We were in the cab riding back to the airport on Maui. We had fifteen hours of flight time before we would return to cold wet Washington. "So," I asked the cabdriver, "how many times a day do you hear some tourist say ‘I never want to leave!’"
"I am sick," he said, "of people saying this is paradise. We have all the major problems of a big city. People commit suicide here, they have drug problems, they get into fights and shoot each other. Just the same as any other city."
He didn’t actually quote Buckaroo Banzai when he said it, but he might as well have said the famous line, "Wherever you go, there you are."**
Sarah and I spent almost a week in Maui over the break, attending a
relative’s ‘destination wedding’. The destination idea was a good one,
as the bride and groom come from families with diametrically opposed viewpoints on
everything from food to religion. Moving the wedding someplace out of
control of every other family member made the planning of the event an order of magnitude easier.
For Sarah and I this trip was a big deal. Sarah has a beach jones. Like most of us need water and air, she needs time by the ocean to be truly happy. It’s one of the greatest flaws of living in Washington for her. And so off to Maui we went, six month old baby in tow on a 15 hour airplane journey. (Ish did great, sleeping through most of it, by the way) Given the fact that we would be there for only 6 days, I ratcheted down my (and our) expectations about how much of the island we would see given the logistics of the baby. To date, the kid’s got a babysitter batting average worse than the Nationals, so we tend to stay close to home at least until he’s one year old or so.
We decided to focus on our wave-watching, tequila-sipping, beachfront bookreading skills and be happy with it. No expectations of snorkeling, diving, or parasailing that would leave one partner with the baby for hours on end. No need to sample the local restaurant fare*** that would play "baby roulette" to see if we’d be allowed to dine in peace. Just straight up beach time no farther than sixty seconds from a beach bar’s tequila collection. Virtually no e-mail would be read, no work would be thought about, and relaxation would be had.
It worked like a charm. It was successful enough that we were wondering to ourselves, "Why don’t we move here?" Doesn’t Mindshare need a Maui office as a forward base for Asia within the safe legal framework of the United States? How could we have spent all our lives and not realized this was the perfect place to live?
I was in the cab heading back to the airport having the above quoted conversation when it hit me: I had stopped working. I had done it in a really nice place, but for the first time in a long time, I had stopped working and let my mind relax and focus on other things. This isn’t automatic for either of us, which is why it was such a novel experience.
I started to think back to past vacations, like the trip with my side of the family to Florida, where Sarah spent her days in the condo on the laptop, and her boss sent her a large file box of documents via Fedex from New York that was almost too big for her to lift. Or like the guys I saw by the pool in Maui, red pen in hand, nervously editing legal briefs all day with their legs dangling in the pool trying not to get them wet. Clearly, at least I (and to some extent Sarah) don’t "vacation" very well. I think we finally got it right this time.
This is obvious but it bears stating that this is the true purpose of vacation. I didn’t think I was enough of a Type A for this to be a problem for me, but it appears that it is. This now explains why I have so long been drawn to remote vacations with no chance of cellphone or work access. Think Burning Man and my honeymoon in Cuba. No access, no work. Hell, if I could figure out how to stay at home and be truly inaccessible I could probably vacation here.
Though the drink and deli service wouldn’t be as good.
I think it’s also useful to get away to see if you want to return to work.* I’ve already spoken to a colleague at another workplace here in town that said to me he’s thinking about leaving. He didn’t say it specifically, but I suspect his thoughts of dragging himself into work on January 2nd created feelings of dread in his mind. He’s reading that dread correctly as a sign he should be moving on.
It’s a good divining technique; one I hope I will recognize if it ever happens to me. But for now I think I’ll focus on the next vacation, and making sure I don’t work through it.
*In the last 12 months I’ve come to love my job so much that last year before I left I made a list of my goals for 2006 that runs a page and a half long. Then I changed the heading and made it my goals for 2006 only through June, so I could make up a whole new set mid-year. I’m clearly in love with my job.
**In what I consider a highly ironic coincidence, several technology writers have used that phrase to represent the idea that your workforce can be working from literally anywhere, anytime. Something I now appreciate as a highly refined version of HELL.
***If you’re in Lahaina in Maui, I highly recommend the Lahaina Fish Company. Sarah and I had dinner there on New Year’s Eve before falling asleep at 10pm (Hawaii time) and had the following awesome menu:
- Raw ahi (tuna) cubes, prepared Hawaiian style (poke) which means they were marinated in spices and served with both spicy creamy and gingery soy dipping sauces (appetizer),
- Smoked octopus with pickled Maui onions (appetizer). and
- Ono (Wahoo) with a spicy rub (entree) and Opakapaka (Pink snapper) in a buerre blanc sauce (entree)
This was one fabulous meal. And our waiter had magical baby narcolepsy powers, so we dined in peace.