Along with the predictable driving rain, pounding surf and toppling trees, Hurricane Isabel brought with it a sense of disbelief, helplessness and even absurdity.
There was plenty of headache and heartache. Baltimore bus riders stood stranded in the rain. Cheese and pate rotted in a flooded Annapolis market, whose uninsured owner worried about going belly up. And a mother with a toddler at Johns Hopkins Hospital endured a lonely wait in a darkened downtown hotel room.
But Isabel also left behind an assortment of unforgettable oddities.
Take the kayakers paddling down Water Street in Chestertown. And the mayor's cat, Princess, holed up in Annapolis' City Hall.
Then there was the Howard County politician patching his roof with an old campaign sign. And the thousands of boxed crab legs swimming back to sea off the Eastern Shore.
Long before her full wallop could be felt, Isabel gave a jolt to Howard County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone. He was at the county's Emergency Operations Center monitoring the storm's progress around 3 p.m. Thursday when the frantic call came in - from his own home.
Isabel had dropped a branch from a poplar tree onto the roof of his house, punching a 2- to 3-foot hole before falling down past the kitchen window, knocking a rack of spices off the wall and frightening his wife and three children.
Rushing home, Guzzone rooted around for a way to plug the gap from inside the attic, finally coming up with a heavy plastic garment bag and the perfect weather-proof patch - one of last year's leftover campaign lawn signs.
"Those things are out in the weather all the time," he said, laughing.
As the storm picked up speed about 7 p.m. Thursday, MTA Bus No. 3 made its last stop at the Safeway parking lot at Charles and 25th streets. Rider Dana Pierre Covington stood in the rain, fuming.
Covington said the driver told him and five other passengers - one of them an elderly man - that this was the end of the line. The MTA had put the brakes on bus service because of the storm. Covington, who lives in Towson, was stranded.
"I'm sorry, but right now you are all going to have to get off," Covington said the driver told them.
The mood was much more upbeat - even festive in some places - as Isabel crescendoed hours later and city streets began to flood.
At the City Dock in downtown Annapolis just after midnight, a boisterous crowd cheered and pumped fists after each blast of wind. Many young people rolled up their pant legs, and a few women stripped naked to wade into the murky, knee-deep water.
A few sophomores from St. John's College surveyed the scene with academic detachment.
"There's something about nature," said Patrick Sullivan, of Michigan.
"It's, like, primal," said Tommy Dyer, of Utah.
Todd Corboy walked shirtless down Main Street, a white boogie board tucked under his arm. The 20-year-old Annapolis resident had heard the water at City Dock was deep enough for floating. Indeed, about 12:30 a.m. Friday, it had swallowed all but the tops of nearby parking meters, deep enough for more than a dozen kayakers and canoeists to make their way across the newly created channel.
"You can't miss an opportunity to swim down Main Street," Corboy said.
Meanwhile, on Hooper's Island off the Eastern Shore, a two-story factory where workers pick crabs for Phillips Seafood was filling with water. Three walk-in coolers floated out of the building.
One of them held 100 boxes of crab claws, said Michelle Elliott, who lives across the street and is related to the company owners.
Not long after midnight in Baltimore, water was slowly creeping over the Inner Harbor's sea wall. Within two hours, benches and concrete barriers on the brick walkways had vanished underneath murky, churning water.
Among those who traveled downtown to witness Isabel's fury was Carla Bryant of Cockeysville, who was named after a 1961 hurricane.
"I always wanted to be in a hurricane," said Bryant, 41.
Another sight to see: At Gibson Island Country School at the end of Mountain Road in Pasadena, a large wooden pretend sailing ship standing in a flooded playground appeared for the first time since its construction several years ago to be afloat.
While the storm was fun for some, the wind and rain and power outages made for a bleak night in other quarters.
In Fells Point, at the 38-room Inn at Henderson's Wharf, Betsy Savage of Salisbury had enough to worry about without Isabel.
Her 4-year-old daughter, Caitlan, was being treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital for kidney failure caused by eating meat tainted with E. coli bacteria. With her husband at the hospital, Savage stayed in a dark sixth-floor room at the inn with her 6-month-old infant.
High tide hit about 2 a.m., and afterward, officials in coastal Maryland started to breathe more easily. Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer leaned into her maroon-cushioned office chair, fingers interlaced behind her head, jeans rolled to mid-calf.
Her cat, Princess, was asleep in a carrying case on her office floor.
"I have a sleeping bag over there," Moyer said. "I guess I could put it on the floor. ... If Princess can chill out, I guess I can, too.
But, for many, the full force of Isabel would not be registered until the sun came up.
That's when residents of Roland Park and Guilford, still wearing pajamas and cradling cups of coffee, padded out of their houses to survey the damage.
Dozens of trees had been felled, some of them taking chunks of sidewalk with them. On Hawthorne Road, a 5-year-old girl and her older brother climbed on the trunk of a tumbled silver maple. The girl's name: Isabel.
"She's loved all the excitement, all this attention on her name," said her mother, Ginny Perkins.
n Fells Point, scene of the worst city flooding, the atmosphere was strangely upbeat as people marveled at the site of chest-high waters in city streets.
However, Tom Murphy was grim. He had been made homeless by the flood, which left three feet of water inside his apartment on Aliceanna Street. His refrigerator was floating, his stereo under water and his family photographs soggy.
"Wiped me out," he said. "Everything is ruined."
Overhearing his story, a neighbor offered him a place to stay.
In Western Maryland near the West Virginia border, residents awoke yesterday feeling they had dodged the widespread flooding anticipated after Isabel dropped only about half of the rain forecast for the area.
But that relief was short-lived. By afternoon, water had begun to run off the region's hills and mountains, swelling small creeks and rivers and forcing evacuations.
Some flood victims were counting their blessings along with their losses.
Roy Kirby, owner of a Baltimore construction company, shelled out nearly $4 million last spring to buy Widehall, one of Chestertown's finest pre-Revolutionary War Homes. Flood waters got as close as 2 feet from his first level, which is filled with period antiques.
His three cars weren't so lucky. A mallard duck quacked from the back seat of one, a silver BMW, as it bobbed in the water.
"You know the serenity prayer?" Kirby asked, wringing out his sandals. "I keep thinking about it. It's the only way to get through this."
Tourists and Baltimoreans alike flocked to the Inner Harbor with cameras to witness waters still puddling on Pratt Street.
Some business owners despaired over damage.
The Meyer Seed Co. store on Caroline Street in Baltimore was under 18 inches of water, and its warehouse in even worse shape. A lot of seed was wet - ruined.
Bob and Judy Schwartzberg, who operate a sandwich and condiment stand in Annapolis' Market House at City Dock, stood disconsolately at water's edge. They said police would not let them inside the market, which was flooded.
"There goes all our produce - all the cheese and pate," Judy Schwartzberg lamented.
They were uncertain whether they would be able to save the business. "We don't have flood insurance," Judy Schwartzberg said. "The cost was too prohibitive."
Some were able to put aside the daunting task of cleanup for more pressing matters.
Cassandra Padula got a manicure yesterday at the darkened Venus & Co. salon in Westminster.
Manicurist Mary Shamer positioned her table to catch natural light from the windows and a skylight so she could work on Padula, whose wedding to Joseph Burke III is at 2 p.m. today in Eldersburg.
"I have no power at home and about 18 inches of water in my basement, but I don't care," said Padula.
"I am not walking down the aisle with these nails."
Sun staff writers Liz Bowie, Scott Calvert, Larry Carson, Ryan Davis, Stephanie Desmon, Michael Dresser, David Michael Ettlin, Reginald Fields, Chris Guy, Mary Gail Hare, Rona Kobell, Laura Loh, Tom Pelton, Ariel Sabar, Jamie Stiehm, Del Quentin Wilber, Laurie Willis and Kimberly A.C. Wilson contributed to this article.