Getting Away Across the Bay


June 23, 1996|By JACQUES KELLY

Come summer, all roads lead toward the ocean.

I think of those station wagons my family packed in the early 1950s, shortly after the Bay Bridge opened. Our destination was Delaware -- first Dewey Beach and later Rehoboth Beach. The distance wasn't terribly far but we traveled like we might never see Baltimore again.

Days, even weeks in advance, we began collecting and packing cardboard boxes. Going light was unknown. One year my father asked if someone had bothered to pack a piano.

When, at about 9 or 10 on a Saturday morning in late June, we finally cast off from the alley behind our Guilford Avenue home, the neighbors assembled on back porches and waved us off while they got a good look at all the belongings those summertime gypsies were carting away.

They also probably got a chuckle out of the attire my normally formally dressed elders wore. For that day, we produced traveling clothes, worn religiously on the beginning and ending days of the summer-excursion season.

For this arduous, 114-mile excursion of three hours (tops), my grandmother and great aunt wore elasticized turbans atop heavy hairnets so their coifs "wouldn't be blown apart."

Grandfather "Pop" Monaghan seemed to own no sports clothes. But for our eastward run, he produced a khaki shirt and khaki trousers, along with a matching canvas cap with broad visor.

We young Kellys (there would be six eventually) loved to watch this fashion show of traveling garb as much as the neighbors did.

Traffic to the ocean was far lighter in those days than today, but the roads today are wider and speeds on them are faster. So it took about the same amount of time to reach the Atlantic then as it does today.

The talk on the way down was the same year in, year out. It was city folks' observations on the scenery. Ritchie Highway, attractive when new, was getting junky with car sales lots and shopping centers. We passed judgment on Harundale and its homes, which looked too new and too small to us.

The Bay Bridge was always fodder for conversation. It was new then but had its troubles. Some days there weren't enough toll takers on duty. That occasioned my grandfather to give one of his sermons on the complete and totally inefficiency of all Maryland governmental agencies.

He also rapped the bridge's design, which he held should have been four lanes wide, with a pair of train tracks down the center. Back then it was one lane in each direction.

As for the old Kent Narrows drawbridge, that was insane, he thought. He had contempt for both "the jerks" who designed it (far too small) and the drunken weekend pleasure boaters who demanded that the draw be raised at their whim. Federal maritime law was on the boaters' side and our trip to the ocean wasn't complete without a Kent Narrows delay.

About the time we passed such eateries as the old Barn Restaurant, the Wagon Wheel, Busch's or the Log Inn, hunger pains began shooting through all the passengers. This was on the Anne Arundel County side of the bridge. By the time we passed Holly's and the Circle -- just across the bridge -- the desire for food was acute.

But my grandmother, great aunt and mother, who were well-attuned to this trek, packed a big lunch to be consumed at a Route 50 picnic grove.

The standard fare for those luncheons were homemade date-nut bread and cream cheese sandwiches, fried chicken and lemonade. The thermos bottle was used just once a year, on this day, and it looked as if it had accompanied Henry Ford on one of his celebrated camping expeditions with Thomas Edison.

Bridges and lunches out of the way, we moved deep into the Delmarva Peninsula. The area is often celebrated for its good cooking, ancient towns and vacation spots, but we viewed certain counties there skeptically. To Baltimoreans back then, the peninsula was speed-trap land. If the police didn't bag you in the Caroline County town of Denton, they got you in Delaware.

My grandfather sometimes used the post-luncheon part of the trip to recall how 30 years earlier (in the 1920s), he was driving a large touring car and one of its wheels and tire came loose and rolled through a field. The mishap was considered an accident and he was taken to the nearest police station. He got so annoyed while there that he didn't watch what he was doing and sat on a sheet of flypaper. He didn't bother telling us he regularly drove without a driver's license.

On these trips, we kids were all delighted at the sight of "the ocean!" The car ride ended as the fast-footed dashed into the cottage to seek the least uncomfortable bed.

Pub Date: 6/23/96

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