The other day I’m sitting in the waiting room at the Doc’s office. It’s a big room. There were about a dozen octogenarians. One mom with a small child. One blue collar guy with scuffed up boots. And one young twenty-something couple holding hands. All of them, every single one of them, were looking at their phones. Eyes down.
Even though my first reflex was to pull out my phone and join the social frenzy, I resisted. Instead, I did something that only boring people do. I grabbed a magazine from the end table next to me.
The magazines at a doctor’s office are not exactly the kind I would ever have delivered to my house. Titles like Vogue, Cosmo, Esquire, and Fortune. I spot one called, Travel. I pull it into my lap and start to flip pages.
This is my kind of book. A lot of pictures. Not much text.
Travel is an encyclopedia of exotic places from around the world. There are no advertisements for road-side attractions from the panhandle of Florida that say, “See Live Alligators.” Every page is a sensory overload of exciting destinations and glamorous people. Most of them perfectly tanned and groomed. Men with square chins. Women in cotton sundresses. Palm trees. Fruity drinks.
These are the kind of places where James Bond goes to hunt down the bad guy. The romantic beaches where he gets the girl.
The teasers say things like, “Go Boldly” and “Follow Your Dreams” and “Tropical Paradise.” One destination promises 500 acres of serene rain forest with over 30 waterfalls that will take your breath away. Another one offers a personal concierge for the duration of your visit who will tend to your every need. Another one guarantees to satisfy your culinary tastes with a world-class chef who prepares tantalizing gastronomic delights fit for a king.
I’ve never seen the word “gastronomic” in print before. The last time I had anything gastronomic was at the local Mexican restaurant. It wasn’t pretty. I don’t know about you, but I’m guessing we’re not going to sit down to meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
You want to stay someplace fancy? The accommodations are exquisite. If you’re feeling sheik, you can stay in a hotel the size of the Mercedes Benz Stadium with gold covered statuary from the tombs of the Pharaohs. If you want something tropical, there’s a luxurious Polynesian grass hut on a private beach that will make you think you’ve arrived in the land that time forgot.
The closest I ever came to going anywhere exotic was the time that Beth and I made a trip to Niagara Falls with my parents. My dad was in charge of accommodations. You can guess how that went. No mammoth hotel lobby with a view of the falls. No five-star menu with names of entrees no one could pronounce. We pulled off I-90 somewhere south of Buffalo and stayed in some backwoods motel that made me think of a B-grade horror flick with chains saws.
Don’t think that I’m complaining. Truth is, I don’t have an exotic bone in my body. And my dad wasn’t being cheap for the sake of making anyone uncomfortable. It’s just that when you grow up in an old farmhouse with cracks between the floor boards where you can see the chickens pecking at bugs under the house, it doesn’t take much to satisfy your travel needs. As long as a place had a clean bed and hot water, he was content.
When I was a kid, we took two vacation trips each year. One to Panama City Beach during the week of July 4th. One weekend trip in the fall to Cherokee, North Carolina. The summer trip was about four hours south. The trip in October to see the leaf color was about four hours north. From about 1962 to 1972, those two trips defined for me what a vacation was all about.
When we were at the beach, we always ate at Captain Andersons one night. We stayed in the same motel cottage every year. Green linoleum tile throughout. We swam in the same pool. Played skeet ball at the same arcade. Road the same rollercoaster at the Miracle Strip.
And in the fall, we stayed at the same motel. We road the same chair lift up to Ghost Town in the Sky. Ate the same pancakes at the same diner. Had our picture taken with the same Indian Chief. And went to the same outdoor theater to see Unto These Hills.
Our vacation itinerary was simple and routine.
I never thought of those trips as boring. I looked forward to every one of them. There was certainly nothing like the beach or mountains anywhere around Hampton, so, to me, they were very much like exotic destinations. Swimming in an Olympic size pool with those wide black lines on the bottom was an adventure. Buying a cap gun and shooting it out at the Silver Dollar Saloon was like living out every Saturday morning western I’d ever seen.
As an adult, I suppose I need to expand my horizons. Broaden my experiences. And I have visited a few places far from home. All three of my foreign excursions included accommodations with outhouses and food cooked over an open fire. The dining room was a picnic table under a blue tarp. Not exactly a five-star resort.
I had plans to go to Ireland in the fall of this year. I even put down a deposit last year. I looked at pictures of rolling green hills crisscrossed by ancient stone walls. Castles born out of medieval times. Small villages and coastline cliffs that would make Cherokee, North Carolina look like a cheap cigar. But life changed for me. The tour agency sent my deposit back.
Instead, I’ve got a cabin booked this summer in the Tennessee hills outside Gatlinburg. The views are not like the cliffs of Moher, but they are inspirational. The food will not be Irish stew from a pub in Dublin. But I’m pretty happy with burgers off the grill on the back deck. My daughter says we have plans to have dinner one night at the Dollywood Stampede. Food and horses sound exotic enough for me.
I’m not trying to be a stubborn old country bumpkin. I’d love to see places like Amsterdam and Tuscany and Dubai. I think maybe a stay on a tropical island paradise would be wonderful. Heck, even my dad went to Sydney, Australia one time.
So, one of these days I’ll probably go to one of those glamorous places in the 40-page high-gloss Travel magazine. I’ve seen pictures of friends who have traveled to places like Iceland, Mongolia, the pyramids of Egypt. Not doubt this world of ours is an amazing and beautiful place.
For now, however, my vacation plans are low key. I love the Appalachians. A simple cup of coffee at sunrise with no deadlines and no place to be sounds pretty good. The feel of a grandchild in my lap. Conversations with my kids over homemade peach ice cream. The sound of a good acoustic guitar.
I already feel relaxed just thinking about it.