Travel center welcomes weary holiday motorists

July 02, 2005|By William Wan | William Wan,SUN STAFF

When they took to the road yesterday, the Salvatores were ready for battle. Seasoned veterans of the July Fourth holiday, they embarked armed with candy bars, diapers and cases of CDs.

To travel in the Salvatore minivan is to struggle, said Melissa Salvatore, 17, the eldest daughter in van packed with six children. Her little brothers, ages 1 and 2, are mostly just fussy. It's the sisters, ages 15, 12, and 10, who fight over everything: the snacks, the conversation, the invasions of each other's imaginary space, and, most of all, the music.

And after five hours on the road from North Carolina, Melissa and her stepmother, Dawn Salvatore, were exhausted. Traffic jams had transformed Interstate 95 into a long string of chrome, testing the patience of parents and the bladders of their children

Many like the Salvatores rested in the shade at that oasis of cement and porcelain: The Maryland Welcome Center. It bustled with activity yesterday - a mass of cars idling, toilets flushing and people stretching. With afternoon traffic moving at molasses pace, many truckers had given up and pulled into one side of the center for a nap.

Melissa and Dawn Salvatore had been taking turns at the wheel since early yesterday morning. Their travels had already brought them through many adventures - near accidents with the potty-training baby Frankie, arguments over snacks and drinks, but none reached such epic proportions as the family fight over the music.

To control the music in the van is the ultimate expression of power on Salvatore family vacations. Melissa and most of her sisters favor the hip-hop and rap variety. Her parents, who usually sit up front, and therefore have the best reach of the radio dials, clearly do not.

"They always tell us to turn that garbage off," Melissa said.

On this trip to Long Island, N.Y., however, the dynamics had changed. Melissa's father left earlier in another car, leaving the front seat to Melissa.

"Yeah, this trip has definitely been better. It's mostly been hip-hop," she said with a grin.

Hip-hop aside, travel conditions this weekend are hardly ideal. Gas prices have shot up, averaging $2.21 per gallon in Maryland, compared with $1.94 a year ago. Hotel prices are also higher, and of course, there's the traffic.

"Everyone knows the traffic will be bad," said AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella. "People just want to get away," she said, estimating that about 678,900 Marylanders would travel this weekend.

Aside from some scattered showers predicted for last night and this morning, the weekend is expected to be rain-free with temperatures in the 80s.

But looking at the flow of traffic, most vacationers yesterday at the Welcome Center predicted many more hours in the car before they could enjoy the pleasant weather.

Near the bathrooms, Gary Archer, 49, lay down on a black metal bench and arched his back. After seven hours on the road from North Carolina, his pained back was now feeling every minute of it.

He said, "I think the main technique from this point on is going to be Advil."

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