November 28, 2014 catherinetownsend

What a PI Can Learn from Thanksgiving

In honor of Thanksgiving Day holiday weekend, I’m re-posting this – because crazy family drama is timeless! After living in Los Angeles, London and New York I’ve spent Turkey Day with a constantly changing cast of friends, family and total strangers – and all of them have taught me valuable lessons in the art of investigation.

I don’t dwell on my ideological differences with my ultra religious Tea Party family member, because that would make my host uncomfortable. Instead, I steer the topic toward survival techniques. Last year I learned how to pick a lock and survive for a week in the woods with no water. Thanksgiving has taught me that everyone, no matter how diametrically opposed his or her viewpoint, can teach us something about life.

As a detective, I know that finding common ground with the subject of my interviews will help them become more comfortable.  So with the militant vegan, I talked juicing and yoga over Tofurkey – he didn’t need to know that I  keep my grandmother’s mink coat in my closet for extra-cold days.

Holidays are also a crash course in the art of diffusing drama, which is a crucial skill for a PI. Often, I will have to soothe a client’s nerves during an infidelity investigation, or be a shoulder to cry on when they are looking for a missing relative. So when someone’s wife is on her third Bloody Mary and joking about her husband being impotent, I can turn the table toward a different topic.

Thanksgiving has definitely helped me hone another hugely important investigative skill: The art of good research.

When the turkey gets burned and everyone is scrambling, my fact-finding skills are suddenly very much in demand for locating a grocery store that has pre-cooked birds – or at least a pizza joint that delivers.  Does applesauce work as a recipe substitute for sugar? Will a raisin give my dog the runs? Why do people kiss under mistletoe? Does that woman Uncle Frank brought have a criminal record? Everyone turns to the detective to find answers. With the help of Google and a few trusty databases, I can entertain and save the day.

Research also comes in handy when avoiding the angry hordes on Black Friday by figuring out which stores bring their sales online. Instead of worrying about which member of the angry mob will Tazer me over a TV, I can sit around and shop in my pajamas.

Thanksgiving has taught me the importance of making a backup plan. During a surveillance, I always make Plans B and C in case I lose my subject. I map out his entire routine for the day so that I can get through the assignment as smoothly as possible. The same rules apply when traveling: Before I get to the airport, I have checked my bag online, emailed myself a boarding pass, checked lounge access and verified the weather report at my destination.

Then when a flight gets cancelled, I use apps like Flight Tracker to make a list of alternative airlines  – and if there are none, to book a rental car before they are all sold out.

I’ve spent some holidays in huge mansions; others serving food to homeless veterans in the cold. Some were with friends and family; others totally alone. Holidays, for me, are a time to remember that even though I can’t always control the outcome, I can appreciate the people around me and be thankful for small things. Learning to be patient, roll with the punches and never give up even when things get tough is perhaps the most important lessons of all.

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