Richard Sorrell, 49, is the tender of the Kent Narrows Bridge, and at the end of a holiday weekend, when the westbound traffic backs up for miles, he's the man vacationers love to hate.
They lean out of car windows and curse. Some have even thrown bottles at his control tower. "They don't think about me," said Sorrell, an avid gardener and the father of eight. "They're just in a hurry to get where they're going."
As of yesterday afternoon, however, Sorrell said there had been no taunts and no bottle-throwing. Homebound vacation traffic from Ocean City and other points on the Eastern Shore appeared to be lighter than usual for a holiday Sunday as this year's July 4 weekend came to an end.
"No problems at all," said Fred Schimp, 20, who had stopped for gas about 5 p.m. near Kent Narrows, en route from Ocean City to his home in Hanover, Pa., near the Maryland border.
Conditions were markedly different Saturday, however. Faced with overcast skies and a forecast for thundershowers on Sunday, droves of vacationers apparently tried to beat the rush home by leaving a day early. As a result, Saturday traffic was a mess. The Kent Narrows Bridge, located about four miles east of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on Rte. 50, was raised on schedule at noon Saturday, but because an unusually large number of boats wanted to get through the channel Sorrell kept the bridge raised for about 35 minutes, longer than normal.
That, coupled with a large number of people trying to get home early and more frequent bridge openings on Saturday compared with Sunday, led to a 15-mile backup that took until 8 p.m. to clear up.
"They were cussin' like it was my fault," Sorrell said. "They're sick." Sorrell is required to raise the bridge at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., noon and every hour on the hour from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday to allow boats through. On Sunday the bridge is opened on the hour from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then again at 8 p.m. The bridge has long been a bottleneck for weekend Eastern Shore travelers.
Yesterday it was possible to cross the Kent Narrows and Chesapeake Bay bridges at 5:30 p.m. and travel to the District without any delays.
"We could have stayed all day," said Jim Wherley, 20, who left Ocean City about 3 p.m. in anticipation of heavy traffic and found none.
At the Bay Bridge, authorities had opened seven of the bridge's 13 lanes to westbound traffic at midday, and said there were no tie-ups, and that things were slow, but smooth.
Bridge traffic picked up steadily during the day, from 437 westbound cars at 8 a.m. to 2,842 at 4 p.m. But, Arlene Middleton, a bridge police officer, said there wasn't much to do except watch the westward flow of station wagons, campers and boats.
J.C. Collins, a Maryland state trooper who remembered last year's July 4 weekend traffic as "terrible," described yesterday's conditions as "light to moderate."
"I think a lot of people heard there was going to be bad weather," said Collins, "but it turned out to be a beautiful day."
Despite some fears that traffic and tempers could increase after 8 last night -- the next scheduled raising of the Kent Narrows Bridge -- bridge tender Sorrell said he would keep smiling.
"You're always going to have different people," he said. "Some people can get up in the morning with their hat on backwards and get angry. But I have a deep love for people, so I don't pay them no mind.