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Commentary: Vacations

By Chris Tucker

Dallas, TX –

Thanks to modern technology, it's easy to stay in touch with home while traveling. Commentator Chris Tucker remembers a summer vacation when getting away really meant getting away.

Last week we dropped our teenage daughter off at Texas A&M for a three-week academic camp, where she and her peers are restricted to only three hours a day of cell phone use.

Only three hours. I'm sure she's using every minute of that free time to keep up with all her friends, texting and Facebooking and swapping photos, so she'll barely miss a beat when she returns.

It's a reminder that going away is not what it used to be. 20 years ago, traveling for any length of time meant breaking the bonds with home, whether you wanted to or not, and immersing yourself in the atmosphere, the reality of another place. With today's smartphones and laptops, really getting away gets harder all the time. With the click of a button we transcend space and time, taking our portable universe wherever we go.

But if you're expecting the familiar "good old days" lecture, it's not coming. Today's connective technology may be a mixed blessing, and no doubt many a modern traveler misses some fresh, exotic experience while playing Tetris or checking messages for the 50th time. But the old unconnected world had its drawbacks as well, as I learned on a family vacation when I was almost 16.

We only went from Dallas to Galveston, and we were gone less than a week, but for all the changes that happened with my friends while I was gone and all the action I missed, I might as well have been trekking across the Gobi Desert.

One day during that week, all my buddies went to Six Flags, where they fell in with a raucous bunch of kids from another school. One of the outsiders stole some trinkets from a gift shop in the Mexico section, and they all got chased and nabbed by security guards who hustled them into an office and grilled them for hours - or so the story went. The authorities were just about to call everyone's parents when the real culprit broke down and confessed.

As if that wasn't enough excitement, a couple of days later the whole gang went to a free concert at Flag Pole Hill, where a hot new local band showed up. They were called Lady Wild and the Warlocks, and two of the guys had their hair dyed blue or was it green? - one of the most astonishing things I'd heard of in my young life. Of course they put on a fabulous show and my friends met some cute girls who got better-looking every time the story was retold. A good time was had by all except me. (And, by the way, a few years later, two of those band members formed ZZ Top. Ouch.)

My friends had more adventures, I think, but time has mercifully blotted out the rest. When I got back home and heard about their magical week, I was reeling at the injustice of the universe. All this happened while I sat on a beach with my parents? And, unlike today, there was no running Facebook thread or Flickr photos or YouTube video to help me fill the awful void.

But I wonder: Would all that technology really have made it better? I might have felt even worse watching video of my friends scrambling around Six Flags or reading their live blogging from Flag Pole Hill. In the end, perhaps all our techno-bravado is really an illusion. There is no substitute for being there. When you're one place, you're not another; when you miss something, you miss it. And you may miss it for a long, long time.

Chris Tucker is a Dallas writer and literary consultant.

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