Lawrence Bryant was fed up with the skid marks on Tunic Avenue from drivers using his Capitol Heights street as a speedway. His wife, Chicquita, gave up when the chrome rims were lifted from the Cadillac parked in the driveway of their bungalow.
Seven miles away in Temple Hills, Michelle Jiggetts was loyal to the county that taught her daughter to ice skate, and excited for the arrival of upscale shopping at a planned waterfront complex. She and her husband, Kevin, became discouraged only after losing 10 house bidding wars.
The Bryants and the Jiggettses had different motivations for leaving Prince George's County -- in one case increasing crime, in the other rising home prices -- but they had the same destination: Charles County.
The couples, both black, represent thousands of Prince George's residents moving across the county's southern border and fueling the once-rural area's transformation into Southern Maryland's most diverse suburb.
Between 2000 and 2003, more people from Prince George's moved into Charles than from any other state or neighboring county. Like other outer suburbs, such as Frederick and Calvert, the growth in Charles is being driven by residents moving from other parts of the state.
In Charles, 81 percent of what demographers call "net migration" -- the term for people moving in, minus people moving out -- came from Prince George's, according to an analysis of federal tax returns by the Maryland Department of Planning.
During the same period, the black population in Charles increased 22 percent, and African Americans now account for 30 percent of county residents, compared with 18 percent in 1990, according to 2003 Census Bureau estimates.
Although the Internal Revenue Service figures do not provide a complete picture of the migration to Charles -- first-time filers, for instance, are not included -- they are a "good indicator of the magnitude and origin and destination of the movement," said Mark Goldstein, a planning department economist.
Such newcomers as the Bryants and the Jiggettses are pulled south for a range of reasons, from the relatively low crime rate and good reputation of the public schools to the stock of new, relatively inexpensive homes.
'You Could Be at Home Here'
To Lawrence Bryant, Tunic Avenue in Capitol Heights is cursing, fighting, drinking and screeching tires. He tried unsuccessfully to petition the mayor's office to install speed bumps.
On his first visit back to the street he left last August, Bryant pointed to the jungle gym and bright yellow slide in the park one-half block from his old house. He said he never let his children play there, not once in 10 years.
"No one hangs out here but adults," Bryant said, shaking his head, then letting out a laugh, not because he thinks it's funny, but because he can get in his car and leave.
The stocky 35-year-old's nickname is "Big L," but he said, "From my house to my driveway was as far as I was willing to walk."
Frustrated, Bryant turned to co-workers for advice. During contract jobs at the Pentagon and State Department, where he supervises the installation of telecommunications equipment, they suggested Virginia, Baltimore County and Charles. He looked at one four-bedroom home in Fairfax County. Half a million dollars was too much.
The Bryants had shopped and dined in Waldorf's vast strip malls. When their real estate agent showed them a four-bedroom, split-level, brick-front house nearby for $279,000, they were sold.
"When I came out here, the taste of the air was different. That may sound corny, but you just knew you could be at home here," he said.
"We'd come from so much confusion and uproar, and I wanted to be somewhere where my kids could be at peace."
In summers past, the Bryant family escaped to airy, quiet rental cottages in North Carolina with screened porches for crab feasts so the smell didn't linger. This summer, Bryant is hosting crab dinners from his own porch. The loudest noise, he said with a smile, is the neighbor's son taking batting practice.
Instead of hustling from the driveway to the front door, Chicquita and Lawrence walk miles around the White Oak Village neighborhood for exercise. He lets his eldest son take off on a bike and his 16-year-old daughter practice driving on the road leading into the subdivision.
Bryant can measure the difference in dollars and police statistics.
During the 12-month period that ended in May, the Prince George's County Police Department reported 22 homicides and 1,736 stolen cars in Bryant's old Zip code. The Charles County Sheriff's Office reported one homicide and 163 stolen vehicles in Bryant's new neighborhood for the same period.
Bryant's car insurance payments dropped from roughly $450 a month in Prince George's to $250. Homeowner's insurance on the 900-square-foot bungalow he sold for $165,000 was $2,000 a year. Twenty miles south, Bryant pays $1,200 for a home that is twice the size.
'Pick a Lot, Pick a Style'
As much as the Bryants were eager to leave Prince George's, Michelle Jiggetts was determined to stay. Even with boxes lining the hallways of her townhouse this month, she seemed reluctant.
A health care company manager and community college instructor, Jiggetts had visions of shopping at Prince George's County's planned National Harbor development instead of driving to Tysons Corner. Her 8-year-old daughter Courtney is thriving in county-run summer camps for ice skating, basketball and soccer and at a Montessori school in Temple Hills.
When Michelle and Kevin married in 1995, the two-bedroom townhouse with a finished basement was spacious. Now there are ice skates, guinea pigs and bicycles in what Michelle calls "Courtney's house."
In a familiar house-hunting tale, the longer the Jiggettses looked for more space in Prince George's, the more the prices increased. Last October, they stretched to bid $315,000. By January, they were offering $430,000 and still no house.
After 10 heartbreaking bids, the kind that still sting, the Jiggettses were drawn to the blank canvas of a brand-new home. Instead of the Jiggettses begging to pay the seller's closing costs in Prince George's, the builders in Charles from Patriot Homes offered to pay thousands of dollars in closing costs.
"You're not competing against anyone," said Kevin Jiggetts, 42. "Instead, it's 'Pick a lot, pick a style.' "
Like a proud father, he pulled out a photo album that chronicles the birth of their $388,000 home in the Sheffield neighborhood. Four bedrooms, 31/2 baths, a two-car garage, plus a little extra for Corian countertops, hardwood floors and a hot tub in the master bathroom. Similar homes were selling for $50,000 more in Prince George's and $75,000 more in Howard, according to the Jiggettses' research.
As the Jiggettses prepared to move in last week, they had conflicting emotions. Michelle, 41, worried about the long, congested commute from Waldorf to Washington. Friends and family will be farther away in Fort Washington and Upper Marlboro.
Kevin Jiggetts, an actor, was more upbeat. He is excited about raising Courtney in a more diverse neighborhood.
"Don't get me wrong, I love black people, but I love other people, too," he said.
The Jiggettses have heard about racial tensions in predominantly white Charles, especially after last December's much-publicized arson in the Hunters Brooke development.
One of the men who pleaded guilty said he targeted the homes because they were bought by African Americans, although no one has been charged with a hate crime and prosecutors say there could have been several motives.
"We're moving to a county that is moving in a different direction," Kevin said. "It's our hope that Charles County is becoming more educated in terms of race relations."
"Hopefully," Michelle interjected.
Her concern is for Courtney. "If she is in a school with predominantly white students, I hope she isn't treated differently, because I won't tolerate that."
Michelle has not yet investigated Charles County schools, which are now majority-minority, with African-Americans accounting for 43 percent of the population, and have a district committee dedicated to minority achievement.
Even so, for the first year, at least, Michelle plans to drive Courtney back to her Temple Hills school.
"There are enough changes going on."