Thursday, July 21, 2011
My grandparents used to take the family away for the summer to escape the sweltering heat of the Sacramento Valley. They rented every summer a house in Stinson Beach right across the road from the house where my Grandmother’s Father had always and continued to have a summer rental. I can remember listening to stories of these summers. The supposedly haunted house that was my Great-grandfather’s; where my Grandmother and her twin sister were assigned the attic room which scared them to death. The house probably wasn’t haunted, it was full of bats she said as a grown-up, but they had fun hiding under the sheets and listening for scrapings and creeks and groans.
My mother and her brothers too had fond memories of summers spent at the beach with cousins, outside eating, the fog that hung about for most of the day, swimming in the very cold ocean.
My Grandparents were never well off, but they were well enough. My Grandfather and his brothers had inherited a Ranch that produced mostly dried pink beans, corn and some tomatoes, which my grandmother asked for when she married my grandpa, and the other brother’s wives supported. There weren’t a lot of hands on the Ranch and every one of the six brothers worked hard to make a living for the families they supported who all lived on the ranch. And yet even still they could afford a beach rental for the women and the children to escape the heat in a time before air conditioning. The men of course had to stay and work and took shifts taking time off to go join the families.
Things have changed a lot. Although nowadays we probably make more than my Grandparents did during that time, there is no way we can afford a summer rental and very little anymore can we even afford to do “cheap travelling” like camping out, with a family.
With more and more families out of work and more businesses feeling the crunch of customers and clients not making payments it is not shocking to find that travel is down this summer. People very simply cannot afford the cost of food, travel and lodging away from home. And camping out is not much cheaper either with many popular state and national parks costing up to $40 a night to set up a tent.
As usually happens, the federal government found some reason during the summer to open up the national oil reserves and bring gas prices down 10-20 cents. However this year the lower gas incentives aren’t adding up to more people going away. As I look around I see more people staying in town over the summer and when I ask they say they just can’t afford it. The cost of keeping a family is eating up everything that would have been left over for a vacation.
So what are people doing instead?
A great push has been made by publications catering to mums, both thrifty or not for something they call the Staycation. The idea behind which is you stay at home and spend the money you may have spent on a trip on doing things in and around your area. The idea sounds exciting when you read about it and see pictures. Big puppy piles of family sleeping in one room, not doing dishes, going out to eat, going to local nearby parks…
On second thought that sounds pretty much like what we do on a regular day minus the cleanliness which I’m guessing would just stress a lot of moms out and drive them to the other room and their computer; back to business as usual.
Real people I’ve talked to say they are spending a lot of time doing the work around their places that they would normally be able to pay someone to do. Things like exterior painting and repairs, plumbing projects and replacing and maintaining appliances. Peppered with a couple of BBQs and that pretty much eats up their short summers.
Which is another reason why families are able to get away less. Summers are shorter. This is because of the new-ish thinking that downtime is bad for kids’ brains. TIME magazine did a piece on this recently; (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2005863,00.html#ixzz1RWU9tdzg) and many teachers and administrators are behind this idea, calling summer vacation antiquated and stating that up to 30% of the academic gains are lost. Increasingly summer time itself has been shortened, in many areas kids will head back to school at the beginning of August this year. A large teacher lobby has been behind this because teachers have been losing their raises due to budget cuts in many states. More time to them means more money.
I don’t agree with the fight against downtime. In fact kids need time to be industrious, imaginative. The problem has become television and electronics as a babysitter. This is simple to fix, turn it off and kids will find something to fill their time. Sure your toaster oven may be in bits on the counter by the end of the day, but $30-$50 for a toaster oven is cheaper than summer camp anyway.
Another thing families are beginning to notice is they are no longer “middle class” I see their toys for sale all over the place, the boats, the 4 wheelers…I spoke to a neighbor recently who lamented both and seemed genuinely confused as to how things got this way and what to do with the summer. I now see their kids spending a lot of time playing in the front sprinklers.
Which in and of itself is getting to be an expensive pastime out of reach. With drought conditions across a lot of the states and water service hikes a simple pleasure of playing in the sprinklers can cost you as much as a $30 increase in your water bill. This adds up when you take into account everything else people are paying for as cuts across the board are happening.
No it’s not an easy way to have a fun summer. It’s shorter, hotter, dryer and more expensive. The days of taking off on road trips to cooler places and even educational excursions are sadly behind us I fear and I mourn a bit for those lost summers I will never have on Stinson Beach.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
Monday, July 4, 2011
So it's the 4th of July here in America, Independence day. Day of 3 day weekends, BBQ's, county faires and blowing shit up, which where I live is decidedly illegal and that much more fun.
Anymore I feel like this is less of a holiday and just another day that disrupts my routine. The whole weekend is spent avoiding the freeway because that empties into both Costco and Walmart where the masses are loading up on masses of shit. I'm a little out of it because of it.
Also I live in possibly one of the hottest places in the U.S. It's a weird heat. I just got back from a road trip to the southwest where the temperature was exactly the same as it is here and it was infinitely more bearable. The heat here is strange, oppressive, not quite humid all the time but always thick. At House Rhuad we combat this by hunkering down as much as possible in the air conditioned house until Dark, when we come out and cavort in the garden and square. As a result we usually miss the early morning semi-cool hours, but that's okay, we own the night and really it is nice to be able to move freely through a town with a different sort of people, the night ones.
As I mentioned I just got off a road trip which took me to the southwest and the beginning of the Heartland. Well, not really but Utahians like to think they are the heartland, they really do. What I noticed most about Utah was the churches, water parks and shopping malls as far as eye could see and every other billboard with Glen Beck's pasty face on it. It was dizzying and strange. All this from the freeway. It looked like white heaven. Especially with the other billboard advertising white stuff from clothing to mayo and the myriad places of worship. And don't kid yourself, the water parks and shopping malls factor in as big here as the churches.
Maybe bigger, it's hard to tell.
Off the freeway it's a different story. There were more Mexican markets in Utah than I have seen since I was in San Diego last year. It was a strange contrast from a state that is avidly in accordance with Arizona's crazy immigration policies and busy drafting its own illegal alien bills.
However, Mexican markets aside, we were hard pressed to find any other world cuisines. Other than of course the watered down Americanized Chinese food, etc. We were there to visit our college student and I really did not believe that there was no falafel in the stores there ,as she had told me. But there wasn't . Now I have to send a box packed with falafel out there for her. There also was precious little Indian Food, the best food we found came wafting from the apartment in the motel we stayed in. Delicious scents only Indian grandmas can create. I was told they order spices online.
This is the land where the 4th of July was once more important than any other holiday. Christmas wasn't celebrated in Utah by the early settlers, only Independence Day and Pioneer Day which are in the same month. Maybe because it was warmer and easier to get together. Anyway it looked like the whole state was heading up to a big asses explosion of red white and blue. It was a little frantic, a little scary. It reminded me a tad of film I watched of Anthony Bourdain's cookouts in Greece where men sat around shooting guns in the air and eating at the same time. Big pieces of meat. It felt like that.
It's a different America there than what I grew up in and in truth what I am comfortable with. My childhood 4th of Julys were on Coronado Beach in San Diego, where bananas roasted in coals with caramelized sweet milk. Mexican polka played next to 70's rock and fireworks lit the sky while we watched surfers so brown it didn't matter what tribe they were from. Little children digging into welcoming family campfires from all nations. Fresh fruits sprinkled with chiles from Mexico and the middle east. I knew we were a melting pot. We tasted good, like a rich stew.
Middle-ish America 4th of July is cool whip compared to that. And I get the feeling that they want to spread their cool whip message everywhere.
I hate cool whip.
It isn't real, it's made in a lab of chemicals containing nothing of what real whip cream is, something divine and to be cherished, skimmed off the top. It's a fake, a pretender. And it's cheap easy and filling and like this fantasy of Americana it's spreading to everywhere near you.
It makes me sad.
Anyway. This 4th of July I intend to eat my way around the world. Kabobs for BBQ, ceviche, roasted bananas, jicama with chiles, fennel and oranges and if I have need of anything white, it will be real. Believe it.
I also intend to honor our forefathers by doing something they did. Something less than strictly legal. Mark the Sky.