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Thanksgiving Customs: Turkey and Traveling

No matter the price of gas, Southland residents brave the crowded freeway in cars, motorcycles and RVs.

November 24, 2005|Claire Luna and Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writers

After a decade of driving from Orange County to the Mojave Desert for Thanksgiving, Robert Leeson has a foolproof method to deal with holiday traffic: Avoid it altogether.

Although Leeson, 38, a construction estimator, picked up his rented RV about noon Wednesday in Irvine, he didn't plan to leave his house in Huntington Beach until midnight.

"If you leave anytime after noon on Wednesday, you might as well go sit in your driveway for all the speed you're going to get on the freeways," Leeson said.

Plenty of other travelers, though, did brave the Southern California freeways, snarling many by midday. About 2.35 million of the 2.9 million Southern Californians expected to travel this weekend will drive, despite gasoline prices that average about $2.45 a gallon locally, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.

The number of travelers has increased 4.7% from last year in Southern California, although the national figure of 37 million travelers has remained flat, probably due to continuing repercussions from the hurricanes, the Auto Club says.

Monique Trinh, 19, was one of those doomed to spend part of Thanksgiving on the road. But the UC Riverside sophomore said she would make the trek to her parents' West Hollywood home in the predawn hours today. "The later the better, or the earlier the better," she said.

At Los Angeles International Airport, officials say the slightly fewer number of flights means more crowded planes.

About 1.8 million travelers are expected to pass through LAX between Nov. 18 and Monday. Roughly 129,000 travelers are expected fly into or out of John Wayne Airport in Orange County during the same period. And officials at Ontario International Airport braced for 20,000 travelers today and Sunday, twice as many as usual, said airport spokeswoman Maria Tesoro-Fermin.

Thanksgiving travelers will not find much relief at train stations. Amtrak said it expects to carry 125,000 passengers today, which is 80% above normal traffic levels. The passenger rail agency said reservations would be required on all of its Pacific Surfliner trains in California through Monday.

But most people who travel for the holiday take to the road, said Auto Club spokeswoman Marie Montgomery.

"No matter what the gas prices seem to be doing, the travel numbers have gone up," she said. "For a family, it's still cheaper to drive than to fly."

Caltrans spokeswoman Terri Kasinga warned drivers to be patient.

Benjamin Cisneros, 27, was resigned to a two-hour drive -- if he's lucky -- from Perris to Inglewood to visit his girlfriend's sister. So when he filled up his red Ford Focus at a Riverside Mobil station, he also stocked up on Gatorade, gum and chocolate for his three children.

Freeway signs in Orange County this week read "Buckle Up -- It's the Law" as part of the California Highway Patrol's focus on enforcing seat belt use. Every available officer will be working to staff the maximum enforcement period, which started at 6 p.m. Wednesday and will end at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, said Officer Katrina Lundgren, a highway patrol spokeswoman.

Hourly updates regarding road closures and weather conditions are available by calling Caltrans' highway information line at (800) 427-7623.

This year's top destinations for Thanksgiving are Palm Springs, Las Vegas and Mexico, according to the Auto Club, although most of the customers at El Monte RV Rentals in Irvine planned to take their rigs to the desert for off-road activities.

The Irvine facility rented out about 75 RVs this weekend, well above the typical winter rate of five per weekend, said Joe Laing, director of marketing.

Leeson, the Huntington Beach resident who picked up his RV on Wednesday with his girlfriend, planned to drive it home and pack it with his two children, two of their friends, their dog Roxy and the eight apple and pumpkin pies they are contributing to the Thanksgiving dinner they will share with dozens of other off-road enthusiasts at Red Mountain.

"It's a great event," Leeson said as he walked around his 28-foot rental, checking it out before driving off the lot.

"It's something we do as a family."


Times staff writer Michael Muskal contributed to this report.

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