Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport is a desolated, lonesome place at 6 a.m. About two weeks ago, the only persons in the terminal at that hour were one coffeeshop vendor, two airline counter attendants and the three security guards who watched our carry-on bags go through the scanner before we entered the inner sanctum to await our flight to Baltimore, Md.

“Who told you we had to be here so early?” asked my bleary-eyed daughter.

“Everyone, including the airline, said to be here one and a half to two hours before our flight so we could clear the heightened security systems put in place since 9/11,” I responded.

“Well, the heightened security took about five minutes; what can we do with the rest of our one hour and 55 minutes?” Keith said he as looked around the empty concourse. “I guess we can get something to eat since the airlines don’t serve meals anymore.”

We found some overpriced muffins and drinks at the one and only snack shop that was open at that hour of the morning and waited for our flight. About 45 minutes before our flight left, other passengers began to trickle into our waiting area. I guess they weren’t as concerned about “clearing security” as the Jost family.

And that’s how our vacation to Baltimore, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., began.

After changing planes in St. Louis, we arrived in Baltimore at about 2 p.m.. We picked up our rental car and, armed with detailed driving directions and maps that I had downloaded from the Internet, we headed toward downtown Baltimore and the Inner Harbor.

Everyone had warned us of the horrific traffic we would encounter on the East Coast, but it didn’t seem bad at all to us. We drove directly to our hotel and, after checking in, walked a block to the harbor. The wharf is lined with entertainment establishments, restaurants, shops and hotels.

Since our time was limited, we took a water taxi ride around the harbor to see the sights. The National Aquarium is located right on the water’s edge, and if we had had more time and energy we would have taken in this aquatic museum.

We opted instead for a nice dinner at a waterfront restaurant. We dined on Maryland’s blue soft-shelled crabs and the area’s famous crab cakes, which are unlike anything passing for a crab cake in this area.

After stopping by the Cheesecake Factory for some dessert to carry back to our room, we returned to our hotel for some much-needed rest.

I wish I could say that we got it. The hotel, located on a busy city intersection, was not conducive for a good night’s sleep. When morning came, we all raced to see who would be the first packed and ready to leave Baltimore.

By 8 a.m., we were on our way north to Pennsylvania. I had planned a surprise for the kids, and now it was time to reveal just where we were going.

“We are headed to Nottingham, Pa., to get a behind the scenes tour of one of the area’s major potato chip manufacturers,” I said gleefully, trying to whip up enthusiasm out of a growing state of exhaustion.

“Yeah, OK,” came the reply. It was not the response I had been anticipating.

“I understand that we will be served chips hot off the line.”

“All right!”

That was better.

We arrived in Nottingham and pulled into the visitor’s center parking lot of Herr’s Snack Factory. Soon we were on a 45-minute tour that led us through the inner workings of the massive factory, which produces a $1 million worth of chips every day.

We saw belts taking pretzels to the oven and giant tubs giving corn puffs a cheesy bath. It seemed at every turn tortilla chips and potato chips were being fried and bagged and we did indeed enjoy a snack of hot potato chips right off the line. Delicious.

We pulled away from Herr’s with several bags of snacks for the road trip that lay before us. For the next week, we would be traveling the roads of Pennsylvania, visiting Lancaster County’s famous Amish country before spending two days in Hershey and another in Gettysburg. Then to top off the trip, we would spend two days touring the nation’s capital.

“So, what do you think?” I asked the kids in the backseat. “Are we off to a good start?”

“The chips were great-they tasted better hot,” said my son. “But could we stop and get a Pepsi somewhere? It would have been better if they had served us drinks, too.”

Keith pulled into a convenience store for a stop at the soda fountain. Hey, we were on vacation.

Next week: Lancaster County, Hershey and Gettysburg.

* * *

In Baltimore, we had some wonderful crab cakes at Philip’s Seafood Restaurant at the Inner Harbor. Philip’s isn’t going to divulge its secret recipe, but here’s one from another source. Maryland is famous for its blue crabs, which tend to be a little fishier than the snow crabs that we enjoy on many midwestern buffets.

Super Rich Maryland Crab Cakes

2 cups lump crab meat, preferably fresh, frozen OK

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

2 eggs

1/2 cup heavy cream

Dash of hot sauce, or to taste

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp. chopped parsley

2 tsp. grated onion

2 or more tablespoons of unsalted butter

In a bowl, combine crab meat and bread crumbs. In a small bowl, whisk eggs and cream together. Add hot sauce, Worcestershire, parsley, onion, salt and pepper to taste to crab mixture. Combine well. In a large heavy skillet, heat butter over moderate heat until foam subsides and into it drop crab mixture by tablespoons for mini cakes or form cakes into patties and fry in butter until golden brown. Turn and repeat frying process so both sides are golden. Serve warm.

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