Where to Play Hooky on a Sunny Summer Day

By Katie Wilmeth
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 27, 2008

Be honest. You know you've done it. That day you awoke to a brilliantly sunny sky and warm weather that forbids wearing a suit? Instead of sitting in your cubicle looking longingly out the window (that is, if you have a window at all), you called in . . . "sick."

You're not the only one. Nearly a third of employees have claimed illness to get out of a day at the office, according to CareerBuilder.com's 2007 survey on sick days (and we're guessing that number is actually much higher).

Of course, we would never condone lying to your boss so you can lie in the sun or gallivant about. But if for whatever reason you find yourself away from the office on a weekday, here are four options for a great way to spend it.

PRACTICE YOUR SWING. Why is TopGolf in Alexandria so popular among the sick-day set?

"Nobody tells on you out here," Eugene Howard, a ticket agent for US Airways and avid TopGolf customer, said while hitting golf balls on a recent sunny weekday afternoon -- a day off for him, not a sick day.

TopGolf, a British import that opened in the States three years ago, is best described as the driving range of the future. With gadgets for the iPhone generation, this is where James Bond might relax if he ever took a sick day. Each ball contains a microchip tagged with your name. When you hit a ball onto the range, which is outfitted with electronic targets, a monitor tells you how far your ball traveled and keeps score for you. It can't, thankfully, tell if you've called in sick or you're just on your lunch hour. Beer and burgers can be delivered right to you at one of the 78 stalls on two levels.

"My business partner does not know I'm here right now," said Mark Gianturco, a chief technology officer at a local company, who brought his wife and kids to TopGolf on the first day of summer break. "I'm taking a long lunch."

TopGolf:6625 S. Van Dorn St., Alexandria, 703-924-2600 http://www.topgolfusa.com/locations/kingstowne. Open daily, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Pay-and-play day pass $5. A bucket of balls costs $3.80 to $5.80, depending on time of day. Monday special, 100 balls for $12.

TAKE YOURSELF OUT TO THE BALLPARK. The new Nationals Park is a great place to spend your sick day, as long as the Nats aren't there. That's not a knock on the team. It's just that if you go to a game, there's a chance that the Jumbotron will sell you out in a tragic, sitcom-style manner. Not that anyone's actually watching the games, but you get the picture.

No, the reason to go on non-game days is to take an all-access tour of the shiny new stadium. Stops include the locker room, a visit to the Washington Suite (price for sitting there on a game day: $6,000) and even a chance to throw a pitch in the bullpen.

"It's a behind-the-scenes tour, and you really get into a lot of the spaces that you might not get into when you come for a game," says Maggie Gessner, manager of the Nationals' ballpark enterprises.

But since the 1 hour 15 minute tours are offered only on select dates, Gessner suggests scheduling your visit so you don't accidentally ditch work on a game day.

Nationals Park tour:1500 South Capitol St. SE. Conducted on non-game days at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. Buy tickets at the Centerfield Gate (N and Half streets SE) or at http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/was/ballpark/tours.jsp. $15, seniors and children $12.

HEAD TO HARPERS FERRY. In this age of cellphones, Lee Baihly doesn't usually know who's on vacation and who's playing hooky at his River & Trail Outfitters in Knoxville, Md. Sometimes, though, it's obvious.

"We've had people come into our shop and say, 'Can I use your phone? I've gotta call my office.' And then they get on the phone and say, 'I'm not feeling well. I'll be in tomorrow.' Then they'll say, 'Thank you very much. Let's go tubing!' That's actually happened," says Baihly, the chief executive of one of three Harpers Ferry area recreation companies that will set you up with a day of tubing.

A free summer day is especially sweet when it involves wearing your swimsuit, and lazily floating down the Shenandoah River near Harpers Ferry, W.Va., is one of the sneakiest spots to do just that. Area outfitters will provide you with a sturdy inner tube (and an extra one for your cooler for an additional fee) and drop you off at the Shenandoah River, where you'll float down a mile and a half of calm water (the more active white-water tubing trips generally require reservations). Because the tubing trip takes only about an hour, especially on weekdays when the water is much less crowded, many tubers like to float down the river more than once.

"On the weekends we put a whole lot more tubes out on the water," says Amanda Mullins, an office manager at River Riders in West Virginia. On a typical weekend day, River Riders might send out 900 tubers, she says. On a weekday? Somewhere between 50 and 100.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, located where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers come together, also offers a host of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, boating and picnicking. And because it's all about an hour's drive outside of Washington (far, far away from your office building and your boss), you can play for the day paranoia-free.

Butts Tubes:10985 Harpers Ferry Rd., Purcellville, Va. 877-723-8284. http://www.buttstubes.com. $21 per person on weekdays.

River Riders:408 Alstadts Hill Rd., Harpers Ferry, W.Va. 800-326-7238. http://www.riverriders.com. $26 per person.

River & Trail Outfitters:604 Valley Rd., Knoxville, Md. 301-695-5177. http://www.rivertrail.com. $24.77 per person.

GO GET SOME GRAPES. It is generally frowned upon to drink beer in a bar before noon on a weekday (yes, even on a "sick" day), but if you drink merlot in the morning, it's totally acceptable, which is why wineries made this list. A number of wineries in Virginia and Maryland are happy to serve the hooky-playing public on weekdays (but check before you go, as some require reservations).

Most wineries offer a tasting menu for a nominal fee. That gives you a chance to try all the wines they make and decide which ones you like best. Then you can buy a bottle (or two) and sip the workday away on the winery's grounds.

"We do get a lot of people coming through here that have that kind of itinerary," says Heather Akers, sales director for Tarara Winery in Leesburg.

In fact, she says, with Lansdowne Resort nearby (a popular convention destination), "we have a lot of people that blow off their corporate obligations, and instead of going to their conferences they come spend an hour or two at our winery."

Maybe not the smartest idea when your boss is staying at a nearby hotel, but for those looking to ditch for a day, a winery is a wonderful way to go.

Virginia wineries ( http://www.virginiawines.org)

open weekdays with no reservations required include:

Tarara Winery:13648 Tarara Lane, Leesburg. 703-771-7100. http://www.tarara.com. Open daily at 11 a.m.

Chrysalis Vineyards:23876 Champe Ford Rd., Middleburg. 540-687-8222. http://www.chrysaliswine.com. Open daily at 10 a.m.

Breaux Vineyards:36888 Breaux Vineyards Lane, Purcellville. 800-492-9961. http://www.breauxvineyards.com. Open daily at 11 a.m.

Maryland wineries ( http://www.marylandwine.com) open weekdays with no reservations required include:

Linganore Winecellars:13601 Glissans Mill Rd., Mount Airy. 410-795-6432 or 301-831-5889. http://www.linganore-wine.com. Open Monday-Saturday at 10 a.m.

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard:18125 Comus Rd., Dickerson. 301-605-0130. http://www.smvwinery.com. Open Wednesday-Sunday at noon.

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