My First Vacation
by Oscar Odd McIntyre
city editor of the Gallipolis, Ohio, Daily Journal when I took my first
vacation from work. City Editor was a rather gaudy title. My job was
to scamper up and down the main street to garner the homely personal
items of a small town.
I also solicited advertising, set a little type,
did shift duty turning the hand press and helped to wrap the mail. My salary
was five dollars a week and two passes to all attractions at the Aerial Opera
With the aid of grandma and a China pig bank
I had saved $21.60 out of my first year’s earnings. Peter McMullen, who
owned the Journal, told me I needed a rest. I suspect he was thinking of his
Grandma and I discussed vacation plans at great
length. She was for my going out to Aunt Leonora Graham’s farm, east of
town. I was for traveling and seeing the world. So we decided on Cincinnati,
about 200 miles away.
I made a grand editorial gesture over my departure.
Personal: column led off with this pompous conceit: The City Editor of the Journal
leaves Saturday for Cincinnati, where he will spend a week seeing the sights.
Before I left, “Sluggy” Gorselene,
of the mob printing department, struck off some business cards for which I furnished
the copy. They read:
O. McIntyre, Esp.
you an Item?”
I departed on the Ohio River side-wheeler
Iron Queen. Grandma accompanied me to the wharf and as the steamer headed
for midstream called out: “Look
out for the cable cars and try to stop biting your nails!”
I shall never forget the first night of this
high adventure. The Iron Queen seemed to me the most palatial steamer in the
world. The Leviathan today appears a tug in comparison. She fairly blazed with
light, life and color. As we neared the twinkling lights of small towns, the
orchestra, consisting of a cornet, violin and harp, played popular airs.
Nowadays the most brilliant cafés in London,
Paris or New York could not compare with my impression of that dining-room.
The clatter, strange faces and throb of the engines
made me giddy. I was at the top of the world. Afterward on deck as we floated
lazily along we could hear the negro roustabouts crooning their levee melodies.
A fellow passenger—a
city man from Pittsburgh—sat next to me.
“From Pittsburgh?” he asked.
“No,” I lied nonchalantly, lighting a rat-tailed
New York.” And it was from the metropolis I registered at the Palace Hotel
in Cincinnati. A topsy-turvy world! Today I live in New York and register from
my birthplace, Plattsburg, Missouri.
I have seen the lights of Paris in the falling
dusk from the top of Montmartre Hill, New York’s sky-line from an incoming
liner at sunrise, and other entrancing vistas, but nothing yet has compared
to my first glance at the Cincinnati levee—the row of suspension bridges,
acres of dray horses tugging up the cobble-stoned hill, the tower at Fort Thomas,
Kentucky, and the coils of smoke from a hundred factory stacks.
What a vacation I had! I saw the Cincinnati Reds
play the New York Giants. I saw the Roger Brothers in “In Havana.” I
had a shave and a hair cut in the glittering barber shop in the Arcade. I mingled
with the crowds in Fountain Square. I saw a girl from Gallipolis who was singing
in a beer concert hall.
I saw the waxed horrors in a Vine Street muse.
I saw a comedian wearing green whiskers at the People’s Theater hit his
team-mate over the head with a mallet and toppled out of the seat laughing at
the gallon of water that spurted in a tiny stream from his head.
I rode up to the top floor of the Traction Building
in an elevator. I talked to Jimmy Widemeyer, the pugilist newsboy of Government
Place. I watched Boss George B. Cox at his famous round table in Weilert’s
Garden Over-the-Rhine. I traveled up in the almost perpendicular incline at
Eden Park. I bought a revolving shirt front that could be turned to six different
colors with a flip of the wrist.
I fed peanuts to the monkeys at the Zoological
Garden. I applied for a job as a reporter on the Cincinnati Enquirer. I ate
at the oyster bar in Opera Place. I pawned my silver hunting case watch on Central
Avenue for a scalper’s
ticket home. But it was worth it!
More than twenty years have gone since that first
vacation. The Journal is gone. Peter McMullen is gone. And the golden illusion
of youth has vanished.
Today I take two vacations a year of about two
months in all. Not one of these compares with that first vacation by a long,
long shot. In fact in two or three days I usually find myself quite bored with
I rarely read the social columns of a New York
newspaper without reading something like this:
Mr. and Mrs. Hadley Smythe-Smythe sailed on their
private yacht for Naples. They will visit Rome, go on to Deauville for the season
and arrive in London for the tennis games. They expect to be away for six months.
This may excite the envy of many but it only
excites my pity. It is a rigmarole business—a paltry genuflection to swant.
I think of the unceasing wwhirligig of the squirrel in the revolving cage. The
futile effort to flee from ennui. I think of the farmer in Maine who was going
down to Bangor on a spree and “Gosh,
how I dread it!”
Vacations among the very rich today are not so much for pleasure as to impress
people who don’t give a hoot anyway.
Mr. Mervyn Martyn goes to Scotland to open his
shooting place. Mr. Mervyn Martyn—formerly
Mel Martin of Deep Gap, Pennsylvania—cares just as much about shooting
grouse as Paderewski would enjoy exchanging punches with Jack Dempsey. Mr.
Martyn would rather follow a winding brook with an old-fashioned pole and line
back home. He is paying one of the penalties of great wealth. He must follow
the trail of the show-offs. His shooting lodge is something elegant to which
to refer at his club.
Perhaps a trip on the Iron Queen to Cincinnati
would bore me to extinction today, but I do not believe it would. As we grow
older we discover that the memories standing out like clear-cut cameos are the
simple, unaffected pleasures.
Most of us remember the pyramids and the bazaars
of Constantinople in a blurry way. The peaceful picnic grove back home is etched
in steel. This is not a plea for the simple life. It is a silent tear for more
of the imperishable dreams youth gave us.
I am thinking of the three-day bicycle ride to
early morning dew, the caroling birds, the farmers waving from the fields and
the midday luncheon under a spreading oak.
Night in the open with a star-spangled sky, the
melancholy hoot of the owls mingling with the cheerful chirp of crickets. The
dying embers of a camp-fire.
And then contrast it with the seashore vacation
of today with its stiffly starched routine, its board-walk promenade, its formal
dinners and mighty effort to dazzle strangers who will never see you again.
I fear vacations are not vacations any more for
the most of us.
They have gone the way of the street-corner medicine show and the county fair.
Just pleasant memories of something we have lost.
One time as a reporter on a New York newspaper
I asked one of the richest men in America to express his views on the ideal
vacation for a symposium my paper was preparing.
He said he would like to travel with a knapsack
afoot through a certain section of North Carolina.
He wanted to sleep where night found him. He
wanted to cook his own meals, fish a little, hunt a little and get entirely
away from people and the telephone.
Several weeks later I noticed he had
thrown open a great mansion in Newport for the season and would entertain
a score or more house guests. There would be grand lawn fêtes and
gorgeous costume balls.
I am not inclined to believe he was insincere
with me in our interview. He was merely caught in the merciless social net.
He had to carry on.
We take life on the run, forgetting perhaps that
real happiness is just a few steps around the corner.
Giant liners, freighted with brightly labeled
trunks and folk from Fashion Row, shove off for Europe to the merry medley of
sirens. Stenographers and clerks in down-town sky-scrapers press their faces
to the windows and sigh.
Their “two weeks in August” seem
hapless makeshifts for a real vacation.
And yet these bored voyagers dash madly back to milk and rest cures to round
into condition again.
I have often watched the Saturday half-holiday
crowds in Central Park. They eddy over from the East Side tenements to this
great breathing space so close to the city’s heartbeat. Father in his
shirt-sleeves contentedly stretched out under a great oak. Mother peacefully
knitting. And their little brood scampering delightfully over the greensward.
Then I think of the expression of tedious resignation
you see on the faces of the fashionable crowds at the American and European
watering places. Then again I wonder what constitutes a really happy vacation.
Anyway, I wish you a right merry one!