The journey to the Thanksgiving dinner table began Wednesday afternoon as the outward-bound populace poured onto the freeways or bumped up to airline ticket counters.
Daniel Butler, the local chief of traffic operations for the state Department of Transportation, said the afternoon and evening before Thanksgiving usually have the worst traffic of the year. On Wednesday night, the California Highway Patrol said, it seemed to be true.
"Traffic's thick just everywhere," a CHP spokeswoman in Santa Ana said.
Many motorists were on the road earlier than the usual quitting time. But it didn't help much, the spokeswoman said. "It doesn't matter which direction you're going, you're not going to be going very fast," she said.
Outside John Wayne Airport, freeway traffic was at a standstill. There was good and bad news for airline travelers: Congestion there wasn't any worse than usual--if you can put up with the usual.
Airlines had predicted a possible record number of passengers departing and arriving over the long weekend. But a spokesman for the airport security office said Wednesday night that the crowds have been "about the same as a Friday. Nothing real big all day."
A passenger who said she'd been waiting at the terminal for two hours agreed, sort of. She said the crowds looked "about the same--awful."
Robert Mendez of Santa Ana, who was flying to Phoenix, he hoped, said he was waiting for his delayed flight to take off. He had arrived early, "just to be on the safe side," and had so far been waiting four hours, he said with a bitter smile.
"It's always crowded," said one ticket agent. "We're running at capacity all the time."
Jill Snedeker in the terminal information booth said several flights from San Francisco and Phoenix had been delayed from 1 to 1 1/2 hours and that at peak arrival times car traffic in the terminal loop had been bumper to bumper.
"But other than that, there's been no real problem," she said.