Not such fond memories of taking a bus to the beach

July 24, 2004|By JACQUES KELLY

THE RECENT closing of the Trailways bus depot on Fayette Street reminded me of the many, many weekends that I, a confirmed non-driver, boarded a coach there bound for the Eastern Shore. It was a humbling experience.

Today I can chuckle at all those trips that involved changing buses at Queenstown. At the time, circa 1971, it was not so funny. The Carolina Trailways buses that pulled out of Fayette Street (actually, a wide alley called Marion Street behind the old Brager-Gutman department store) were technically bound for Ocean City. You never quite knew their route or what time you would pull in, and that had nothing to do with Bay Bridge and Kent Narrows traffic.

My grandfather, Edward Jacques Monaghan, gave up on Ocean City sometime in the 1930s when he was detailed there with the Army Corps of Engineers and directed the effort to build the jetties that gave O.C. its wide beaches. By the time I and my brother and sisters came along, he had switched his allegiance to Dewey Beach, which was fairly primitive in 1953. After two summers on a sand dune cottage with a dubious water supply, we moved on to Rehoboth Beach in 1955 and still return annually.

In 1970, my mother decided that Baltimore summers were getting on her nerves, and she contracted for a delightful beachy apartment on Rehoboth's Wilmington Avenue, a few steps from the boardwalk, from Memorial to Labor Day, or a little later. She called it The Attic because it was just that, two flights up, with ocean views from certain windows. It slept nine and most weekends, it did.

Transportation was not included, and often the bus was the means that all of us arrived and departed. I can report that Carolina Trailways did, in fact, transport us there, often via back roads known only to Eastern Shore and Sussex County, Del., soybean farmers.

You see, because Baltimoreans tended to flock to Ocean City, and Washingtonians often went to Rehoboth, we had to change to the Rehoboth-bound bus at a greasy dive called Queenstown, but a distance from that community on Route 50. This bus stop, which included a vintage, unpleasant lunch room, has been demolished. I shed no tears.

Once you hauled your baggage off the first bus, you prayed for the second bus to arrive (I felt the Washington drivers looked down their noses at we Baltimore transferees), then sought a seat. On more than one occasion I stood for the final leg of the journey, which in turn involved a stop in Harrington for travelers making connections from Philadelphia and New York. I cannot fathom a bus ride from Manhattan to Rehoboth, but some brave souls did it. A few summers ago a friend did Newark, N.J., to the Cape May ferry slip on Jersey Transit.

Novice bus drivers often were befuddled by the route, which never seemed to be the same twice. One driver candidly announced he was lost. I stepped up and directed us between the twin metropolises of Milford and Harrington.

A few years ago, on a story assignment, I found myself in Easton. I needed to return to Baltimore and momentarily considered my old friend, the wayward Eastern Shore bus. I was then in my late 40s and thought better of the idea. I hailed a cab and said, "Let's go to Baltimore."

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