Just leaving the city seems to make one a target Trips: Some Baltimoreans shudder at the prospect of traveling out-of-town, especially across the Bay Bridge, because the act itself seems to attract peril.

August 08, 1998|By Jacques Kelly

OVER THE YEARS, I've watched Baltimoreans grow anxious and fretful at the whisper of that nasty phrase: out-of-town travel.

We just don't like to move about. We stay glued in one place. I think of my own family. It's resided in all of three Baltimore zip codes since 1760.

But our passports aren't entirely blank. I speak of the hot-weather exemption, the summer vacation.

Baltimoreans aren't real happy about this one -- even if it's just the three hours it takes to drive to Ocean City, Ocean Pines, Fenwick Island, Bethany or Rehoboth Beach. Those miles are considered an onerous and perilous trip, a real adventure, a major trek.

There are Washington-area commuters who daily drive distances that we Baltimoreans consider arduous, once-a-year summer journeys. Distances are generally shorter in Baltimore -- Columbia and Bel Air being considered remote and exotic destinations on the local compass.

But come June, July and August, we head toward the Atlantic Ocean in substantial numbers, often accompanied by a case of separation anxiety and frayed nerves.

From the way Baltimoreans react to the prospect of heading across the Bay Bridge, you might think these summertime drives were truly long trips, like driving to Florida or Canada. The last time I marked it, the distance from my front door to the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk was 114 miles, a few more to Wicomico County.

In the 40-some years that I've been making this summertime circuit, I've observed some very curious behavior. I often whisper to myself, "Keep cool -- after all, we're Baltimoreans and we don't like to move."

My grandfather, Edward Jacques Monaghan, wasn't born here, but he qualified for honorary Baltimore status. He once took off for Ocean City in a touring car without benefit of a driver's license, a mere scrap of governmental red tape he never bothered to obtain. Pop Monaghan made it all the way to Denton before trouble sidetracked him.

One of his car's wheels broke loose and rolled into a corn field. Then the police hauled him in when he couldn't produce a license. That wasn't the worst of it. He sat on a piece of flypaper while he paid his fine. The story solidified into family legend -- and a reminder to be wary of making the run to the Eastern Shore.

It's my own experience that automobiles that normally run smoothly traditionally throw fits when they encounter the principal arteries to the ocean, routes 50 and 404.

My father owned a normally reliable Dodge, a car that ran until it rusted, except on one broiling August Sunday some years ago.

This time, we were headed toward Baltimore when we encountered the backups, delays and general traffic inertia so much feared when traversing the soy bean fields of the eastern counties. The air conditioning went first, then the engine cried out for help. The heat-trouble light started flashing red.

My late mother's way of dealing with this ticklish situation was to inquire of my father, the driver, "Joe, when was the last time you had this car serviced?"

My father did the intelligent thing and pulled into Farmer Bill's produce stand, always a tension-breaking maneuver. Fresh picked peaches and white corn have no mechanical effect on six cylinders, but just getting the passengers out of the car and talking about something other than looming mechanical meltdown has a good effect.

As the engine cooled down some, my mother supervised the loading of the summer's harvest and then suggested a round of canned soft drinks from the produce stand's vending machine.

With the windows wide open, we took off again, praying the Dodge would make it back to the safety of Baltimore's asphalt streets.

My mother reached for her root beer and lifted the metal pop top, only to have it explode with geyser-like ferocity, spraying the Dodge's interior -- and its occupants -- with carbonated brown caramel goop. It was a stunt worthy of a Three Stooges comedy. All we could do was laugh.

But this was August, the month when the yellow jackets go berserk. Within seconds, the message that the 1972 Dodge had a free lunch of sprayed root beer circulated among the Eastern Shore's apian colonies, and we were under attack.

We weren't laughing now. In fact, the buzzing insect plague only confirmed our worst fears about risking the perils of summertime sojourns outside Baltimore.

Pub Date: 8/08/98

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