put me in coach

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With the increasingly frantic, crass commercial push for premature seasonal spending, the holidays seem to commence earlier and earlier every year. Walk into any mall on Nov. 1 and you'll find holly-adorned halls already decked. The first Christmas catalogs come so early, you can swat mosquitoes with them. The broad definition of the holidays as a "season of giving" is a sentiment whereby spiritual, secular, and commercial interests collide: To give, you've got to spend.
This year, though, just about every American--whether he or she celebrates Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or Ramadan--can probably pinpoint how early the urge to give set in. For many, the most immediate response to Sept. 11 was to give: time, blood, cash, comfort to their fellow Americans. The spirit of unity and generosity that's prevailed in the wake of the attack on our country dovetails nicely with the ideals of the holiday season, although that "peace on earth" thing seems pretty much shot to hell.

At any rate, this year holiday shopping and tourism aren't just an indulgence, they're a patriotic duty. President Bush and New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani have urged us to keep recession at bay by spending like mad and following through with any travel plans we may have, and why not? When else are you going to have a built-in excuse for both compulsive shopping and touring? Besides, as far as demonstrating patriotism goes, both sure beat enlisting.

Travel and tourism businesses especially have been feeling the pain of the post-Sept. 11 pinch, and they could probably use a boost. Which is why, on a balmy November morning, I'm boarding a charter bus for a day trip to New York. I've convinced a few game colleagues to join me, figuring we can help give an ailing local business a shot in the arm, furnish a beleaguered metropolis with some tourist bucks, and get some Christmas shopping done to boot.

Pikesville-based Superior Tours--whose Manhattan-bound bus is a fave among my friends for its quirky perks as much as for its reasonable cost ($40 round-trip)--haD reportedly been having trouble filling it's once-popular New York runs.

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