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Roam for the holidays

Christmas Eve day was long on travel and hours behind the wheel. Despite the low volume of cars to and from a day in New York City to visit friends, the trip seems to get longer with each return.

In truth, I’ve traveled for almost every holiday since I left for college an eon ago. The assumption is that, as a single man, what else would I have to do? I’ve grown weary of telling my coupled friends that I have to do all the same things they do -– except alone. There is no one else to run errands (unless I hire someone), to hold the other end of a piece of furniture, to make plans, or ignore phone calls, do the laundry, shop, etc. I’ve always cast an envious eye on those two-income families that seems to have greater flexibility in vacationing, second-home ownership, financial responsibility and, yes, holiday entertaining.

These are among the thoughts that drift into consciousness as I drive, checking the hour from time to time so that I arrive at the Holland or Lincoln tunnels at the most advantageous hour to minimize traffic and wait time. When stuck in the tunnel, I try to ward off creeping thoughts of a terrorist attack, flooding, suffocation, and car problems, among others. Twenty minutes one way or the other can make an hour-plus difference in arrival time and frayed nerves.

Halfway toward the Big Apple, I tune into 1010 WINS and CBS on the AM dial and alternate between them for traffic alerts and then quickly back to WGBO Jazz (88.3FM), with its amazingly diverse and rich format –- wondering if there was such a well of music locally that I was unaware of, and if not, why not with all the incredible musicians in the region. I interrupt that mental string to gas up before the Hudson River crossing. One never know, do one!

The day goes well. Dinner with two longtime friends, time to catch up, pack up -– and head back. I know that by the time I arrive home, 18 hours will have lapsed since my departure that morning. Someday, I tell myself, you’ll have to stay home, share the day with local friends, or simply grab a chicken and a glass of wine and call it “relaxation.”

Automatically, I opt for the FDR Drive toward the George Washington Bridge when leaving the city -– perhaps because I’ve lived in so many parts of the city that I know the streets that might offer an easy escape should an accident or construction site cause an unexpected back-up of travel. And, I try to avoid the outbound Holland since I passed by the World Trade Center just 20 minutes before the catastrophe of 9-11, en route to Wilmington, where I commuted to at that time.

It’s hard not to notice that a good number of people who drive on the holidays appear to out of practice, timid, preoccupied or insufficiently aggressive in doing their part to keep the traffic flowing. When it flows, it’s the cause of major exhilaration!

Past Kingston, the traffic thins dramatically. Should I get off at Catskill and save a half-hour on the trip to Richmondville? Always an option, but one I avoid in bad weather and in winter. The road dips and swerves and should something happen with the car, I would be stranded for hours.

I follow signs for Buffalo with the intent to exit at 25-A toward highway I-88. I see that I am in a sudden swarm of cars traveling in the same direction. Comforting. The observation sharpens my fading alertness. Then, I see that the lead cars are heading toward the Schenectady exit. I smile -– mentally paraphrasing a sign I have often seen (If you lived HERE, you would be home already).

I succumb. I follow the cars, and then continue into downtown Schenectady. I drive past Proctors and then toward one of the places that is high on my list of future residences. Somehow satisfied, I head back to the highway, refreshed by the detour.

Yes. If you lived in Schenectady, you would be home by now -– and probably asleep — an inner voice whispers. A comforting thought. I embrace it as an unexpected Christmas gift. It gives me pleasure for the remainder of the trip and into the dawn of Christmas Day.

Thom O’Connor is a faithful but sporadic blogger. He wishes all readers a Happy New Year.


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