As the Bay Bridge vaults before me, childhood friends Louis Kelly and Nick Hoxter describe on a recording how Kent Island life changed irrevocably with the first span's completion in 1952.
Far below, sailboats skim the glittering water. I slow down and listen to the men's memories.
"Once that bridge came, it wasn't the same," says Hoxter, a local history buff from Grasonville who still rues the bridge's arrival.
Kelly's view of the bridge is different. "It was awesome," says the Stevensville resident who retired in 1999 as Bay Bridge administrator.
The men's stories, the first in the collection From Bridge to Boardwalk: An Audio Journey Across Maryland's Eastern Shore, immediately deactivate the usual drive-by urges and pull me in for a closer view.
I imagine the ascent of that new bridge as it is built and its daily reconfiguration of island vistas. I picture Kelly as a kid, eager to be the first to bicycle to the mainland, little realizing that he would spend his 39-year career crossing the bridge. I see farmland and the Matapeake ferry terminal and a bay teeming with watermen. I also see nonstop traffic from the Western Shore and farms giving way to subdivisions and strip malls.
Through Kelly and Hoxter's recollections, I see Kent Island -- what it once was and what it has become.
Instead of cursing the traffic en route to the beach, a summer ritual for my family and me, I have two leisurely days to explore the Eastern Shore with From Bridge to Boardwalk, produced by the Baltimore-based Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, as my guide.
With an accessible blend of interviews, ambient sound and a companionable soundtrack, the audio tour and accompanying booklet and pullout map, first released last year, is both an elegy to a vanishing way of life and an effort to preserve as much of that life as possible.
From Bridge to Boardwalk grew out of another Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation initiative, the Delmarva Folklife Project, a three-year survey of the peninsula's traditional cultural resources.
The thinking was that an audio tour based on that project's fieldwork would help sustain the Shore's heritage by encouraging "appropriate cultural tourism," says Rory Turner, one of From Bridge to Boardwalk's three project directors.
The audio tour "enables a kind of intimacy and interaction while at the same time, you're not plunking [tourists] down in people's living rooms," says Turner, program director for folk and traditional arts at the Maryland State Arts Council.
Funded by a consortium of public and private agencies, From Bridge to Boardwalk also "raises people's consciousness of the value of tradition," says Turner of the two-CD set, which sold out of its first run of 1,000 copies and is now in a second printing.
From Bridge to Boardwalk introduces listeners to crab pickers, a retired waterman and artist, decoy carvers, skipjack restorers, a champion muskrat skinner, a prodigy goose caller, gospel singers, an Ocean City lifeguard for 50 years and siblings who grew up on the farm where a hen named Lady Eglantine once laid 315 eggs in 365 days.
Roughly tracing the U.S. 50 trek from the Bay Bridge to Ocean City, the audio journey detours to obscure spots such as Elliott's Island, Church Creek and Upper Ferry, and the better known Smith Island and Tilghman Island.
From Bridge to Boardwalk supplies the framework for designing your own Shore tour, which may or may not include meeting its featured "tradition bearers," those selected to represent countless others who are willing to share their stories and expertise.
Rather than cruise obliviously across the Delmarva peninsula, travelers are encouraged to stop, explore, chat with local folks on docks, at lunch counters, on the street. "Listen carefully and look around as we reveal some of the Shore's best-kept secrets," the audio tour's accompanying booklet advises.
I've made arrangements to meet four of the nearly two dozen Shore residents who told their stories to folklorists and community scholars for the two-hour audio tour. My plans will take me as far as Church Creek in Dorchester County.
There is no time for trips to Princess Anne, home of the Zionaires, a gospel group going strong for more than 50 years, or Ocean City, where Hunter Phillips, a 10-year-old goose caller, crafts his own goose calls and plays them like a modern jazz master.
Nor is there time to get to Crisfield, where crab picker and vocalist Kathleen "Kaki" Bradshaw lives, or meet Jennings Evans, a 10th-generation Smith Islander and waterman.
But as I set off on a mini Eastern Shore sojourn, it is good to have the voices of these folks, all From Bridge to Boardwalk personalities, in the back of my mind. Knowing a little bit about them and their traditions adds contour and depth to my fledgling Shore impressions.