The town drunk is Skag. The former state delegate is Yank. One of the seafood packers is T-Bone. Another is Toogaloo.
But for outlandish nicknames, the Evans brothers may take the Crisfield cake. From oldest to youngest, in order, they are Stumpy, Payday, Georgie Grimes, Bellyache, Humdinger and Paptoodles.
"There are people here in Crisfield I've known all mylife and I still don't know their right names," says Yank (christian name: Carlton Dize). "Everybody has a nickname. And everybody else knows what it is."
What's the lesson? That Crisfield, a 108-year-old oystering and crabbing village on Maryland's Eastern Shore, is a friendly place, a funny place and a family place.
But for 50 years, it has also been a fading place.
Crisfield's population has slid from 11,000 to 1930 to 9,200 in 1950 to 4,100 in 1970 -- to an estimated 3,100 this year.
Unemployment averages 17 percent. More than 75 percent of each high school graduating class moves away in search of jobs. The median annual family income in Somerset County is $7,250 -- the lowest in Maryland -- and Crisfield's median is thought to be even lower.
"When I came here 42 years ago, there was four movie theaters and three bowling alleys," said Bill Martin, editor and publisher of The Crisfield Times. "Now there's no theaters and no bowling alleys."
The Rubberset Company in 1968 opened a paint brush factory outside Crisfield that employs 400 people -- and that was the last addition to the local economy.
The seafood industry has shrunk from 16 major wholesalers in 1940 to seven today. The Pontiac dealer's Main Street showroom window still advertises Strato-Streak V-8s -- which Pontiac last made in 1956.
The most modern housing in town is a 14-year-old, $5 million public project built for the poor with federal funds. There was exactly one single-family house built in Crisfield in 1979.
While tourists flock to Crisfield's wharf for day trips around Chesapeake Bay, business in the downtown district, just three blocks from the wharf, is in sad-and-getting-sadder shape.
"In the last five years, we've lost the A & P, the Acme and the W.T. Grant's," says Martin. "And the Western Auto just went at Christmas time."
"We have to attract additional industries. If we don't, the overall economy can go in only one direction," says Mayor Charles McClenahan.
But Crisfield has a clear idea of where the remedy lies. By 1982, the state will have spent $5 million to quadruple the present 114-boat capacity of Crisfield's Somers Cove pleasureboating marina.
Meanwhile, Crisfield's civic leaders are in their 20th year of trying to land the biggest fish of all: a $30 million deep-water agricultural port.
McCleanahan, 38, was executive director of the Sommerset County Maritime Industrial Committee until he ran for mayor in 1978. The committee's entire mission was to lobby Annapolis and Washington for the funds to build Crisfield's port. To no one's surprise, McClenahan believes the project is right around the corner.
"It would cover 80-some acres, with a 30-foot channel right out to where the water is 45 feet (deep)," McClenahan said. "We could handle 800,000 tons a year by barge here -- of feed grains, vegetables, what-have-you.
"I think it would have a bigger impact on Crisfield than anything since the railroad came in. And I think we've got a good chance to get it."
But McClenahan's optimism is not widely shared.
Because of Maryland's nine-year-old wetlands law, which prohibits any shoreline development on marshland that is now undisturbed, "I'd say they're just spinning their wheels," said Dize.
"They've got Baltimore and Norfolk for ports, so I don't see why they need us," said Wayne Evans, owner of a seafood wholesaling house.
"I'll believe it when I see it," said oyster shucker John Sterling.
Indeed, some Crisfielders don't want to see it.
"It's nice and quiet here," said one waterman. "This is the way most of us want to keep it. What's wrong with the way things are?"
Nothing, to judge from Crisfield's spiritual life, according to Howard Ketterman, pastor of the Asbury United Methodist Church.
"People are more religious here than any place else I've ever lived," said Ketterman. "I can go into Gordon's (a downtown cafe and hangout where signs read "No Profane Language") at any time of day and get up a discussion about religion. Some places, you almost have to fight to do that.
"I think it's a way of life in Crisfield. I don't think they'd trade this life for a job in the White House. It's slower, closer to nature. There's a closeness to God. You take them out of here, its like stripping the clothes off them."
Still, many of Crisfield's best known citizens made their marks only after leaving. The native sons mentioned most often are Harold (Curley) Byrd, former president of the University of Maryland, and J. Millard Tawes, the former governor.
"Let's face it," said Dize. "Except for TV and a few things like that, these people live about the same way they've lived for the last 100 years. If you're interested in a profession, or in making your mark on the world, you've almost got to leave."
But Crisfielders pride themselves on "knowing that everything you can learn don't come out of a book," as Dize put it. And one of the things blacks and whites seem to have learned comparatively well is how to get along with each other.
They do it by staying out of each other's way.
At approxiamately 55 percent white and 45 percent black, Crisfield is one of the blackest towns in the state. Even so, its schools are not integrated until the mid-1960s, and there is almost no socializing between the races, even though dozens of blacks and whites shuck oysters in packing houses, side by side, day by day.
"We call it separate but equal," said Sterling, who is black. "Separate but equally poor."
Even today, no black has ever served on the town council, or belonged to any traditional white social or service clubs. Each race has "its" bars, grocery stores and churches. To the best of anyone's knowledge, there has never been an interracial marriage in Crisfield.
The Crisfield High School basketball team is almost entirely black, and because of its consistent success, it has rabid fans of both races. Still, the Crabbers are not the unifying force in the community they might seem to be.
"I'll never forget it when I first came here," said Ketterman. "You go in the gym and the blacks sit on the left and the whites on the right. That doesn't cause a problem or an incident. That's just the way it is.
"But I was shocked. I said to myself, HEW ought to come see this."
"Maybe it sounds hard to believe, but we haven't had any major problems, just a few personality problems," McClenahan said. "Integration in the schools? When it happened, it happened."
For the future, "even if the port doesn't go, there are other ways we can improve the economy," McClenahan said. "We are still attractive to light industry. The city tax rate is $1.50 per $100 of assessed valuation, and the county's is $1.80. Business pays attention to that. . .
"It'll depend on the attitude of the local people.The attitude's fairly good now. I've seen other areas have these kinds of problems and overcome it. g
"But right now we're probably the most depressed area in the state. Right now, in January and February, there's a lot of TV being watched in Crisfield. There's a lot of people in the bars at 2 in the afternoon."
That means a "flat economy." And that, says McClenahan, hangs as heavy "as the fog on the bay."