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Counter-entropy operatives at home

June 21, 2008

The Lady of the Lake at Wright Park

As usual, the media have named and described something as if it were new that we’ve been doing for years: in this case, staying home. But now the amazing phenomenon of staying home throughout the year is called taking a “staycation.”

A presumption exists in our primal schoolchildren minds that whatever we endure in life, it will be over when summer comes. This presumption has been extrapolated to the dictum that it is necessary to alter one’s routine in order to reduce stress. Getting out of one’s routine is the driving force behind the expensive, exhausting, perilous–and, since airline security requirements presume all travelers to be mass murderers–degrading remedy of taking a vacation.

Every vacation taken is a raindrop in the sea of worldwide travel and tourism, an industry that accounts for nearly 10% of the world’s GDP.

Hence, the staycation offers an alternative: staying home and taking on the local scene as if you were on vacation. You still have to plan and do all the same sorts of running around that you would if you were taking a vacation, and spend money having an exhausting time for at least a week. So staycations also contribute to the worldwide tourism and travel economy.

Some people spend tens of thousands of dollars overhauling their homes into desirable staycation venues. They feel the need to swear off email, and possibly their computers altogether. Some people probably should.

My husband installed new PEX hot-water plumbing pipes today, and I hewed a path through bamboo and rhododendrons and snatched 16 gallons of weeds from their grip on my assigned earth. Then we went out to dinner.

Our talents are diverse enough to spare us the stress of a vacation, or even a staycation. We go out for dinner whenever we want to. We have lots of local cultural options to pass over in favor of urban hiking, a healthy pastime that keeps us tuned in to where we are in space. We’ve traveled all over America and to many other parts of the world, and we routinely research other cities with an assessing eye to how they’d look as home. They come up wanting in one way or another.

My latest obsessive diversion is virtual visits to Houston. I’ve incited my husband to join me in looking over the city, its economy, its real estate, and its anti-regulatory climate. I have to say I admire a city of 5.5 million people spread out across more than 600 square miles, with no zoning.

In 15 years of looking around, I have seen no fine, majestic homes in Tacoma, at any price, that compare with what seems to be an average Houston house selling for under $200,000. An old house of about 1500-1800 square feet in average condition in Tacoma sells for about the same as an upscale 2,800 square-foot home less than 10 years old, with every conceivable amenity, excellent construction, in excellent condition. But the value of a house depends, among other things, on who wants to live there.

I lived in Houston in the 70s, and the driving force in my life was getting out of there. I took vacations all the time and always hated to go home. I’ve lived in Tacoma and nearby Vashon Island a total of 15 years, and haven’t been away from home overnight in 10 years. There are other considerations that hinder my traveling now–I was healthy in the 70s, and I didn’t have a diabetic cat issuing an 8:00 curfew order. But I don’t feel thwarted by those limits, either.  I like my routine as a domestic counter-entropy operative.

After looking at storybook executive homes in Houston, Tacoma comes up looking like Dowdy Frumpkin with an outlandishly exaggerated price tag. But Tacoma’s charm is in its dowdiness.

I was on a jag last year about how irresponsibly homely Tacoma is. But then Wright Park was transformed from a needle park to a beautiful place for walkers, joggers, families, bocce players, and people gazing at the beautiful new lake and fountains and benches and sculptures and well-pruned trees, wondering how their fortune changed so that they suddenly lived a stone’s throw from Vienna.

The FBI couldn’t take down the gangs, the police couldn’t roust the sleeping bums: it took money, lots of it, public and private. Now the city has an investment to protect, and the steady police presence and neighborhood activists with new condos near the park might actually keep the park from falling back into disreputability.

In lieu of exotic travel photos, I’ve kicked off summer with scenes from the urban homestead and the local urban hiking trail. Place your cursor over the photo to read the caption.

Happy summer.

My multi-talented husband upgrading our plumbing

Staycation paradise, even it if was a little cold in June

Gitmo NW?



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