Caroline to Carroll: one commuter's trek 4 times a week, Shore dweller traverses the state

September 20, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

Helen M. Spinelli's drive from the Eastern Shore to Carroll County on Thursday morning was pleasant enough. She sailed over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, avoided traffic jams on the Baltimore Beltway and arrived on time for work.

Ms. Spinelli commutes 100 miles each way four days a week. She drives from outside Denton in Caroline County to her job as a county planner in Westminster. The commute takes an hour and 40 minutes.

Her 1990 Saab 900 has 114,000 miles on it. She fills the gas tank daily. She has listened to Mark Twain books on tape while driving and figured solutions to office problems.

But it's a long ride.

She does it because her husband built a house on the Choptank River where they watch the sunsets from a spacious deck and swim in the river. She does it because she likes her job in Carroll and supports her family with the salary.

Ms. Spinelli, 42, said she tries not to think too much about the trek. She has been interviewed for jobs closer to home.

"It's something I do that I'd rather not do. No one would like to do the same ride every day," she said.

Other Marylanders make long commutes. Some drive to cities in Pennsylvania. Others drive to Washington or from one Baltimore suburb to another.

The average time a resident commutes to work in Maryland is 27 minutes, according to the state Office of Planning.

Ms. Spinelli may be the only person who commutes from Caroline County to Carroll County. 1990 Census data show no one making the trip.

She has been commuting for three years, since she was hired as a comprehensive planner for water and sewer projects for the Freedom and Sykesville areas. When she took the job, she intended to commute from her apartment in Annapolis -- about an hour.

But kismet said no.

Ms. Spinelli met Peter D. Taillie, fell in love and moved to Moot Point Farm to live in the house he built on the riverbank.

Mr. Taillie, 46, a carpenter, tai chi instructor and stay-at-home dad, said that for years he had longed to live on the water.

"I searched long and hard for a place I could afford on the water," he said.

He built the three-story home from foundation to roof. He wore a path to the river, hung a swing from a tall tree in the woods for 16-month-old Anthony and fulfilled one of his dreams.

Ms. Spinelli, a New York City native who is as much a nature lover as her husband, shared his dream. Fulfilling it just meant more time on the road for her.

She has driven through snow, rain, heat and two pregnancies. Her second child is due in December.

Ms. Spinelli wakes up at 4:40 a.m. Her husband gets up, too, and fixes her a bagel and tea for the road. Their son sleeps in -- until 6 a.m.

She leaves at 5:20 a.m. and drives south on Route 313, west on Route 404 to Route 50 and over the Bay Bridge. (She has learned that the fastest way to pay the toll is at the far right booth.) Then she drives on Interstate 97 to the Baltimore Beltway to Interstate 795 to Route 140 into Westminster. She arrives at work at 7 a.m.

"I'm in a reverse commute. I rarely hit traffic," Ms. Spinelli said.

On her way to work, she sees Maryland. On the Eastern Shore, she passes flat fields of corn and soybeans. On the Bay Bridge, she sometimes sees sailboats and sparkling water.

"I'm really careful on the bridge. I don't have any fear of it, but I have a healthy respect for the bridge," she said.

On her drive home, she watches for a family of swans living near the end of the bridge in a pond at Kent Island. The six babies are turning from brown to white, she said.

The pace of life picks up across the Chesapeake Bay. Ms. Spinelli joins the faster flow of traffic, passing industrial parks and office buildings. As she gets closer to Westminster, the farms return, but now the green fields roll into hills and valleys.

Back home, Ms. Spinelli's husband is studying to teach high school social studies and Spanish.

"It's Helen who's made the sacrifices," he said. "If I envy anything of Helen, it's her career and how serious she is about her career and how good her career is for her.

"I'm kind of jealous of her, but she envies the time I have with Anthony," Mr. Taillie said.

The couple plan to switch roles when their children are school age. There may be a time, though, when both go off to work because Mr. Taillie wants to teach school in Baltimore when he finishes his studies in a year and a half.

"We might do the commute together someday," he said.

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