There are signs of this grave disease everywhere. I don’t have to move from my $99 faux leather chair to see the slow, insidious progression of a disease that has existed since Eve had to remind Adam three separate times that dinner was on the table. And that his dinner was getting cold. And that his dinner is now spoiled. My grandfather toiled in fields his entire life, tending crops, feeding cattle, and deciding which chicken shall be relieved of his head prior to dinner. My grandfather died young. His heart exploded before it had to. Expressions of such commitment to an early death are no longer just made available in fields and factories, but on Twitter feeds, superfluous blogs, and Linkedin profiles. The bumpy path of two single tractor headlights might be a farmers way of showing the neighbor just how hard and long he works, but the dim glow of a computer screen late into the night of a suburban home is symptomatic of the same disease. This is difficult to write, and it may come as shock to many, but there is no special blue ribbon awaiting those who work too hard and die too young.
It could be said that the most stressful job in the world is that of the president of the United States. I doubt that’s the case, as a father in a single income family with five children and an $11 an hour job would gladly trade his pressures for that of an international variety. Even so, there are lessons that we can learn from presidents, both alive and deceased, and those lessons lie in a little place tucked away in the Maryland woods called Camp David. Or for my older readers, camp Shangri La. Or for my really, really old readers, camp Hi-Catoctin. Ever since FDR was more or less forced, for health reasons, to establish this presidential retreat it has been a welcome and necessary respite from the stresses of leading the free world. More than that, Camp David creates a model for the vacation home that reinforces Lake Geneva as the same with an almost presidential pedigree.
First, consider the location of one Camp David. Even though HGTV tells us that ideal vacation homes involve TSA agents and missed connecting flights into a malaria filled village where one wrong turn at the wrong time of night will lead to an unfortunate, untelevised fate, the location of Camp David, a mere 60 miles from Washington DC proves my theory that every sensible vacation destination is less than a two hour drive away. Look deeper into the location and you’ll find that the historical and modern ideal of having a vacation home “up north” fits the bill for Camp David as well, with the camp being located to the northwest of the capital. For those of you not paying attention, Lake Geneva is located to the northwest of Chicago. I’m just saying.
The all important location similarities fully identified and firmly in alignment, it’s nice to look at what exactly the preferred presidential retreat for more than 60 years offers in terms of relaxation, or in the case of Camp David, what it doesn’t offer. The residence at Camp David isn’t a massive or elaborate concoction of imported stone and hand scraped reclaimed flooring, instead, it’s a collection of “cabins” strewn throughout the woods. This is not Malibu. This is a classic vacation destination where cabins house the most powerful men and women in the world. There is a pool, there is a horse shoe pit, and there are walking paths. There is a lake nearby, but it’s man made, and man made lakes only should be counted as lakes if you consider cubic zirconia a diamond. Worse yet, the lake is 43 acres, which sounds more to me like a koi and carp filled golf course pond than a lake. This is a retreat in the fullest sense of the world, and it’s further evidence that a retreat is more about your surroundings than the make of your stove.
Camp David, renamed that by Dwight Eisenhower, better known to Lake Geneva lovers as the man who saved us from the Air Force Academy, hasn’t always been warmly received by incoming presidents. Harry Truman hardly ever used the place, apparently because his wife Bess found it dull. You know what I find dull? People named Bess. Bill Clinton didn’t take to the place right away, and only began using the retreat with consistency as his presidency progressed. In this little historical fact there is a Lake Geneva lesson to be learned. Many people don’t feel they need a Lake Geneva vacation home. They’re too busy. They’re too important. Even people who visit the lake sometimes decide against a vacation home here. Bill Clinton feels your pain, but unlike you, Bill adjusted and found value in such a bucolic retreat. Even our current president had this to say about Camp David, though if you add a little verbiage about boat rides and shore path walks, he might as well be describing his visits to Lake Geneva.
“It was beautiful… the girls just had a great time. They had a lot of fun. You can see that during the summer it’s going to be a nice place to spend a lot of time. Hit a few golf balls. Played a little basketball.”
While the CEOs, traders, and captains of various industries fill their time with business, business, and a little more business, it’s nice to see that even the busiest men in the world see the value in a weekend retreat. As many of the most successful individuals in Chicago race to embrace a stressful life where heavier work loads are admired and increased work hours are applauded and Friday evenings and Saturday mornings are spent gazing at a computer screen, the leaders of the free world slip into cars and helicopters to spend their Saturday mornings throwing horse shoes. Rub your eyes, shut off your computer, and get yourself up to Lake Geneva to vacation like the leader of the free world, only better.