Vacation daze

Friday, July 13, 2007

Vacations are great, but they're hard to explain to your cat.

A few years ago we left for two weeks and had a friend make daily visits to feed and fuss over Miss Kitty, who decided to leave home. She was gone for an additional two weeks after we returned. Then she sauntered through the patio one afternoon as if nothing was amiss and took up residence again.

When we left on our vacation near the end of June, we talked to Miss Kitty about our impending absence. Yes, we talk to our cat. My wife talks to houseplants, too.

No matter how well you explain something, a cat only hears what it wants. So when we didn't come home after the first day of our vacation, Miss Kitty jumped to the only logical conclusion she could think of: We had run away from home.

What a pity, Miss Kitty must have thought, because one of the neighbors was showing up every day to water outdoor flowers and fill the food and water dishes. Why would anyone want to leave that?

When we got home, Miss Kitty's first reaction was to treat us like complete strangers. That's Miss Kitty for you. She can't talk, but she gets her message across all the same.

I've mentioned before how people tend to take their own surroundings for granted and can't tell a visitor many specifics about the town where they live.

Take, for example, the volunteer working in the visitors center in the tiny village of Yachats on the Oregon Coast where we spent two weeks watching the tide come in, go out and come back in -- over and over and over. That is what my wife and I call a relaxing vacation.

We had gone to the visitors center because a shop we wanted to visit was listed in the phone book as being on Prospect Street, but we couldn't find it.

Keep in mind that Yachats has all of a dozen or so named streets, at the most. So I was surprised at first when the volunteer didn't immediately point to Prospect Street. After some deliberation and looking at a street map, he concluded that the only street on the map without a name quite possibly could be Prospect Street. We could look out the window of the visitors center and see where he was directing us about two blocks away. Sure enough, the street turned out to be Prospect Street.

Like so many others in Oregon, our helpful volunteer was not a native Oregonian. He was retired from the University of Illinois.

That same day we saw someone wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with two words: Oregon Native.

So many small businesses have sprouted along the Oregon Coast as more and more tourists head that way. My wife and I were struck by the ingenuity of some of these entrepreneurs.

For one thing, many of the businesses recognized the seasonal appeal of their services or products, so there were plenty of business signs that offered some unusual combinations.

There was the art gallery that also was a real estate office. My wife liked the coin-operated laundry/showers combination. We both wondered about the tax-preparation service/massage parlor but then decided it made perfect sense. We stopped at a sprawling shop featuring imports from Mexico and pet shampoos.

On the coast, the July temperature got up to 70 during the day and down in the 50s at night. We loved it.

Then we drove back to Portland on the Fourth of July to visit my wife's niece. Portland, and most of the Northwest, was in the grip of a scorching heat wave. It was 92 that afternoon.

There's not much air conditioning in Portland, so we suffered. Fortunately, our hotel room had AC. It also had a spectacular view of glacier-capped Mount Hood. Just across the Columbia River in Washington there was a huge fireworks display.

So we celebrated Independence Day sitting in a blast of hotel air conditioning watching fireworks with a volcano in the background.

Not a bad way to end a vacation.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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