In this country of contradictions, where people eat high-fat foods with the fat removed, and citizens honor labor by taking the day off, it should come as little surprise that the traditional end of summer arrived in the Free State with a burst of sunshine.
For months, clouds and rain have spoiled many a Marylander's summer vacation. But yesterday, bright sunshine fought through the morning gray to set the stage for a gorgeous week.
Howard M. "Max" Mosner, general manager of Maryland State Fair in Timonium, which lost many visitors -- and some pigs -- to the inclement weather, was puzzled at first when the sun finally showed its face yesterday.
"It got hot all of a sudden, and this strange thing came out," Mosner said. "We didn't know what it was for a while."
Mosner estimated that by the end of the fair last night, about 420,000 people had visited the fairgrounds. That figure is higher than last year, when Tropical Storm Dennis hit Maryland, but lower than 1998, when 477,000 people came to see real pigs, win stuffed ones and pig out on funnel cake.
On Saturday, rain flooded the pigpens at the fairgrounds, and some of the animals had to be sent home, officials said. The weather also kept all but a few fans from showing up to hear Kenny Rogers sing earlier in the week. One plus, however, was that more farmers came to visit the dairy barn, because the weather kept them out of their fields.
"We were anticipating some real big increases this year, and we're getting real little increases," Mosner said.
Pinning hopes on 2001
In Ocean City, officials had to cancel sunshine: K.C. and the Sunshine Band. On Sunday night, the disco band was scheduled to be the featured act, but rain and lightning forced the cancellation of the concert.
Mayor Jim Mathias joked about starting a new campaign for the city: "Ocean City, Maryland. Think Sun 2001."
"The story this summer has been the rain," Mathias said yesterday.
Traffic was heavy yesterday on the Bay Bridge, but not backed up. Transportation officials predicted that about 296,000 vehicles would cross the span over the long weekend. Through Sunday, about 237,000 had passed through the toll booths, according to Kerry Brandt, spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority. Brandt said that in recent years, as more schools have started before Labor Day, the holiday has become less of a traffic nightmare.
Things went smoothly at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where officials had anticipated a glut of travelers.
"People got parked, people got on airplanes and the airplanes got out," said Jennifer Cassidy, public relations director for the airport.
She said the weekend was busy, but that final numbers had not been tallied. Yesterday at the airport, people were traveling from weddings, beachfronts and a religious celebration in Washington organized by a coalition of evangelical churches and ministries.
Cheryl Derynck, 33, of Minnesota said she and her family spent a full day praying at The Mall in Washington. She also managed to sightsee -- from the White House to the Smithsonian -- and to take her first subway ride on the Washington Metro.
As she spoke, a fellow traveler, Ida DeLanghe, 15, was stretched out on the floor addressing envelope after envelope to her sister at college.
Yesterday found weather forecaster Jim DeCarufel, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., savoring a prediction of weeklong sun.
DeCarufel happens to be off on Wednesday and Thursday.
"It's going to be great for me," said DeCarufel, who has been tracking the often gloomy, always iffy weather this summer. "If you are on shift work and you get off in the middle of the week, it's going to be gorgeous."