The Darwin House gang has gathered for another weekend of serious partying, carousing and whatever else it takes to leave the real world behind.



The exodus starts around 4 p.m. on Friday. Computers flicker off in offices across Baltimore and Washington. Duffel bags stuffed with T-shirts and bathing suits are tossed into the trunks of Hondas and BMWs. ATM machines are milked. The race to beat the Bay Bridge backup is on.

A hundred miles away, a gray, aluminum-sided house sits dark and empty. Its six bedrooms are freshly vacuumed, and its kitchen counters gleam. The refrigerator holds eggs, juice and blueberry yogurt.

Now the cars point east on Route 50, speeding toward the same destination: A place right in the middle of a bar-, restaurant-, and rental-house-packed strip of Route 1 in Delaware. Behind the wheels are twenty- and thirtysomethings about to converge in a swirl of booze, junk food, sun and seduction.

Tom Oliver, 26, climbs the steps to the gray house, located across the street from the Starboard bar. Oliver has paid $635 for a summer-long weekend share here, but he isn't even guaranteed a bed. There are 32 other men and women in the rental house, not including guests - scheduled and spontaneous. He reaches for the door knob.

For the next 48 hours, the real world will be put on hold.

The group house in Dewey Beach is about to come alive.

Friday night

Oliver lets out a roar and leaps into the air, wrapping his arms and legs around Tom Grannas, the "house dad" who makes sure the beer supply is never lacking. Another guy shouts at two women coming through the door: "Get a beer and get naked!" Chris Graham sits in the kitchen, wolfing down barbecued chicken wings from a plastic container. Cans of Miller Lite hiss as they pop open.

Welcome to the the crash pad for what may be the hardest-partying crowd in Dewey. Welcome to Darwin House.

The name is no accident: Only bodies that can endure a self-inflicted marathon of abuse will survive a summer here. If group houses were people, other homes in the neighborhood might be middle-aged salesmen, or tea-sipping librarians. Darwin House is the nocturnal, guitar-bashing, tabloid-headline-grabbing rock star of Dewey Beach.

Listen to its voices:

"So I know this guy, and he gets ATM receipts - he collects them from the trash and looks for the one [with the biggest balance]. Then when he meets a girl at a bar, he says, 'Here, I'll write my number on this - it's just an old ATM receipt.' He's 12 for 12 on getting calls back!"

"The worst was when we were driving home and I was in the passenger's seat, about to puke. We were in my new BMW, and I couldn't find the button to roll down the window in time."

"I went through a drive-through last year and we decided it would be a good idea to go through backwards. Our headlights were shining into the car behind us, and theirs were shining at us. The woman at the window hated us."

By now, 14 people are sitting around the living room, killing time before hitting the bars. Fourteen hands clutch beers. The juice and yogurt have been pushed to the back of the refrigerator, crammed behind two 30-pack boxes of Miller Lite. The television spins through channels, lingering on a Jennifer Aniston movie.

"She's smokin'," sighs one of the guys.

Seeking out attractive members of the opposite sex is a pastime house members pursue vigorously. It's a prime reason they come to Dewey. But there's one exception: Flings between housemates are prohibited. The potential for disaster is too great. Nearly every weekend, as people stumble around in an alcohol-induced haze searching for sleeping space, this rule gets broken.

Flings with members of other houses, however, are highly encouraged - so much so that the $25-a-night guest fee is waived for unplanned visitors. It's called "boosting house morale." Oliver exercised the option when he met a girl from another house. She's a frequent visitor, but if they stay together, she won't be able to buy a share in the house next summer. At Darwin House, couples are banned.

Darwin House's only other nod to structure is a schedule pinned to a bulletin board. It determines which eight people get parking passes each weekend, but with this perk comes a chore: Laundry duty, bathroom clean-up, vacuum patrol. No other ironclad rules exist here. That's the way members like it.

At 9:30 p.m., everyone peels themselves off the floral-print couches. They stop for pizza, then wander into the Waterfront, which has an indoor bar and a sandy beach bar that backs up to the water. A waitress wanders by with a tray of little plastic cups of Jell-O made with vodka. She wears a T-shirt that says "Jello Ho."

The Waterfront is dead tonight, so after a few quick rounds, the gang heads to the Starboard. They cram into their usual corner by the disc jockey booth and shout to each other over the music. Grannas, 30, the house dad, sips a beer, rests his right foot on a bar stool and surveys the action. Two house members are passing a cigarette back and forth. Another, nicknamed the Octopus, is hugging every woman within reach. Someone orders a round of kamikaze shots.

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