Thanksgiving in planes, trains and automobiles

November 22, 2003|By ROB KASPER

MY TOP TIP for anyone contemplating travel during the coming Thanksgiving week is: Don't do it. Make those relatives trek to your house. Make them sleep on your fold-out sofabed, not the other way around.

But if you lost the coin flip with your kinfolk and are among the estimated 36 million Americans who will trek 50 miles or more away from home this week, here are some tips from a cranky holiday traveler.

Yesterday as I read perky missives on travel Web sites that promised getting around this Thanksgiving week will be "as easy as pumpkin pie," I snickered with disbelief. My feeling about holiday travel is if anything can go wrong, it will. This, according to my family, makes traveling with me "a unique pleasure."

One tip I have for the traveling public is to be sure to wear your good underwear . As generations of mothers have preached, it is important to "look clean" should you get in a traffic accident and end up in a hospital.

Recently, as airport security personnel have become more probing, the spiffy underwear issue has become even more important. At a security checkpoint you might have to remove your belt and let trained personnel probe your midsection. You could, in the excitement of being probed, accidentally "drop trou." If that happens you wouldn't want to be caught wearing those comfortable but dowdy "old faithfuls." That would be embarrassing. So as a security measure, wear your new stuff.

This leads us to other travel hygiene tips. A key one for fliers is to trim everything that is trimmable before you leave the privacy of your home. Trimmables include fingernails, toenails, stray hairs and unruly threads. As a traveling person you do not want to have anything sharp on your person (other than your new underwear).

Take it from someone who was nailed for having a pair of nail scissors in the toiletry bag of his carry-on luggage: Getting caught packing personal hygiene equipment is not a good feeling. Not only do you lose the scissors, you lose face. You are also likely to provoke the scorn of the huddled masses, holding their pants up, waiting in line behind you.

Airline advisories point out that if you stash such personal hygiene equipment in your checked baggage you can, upon arrival, trim toenails to your heart's content. The trouble with this advice is that it contradicts another of my tenets of holiday airline travel. Namely, never check luggage.

Checking your bags requires waiting at the baggage claim section of the airport where you land. This wait leads to tense exchanges with the "fetcher," the unlucky relative who had drawn the short straw and has to pick you up at the airport. More than likely, once the fetcher has battled his way to a prized spot in the pick-up lane, he will have to give it up and circle the airport again. The cops won't let him linger and you are still stuck in baggage claim, waiting for your luggage.

Train stations will also be zoolike this week, especially in the Northeast, where Amtrak expects 300,000 people to ride the rails. Yesterday Amtrak said that in a break from usual practice, all of the Amtrak trains operating in Baltimore during Thanksgiving week will require passengers to have a confirmed reservation. This is to ensure that every rider gets a seat.

Many of the trains are sold out. To deal with the heavy load this week, the railroad is leasing equipment from commuter lines and rolling out "holiday extra trains" -designated by a train number over 3,000 - which will not be equipped to serve food. So if you snag a ride on a holiday extra train, here's another tip: Pack your own food.

If you are driving this week, I would suggest avoiding certain states. Those would include Delaware, whose motto should be: "If you drive through our state, we will grab you by your ankles and shake you until all your money falls in our toll booths." Skip Virginia, home of the infamous "mixing bowl," where various highways come together to form a parking lot. Also steer clear of the roads of Pennsylvania, especially the stretch of Interstate 83 near York that has been "under renovation" since William Penn was a boy.

I would also suggest avoiding all bridges, but especially the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which because of construction has experienced several lane closures. And according to a rumor I have heard - and it is only a rumor - the troll living under the bridge might, as a surprise to Thanksgiving week motorists, try to turn all the east-west lanes into north-south passageways.

These travel tips, as cogent as they might be, are difficult to follow. This week, members of my own clan will ignore many of them. Some, en route to a family gathering in Boston, must drive through Pennsylvania. Some will be required to ride the rails. Others of us will present ourselves at various airports with our nails trimmed, our scissors stowed and our sour attitude in check. But next Thanksgiving, if I get my way, I am going nowhere.

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