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June 05, 2008  |  The vacation getaway  |  8616 hit(s)

I promised (myself, anyway) a while back that I’d find some more fun cites from David Owen’s book Sheetrock & Shellac. If you’re just joining us[1], Owen is a writer who bought a 200-year-old house, and in the course of maintaining and improving the house, has learned and written a lot about home improvement. That is, specifically from the perspective of a guy who writes for a living as opposed to, you know, doing construction. As noted before, the book Sheetrock & Shellac is an enjoyably wandering tour through Owen’s adventures in building (having someone build him) a cabin.

So. With summer nearly here (except in Seattle, it appears), one’s thoughts turn to things like vacations. Are you thinking of going away this summer? Sounds like fun. But maybe you dread the hassle of packing everyone and everything up and spending hours in the car. Let alone the sharp pain you know you’ll feel when you refill the gas tank.

Here’s a novel feature of David Owen’s cabin: it’s in the same town where he and his family live. That’s right; their vacation home is something like 20 minutes away from their normal home. Owen observes the following:
I know a number of people who own or rent second homes, and many of those people eventually reach a point where getting away becomes something they yearn to get away from. Often that happens when their kids have grown old enough to formulate weekend plans of their own. It also happens when the thrill of mere novelty has faded—as always happens, since novelty is evanescent by definition. Fifteen years ago, some neighbors of ours bought a cabin in the mountains in another state. They visited faithfully, for a while. Then, gradually, the commute became irksome. Do we have to go to our wonderful, expensive place in the mountains again? their kids would whine. Summers were worse, because then the kids wanted to stay home, near their friends, and the parents were left to brood about wasted property taxes and mortgage payments. After a few years of increasingly reluctant visits, our neighbors sold their cabin to someone else, and good riddance.
Hmmm. Maybe hauling the nuclears to a distant location isn’t really as much fun as it seemed. In addition to having seen the downside of having every family vacation perpetually tied to a distant investment property, Owen had had an experience that convinced him that the location for his cabin might be ideal:
Experiencing a therapeutic change of scene requires less actual travel than most people generally assume. One weekend when I was ten, my parents and some of their friends took my sister and me and some of our friends to a Holiday Inn. The Holiday Inn was just on the other side of town, maybe ten miles away. None of us kids had a chance to get bored or cranky in the car on the way there; fifteen minutes after leaving home, we were splashing in the pool. We played miniature golf. We ran around. The grown-ups made cocktails and glanced toward the pool occasionally, to make sure we hadn’t drowned. We stayed less than twenty-four hours, but by the time I got home I felt as though I’d had a real vacation. It was the change, not the distance, that was significant.
Perhaps you balk at the idea of a vacation home that you can bicycle to. But you might at least consider whether the weekend getaway has to be all that away. Consider the conveniences of a vacation where you could, for example, run home to pick up the mail and walk the dogs. I can see the appeal. In fact, I might go check out Holiday Inns right now.

[1] As Terri Gross says about 4 times during every episode of NPR’s Fresh Air: "If you’re just joining us, I’m talking to ...". The editor in me says--every time, no fooling--"If we’re not just joining you, who are you talking to?"

Nancy   05 Jun 08 - 10:05 AM

What a relief to know I'm not the only one who has that reaction to "if you're just joining us." And three cheers for the close-to-home vacation, the day trip, and the staying-at-home-with-the-phone-turned-off.