Working At Play: A History of Vacations in the United States

Friday, July 31, 2009
A Book a Day:
Vacation Bureau

Dear readers, I’m so glad that you have decided to come along on my vacation with me, and wasn’t that clever of you to sneak into the suitcase when I wasn’t looking? I’m so sorry that I’ve been ignoring you all day,but I had to keep my location top secret, and as I’m sure you’ve already noticed, I don’t excel at censoring myself. But I do hate the distance between us that keeping this secret has created, so I’ve decided to give you a few clues to help you guess where I am.

Clue # 1 – The title of today’s book is your first clue.

Clue # 2 – I’m not roughing it. Of course that doesn’t really clarify things all that much since my definition of roughing it is traveling to a location that doesn’t have a bookstore. Rest assured dear readers, I have located a bookstore, and I may have bought a couple of books (what a shock!)

Clue # 3 – The streets smell like baked goods. I swear they must be pumping the smell in – and I’m so glad that I came armed with my own baked goods, or this would be pure torture.

Today’s book, “No one works harder at playing than Americans. Indeed, as Cindy Aron reveals in this intriguing account, the American vacation has seen a constant tension between labor and leisure. Aron offers the first full-length history of how Americans have vacationed.

Today’s book was not as fun as the cover made it look. It wasn’t awful, but it didn’t have that fun, retro kick to it that I expected. But, the book has enhanced my vacation vocabulary to include the following terms:

Excursions – In the mid-1800s the word ‘vacation’ was not a word frequently used. Instead the word ‘excursion’ was used. I officially love that, and will henceforth refer to this vacation (oops, I slipped) as a Top Secret Excursion.

Marginal behavior – My favorite sentence of the book occurred in a chapter that was discussing concerns that were raised in the early days of vacation resorts, concerns that resorts would lead to the moral decline of the nation, “Resort life seemed to encourage people to behave in what historian John Stilgoe has described as ‘marginal behavior.’ – I’m all about marginal behavior on vacation. As I’m sure you’re aware, after about five days straight of me talking about it, vacation time is when I get to suspend my no-sugar rule (well it’s not my rule, my immune system laid down the law on that one.) But what you may not know is that sugar affects me the way alcohol affects normal people, and so I’m a lot more fun on vacation –fun in this case being a euphemism for “one step away from having some serious regrets tomorrow.” Case in point: there is a rather incriminating photograph of me pretending to flirt with a statue. In my defense dear readers, he looked well-to-do, and how could I let a chance like that pass me by.

Coarse and vulgar – Another favorite passage involving a discussion of how James A. Bradley, the man who built and ran a beach resort on the New Jersey Shore, published a notice in the town newspaper informing the public: “BATHING COSTUME NOTICE! DO NOT GO THROUGH THE STREETS IN BATHING CONSTUMES. IT IS COARSE AND VULGAR.” – Another fun new phrase to toss around, and boy did it come in handy when passing someone wearing any of the following: fanny packs, peach socks, Crocs, tie-dyed shirts and. . . well I could go on and on, but why belabor the point. All you need to know at this time, dear readers, is that whenever passing someone wearing one of the preceding items I muttered, “coarse,” followed quickly by my sister’s reply, “and vulgar.” It’s always nice to be able to get one’s mocking down to short and manageable exchanges. After all, vacations are a time for streamlining one’s ordinary routine.

I look forward to reading your guesses as to my Top Secret Excursion location. Good night dear readers (and hasn’t this been the best vacation day ever?)