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Sizzlin Feature

Lewes and Lark

A Soul-ful Day-Trip Adventure

Photos by James Michael Brodie

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By James Michael Brodie | Posted 5/24/2000

Man, I just have to get out of town. The job is on my nerves and my home life is depressing, but I don't have enough cash to hit the Bahamas to get my groove back. My friends Dorothea and Britt Colvin have an answer for me: day trip. Not to be confused with "road trip," which usually involves much drinking and debauchery, day trips are more family-style outings, usually to some semiremote place that's almost too far to drive to but not far enough to fly. This may sound like a no-brainer to you, but it's all new to me. My family didn't do day trips (unless you count picnic outings to places fairly close to home), we did expeditions. When the Brodies hit the road, it was pack up the bags, lock up the house, and away we go.

Sensing my confusion, the Colvins offer a few different takes on the day-trip experience as we sit down to dinner at their Baltimore home. Dorothea ("Dot" to her friends) fondly recalls rustic adventures to such places as the Accohannock Native American Village in Crisfield, a quaint little campsite operated by Accohannock Tribal Chief Rudy Hall and his wife, Mary Lou.

The Accohannock, an Algonquian-speaking branch of the Powhatan nation, is one of Maryland's oldest tribes. They originally inhabited the territory they called Accomack in what became, after European colonization, Virginia's Eastern Shore, harvesting food from the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries and farming and hunting in the surrounding wetlands. The tribal office is now located in Marion, a small town just north of Crisfield, about a three-hour drive from Baltimore. From the village, the Halls lead guided tours of the region, complete with Native American oral histories and artifacts.

"I learned a great deal on that outing," Dot says. "And Chief Rudy and his wife were very nice. And besides," she went on, trying to convince me to spend my day with the Accohannock, "you're from Colorado. You're a cowboy. I would think you would be into learning about Native American cultures."

Britt's memories of that particular trip prove somewhat different. I asked what he recalled most. "The drive," he deadpans taking a long slow drag off a cigarette and exhaling smoke as he continued. "The drive, the drive, the drive."

I'm not feeling it. Dot suggests I call Russell Brown, chairman emeritus of the city's War Memorial Commission, who organizes a daylong boat outing from the Inner Harbor every June. This year's trip is June 25 aboard the Lady Baltimore.

"This began as something I normally did to get new friends and old friends acquainted," says Brown, who gives part of the money raised from the trip ($25 a person) to local charities.

The trip begins at 8 a.m. and winds its way to Annapolis, as the tour guide points out landmarks such as Fort McHenry, Brown's Wharf, the Bethlehem Steel plant, the Severn River, and Chestertown. "Maryland has a wealth of seashore activity that is important to the culture of the nation," Brown says. "We want people to see that there are other places to go in the state." In Annapolis, time is set aside for shopping, touring, or just chilling out. Refreshments are served on-board, and old-school music is played in abundance. For the most part, though, "you're just sitting out in the sun," Brown says.

For Brown, day-tripping is a way of life--something he grew up doing. "As a child, my mother would take us to Brown's Wharf, Wonder Beach, Sparrows Beach, and Wonderland Park. My mother and my grandmother would pack picnic lunches, and we would have a good time."

This, I think would be a perfect way to go--no driving, good food, all the Earth, Wind & Fire tunes I could handle. Kinda upscale, kinda buppy. What's not to like? As usual, though, duty gets in the way--the June trip is too late for the story I've already promised City Paper on whatever journey I end up taking.

So I consult Cordell Brooks, a co-worker who lives in Temple Hills, Md., and is a veteran of day trips. "Man, you know, I used to take a whole lot of them back in the day, but not any more," says Brooks, a graphics manager in his mid-30s, "basically because I'm getting older and I want to relish the time I spend in a place a little more."

Cordell's idea of day-tripping was Ocean City--go-cart riding, bungee jumping, or wave running. Sometimes he'd head south to Virginia Beach for Greek Week and hang out with scores of African-American fraternity brothers and sorority sisters. "It was just a good time," he says. "Everyone was bonding, the activities were good. It was just one of those things where you didn't want to leave. We didn't leave until 2 in the morning."

Cordell says he doesn't see as many people heading out for the one-day jaunts as in the past. "People are working more," he says. "When you are young, you will drive somewhere and party for three hours and drive back or sleep in your car. Besides, the other reason you went for the day is that you couldn't afford to stay anywhere. These days, I want a hotel room."

I am beginning to get depressed. I need a plan. Maybe this day-trip thing isn't such a good idea after all. Maybe I should bag it.

"No, man," Cordell counsels. "You should go." I tell him I'm considering Lewes, on the Delaware coast. I've heard good things about it. He approves. "You should definitely experience the restaurants. There are a couple of really nice ones. Check with the locals, check out the activities, see what the place is all about."

The original locals were the Dutch, who arrived in Lewes, Del., in 1631. The place's nautical history appeals to me, as did the nature trails at Cape Henlopen State Park just outside of town. Maybe I'll take a ride on the Cape May-Lewes ferry. Doing some Internet research, I find information about self-guided walking tours for folks who prefer to meander on their own.

Now I have a plan; I just need a traveling companion. I call a good friend, Patricia (not her real name). "Hey, let's go to Delaware," I offer brightly. "Let's go to the beach."

"Isn't it supposed to rain?" Patricia replies. "On the news, they said it was going to rain."

"So what if it does?" I counter. "It's just water." That does the trick.

This is shaping up perfectly. I'm going to get the whole experience. I've got the driving part; I've got the family part (Patricia is bringing her son); I've got the old-school soundtrack (EWF, Gap Band, Marvin Gaye, Ohio Players, Parliament). And the trip is a straight shot: Take Route 50 to Wye Mills. Stop and say hi to the González kid, then head up Route 404. Pick up Route 16 east after passing through Denton. Follow 16 through Sussex County, Del., all the way to Route 1 at Broadkill, 10 miles north of the beaches. Turn south to Lewes or Rehoboth.

I'm ready. The adventure is about to begin. I am about to experience this thing called a "day trip." All I need to do is drive up from my place in Alexandria, Va., pick up Patricia and her son, and it's off to the beach for family fun.

The Gap Band's "You Dropped a Bomb on Me" on the CD player should have tipped me off that this is not going to be my day. I get to Baltimore and go to Patricia's house. No Patricia, no note, no nothing.

OK. I'll go solo. But first I have to get gas, and film for the camera. I pull off the Beltway at Wilkens Avenue, only to discover that an accident on the on-ramp will hamper my return to the Beltway. I need to find another route.

I meander along side streets until I find another highway ramp. Back at full speed, I point the car toward Annapolis and the Bay Bridge. Arriving at the span, I remember a minor detail--I am scared to death of bridges over large masses of water. The seashore's cool, because there's some ground I can stand on while I'm looking at the large mass of water. But with bridges, you just seem suspended over it, and that freaks me out.

This crossing is not as bad as taking the train across Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans. The train moves at a snail's pace over the 24-mile-long bridge, which is about seven feet above the lake. There is a drawbridge in the middle so boats can go through. A wooden gate marks the entry to the drawbridge from the main navigation channel. You cannot see the bridge, only the water. I did not like that crossing. But at least on the train I could close my eyes. That is not an option today.

Once I make it across the bay, though, I'm fine. The Ohio Players are pumping on the stereo, and the predicted rainstorm was becoming less and less likely to materialize. Actually, it's a beautiful drive, and a nostalgic one. I come across towns that remind me of places I'd seen as a child and of memories locked in those times.

Route 16 passes through Greenwood, population 656. Founded in 1856, chartered in 1858, and incorporated in 1901. Named for the holly forest that surrounds it.

Around the time of the Civil War, Greenwood consisted of eight houses, two stores, and a hotel. It doesn't seem much bigger today. But one addition to the greater Greenwood metropolitan area strikes this Colorado cowboy as the kind of thing you wouldn't expect an Eastern tinhorn to know about--a bison ranch. I pull over, get out, and get the ranch hand's permission to get up close and personal with the furry-backed creatures. Who knew?

I'm playing some smooth jazz (Charles Fambrough) when I come upon a small group of children playing on the railroad tracks heading into Ellendale. Maybe it's the fact that the kids are all black that reminds me of my own childhood in South Carolina in the mid-1960s, when "living on the other side of the tracks" carried a meaning too real to erase, even with time. It makes me think that in some ways we have won a few things--like a chance for our children to grab at least a few small snatches of what passes for normal lives. It later strikes me that I saw many black families on my way to Lewes--one brother running his riding mower over a spacious front lawn, another family holding a backyard picnic. Another man, legless in a wheelchair, nonchalantly ambles his way down the road, returning my wave as I pass him. It gave me a feeling words can only weakly describe, a feeling probably best reserved for a quieter place within me.

My arrival in Lewes, then, is almost anti-climactic. When I hit town, I immediately head for the coast to take in the Atlantic Ocean in all its splendor. For Easterners, I've always thought, seeing the vastness of the sea stretched out before them must conjure up the same feeling I used to get staring up at the Rocky Mountains and taking in a sky so blue and pure it overwhelms the ground below.

I arrive just as the ferry to Cape May pulls out. No matter. Watching it glide quietly around the cape from my perch on the beach is plenty satisfying.

In town, I take a walking tour, checking out the antique shops and historic homes. About a block from Lewes' Zwaanedael Museum I watch a boys' baseball game, a girls' softball match, and a pickup basketball game, all set against a backdrop of boats docked just beyond the home plate backstop.

I make another trip to the beach before making a quick stop in Rehoboth--which, I must admit, is something of a disappointment. Somewhere between Coney Island and Fells Point, without the charm of either, to these eyes. Maybe it plays better with a larger crowd roaming its streets. It's time to head home.

Earth, Wind & Fire rocks me back home as the sun works its way westward. The prospect of driving back across the Bay Bridge somehow seems less daunting now. It isn't the day I had planned, but it's a day I'll hold dear in memory. Maybe I'll even go back. But I'm not asking Patricia again.

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