At 5 p.m. on a recent Friday, commuters heading from the Beltway south on I-95 met a 37-mile backup. At the same time, those on the way to the bayside village of Deale in southern Anne Arundel County found their route wide open, down Route 4 and past the rolling hills, roadside produce stands and low-key farms along Route 258.
While the commute is not always so smooth, there are still plenty of people who have chosen to trek from Deale to jobs inside the Beltway.
Bob Petitt, who moved to Deale 50 years ago, has seen northeasters blow and property values grow. He originally bought his 1/3-acre Masons Beach lot for $800.
BOUNDARIES: Bounded by the intersection of routes 256 and 258 to the north, the Chesapeake Bay to the east and south, and the streets just west of Rockhold Creek to the west
SCHOOLS: Deale Elementary, Southern Middle and Southern High schools
HOME SALES: In the last 12 months, 33 houses have sold at prices from $150,000 to $565,000, said Ray Mudd and Mike Dunn of Century 21/H.T. Brown Real Estate. Ten houses are on the market at $150,000 to $1.29 million.
WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Downtown has marinas, boat repair, library, shops, grocery, restaurants, churches, elementary school. Although most residents can walk to the bay or its tributaries, there are no public launching ramps.
WITHIN 25 MINUTES BY CAR: Chesapeake Beach, North Beach, Twin Beaches Medical Center
WITHIN 35 MINUTES BY CAR: Annapolis, Prince Frederick, Anne Arundel Medical Center, Andrews Air Force Base
For example, former Alexandria resident Warren Wiedmaier, a stonemason who has worked on many of Washington's landmark buildings, moved his family to Deale in 1983 to get away from the sound of sirens in the night. Now, he can walk two blocks down a quiet lane to catch soft-shell crabs in the Chesapeake Bay.
Five years ago, Tim Ng, a horticulture professor at the University of Maryland, traded his short commute from Hyattsville for waterfront living in Deale. While his trip pushes an hour each way now, once home, he and his wife -- both avid kayakers -- just glance out their cottage window to check on water conditions, and keep an upstairs telescope focused on an active osprey nest nearby.
Deale's commuter population is growing rapidly, causing old-timers to jokingly declare that every weekday at 6 a.m. you can feel the ground rising because so many residents are leaving.
Not everyone leaves by car, though. By 6 a.m. the docks at the Happy Harbor Marina on Rockhold Creek are bustling with activity as the descendants of generations of watermen prepare their fishing boats for a long day on the bay. Holler, "Hey, captain," and 20 heads turn in your direction.
Deale, a loosely defined, unincorporated community 20 miles south of Annapolis and 35 miles east of Washington, is a kick-off-your-shoes kind of place where beards, tattoos and motorcycles coexist with polo shirts, deep tans and SUVs. Locals call a popular cook at the Happy Harbor Inn "Mama." Crab cakes for the annual firefighters' carnival have been made the same way for 42 years. Teens find mentors among master fishermen, firefighters or banjo players.
The name "Deale" has a certain ring to it. The Reel Deale fishing charter and the Good Deale Bluegrass Band definitely sound more enticing than anything that could have been prompted by the area's first designation -- Rams Gott Swamp, after an Englishman, Richard Gott, who first staked out the area in the late 17th century.
Today, "come-heres" are rapidly outnumbering "from-heres" in Deale, spawning another local saying: "You're not a from-here until you grow webbing between your toes."
Roots may be important in Deale, but demonstrated ability is also a quick way to acceptance.
When Tim Finch moved from Montgomery County in 1999 to open the Good Deale Bluegrass Shoppe, locals raised their collective eyebrows. Today, Finch and his band draw well-known players to festivals and charity events. He also plays host to regular jam sessions and classes where old-timers and teens alike come to brush up on their musical skills.
Captain Cindy Sheridan, raised as a crabber like her father, has crewed on boats in Deale since she was 10. Now captain of her own 42-foot wooden bay boat, Sheridan said, grinning, "There was a big competition between me and all the guys when I first started, but once I out-fished them a few times, that changed."
Deale's picturesque waterfront contrasts sharply with the rest of its business area -- a visual hodgepodge of structures in search of a coordinating theme.
The Deale/Shady Side Small Area Planning Committee addressed that when it identified Deale as "a major opportunity site." Approved by the county in 2001, the plan's goal for Deale was to retain the area's rustic quality while allowing its growth as a community and visitor attraction.