With the approach of the traditional summer travel period, I can’t help but wonder how many vacationers will be booking a reservation at that once-popular resort known as Veranda Beach. In other words, will they choose to stay home?
You don’t hear much about the veranda destination these days, since "veranda" is a word tottering on the verge of obsolescence. It’s a synonym for "porch," and although new front porches are sprouting in many neighborhoods, the porch and the veranda years ago were supplanted by the deck and the patio. But this is not about sitting at home and watching the grass grow. It is about a favorite vacation strategy-going places in the family car.
American families have always had a love affair with automobiles, an infatuation that has persisted over the years. They were introduced in the early 20th century but didn’t become an item for the common man to consider until Henry Ford began to market the Model T in 1908. By the time the model was withdrawn from the market in 1927, more than 15 million had been sold.
Families for generations loved the freedom of the automobile, especially when it came to planning a summer vacation. Nearly everyone has memories of summer road trips to places both near and far. The suitcases would be packed in the trunk, the children positioned in the back seat, and the family would set off on a much-anticipated trip.
As cars became larger and more powerful, they also became more elaborate. It was like sitting on the sofa in your own living room, watching the scenery as the family motored through the countryside. Such trips led to travel games; compiling lists of license plates from various states observed on the road or counting bridges driven under or over were always popular pastimes.
The emergence of the station wagon as a popular model in the 1950s encouraged distant family travel. The wagons were roomier and more commodious, ideal for the long days of driving to the national parks of the West or the distant reaches of Ontario or Quebec, where the fish supposedly grew bigger and hungrier.
I don’t wish to lapse into the past tense as I describe the pleasures of such excursions, but I wonder how many families will be making those journeys during the summer of 2011 and the years ahead.
Consider my own experience as an example. We were planning a drive to North Carolina to visit our cousin in Chapel Hill. You probably could complete the trip in one long day of driving, but hey, we’re on vacation, so why not enjoy? So we would be staying one night on the road on the way south and another on the return trip.
Before I started checking the maps and considering the location of two potential overnight stops, I reacted in an unusual way: I started working with my calculator. I decided I should know the approximate cost of the gas for the trip. I had never done that before because gas was just an incidental commodity, but things are different now. Hardly a day passes without a familiar visual on the 6 o’clock news, a closeup of gallon prices on a gas pump.
This is what I found: 840 miles each way at 20 miles per gallon equals 42 gallons of gas. At $4 per gallon, the roundtrip fuel cost would be approximately $336, and that makes no allowance for any side trips or driving around the block looking for a parking space. In addition, we would be spending two nights in motels and having several meals while traveling. My total estimated cost was $700.
It’s still less expensive than flying, but not by much. And, of course, the airline gets you to your destination in a couple of hours, but either the cousin has to go to the trouble of meeting the plane or reliable local ground transportation must be found. The hassle at the airports in both directions and the interminable waiting in the terminals is a big negative. When going by air, all the travelers see is either the inside of the airport or the inside of the plane. In a car, it’s like a continuous movie, a slice of life-cows in the pastures, towns and villages, people involved in the pursuits of their daily lives.
I’m going. If you decide to try Veranda Beach this summer, please send me a postcard.
Dick Hirsch is a longtime contributor to the Opinion page.
5/27/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.