What I did on my summer “vacation”

I’m back from the “vacation” that never was. I want to thank all my regular readers for tolerating the “revisited” posts of last week, and I want to assure you I’ll be posting new material for the foreseeable future.

I want to do these things, and I will.

I said last Monday that I’d be on vacation for the week because it was easier than explaining what I was really doing with my time. I was spending virtually all my eight hours at the office performing actual work, instead of killing time with internet browsing, playing Words With Friends, and writing my blog. And — I gotta tell you — all that productivity has me spent.

We brought in a “temp” worker and it was my job to train her how to proofread. Like many companies, mine is skeptical about the extent of this economic recovery and so prefers to augment its workforce without making a long-term commitment to someone who likes job security, benefits, respect, the occasional paid day off, decent pay, etc. So we call up the agency, and ask if they can send over someone who simulates humanity.

Actually, the person we got was quite good for being the lower form of life we call a “temp.” She was a recent college graduate, looking for her first real job. She was bright, quick, eager to learn and possessed excellent proofreading skills. She’d make a superior full-time addition to our staff, if only she had the patience to wait the several years it takes us to completely crush her spirit first and then hire her full time.

The five-day training agenda we planned had run out of steam by about Tuesday afternoon. I had failed to realize how pitifully simple my job had become, and how fast it could be taught to anyone with enough smarts to suppress a drool. I had enough exercises to get us through until mid-day Wednesday; then, it was either make her sit and read a 100-page prospectus cover to cover, or let her hang out like the rest of us.

“Let me get you internet access and show you the company intranet, and you can learn some more about what we do,” I suggested as I plopped her down in front of the terminal near where we keep the crossword puzzles.

She took the hint, and within moments was checking online coupon sites and trying to think of an eight-letter word for “impetuous.” As I said, she was a quick study.

Now freed of the obligation of molding a new knowledge worker to form the backbone of our burgeoning tech economy, I got to thinking about where I should’ve been in the middle of summer: on vacation, like I said I’d be.

For reasons I won’t go into now, I’ve had to suspend all vacation-going-on for the immediate future. I have a proud history of many exciting travel adventures over the years, despite the fact that my earliest trips took the form of an annual 22-hour drive each August from Miami to Pennsylvania, in an un-air-conditioned 1966 Mercury to visit un-air-conditioned relatives.

I’ve even kept a log over the years of the diverse destinations I’ve visited. 1982: The World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. 1985: a Caribbean cruise to Haiti (what was I thinking there?). 1988: Napa Valley and San Francisco. 1989: Biloxi, Mississippi (see Haiti comment). 1993: Disney World. 2004: Oshkosh, Wisconsin. 2005: Another cruise, up the Inside Passage to Alaska.

Now, halfway through 2011, I’m looking at three-and-a-half years where I haven’t left a circle that extends 25 miles around my South Carolina home.

With the training complete and this past weekend upon me, I was ready to at least take a “mini-vacay” from the drudgery and the obligations that my life has become. Saturday was spent mostly catching up on sleep, though I did venture out for a scenic excursion to the York County Convenience Center (formerly known as the dump) to recycle some boxes. When my wife woke up mid-afternoon following a night working third shift, she announced she was meeting a friend from her knitting group for dinner. I could come along if I wanted (not likely) or I could spend a Saturday night alone and feeling sorry for myself.

I chose martyrdom, a very under-rated state of being as long as it doesn’t involve death.

When Beth came home, I vowed that I would spend the next day doing something “fun.” She encouraged me to follow through with that pledge, and I woke up the next morning committed to making Sunday into a “Funday.”

But how does a 57-year-old man have “fun”? What kind of impetuous serendipity is socially acceptable for an old guy like me?

I mentally reviewed some of my life’s unfulfilled goals to see if I might be able to squeeze one of them into a random day in July.

I’ve always wanted to travel to Paris. I went to Google Maps to calculate the driving distance, and received the message “we could not calculate directions between 348 Brookshadow Drive, Rock Hill, SC 29732 and Paris, France”. Seems there’s the tricky matter of traversing the Atlantic Ocean in a Honda Civic.

Okay, perhaps I could catch a flight to New York in time to enter the Yankee lineup and crush a game-winning walk-off grand slam. Nope, the Pinstripers were in Toronto for a four-game set.

Maybe I could become addicted to heroin. I’ve always been tempted by the life of addiction and despair that is the lot of the junkie. I could bliss out on the couch and dream I was traveling somewhere, maybe even through another dimension. Impossible, according to the CVS pharmacist who refused to hook me up.

So, instead of fun, I was once again going to have to settle for its ugly step-cousin “satisfaction.” I did several loads of laundry. I cleaned floors. I tackled some yardwork. I did pause long enough to lie on the couch and watch the British Open for a time, but this proved less-than-a-barrel-of-monkeys.

Around mid-afternoon, I gave up altogether and went for a two-mile run through the neighborhood. Jogging along the highway just outside my subidivision, I spotted some guys roughly my age who appeared to be having a grand time. One was tooling along in his convertible roadster. Another was towing a boat in the direction of nearby Lake Wylie. A couple of forty-somethings went roaring down the road on their motorcycles.

It dawned on me that the most feasible way to be amused at my age was by extension. The middle-aged male body is not up to the task of frolicking barefoot through grassy meadows or splashing merrily in the ocean surf. We tend to step on bees and we tend to drown. We need a mechanical device, preferably one with a loud motor, to do our fun-having for us.

When I arrived back home, I found the answer to my dilemma sitting right across the street. Drenching rains last week had caused damage to the bank of the creek, so the city brought in some heavy equipment to repair the grounds. Being Sunday, the combination bulldozer/excavator/earth-mover sat abandoned in the grass.

Here was my chance for fun. I clamored into the operator’s seat, fired up the steely beast and steam-rolled at speeds up to two miles-per-hour around the subdivision. The wind whipped through my hair and a thrill shot up my spine. What a fine romp I had before being arrested for theft of a motor vehicle, trespassing, public endangerment and driving without a license!

And that’s what I did on my summer vacation.

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