OCEAN CITY, MD. -- The trip began in a drizzle in downtown Silver Spring and ended here under blue skies. In between, the 26 "Beach Bus" passengers slept, read, talked and generally let driver Bill Lewis worry about the Capital Beltway backup, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge tolls and the open road ahead.
Among the passengers were a gaggle of kids shepherded by two mothers, three high school students from Prince George's County, two college women, a grandmother from Wheaton, a Guyanese couple, two working men, a Tastee Diner waitress with her teen-age daughter and her daughter's best friend.
They were easy riders on the only direct local suburbs-to-surf bus service operating this summer to Maryland's ocean resort. Another service, Carolina Trailways, runs from the District to Ocean City, but those buses make stops along the way.
Most of the passengers were first-time riders on the new service, begun in May. Sporting T-shirts, jeans, shorts and other beach apparel and carrying newspapers and novels to relax with during the four-hour ride, the 26 passengers settled back for the trip, happy to have found a way to the beach that averts the hassle of driving.
The bus stopped first in Rockville, where there were no passengers, then picked up 24 in Silver Spring and two in Calverton. One-way and round-trip prices are $14.95 and $24.95 Sundays through Wednesdays, $24.95 and $44.95 on weekends.
The "Beach Bus" is the brainchild of Charles Kenny Jr., 37, who runs the Silver Spring Trailways terminal, goes to law school, teaches business at Prince George's Community College, rents trucks, has four children and dabbles in Prince George's County politics.
Kenny leases the buses, advertises and sells the tickets for the service he runs out of the old gas station-turned-Trailways bus terminal in Silver Spring. He also has joined the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. A bumper sticker on the door to the office says, "See You in Ocean City, Md."
Ginny May, a teacher from Dale City, said that riding the bus while school was in session means "I don't have to sit on the beach and correct my papers. I had a complaint from a student he had sand on his paper. Now that school is not in session, I'm reading all my back newspapers and magazines."
Melissa Link, 16, of Upper Marlboro, said, "I could have driven, but the bus seemed easier. My dad drove us to the bus terminal on his way to work."
Amy Thompson, an insurance account executive, was heading for Ocean City only to retrieve her car, which had broken down there the weekend before. "I don't like Ocean City," she said. "It's just too commercial. I really did not enjoy the weekend. I went with another friend, so I was trapped."
With Lewis, 40, at the wheel, the bus wound its way onto the Beltway just in time for a monumental traffic jam, triggered by a collision involving three cars, two six-wheelers and one 18-wheeler, according to a report on Lewis' CB radio.
Lewis exited on Rte. 1, navigated back roads and reentered the Beltway at Greenbelt, behind schedule. "Now, we'll see what happens," he said. "Out here driving these buses, you get to see lots of different things. Nothing's the same. Something's different every day."
Traffic flowed smoothly over the Bay Bridge at 10:25 a.m. On the Eastern Shore, the rain stopped and clear skies appeared.
On Kent Island, Lewis quickly made a friend over the CB, a driver heading to Crisfield with a truckload of onions. Their conversation lasted for 50 miles and touched on weather, traffic and "fuzz busters" to foil police radar.
While the passengers talked of their plans for fun and sun on the beach, Lewis looked forward to a few hours of playing video games at Marty's Playland before his return that evening at 6:30 p.m.
"I go to Thrasher's next to Marty's and get me some fries and soda," he said as the bus moved down the river toward the new Choptank River Bridge. "I get $20 in quarters and sit down and play. I have a ball."
The bus crossed the bridge at 11:15 a.m., "way behind schedule," the bus driver said. The bus passed produce stands and flat fields.
To Cleveland Harry, a D.C. Spanish teacher originally from Guyana, the ride was "miles and miles of unending roads, the same scenery." To break the monotony, he read a religion book, "I Believe in Visions."
Toward the back of the bus, the children giggled, blew bubbles with gum and slept, as did some of the adults. Maurine Kenny, the 6-year-old daughter of the bus service owner who was traveling with her mother, Terry Kenny of Hyattsville, and three siblings, asked, "Where are we, Ma?" They were outside Salisbury, about 29 miles west of Ocean City.
"It's probably still raining back in Silver Spring," said Otto Schlagel, 45, a baker from Hyattsville who was going to the beach for a day trip. "Yet over here, the sun shines bright."
"Comes with the trip," said "Safeway Bill" Collins, of Takoma Park. "It's part of the package -- guaranteed sunshine."
At 12:30 p.m., the bus crossed the bridge over Sinepuxent Bay to Ocean City; the high-rises on the north end rose in the distance. "It has changed a lot," observed Lynn Armentrout. "I can see it already."
The bus stopped first at the south end of the island, then proceeded up the Coastal Highway to its last drop-off point at 120th Street.
Here there are signs that say, "If you've got $75 to throw away, park here and be towed away." But such warnings were of no concern to beach bus riders.
"Cheers to Ocean City," said Elizabeth Priest, 13.
"Cheers to Ocean City," said Maurine Kenny.
"Cheers to everybody," said Andre Kenny, 10.