It's Not Your Father's Summer Vacay
Weird weather, woeful airlines, and COVID variants wreak havoc for the weary
One-third of Power Poll Nashville members have altered to some degree their summer vacation plans based on a combination of factors as long as my arm—cancelled flights, COVID, floods and fires, searing heat, rental car supply chain issues, the German Shepherd seated in seat 6C, among others. More, it should be noted, went ahead with their plans.
Flying is seen as particularly dreadful. Well over half of Power Poll Nashville members (57%) say they'd rather drive eight or nine hours than fly, or will go ahead and fly but "hate it." (Do the airlines have a PR/customer service problem?)
Meanwhile, given the thermometer's relentless climb and so little rain, 76% of members say they are either "much more" or "somewhat more" concerned about climate change given what we're experiencing on a daily basis. (Those concerns could be playing a role in our summer planning as well.)
Here are the questions and answers in this latest Power Poll:
It seems somehow appropriate that I now quote from an all-time personal favorite movie, that being National Lampoon's "Vacation," in which Chevy Chase plays the station-wagon driving Dad on his family's cross-country trip to Walley World. Things grow messy, as vacations do, and Chase's character, Clark Griswold, grows steadily less steady.
In one of the movie's more twisted moments, he erupts at his wife and kids in an official departure from reality:
"I think you're all f**ked in the head," Griswold screams. "We're 10 hours from the f**king fun park and you want to bail out. Well I'll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun. You're gonna have fun, and I'm gonna have fun. We're all gonna have so much f**king fun we're gonna need plastic surgery to remove our damn smiles!"
It was a rough summer for Clark Griswold. It's a rough summer now for a lot of Americans for a basket of reasons.
First, a little history.
The summer vacation is a distinctly cultural event in the American calendar and was born in earnest at the beginning of the 20th century. It was then (and thank you Washington Post for recently explaining this) that a standardized 180-day school calendar was coming into national focus. Summer was selected as the period when there would be no school. The reasons? Much of the country needed kids working in the fields. As well, many feared students would be overburdened with year-round school, and what better time to let them run around than summer.
And so, vacation was sort of baked into the calendar of an increasingly modern America. We do not all, nor did we all ever, pop open the umbrella on the glistening sands of a perfect beach and hunker down with a stack of books. But most of us now, in some way, give ourselves over to certain summer traditions—July 4, outdoor cookouts, family reunions, and yes, vacations.
Sadly, COVID has made difficult (for some) much of what enabled summer behavior, particularly as regards vacations. Global warming appears to be making a dent as well (think Yellowstone flooding, Yosemite in flames). Airlines face crippling worker shortages, having decimated their rosters when nobody was flying during the pandemic and now having a hard time getting them to return to the friendly skies.
Rental car companies sold vast sections of their fleets during the pandemic, and they're still in re-build. Inflation (particularly fuel costs) is ravaging the American family's ability to fill up the car or buy a plane ticket. If vacations are often beset by the anxiety that even the best laid plans can go awry, that anxiety has more reason to exist than ever before.
But enough drama, and worry, and trepidation. Let us just head on out! Why give up now?
In a wonderful first-person piece in the New York Times recently—"A One-Hour Layover Is Not Enough Anymore"—a flight attendant observed that "this summer is much worse" than average, and goes on to add that "I have seen many people miss important things like weddings, cruises, international connections and event funerals." But she still has this to say: "Travel is good for the soul. It revitalizes us, and allows us to re-center. Sometimes you need to feel sand under your toes, smell fresh pine trees, or immerse yourself in the sounds of a new city just to remind yourself you are still alive."
Absolutely. Thank you flight attendant Kristie Koerbel.
So whether you are headed to the Grand Canyon with the kids, or to catch a show on Broadway, or even if you're just choosing to grab the old canvas tent and spend several nights battling mosquitoes in one of Tennessee's gorgeous state parks, remember this: It's not always the destination that is what's important. It's the process, the journey, the getting there that counts. Or as Clark Griswold put it while steering the heavily wooded station wagon to points westward:
"Why aren't we flying? Because getting there is half the fun. You know that!"
About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.