The long haul on the MTA's No. 14

Jacques Kelly

July 17, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

The searing July sun glanced off the face of the Bromo Seltzer clock at 1:29 p.m. Precisely on schedule, Mass Transit Administration bus No. 14 rolled south on Eutaw Street.

The Annapolis Local was setting off on its 90-minute trek along a route most sane drivers don't even like to think about, much less drive.

You don't have to be crazy to take this bus. You probably just don't own or drive a car.

The Baltimore-Annapolis run is guided by one transportation philosophy: Make all the stops. There's a separate express bus line for the hurry-up crowd. There's also a highway called Interstate 97 for speed-crazed, pedal-to-the-metal drivers.

This jitney is designed for people who aren't in a big hurry and just want to go from Brooklyn to Glen Burnie or farther south to do a little shopping or maybe get home after a day's work. It's cheap and reliable most of the time.

The basic adult fare begins at $1.10, but crossing certain zones will push that tab up, in increments, to $1.95. Passengers generally seem unsure about the extra charges. The driver is always having to remind an alighting rider, "That'll be another quarter, please."

But before taking No. 14, abandon all hope of traveling in fancy style.

This is one basic local bus, often full of teething infants, undeodorized construction workers and bath-reluctant old men.

And the scenery is fine if you like the underside of the Ritchie Highway corridor. It's a route of auto transmission garages, martial arts studios, gravel pits, baseball card shops, duckpin bowling alleys, funeral parlors, bait shops, hub cap outlets and gas stations.

On a weekday afternoon, MTA coach 7052 was nearly full as it departed the groomed and cleaned neighborhood around Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Within minutes, it had pulled off a stretch of Russell Street and was in downtown Westport, the gritty and proud-of-it community next to Cherry Hill. The first passenger to get off pulled the bell cord at Annapolis Road and Manokin Street.

The bus looped around the edge of Cherry Hill, discharging passengers all the way. In Brooklyn, a small army of riders hoisted ample bodies up the bus steps.

There seemed to be a standard uniform for the riders. Every other passenger, it seemed, was attired in slacks, tube tops, blouses and shirts, all of a stretchy fabric. There were plenty of gold teeth and tattoos. One lady smelled of cloves.

Otherwise, the passengers didn't differ so much from other MTA mid-day regulars. Nearly everybody carried a shopping bag. One teen-ager hauled aboard a large baby carriage for his mother, as she issued instructions. Another rider tripped over the buggy.

By the time the bus tires hit the first stretch of Ritchie Highway asphalt, a few riders were snoring.

There still are a few 1940s roadside motels left here. MTA drivers still like to tell about the time some streetwalkers used No. 14's frequent service through the area as a way to elude police. The women, who solicited clients from selected corners, would hail the buses when marked police cars came through.

The Annapolis Local even has a remedy for the fried nerves of Ritchie Highway traffic. It cuts onto Crain Highway, which has twice as many traffic lights as Ritchie.

No problem here -- the bus always is stopping for passengers, anyway.

When the southbound coach hit Aquahart Road, it turned eastward and picked up Ritchie again at Harundale Mall.

As soon as the bus was making pretty good time, it displayed its true character and left the highway for Jumpers Hole Road and Baltimore and Annapolis Boulevard. Here the route parallels what had been the old train route, the B&A Railroad, sometimes called the Annapolis Short Line. The old Severna Park station remains along what is now a bike path.

The upper Ritchie Highway's grease-rack appearance disappears. The Severn River is just through the trees at Round Bay.

Most of the passengers had gotten off by then. For a few miles, the No. 14 became a virtual express, picking up U.S. 50 and making short work of the Severn River Bridge.

In Annapolis, No. 14 inched along West Street for a block or so, passing a few clean and trendy restaurants offering bib lettuce, raspberry sauce and butter flavored with tarragon. This kind of stuff is foreign to the fried-food fare usually carried aboard the 14.

The end of the 14 line in Annapolis is College Avenue, between St. John's College and the Bloomsbury housing project.

Just as the 14 was ready to pull out for the haul back to Baltimore, the air conditioning collapsed. The driver apologized, opened the roof hatch and windows and pointed the big blue carrier in the direction of the Bromo Seltzer Tower.

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