Vacation A Waste of TimeAugust 29, 2008

Vacation – A big waste of time – issue  37

Most of you know I have been on vacation. I suppose it is a result of my American Midwestern, ‘City of Big Shoulders’ upbringing, that I stupidly believed I would be highly productive on my holiday. You see I had big plans. I anticipated being engaged in activities that would give me greater insight into American business and culture which would prove beneficial in my role at Geyer. I thought I would immerse myself in the American election by listening to National Public Radio and reading the New York Times every day. I imagined rich discussions with past colleagues to compare how we operate at Geyer to their organisation’s. In between all of that, my intention was to get in a little writing done to finally launch my new career as a romance novelist.

Sadly, or perhaps in relief for those of you who would have been the subjects of my sleazy romance stories, I didn’t do any of that. Nope, instead my vacation was a complete waste of time.

The tragic part of this is that a good portion of the time away was spent in Seattle, a city that goes out of its way to support and encourage working everywhere: in bars, in cafes, in your car. Remember, Seattle is the home of Starbucks and despite what you might think; they really coined the idea of the ‘third place’ to work. I didn’t go to Starbucks, but had a good start attempting to be productive when I sent a few e-mails from Uptown Espresso – home of the velvet foam. It was a great place to work, which others had clearly discovered. I jockey for a table and wall plug for my laptop, it was so crowed with students, people interviewing for jobs and clowns like me that we had to queue up at the outlets. Okay that is an exaggeration, but the place was packed.

The closest I got to Starbucks was meeting a friend on the day the company announced  they were laying off 1000 management positions, closing 600 American stores and 61 in Australia. Understandably, everyone in the joint was in a state of panic, which is why my friend made the wise choice to drink beer with me rather than wait for his phone to ring. Having fewer Starbucks will have a profound impact on Americans; they may now be required to cross the street to get a coffee. The convenience of having a Starbucks on every corner, of every block, of every city, sadly is a thing of the past.  

Compounding the misfortune of having done nothing of substance in the coffee shop, is the fact that I rode the ferry with some frequency and didn’t do any work there either. The ferry is another great place to work while not being at work. It wasn’t’ like that when I lived in Seattle before, which didn’t really matter to me because my 1 ½ hour commute from Bainbridge Island to the city wasn’t spent working; it was spent sleeping in the ‘library’ area of the ferry. It wasn’t called the library, but there was an unspoken rule that one was quiet in that part of the boat, a perfect place for a snooze. Lucky for me, after 9/11 ferry workers were required to check for any passengers who had not gotten off. Knowing they would wake me provided the confidence I needed to go into a deep sleep without the fear of doing a round trip.

Now the situation is different, first you should know the ferries that take commuters across Puget Sound are very different to those we have here. The Washington State ferry system is the largest fleet of passenger and automobile ferries in the US and the third largest in the world. This is most likely why they have added some much needed improvements and extras to both the ferries and the terminals. You could always eat and drink on the ferry, visit with others, network and do deals – as long as you were in the right place e.g. not in the library area or attempting to do real estate deals in the spandex pants bike rider / environmentalist segment of the boat. The cool thing is now there is broadband, so had I been inclined, I could have done something productive.

No I am ashamed to admit, I didn’t do any work in a coffee shop, I didn’t work on the ferry and for almost the whole time I was in the US I didn’t read the paper, listen to a podcast or watch the news; all activities that I enjoy and had planned to partake of on my vacation. At the very least I thought I would take a bit of time to get to know the presidential candidates, because unlike you all, I get to vote in two countries and besides politics has plethora of things to make fun of.

Unfortunately, I also let that opportunity slip by which really didn’t much matter, my friends filled me in on the issues. The reality is true Democrats – or Obama followers need not read the paper or watch TV.  The Obama campaign is relying much more on new technologies to communicate their message to voters and mobilized their constituency.

Obama has a social – networking site known as MyBO (catchy – and so popular with the youth of America) which in one month helped raise $55 million dollars in donations for the campaign. They use micro blogging services like Twitter to communicate with followers and they had planned to SMS the identity of Obama’s running mate to all of his followers last night prior to the Democratic convention. I question the wisdom of giving ones mobile number to a political party, I bet they would make Greenpeace’s money hounding look amateur.

McCain also has a website, but he personally does not use e – mail. A man of the times all right.

Despite all of the new technology I admit experiencing disappointment when I went to the Barack Obama headquarters in Berkeley. They had no tee shirts or bumper stickers and when I asked for advice on how I could get my son Harry, who is now old enough to vote, registered they didn’t have a clue. Fortunately, my Aussie friends who were in California with me for the baseball tournament, tipped me off to a guy selling Obama shirts and stickers in front of Wal-Mart and a website for Democrats abroad.

It is interesting that Australians wanted to go to Wal-Mart when they were not watching the kids play baseball. Like many of you, these people derive great joy in poking fun at me for stereotypical American behaviours, as if I am the American cultural ambassador. The Aussies get over there and the first things they do is go to Wal-Mart, go to Costco and can’t get enough of the Denny’s Grand Slam breakfasts and I am convinced if they had rented a car, they would have gotten an SUV. FYI I did rent a car and the cost of getting an SUV or minibus was less than a compact.

Australians, I am convinced, secretly want to waste, exploit and consume as much as Americans.

I did go to Wal-Mart and bought a tee shirt from a guy with a table in front of the store. There was another guy there with an amplifier and microphone exercising his right to free speech. At a deafening volume, he expounded the virtues of Jesus and everlasting light. It was annoying enough to drive anyone insane, I am certain the guy selling the Barack tee shirts wanted to put the microphone where there would be no everlasting light. It made me long to be at the Olympics where there were restrictions on what comes out of your mouth. Did you know they shut down iTunes because there was a Tibetan album for sale? I couldn’t help but wonder why that American runner who was disqualified for stepping on the line didn’t cease the opportunity and yell out ‘Free Tibet’, after all they couldn’t disqualify him.

You will be relieved to hear that Jesus is still very popular in the US. There is a new movement on called Pray at the Pump which was started by an activist in the Washington D.C. area who stated that if the politicians couldn’t lower gas prices, it was time to ask God to intervene. The participants say they plan to buy gas, pray and then sing “We Shall Overcome” with a new verse, “We’ll have lower gas prices.” They think it is helping too, prices are starting to fall below $4 a gallon. I admit I got a bit sick of the whining about the price of gas, I reminded friends and family that we pay about $1.60 – $1.80 a liter – multiply by four and cry me a river.

So what I did do when I was in the US was reconnect with old friends and workmates, some that I have not seen in nearly ten years. Instead of talking with them about what their companies and clients were doing, the state of the industry, or good buildings / design work to see we discussed offspring, gray hair and butt cellulite. Without a doubt, the topics people at the peak of their profession discuss! They were curious about working in Australia and I reported it was very similar except we like to wear khaki to work and say krikey when things go astray.

So all in all I did a whole lot of nothing, but am relieved to learn that is exactly what I should have been doing. Canadian sociologist and stress expert Beverly Beuermann-King says “No matter the profession, the importance of work-life balance and taking vacations is paramount”. She goes on to say “We’re working at 100%. Just like a car engine, you can’t rev it constantly without maintenance time”. Clearly, people such as me are like sports cars and require more frequent, costly maintenance!

Australians are going to have to get cracking, according to the fourth annual Ipsos-Reid Vacation Deprivation Study we are not fairing well with our maintenance time.  On average Australians take off 17 days a year, behind the Canadians who take 19 days, ahead of the yanks who take a pathetic 14 days. All far behind the French who take 39 days a year of vacation. You would think with all of that downtime the French would be the most innovative country on the planet, there must be some law of diminishing return when you drink too much wine.

Beuermann- King goes on to say “We need that downtime to be more creative and productive. The more in doesn’t necessarily mean the more out… We need to gather our energies to deal with the next stress that comes along”.

So here I am back at work, trying to hide so no one knows I am here because I just want it all to last a little longer.


You see, I am trying to follow Beuerman–King’s advice and gather my energy because I am not quite ready for the next stress to come along.


Ashkenas, Ronald N and Schaffer, Robert H. “Managers Can Avoid Wasting Time. Harvard Business Review

Talbot, David. “How Obama <em>Really</em>Did It – The social-networking strategy that took an obscure senator to the doors of the White House” MIT Technology Review September/October 2008

White, Linda. “Vacation Deprivation” Toronto Sun 2006 – 07 -05




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