A no-brainer? Sitting on the couch or sitting in traffic

November 23, 2006|By KEVIN COWHERD

Each year at Thanksgiving, the nation divides into two distinct factions: those who travel for the holiday and those who don't.

It's easy to tell who's in which faction, too.

Those who stay home for Thanksgiving are calm and pleasant to be around.

They sit in front of their TVs with their feet up and watch news reports of 20-mile backups on Interstate 95 and shake their heads and murmur: "You couldn't get me out there in a million years."

They watch footage of long lines at train stations and airline ticket counters and smile and think: Better them than me or Just shoot me if I ever get caught in that mess.

Then they go back to eating or watching football or taking a nap. They feel no stress. You'd be calm and pleasant, too, if you never left the couch.

On the other hand, those who travel for Thanksgiving seem tense and irritable.

Often, they arrive at their destination with trembling hands and facial tics, badly in need of a drink.

When you ask, "How was the trip?" they just wave you away and stare off into the distance, as if the full horror of what just took place is too much to be explained.

The tenseness and irritability never really go away, either.

Even during the Thanksgiving dinner, these poor people can't really relax.

They tap their feet incessantly at the table. They drum their fingers. Sometimes they rock back and forth nervously in their chairs.

Because they know that tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, they have to make the return trip home.

And the return trip will be the same nightmare they just endured - or it'll be even worse.

See, that's the truly frightening part about Thanksgiving travel.

On the way there, a trip that normally takes two hours can easily turn into six hours.

But on the way back - especially if you leave on Sunday - the trip could take eight hours.

Or 10 hours.

Or three days.

Or maybe you don't get home at all.

Maybe they find you broken and weeping in the parking lot of the Delaware House Service Area off I-95, because you just couldn't take the bumper-to-bumper traffic in that awful little state anymore.

(Hey, Delaware, is it really necessary for a state the size of a throw rug to have two toll plazas backing up traffic for miles?

(And to close off two lanes both northbound and southbound for construction on the weekends? Good thinking, First State. You people were in charge of our war in Iraq strategy, right?)

Or they find you curled in a fetal position while staring up at the Arrivals board at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, the Amtrak Silver Meteor now so late it's officially listed as "Missing."

Or maybe it's at Boston's Logan Airport where you break down emotionally, as the snippy woman at the US Airways counter tells you your flight to Atlanta has been delayed indefinitely.

So how do you sit there at Thanksgiving dinner and enjoy a turkey and all the trimmings when you're faced with that?

Those who travel for the holiday love sharing their travel horror stories, of course.

It's almost a form of therapy.

And it makes them feel heroic.

In a perverse way, they feel like latter-day descendants of the folks on the Mayflower, or the Lewis and Clark Expedition, or the Mercury and Apollo space programs, who bravely faced the unknown and many hardships.

Look what we endured, they want to cry out.

You should have seen the Jersey Turnpike. It was a parking lot from the Delaware Memorial Bridge to Exit 10.

Oh, tell them about the Capital Beltway, too. This was unbelievable. In 20 years, I never saw it this bad ...

Then when we got to Connecticut. ... Oh, I need more wine to tell you about Connecticut. ...

Of course, those who don't travel for Thanksgiving love hearing these horror stories, too.

The stories make them feel superior.

The stories also vindicate their philosophy that Thanksgiving was never a holiday meant to be spent in Travel Hell.

Then they throw another log on the fire and smile.

Because they might not get off the couch again for the rest of the day.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd.

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