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February 24, 2009

Travels with Uncle Chet: Seeking a break from bad news

``I'm tired of winter,'' said Alice, looking outside as the sun died slowly in a gray sky, and snow began to pelt her windshield.

``Nice in here,'' said Uncle Chet, in the rocker by the fire, reading the paper.

``Yes, but it's out there I'm talking about,'' said Alice. ``I'm tired of driving in it, shoveling it, worrying about it. I'd like to wake up at the beach tomorrow in the middle of July.''

``Me too!'' said our Web princess, who's angling for a Sweet 16 party, whatever that is.

``Me too,'' said her 8-year-old brother.

``I took the kids to Beach Haven in the early '90s and it was one of the best things I ever did,'' said Alice. ``They still talk about it.''

``Where is that?'' asked Hon as she brought out chips and salsa.

``Long Beach Island. Off the Jersey shore,'' said Alice. 'It's about a six-hour ride.''

``I was there once,'' I said, serving glasses of beer and iced tea.

``When?'' asked Alice.

``In college.'' I sat down.``My roommate's family rented a place.''

``Did you like it?''

``It was great. And when I was a kid, my parents took us to the Connecticut shore.''

``You know,'' said Alice,``I was thinking it might be fun if we all rented a cottage at the ocean this summer.''

``Go to the beach?'' asked Buddy.

``Absolutely,'' said the Web princess, who was instant-messaging on the laptop. ``May I bring a friend?''

``We're in a depression,'' said Uncle Chet. ``Millions of people are losing their jobs, their retirements, hyperinflation is right around the corner and you want to go to the beach?''

``We'd better go now, if hyperinflation's right around the corner,'' said Alice.

``She's got you there.'' I looked past him out where the pines were bending in the breeze and snow piles hemmed in the driveway.

``I'll bet hyperinflation's already here, as far as going to the beach is concerned,'' he said. ``What does it cost to rent a cottage?''

``For that, we have the Internet,'' said Hon, turning to her daughter. ``May I borrow that?''


``Tell them you'll be back later,'' Hon insisted.

``We're in a depression caused by class warfare, vile extremes of wealth,'' said Uncle Chet. ``For eight years under Bush, Republicans lowered taxes for the rich while they went on a wild spending spree.''

``I know it.''

``And if you traced those dollars, you'd find they went into some very deep pockets,'' said Uncle Chet. ``That's the Republican agenda: put money into deep pockets. That's why the GOP leadership backed the bailout for investment bankers, but they're bellyaching about unemployment benefits in Obama's stimulus bill.''

``They say they being fiscally conservative,'' I said.

``They became `conservative' the moment the reins were handed to Obama, because his formula tilts toward the middle class, not their donors.''

``I don't even know what middle class means anymore,'' I said.

``It means a good job and affordable health care, and to get there, we've got to stop bleeding $20 billion a month in Iraq and Afghanistan,'' he said. ``The Soviets couldn't stop the Freedom Fighters, and we won't either. We've got to concentrate on our own society, become more efficient, rebuild industries so we have something to sell, and split profits so everyone has a stake in the future.''

``What shall I search for?'' asked Hon.

``Hawk's Nest Beach?'' I suggested.

``Where's that?'' asked Alice.

``Connecticut shore.''

``Here it is.'' Hon typed and everyone packed in around the laptop for a trip on Google Earth to the beach at Old Lyme.

And there on the screen, just hundreds of feet below, was the outline of waves, the beach and a row of cottages along the dunes.

``Ohh,'' said Buddy. ``Is that a boat?''

``Looks perfect!'' said Alice. ``How long a drive would that be?''

``Hold the phone,'' said Uncle Chet. ``Before we go any further, someone check the rates!''


Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week.