Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday Stuff

 I figured I’d better get this post written today because if I waited until tomorrow it might be taken as an April Fools joke.

First of all, an acquaintance told me that school board member Allen Dyer is more concerned with terrorists than train derailments at the Oxford Square middle school site. My friend was among the thirty or so people who turned out for the most recent school board candidate’s forum on Wednesday in Elkridge. They told me that Allen believes there is a real threat that terrorists will target trains on the Camden Line near Oxford Square and blow them up.


The HoCo teachers union arranged a HoCo loco robo-call blitz for its school board candidates, and conveniently forgot to include the all important authority line. In responding to a post about the omission on 53 Beers on Tap, the union prez, Paul Lemle tried to spin the robo-call gaffe by saying “The call didn't mention HCEA because of a mistake by the firm we hired to place the call.”

Aren’t teachers always telling us to check our work before we send it in?

By the way, I hate robo-calls, especially on loco stuff. I suggest that the union isn’t doing their candidates any big favor here. I would not be surprised to find that these robo-calls turn off as many voters as they tune in.

The Columbia Council race in the Village of Hickory Ridge got momentarily interesting. Contrary to what I was told earlier, Gregg Schwind, the incumbent, has decided to seek reelection. He almost had a challenger too, Doug Staub. You may have heard of Doug. He was the guy behind the big teen party in Oakland Mills that CA pulled the plug on at the last minute.

He was mad about that too. In this story by David Greisman in Explore Howard he told the reporter he “believes the decision to cancel the event was racist.”

"They pulled the plug insinuating that these kids would have mass riots because these urban kids don't know how to act," said Staub, who is white. "That, to me, is a pretty bold statement to make."

It turns out that he was disqualified from running because of some technicality over his eligibility according to the village by-laws.


Friday, March 30, 2012

CSX…In the News

This morning HoCo residents awoke to news of a CSX “ freight train collision” in Jessup. A story about the incident by Elizabeth Janney in Elkridge Patch  immediately linked the accident to the HoCo loco intermodal controversy.

While the proposed intermodal site in Hanover has gotten most of the attention, some loco politicos have suggested that the Montevideo Road site might be the better choice. Those residents used this incident to suggest that they don't want an intermodal terminal either. The Montevideons cited this freight train collision as further evidence of the “impact of having a large-scale freight operation which may be rife with hazardous materials near their homes.”

The thing is, this wasn’t really so much a collision as it was a derailment. No one was injured and damage appeared relatively minimal. WUSA didn't even use the word collision in their report. They called it a minor train derailment. They have pictures too. 

Yesterday, just before this  happened, CSX announced that it was adding 140 jobs in Maryland this year, including new jobs right here in Jessup. I didn’t hear or read any stories with quotes from politicos, economic development authorities or chambers of commerce welcoming this news. In fairness, it could be that the press was only minimally interested and nobody asked. An announcement of 140 layoffs or news of an accident that hurt or killed someone would be much more interesting I suppose.

Mega Millions Mojo

According to some, I have a better chance of dying from a flesh-eating bacteria than I have of winning the record Mega Millions jackpot.

I still bought a ticket.

In fact, I bought five of them. Early Wednesday evening, I stopped in the Exxon gas station across from the Ellicott City firehouse on Montgomery Road. I needed a cup of coffee before heading over to Courtney's fundraising event.

The clerk greeted me as soon as I walked in the door.

“Is the coffee fresh?”

“Very,” he responded. “I just made a pot a half hour ago.”

Perfect. As I poured a cup he mentioned something about the Mega Millions record jackpot. I thanked him for reminding me and then asked him to print out five individual tickets. When he handed me the tickets, I handed him one back.

“Good luck,” I said.

“Thank you,” he said.

I left before he could say anymore. I didn’t want him to hear him say something like that if he won he’d give me half. I didn’t want any agreements. I wanted the gesture to stand on its own merit.

Later, at the bar in the Shanty Grille I gave out three more tickets, again with no discussions of quid pro quo allowed.

It felt good. For four bucks I shared a happy moment with four different people, one a complete stranger. It was cheaper than the price of a single beer.

Of course I kept one for myself. I figure all that good mojo I spread has to count for something better than a flesh-eating bacteria.
This Mega Millions video was found by my daughter Peanut, who happens to excel at finding interesting videos on You Tube. Today at lunch I told we should start sharing her finds on Tales of Two Cities.

"We'll call it Peanuts Picks."

She seemed to like that.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Same Party New Place

Another sure sign of spring arrived in my mailbox today, an invitation to the 30th Annual Columbia Foundation Spring Party. If there was one party that could truly be called HoCo’s party, this would be it. Over the years I have run into people at this party that I never see at any other time of the year, both business and personal.

It can almost be overwhelming. Paul Skalny even developed the three minute strategy to help insure that he connects with as many people as possible in less than three hours. If you are someone he sees regularly, he’ll try and limit his time with you to three minutes. Others get a bit more time.

By my second glass of wine maintaining that kind of discipline is soon forgotten.

It will be a little weird this year though. For the first time in thirty years the party will not be held in the Spear Center at the lakefront. The new venue is the Horowitz Center  at HCC which is a pretty nice facility too, though I’ll miss standing out on the terrace during the party.

Then again in recent years many were forced out on the terraces because it was got a little uncomfortable in the main room. The HVAC system in the former Rouse HQ is living on borrowed time after years of bare minimum maintenance.

In any event, the place is second to the people and I suspect most who have attended before will return again, no matter where it is held. Hopefully some new faces will show up as well. The date is Tuesday, May 15th from 5:45 to 830 PM and the cost is $75.00 per person. You can find more info here.

And speaking of parties… last night I attended Courtney Watson's spring fundraiser at the Shanty Grille. My HoCo loco blogging colleagues, TC and Marshmallow Man, have already given fairly good recaps of the evening. The only thing I’ll add was the notable absence of other loco politico’s. No other council members attended and Guy Guzzone was the only state house politico who showed up. I think he just wanted to keep on eye on what she was up to and who was supporting her.

He shouldn’t read too much into that...right now anyway.

The Intermodal Adjustment

Apparently the biggest rail choke point on the east coast is the Howard Street Tunnel in Baltimore. When a train fire temporarily closed the tunnel back in 2001, some northbound trains from Baltimore’s port had to be routed through Cleveland and then Albany before reaching Philadelphia and New York City. According to this story by Ashley Halsey III in The Washington Post, “the tunnel’s too short for the taller modern freight trains. Like the throat of an hourglass, it chokes commerce along the East Coast and to Midwest markets.”

“Now, 21st-century economics are about the unleash a new challenge that the tunnel cannot handle.”

The tunnel has been deemed too expensive to fix, some estimates are as high as $3 billion. In other words, Baltimore needs a work around and that’s what the proposed intermodal terminal is all about.

“The choice location, from CSX’s point of view, is 15 miles from dockside and would cost between $140 million and $165 million to build. People in that community, Elkridge, have been outspoken against it, preferring a new school and preserving residential development.”

“From there the three other prospective sites get farther out and more expensive. Another is 19 miles away and estimated to cost $200 million to $225 million. A site near the state prison in Jessup is 24 miles from the port and would cost between $300 million and $325 million. The third is 34 miles out in Beltsville, and the price tag is estimated at $175 million to $200 million. CSX and the state have agreed to split the cost, up to $150 million, but who would pony up the balance of any amount above that has not been decided.”

What is at stake here is the survival of one of the greatest economic generators in the region, the Port of Baltimore. Right now, Baltimore and Norfolk are the only two deep water ports on the east coast capable of handling the new supersized container ships that will begin passing through the Panama Canal in 2014 but not for long. Ports in Savannah, Charleston amd New York are planning upgrades to compete for this international trade. Baltimores key advantage is being closer inland to critical Midwest markets than all of them.
I realize no one wants an intermodal terminal in their backyard but it has to go somewhere, and the sooner the better. There has to be a way to make this work.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


The other night Mama Wordbones asked my opinion about the BOE candidates. She had recently received her sample ballot from the Board of Elections and wanted to fill it out in advance. She's pretty organized that way. I noticed that her sample ballot was different from mine which makes perfect sense since she is a registered Repub and I’m registered independent. I can't participate in the parties presidential primarys since I don’t belong to either team. I get that. I don’t necessarily agree with it but I get it.

The real difference in the ballots that surprised me was the HoCo Circuit Court Judges race which is supposedly non partisan. She gets to vote in that race but not me. I don’t get that. Apparently both Dems and Repubs can vote for the judges but not independents.

How is that okay?

In any event I suggested she support Judge Lenore Gelfman and Judge William Tucker, not the other guy. That’s what I would have done if somebody hadn't denied me the right to vote anyway.

This needs to be fixed.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Loco Blog Stuff

They had such a good time last month they just couldn’t wait to do it again. I’m talking about a Blogtail Party here.

I love that name. I know others hate it. They’ve told me so. But I kinda like it. It feels like ours. I still think that HoCo is unique in having these hyper loco blog tweet social mainstream media mash up thingys.

Anyway, Sarah, our HoCo loco public transportation advocate and Julia, of Oakland Mills are cosponsoring the next gathering of the HoCo loco blog tribe on Wednesday, April 11th at the Second Chance Saloon in Oakland Mills. The details are all here.

Second Chance is nice little tavern. Good food, loco characters at the bar, and a respectable selection of beers on tap.

A few years back a guy named Matt started a blog called HoCo Matt. It was a pretty good blog and Matts a decent writer but he actually still lived in DC. He wrote that he was thinking of moving to HoCo, only he didn’t. Matt folded the HoCo Matt tent and returned to being DC loco.

Now he’s back, for real this time apparently.  His new blog is appropriately named Lost In Columbia. With its circular roads and “I can see it but I can’t get to it” places, Columbia is truly an acquired taste. I trust Matt will acquire it over time. In any event, Matt posted that he will be attending Sarah and Julia's party, that is if he can find the place without getting lost...

Table Lamp Tale Three

My vacuum table lamp has finally gone to the dump. After my failed attempt to masquerade our old vacuum as a table lamp in order to qualify for curbside bulk pickup I tossed it in the back of the truck and drove out to Alpha Ridge.

It’s not like I had to make a special trip; I had to go out there anyway because this year spring arrived before HoCo curbside yard waste collection started. Over the past few weekends we've generated our first yard waste of the season as we cut and trimmed around our house. Back in January I had been told that my neighborhood had year round yard waste collection because we were also located in the kitchen waste disposal pilot area. Apparently that changed because, for two weeks in a row, nobody collected our clippings. We didn't get that memo.

No problem, I simply loaded the green lawn bags and a trash can filled with clippings into the back of the truck along with the vacuum table lamp and headed west.

After depositing the vacuum table lamp in the electronics dumpster, I drove out to yard waste disposal area, past the transfer station, where I met another HoCo loco who found themselves a bit ahead of the yard waste collection cycle too.
This is a nice part of our dump and I actually enjoyed my trip out there. It will probably be the only time I’ll need to go there this year though. Curbside yard waste collection starts next week and will continue through January 18, 2013.

Foose by Default?

Yesterday  the two finalists for HoCo Schools Superintendent were introduced to the HoCo public for the first time. Today we find out that one of them has already agreed to take a job with Baltimore County. According to this story by Liz Bowie in The Sun, S. Dallas Dance “has been chosen as the next superintendent in Baltimore County.”

HoCo better move fast if it likes the other candidate, Renee Foose. Renee is also being considered for a superintendents job in Orange County Florida.

UPDATE: According to this story by Sara Toth in Explore Howard, "Renee Foose will be Howard County's next school superintendent, Board of Education Chairwoman Sandra French said Tuesday morning."

"I am ecstatic and honored to be named Howard County's next superintendent," Foose said Tuesday morning. "I would have started at 8 a.m. today if they would have had me."

Nothing like hitting the ground running...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lisbon’s Last Stand

I had not paid too much attention to the debate over creating a single fire tax district in HoCo until tonight. I was aware that some folks in the rural west we’re not happy with this idea but I had not taken the time to better understand the issue. To get up to speed, this evening I watched the county council public hearing on the legislation (CB9-2012).

It seems as if the western opposition is primarily in Lisbon, which is way out west. You can almost see Mt Airy from there.

It’s gotten a little ugly. In his testimony before the council, HoCo Fire Chief William Goddard openly accused the Lisbon Volunteer Company of being more concerned with their own fundraising than the general welfare of HoCo. 
After listening to the testimony from both sides, I come out in support of this initiative. Hopefully the lads and ladies in Lisbon will come around on this too...eventually. 

It seems to make sense.

Porous Parking Lots

The new Starbucks on Dobbin Road has a green parking lot. Instead of the usual impervious blacktop, the parking pads are constructed with porous asphalt which allows water to seep through instead of running off. I originally encountered porous asphalt at the new Robinson Nature Center last fall but this is the first commercial application I’ve seen in HoCo.

Parking lots were the subject of a recent New York Times op-ed piece by MIT professor Eran Ben-Joseph in which he referred to them as “the antithesis of nature’s fields and forests, an ugly reminder of the costs of our automobile-oriented society.”

“Or is it? I believe that the modern surface parking lot is ripe for transformation. Few of us spend much time thinking about parking beyond availability and convenience. But parking lots are, in fact, much more than spots to temporarily store cars: they are public spaces that have major impacts on the design of our cities and suburbs, on the natural environment and on the rhythms of daily life. We need to redefine what we mean by “parking lot” to include something that not only allows a driver to park his car, but also offers a variety of other public uses, mitigates its effect on the environment and gives greater consideration to aesthetics and architectural context.”

In other words, parking lots, and their place in the built environment, are beginning to get a lot more attention from architects and planners.

Piling On

The twenty seven second video of an after school altercation at Long Reach High School in Columbia has become a lightning rod for caustic commentary on Columbia Patch. Predictably, a couple of school board candidates attempted to fan the flames of the viral video hysteria in order to further their own political ambitions. 

I’m not so sure that this is a great strategy. The comments are more about schoolyard taunts than they are a thoughtful discussion of school violence. Andrew Metcalf, the Patch reporter who wrote the story, has deleted at least five comments that he apparently felt went little too far. You can only imagine how bad those comments must have been when you consider that the following ones were deemed acceptable:
“You're not a concerned parent, you're psychotic.”

"I'm sure that there are still SOME good teachers left, but in general, a POX on the teachers and their greedy union bosses!

We live in one of the top counties in the nation and you are all acting like we're a bunch of misbehaved ignorant kids. You're the ignorant ones"


Fighting at Long Reach is as frequent as heroin at River Hill

"First of all, I'm not a drug addict and I do not go out every night. I am an AP student. But the fact is that when I do go out to have a good time I get all my illegal shit from people that go to Centennial, Mt. Hebron, and River Hill HS."

"Everyone is stupid. Long Reach is Stupid. Howard County is Stupid. Let's move on"

"I deserve to be world star hip hop. I woulda punched the foo in the mouth. See me in baseball"

"Most of you are pathetic. From an unbiased view, most of you seem like out of touch snobs"

Choose civility indeed…

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Doin’ the Downtown Dance

When you stop to consider that General Growth Properties, the Columbia Association, and the Howard Hughes Corporation all have projects underway in Columbia Town Center right now and that each of those projects is subject to a new sixteen step public review process that no one seems happy with, you can appreciate the need for someone to be in charge.

Mark Thompson is now that guy. Last month Ken Ulman hired Mark for the newly created position of Director of Downtown Development. In addition to guiding the review process, he also needs to create a housing trust fund and a new downtown partnership to bind the competing interests together under a common vision. In the old days The Rouse Company served this role simply because they owned everything. Today there are more players and competing interests involved. In addition to GGP, CA and HHC, you have Sears with eleven acres in the middle of the donut and now Dave Costello and what will likely be luxury condos at the lakefront.

Mark is well suited to the job.

In the news recap portion of the podcast we had a little fun with the viral video from Long Reach High School, the Explore Howard BOE endorsements, redistricting, and the early arrival of spring.

You can find the 62nd episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

In Memoriam…Dave Krausz

We became close friends in our junior year of high school at Wilde Lake. We lived within a quarter mile of each other in Bryant Woods and we were as thick as thieves. Dave was my dangerous friend. I did things with Dave that were dangerous and often illegal. We made our guardian angels work overtime. While I hope and pray that my teenager never does anything like we used to do, I have no regrets.

After high school our life paths began to diverge. I went out of state to college while Dave took a stab at HCC. It didn’t take for him. Dave was never very academic. We slowly grew apart.  Returning to Columbia after college I no longer even knew where Dave lived. Occasionally I’d run into him tending bar at Morgan’s at the Columbia Hilton but our former bond just wasn’t there. He was working and I was the customer. We were cordial.

More years passed and, for each of us, marriages and a couple of job changes. Then, around ten years ago, we found ourselves living within a quarter of mile of each other again, back in Columbia. Before long we were getting together for drinks every so often. We even took a trip to Jamaica together in 2002. It was on that trip that I finally realized how far different we’d become.  Our first day was like old times, a big party with lots of laughs but by day two it became obvious that, beyond drinking, we shared very little in common anymore. After we got back to Columbia our friendship waned, though we continued to stay in touch.

Dave fought a tough battle with alcoholism but in the end it was vascular dementia that did him in. He died on St. Patrick’s Day. Somehow I think he’d like that.

He was my friend and I’ll miss him.

Sonic Burger Coming to EC

Yesterday, "Deep Throat", one of my commercial real estate colleagues who specializes in restaurants, told me that Sonic Burger is coming to HoCo. The drive-in restaurant chain with car hops is reportedly building a new store on the site of the former 84 Lumber Store between Bethany Lane and Pine Orchard Lane…about a mile and a half up the pike from Checkers, another drive-in burger joint.

On one hand, I think the car hop drive-in idea is kind of retro fun. I can easily imagine car guys strutting off their rides on weekend summer nights like a scene from Mel's Drive-In in American Graffiti. On the other hand, another drive thru fast food restaurant on the Route 40 doesn’t seem to do much for improving the car centric image of this HoCo commercial corridor.

I just hope the burgers are good.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

So Long Laptop Alley

The Dobbin Road Starbucks closed Tuesday. Tomorrow it will reopen in a new building across the street. The staff will be the same and so will the coffee but it will be different. For one, I won’t call it Laptop Alley anymore.

The old Dobbin Starbucks space was very linear, about three times as long as it was wide. To get to the counter you passed through a narrow seating area that always seemed full of people on laptops. It was Columbias Laptopistan.

The new space is over a thousand square feet smaller, though it does have a drive thru window. Personally, as an acknowledged coffee shop person, I don’t see that as an improvement.

I’ll likely drop in tomorrow morning to check it out. I’m hoping that it retains at least some of the vibe of the old place. Familiar faces behind the counter will help.

And speaking of Starbucks...the Worst Busiest Starbucks in HoCo recently got a makeover. It wasn’t completed the last time I was over there but it looked like they were trying to accommodate more solo patrons by replacing tables with communal counters. I’d be interested in hearing what To2C readers think about it.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Thing for Spring

Although spring officially began yesterday at 1:14 AM EST, today was the first FULL day of spring.


I love spring. It is hands down my favorite season. Perhaps that’s because I’ve grown up in place where Mother Nature puts on quite a show this time of year. Right now, throughout the county, there are places that the concentration of pear, dogwood and cherry trees are so spectacular it makes me smile, even on an otherwise gray day like today.

This afternoon, as I was driving from Ellicott City to Columbia, I caught this song of spring on Radio Magaritaville on Sirius XM. It made me smile too. 

Plaza Residences Site Sold...Again

Eight years ago, a group called Renaissance Centro Columbia paid General Growth Properties $5,250,000 for a 1.1 acre parcel in Columbia Town Center. They intended to build a luxury condo building on the site where an office building and Bennigans restaurant once stood.

Five years later, in a “non-arms length” transaction, WCI Communties gained control of the site and soon announced plans to build a twenty three story high rise luxury condo project dubbed “The Plaza Residences at Columbia Town Center.”

A lawsuit seeking to block the project soon followed and by the time the final verdict was rendered, the real estate bubble burst and WCI Communities sought protection of the bankruptcy courts. The project was scrapped and the property was put up for sale.

Yesterday, it was sold again to a group identified as LPP Investors for $3,500,000.

Even though the sales price was almost two million less than it was eight years ago, it is still a very impressive number for a little over an acre of land.

Everybody Likes the Judges

If you think most voters don’t pay attention to the school board races, it is even worse for the Circuit Court judge’s race. Incumbent judges running for reelection in a non partisan race have a disproportionate advantage due to their extensive loco network from serving on the bench. That is certainly case for Lenore Gelfman and William Tucker. Yesterday I caught this loco politico all star ad for their reelection.
Apparently no one wants to run risk of getting on the wrong side of a judge.

They do have a challenger though. Columbia attorney Clarke Ahlers would like to replace at least one of them. According to this story by Andrea F. Siegel in The Sun Ahlers “said his effort to win a judgeship is not a reflection on Gelfman and Tucker. Rather, he said, he'd like to bring efficiencies he sees in other courts where he's had cases and fresh perspectives to the court.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Table Lamp Tale Two

As of 3:13 PM this afternoon, my misclassified bulk item was still at the curb in front of my house. Today was my scheduled pick up day. It isn't looking good.

Today is also our regular trash day so I also wondered if it might get swept up with the regular garbage as Christie Lassen suggested in the comments in this post. When I dropped by the house this afternoon, the trash can was empty but the vacuum table lamp was still there. If nothing else I learned that, on my trash route at least, a vacuum table lamp is not considered regular trash.

Another commenter, Janie, took issue with me expending tax dollars just to come pick up my old vacuum, suggesting that in doing so I was simply “a waste of life and tax dollars.”

Okay so that was a little humorless.

I mean come on now. The easiest thing for me to do would be to throw the vacuum table lamp in the back of my truck and deposit it in a dumpster at my office. Bing. Bang. Boom. Done.

But what fun is that?

I didn’t ask HoCo to offer residential curbside bulk pick up. I was perfectly capable of dealing with bulk items on my own before they came along. On the other hand, since they do offer it and since I therefore pay for it, I wanted to see how it worked…or didn’t.

Granted, I could have picked a better bulk item. Then again, a vacuum table lamp does add a touch of the absurd to this tale. An armoire just isn’t that funny.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Faux Table Lamp

Two weeks ago, when our small vacuum cleaner died, Mama Wordbones asked if I was planning a trip to the dump anytime soon. I reminded her that we now have curbside bulk pick up in HoCo so a trip out to Alpha Ridge wouldn’t be necessary.

“Okay, you’re in charge of figuring that out then,” she suggested.

No problem.

I went online to HoCo Bureau of Environmental Services site and found out that all I needed to do was to schedule a pick up date which I could do right there on the site.

Piece of cake, or so I thought.

The first thing I was asked was whether or not I had a “Howard County Government Online Quick Pass.”

I didn’t. It sounded like something I might need again some time so I went ahead and signed up.

The next hurdle proved problematic. I was told to select my item from a list of bulk items. My choices were armoires, book shelf, box spring, chair, coffee table, couch, desk, dresser, end table, fiberglass laundry tub, love seat, mattress, ottoman, sofa (non-sleep style), table lamp, wood chair, wood entertainment center, wood headboard, and wood table.”

Vacuum cleaner wasn’t a choice. Neither was “other.”

It wouldn’t allow me to type in vacuum cleaner or leave the space blank. I had to pick from their list.

I went in the garage to take another look at our newly decommissioned vacuum cleaner. Mama Wordbones had already removed a couple of the larger plastic pieces and put them in the recycle bin. It no longer looked like a vacuum.

I decided it was now a table lamp.

Tomorrow is my scheduled pick up day and I don’t know if my ersatz table lamp will survive the scrutiny of the Bureau.

I have a back up plan. If it doesn’t get picked up tomorrow I’ll just drive over to the dump on Saturday morning.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


As I walked out of Pasta Blitz on Friday night I spotted this red rascal in the parking lot. As I moved around the car, snapping pictures a young dad walked by carrying one of his progenies while another hung onto his side.

“I have these instead,” he quipped.

“You got a better deal,” I suggested.

Then again, this NSX wasn't really meant for car seats. This is the kind of car you own if you have another car for the tasks of daily life. On the other hand it is considered one of the most reliable exotic sports cars manufactured. It is not unusual for an owner to rack up 100,000 miles without serious mechanical issues.
I’m not sure what year this was, I didn't meet the owner. I did note that it had historic tags, indicating that it is least twenty years old.
The two door coupe was last sold in 2005. The thing is, in North America the car was marketed as the Acura NSX, not Honda. Everywhere else it was sold as the Honda NSX. This particular version seems to have it both ways. While the car sports large Honda decals, it has an Acura medallion on the hood.

And just in case you missed the fun last time around, Acura is bringing the NSX back in 2013.

A Real Dive

Before heading off to Curacao earlier this month, I stopped by Columbia Scuba to buy a new snorkeling mask. Tim Gallagher had suggested that I might want to upgrade my fifteen year old mask since I was going to a place where the snorkeling was “incredible.”

I’m glad I did. I’m also glad I went to Columbia Scuba to buy it. Not only did they have a wide selection of snorkeling gear, the people working there really know their stuff and are passionate about their sport. Juan, the salesperson who waited on me, gave me some great tips for getting the most of our time beneath the waves with the fishes

Columbia Scuba opened in Columbia in July of 1986. Originally located in Town Center across from Princeton Sports, they are now at the corner of Hermann Court and Dobbin Road next to ABC Rentals. Bruce Farmer, the proprietor, began the shop while working in the insurance business and devoted himself to the enterprise full time after retiring a few years back

In addition to dive gear, Bruce also arranges diving trips to places like Bonaire, Cozumel, and Honduras. He even has a trip planned to the St. Lawrence River in Canada this coming July. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Tis a grand day for the Irish! The weather is perfect for HoCo loco pub crawling and that’s just what I plan to do later this afternoon.

In honor of all the chemistry geeks out there, here is a St Patrick's Day tribute to the beverage of choice on March 17th.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spring Fundraising Season

Though it may seem like only yesterday that we were going through the last round of HoCo politico fundraisers we are already jumping into another one. Much like the swallows returning the mission at San Juan Capistrano, familiar faces have returned to the loco fundraising circuit with the crickets. A county exec who wants to be guv and a county councilperson who wants his job, have both announced early spring events in HoCo.

They are within two weeks of each other.

Courtney Watson is first out of the shoot with an event at the Shanty Grill on March 28th. She bills it as a “Spring Reception.” To be fair, the last fundraiser she held was back in late October. That was when she kinda sorta announced that she wanted to be the next exec. She has a lot of friends who think this is a good idea.

She has some other friends among the loco Dems who don’t. They would rather see Guy Guzzone become the next exec. Pam Guzzone also thinks this is a good idea.

Not that he is the most aggressive fundraiser to begin with, but even if Guy wanted to he couldn’t hold a fundraiser until after the session is over, on April 9th.

Advantage Courtney.

She could use it. Despite his seemingly laid back approach to raising money, Guy still has more in the bank.

And then there’s that…

Ken Ulman, on the other hand, is simply following a well thought out plan. He surprised some skeptics with his fundraising prowess which appears to follow a strategy of location and timing. His last loco event was back in early November in Town CenterHe held one in Federal Hill in early January.

 His spring event has been dubbed the “Mingle in Maple Lawn” and will be held on Tuesday, April 10th.

I’ll likely attend both which will run me a little over a hundred fifty bucks. It’s worth it. I actually have fun at these gatherings. I see people I know and have a few laughs. The evenings inevitably result in blog posts too.

There is no cost too high or burden so heavy I wouldn’t bear for the readers of To2C.

By the way, “To2C” was coined by my friend Jessie Newburn (JessieX). I like it. You’ll be seeing more of that here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Just Us Chickens

A couple of days ago my buddy Pat Weymouth sent me this notice. He told me that a friend of his, who lives in a relatively new development on Sheppards Lane in Clarksville, found it in their mailbox recently.

This relatively new development is adjacent to a relatively older 150 acre farm owned by Marshall Rae. Marshall Rae happens to have a mailing address in Milford, DE. As Pat pointed out to me, “ground zero for chickens..”

Today I saw this story by Jessica Anderson in The Sun about a “nauseating” smell complaint received by the HoCo Health Dept.   Residents reported  “a nauseating, pungent odor from the area of Maryland 108 and Sheppard Lane.”

That’s a country smell baby. The health department followed up “and found the source to be coming from fertilizer on a large farm."

"They received the same calls last year, she said. They expect rain to reduce the stench.”

I wonder how the HoCo loco politicos handle these calls. The temptation to ask what they expected when they bought a home next to farm must be difficult to resist. I don’t think I could do it.

And speaking of shepherds, Mary Catherine Cochran shared this video on her facebook page today. Good stuff.
Happy Ides of March, a good day for the Italians to celebrate with the Irish.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Book is a Book is a Book….

“Aren’t you packing your NooK” Mama Wordbones asked as we got ready for our recent trip. She had given me the Nook for Christmas.

I told her I had just started reading what some now refer to as a “tree” book. My sister Pat sent me “Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes for my birthday at the end of January. When it arrived I was already about midway through “The Big Short,” by Michael Lewis, my very first eBook. It's a tale about a few investors who figured out the absurdity of sub-prime mortgage underwriting and made a boatload betting against conventional wisdom.

I put Matterhorn on deck until around mid February. It’s a big book, 566 pages. By the time we were ready to leave for Curacao, I was only about a third of the way through.

And so I left my shiny new eReader back home while tree book made the trip. I can’t tell you what it is like to read an eBook on the beach, by the pool, and on the plane. I did enjoy a moment of smugness with old tree book when passengers were instructed to turn off their electronic devices. It was a guilty pleasure though. There but for the grace of literary timing I would have been one of them.

Then there’s the security thing. I thought nothing of leaving tree book on a beach lounge whilst I wandered off for a beer. I doubt I’d feel as cavalier about leaving my Nook lying about. I’d probably take it everywhere with me.

Just like this guy.
Anyway, I wrapped up Matterhorn on the flight home. It was the best book I’ve read about the Vietnam war since reading “A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam,” by Neil Sheehan. If you have an interest in that conflict I highly recommend both of these.

Ignoring the two tree books awaiting on my night stand, I instead find myself trolling the Nook bookstore for my next read. The bottom line is that reading a book on an eReader is just better, in most situations. Reading a book on my Nook is a treat for my eyes. The lighting is always perfect, just right for me and I never lose my place. I flew through The Big Short, flipping pages with my finger, never having them flap back.

I’ll still read tree books of course. A book is a book is a book after all. There are two of them sitting next to my bed that will beckon me back to the good old days.

It could be awhile though. I downloaded a free sample of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” by Stieg Larssen. It’s the first 76 pages of the book. I’m on page fifty something. I feel the hook gently sinking in.

Same Show, Different Day

Every other Friday, for over two years now, Dave Bittner, Paul Skalny and I have gathered for lunch followed by a podcast. This biweekly routine has developed its own little rhythm and rituals. Since I was on vacation on our normally scheduled podcast day last week, we simply moved it to Monday.

Monday has a much different vibe than Friday, particularly at The Mall where we tape the show. It’s less crowded and easier to park. Getting a decent table at the Nordstrom café is no problem on Monday. On Friday we have to arrive before noon in order to secure good lunch time real estate.

The day change didn’t seem to affect the show vibe though. Once we got underway it was just like another Friday, only with a little less background noise.

Our guest this week was Dr. Calvin Ball, the county council member representing District 2. Calvin is good guy with a decent sense of humor. This makes discussing hot button political topics like school board diversity easy. We had lively discussions about the school board, councilmanic redistricting, and the General Assembly taxing frenzy, without anyone getting all riled up.

I pointed out to Calvin that I had received spring fundraising invites from Courtney Watson and Ken Ulman but not from him. He said he had been too busy to think about that right now. Imagine that, a poltico too busy to think about fundraising!

We also talked briefly about some recent crime news; the mall robberies, the University of Maryland student from HoCo who threatened to go on a shooting rampage and the Howard High School assistant principal accused of stealing credit card information from the staff and teachers at the school.

You can listen to the latest episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

In This Months Business Monthly

This month’s column started with a post I wrote last month about my new iPad. Rereading that post now, I realize that this was only the tip of the iceberg of my technological travails. By the time it was over I had a whole columns worth of material.

Don’t misunderstand this rant; I think Apple makes great products. Apple devices are elegant. You just don’t say that about many consumer products.

And they are becoming embedded in the business world, across all disciplines, at a breakneck pace. In the third quarter of 2011, Apple sold more iPads than Macs for the first time; 4.19 million in iPads, $3.9 million Macs.

That’s a lot of hardware.

My only complaint is that they don’t play well with the other devices. Then again, maybe their aloof behavior is all part of the business strategy. When they tell us in their ads that their devices are “playful,” it simply means when playing with themselves.
So I give up.  My Droid X phone is nearing the end of its lifecycle. I will replace it with an iPhone.

You can read this months column here.

One Last Thing:

I just discovered that my BizMo colleague George Berkheimer wrote a nice little rundown of some of the loco blogs. Check it out here.

HoCo BOE Wannabees 2

I watched the second half of the League of Women Voters Board of Education candidates forum last night. The candidates in the second group were Olga Butler, Ann DeLacy, Pat Gordon, Allen Dyer, Leslie Kornreich, Ellen Flynn Giles, and Jackie Scott.

Before even watching this group, I had already decided that Ellen Flynn Giles was someone I’d like to see reelected. Over the past year I have witnessed her in action and had the opportunity to talk with her one on one. Watching her performance in the candidates’ forum only reinforced my belief that she is well suited to serve on the school board.

As for the others, no one else in this group stood out for me, except Olga Butler. I really liked what I heard from her but the problem was I didn’t hear enough. I wish she had jumped in on more of the questions. Ms Butler is someone who definitely warrants a closer look.

What was it about her that impressed me?

Olga Butler struck me as someone who is capable of working collaboratively with an open mind. This is a quality that I believe makes for a good board member. It is important to bring new ideas to the table but in order to turn good ideas into action you need to build consensus from a majority of your fellow board members who may a have a good idea or two of their own worth considering.

Allen Dyer used every opportunity he had to attack his fellow incumbents and former board member Pat Gordon. He attempted to distinguish himself from the “current board majority” saying “we need a new majority.”
Presumably he means a new majority led by him.

Monday, March 12, 2012

HoCo BOE Wannabees One

I’m starting to get caught up. I've now watched the first half of the League of Women Voters BOE candidates forum. The first group included Bob Ballinger, Jim Adams, Corey Andrews, David Gertler, Owen Hanratty, Mary Jo Neil and Janet Siddiqui.

Before I go any further, let me first take a moment to acknowledge that it takes a certain amount of guts to put yourself out there in the public arena, especially in a crowded field. All of the candidates are subjecting themselves to scrutiny and judgement of their fellow citizens. Democracy works best when elections offers multiple choices. A wag of the wordbones tail goes out to all fourteen of them for being part of an important process.

I didn’t like the format. The moderator would ask a question and then wait for one of the candidates to respond. It seemed as if each question was followed by an awkward silence as the candidates exchanged sideways glances to see who was going to bite. I know that it is difficult to create a format that allows equality for all, but I think this one needs a little fine tuning.

Janet Siddiqui was the only incumbent in this first group and she, along with her fellow board members, were the subject of a verbal assault from Bob Ballinger. A couple of the others were critical of the boards perceived dysfunction, but Bob opened up with both barrels. He also called Brian Meshkin “my friend.”

He's going for the unhappy vote.


Corey Andrews wants to see regular board meetings moved around to the different high schools to make the board meetings more accessible. The board meetings are already available 24/7 online because they are held in a facility that is set up specifically for this purpose. Great idea.

Recently I had a conversation with another member of the school board. They pointed out the irony of the argument that the board is a just a rubber stamp of the Superintendent yet when the board has disagreements the same people call them dysfunctional. Indeed.

The one candidate that really stood out in the pack for me was David Gertler. I found him to be enthusiastic and passionate about learning. He’s a teacher too, an adjunct professor of math at Towson.
I’m writing a check to his campaign tonight. He’s now on my short list..

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Rent a Duck

The first time I vacationed in the Caribbean I stayed at anall inclusive resort just outside Montego Bay in Jamaica. We were advised by our travel agent not to venture beyond the resort gates unless we were part of an organized tour. The State Department website advises that “Crime, including violent crime, is a serious problem in Jamaica, particularly in Kingston and Montego Bay.”

I haven’t been back. When I travel to another country, I want to experience the country beyond resort walls on my own without being hustled at every turn. There are plenty of places in the Caribbean where you can do that. Curacao is one of them.

For venturing beyond our hotel in Curacao we decided to rent a Duck.

Ducks United calls itself “a nostalgic holiday car rental company.” On Curacao the company rents out a small fleet of Citroen 2CVs. The Dutch nicknamed them "Ducks." 

We got a green one.
It turned out to be an excellent way to connect with the locos and fellow tourists too. The car was a people magnet.
Kids loved it too.


It is often said that your worst days at work are the day before you leave for vacation and the day you come back. That’s why we came back yesterday. We needed today to gird for the reentry to reality.

Arriving home in the late afternoon, we commenced with the usual stuff like unpacking, sorting through a weeks worth of mail, and discovering that the kitchen faucet is no longer working. Last night we ate sushi. I later fell asleep watching Game Change. That wasn't a statement on what I thought of the film. I had been up since 5:00 AM. A day of schlepping through airports, a glass of wine at dinner and a second back at home did me in. 

Today was more productive. We even fixed the faucet thanks to Mama Wordbones tenacity and somewhat amazing plumbing skills.

I also have to carve out time to get caught up on the latest HoCo news. Since I was some 1,500 miles south on our normal Friday podcast day last week, we went ahead and pushed it to Monday afternoon.

That’s like tomorrow Monday.

And we have a guest, Dr. Calvin Ball. We last had the good doctor as a guest almost exactly two years ago.

We originally thought it be interesting to hear what he has to say about the new park in his District, Bridge Columbia and how it felt to be the only council member who didn’t have an alternative plan for councilmanic redistricting.

Now that I’m home I found out that he was also on the losing side of the vote for the plan that the council has passed on to the exec. This is high loco politico drama for HoCo. We have a council appointed redistricting commission recommendation that nobody seemed to like except the Dem politico operatives. We have people in Ellicott City who don’t want to be a part of a Columbia district and people in Columbia who don’t want to be part of an Ellicott City district. As if that wasn’t enough fun, the plan that the council passed has pissed off the people in Elkridge, not this is all that unusual lately.

The stuff going on in Annapolis is pretty scary too. The budget that the state Senate is about to approve has some heavy baggage. According to this story by Aaron C. Davis and Michael Alison Chandler in The Washington Post, it “is an even more fundamental change to the way government works in Maryland.”

“The state would assume authority to seize county tax revenue and to hand it directly to school boards to ensure that counties maintain what areamong the nation’s highest levels of per-pupil spending.”

I’ve got some reading to do.