Hitting the turkey road home


When Sandy Stephan was a kid, her folks lived so far away from the rest of the family that they couldn't take part in the American tradition of turning Thanksgiving into the nation's busiest travel holiday.

They lived in Brazil.

"We gathered with other Americans to feel some sort of belonging," said Ms. Stephan, a public library adviser for the state of Maryland who lives in Kensington. "But it wasn't like going over the hill to grandmother's house."

Starting yesterday, an estimated 28.9 million Americans began taking to the roads, the rails and the air for this country's national observance of gratitude.

Amtrak nationally will run 100 extra trains to carry about a half-million passengers through the weekend; Baltimore-Washington International Airport prepared for 44,200 passengers yesterday -- up from a typical 29,000 on a November weekday -- and about 350,000 motorists were expected to pass through Maryland toll booths. A normal Wednesday sees about 220,000 drivers on toll roads.

Nearly all Thanksgiving travelers will be getting from here to there by some sort of automobile, according to the American Automobile Association, and Sandy Stephan's family will be among them.

"We're going about an hour away to Warrington, Va., to be with my nieces, grandnieces and grandnephews. There'll be about 20 people at the table," said Ms. Stephan, 49.

The old family tradition of carrying along side dishes has survived, although Ms. Stephan's raw vegetables and dip won't perfume her 1989 Toyota Celica the way "mashed potatoes and sauerkraut used to stink up the car" during the occasional stateside Thanksgivings of her youth.

And on the drive home: "I'll be tired, stuffed and glad it wasn't at my house because we won't have all the mess. But I'll be sorry because we won't have all the leftovers."

At BWI yesterday, Jean Bandy tried to entertain her 2-year-old daughter Rachel while waiting for her mother to arrive from Boston on a Delta flight. Fog required Delta to reroute the flight to Washington, and Ms. Bandy's mother had to make the last leg of the trip by bus.

Smiling at Rachel, Ms. Bandy said: "I'm really glad the [airport] waiting areas have Lego blocks."

At American Airlines, where routine was disrupted earlier in the week because of a strike by flight attendants, service was returning to normal. An airport spokeswoman said nine of American's 16 flights at BWI flew yesterday, with more expected today.

Highway travelers will be driving under heavy clouds this morning, according to National Weather Service forecasts, with partial clearing by afternoon. Winds will be brisk, with gusts up to 20 mph, and temperatures won't poke above the mid 40s, dropping to 30 degrees tonight.

This Thanksgiving, for the first time in eight years, Connie Welsch of Fallston doesn't have to drive to Long Island, N.Y., try to outsmart the crush of other travelers, and listen to her husband toss "foul words" at his fellow Americans on Interstate 95.

"We're staying put," said Ms. Welsch, a 39-year-old advertising executive, as she cleaned a 19-pound turkey for visiting relatives.

"We've been going to New York religiously for the past eight years, and we always left late Wednesday and came back late Saturday to avoid the headaches," she said. "Driving the interstate the Sunday after Thanksgiving is the worst. Everybody and their mother-in-law is trying to get home. One year we attempted it on a Sunday, and it took us nine hours to get from Long Island to Maryland. It was a horror.

"It's a great pleasure to have my family visit me so I can prepare an elaborate meal for them after they've gone out of their way for us for so many years," she said. "And it wouldn't be Thanksgiving if I didn't hear my father sing: 'Oh, the glory of the turkey is the drumstick, and the glory of the pumpkin is the pie!' "

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