After a day of following suspected drug peddlers around the streets of Baltimore, police Sgt. Paul Mikesell sometimes felt like the trip home required a passport, maybe a time machine. He lives in Shady Side.
About 50 miles south of Baltimore, the lowlands of southern Anne Arundel County have always seemed a world apart, isolated for centuries by bad roads and land prone to floods. Many of the "Andy of Mayberry" cliches apply on the peninsula: people leave their doors unlocked and your credit is good at the local grocery. It's still this way long after the car surpassed the passenger steamer Emma Giles and Route 468 replaced the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries as the chief means of reaching the town.
"It's like going through a time warp or a dimensional warp," said Sergeant Mikesell, an Anne Arundel County police officer who was assigned for a year to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Baltimore. Returning to his home, he said, "was my salvation."
From their back deck overlooking the West River, he and his wife, Nancy, can sometimes see osprey, great blue heron, deer, muskrat. When the tide surges, the river reaches past the sedges into the back yard and these newcomers glimpse what life must have been like here before paved roads were built on high ground and drainage ditches bore the water away.
"They say Shady Side rises and falls with the tide," said Sergeant Mikesell, who moved here two years ago from Annapolis.
"You dig a hole for a flower and you hit water," said Brenda Earley, who was born here, raised here and, aside from two years spent in Annapolis, has always lived here. She was a Kirchner before she married Kyle Earley, a native of Tennessee.
"I had to bring someone in" to marry, Ms. Earley joked. "I was related to everyone here."
She recalled her husband's reaction to the place when he'd drive through Shady Side on his soda truck route 20 years ago. "He thought, 'My God, this is the end of the world.' "
Well, no, just the end of Route 468 south, known also as Muddy Creek Road. The two-lane hooks sharply north at Churchton, turns into Shady Side Road and cleaves the peninsula, passing the post office, the Lula G. Scott Community Center, two churches, an art gallery/frame shop, Renno's Market, the rescue squad and Engine Company 41. This is main street in a town of some 2,800 people, and not a traffic light in sight.
No way, said Ms. Earley. It was bad enough when they put numbers on the houses in the 1970s. "I was so upset," she said. She freely admits that "my big excitement is going to Shady Side Market."
That's the grocery on Snug Harbor Road. Like Renno's, it's the sort of place where the regulars can come back and pay the bill the next day if they run short of cash or checks, said Ms. Mikesell.
"Can you imagine trying that at Safeway?" she said.
But Shady Side has not been entirely insulated from the troubles of contemporary life. The Rev. Kathryn L. Preston of the Centenary United Methodist Church recalled showing up at the church one morning to find the doors kicked in. On another occasion the air conditioner was swiped from the church window, on another the lamps outside the building were broken.
"That's kind of disheartening," said Rev. Preston. "It's like everywhere else."
Flora Ethel Andrews has been watching the community change, watching new people arrive for more than 100 years. At 103, Miss Ethel is as old as the name of the town itself, born the year the Shady Side Post Office was established in her father's grocery store. Before that, Shady Side was known as "the Sedge Field," and before that, ancient maps identified it only as "the Swamp," or "the Great Swamp."
It was an isolated community of watermen and farmers, linked to points north chiefly by water.
"When the automobiles came," said Miss Ethel, "then the bay shores started to open up to people from the city."
They were summer people first, building seasonal homes during the 1920s and 1930s in dense shore-front developments of Avalon Shores, Idlewilde, Felicity Cove and Cedarhurst. As roads improved, those seasonal cottages became year-round homes for commuters to Baltimore, Washington, Annapolis. The pace of development quickened again in the mid-1980s, as the county installed a new sewer system.
"When I grew up, there were only five or six houses on Cedar Point," said Elaine Catterton, who has lived in Shady Side all of her life. "Two are being built on my road in the last month. Someone said we were a victim of our environment. Everybody wants to be here."
Population: 2,810 (1990 estimate).
Firefighters on duty 24 hours a day: 2.
Gas stations: 2.
Traffic lights: 0.
Pizza parlors: 1.
Estimated number of pizzas sold there in an average week: 35.