Are We There Yet?

That endless drive to the beach isn't so dull if you know what to look for

Shore Stories

August 14, 2006|By JOHN WOESTENDIEK | JOHN WOESTENDIEK,SUN REPORTER

You love the beach. You hate the drive: two and a half hours - assuming you don't get caught in weekend traffic - of cornfields and chicken farms, soybeans and cemeteries, bait shops and outlet malls.

Whether you are zigzagging your way to the beaches of Delaware via Route 404 or following the sweeping arc of U.S. 50 to Ocean City, you find yourself numbed by the sameness of it all, cursing the time it takes and wishing you were there.

It is for you, harried beach traveler, that we present this handy Clip 'n' Save Q & A, a digest of some of the quirks, curiosities, landmarks and lore that exist along the road to the beach.

Take it along on your next trip, as a guide and as a reminder - as you sit stalled in traffic - that life is not about reaching the destination, but enjoying the journey.

Why does it take so much longer to get to the beach than it does to get home?

It doesn't. It just seems that way. It's anticipation - basically the grown-up version of whining "how many miles?" from the back seat. Even though you're grown, you're still excited about getting there, and may be carrying a little work stress with you as well, and that makes the trip seem longer, especially the last 30 miles.

Really? I thought it was because I spent two hours backed up at the Bay Bridge.

Well, that can happen, especially on weekends. More than 300,000 cars crossed the bridge the last weekend in July, and half of those - the eastbound ones - were stopping, or slowing, to pay tolls. It can be a long wait.

Is the state doing anything about it?

A task force is studying alternatives. Meanwhile, there's E-Z Pass. That has helped. And there's the state's "Go Early, Stay Late" campaign, imploring beachgoers to visit other spots on the Eastern Shore on their way home, thereby avoiding the bridge at peak times.

What are peak times?

The Maryland Transportation Authority lists these as times to avoid: Thursday between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Friday between noon and 10 p.m., Saturday between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. and Sunday between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m.

In other words, during waking hours?

Pretty much. The state also started a program last month called "Pace Your Space." To cut down on traffic-stalling collisions, hot-pink panels have been installed at regular intervals in the eastbound lane of the Bay Bridge. A pamphlet handed out at toll booths tells bridge-crossers to leave at least two panels between them and the car in front of them. It's too soon to tell whether the pilot program is working or how many rear-end collisions are caused by drivers reading the pamphlet.

Can we just put the Bay Bridge behind us and move on?

If I had $2.50 for every time I've said that ...

Hey, is it true people used to stop on their way to the beach to look at a tree?

Yes, but the Wye Oak was more than 460 years old and 96 feet tall, with a circumference of nearly 32 feet. Maryland bought the 29 acres around the largest white oak in the United States and created Wye Oak State Park, about a mile off U.S. 50. In June 2002, though, the tree was toppled in a thunderstorm. People still stop to look at where it stood.

What is that crop - not corn - growing in fields all along U.S. 50?

Those are soybeans, grown to feed the chickens, which are grown to feed the humans.

Couldn't we just eat the soybeans and spare the chickens?

You may, but I like chicken, and it's pretty much the backbone of the economy between the Bay Bridge and the beach, hence all those signs you see - sponsored by the Delmarva Poultry Industry and the Delaware Soybean Board - saying "Eat Chicken Tonight."

Darn. Here I am all the way to Trappe, and I realize I forgot to bring a beach book. What should I do now?

Stop at Unicorn Books, a drive-in restaurant turned bank turned used bookstore in 1983 when Jim Dawson moved his shop there from Easton. He has a 30,000-volume collection, including $1 paperbacks and 5-cent specials, in a series of rooms, all of which have loudly ticking clocks.

I just went over the Choptank River. I like to say "Choptank." I'm not sure why. Where did that word come from?

You are entering Cambridge. Maybe you noticed the fishing pier over the Choptank. You can walk across the river on it. The name comes from the Choptank Indians, who inhabited Talbot, Caroline and Dorchester counties before settlement by the English. If you liked Choptank, you'll love the next river's name, the Chicamacomico.

Chicamacomico?

Chicamacomico.

What's with the sign, when I'm leaving Ocean City on U.S. 50, that tells me it's 3,073 miles to Sacramento, Calif.?

Back in 1974, a Baltimore-based highway engineer half-jokingly suggested that, because U.S. 50 stretches from Ocean City to Sacramento, that distance should be on a sign. Higher-ups liked the idea, and a mileage sign was installed. Thieves liked it, too, and regularly stole it until 1984, when the state moved it atop the Kelly Bridge. It has been safe there ever since, said Gene Cofiell, the highway engineer who first proposed it.

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