Thursday, August 13, 2009


Vacations are very nice things. You get to go to a different place and temporarily live a different life. Going to the same different place for twenty years (ditto for our family trips to Hawaii, and my, generally, solo excursions to this spa I go to in Mexico), leaves no available time to visit other different places. But, though we think about those spots our repeat visits are keeping us from experiencing, nobody’s making us go to Michiana. We love the place. And we can’t stop coming back.

Why? On a sensible level, I have no idea. It’s a long shlep from where we live. When we get there, the cabin, left untended for the other fifty weeks of the year, is invariably in need of repair. There are lots of mosquitoes, not much hot water, and when trees fall down and take out nearby power lines – as they excitingly did this trip – there’s no electricity.

The two closest towns – Michigan City, Indiana, which didn’t wait for the recession, it went bust decades earlier, and New Buffalo, Michigan, a yuppie haven for sailing sloops and cabin cruisers that sleep six – are just what they are, two diametrically opposite places, neither delivering the long-distance traveler substantial any “must see” magic.

It’s not the place that brings us back. It’s the place. “The place”, meaning the exquisite natural surroundings. In Michiana, the leaves are green, and the sky is blue. (I will not be entering that sentence in any writing contests.) We have those colors in L.A as well – green and blue – but they’re washed out, pasty and pastel. (Smog is a contributing factor in this regard.)

Midwestern natural beauty is bright and vibrant, and on a good day – and there are many of them – shimmering. There’s something about surviving a punishing winter that makes nature emerge, as they used to say in Puffed Rice commercials, shot from guns. Maybe it’s the time off they get during the winter. Maybe after not having to be trees for a season, just tall wood, they come flying back to life, greener and tree-ee-er than ever. Robust is what they are. And a pleasure to behold.

No matter where you take them, vacations offer a welcome break from the regular routine. Dr. M works very hard. Time off allows her to abandon her daily schedule and responsibilities, kick back, and make me breakfast. I mean…take it easy. Whatever your job, it’s a relief not to have to do what you normally do.

Me, I normally do nothing. (If you define “doing something” as performing an activity people pay you for, which most people do.) For me, “vacation” simply means “doing nothing” in a different locale.

That’s too glib. There are meaningful bonuses. Even for a full-time layabout.

Bonus Number One. Dr. M and I get to spend uninterrupted time together. That’s always good. (Professional confidentiality – hers, not mine – precludes further elaboration.)

Bonus Number Two. For working people, "vacation" offers vactioners the option of doing what they don’t get to do at home. Meaning nothing. I know there are “Type A” maniacs who take their driven personalities with them on vacation as well – “We saw six churches, five museums, a glass blowing factory, and a ghetto. And then we had lunch.” – but such behavior is far from obligatory. On vacations, laziness is seriously encouraged. Vacations are battery-charging “Time outs.” Doing nothing is entirely acceptable.

It’s different at home. Every morning, I kiss my wife goodbye, I watch her leave the house, heading off to a responsible position at a building with her own office and, I believe, a parking space. And I’m in my pajamas. No matter how happy I am, writing this blog, playing the piano, taking the odd Extension class, inside, there’s a voice, asking this nagging daily question:

“Shouldn’t you be doing something?”

On vacation is the answer to that question is a resounding, “No!”

I do nothing all the time. It’s only on vacation that I have permission to do nothing.

I can’t tell you how much better than feels.

Bonus Number Three, which I’ll go into more detail about tomorrow. The vacation setting – like one that plunks me down in the middle of a forest – provides me with the physical, spiritual and emotional configuration to be able to read. In fifteen days, I read five books and took a substantial bite out of a sixth. That doesn’t happen at home. Aside from the paper and a couple of magazines (The New Yorker and The Atlantic), I don’t read anything.

Why don’t I read at home? I’ll answer that next time.

Hint: Get ready for some massive ingratitute.
A little “Head’s Up!” This story may help you avoid an unnerving mid-air mishap.

On my flight back to Los Angeles, I’m traveling “Business Class” – the “Miles for Leg Room” program. Half way through the flight, I get up to go to the bathroom. The “facilities” are situated up front, just behind where the pilots do their thing. I head towards the front of the plane.

When I reach the top of the aisle, I come upon an unattended food cart, turned horizontally, blocking my advance. When I reach to move the food cart out of the way, a very serious flight attendant swoops in and informs me, in an icily official tone, that if I take one step forward, I’ll be guilty of “breaching the cockpit.”

Though not an infrequent flyer, I have never heard of “breaching the cockpit”, and I think the flight attendant is kidding. The woman’s “no nonsense” demeanor convinces me she’s not. Her scary intensity tells me she that has access to equipment for stopping people from “breaching the cockpit”. Suddenly, I’m not in that big a hurry.

I can wait. The cockpit will not be “breached “by me.

Moments later, the pilot emerges from the bathroom. (Hence, the security.) The pilot knocks on the cockpit door, employing a highly classified secret code:


The cockpit door opens. The pilot returns inside. The food cart is now moved aside, and on the flight attendant’s signal, I am permitted to move forward.

It was a harrowing interlude. I could easily imagine the headline:

“Passenger gunned down while trying to pee.”

This is hardly the way I would like to be remembered.


Anonymous said...

You are right on all these details, Earl. I have stacked up some books to take on a week off starting Sunday. A week off? From what? Since I took 'retirement' in June, I haven't exactly been killing myself. Lunches at United with my sister (we are not as old as most of the customers, but we are practicing for the day when), trips to the park with the grand-daughter, watching TCM while having an 'afternoon nap'(????) And yet, like you, I cannot give myself permission to actually sit down and read a book or feel like I'm on a holiday unless I GO away somewhere. So I'll be reading on the beach in Nova Scotia soon.
You are right about the colours, too. Especially this year, with the constant rain and cool weather (global warming?) it's incredible. Nature is really showing off. Hubris. We had our first hot day, yesterday!

Joe said...

The irony being that if they shot you, they'd wind up mopping far more than they expected.

Serves 'em right, the bastids.

rms said...

"Tree-ee-er": I love that. With our cold weather up here in Toronto (now finally getting summer), our trees are more tree-ee-er than ever as well!

Torben said...

nice story to tell, where are you going for next winter vacations?