Days of Careless Joy
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Days of Careless Joy
By Marc Porter Zasada
Now it's deep summer, and the Urban Man finds himself far from the city, drifting along in the family minivan with uncertain ambitions of pleasure. By now we've come far north, to a place of many trees and ocean vistas.
You'd think that Angelenos would be experts in pleasure; that we would understand it in all its forms and measures: four minutes on a roller coaster, four parts to a mini-series. And yes, normally, we construct our pleasures with extraordinary care. Experts model those amusement park rides. Layers of studio execs approve each plot.
But of course, the best vacations shouldn't be entirely "programmed," and aren't supposed to have a "plot" at all. The best vacations, we're told, should tumble with a happy carelessness, like a kayak down a set of rapids. Pleasure after pleasure should appear as if by sudden luck, "Oh look, a cute antique shop. A waterfall. A fruit stand." And along the way, that metaphoric kayak should never get stuck... not in a supermarket or a laundromat and not in any long ticket lines.
You think you're safe if you book a resort, but that only raises everyone's expectations. At a resort the slightest inconvenience--a surly waiter, a second-rate balcony view--can ruin that expensive sense of careless joy.
All in all, a vacation is a tough act to pull off, and Angelenos prove no more expert than anyone else. Certainly, the responsibility often overwhelms the Urban Man, who finds each vacation day far too precious. It's as if someone handed me a suitcase with a small number of jewels, and told me to use them wisely. But no matter how careful I try to be, when I open my bag each morning, I'm shocked to find that one more bright gem has disappeared. Each night, I sweat over brochures. Should we do the Crystal Cave? Should we zipline, parasail, or Hobie cat? Four kids huddle expectantly in the back of the minivan--so any given afternoon could accidentally turn into a Chevy Chase film or a Dave Barry column: and me, I don't do comedy, you know, that well.
Last night, I read that the best tide pools in North America could be found just a couple of blue inches away from our cabin. I figure I've hit serendipity, big time. I imagine lifting starfish before the eyes of adoring children, and by morning it becomes a quest. Over breakfast, I talk everyone into a "longish drive," and just like in a sitcom, my wife and kids give each other knowing looks.
We head out, but soon the road winds and narrows into wet trees and Northwest fog banks. I begin to worry that we'll miss low tide. Every mile, I ask myself: Should we turn back? Could we still go parasailing? When we arrive three hours later, we discover it's still a mile hike to the beach.
Down we run in our rain slickers, and lo, sure enough, here are many tide pools strewn across a broad sandstone shelf. But as my kids leap from one to the next, they're not impressed. The pools suffer from, well... low occupancy--who knows, maybe global warming. We spot a few purple sea urchins, but nothing spectacular, nothing exotic, nothing worth a three hour drive.
Like any good PR agent, I stay upbeat--and I get out more brochures.
Don't get me wrong... I'm having a great vacation. But tonight, after a long weary drive back to the cabin, I know I've dropped one more jewel along the road. And as my head hits the pillow, the Urban Man does begin to dream of returning to the lower stress life of the city, where I can read a few reviews before I attempt any spontaneity--where I know both pleasure and pain can be predicted with much greater accuracy.
Copyright © 2006 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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