Thursday, October 23, 2008

Come Along With Me

I'll be hopping in the car in a few hours for the drive back to Delaware. On a perfect day with perfect conditons and no stops, I can do the trip, door-to-door, in 2 1/2 hours. "Perfect conditions" usually means no traffic tie-ups going through DC, which we hit maybe 50% of the time. Much depends, of course, upon the time of day we start the trip. If I start at noon, I should have smooth sailing, so I may get the shorter version.

After all these repetitions, we are getting to know the roads as if they were familiar trails through the woods. Here is my running commentary:

US 50, the great road that starts in the sand at Ocean City, Md., and crosses the country all the way to Sacramento (where it is subsumed into I-80 for the rest of the way to San Francisco) makes up about a third of the trip, and it is by far the most unpleasant part. It is a limited-access superhighway from the DC area to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and it's treated by drivers like a speedway. The posted speed limit is either 55 mph or 65 mph, depending on where it runs, but whatever the limit, it's ignored. If you're foolish enough to try to stick to the limit, you find yourself being passed on all sides, a hazard. All you can do is keep up with traffic and hope the cops aren't out this random day nabbing speeders. If I ever am stopped, the first thing I'll ask is "what about that car that passed me doing at least 90?"

Most of the rest of the trip is the complete opposite of the US 50 experience. You follow a series of two-lane roads through rural Maryland and Delaware, and that's always wonderful, a cleansing transition from the city mindset that makes you speed on US 50. The familiar sights change with the seasons. You watch the endless feed corn and soy fields progress from seedlings to dried stalks, waiting for harvest. There's one field with a large pond that is host to thousands of snow geese every year as they migrate. They stop there to feast on the leavings of the harvested corn and beans. In the past couple of years, I've seen the unexpected sight of millet growing on its stalks, familiar to me from my days in Africa, where it is a major food grain for human consumption in the drier regions of the continent, but rare here except as bird food. And that's what the farmers use it for, to protect their more important feed crops. It's a humane and eco-friendly approach I was unfamilar with.

Further along, you pass through a tiny place in Maryland called Starr, which despite the fact that it appears to have but two houses and no town center, somehow merits a center island done up with pavers and a reduced speed limit. A Maryland State Police car is aways parked at one of the houses and we figure whoever drives that car must be a bigwig. We always make a stop for coffee at the town of Denton, Maryland, where you can choose between a McDonalds and a Burger King. The Burger King is better because a) the coffee is better and b) nobody seems to frequent the place and service is grateful and immediate. (I've always preferred the Whopper to the Big Mac anyway when it comes to food of the poisonous, artery-clogging variety. It's that char-broiled taste and the big, sloppy tomato slices.) There are a few antique shops along these back roads, too--some pretty fancy and others barely standing. We've stopped at a few and found them expensive.

The final stretch is one more speedway, US 113 in Delaware. It seems more tolerable than 50, though, because at 20 miles it's relatively short, it's a completely straight line, and there are a few traffic lights along the way to keep drivers alert. After 113 it's just a few miles of local roads until you get to the familiar dust and gravel of Big Oak Lane, where you turn left into another world full of trees and water, and you're home.

Food Friday tomorrow.


Mark said...

Ralph - many years ago we stopped at the McD's in Denton - I have never before or after seen that many flies in one location! And the locals munched on!

Great memories this time...another fine entry. Cheers!


Ralph said...

I made it in 2 1/2 hours yesterday, Mark.

The difference in business between that McDonald's and BK in Denton is amazing. You can hadly park at McD's for all the cars, while BK goes begging. We think it's Denton's Big Secret. (Must have some claim to fame besides the farm museum!)

Anonymous said...

I like this post, it brought back really old memories. But I traveled from Mt Vernon so would have crossed Woodrow Wilson Bridge into MD. Then I am assuming I'd connect off 495 to 50 which, confirm or deny, goes past Baltimore Washington's Airport.?? I gotta wonder if on 50, probably, or 113 if the burger place with the crazy arches, right before a long bridge, is still there, still opened. Wonderful burgers. My Dad would stop there every time it was a family trip and I stopped when I was older and was a life guard in Rehobeth Beach.

I like this post. I can travel it with you in what's left of my travel memories. Have a fun weekend.

Ralph said...

Z&Me, you're mostly right about the roads, except Baltimore airport is off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, not 50. And you mention the Beltway and the Wilson Bridge (which is part of the Beltway), and you're right, but they're creations of the late 1950s. I wonder what we all did before the Belway was built? Obviously. from Virginia. we'd have had to travel directly though the District, out New York Avenue, which is 50 through the city.

If you were on your way to Rehoboth, you'd have taken 50 to 404, then Delaware 1, no reason for you to get on 113. "A long bridge"--the 4-mile, suspended Chesapeake Bay Bridge that takes US 50 from the Annapolis area to Kent Island? I don't remember the restaurant you're talking about, but then, I never got to he Eastern Shore much when I was in high school. (I rememver one road trip to Ocean City when I was a senior in HS. For Ocean City you just take 50 all the way.)