Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Summer is not a bell curve

Summer seemed to arrive sooner and last longer around here 20 years ago. It seemed to crank up at Memorial Day and go pretty steadily until Labor Day, with some peaks and valleys, but all on a pretty high plateau. Whatever has contributed to the decline, the shape has been distinctly different since shortly after the turn of the century.

Summer now is Fourth of July weekend, and August. Depending on the year, July might stay a bit active, but August is as close to crazy as we ever get anymore.

This summer, I left for a vacation trip at just about the worst possible time. Because the cellist has limited time at home with her out-of-state employment, we had to schedule the trip when she had the chance. I knew it would put me on the long-term shit list with my employer, but the cellist has limited time in more ways than one. I spend most of my time disappointing someone. I just have to choose who it will be. So I returned from the trip feeling like the guy who sneaked out of the Alamo before things got really bad, to hit the saloon and brothel. In reality my goals were more lofty than that, but the siege mentality of a small shop with inadequate staff leads to high stress and exaggerated emotions.

Because so many schools go back in session before summer technically ends, the crowds should drop right off this week. Because some schools are making a point to start after Labor Day, we might see more residual activity in this period of tapering. After Labor Day we'll get the early September rush of people who make a point to take vacation after the crowds are gone, when hospitality businesses might be offering discounted rates. That's what I used to do, decades ago, when I took vacations.

Has summer travel always been a business? Back 12,000 years ago, or even just three or four centuries, did seasonal travelers interact with fixed populations in ways similar to the economic exploitation of today? Exploitation sounds like price gouging, but it isn't always. It's just a matter of harvesting a resource when the resource is available. I've used the metaphor of hunting migratory herds to describe our handling of regular cycles of tourist business. We don't actually kill and eat them, and wear their hides -- except perhaps in some of the more remote hollows of the mountains -- but we extract as much as we can from them when they're here, knowing that they will be gone in a few weeks.

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