Whatever happened to the two-week summer vacation?

It used to be a family ritual. Dad loaded up the station wagon. Mom packed sandwiches in a cooler, and the whole family drove off into the blue yonder, even if it wasn't too wild, for a two-week trip to some overcrowded summertime boom town.

Later in my life as a journalist, August was the most terrifying time of the year, except for late December. News slowed. Worse, so many of our sources would go on vacation that it was difficult to put together the simplest feature story. Reporters reported that Mrs. Jones was in Hawaii and Mr. Smith had gone to Washington, and since they couldn't reach anybody they may as well go home early. Too bad about all that white space left to fill in the newspaper.

Now here it is Labor Day week. Summer's over. I can think back to only a couple of sources we couldn't reach this summer because they were on vacation. Our office was never emptied out by vacationers this summer like so many offices in years past.

I know it's not a mirage. The Gallup Poll reported a few months ago that 43 percent said they had no summer vacation plans at all. We posted a question on labusinessjournal.com in early August asking how much money people planned to spend on their summer vacation and most 53 percent clicked on the response that said "Vacation? What vacation?"

A fair amount's been written and said lamenting the endangered, two-week family vacation. Joe Robinson, a Santa Monica author of "Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life" was a guest on National Public Radio a couple weeks ago, and he said that a simple annual vacation reduces the risk of heart attacks in men by 32 percent and in women by 50 percent. Two-week vacations are necessary for the full recharge, he said.

I won't disagree, even though I know several people who haven't taken a two-week vacation in years, and they're not dead yet.

Actually, I'm less interested in the supposed health effects of vacationless summers than I am in the "why?" Why is the traditional, two-week summer family vacation less popular?

There doesn't seem to be much research on the topic. But here are a couple thoughts, one of which you may not have thought of.

One is the school calendar. This is not so prevalent in the L.A. area, but in many other parts of the country the school year begins in the heart of August. (That's because school officials believe their kids will score better on the standardized national tests, which are given on set days in the fall, if their kids have more schooling before the tests.) In the last city I lived in, you could count on school starting about Aug. 10, which killed August vacations.

The other idea, believe it or not, is a result of airline deregulation. Now that air travel is relatively cheap, it is far more practical and probably cheaper for families to fly to their vacation spot. If you want to spend six or seven days in, say, Chicago, you'll spend two weeks' vacation time if you plan to drive, just because of all the driving time. Obviously, if you fly, you'll only need a week.

So, August is out. Flying is in. And the two-week summer vacation is, like the leisure suit, pretty much a relic of the '70s.

Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com.

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