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We are all creatures of habit

By Debbie Leffler • Updated Dec 21, 2017 at 6:23 PM

The idea for this column came to me in a weird way.

I was remembering how, one spring, when we came home from a trip to New Jersey, a large number of ants had invaded our house. Then I started thinking about how ants always follow the same path to whatever food they have found — unless you interrupt their path by spraying poison. Then I started to think how stupid they are — why do they march in exactly the same line toward their goal? Then, I started thinking about how we humans are different. Then I started thinking that actually no, we humans aren’t different. We tend to take the same path all the time, too.

Example: I have a usual walk I take each day. I always take the same walk. Not only that, but I always walk the route starting in the same direction. And, if anyone is going with me, I insist that we walk that same way together.

Then there’s the route we used to take to Nebraska for Christmas. We don’t do it anymore because the relatives we went to see no longer live there, but we made that journey many times. And we always drove the same way — I-80 around Chicago:

• Lunch stop at Bill Knapp’s in South Bend;

• Overnight stop at a hotel in Davenport, Iowa, where we would always eat dinner at the same Red Lobster and watch the old George C. Scott version of the movie “A Christmas Carol” which would always be on that night on the hotel TV;

• Back back on I-80 the next day with a lunch stop at Bishop’s cafeteria in Des Moines, Iowa (at least until that restaurant closed and we were befuddled as to where to eat lunch, just like the ants are befuddled when poison is sprayed in their path) and then on to Omaha.

All six of us knew each of the landmarks on I-80 by heart — we knew the underpass right before the Dexter, Iowa, exit where we once ran out of gas; the place just west of Chicago where we almost got caught in a snowstorm; the time we had to change our route when we drove right into a snowstorm and spent the night, instead of all the way to Davenport, at a hotel just off the first exit in eastern Indiana; driving all day the next day to arrive at my in-laws’ house in the middle of the night Christmas eve (with the kids looking for Santa’s sleigh when we stopped somewhere in Iowa for a late-night dinner at McDonald’s which was, luckily, still open).

Those days driving along I-80 with four little ones in the car were both difficult and wonderful.

I-80 heading east through Pennsylvania was another trip where we always followed the same path. It was our spring trip to see my side of the family. We didn’t need an overnight stop for that eight-hour drive, but we knew every landmark — the big bridge which meant we were almost out of Ohio; the Mile Run exit in the middle of nowhere; the Jersey Shore exit which is nowhere near what I think of as the Jersey Shore; the state park in Ravensburg where we sometimes had a picnic and a hike along a little brook; the first rest stop in New Jersey where the building with the bathrooms was sometimes closed (welcome to New Jersey); and last, but not least, the harrowing last part of the journey along multi-lane, crowded I-80 where any car actually obeying the speed limit was the exception.

I know ants are attracted to go on their journey by food. But we humans are attracted by something just as vital — family. And although I think we once took a detour through Peoria, Ill., on our way to Omaha, every other time it was I-80 all the way — because it was the most direct way, but also because it had the comfort of familiarity.

I wonder if ants have the same feeling about their route.

Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]

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