lives together being self-employed, something that might sound noble and empowering to those of you with real jobs, bosses, employee handbooks, and lots of pictures from Paris.
Let me explain, then. There are no vacations, or at least they’re few and far between.
Again you’re thinking bitter. Stop.
A friend of mine says that his driving dream behind the idea of retirement is finally not having to set an alarm in the mornings. Oh, well then.
I set an alarm maybe twice a year, and usually that’s just paranoia that I’ll oversleep (rare) and miss something important, like an early flight to somewhere that, while fun and different, is definitely not vacation-like.
So there are plenty of benefits to being your own boss, and my wife and I are grateful, but these days we can’t help but feel a little left out. The last time I had a paid vacation, in fact, was in 1989, during which I painted (walls, not landscapes). I’ve never been to Paris. I hear good things.
What we do, then, is pretend. Like kids playing with toy ovens or trucks, we approximate adult human behavior when it comes to vacations.
Last spring, for the first time in nearly 20 years, we went away by ourselves, just the two of us, although we didn’t go far, just down the road to Portland. It’s a familiar city but it might as well have been Paris, given the circumstances.
And two weeks ago we hit the road again, also staying in the Pacific Northwest, doing some hiking and visiting places that weren’t so familiar, taking some time to mark a belated 30th wedding anniversary.
It was fun and relaxing, and returning to our hotel after a busy day we found ourselves with an empty evening and no plans.
Checking the listings, I saw that a film we’d never managed to see was still playing in a theater nearby, maybe 10 miles away. As we got ready for a little movie magic, I also noticed that this very same film was available to rent on the hotel’s closed-circuit cable system.
It was pricey, but no more than the actual tickets would have cost, and thus we had a decision to make.
Just joking. It was no decision at all, really. The weather looked a little dicey outside, and the bed was comfortable. It was an easy call.
And that may be all there is to it. Taking elaborate vacations are more difficult in our situation, but not impossible. It could simply be that we’re just too lazy to have real fun.
It was still fun, though. Good movie. Some nice hiking. Quality time together, something we cherish, and no passports needed.
And I’ve got lots of pictures. Come on over.