On the day before the day before Christmas, holiday revelers rushed all over Los Angeles on Wednesday, snapping up last-minute gifts and preparing for mad dashes to airports or freeways while bundling up against chilly winds.
Travelers trying to get out of town for Christmas and New Year's can expect lots of company on the road.
According to the Automobile Club of Southern California, about 9.2 million people in 13 western states will drive at least 100 miles each during the holiday season, up from 5 million travelers during Thanksgiving weekend.
Air passengers can expect delays at Los Angeles International Airport, where the number of people passing through the terminal is projected to swell from the usual 165,000 per day to 186,000 during the holiday period, airport officials said. To cope with the crush, officials said passengers should arrive at LAX three hours before international flights and two hours before domestic flights; park in remote lots; ride shuttle buses into the terminal, and call airlines to make sure flights are on time.
Passengers should also put wrapped gifts in their checked luggage, officials said, to avoid the possibility of being asked to open them by security officers.
"We want to remind people . . . not to make jokes about bombs or guns in the airport," said Scott Read, an LAX spokesman. "Also, do not attempt to carry on guns, knives or anything that could be a weapon or appear to be weapon, such as a [toy] gun or a cigarette lighter that is a firearm replica."
The frantic seasonal race was also being experienced on Wednesday by officials at Burbank Airport, who asked travelers to anticipate rubbing elbows with their fellow passengers.
"We are in a 68-year-old building that was built for about one-third of the passengers we have now, and is way too small," said airport spokesman Shawn McCarthy.
And Van Nuys Airport officials reported that the parking lot for the FlyAway shuttle bus service to LAX was already filled by Tuesday. Passengers also can be dropped off at the terminal, said Pat Freudenberg, an airport spokeswoman. The shuttle makes 98 round-trips to LAX daily and fares are $6 for adults and $3.50 for children 2 through 12.
For those heading for freeway onramps, the California Highway Patrol will have stepped-up patrols beginning at 6 p.m. Christmas Eve and continuing through midnight on Sunday to look out for drunk drivers.
"Apprehending the driver who is under the influence is our foremost priority during the holiday weekend," said Chief Ed Gomez, commander of the CHP's Southern Division.
CHP officers arrested 1,312 drunk drivers--including 329 in Los Angeles County--during the maximum enforcement period in 1997, Gomez said. During that same period, 32 highway deaths occurred, including four in the county.
Down-to-the-wire shoppers were also out in force in the San Fernando Valley as shoppers from Panorama City to Sherman Oaks to Woodland Hills searched shelves for gifts ranging from children's clothing to glittering gems.
Shoppers jammed the nation's only two-story Wal-Mart discount store at Panorama Mall, hunting for popular Furby plush toys and yo-yos.
"People are aggressively shopping," said store co-manager Aaron Rios. "It usually looks pretty rough by the end of the night."
Grace Dampha of Canoga Park used her lunch hour Wednesday to pick up her last gift in Panorama City, but she still planned to return to the mayhem of the mall later in the evening with her four children. "I would rather stay home if I could, but I promised," she said.
Another last-minute shopper, Greg Austin of Panorama City, said he was having little luck finding the right gifts. "I'm kind of striking out," he said.
Jose Gonzales of Van Nuys was helping a friend shop at a toy store in the mall, but was not planning to begin his own shopping until Christmas Eve. "It's more exciting like that," he said. Although he has not bought gifts for the 10 people on his list, he said he has bought the wrapping paper.
At Fashion Square Sherman Oaks, Jerry, Carol and David Burr were taking a coffee break during their morning shopping.
Jerry and Carol, of Clifton, N.Y., and their son, David, of Toulouse, France, were in town to visit a relative in Studio City. The elder Burrs arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday expecting a sunny, warm break from chilly upstate New York.
"It wasn't supposed to be cold," said Carol Burr, pointing to some sweater purchases. But the unexpected weather really didn't matter. "Our Christmas is seeing each other," she said.
Diane Reyes of Valencia munched a cinnamon bun as she waited for Artistic Wear to finish screening 23 designs onto a gift T-shirt for her mother, Helen.
"I heard I broke the record for the amount of designs on a T-shirt," Reyes said, explaining that the shirt features a stick-figure design for each of Helen's 17 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, along with their names.