OF ALL THE weekends in the year, the one after Thanksgiving is among my favorites. I regard it as the lull before the storm, the last chance for tranquillity before the frenzied holiday season starts.
Experience has taught me, however, that to get the maximum enjoyment out of this weekend, there are certain things I must not do. There are urges I must suppress, advice I should disregard. I have a short list of "don't-go-theres," regarding trouble spots I try to avoid on Thanksgiving weekend.
No. 1 would be the airport. During other times, the airport can be a vibrant place, the site of many happy reunions. On Thanksgiving weekend, however, it resembles Ellis Island at the turn of the century. Hordes of humanity descend upon it.
The paved parking lots reach their capacity, and soon airport patrons are parking on land that seems to have seen duty as a cow pasture and also seems to be a time zone or two away from the terminal.
In the terminal, bodies collide, luggage piles up, and tempers grow short. Looming over the scene, like some dark storm cloud, is the possibility that something could go wrong. A guy could be running late for his flight and leave his rental car, with a blown tire in the trunk, parked in front of the terminal. A police dog could mistake the aroma of the blown tire for a bomb, and the airport could be thrown into a panic for fours hours.
A shuttle bus could catch fire and snarl traffic. Or a bird could fly into a plane's engine, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing, backing up flights.
These things have happened. They have never happened to me, and not all of them have occurred on Thanksgiving weekend. But I think it is only a matter of time before travel troubles like this will catch up with me, especially if I spend time in the airport on the busiest travel weekend of the year.
Even though I should know better, I sometimes show up at the airport on Thanksgiving weekend, but only as a ticketed passenger. I have learned to fight the urge to drop off or pick up a friend or family member at the airport on Thanksgiving weekend.
It has taken me a while to learn that while you might start off on one of these airport runs feeling as saintly as a Good Samaritan, you will end up feeling meaner than a "Smackdown" wrestler.
When you try to drive someone to the airport, the trip can easily turn into a travail. Traffic can be worse than you expected. There can be a surprise road closure. Or, worst of all, your passenger can be a foot-dragger, someone who moves slowly.
So by the time your car finally has made it to the terminal, tensions are high, words have been exchanged, and you and your passenger can't wait to be rid of one another.
On the other hand, when you try to pick someone up at the airport on Thanksgiving weekend, chances are excellent that you will miss each other. The flight will be late. A piece luggage will be delayed.
Or, in my favorite airport-pickup routine, you will end up playing hide and seek. When you are outside the terminal, your passenger is inside the terminal. Then you go inside, just as your passenger walks outside.
I have played that game. So now when the little voice inside says, "Be a nice guy and drive to the airport," I tell that voice to shut up.
Another place I don't go on Thanksgiving weekend is the mall. Family members tell me that by refusing to go the mall I am flying in the face of two central American beliefs.
First, they say, my mall avoidance prevents me from getting "an early start on the shopping season." And second, they say, it keeps me from getting "into the holiday spirit."
I reply that my idea of "early" is to start shopping on the Tuesday before Christmas, early in the morning. Then, there are no crowds, and the selection of items to choose from is very limited. For guys like me, who don't like to spend a lot of time comparing possible purchases, these are ideal shopping conditions. You certainly don't find those conditions on Thanksgiving weekend. This weekend the stores are packed with people and merchandise.
As for getting in the "spirit of the holidays," I have seen how holiday shoppers behave in mall parking lots. I have seen them steal parking spaces, cut each other off in traffic and "sing" greetings to one another after a dispute. I am in no hurry to join in that kind of spirited behavior.
So this weekend, instead of going to the airport or the mall, I plan to do nothing, to rest up for the coming holiday fray. Maybe I'll roll up the garden hose, or fill up the car's windshield washer jug. But that will be the extent of my exertion. I figure that from now until Christmas, I will have more obligations than time.
This weekend looks like the last chance to get a good nap, and I don't want to let the opportunity slip away.