Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thanksgiving Thoughts

It’s that time of year again. Baseball and barbecues have given way to football and fireplaces, and the fun and games of summer have faded into fall. The shorter days and longer nights do their best to keep us off the roads, but before we ease into wintry hibernation we Americans have one last chance for a burst of travel and indulgent consumption. That’s right, it’s Thanksgiving.

You’d have to be a pretty jaded and cynical creature not to enjoy Thanksgiving. Take a day or two off work, and set aside the pressures of day-to-day life and get together with friends and family. Eat, drink, be merry, watch some football. What’s not to like? Judging by the statistics, it’s our favorite celebration, when we travel millions more miles to consume billions more calories than at any other time of year.

These days Thanksgiving means something different to each of us, with the list of activities and menu items varying from family to family and state to state. In the midst of all the planning and packing, cooking and cleaning, it’s easy for something that should be joyous to start to feel more like an ordeal. So whether you’re loading up the car for a family road trip to Grandma’s house, waking early to watch the Thanksgiving parade or whiling away an hour or three waiting for your plane to board, there’s no time like right now to take a minute or two to revisit what giving thanks can really mean.

To take this literally, we could take a minute to appreciate the infrastructure of our lives, so to speak, and thank the people who build and maintain the roads, power supplies and other systems that make modern life livable. We could try to really mean it when we say “thanks” to person who collects our tolls on the turnpike, or checks our boarding card for the third time. If, like some 15 million of us, you’re heading from the city to the countryside or small rural town, stop at that ramshackle roadside produce stand to say thanks to some of the farmers who grew our pumpkins, yams and turkeys. In New England, or along the Oregon coast, you can stop and see the cranberry bogs, where this tart little berry comes to life. As a Californian, I always try to stop at a roadside stand and pick up some Brussels sprouts, still on the stalk. (Kids love to handle them because they look like the tail of a Stegosaurus, but getting them to eat more than one remains a challenge.)

As much as we treasure the Thanksgiving meal itself, we seem all too willing to suffer the indignities of airport catering and freeway franchises to get there on time. So expand the appreciative spirit of the Thanksgiving meal to embrace all the food you eat, and take the time to sample the local specialties in the places you’re passing through. Celebrate the real cornucopia of this country’s cuisines: stop for soup and a sandwich at a friendly little "Mom & Pop" lunch room, have a cup of coffee and a piece of berry pie at a streamlined diner along a two-lane rural highway, or stretch your stomach with a plate of ribs from a smoky BBQ stand in Georgia or the Carolinas.

While the inertia of hurtling along at 70mph can be hard to resist, taking the time to appreciate the places you’re passing through can make a world of difference. Stopping to read that historic plaque you’ve passed by a dozen times before will give a chance to stretch your legs, and may even broaden your mind. Traditionalists might want to turn off I-95 at a famous icon like the Liberty Bell, (3 blocks west of I-95), or the Statue of Liberty (exit 14B off the New Jersey Turnpike). Out in the wild West, give a thought to Lewis and Clark and company, who 200 years ago had just completed their 1000-day, 8000-mile cross-country odyssey. Such places are all over the country, often within easy reach of your habitual route, and as the old billboards used to say, many are E-Z On, E-Z off, making it simple to get back on the road again. Even the simple act of saying the names of the river you’re crossing, or the mountains rising in the distance, can be a sort of thanksgiving to the early Americans who endowed us with the rich magic of “Mississippi” and “Columbia”, “Sierra Nevada “ and “Adirondack”.

I’m not suggesting that that we all make a national pilgrimage to Plymouth Rock exactly, but as we criss-cross the country, let’s take a little time to stop and give thanks for the many good things America has to offer. In theory travel offers an unmatched potential for stepping outside all the many ruts and habits of our day-to-day lives, yet all too often we make holiday travel into a hassle rather than an opportunity, some to be endured instead of enjoyed. So, rather than racing home along the same roads and runways we race down every year, think about stopping along the way to appreciate some of the many things we take for granted the rest of the year.

You’re likely to be out there on the road already, so why not make the most of it?


Anonymous Anonymous said...


9:31 AM  

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