As a national holiday, Memorial Day offers an unusual confluence of events, a mix of recreation and recognition. On the one hand, thousands of people will either shop the sales or pack up their cars, minivans, and SUVs for a vacation during the three-day weekend, which marks the start of the summer season. And on the other, parades and events will take place from coast to coast to honor the men and women who gave their lives and best years in service to our country.
As for how this year's holiday is shaping up, we've compiled a list of numbers that will give you an idea of the size and scope of the holiday. No matter how you plan to celebrate, you can count on us to do the counting for you. Thanks to Washington.org and AAA for help with the Memorial Day digits.
Travelers Hitting the Road: 36.1 Million
Just-released estimates from AAA show that travel will be up this year for roadsters journeying 50 miles or more from home to enjoy the Memorial Day weekend. (AAA defines this as Thursday, May 22 to Monday, May 26.) That's up 1.5% last year, and AAA says that the harsh winter in many parts of the country is playing a role in people traveling.
Actually, winter hasn't quite ended everywhere. In Chicago on May 16, the morning temperature was in the 30s and snow was spotted in some parts. Pass the tanning butter? How about the wool sweater?
Travelers Using Cars for Memorial Day Plans: More Than 8 in 10
Those figures reflect what's good news in many parts of the country: overall travel volume is expected to reach a new post-recession high, with 36.1 million Americans taking a trip. Of those people, 88% will travel by automobile. But there are other modes in play; air travel is expected to increase from 2.4 million to 2.6 million flyers. Meanwhile, cruises, trains, and buses will see the largest increase, up 6.5% to 1.7 million travelers.
Largest National Memorial Day Parade: More Than 250,000 People
Where else could it be but in Washington D.C.? Put on since 2005, the Memorial Day Parade marks the largest of its kind in the U.S., starting at 2 pm Monday, May 26. In fact, the nation's capital will host a wide array of events in conjunction with Memorial Day. Marching bands, active duty and retired military units, youth groups, floats, and hundreds of veterans will appear in the ceremony.
Largest Local Memorial Day Parade Crowd: More Than 80,000 People
The Little Neck Douglaston Memorial Day Parade in Queens is an 87-year-old celebration that in recent years has drawn more than 80,00 people, making it the largest in the nation. This year's parade will honor Rabbi Dr. Morton H. Pomerantz, a Vietnam veteran who served as a Marine Corps and Navy chaplain; he passed away on May 2 after a short illness at the age of 76.
But though the event draws record crowds, it almost didn't happen this year. According to the Times Ledger in Queens, the legal entity that organized the parade dissolved last year due to lack of support from area residents. So what saved it? Dozens of northeast Queens residents joined the United War Veterans Council to keep the event alive, and raised an estimated $30,000, even without a leader to guide them.
Expected Price of Gas: $3.63 Per Gallon
The folks at AAA want you to know two things in conjunction with this figure. First, unexpected developments such as refinery problems or international events could result in higher costs. And second, the price of gas will fluctuate depending on where you're driving to or from — so don't expect to pay $3.63 everywhere.
One tip: if you're used to filling up on higher grades, switch to unleaded regular. There's overwhelming evidence that for most cars, it's perfectly fine for your engine — and of course, regular is cheaper too.
Mini Flags Placed at Arlington National Cemetery: More Than 250,000
Sponsored by the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, a Memorial Day service takes place at 11 am at the cemetery. As it happens, more than 250,000 mini flags will be in place decorating the cemetery's headstones. Meanwhile the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, located at the cemetery gateway, will hold a 4 pm ceremony with formal military honors.
Motorcycles Descending on the Nation's Capital: More Than 900,000
Started in 1988, Rolling Thunder has grown into the world's largest single-day motorcycle event, and it's all for a fantastic cause. The motorcycle rally pays tribute both to POWs and those servicemen listed as missing in action after the Vietnam War.
Now with all those hogs (the motorbikes, we mean) descending on one place, there's a logistics issue to overcome: parking. That's why the splash page of the website urges bikers to reserve a garage space, find a parking meter to feed, or look for parking as soon as they arrive in D.C. Otherwise, the event could turn into Trawling Thunder.
Hotel Rate Average for AAA Three Diamond Lodgings: $169 Per Night
When you're talking about almost 1 million bikers and all those other travelers nationwide, you've gotta put 'em up somewhere. AAA says this year's average price marks a modest increase from last year, when the average hotel rate was $166.
And so the Memorial Day travel season this year looks bright, even if some intangibles remain, such as weather, traffic jams, or cranky kids in the backseat. (Well, maybe that last one is more a given.) No matter where you head, be sure to celebrate the dawning of summer. And if you have an American flag stashed somewhere, fly it or drape it or attach it to your car. The freedoms we enjoy in America, to vacation and take flight at will, did not come without cost. Our veterans paid a price so that we can spend our summers carefree.