Gary Rotstein’s The Morning File: Vacation: Just another thing to worry about

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We’re in the midst of prime vacation season, which you can probably tell because either you’re doing a bunch of extra work on behalf of absent colleagues or — if you’re one of the vacationers — it’s raining.

Vacation causes anxiety for many people, naturally, because of all the things that can go wrong. This is an important asset for humanity, because it means people are quite willing to get back to work afterward in order to relieve the stress of vacation.

To help upcoming vacationers, The Morning File provides answers to some of the most common questions that trouble them:

Q: I’m going to one of the Atlantic coast beaches, but I’ve read reports of some recent shark attacks. What are the chances of a shark attacking me, and if it occurs, what is the proper response?

A: It has been reported previously that more Americans are killed by vending machines toppling on them than by sharks. If such a fate seems imminent, however, some suggest you should punch it in the nose (the shark, not the vending machine).

While we’ve read about that punching trick, it makes little sense to us, as a shark seems like one pretty tough hombre. We recommend carrying a pressurized scuba tank at all times in the water, in order to shove it into the shark’s mouth and explode it, if necessary, like the guys did in “Jaws.”

Also, when you stop at highway rest areas on your way to the beach, avoid the vending machines.

Q: How many work-related things is it best to pack or be connected to on vacation in addition to a laptop, phone, email, voice mail, some printed reports, a photo of the boss and a calendar containing reminders of appointments?

A: This is what’s wrong with America today. People forget the definition of “vacation,” which comes from the original Latin for “vacant of work, industry or teleconferencing.” Somewhere, somehow we’ve lost the ability to relax free of the burdens of the modern workplace.

Europeans have it right. They leave home for 30-odd days each summer without telling anyone where they’re going — not their bosses, not their secretaries, not their spouses or children, nobody. That’s the only way to truly enjoy a vacation. Try to emulate them.

However, if you’re a former member of the Pennsylvania Legislature, remember to let your probation officer know where you’ll be. That’s the law.

Q: I’d like to have one of my neighbors collect my mail and newspapers and water my plants while I’m away, but if I give them a key, how can I be sure they won’t hold wild parties there and steal my valuables while I’m gone?

A: Hey, this is Pittsburgh, where neighborliness and honesty rules. If someone’s going to hold an out-of-control party on your street, they’ll do it at a time when you can be invited. And people’s modest nature and integrity make them reluctant to take things they shouldn’t have, unless perhaps they’re undertaking a big development project in the Strip District.

Anyway, the postal service doesn’t deliver anything important anymore, and really, who still subscribes to home delivery of a newspaper?

Q: I’m making a cross-country drive on vacation and am tempted to get an EZ-Pass because it will make driving toll roads easier and cheaper, but I’m worried the government will use it to monitor my movements. Do they sell stealth EZ-Passes that will give me the benefits, but without anyone knowing my identity?

A: You’re onto something here, in that the government officials steering everyone toward the automated, time-saving, labor-saving toll passes have done nothing to take into account the legitimate concerns of drug runners, money launderers, gun smugglers and others who might not want any record of their travels. Let’s hope the paranoia lobby is successful in changing that soon.

Q: What is the proper protocol for a vacationing Pittsburgher when you encounter a stranger wearing a Pirates shirt or Steelers hat on some random mountain trail, at some oceanfront bar or in some historic shrine thousands of miles from home, as will invariably happen?

A: You should exchange information about what part of Western Pennsylvania you’re from, the schools you’ve attended and the jobs you’ve held, working your way methodically through your biographies until finding a person you know in common. Once that is established — and it will happen — you are free to part ways, but only after exchanging phone numbers and email addresses with promises to meet sometime back in The ‘Burgh.

Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.

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