You Think It's Tough Flying Home for Thanksgiving? Try Driving. (Or Existing Fifty Years From Now.)

What does the next week hold for you: Time with family? Food-based comas? Rioting in malls over things you could buy for less on Amazon? Or maybe stuck working even on Thanksgiving for poor wages and/or in rotten conditions just so that the rest of us can buy all those things this holiday for less. Just like the pilgrims and the baby Jesus always hoped for.

Along with the mayhem and the bickering and the tryptophan, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving in America if our TV networks didn’t force their reporters to spend the week camped outside of airports telling us just how bad things are there. Yes, Virginia, your air flight home Wednesday is going to be a nightmare. And Sunday should be a doozy too.

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Here in Los Angeles, where it’s supposed to be 86 degrees on Thanksgiving—there’s no good reason I’m telling you this, I just thought you should know—we of course suffer through the same situations. But the real story here is not how long it’s going to take you to get through LAX to your flight, but how long it’s going to take you to drive there in the first place, or anywhere else in Los Angeles or beyond for that matter. Hint hint: wherever you’re going, leave now.

According to traffic information provider INRIX, Los Angeles is this year’s winner of  the “holiday highways that could very well drive you insane”, a.k.a., “nation’s most congested city.” On Wednesday between 3 pm and 5 pm, drivers can expect to add on average 36 percent time to their time home—which might not sound so bad, if that wasn’t an 8.5 percent increase from just one year ago, and it didn’t already take an hour plus for them to travel 16 miles home at night.

INRIX also reports that people driving from Los Angeles elsewhere can expect the trip to take a third longer. While this sounds awful (6 hours to the Bay Area on the soul-deadening, two-lane Route 5 quickly becomes Israelites-in-the-desert-level theodicy), Angelinos are well aware that estimates like these are just magical thinking. Just an extra hour home from San Diego on Sunday? Please. Plan on it taking a full eight hours, and a year from your life.

And if you’re coming from the North, enjoy the Grapevine. That’s right, Buffalo, in Los Angeles, we don’t need no stinking acts of nature to be stuck motionless on highways overnight. We just need a holiday.

INRIX even has warnings about parts of L.A. to avoid on Black Friday. Newsflash: anywhere near a shopping mall is a bad idea. A really bad idea: on average you’ll increase your travel time by 71 percent. Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance (in southern Los Angeles) has the dubious distinction of being the second worst Black Friday spot in the entire country, adding on average 120 minutes to the travel time of anyone who gets near it. (I believe the technical term is “a black hole.”)

The worst part about all this, though, probably isn’t the traffic itself. Much as the rest of the country likes to make a big deal of our congestion, the fact is once you’ve lived in L.A. a while, you’re used to it: you don’t go across town at 3pm on Wednesday; you take the day off and have your assistant drive around for you. Or if you have to travel you make sure your Waze app gives directions in the voice you want, and that you’ve got all 8 hours of the Serial podcast ready to binge.

No, what’s terrible in the big picture is why congestion seems to be up in the first place: gas is cheaper. A lot cheaper—almost a dollar in some places. We’ve been paying over $4.00 for a good three years now. Cheap gas, it’s like a little Christmas miracle.

Except it isn’t a miracle, not really, because in the big picture we all need to be driving less, not more. Or pray that all the world’s children begin to grow gills and enjoy super storms.

But hey, it’s the holidays. Time for gratitude, not worry. Happy Thanksgiving! Aren’t travel times crazy?  

Jim McDermott, S.J., is America's Los Angeles correspondent.

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