Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Scene This Week In...

I dropped by the Orinoco coffee shop last week. I needed to check my email and I didn't want to run all the back to my office by the airport. I have resisted the temptation to get a Blackberry or a Treo. I find I can get along quite well with my laptop as long as I can find a good wireless hot spot. The Orinoco coffee shop on McGaw Road has become one of my favorites. The coffee is excellent as well, even though I have now been reduced to ordering the decaffeinated brew. It's that heart disease thing.

Anyway, after ordering my coffee I was given a gift bag of sample Orinico coffees. This is their way of celebrating their first year in business. That earned them my Scene in Columbia picture this week. Besides a picture of the very cute Orinico coffee ladies, Jo and Sheila, is a vast improvement over last weeks picture of the Costco gas station. The proprietor of this fine establishment is Juan Carlos (JC). He also makes the best Cuban sandwich in town. Congratulations Orinico!

For the Ellicott City Scene I dropped by the Patapsco Female Institute on Sarah's Lane in Ellicott City. A friend of mine told me that his daughter held her wedding there recently. I was surprised and intrigued so I thought I'd go up there for a look. It is really quite a lovely place and well worth a visit, particularly on a beautiful fall day.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Insiders Guide

I'm not sure how I missed this but this evening, as I was carving a pumpkin in the kitchen, my daughter pointed to a picture in the newspaper I was using to keep the pumpkin mess off the counter. (Mama Wordbones is kind of picky about that sort of thing.)

Anyway, Morgan points to a picture and says "There's the star store." That got my attention.

Lo and behold, she had pointed out a picture of Shoemakers Country store that accompanied a piece in the Sun called an Insiders Guide to Historic Ellicott City!

I'd certainly rather see that kind of story about Howard County rather than this one or this one.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Burying The Hatchet

Larry Carson reports in the Sun today that Ken Ulman has nominated his former political rival, Chris Merdon to head up the “new revenue authority.” The first major undertaking for the authority will be the construction of a much needed parking facility to serve the historic district of Ellicott City.

This speaks well for both men. It is not that often that we see this type of post election collaboration after what can be conservatively described as a nasty campaign. Nicely done!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Rain, Glorious Rain.

The sustenance of life has returned in earnest to Howard County. The trees, shrubs, lawns and wetlands are breathing a collective sign of relief.

Last night Mama Wordbones and I went to Clyde's for dinner. As we left the house, I grabbed an umbrella that was sitting by the garage door. When we got to Clyde's and I opened it for her I discovered that at least three of the support struts were broken and akimbo. We snuggled close under the remaining serviceable portion of the crippled umbrella and made our way to the restaurant. We laughed about the fact that we hadn't had much use for umbrellas in such a long time that we had forgotten that this one was in the garage because it was supposed to go into the trash.

We left it outside the door at Clyde's. Since it was still raining we thought someone might perhaps "borrow" it before we returned. It was still there when we finished dinner. It had stopped raining. We deposited it in a trash can by the hug statue on our way home.

I don't mind this weather at all.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Scene This Week In...

I stopped into the Costco Gas Station at the Gateway Exchange Shopping Center this week. In the time it takes to fill up my SUV I ran into Roger Caplan longtime Columbian and local PR impresario and Bob Shinski, longtime Columbian. We were all filling up on the cheapest gas in town. That inspired me to make the new and architecturally unimaginative gas station my "Scene This Week In Columbia" photo. I mean how often do you run into two different people you know when getting gas?

Anyway, I was inspired.

The Scene This Week in Ellicott City is a different perspective on the Howard County Circuit Court Building. I took the photo from College Avenue just above St. Pauls.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Support Your Local Farmer

Buy a local pumpkin!

In case you haven't picked up this years pumpkin yet please consider visiting a Howard County farm stand that has been in continuous family operation since 1922, Baughers Fruit and Vegetable Stand on New Cut Road (just off Montgomery Road) in Ellicott City. Mrs. Baugher has worked the stand for over 50 years while her husband has worked it for seventy years. They both can tell you a few stories of old Howard County.
The apples they sell are grown in the orchards behind the stand.

Baughers will close for the season on October 31st. It will reopen again the third week of June just as it has since 1922.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hammer Time At Comcast

I ran across this story in today's Washington Post. Mona "The Hammer" Shaw is gets my vote for heroine of the day.

As I have written before, I dumped Comcast largely because their customer service infuriated me so much. So far, my experience with Verizon FIOS has been the exact opposite.

The thing is, this is nothing new. Customers have been telling Comcast that they have lousy customer service for years and yet they still don't change. There is even a website devoted to the subject.

I think I'll send Mona a contribution towards her fine.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Marketing Slogan or Lifestyle Philosophy

As I was making a quick pass through Town Center yesterday I chanced upon a gathering by the "Hug" statue at the Lakefront. It appeared to be a meeting of CoFoCoDo folks with some county officials. I couldn't stay long since I had a lunch appointment with a client but I was able to make some observations and listen to a couple of the speakers.

Lloyd Knowles made a statement that really resonated with me. He spoke of the early promise of Columbia being "The Next America" and indicated that he was concerned that the new plans for Town Center were going to make it more like the current America. That started me wondering about what exactly "The Next America" means.

Back in the early days of Columbia, the Exhibit Center building (now ironically home to the Plaza condominiums sales center) featured an exhibit on the vision of Columbia entitled "The Next America." Inside the exhibit center was a multi screened slide show and a model of what the future downtown of Columbia might look like. At the time, Town Center consisted of two buildings (Exhibit Center and Teachers Building). The American City Building was under construction. The slide show spoke of a town that would be an alternative to the strip development that was occurring along the suburban arteries leading out from the cities. The bad examples they used looked like the developments along Route 40.

The thing is, I don't recall that there was much detail given about what the future Town Center might look like aside from the model that showed much more density than anyone now would tolerate. To my recollection there was no discussion of height limits. The whole "Next America" focus was more about open space and walk ability. It reflected a time when most households had only one wage earner.

What struck me about Lloyd's words were his attempt to turn this marketing slogan into something much more. I am not certain what exactly he envisions a "Next America" to look like (and when does it stop being "next?"), but he seems passionate in wanting it.

My other observation was the make-up of the CoFoDoCo crowd. It numbered around forty people none of whom was under forty. Many seemed to be long time Columbians who yearned for the old days. They spoke of a vibrant Town Center they once knew with the Columbia Cinemas and the Rusty Scupper.

One other thing I heard that gave me pause was Cynthia Coyle talking about how she was opposed to any roadway running through the little plaza where the "hug" statue now sits. This comment struck me because I believe this area to be private property, not part of CA land in Town Center. It is akin to a neighbor standing on your property and telling everyone he doesn't like your driveway!

I wish I could have stayed for more but my appointment beckoned.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Blogs First Birthday

Today is the first anniversary of this blog. When I started this a year ago I wasn't really sure where I would go with it or whether I could post often enough to keep it relevant. One year later I have have obtained some clarity in direction (though it may not be readily obvious to the reader) and some consistency in posting.

I thank all of you who have read my words here and those of you who have felt compelled to share your views and comments, even those who strongly disagree with some of the things I post. I may not always respond to broadsides but I welcome them none the less.

To celebrate Blogs First Birthday, I have added a few new items such as the banner photos at the top of the page. I chose these two historical markers, one from Columbia and one from Ellicott City because I found a certain irony in each. First of all, the marker in the "new town" looks old while the marker in the old town looks new. The Ellicott Mills historic marker has it's own special irony. It is not even located in Ellicott City. This marker sits at the entrance into the community of Oella in Baltimore County.

The other new features are Scene This Week in Columbia and Scene This Week in Ellicott City. Taking inspiration from Hayduke with his One Daily(ish) Shot, I will endeavor to update these images every week. We'll see how that goes.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Fan Loyalty

Mama Wordbones and I have been shopping for a ceiling fan. After visiting various lighting showrooms and scouring the net we settled on a Monte Carlo Model 5AHR60 RBD. Fortunately for us, this particular model was offered at three Howard County retailers. We could choose between Annapolis Lighting, Industrial Lighting (AKA Lighting By Design) and Lowes.

Our first stop was Annapolis Lighting in Dobbin Center. I don't know what it is about this store but half the time I go there I encounter either rude or oddly indifferent salespeople. Other times they have been very helpful. This particular visit was a mix. Annapolis Lighting had our fan for $540.00 plus tax.

For our next quote we opted to call Industrial Lighting ((410) 796-5535) rather than visit the showroom. Industrial Lighting is located at 8325 Patuxent Range Road in the Baltimore Washington Industrial Park on Route 1 in Jessup. We spoke with Cynthia who happily gave us a quote over the phone. She would sell us the fan for $458.91 plus tax.

The final stop was the new Lowes store in Gateway Overlook. Lowes did not have the fan in stock but they told us that we could order it for $477.00 plus tax. Lowes heavily promotes the fact that they will match any competitors price and take the take an additional 10% off. That sounded like a great deal so we decided to test this policy. What we discovered is that Lowes will only give you that additional 10% off on items "in stock." Since our fan of choice would have to be ordered, they would only meet Industrial Lightings price. No additional 10%.

Since I was already in the store, ready to purchase this particular fan, I pushed. "If you give me that additional 10% I'll buy the fan from you right now."

Sorry was their response. Okay, in my book that gives the advantage to the local retailer which happened to be located less than 3.5 miles from Gateway Overlook.

I thanked them for their time, turned on my heal and headed on over to Cynthia at Industrial Lighting and purchased the fan. She was friendly, knowledgeable and helpful.

So, in this instance, the local merchant prevailed against the big box retailer in both price and service.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Business Person of the Year

Earl Arminger was recently named Business Person of the Year by the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. I can't think of a more worthy recipient. For those who think that developers are the root cause of all problems in Howard County, perhaps they should read this story from the Sun last week.

Congratulations Earl!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Heart Attack

A week ago last Saturday I had a heart attack. At the time I didn't even realize it was a heart attack. I was getting ready to go out for the evening and suddenly felt clammy and a little nausea. Then it passed.

Granted, I still didn't feel that great afterward but I can't say that I felt like I needed to go to the hospital. We decided to stay in for the evening. It was midnight before I decided that something was obviously wrong and that I needed help. In the emergency room I was told I had a heart attack.

I am sharing this information because until this event occurred, I had no idea what a heart attack felt like. Being a somewhat typical guy, I think I need to be unconscious or have a limb hanging on by a thread before I would consider going to the emergency room. I always thought a heart attack would "knock me to my knees." Mine didn't.

Time is the most critical factor in a heart attack. Delaying getting help results in heart muscle loss and as I now understand it, heart muscle loss is permanent. The good news for me was that the muscle loss was minimal.

I was lucky.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Now What?

It looks as if a compromise on the Plaza tower has fallen flat. According to this story in today's Sun, "a three hour meeting failed to produce a compromise...".

Not that I am surprised. I'm not sure how WCI can can make the tower shorter without incurring significant costs (loss of revenue from fewer units, re engineering the design, etc.) and according to the story Alan Klein "said he might reluctantly agree to consider a height up to 180 feet."

Some spirit of compromise, eh?

There were even some theatrics. Lloyd Knowles apparently walked out of the meeting to protest the fact that it was a closed door meeting. How very mature. Tell me Lloyd, how do you expect to get parties this far apart to come together in an open meeting?

Closed meetings are much better for hammering out compromises. They provide less opportunity for grandstanding than open meetings do.

And this notion that somehow General Growth should just go and buy the property back is ludicrous. Let's assume for a moment that WCI would even be willing to consider this (and there is no indication that they would). If I am WCI I want more than the land price back. I would want all of my costs so far covered as well including all legal fees, architectural and engineering fees, marketing fees and so on. I suspect that this makes any buy back cost prohibitive from the get go.

In my opinion, WCI should just go full speed ahead with construction with their already issued building permit. If the county council passes Mary Kay Sigaty's legislation and it becomes law WCI can then come back and sue the county for all of its costs and more. My money says WCI wins that one.

The taxpayers would be the losers. Thank you Alan Klien.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

27 Hours In ICU

One of the truly great institutions in Howard County is the Howard County General Hospital. This past weekend I had the opportunity to experience first hand just how great HCGH is by spending 27 hours in the Intensive Care Unit on the third floor of the hospital.

I was also able to compare my experience at HCGH with the world renown Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. I was transferred there after my stint at HCGH. I spent another 27 hours at that institution.

First, let me say that I'm fine. I am now back in Ellicott City. The last few days however, were a bit chaotic.

The nurses and doctors at HCGH were some of the most compassionate and friendly professionals I have ever encountered. That is not to say that the Johns Hopkins people weren't professional and extremely competent, they were. There was just something more comfortable and congenial about the folks at HCGH. The ICU rooms even have windows which allow the bed confined to at least glance outside and experience sunrises and sunsets. The "set down" room at Hopkins had a window that looked out at other windows. It was too far from the bed to see out of anyway.

When you become immersed in the front line of the health care system like I was the past few days you gain a new perspective. My experience in both institutions reinforced my appreciation for how truly fortunate we are here in Howard County.