At 5:30 a.m. on a July Saturday, the check-in lines at Boston's Logan Airport are already growing long, snaking around the terminal. The dress code is decidedly casual a sea of sandals and shorts and the early-morning air hums with anticipation.
It's a common summertime scene that prompts at least one passenger to wonder: Where are all these people going?
The obvious answer is: away. Away, temporarily, from jobs and responsibilities. Away from meals to cook, lawns to mow, dogs to walk, and bills to pay. No wonder the song you hear floating on a summer breeze maybe you're even singing it yourself is Frank Sinatra's classic refrain, "Let's get away from it all."
But getting away from represents only part of the pleasure of a trip. Equally appealing is what leisure travelers are getting away to what they hope to find at the end of their Yellow Brick Road.
Vacationers can be divided into Adventurers and Retreaters. Adventurers, by far the larger group, like the allure of unfamiliar places. For them, getting away involves a rewarding mix of maps, hotels, restaurants, and exploration, all enthusiastically described on a stack of "having-a-wonderful-time" postcards to the folks at home.
Retreaters, by contrast, return predictably to the same place every year, like swallows to Capistrano. It might be a cottage in Wisconsin, a time share in Florida, or a summer home on Cape Cod where several generations of the family can leave footprints in the sand. For them, familiar surroundings offer comfort, continuity, and tranquility not to mention a chance to read all those books that have been piling up since last year's getaway.
Even Adventurers can long for tranquility and solitude, of course. Who hasn't looked at glossy ads showing a pristine beach not a soul in sight and indulged in fantasies of being there, surrounded only by white sand, azure water, and endless blue skies?
Alas, no beach seems far from the madding crowd these days. Likewise, national parks from Wyoming to Maine are in danger of being "loved to death" by hoards of nature-hungry tourists seeking wilderness and solitude. The unofficial slogan of the National Park Service these days could be: Please take a number.
Even in Boston Harbor, Park Service officials are trying to determine how many people could gather on a small string of islands before the islands become too mobbed.
Elsewhere around the world, even the remotest places are no longer remote. There are crowds of Adventurers at the top of Mt. Everest, crowds on the once-deserted Galapagos Islands, and even crowds at the South Pole. Move over, penguins, and smile for all the clicking cameras.
No wonder a drawbridge mentality increasingly prevails: Let me in for my getaway, and then block everyone else's access.
Greta ("I vant to be alone") Garbo would understand.
But still we go, 21st-century vacationers packing our bags and seeking to fulfill our getaway dreams, undeterred by reports that 32 million Americans took to the roads over the Fourth of July weekend alone. We may not always find solitude or tranquility, but we'll settle for fresh memories and new pictures in the photo album.
A change of place. A change of pace. For Adventurers and Retreaters alike, those two rewards of a getaway exert a powerful pull, at least until vacation days and vacation dollars run out. Then it's time to head home, invigorated by new sights or refreshed by old surroundings.
As we wait in another crowded airport for the return flight, we come to a reassuring realization: What we were getting away from, at home and at work, now takes on a new appeal, becoming what we long to get back to until dreams of the next vacation take shape.