IT HAPPENS EVERY YEAR around Memorial Day. “What are your summer plans?” someone will inquire. “Going anywhere fun?” And every year I do the same thing: suck in my stomach and panic. Summer vacation is fraught with expectations. What am I doing? Gee, I don’t know. I should have thought to rent a house or book a plane ticket or at least do a few sit-ups before hitting the Old Navy bathing-suit rack.
Alas, even if I had my act together, where would I go? Yes, New England is home to gorgeous beaches and lakes. The problem is, New England is also home to approximately 14 million people, all of whom apparently need to use the restrooms at Good Harbor Beach at 4 p.m. on a Saturday in mid-August.
Typically, I have relied on the kindness of relatives with beach stickers. For a while, this meant trips to Maine. Maine: The Way Life Should Be . . . If You Want to Waste Your Vacation Standing in Line. On my last visit, Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery boasted lines four wide at midafternoon, complete with a bewildered teen directing traffic in the parking lot, dodging flying gravel as if he were security at the Comcast Center. The crowd appeared on the verge of a collective migraine, but nobody was willing to call it a day.
The Cape is even busier. My mother-in-law lives there year-round, and the stroll to her condo’s pool is lovely. The problem is that going anywhere else requires roads. Here, an impulsive left turn on Route 28 could make you miss high tide, low tide, and possibly dinner. (On the plus side, by the time you reach the beach, you might find a parking space.)
Sure, there’s always a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket. But why overpay to be held captive on a boat with restless children and warm white wine? There are Disney cruises for that. The people walking on like cattle, the SUVs bursting with beach chairs and toilet paper, the toddlers slick with sunscreen careening around — it’s a wonder we don’t all sink like the Titanic.
Go outside and sit next to a sprinkler, you say. Leave the parking spaces for people who appreciate them. I get it: I’m lucky to have options at all. I guess it’s the pressure that makes me jaded — the sense that we have to be going somewhere, wringing the life out of our vacations, buying the tickets to simmer in the traffic and the lines among the very masses we’re fleeing in the first place, just to say we did it.
I enjoy being in the city when everyone else is traipsing to miniature golf and jockeying for space at the beach. Part of it is logistics: There’s no one on the road. Life operates in slow motion, gauzy with haze. I can wander into any restaurant I want and get a table, breeze north on 93 without sneaking into the HOV lane, and easily slide into a prime parking spot at my supermarket.
There are other factors. I’d rather not idle on I-495 spewing noxious fumes into the air; I’d prefer not to feed my toddler at a rest stop McDonald’s in a moment of gridlocked delirium; I’d rather not drop $300 on a couple of nights in a hotel when I could spend that at my favorite local restaurants — over the course of a couple months.
But mainly it’s mental. There’s a languid, luscious solitude in summertime that goes unappreciated when everyone’s clamoring for a whiff of sea air. It’s the season without expectations: no rushing, no schedules, not even actual shoes. Major decisions can be postponed, because someone’s inevitably on vacation. “Face time” is optional. I can take my sweet time replying to e-mails, because people probably assume that I’m actually, heh, unavailable. It’s so liberating.
So this year, I’ll skip rolling down the windows while sitting in traffic on the Bourne Bridge. Instead, I’ll open the windows of my house and my psyche to regroup for a while, before real life cranks up again.
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of hotel-room rentals in Massachusetts last May, at an average $155.62 per night
Kara Baskin is the author of Boston.com’s parenting blog, The 24-Hour Workday.
Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.