The fourth Thursday of November is about tradition, not innovation. Americans settle down at the table looking for turkey, stuffing, and canned cranberry sauce. They turn on the TV looking for the Detroit Lions. And those Americans within delivery range of the Washington Post can unfurl the broadsheet to find another seasonal standby: the Thanksgiving traffic story. No exotic ingredients or unexpected twists here; the Post has been following the same recipe, cooked in the same pan, for decades. The results are so consistent, in fact, that it’s hard to tell where one year’s version of the traditional preparation ends and another year’s begins. —Erik Wemple

No Thanks Given for Area Traffic Snarls (1986)

By Jacqueline L. Salmon, Lan Nguyen, David S. Hilzenrath, Alan Sipress,

Lyndsey Layton, Alice Reid, et alia

Washington Post Staff Writers

THANKSGIVING RUSH—As Bill Mashinski will tell you, the key to enjoying Thanksgiving day away from home is getting an early start. “I’m trying to beat the 2 o’clock rush,” Mashinski said about 10:15 a.m. yesterday as he filled his minivan’s gas tank at a Mobil station in the Franklin Farm area of western Fairfax County.

Mashinski; his wife, Joyce; and their three children pulled out of the gas station on their way to Wilkes-Barre, Pa., a 41/2-hour drive from Washington. Dad and Mom took the day off, and the kids played hooky (“Cool!”). The minivan was so crammed that Joyce had to put the pumpkin and butter pecan apple crumb pies at her feet. (1994)

Weighed down with suitcases, backpacks, gifts, skis and other paraphernalia, thousands of travelers began to clog area roadways, rails and airports yesterday as the annual Thanksgiving holiday travel rush got underway. (1996)

Police reported outbound bumper-to-bumper traffic on nearly all major arteries and predicted the situation would not ease until after midnight. Thousands of motorists fumed in their cars as radio stations spewed a litany of traffic woes. (1986)

By 4 p.m., some of the nearly half-million drivers heading out of the national capital region could see little more than the red flashes of brake lights heading west on Interstate 66, while Interstate 95 was jammed for about 20 miles between Springfield and Triangle, and cars trying to cross the Woodrow Wilson Bridge were lined up for more than five miles. (2003)

“It’s been a little crazy,” said Steve Kuciemba of the SmarTraveler traffic information service. “The folks who tried to leave early had a few surprises.” (1998)

Nationally, nearly 29 million people were expected to travel this week, 24 million of them by car. At times yesterday, it seemed that the 5 million others were camped out at National Airport. (1993)

For [Paula and David Fletcher], the crowds at National meant that a relatively short flight to visit David’s parents in Charleston, W. Va., became a five-hour ordeal that was alternately mind-numbing and stressful. At times, Paula Fletcher said, “I think it’s a hassle. I’d rather stay home.” (1992)

The longest waits at BWI were outside the terminal. About 5 p.m., traffic backed up on the arrivals level of the entrance road, which is under construction, and crowds of 100 people waited for the shuttle bus to the terminal after getting off MARC and Amtrak trains. (2002)

Virtually every airline in the region offered a special discount air fare for the weekend….”We’re just about booked from here on out,” said Hap Pareti, president of Presidential Airways, the new discount carrier based at Dulles. “The time around Thanksgiving has always been about the busiest period in the business.” (1985)

Trains out of Union Station in all directions are heavily booked. There is not a spare seat available on the Washington-to-New York Metroliner today. To soak up extra demand, Amtrak is running 51 extra trains this week, borrowing cars from commuter railroads from Fredericksburg, Va., to Boston, said Amtrak spokesman Rick Remington. (1997)

“This place is packed like sardines,” said Leo Scaffoldi, who has cut hair at the Union Station Barber Shop for 15 years. “This is the busiest day I have ever seen.” (1987)

Francesca Caretto, of Germantown, had her hands full in the waiting area of Union Station outside Gate B, carrying her 3-year-old daughter, Fiona, with her left arm while pushing luggage with her right. Her other daughter, Katarina, 8, pushed Fiona’s stroller and together, the trio boarded a train to Philadelphia to visit with Caretto’s sister. The juggling could have been worse, Caretto said. “I shipped a box ahead—clothes and blankets—so I wouldn’t have to carry as much,” she said. (1999)

At the Greyhound Bus Terminal just north of Union Station, weary passengers lay slumped against luggage on the floor while others stood in long lines. After almost an hour in line, Bryant Waller described a luckless odyssey that had started about 20 hours before while trying to get from Louisville to Richmond. “The bus driver got lost” in Ohio, Waller said. “We drove around and around, and she couldn’t find the station. We were all just along for the ride, and people were fussing. It was a mess.”

Waller said he looked forward to getting home, taking a shower, propping his feet up and sinking a cold beer. “All this for a turkey dinner,” he said. (2002)