On this Memorial Day weekend, the 112th time Americans have stopped to honor the nation's war dead, the battlefront may be at the local gas station.
The American Automobile Association and tourism officials at Atlantic Ocean resorts said yesterday that, with a little bit of strategic shopping for gas, motorists should be able to reach their destinations and return.
what is even more certain than the availability of gasoline is that Washingtonians have a large variety of activities for their holiday weekend - from sitting on the sand at the beaches or shopping at the numerous sales throughout the region to listening to a free National Symphony concert on the Capitol grounds or watching an Arlington Cemetery ceremony on Memorial Day.
The weather will not be great, but it may not be that bad, either. Temperatures will range from the low 50s at night in the Washington area to highs in the 70s. There is a chance of showers. Saturday, but the National Weather Service says it will be somewhat warmer and partly cloudy on Sunday and Monday.
After a survey of 230 of the Washington area's 1,500 gas stations yesterday, the American Automobile Association predicted that 85 percent of the region's stations would be open Saturday but only 9 percent on Sunday and 25 percent on Monday.
Most stations open on Saturday will be closed by 6 p.m., according to local AAA spokesman Glenn Lashley. The remainder will be closed at dark. Lashley said that 84 percent of the stations have no limitations on the amount of gasoline that can be purchased but that the other 16 percent have set maximum purchases at between $4 and $10.
Lashley said that the few stations open on Sunday probably will be closed by late afternoon. Extra supplies of gasoline are being delivered to 20 gas stations in the District of Columbia for use this Sunday and on following Sundays. The extra gasoline will come from the city's "setaside," an amount of gasoline kept in reserve for emergencies.
Despite the general availability of gasoline in the Washington area, Lashley suggested that motorists can avoid long lines by filling their tanks this morning or tomorrow morning, rather than waiting until the afternoon rush hour today.
Moreover, Lashley said that motorists could avoid the Monday night rush back to the Washington area by taking an extra half-day vacation and drive back Tuesday morning, when all gas stations are expected to be operating normal weekday hours.
He said that stations along interstate highways near Washington all have gasoline. But he said that some limitations might be in effect, such as the $3 or $4 limit imposed at various stations along the Delaware Turnpike and the$6 limit at stations along the Kennedy Highway north of Baltimore.
Officials at Ocean City, Rehoboth Beach, Del., Virginia Beach and at Nags Head, N.C., all reported that gas stations in their areas generally will be operating normal hours through the weekend, although some may be closed at night. Some hotel and motel rooms are available, according to the officials, but some require tourists to book for two or three nights.
The Beach resort officials also reported that blue fish have been running in their waters in recent days, as evidenced by the 40 fish that Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter caught off Virginia Beach last week.
For those trying to get more than a car drive away for the weekend, the crowds at the airport or the train station are expected to be large, particularly at Union Station.
Amtrak said it is preparing for unusually heavy loads over the weekend. Its reservation phones havebeen almost constantly tied up, partly from normal holiday traffic but also as a result of people scared off by the prospect of trying to buy gasoline, according to Amtrak spokesman Brian Duff.
He said that Amtrak normally has 365,000 reservation calls in the second week in May. That figure jumped to 1,360,000 this year and to 2 million calls and attempted calls last week, he said.
"We've added clerks, and the telephone company has added trunk lines, and still we're flooded," Duff said.
Most airlines serving National, Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington International airports reported that bookings are heavy, like any holiday period, but that seats still are available for some flights, depending on the destination.
The crush of airline travelers will be eased somewhat Monday when United Airlines resumes limited service after the settlement yesterday of the two-month strike by the airline's machinists. United plans to operate seven of its 14 Dulles flights Monday, 14 of 33 at National and 6 of 19 at Baltimore-Washington.
The Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start of the summer season and tourists and Washington residents wishing to see the White House will be able to use the summertime ticket reservation system starting tomorrow.
Under this system, sightseers can obtain timecoded tickets in advance at the Ellipse and then go to the White House at the assigned time. The White House will be open tomorrow and Monday, but closed Sunday.
The Washington Monument and Lincoln and Jefferson memorials will be open all day to midnight throughout the weekend and most of the Smithsonian Institution museums will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Exceptions will be the Freer Gallery of Art, the Renwick Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Collection of Fine Arts, which will close at 5:30 p.m. The National Gallery of Art will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. tomorrow and Monday and from noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
Here's more information to help plan the weekend:
All federal, state and local government offices in Virginia and the District of Columbia, except those that provide emergency service, will be closed Monday. In Maryland, Prince George's and Montgomery counties, offices will be closed while state offices next Wednesday.
Schools in the District of Columbia, Alexandria and Montgomery County will be closed Monday, but schools in Prince George's and Fairfax counties will make up a snow day. Fairfax schools will close two hours early.
BUSES AND SUBWAY
Metrobuses will run their regular Saturday and Sunday schedules and a Sunday schedule on Monday. The subway will operate as usual tomorrow, from 8 a.m. to midnight, but be closed on Sunday and Monday.
Banks will be closed in Virginia and Washington on Monday, but open in Maryland, where the holiday will be observed Wednesday.
There will be no mail delivery Monday except for special delivery.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE KIDS
The Capital Children's Museum, at 800 Third St. NE, is offering an exhibit showing an in-depth look at Mexico. Children will be able to work with tin, adobe, fibers, papier-mache and wood and may try their hand at yarn painting and tortilla making. Call 544-2244 for more information.
A children's day is scheduled at The Chimneys in Fredericksburg, Va., where children can hear Civil War stories and have their picture taken in colonial costumes.
The Prince George's County Department of Parks and Recreation is offering outdoor rollerskating at the Watkins Regional Park in Largo.
The annual national Memorial Day Commemoration starts at 11 a.m., Monday at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Max Cleland, head of the Veterans Administration, will speak in the nearby amphitheater after a wreathlaying ceremony at the tomb.
The Sugarloaf Mountain Crafts Festival runs today through Sunday at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.
Memorial Day has its origins in the Civil War. By 1868, the commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, Gen. John A. Logan, declared that America should honor its Civil War dead with a holiday and picked May 30 as the day. In the last few years, the holiday has been celebrated on a Monday so that most workers can get a three-day holiday to start summer.