Sunday, June 5, 2011

As It Stands: Summer vacations: Costly, stressful, but oh, those memories!

Dave Stancliff/For the Times-Standard

Posted: 06/05/2011 02:40:23 AM PDT

Listen closely. Can you hear it? The high-pitched chords of “School's Out” from Alice Cooper's 1972 title track single is playing on iPods across the country. Summer vacation is upon us. Let the rituals begin.

Americans love vacations. We love to be entertained. We love to travel. With the current weak economy, however, a lot of us won't be loading up the family SUV and going very far down holiday road.

The price of gas alone is a daunting obstacle. Those with urban beasts that gulp a gallon every 10 to 25 miles will have to look for vacations near home if they don't want to spend all their money on fuel. Somewhere really close. Like maybe the next county.

Forget about flying. Not only has it become so costly you don't dare take a carry-on bag (the prices are going up, up and away), you might also be selected to be groped just because.

But I digress. We're talking about kids getting out of school and parents who feel a lemming-like urge to go somewhere special and prevent their whiny complaints about being bored.

Have you ever seen the movie “Family Vacation?” If you can't afford to go anywhere this summer, rent it for a good laugh. It'll also drown out the kids' whining if you turn the volume up high enough!

I remember going on old Route 66 from California to Ohio and back for a family reunion during the summer of 1966. I was 16 and my brother was 14. We fought every inch of the way. My mother's dire threats didn't carry much weight as she was in the front seat with Dad, and they couldn't reach us in the back of that 1964 Chevrolet Impala without stopping the car.

We didn't have video games or cell phones to entertain us, so we played classic games like “Slug Bug.” You remember that one, don't you? Whoever saw a VW first shouted, “Slug Bug!” and got to slug the other person on the shoulder. Those were simple times.

When I graduated from high school in 1968, a buddy and I took off for the ultimate summer vacation. We drove his black Slug Bug up the west coast to Canada, across Canada to Winnipeg, down to Minnesota, over to Ohio and New York, south to Georgia, and finally west again on Route 66, back to California.

You'll never guess how much we spent on gas. My buddy Larry, who has always been a hoarder (he calls it collecting), has every receipt for gas we bought on that trip! No kidding. It cost us $312.44!

He still proudly shows those receipts to anyone who'll listen to the story of our amazing summer vacation. Yes, he has food receipts, too, but I don't think he's added those up. They don't make as good a topic for conversation as the gas ones.

My wife and I don't worry about summer vacations anymore. We're retired. There's no longer need to shudder when the schools let out in June and our three sons get bored. No sweat now. No stress. If we feel like going somewhere, we still go, but usually prefer to travel when the weather's cooler.

Summer vacations are all about adventure and fun. Sometimes more adventure than fun, but that's life. It's a time for making memories. “Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it,” said Russell Baker. If you've ever had a bad sunburn from going to the beach in the summer, this observation may be especially poignant to you.

I'd like to give you a list of cheap places to travel this summer, but it's all relative. Have you been saving all year and do you now have a comfortable “nest egg” to crack for a family-friendly resort in Cancun?

Or, like many Americans this year, are you going to go a little deeper in debt and head for a theme park in the lower 48?

As It Stands, (in my best Michael Buffer's voice): Let's get ready ... to trav ... el!

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