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"I still have no freaking clue what to do with myself when I'm not working, preferably from home."

While planning for our upcoming trip to Europe, I received an email from a colleague in Vienna reminding us that people there are generally out of the office and on vacation in July and August. I flashed back to the many postponed and foregone vacations during my professional life. I had a knack for becoming a key person on a time-critical project whenever scheduled vacation time or a major holiday arrived, and being the good employee that I was, I would magnanimously volunteer to stay behind and work. One year, The Insurance Company sent my first wife and I, along with our two kids, to Disneyland to repay us for the planned vacation I'd sacrificed in favor of overseeing a crucial implementation which didn't end up happening on schedule, anyway. I remember what a miserable time we had there, discovering that Disneyland roughly equated to one of the inner circles of Hell. That vacation started when we returned home.

Europeans treat vacation with a seemingly imperative reverence, like the devout consider church attendance. Americans treat them the way secular Europeans treat church attendance, as one of those practices grandma might have observed but which moderns mostly do not.
There, shops actually close, services suspend, and whole families travel somewhere other than home. Here, vacation seems more like a sort of dessert course where the canny diner might consent to take a peek, but usually opts out of choosing. Here, we need a pretext like visiting family or taking care of some distant business to justify going away. The idea of staying at a resort or even a roadside motel while simultaneously making the monthly mortgage seems profligate and out of reach. If grandma dies, we might consent to cough up the cash for travel. If it's not Christmas or Thanksgiving, and especially if it's high summer and the house needs its usual never-ending maintenance, we're more likely to stay home and paint the front porch in lieu of a proper, European-like vacation.

Two years ago, The Muse insisted that we take a real vacation, two weeks in Europe, toodling around France. We hardly knew what to do with ourselves. Our prior European excursions had with one exception not been vacations, but working trips where we squeezed a little touring along the side. Our business dictated the itinerary and evenings and weekends provided latitude for exploring. Even here at home, we almost never leave without a family or business agenda calling us out. Even a weekend trip to the mountains seems more inconvenience than getaway, and so we opt to simply stay at home.

The Muse remembers no vacations as a child, since summertime was high harvest time, no time to be away from the farm. My childhood featured bi-annual vacations, long drives to stay with my mom's sister and her family, featuring one or two nights sleeping in the car each way. We'd breakfast on dry cereal served in wax paper cups and lunch on cold hot dogs at a roadside pullout. We'd usually splurge once for a hot breakfast in a real cafe one morning along the way, where us kids would order cold cereal in little individual boxes, a special treat. Vacations seemed more ordeal than adventure, though adventure would invariably find its way in. We'd drive past billboards advertising motels with heated swimming pools knowing that those were not for people like us. Rich people stayed there, idlers who probably drove Buicks or Cadillacs and enjoyed playing golf and tennis, more European than authentic American, at least to our minds.

Coming home served as the best part of every vacation. Returning was like rediscovering the place. Finally, a world where everything seemed ready-to-hand. No more sleeping next to my brother on that hide-a-bed on the sandy sleeping porch. No more alien food. No more long, boring afternoons watching stupid Superman reruns on the cousin's TV because it was too hot to go outside and too suburban to walk anywhere. My bike awaited my return, as did my friends and my favorite haunts. Vacations felt like holding my breath for two solid weeks and it's really no mystery why I found them optional and objectionable when I became an adult. The Muse mentioned that she might plan a trip to New York City for later in the summer, and I heard myself saying that I'd probably opt to stay home. I love to visit New York, but the idea of leaving seemed more inconveniencing than enlivening. Home is where vacation isn't, and I still have no freaking clue what to do with myself when I'm not working, preferable from home.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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