Editorial Notebook

May 24, 2008|By Peter Jensen

Bound for Bay Bridge? STAY on 50."

The sign alongside westbound U.S. 50 in Queen Anne's County may carry the most unfriendly official message to ever grace a state highway. It almost sounds a bit threatening, as in, "Don't even think about getting off this road, neighbor, until you're back on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay."

That's not exactly the intent, of course. It was added to the Kent Narrows approach several years ago when U.S. 50 travelers began veering off to Route 18, which meanders across Kent Island roughly parallel to U.S. 50, in order to bypass construction backups at the Bay Bridge.

Not only is choosing this alternate route a flawed strategy (at least once it's been discovered by more than a few motorists who slow the two-lane road to a snailish pace), but it makes peak weekend travel times - in the summer, that's roughly all day Saturday and Sunday - extremely difficult for the people who live there.

Eastern Shore natives have a disparaging term for visitors from the other side of the big bridge - chicken neckers. They see little to recommend them beyond the bait they dangle from the end of a string to catch crabs in local waters.

When a major Eastern Shore traffic artery such as U.S. 50 becomes blocked, it's almost always the Western Shore that provided the vehicular cholesterol. Yes, some enterprising Shore businessmen make a living selling gas, produce and wishing wells on the roadside, but that's a relative few. Many more see Memorial Day weekend merely as the start of U.S. 50 and Route 404 summer gridlock and not a profit center.

Yet vacationers catch hardly a whiff of this exasperation from behind the rolled-up windows of their minivans and SUVs. They're more attune to what awaits them in Ocean City, the more enticing scent of surf, sand, Coppertone SPF 30 and Thrasher's fries.

Stay on 50? How much better would it be for all involved if more of the vacationing masses stopped to appreciate the great drive-over communities (for something more than fast food and a bathroom break)? How many think to stroll the shops of downtown Easton, watch the bald eagles at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, sample crabs in Whitehaven, drop a fishing line in the Choptank River?

Sometimes it's fun to do a little meandering and sample a plate of barbecued chicken from off the beaten path, watch a small-town American Legion baseball game, visit a church bazaar. And face to face, the people of the Eastern Shore can be an extremely hospitable lot - although be advised that it's often best to keep your blue-state political views to yourself.

Yes, that's a lot to put on a road sign, but the Eastern Shore has a more complicated relationship with its visitors than any few words can capture. Welcome. Enjoy. Show respect. And if you just want to get to where you're going? Better stay on U.S. 50, neighbor.

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