Turkeys, cranberry sauce and automatic weapons.
The Thanksgiving recipe was two parts charity and one part frayed nerves on Wednesday as Californians began the first major travel holiday since the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks.
Police, security guards and rifle-toting National Guard troops searched cars at airports and closely watched the long lines of passengers at terminals.
Los Angeles International Airport officials warned travelers to expect delays even though the 690,000 passengers projected to go through LAX over five days would be a 25 percent drop from last year’s record.
“It’s going to be a long wait, but it makes me feel secure,” said Los Angeles psychiatrist Chip McDaniel, 32, who was heading to Las Vegas.
“I think recent events demand it,” he said of the tight security. “I hope public officials don’t let that wane and the public doesn’t forget.”
Sean Wolfson, 25, was going to Chicago on his first flight since the attacks.
“It’s no sweat,” he said. “I don’t feel the doom hanging over my head.”
Employees with bullhorns managed the crowds.
“Everybody’s gonna make your flight. Everybody’s gonna have a great Thanksgiving, and that’s an order,” one joked.
Traditional free meals were delivered by the thousands to the homeless and poor — some of them by Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and a potential Republican challenger, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.
“We celebrate the sense we are all Americans, we are all God’s children, and we are all in this together,” Davis said as he passed out frozen turkeys to needy families in South Central Los Angeles.
“It’s going to be the most meaningful Thanksgiving in decades,” state Sen. Diane Watson, D-Los Angeles, added as she handed out cans of corn. “During this tragic time, we have to share with each other. We have to have a sense of solidarity.”
“It’s a shame that bad things had to happen to bring people together,” said Shalaina McLaurin, 25, as she received the supplies.
“I think it’s wonderful to be here, to see so many Californians showing the willingness to give,” an aproned Riordan said as he set down plates of turkey, mashed potatoes and trimmings at the Los Angeles Mission on Skid Row.
Melissa Joan Hart, John Tesh and other celebrities helped dish out the food to the beat of live salsa, jazz and gospel music.
“We here in Los Angeles feel like we don’t have a chance to help anybody,” Tesh said as scooped cranberry sauce. “This is just a great opportunity.”
It took about a week to fill 350 spots for volunteer cooks and servers this year. Normally it takes a month, said Keisha Chinn, the mission’s volunteer coordinator.
Charity was tinged with patriotism. The Boston Market buffet chain planned to supply free turkey meals on Thursday to National Guard troops assigned to California airports.
In the San Diego area, a record number of families signed up to “adopt-a-serviceman” who couldn’t be home for Thanksgiving — so many that dozens of families were to be turned away for lack of Marines and sailors.
“People jokingly try to bribe me,” said Cindy Farless of the Armed Services YMCA in downtown San Diego. “They’re like, ’How much is it gonna take for me to get a couple of sailors?”’
But some of the needy found less generosity as givers directed their dollars to victims of the terrorism.
“Since the bombing, charity has ceased,” Ryan Reynolus, a homeless man, said as he rolled his wheelchair down Market Street in San Francisco. “A Christian church this past Sunday gave us jackets and turkey dinners — that’s the first act of charity I’ve seen in months.”
“Some panhandlers I know used to make $30 to $40 a day, and now they’re making like $2 a day,” he said. “Money has gotten really tight and it’s hurting.”
But hope remained.
“Sept. 11th gave the world what it needed to make it more safe. Fear begets motivation,” said Chris Callahan as he sat near a subway entrance, begging for change. “Hopefully it’ll bring us closer, too.”
Editor’s Note: Eugene Tong in Los Angeles and Ritu Bhatnagar in San Francisco contributed to this report.