Are we there yet?

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.



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.

Does Sacramento have a sign saying how far it is to Ocean City?

Yes, and souvenir hunters kept stealing that one, too. After it was stolen in 2002, it was replaced with a much larger sign to ward off theft. Because of sign-maker error, the mileage to Ocean City was listed as 3,037, not 3,073. It was corrected.

Speaking of confusing signs, what's the purpose of those I see on the way home that tell me "50 is Swiftest" to the Bay Bridge? Isn't U.S. 50 the only way to the Bay Bridge?

When bridge traffic backs up on U.S. 50, some people get on lesser-known Route 18, which runs alongside it, through small towns such as Grasonville. It can get badly clogged by the overflow. The "50 is Swiftest" signs are an attempt to keep people on U.S. 50.

Is U.S. 50 the quickest way to the beach?

It depends where you're going. It may, with its four lanes, be the quickest to Ocean City, but if you are going to North Ocean City or a Delaware beach, consider Route 404.

On Route 404, there is a restaurant called Cokee's 404, whose sign advertises "crab balls." Exactly what are those?

Fluffy chunks of lump crabmeat and filler molded into a ball, breaded and fried.

I see. Wouldn't it be classier to call them "crab puffs?"

Yes, it would.

I'm not seeing any outlet stores - mostly just cornfields, chicken farms and produce stands. Where are the outlet stores?

Actually, you are seeing some - Farmer Gene's Market, Little Wagon Produce, Elmer's Market, Ma and Pa's Market, to name a few. The produce stand was the first outlet store. Farmers were smart enough to eliminate the middle man long before corporate barons stole the idea, figuring that what works for zucchini would probably also work for, say, Eddie Bauer suede safari jackets.

I just drove by a stand whose sign advertises "double-yolk eggs." Wouldn't those be really high in cholesterol?

Yes, but people like them and regularly stop at Short Brothers Produce to pick up a dozen, said Di Ann Short, wife of farmer Wayne Short. Double-yolkers - the equivalent of twins in the chicken world - usually come from younger chickens, first-time layers whose internal organs haven't quite grasped the one-yolk-per-egg concept. Such flukes are usually spotted at the factory and separated.

A sign is telling me a "Kiwanis Barbecue" is one mile ahead. I've never had barbecued Kiwanis. What do they taste like?

Kiwanians, i.e. members of local Kiwanis Clubs, aren't served at these barbecues. They prepare the food, generally chicken, and sell it on weekends to raise money for civic projects. "This way, we don't have to be a burden on local residents," said Roger Hovermale, a past president of the Bridgeville, Del., chapter and the griller of the chicken on a recent weekend. "We get people from Washington and Baltimore who are willing to part with their money."

Is there a famous bridge in Bridgeville?

No, there's no bridge at all. The town of 1,500 is known for its scrapple.

What's scrapple?

You probably don't want to know. But, if you do, you can attend Bridgeville's annual Apple-Scrapple Festival, Oct. 13 to 14, which features an all-you-can-eat scrapple breakfast on the second day.

What if, while heading to Rehoboth Beach, I suddenly need to know my future?

Psychics can be found on most routes to the shore. On Route 9, also known as Lewes-Georgetown Highway, you can stop at the Psychic Boutique and have both palms read for $10, a tarot card reading for $20 to $30, and a full psychic reading for $50. It's hard to miss. There's a big sign in the front yard and another by the front door that says "Ring Bell For Psychic ... "

Wait a minute. If she's really a psychic, wouldn't she know you were at the door?

Don't be a smart aleck. Tracy George has been reading palms for 19 years and her family - mother, sister and grandmother --- pretty much cornered the market in Rehoboth Beach, Del. For three years, George has also been working out of her home in Harbeson, Del., where most who stop in are heading back from the beach. "On the way there," she said, "they are just too anxious to stop."

Can the psychic tell me whether traffic will be backed up at the Bay Bridge?

No, for that you need to call 1-877-BAYSPAN, the toll-free state number that provides traffic information.

A few miles past the psychic's house are five little white cottages up on blocks amid a giant field of soybeans. Did they sprout there, or what?

Those belong to Drexel Davison, owner of the Bad Hair Day? salons in Rehoboth and Lewes, Del. Like other quaint beach cottages, these, once on Rehoboth Boulevard, were scheduled to be torn down for a townhouse development. Davison, tired of seeing that happening in Rehoboth, bought them and had them moved about six months ago to his land outside town, where they sit in a field he rents to a soybean farmer. He plans to restore them this fall and possibly use them for a spa, retreat, or bed and breakfast.

On the way to Bethany Beach, Del., on Route 26, I saw a beautiful pasture with a sign saying "Gate of Heaven." Could that be the actual entrance to heaven, right there in Dagsboro, Del.?

That "entrance" is where you find it, friend. What you saw was the sign for a Catholic cemetery that opened four years ago. One can purchase an eternal resting place there for as little as $475, which won't get you more than three or four nights at the beach.

Why so many cemeteries on the road to the beach?

Because the price of land at the beach is so high. The demand for that land by the living - for use as amusement parks and condos - precludes it from being used to bury people. There are no funeral homes in beach towns, either.

Do Delaware and heaven have anything else in common?

Neither has a sales tax (to our knowledge). You are spared that cost - whether you're picking up a carton of smokes at one of the many cigarette outlets, looking for vintage jewelry at the Forget-Me-Not Shoppe, a Millville, Del., thrift store that benefits Alzheimer's patients, or stopping at The Family Butcher in Dagsboro, where last weekend's special was "buy two pounds of sausage, get one pound of scrapple free."

Nearing the Bethany Beach wetlands, I spot a plant with velvety leaves and big, fluffy, white blossoms that look like marshmallows. Look, there's another one. What's that?

It's a marsh mallow - the source of the original marshmallow. Althaea officinalis was brought to America as a medicinal plant and now grows wild in the salt marshes of Delaware and other states. In Colonial times, sap from its roots was whipped to make a fluffy confection; today's marshmallows are made from corn syrup, sugar and starch.

I'm going to Fenwick Island, Del. Will I have to take a ferry?

No, just as there is no bridge in Bridgeville, and no view of the ocean in Ocean View, Del., Fenwick Island isn't an island. Apparently, when it comes to names, towns in Delaware are granted some literary license.

On Route 54 to Fenwick Island there is a house whose front yard is festooned with lighthouses and other crafts, and a sign that says "Honk Horn, Open." What will happen if I honk?

Ed Chiasson will come out. He has been making replicas of lighthouses since 1989, when he quit his job as a contractor, and selling them around the world through his company, Sea-Lites.

In his front yard, you can find concrete and fiberglass replicas (with real working lights) of the lighthouses at Cape Hatteras, N.C., (the top seller), Assateague, Barnegat, N.J., Cape May, N.J., Sharp's Island and many others.

Chiasson, 66, was thrilled when the name of Route 54, which ends near the Fenwick Island Lighthouse, was recently changed to Lighthouse Road. Not long after that, he cut down the hedge that shielded his yard from the highway, losing his privacy, but gaining a showroom, visible to anyone who passes by, especially at night.

"At night, I light 'em up," he said. "I sit down here, drink some beer and enjoy life."

I want to enjoy life, too. How might I better do that?

Slow down. Enjoy the scenery. Pace your space. Come early, stay late. Stop and smell the marsh mallows. Wonder and wander and, above all, appreciate the road you're on.

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