Here’s the problem with Thanksgiving: Unless you’re the host, you have to travel.
If you’re lucky, you won’t have to spend nine hours on the tarmac with overflowing toilets and no food. (As if you would want to eat food next to an overflowing toilet. Mmmmm, yummy, peanuts!)
If you’re lucky, you won’t have to sleep on the concourse floor at O’Hare because there was a thunderstorm in Atlanta or Houston or Minneapolis. If you’re lucky, you won’t spend two hours standing at the luggage carousel before realizing that your bags are never coming out of that little door with the plastic flaps and that you could have left the airport two hours ago, but because you waited they canceled your rental car reservation and now you’re seeing if you can share a $100 cab ride with someone.
If you’re lucky, your plane won’t have to land at a different airport so authorities can arrest the drunken air-rage passenger who tried to open an emergency door at 30,000 feet.
If you’re lucky, you won’t be on the crying, screaming baby flight with parents who pretend the kids aren’t theirs.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be stuck in the traffic jam caused when two texting drivers hit each other head-on for only four hours instead of six.
But traveling is not the worst part of Thanksgiving. The worst part is when you finally arrive and you catch up with the family and you see all the baby pictures and you meet all the new boyfriends and girlfriends and find out how everyone’s job (or lack of one) is going, and you’ve had some laughs and you think, “That was nice; I’m glad I got to see everyone and now it’s time to go,” and you look at your watch and realize you’ve been home only three hours and there are three more days before you can leave. That’s when it hits you that you’ve made a terrible, terrible mistake.
You feel as if you’re in one of those meetings your boss calls all the time that go on way too long and never solve any problems. At first the meeting is productive, but after awhile it takes all your willpower to keep from yawning and falling head first onto the conference table. It hits you that your company is not doing well because employees are always in meetings instead of working. The meetings aren’t helping the business; they’re killing it.
Is Thanksgiving helping your family or hurting it? The Pilgrims had a nice Thanksgiving without going all the way back to England. As a matter of fact, that was one of the things for which they were thankful – that they didn’t have to go home. Asking someone to travel any distance to your home on Thanksgiving back then would have been called cruel and unusual punishment. It seems we’ve come full circle. Traveling on Thanksgiving has once again become cruel and unusual punishment.
Fifty years ago, you could have invited 20 close relatives to your house for Thanksgiving dinner and most would have come by foot. Not anymore. Now everyone has to drive for hours or fly for hours. During those hours, they start to remember why they live six states away; why they took that job with the out-of-town company; and why they insisted on going to an out-of-state college, even though English Lit and physics are pretty much the same from state to state.
Long before it’s time to leave, they’ll realize that for the same time and money, they could have gone to Aruba or Hawaii. They’ll remember that they don’t even like turkey that much. They’ll remember that in a few days they’ll have to get in that car or on that plane and have another horrible day or two of travel.
I’m not going further than I can walk this year. I’m so thankful.
Jim Mullen’s new book, “Now in Paperback,” is now in paperback. You can reach him at jimmullenbooks.com.