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An oxymoron called ‘family vacation’

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Daedalus Howell/Index-Tribune

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When the county in which one lives annually takes top rankings as a travel destination, it’s hard to wonder why any of us would want to leave. Yet, every summer, flights are booked, trailers are hitched and real life is packed and stowed, a ritual charade of alleged fun and frivolity called “family vacation.”

Has no one noticed the very term is an oxymoron? In my limited experience as a husband and father to a single 5-year-old, I’m a relative neophyte when it comes to familial travel. A week here, a weekend there – I’ve only ever attempted family vacations in small doses. Then I tried two weeks, which proved the metaphysical equivalent of having my stomach pumped.

Coming, as it did, on the heels of a birthday, I’m not sure what made me greyer. After two weeks on the road visiting allegedly idyllic spots along California’s central coast, my hairline has been frosted with a striking lack of pigmentation.

I was laboring under the misapprehension that one is supposed to be rejuvenated by vacation – emphasis on the “juven,” from the Latin for “young.” Instead, I’m older, poorer, my wife won’t talk to me and my son keeps expressing astonishment at my sudden old age.

I blame it on the camping, which, for me, amounted to a miserable couple of weeks of digital deprivation fraught with familial fracas and the persistent feeling that I’ve made terrible choices in my life. I endured by fantasizing that Big Foot might appear to put me out of my misery, or least bring me a decent cup of coffee.

Once we made it further down the coast to my sister-in-law’s place in Santa Barbara, I was able to negotiate a micro-“mancation” for myself, which amounted to a 12-hour odyssey to LA, simply to expose myself to some urban angst and get the fresh air out of my lungs. I spent most of the time in traffic or at the movies. Basically, I’m at my happiest sitting alone in the dark.

After a couple hours of traffic and sifting my broken dreams from the sands and cigarette butts of Venice Beach, I stopped into a diner and ordered a burger. I had no idea it was a front for some freakish experiment in molecular gastronomy until my meal arrived replete with a crimson square of “ketchup leather” atop a patty of some species of bovine wait-listed as an endangered species. It was delicious, I loved it, and I’m still reconciling what that says about me.

Needless to say, I’m very pleased to be home, bathing in the passive radiation of my wireless Internet connection and beams of bluetooth, clicking through the hilarity and hijinks surely contained in my 1,372 unopened emails.

I’m presently in Petaluma and am relieved to be available by email, phone, text and all manner of modern means of communication. I can also do smoke signals, which I mastered when my coat caught on fire (or would that be “blazer?”) while participating in the American culinary fiasco known as s’mores. Graham cracker, chocolate, marshmallow, fire. I’m pretty sure a s’more is what you’d get if you asked Willy Wonka to create napalm.

Chats about next year’s family vacation have already started to surface around the dinner table. Hawaii has been mentioned. I hear it’s a place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that’s just one good wave from being Atlantis. Can’t wait. Though I suspect I might be invited to stay home – my top ranked travel destination. At least the angst is free.

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Daedalus Howell is staying home at DHowell.com.