Monday, August 8, 2011

Anatomy of a Fake-Cation

How many of you guys are headed out for a summer vacation?  How many of you guys can't afford it, but still need a little fresh air?  Allow me to introduce the concept of a "fake-cation."  If you're broke, like me, but still need to get out of your own space to keep your mind fresh for writing, like me, a fake-cation might be just the thing.

Here's how it works.  You go somewhere within driving distance, no more than two or three hours away, and stay one night.  It might be ten blocks from where you live.  It might be two hours from where you live.  But you treat it as if you were in Paris, staying at the Hotel George V.  The hubby and I have done this several times when we just couldn't afford a real vacation.  It works almost as well.

The first time we did this, in 2006, it was to use up a free gift card I'd gotten through work.  We went to a cute lakeside hotel less than 30 miles away.  Still in our own backyard, essentially, but far enough removed from the slightly grimy area we lived in so that we got a mental break.  We went out to dinner and treated ourselves to an in-room movie (I never do this, so it felt like a real treat.  Plus, Miami Vice actually turned out to be a decent flick).  Overall, we came back rested and happy, and feeling like we did something indulgent.

We tried it again yesterday.  On the spur of the moment, we decided to get away to Reno.  Strange destination, I know, but due to a strange combination of factors, there were two errands we needed to run in the neighborhood anyway.  We drove up to Sparks, ran an errand, then dropped back down to Boomtown to blow out a game card in their kids' arcade area that still had about $7 on it.  We played air hockey, skee-ball, and random video games with Fast and Furious themes.

In all seriousness, never underestimate the good that can be done with $10 in a kids' arcade.  It can wake up any slumbering competitive skills, which is always a good thing for writing.  You know that get-up-at-4-am-to-train kind of drive that Olympic athletes have?  We writers need that same kind of commitment.  I know I don't always have it, least of all during lazy summer days.  If you're not a naturally competitive or aggressive person, it can be hard to rouse the slumbering beast.  Getting absolutely trounced in air hockey is a good way to get some of that determination back.  I lost at least three games and ended one in a tie.  Obviously, I suck at arcade games, but that's not the point.  I got a taste of what it feels like to look up at a scoreboard and be down 5 to 2.  Sometimes, we need to look at writing that way, too.  And we need to fight back.  Get that page count up.  Write even though you don't feel like it.  Finish that story even though you don't know where it's going or why it matters.  The only thing worse than giving up is never even playing the game.

Another nifty part of hanging out at Boomtown is the bar and its accompanying lounge acts.  For less than ten bucks, the hubby had a beer, I had a Jack and coke, and we listened to an R&B cover band do strange things like mash up Stevie Wonder with Color Me Badd ("I Wanna Sex You Up," if you were wondering).  Things that might seem cheesy in ordinary life are perfectly acceptable during fake-cation.

Unfortunately, Boomtown wanted $90 a night in order to stay.  Using the lobby's free WiFi, we checked out some other places and booked a room at Silver Legacy for less than half the price.  There's nothing like one of the gargantuan casinos to make you feel like Alice gone down the rabbit hole.  If it's a break from your physical and mental surroundings, I highly recommend some place like this.  There are a ton of people--great for people-watching and forming new plots and characters.  There are a ton of lights and sounds, which can sharpen your skills of observation.  (There's also a lot of cigarette smoke, which turned my eyes so red I looked like I was already drunk or high, but that's a small price to pay for feeling so far away.)

(Brief aside:  Silver Legacy, would it kill you to let people eat for less than $25 per person?  I am BROKE.  I LEFT your casino and went to eat at the Cal-Neva casino because, sensibly, they have a restaurant that offered me food for less than $10 a plate.  Harrah's, Circus Circus, and the Eldorado could not do this.  I have realized this is why you can afford to let me have a room for less than $50 a night--you assume I'm going to drop another $50 on dinner for two.  You assumed wrong.)

Anyway, on our way home this morning, we stopped in South Lake Tahoe and checked out some of the vintage cars at Hot August Nights.  I'm so not a car person, but even I can appreciate the awesomeness of these vehicles.  There was a Ford GT-40, which the hubby says costs at least as much as a McMansion (the photo is from 2008, but it's the same car).  Nice.  There was some purple car (yes, that's the actual make and model) with a mostly naked woman painted onto the front and back of it.  There were 1930s gangster cars with running boards, perfect for ye-olde-drive-by-shootings.   Plus, my personal favorite, a sparkly beige 1962 Chevy Corvette owned by a very lucky woman named Carol.  I also dug the thrashed matte black early 60s Austin-Healey with the skull shifter.  Rock on, dude, rock on.

I do have a point to all this rambling, besides trying to make my life look more interesting than it is.  The point is that as a writer, you have to get out of your own space to get new ideas.  You have to see things you don't see everyday to keep your ideas and descriptions fresh.  Smell things you don't ordinarily smell.  Watch people you've never seen before.  Just look at what America is up to--and then take the bits that interest you and turn them into a story.