Why there's no place like home for the holidays

November 21, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

If you're new to the East Coast, what follows is the best advice you'll ever get about celebrating Thanksgiving in these parts.

In fact, this advice is so good you'll end up passing it along to all your friends from out of town, and it'll make you look like a genius.

It's so good that years from now, you'll look back on this column and think: You know, that fat guy really knew what he was talking about.

OK, are you ready?

Here's the absolute best thing you can do to ensure a happy Thanksgiving for you and your family: Stay off Interstate-95.

I'm serious. Don't go anywhere near it this week. In fact, don't even look at it. Because all week long, more than any other highway in America, I-95 will be the road from hell.

Trust me on this.

All week long, it'll be a bumper-to-bumper mass of cars over-heating, babies wailing, children screaming and adults cursing and pounding the dashboard as they inch along on their doomed journey to reach Grandma's in New Jersey - or Uncle Pete's in Boston or Cousin Fred's in Virginia - in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

No, there will be no dinner, no turkey with cranberry sauce, no stuffing and pumpkin pie for these poor souls.

Instead, there will be this: 15-mile backups in each direction at the toll booths. Rest areas with all the calm of a tent city following a nuclear attack. Cars honking their horns and belching great clouds of exhaust into the air as far as the eyes can see.

OK. Now maybe if you're new to the area, you're thinking: Oh, come on, you're exaggerating here. How bad can the road be?

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Oh, that's a good one!

I'm sorry, people. I don't mean to laugh.

But it's that kind of thinking that can really get you in trouble when you make your Thanksgiving plans.

In fact, let me tell you a little story about a family from right here in Maryland who deluded themselves in a similar fashion.

A few years ago, this family accepted an invitation to spend Thanksgiving with relatives on the south shore of Long Island.

This, of course, necessitated traveling on vast stretches of the evil 95-North.

But the family thought: OK, what we'll do is leave bright and early Thanksgiving morning. Everyone else travels the day before, right? Or even two days before. So how bad could the traffic be?

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Oh, yeah, that was a good one!

Now let me tell how bad it was for those poor fools. It was real bad. In fact, it was a living nightmare.

A trip that would normally take 4 1/2 hours took - you newcomers may want to be sitting down here - 8 hours.

Eight hours of horrible bumper-to-bumper traffic that began as soon as we - I mean, uh, this family - reached the White Marsh exits on 95.

Look, you know your trip north from Maryland will be nonstop torture when you come to a dead stop on 95 - and you haven't even passed White Marsh!

So the dad and mom and their three kids and their stupid dog were caught in this awful traffic, and it never let up.

Their minivan crawled up 95 into Delaware. It crawled up the New Jersey Turnpike.

It crawled all through Staten Island and Brooklyn on the Belt Parkway, the single most hellish stretch of pavement in all of New York. Then it crawled along the Southern State Parkway all the way out to eastern Long Island.

When the poor family finally arrived at their relative's house at 6:30 that evening - dinner had been planned for around 4, but that got blown out of the water - the dad was shaking like a train-wreck survivor. He needed many beers to calm down.

By the time everyone sat down to eat, the turkey was hard enough to deflect bullets and you could have walked across the gravy.

But the dad didn't care, because by then he was half-loaded.

And he also was still haunted by the memories of the horrible trip he had just taken - and the thought that the trip back home Sunday would be just as bad, if not worse.

So to those of you new to the area, do yourself a favor this Thanksgiving.

Stay home to eat your turkey and watch the lousy football games. Stay off that godforsaken stretch of highway. Whether you travel north or south, it'll only lead to pain and misery.

Some day you'll thank me for this.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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