Everyone remembers those traditional "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" compositions required by one teacher or another upon returning to school in the fall. If it was a fun vacation, the words flowed easily from pen to paper. But, if the summer was a bust, that writing assignment became a monumental task.
Over the summer, some of our West Columbia neighbors told me of their summer vacations. So, in keeping with tradition, here are a few brief, but interesting, vacation stories.
Gwen and Larry Peters, who live off Route 32 on the edge of Columbia, vacationed in Russia and Finland.
It was actually a working vacation of sorts. The Peters were there with other members of their church to help pave the way for future church-related endeavors with the Russian people.
They didn't expect what they found. Larry Peters says that, for the most part, Moscow is a dark and squalid city.
"The tourist areas around the Kremlin and Red Square were kept clean," he says. "But, overall, everything looked dirty. The market areas were especially filthy, and smelled horrible. We were told that when it got too bad, they simply used fire hoses to wash down the streets."
He says the only thing that seemed to work properly was the subway system. "The stations and the rail cars weren't very clean, but the service was fast and punctual."
Crime also seems to be a problem on the rise in Russia. Gwen Peters was with a small group when they were surrounded by youthful street urchins begging for money. One young boy deftly snatched a pair of glasses from her purse. They were later recovered, but the incident left her shaken.
How bad are things are in Russia?
The Peters stayed at one of the nicer hotels in Moscow, but unfortunately, it had a rodent problem.
"Our rooms seemed fine," says Larry. "But one couple in our group called the front desk to complain of the mice in their room. A short time later, a bell boy appeared at their door . . . with a cat!"
Harper's Choice resident, Mark Buchanan, has lived a laid-back life, quietly toiling as an accountant for a Baltimore trucking firm.
Things began to change for the 28-year-old bachelor when he saw the movie, "City Slickers."
"I couldn't get it out of my mind," Mark says.
He made some inquiries and was surprised to discover that there were ranches, like the one in the movie, which offered the real cowboy experience.
After being turned down by his roommate and a co-worker at the truck company, Mark convinced a former college buddy and now best friend, Greg Geiger of Chantilly, Va., to join him.
Since neither had ever ridden a horse, they took some weekend riding lessons at a stable not far from Greg's home in Chantilly. They also bought lariat rope through a mail order catalog and began to practice roping in the back yard of Greg's home.
"We practiced lassoing an old rocking horse Greg picked up at a flea market," Mark says. "Later we began practicing on some of the neighborhood kids who sometimes watched us. The kids loved it. After a while, the kids started knocking on Greg's door. They wanted him to come out and play cowboys."
In July, they hopped a plane for a week at Owl Creek Ranch, near Casper, Wyo., and Mark's dream quickly turned into a nightmare.
"The weather was horrible," he says. "It was cloudy and unseasonably cold, and it rained almost every day."
Although they did some riding, Mark says they really didn't do much else.
"We spent most of the time playing cards and watching television in a small cabin with a half dozen other make-believe cowboys. Everyone was pretty miserable," he says.
Disappointed but not deterred, Mark says he and Greg are considering giving it a try again next year.
Soon after moving to Columbia last year, Grace and Harry Mercer sat down and planned a vacation trip to celebrate his forthcoming retirement.
Last week, Grace and Harry Mercer rode the midnight train from Georgia into Baltimore's Penn Station. It was the end of a 31-day train odyssey that took the Hickory Ridge couple all around the country.
"I guess neither one of us is superstitious," says a laughing Harry Mercer. "We left in August, on Friday the 13th, and got home on the 13th of September."
The Mercers trip included stops in Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix, where they visited their daughter, Dianne, her husband, Alec, and three grandchildren. Then it was on to Houston, New Orleans, Atlanta, and finally, home.
The Mercers say the trip was an incredible experience, and they have nearly 24 hours of video, taped during their month-long excursion, to prove it. So, if they invite you over for an evening, I suggest you bring lots of popcorn.