Many naysayers have predicted that the family summer vacation, a venerable American tradition for over a century, has now passed away quietly after a lengthy illness. Supposedly, the final coup de grace was the recent rise in gas prices. But I say they protest a bit too much. I've taken a vacation during the month of August as far back as I can remember. Now I know the family dinner hour has gone by the wayside with an onslaught of television, cell phones, and way too many over-booked extracurricular activities. But I'm staying sanguine about the future of American mobility, and I’m back on the open road again.
Jack Kerouac initially took me on our country’s byways through his 1951 Beat classic, "On the Road." He showed us a route through his words that led to discoveries not only of our country by ourselves. He well could have taken his cadence and rhythm from turn-of-the-century poet Walt Whitman’s The Song of the Open Road, in his classic “Leaves of Grass.”
From the sour, freedom!
From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going were I list, my own master, total and absolute
Listening to others and considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
One important step during my week in the North Carolina Mountains is to take a secular Sabbath and shake free of screens, bells and beeps. Unfortunately, even as I've gotten older, I've developed way too much dependence on laptops, and PDAs that can turn into a modem. But no more. As I started this trip, I looked in the mirror and told the face there that my name is Jim, and I'm a techno-addict. But on this journey, I've committed to unplug and try to be more connected to myself rather than my computer.
And another cardinal rule this week. Absolutely no TV and talk radio. I can get the opening ceremonies of the Olympics on DVD a few weeks from now, and I really don't care about John Edwards’s love child. Radio shows on the east coast have constantly complaining hosts taking calls from a miserable whining public that I can do without.
And quite frankly, as I try to enjoy the mountain breezes, daily hikes, and get myself in better shape, television does little more than feed an endless stream of information about what's wrong with us and what we need to buy to make it right.
There is a constant bombardment of medical solutions including Advair, Aleve and Ambien; Celebrex, Cialis, Claritin and Crestor; Flomax, Lipitor, Valtrex and Viagra to list a handful. Then you are given grave warnings about all the terrible things that could happen to you if you do use one of these products. So if you don't suffer terrible consequences from the disease, the side effects of the drug could make your life really miserable anyway. Living is worse than dying. I'm not taking a vacation to listen to an endless stream of that claptrap.
When the commercial ends, the news comes on to report about all the things our government is warning we should be worried about, and that apparently only they can fix. All with our tax money of course. Terrorists, sexual predators, pesticides, light bulbs, cell phones that cause cancer, cigarettes, fast food, cholesterol, SUVs, asbestos, lead paint and a whole list of other hazards where a government program is needed to correct. Enough already. I'm trying to enjoy my vacation.
So no communication tools. Just a few good books (fiction, nothing serious, good tune outs), some comfortable hiking boots, a little fresh fruit from highway stands along the way, a few bottles of wine from home, and my 20 year old banjo I swear I’m going to learn to play well some day.
I’ll make a deal. You stay abreast of the political radio gossip and TV drivel while I’m gone, and I’ll get back to the task next week of second guessing those who govern us. In the mean time, let me get on with my travels. Or in Whitman’s words: The road is before us.../ Be not detained.
“I envy people who can just look at a sunset. I wonder how you can shoot it. There is nothing more grotesque to me than a vacation.”
Peace and Justice.