Like most guys, I once regarded our family's summer trip to the beach as an ordeal. I saw it as a passage fraught with cranky kids, horrendous traffic and mind-numbing delays. For many years my main goal of making the drive from Baltimore to the beach was to get it over with.

I "made time," stopping only when kidneys or the gas tank demanded it. The sight of brake lights glowing on Route 50 sent steam from my ears.

Now, however, thanks to the help of supportive family members, good friends and some toothsome fried food, I have taken a new approach to the beach trek.

I have come to regard the journey not as a race, but as a series of eating opportunities, a get-to-the-beach buffet. I am stopping to smell the fried clams, the barbecued chicken and the lopes.

After years of gustatory research on the Eastern Shore,

I can tell you not only how to reach the beach, but how to get there on a full stomach. It's the only way to go.

I am still a traveler in transition, though. I have trouble dawdling, as the state trooper who recently issued me a speeding ticket can attest. (Note to drivers with an urge to make time: the stretch of Route 50 between Cambridge and Salisbury is not the place to try it.)

Recently, I made a weekend trip to and from the beach in the teeth of weekend traffic - eastbound on Saturday, westbound on Sunday. I am proud to say I stopped at several places without buying gas or using the restroom.

Instead I stopped to eat or to buy stuff to eat later.

Even in my reformed, take-it-easy state, I don't pull over before crossing the Bay Bridge. It is my Matterhorn. Until I ascend its heights, I can not rest.

Farmer John

After I start rolling down the eastern side of the Bay Bridge, the muscles in the back of my neck start to loosen, and I moved over to the slow lane. I get off Route 50 at Route 8 in Stevensville, and travel about a quarter-mile down the road to the produce stand next to the Bay Bridge Airport operated by Farmer John.

There are several amazing things about Farmer John. He is a farmer. He is named John (Selby). And at the age of 83, he is brimming with intelligence, opinions and good humor.

Although he was slowed down this year by open-heart surgery - "those doctors at Sinai do good work" - Farmer John opened his stand on the Fourth of July weekend, marking the 46th year he has sold produce at various locations along Route 50.

Farmer John knows his produce. He talks about the genetic structure of corn, and rattles off the initials of the three types of sweet corn commonly sold in roadside markets.

"You have your SU-1s like Silver Queen that are about 17 percent sugar. You have your SE or sugar-enhancer corn like Silverado, that is about 35 percent sugar. Then you have your SH2s, shrunken, homogenized corn like Triple Sweet, or How Sweet It Is, or Treasurer. These are 50 to 55 percent sugar. I like SH2s."

A good ear of corn, he says, will have pulp kernels. If you burst a kernel with your fingernail, the juice should pop you in eye.

As for tomatoes, he says, you can't go wrong with Pik Red, which does well in the Eastern Shore soil. The early tomatoes, he told me, might be a little small this year because of the cool, wet spring.

On the cantaloupe front, Farmer John prefers the Apollo and the Eclipse types to the omnipresent Athena. He also warns shoppers to "stay away from anyplace that has a mound of cantaloupes five feet high."