It was like running into royalty at a truck stop.
There she was, the black-hulled Queen Elizabeth 2, grand dame of the oceangoing passenger liners, her white upper works gleaming in the sun amid rows of containers, machinery and new cars at the Dundalk Marine Terminal.
The QE2 quietly slipped in and out of Baltimore yesterday morning for the second time in eight days, disgorging 1,375 passengers from a Caribbean cruise before taking on 175 for a 30-knot trans-Atlantic voyage to Southampton, England, via New York.
It was the QE2's first trans-Atlantic sailing from Baltimore in two years, said Harriett Sagel, the Maryland Port Administration's director of tourism development. Another departure is scheduled for 1993.
"I think it will be heavenly," said the first passenger to arrive, Mary Campbell, a retired bank employee from Northern Virginia. "This will fulfill my dreams."
Such dreams don't come cheap, even for a late autumn cruise that the ship's captain called "pot-luck sailing" because of the unpredictable weather. Prices ranged from $1,940 for a single inside cabin (including return transportation by airplane) to $23,095 for a split-level apartment on the Signal Deck, the QE2's version of a penthouse. (The apartments cost $34,110 in midsummer.)
Asked whether he could describe a typical QE2 passenger, one of the ship's officers thought for a moment and said: "Yeah, rich."
Yet the voyagers were a varied lot who came dressed in sundry styles -- from elderly women in furs to a young man in bright red leather pants -- and who had any number of reasons for choosing the leisurely, expensive way to cross the Atlantic.
For honeymooners Jonathan Rall, 28, and Allison Lung, 33, the voyage was an attempt to "do something in a more traditional fashion, similar to what was referred to as the grand tour at the turn of the century," said Mr. Rall, a physicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.
Mr. Rall, a weekend sailor, was even hoping for some old-fashioned nasty weather in the North Atlantic -- "water over the bow, the Poseidon Adventure," he joked.
For Gene C. and Sue Rodgers of Lisbon in Howard County, the crossing made an ideal family vacation. They had children Morgan, 7, and Vanessa, 6, in tow, along with Mrs. Rodgers' mother, Elsie Rogers, who was heading home to Bedfordshire, England.
Morgan and Vanessa had made the voyage once before. Morgan liked the video games and Vanessa liked the QE2's swimming pools. But lest they lapse into decadence on the high seas, their mother packed a hefty bag full of homework.
Paul Brunk, a psychologist from Harrisonburg, Va., had the most unusual reason for taking the QE2 -- economy.
Dr. Brunk's father, George, had always dreamed of flying aboard the supersonic Concorde. Sail to England on the QE2, Dr. Brunk found, and you can return to the United States by Concorde for $999 extra -- a bargain compared to the normal $4,407 one-way fare.
So when evangelist and pilot George Brunk turned 80, the family decided to let him realize his dream.
"It will take us six days to get over and two hours, 45 minutes to get back," Dr. Brunk said. "It's a bit decadent, but Dad brought his Bible along."
George Brunk gazed up at the QE2 before boarding, but he reserved his real enthusiasm for the Concorde.
"It staggers my imagination -- the speed and altitude, 60,000 feet," he said. "I didn't think I'd get that high until I was on my way to heaven."
The Brunks' heavenly voyage began at 10:51 a.m. yesterday. As passengers threw crepe-paper streamers over the side, tugboats eased the QE2 out of Berth 5 at Dundalk. The ship gave three mighty blasts on its horn and cruised under the Key Bridge past Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point mill, a glittering jewel next to smokestacks.