Saturday, November 22, 2008

It's Time to Turkey

Last week, I was invited to post on a blog that features a cross-section of Southern authors, A Good Blog Is Hard to Find. Since there are entries almost daily, my post is now way down the totem pole so, rather than make you search for it, I'll share it here--with a few revisions. Apologies to anyone who subscribes to both blogs, but, hey, the more people working on turkey carols, the better!


America, your country needs you.

Every year, the situation becomes more dire and the encroachment gets bolder. Charlie Brown tried to warn us. It started with our merchants, moved to our radio stations and, now, it's moving onto a street near you as homeowners with too much time and too little tradition start hanging their Christmas lights the day after Halloween. The problem? No Thanksgiving songs.

Oh, of course, there's "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come" and "We Gather Together," but that won't even get you started. I suppose you could count "Now Thank We All Our God" and "Give Thanks," but you won't find two out of ten people who know those, and even if you find someone who does, they're not likely to be singing them in the carpool line or humming them while they work. They aren't sing-a-long songs. They aren't lively, or festive, or fun; they are, dare I say, boring. Now I've heard some very fine choral renditions of all those tunes, but you can't change the fact that they're just not...well...zippy.Why is that? Thanksgiving's certainly zippy. It has families, football, fabulous food, and definitely as many nifty accoutrements as Christmas: all those vibrant, plump pumpkins...colorful, whimsical gourds...vivid, jewel-toned leaves...quaint corn shocks and hay stacks...grateful pilgrims and Native Americans...and, speaking of gratefulness, what's not to celebrate about that? Don't we all have blessings for which we're immensely thankful, everything from the biggies--like family and friends and good health--to the cherries on top--like good hair, cell phones (are those still a blessing?), and cranberry sauce? We have the reason, the inspiration, and the opportunity, so why AREN'T there pumpkin carols (or pilgrim polkas, or harvest hymns, or turkey tunes, or whatever we want to call them)?

We think it's appalling when stores start hanging candy canes as soon as the jack-o-lanterns come down but, really, what choice do they have? We Americans like to celebrate, and if nobody's willing to go to bat for Thanksgiving, well, we're just gonna move on to the next occasion on tap. Personally, I'd like to see Louisa May Alcott's birthday make it onto the list of holidays celebrated in November (that would be the 29th, if you'd like to raise a leftover drumstick in her honor), but I'm not going to push my luck. I do think, however, everyone will agree that Thanksgiving is getting short shrift.

I am hereby commissioning anyone who finds it repugnant to be hearing "Here Comes Santa Claus" before the Great Pumpkin has even made it out of the patch to rise to the occasion and produce a set of lyrics and a snappy little melody that would make Miles Standish proud. Come on, now! Don't you think it's time we gave Frosty and Rudolph a run for their money? Time to give leaf piles and cornucopias equal billing with snowflakes and Christmas trees? Just think: you could be the one to save the month of November from the jaws of those mercenary elves who would have us rush past this loveliest of holidays--this occasion that celebrates simple appreciation and is not yet tainted beyond recognition by commercialism and capitalism. In the race to get from Halloween to Christmas--the former the newest contender on the holiday spending tree, the latter the longtime saviour of fourth quarter earnings--we all but ignore Thanksgiving. A couple of parades, a few football games, a quick feast with the fam, then it's on to Black Friday before we've even digested our last helping of stuffing. So get those brain cells stirring! You have just a few days left to gaze upon your pumpkins, ponder your inner pilgrim, and muster up the inspiration needed to give Thanksgiving the three weeks or so of glory it deserves. I invite you to post your efforts here; perhaps, together, we can keep the sleigh reined in until the harvest makes it into the barn.

Your turkey will thank you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Terminal Frustration

Okay, "automatic" is a grand concept, but I'm here to tell you there's work to be done before whoever invented automatic bathroom equipment gets to claim success. Not until you deal with automatic toilets, automatic soap dispensers, automatic faucets, and automatic paper towel dispensers in multiple airports in multiple cities in for multiple days do you realize that "automatic" is a relative term!

In Asheville, the toilets worked but the towels didn't. In Minneapolis, the towels worked, but the soap didn't. In Phoenix, the soap worked, but the faucets didn't. In San Diego, the faucets worked, but the toilets didn't. And who is the idiot who designed 99% of airport bathroom stall doors to open IN instead of out? Hello? Increasingly bigger carry-on luggage to haul in the stall with you? (See previous blog rant about that.) Add a toddler, a winter coat, or pantyhose to that mix and you have the kind of frustration that leads women to commit random acts of violence--like ripping the door off the hinges or--horrors!--boycotting all but the handicapped stalls. One of the many airports I've visited in recent weeks actually had stall doors that opened OUT, and what a happy surprise that was. I wish I could remember which one, so I could give due praise.

I do recall which airports had great art, however (yes, I realize that "great," when applied to art, is also a relative term), and given the fact that we are now obliged to spend many aimless hours wandering terminals in order to accommodate the "arrive 2 hours before your flight" command, a good art exhibit can make a big difference in being bored to death or reasonably entertained. Oakland currently has a fun display called "Artists as Collectors," which features everything from wedding photographs and magazines to blenders and dryer lint. Memphis has a series of close-up photographs of people that had me grinning all the way down the corrider (grinning + airport= really rare phenomenon these days). Would that Buffalo International had had something entertaining last spring when I got stuck there for six hours...but that's a whole other story.

Here's my last observation on airports: security staff on the West Coast is a lot nicer than security staff on the East Coast. Now, I have no problem taking off my shoes, peeling off my jacket, or having someone sort through all my worldly possessions (although I was a tad miffed about the seizure of my homemade peach jam), but you don't have to be rude about it. There's a man in the Buffalo airport who ought never to be allowed to work with the public, and there are a few in Tampa who could use a Dale Carnegie course as well. But the folks guarding the airways in Arizona and California are doing it with a smile, and that does not go unnoticed by those of us who remember when flying used to be fun. Let's face it: if someone's gonna pat you down, they should at least be courteous about it!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Have Luggage, Will Pay

Have you been on a plane lately? If not, you may not know that it now costs you a minimum of $15 to take a suitcase with you! I don't know about you, but I find that preposterous. Add it to the ticket price or call it a "service charge" and lop it in there with all those other mysterious charges that add an extra fifty bucks to the bottom line, but do not penalize me for taking clothes along to my destination! For Pete's sake, what's next? Surcharges for bodies over 100 pounds?

People already abuse the carry-on baggage restrictions to an unbelievable degree; I can only imagine the new levels of creativity this will bring. ("Sir, I don't believe that 300 pound garbage bag will fit in the overhead compartment.".... "It will or I'll die tryin,' girlie!") As it stands, virtually all airlines except Southwest (more on that later) are charging $15 for the first suitcase, $25 for the second, and $100 for the third. Wouldn't it make more sense to make the first one free then charge up the yin-yang for subsequent ones? I would think the idea is to reward frugal, organized travelers and sock it to those who pack everything but the kitchen sink.

So I'm already annoyed about this suitcase charge thing when I arrive at the Northwest counter, right? But I'm trying to keep my mouth shut; it's not the ticket clerk's fault. I hand him twenty dollars cash and he says, "We don't take cash. Credit card only," at which point my resolve to keep my mouth shut disintegrates and I offer up a steely smile and say, "I don't have a credit card, I have cash. You're the ones who levied the charge; do you want my money or not?" (I did have a credit card, of course, but that was so totally not the point.) Thus ensued several minutes of inane remarks regarding the lack of cash at the gate, whether anyone had change, how they would write this up, yada yada yada, before one of the baggage handlers finally said, "Gimme that twenty; I got a five dollar bill and I'll get it back from somebody later."
On the next leg of my travels, it was interesting to note that that airline (there've been so many, I don't remember which it was) accepted only cash. Hello??? Does the word "consistency" mean anything to airline industry? Based on my observations of blank, then annoyed, expressions at the check-in counter, most people don't even know there is a charge for baggage, so it's highly unlikely they'll show up with whatever configuration of cash or plastic is needed to meet every airline's specific protocol.

It's traumatic enough to fly these days without adding convoluted baggage fees to the equation. I'm sure it's no picnic for airline employees, either, but airline executives need to get their act together and take a page from the Southwest manual. I rarely get to fly Southwest (more's the pity) since I'm in the Southeast, but they put other airlines to shame in all categories. Maybe it's just because they get to wear shorts, but Southwest employees are always warm and friendly, they're always having a good time, they make check-in easy, they make problems disappear, and they don't charge for a suitcase. Their attendants even--gasp!--crack jokes inflight. Anyone remember the days when flying used to be fun? It still is, on Southwest.

So here's my travel advisory for any of you unlucky enough to be flying soon: pack light, keep cash and credit cards at the ready, fly Southwest if you can, avoid Northwest at all costs, and beware of overhead baggage that may now kill you if it falls on your head because it's carrying two weeks' worth of clothing, accessories, toiletries, grooming appliances, and souvenirs in its overstuffed little pockets.

Oh, Wright brothers, ye hardly knew we.
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