By Michael W. Gos
King Ranch, Texas
We learn a lot of valuable lessons from our parents. Work hard. Don’t tell lies. Never punch out a moose. And most of those lessons serve us well in life. But we also learn some, shall we say, “less helpful” lessons. One of those is about vacations.
We were spending a bit of time on the King Ranch. For me it has always been a place with a two-fold draw. First, of course, is the historic angle. It was the largest ranch in America and it still is the most famous one today. Most of us have heard the stories of “Captain” King and how the ranch got its start. He bought the first grant (15,500 acres) at just under two cents an acre and then grew the ranch into the 825,000 acres it is today. Imagine, a single ranch larger than the entire state of Rhode Island.
King Ranch gave us the first American cattle breed, the Santa Gertrudis. King’s cowboys (the kinenos) also worked with the mustang horses they found roaming the Wild Horse Desert and through steady improvement of the breed, the ranch became famous for quarter horses and thoroughbreds. In 1946, they even had a Triple Crown winner, Assault, who is buried there at the ranch.
But there is also another, far more important reason I love this place. Out here I can just sit for a while in my boots and cowboy hat and feel like I belong. This place suits me. I wouldn’t mind just staying here for a few days, or months, hanging out in a small cabin and just spending my days ambling around the back forty. In many parts of the ranch there is no cell phone service. I could drive here (with a cooler of beer, of course), park my Jeep somewhere where I can’t see it, and just do whatever felt right at the moment. For a month of so, I would hope to see no signs of the 21st century urban world at all. That is my idea of the perfect vacation.
My wife wants to take a trip to Italy. I am okay with that. I’d love to see the art and architecture of Rome and Florence. Like everyone else, I’d like to do the gondola ride under the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. But I don’t want to do a two-week Grand Tour. I want to experience life there. Tuscany might be a good home base, but I’d want to live there for at least a year. Clearly, I am not—and never will be a tourist by nature; I am a vacationer…a long vacationer.
Unfortunately, that is often not how it turns out for me. More commonly, when it is vacation time, there are flights involved. I don’t particularly enjoy flying even under the best of circumstances. Even worse than the flight itself are the airports. Parking issues, hauling heavy luggage, long hours sitting and waiting, and eating very bad, over-priced food are all less than pleasant. And then, of course, there is the ultimate depravity: security. Every time I enter an airport I think about that morning, sitting nude (well, bottomless anyway) for a half hour on a cold metal chair in a tiny “room” at the Hobby Airport security area, my cell phone confiscated while the screeners were off somewhere doing something with my knee brace. It was beyond unpleasant. None of this matches my idea of a fun way to spend some time off.
But that is just the start. Once you get to your destination, there is travel from the airport to the hotel. Do you go through the hassles of renting a car or do you look for a shuttle? Then there is the hotel check-in process. Don’t even get me started there.
Of course, once at your destination, there are all the “sights” you came to see. The travel to them, the long lines and the fact that I am getting grumpier by the minute make this not only unpleasant for me, but for all around me. (Poor Jill. When you see her, give her your condolences.) And when it is all over, you return home exhausted and needing another week’s rest before you can even face the prospect of going back to work.
I do understand that many people have jobs that are not only unpleasant but also demanding in terms of their time and attention. Sometimes we just have to run away. Taking a week or two off and staying home is often not an option. Even if you can walk away from work (and most of us can’t), work will find you. The phone calls and emails don’t stop just because you are “on vacation.” No one cares, or even believes that you are truly “away from work.”
For many of us, our daily life is unpleasant enough that we will spend thousands of dollars and endure the inevitable indignities the travel industry forces on us just to be able to spend ten or twelve days beyond the reach of those responsibilities. Our lives have degenerated into 50 weeks of unpleasantness, or as Curley said in City Slickers, “getting knots in our rope.” Then we try to do all of our living in the two (or three, or four) weeks we call “vacation”.
This vacation business is tough, but before you say it is worth it, think again—you’re not going to get off that easily. Before you can leave on this vacation, you get the inevitable bonus of increased stress due to the need to get extra work done before your exodus. The whole time you are gone, you are entertained by worries about what a mess you will return to when it is finally over.
What I find most amazing is that this problem is ubiquitous. Somewhere along the line, it has become the norm. What I described is not surprising to anyone; we all live it—and do it, willingly. You, and just about everyone you know, are doing it. How did that happen?
They say the best way to impose an idea on someone is to start when he is still a child. I suspect that is what happened here. We grew up seeing this vacation scenario as “the thing we do.” Just as brushing our teeth, sleeping at night or taking a bath are normal because they are what we grew up doing, this mode of vacationing is what we were taught was normal. Many of us never considered an alternative. I remember the novelty of the “staycation” when that word was first coined a few years ago. We found it interesting because “we never thought about that.”
Yes, some of those lessons our parents taught us turned out to be extremely valuable in life. But some are less helpful. At the top of that second list is the way we vacation. It sort of makes you question other things you were taught growing up.
But I still won’t punch out a moose.