The Turkey in the Left Turn Lane
Read the full article at The Atlantic.
As 2016 gave way to 2017, a turkey moved into the left turn lane of a major intersection in my hometown. Some say he arrived in January of this year; others are sure he was around in late 2016. But regardless, once he was there, he was there to stay. When he wasn’t in the street, he rarely strayed far from the nearby corner that he’d decided to make his home.
In suburban Ypsilanti, Michigan, the corner of Whittaker and Textile sits in between a residential area of schools and subdivisions, and a busier commercial area with a grocery store and several restaurants that dot Whittaker Road as it heads toward the highway. The turkey’s constant presence in this busy spot made him a local celebrity, and the unlikely, or perhaps inevitable, epicenter of a community in which humanity’s best and worst instincts played out.
I first became aware of the turkey in March, when my best friend, who was still living in Ypsilanti at the time, invited me to the Facebook group. Kim Gray, a 48-year-old nurse from Ypsilanti, had originally started the group just for her and her friends, but it quickly grew, with hundreds of members by the time I joined. (Today that group has just under 6,000 members.) The group had taken a poll and named the turkey “Whittaker.”
Brian Malley, a psychologist at the University of Michigan in the nearby town of Ann Arbor, thinks there are three main reasons that Whittaker captured people’s attention—and held it for so long. One was the obvious: his location. Being in a major intersection, “people are seeing him as they go to work in the morning and as they come home,” Malley said. “A time when people are particularly interested in finding something that’s going to add color to their daily life.”
“Another factor was that if you didn’t want to hit him, you had to watch out for him. He commanded your attention,” he adds.
And lastly, “He was a very good foil for people to project onto and personalize.”