Thursday, February 28, 2013

The End of an Era

Watermont Pharmacy is closing. After serving the community for fifty two years, the family owned business has fallen victim to a changing health care marketplace.

I feel at least partially to blame. When we first moved to this Ellicott City neighborhood in 2006, I began getting my prescriptions filled at Watermont. By then the pharmacy was being run by Jodi (Dagold) Lare, the daughter of the original pharmacist, Donald Dagold. The pharmacy provided the kind of personal service you’d expect from local owners, including home delivery.

Over time however, as my health plan changed and I had to shoulder more of my own medication costs, I switched to an online pharmacy reducing my costs by a third. Undoubtedly this was true with other of their former customers as well.

The store reminded me of pharmacies I knew growing up, when they typically included a soda fountain. Though the soda jerks are now long gone, the counter and stools remained as reminders of another era.

The name Watermont was coined by combining the names of the crossroads where the store was located, Waterloo and Montgomery

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Gathering of Writers

Last night, as I circulated around the HoCo Blogs party, it occurred to me that this would best be described as a writer’s party. The term “blog” is often viewed with somewhat less cachet than “writer,” as if blogging were some lower form of written expression.

I don’t believe that it is.  After talking with at least eight different blog authors I realized that the common thread is a joy of writing. A few even readily admitted that they would write their blog even if nobody read it. That’s what writers do.

That’s not say that they don’t welcome readers. That’s what separates writing a blog from keeping a journal. People write blogs because they feel the urge to share their thoughts and observations with the world. The blog is the conduit and when something written in a blog compels a reader to comment, it makes the experience all the more satisfying.
 Comments are like currency for those who write blogs, even though it is understood that only a small percentage of readers will post comments. According to this article by Paul Grabowicz from the UC Berkley Graduate School of Journalism, “a very small percentage of readers usually will comment on any given news story or blog posting, and most comments will be made by a relative handful of frequent posters who may not be representative of general readership.”

“This has been referred to as the 90-9-1 rule, which means 90 percent of people won't post any comments, 9 percent will post infrequently, and 1 percent will account for the vast majority of the postings.”

That one percent was well represented last night too. I spoke with someone who comments regularly on HoCo Rising and another who comments regularly here. Both individuals were well versed in local affairs and genuinely invested in the community. One I knew quite well, the other I met for the first time.

These gatherings of writers are unique to HoCo. I know of no other community where local blog authors come together regularly to socialize. It’s just one more thing I love about this place.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ready. Fire! Aim.

Count me among those who believe that Governor O’Malley’s proposed gun control legislation will do little to nothing to curb gun violence in the state. Short of an outright ban on gun ownership, nothing can stop a determined person from procuring a firearm and wreaking havoc with it. I don't believe you can legislate against madness.

On the other hand what the gun bill may accomplish is to drive a major employer to leave the state, putting 300 Marylanders out of work. According to this story by Aaron C. Davis in The Washington Post, Berretta USA, which had been planning to expand its plant in Prince George’s County with a new line is now “weighing whether the rifle line, and perhaps the company itself, should stay in a place increasingly hostile toward its products.”

“Concern that the company will leave, and take its 300 jobs with it, is palpable among state lawmakers who worry it could be collateral damage from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed gun-control bill.”

It's not an idle threat. The last time Maryland introduced new gun laws the company moved some operations from Maryland to Virginia.

The best quote in the story was that made by Ugo Gussalli Beretta, the patriarch of the five hundred year old company during a recent visit to the plant, ‘There always seems to be a problem with Maryland.”


Monday, February 25, 2013

A Trail Less Traveled

The little taste of spring yesterday drove many locos outside for the first time in weeks. When we arrived at the trail head of the Grist Mill Trail on Ilchester Road around one o’clock, cars were parked in every available spot. After wedging our car into a space of questionable legality, we decided to explore the HoCo side of the river instead of taking the paved trail that lies in Baltimore County.

Actually, the opposite side is paved too, in places at least. Remnants of a former road provide an easy trek for the first leg. On the other hand this is not a path for cyclists.
Approaching Bloede Dam, things get a bit dicey as the road disappears and hikers must navigate a narrow path along the rivers edge. The recent wet weather made this portion of the trail a little muddy and a bit trickier to traverse.
 Bloede Dam, like other man-made dams on the Patapsco River is slated for removal though no date has been set for the work to begin. The cost is estimated to exceed $4 million and will include some attempt to preserve part of the dam on the Baltimore County side of the river.

On the other side of the dam it is smooth sailing on obstacle free  paved roadbed all the way down to the swinging bridge.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Postal Blues

Stopping by the Ellicott City Post Office last week I spotted this notice on one of two available parcel bins. The hand written commentary, presumably by disgruntled patrons, gave me a chuckle. How long is temporary?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Task Force on Hippness

Montgomery County is establishing a task force to figure out how to make the county more hip. According to this article by Bill Turque in The Washington Post, “County Executive Isiah Leggett wants to make Montgomery more competitive with the District and Arlington County for the coveted millennial demographic, or “Generation Y” — roughly defined as those between ages 18 and 34.”

“The county’s concern is reflected in the data. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 36 percent of Arlington’s population is between ages 20 and 34. Montgomery’s proportion is 19 percent, trailing the District (31 percent), Prince George’s County (23 percent) and Fairfax County (20 percent).”

It’s an even bigger problem here in HoCo where only 17% of the population falls in that age group. Even more disconcerting is that this is a drop from the 2000 census when it was 19%.

“We are aging faster than we probably anticipated,” Leggett said. The traditional, suburban Montgomery will not disappear, he said, but for the tax base to grow — and to help support a burgeoning aging-in-place population — a new county has to take root alongside the old.”

Friday, February 22, 2013

Upping Her Game

Tomorrow night loco celebrity status will be measured by the amount of tips given to six loco luminaries. Tom Coale, Mickey Gomez, Paul Skalny, Vicki Goodman, Dick Story and Pam Klahr will serve as celebrity bartenders for the HoCo library’s black tie fundraiser, Sparkles and Spurs. They will use charm and wit to see who among them can cajole the most tips to benefit the library.

Last year, when it was my chance to be measured against other loco standouts behind the bar, Mickey Gomez won the night. That got her invited back for another stint this year.

She is a very formidable competitor. Last night, on her blog “Life & How to Live It”, she wrote an open letter to one of my favorite humorists, Dave Barry. In the letter she tells a tale of a canine caper that reduced her autographed copy of his book “Insane City” to shreds.

“On Thursday I brought the book home. I took it out of my bag – worried about it getting crushed or torn there – and placed it in the middle of the dining room table. The large dining room table. My husband and I went to dinner and returned less than ninety minutes later to find the book laying open on the floor. The cover had been removed and – how shall I put this? – artfully redesigned by Shiloh, Mischief Dog. He even ate part of it.”

It’s a very funny read.

The best part though is that instead of appealing to the author for another signed copy of his book, she asks for a donation to the library.

“If you happen upon this message and are so inclined, I’d like to ask you to consider helping to promote our local libraries. They are top-notch, but – as with all libraries – there are programs that need support in order to continue. I’ll be raising money this weekend as a Celebrity Bartender during Evening in the Stacks, their annual fundraiser that supports two exceptional programs: A+ Partners in Education and Project Literacy.”

Nicely done.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

HoCo EDA Chief Becomes AA Exec

After three rounds of balloting tonight, Laura Neuman, the CEO of the HoCo Economic Development Authority was elected to fill out the remainder of John Leopolds term as Anne Arundel county exec.

The victory stunned many AA politico observers. Shortly after the vote Allison Bourg, a reporter for the Capital Gazette, tweeted “I think it's fair to say no one saw this coming.”

The top three candidates were thought to be Delegate Steve Shuh, former first lady Kendel Ehrlich and interim exec, John Hammond. Ehrlich didn't even make it to the final four.

Neuman won by sweeping the three Dem votes on the council while three of the four Repubs split their votes between Shuh, Hammond and Annapolis Alderman David Cordle. The lone Repub voting for Laura was council chair Jerry Walker.

Divide and's an old cliche but this evening it served Laura well...

General Assembly Goes to Pot

A bill has been introduced in the House Delegates that would legalize marijuana in the Free State.  According to this story by Holly Nunn in The Gazette, Delegate Curt Anderson “introduced a bill that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Maryland, mirroring measures passed by referendum last year in Colorado and Washington.”

“The bill would allow Marylanders 21 and older to possess one ounce or less of marijuana, and to grow three or fewer plants in their homes. An excise tax of $50 per ounce would be collected by the state under the proposal.”

That being said, it is doubtful that the bill will get very far this year. I just don’t the General Assembly being ready to inhale...not just yet anyway.

Now What?

When I first read this story about the HoCo Housing Commission backing off their previously announced plans for the Beechcrest Mobile Home Park in North Laurel, I thought it was in response to community opposition. After conducting my own inspection of the property today I now believe that it is much more than that.

My first reaction while driving through the community was “What were they thinking?”

This is a tough piece of ground with a couple of immediately obvious development obstacles, aside from relocating the current residents.
To begin with, access appears to be problematic. The community shares a narrow access road with an Econo Lodge hotel. I doubt that it meets current standards, much less what would be required if the property were redeveloped with more residential units. As I exited the property this afternoon another SUV entering pulled to the side to let me pass.  In order to fix this the county would likely need to acquire the property next door.

Assuming you could fix the access issue, the next hurdle is topography. The existing mobile homes occupy about half of the five and a half acre site that slopes up about ten feet from Route 1, levels off slightly for about two acres and then drops about 20 feet. In the development business we'd refer to this as challenging.

The commissions site plan shows a "bio-retention" storm water management area that looks to eliminate about half of the existing trees. I'm not sure how that works.

Then there are the existing mobile homes. Many of them look barely inhabitable and I'd be surprised if any of the units meet current minimum standards for county owned housing. Now they are the county housing authority’s responsibility so even if the property isn't redeveloped, the commission will likely have to do something to improve conditions for the current residents.

What a mess.

Vanishing Postcards

A friend in Cleveland recently asked me to help out her fifth grader with a school project. The students were tasked with soliciting postcards from around the country. The postcards were to be mailed to the classroom and include a few pertinent local facts. It wasn't all that long ago that my own fifth grader received a similar assignment and I appreciated the response she received from friends and family so I readily agreed to help out.

It never occurred to me that I’d have difficulty finding a loco postcard. My resultant, albeit unscientific, research would seem to indicate that the business of picture postcards is going the way of Saturday mail delivery. There was a time that local picture postcards were easily found in any drug store. The once ubiquitous five foot carousel racks were commonly found near the registers.

They are not so easily found these days. On a recent visit to Walgreens I had to ask a clerk for help.

“Do you carry postcards?”

“I think we do.”

She led me to an aisle but we didn't immediately see them.

“Ah, here there are,” she said, somewhat surprised by her own discovery, "I thought we had them."

On the end cap of the aisle, on a portion of the top shelf, next to refrigerator magnets, sat a small carousel with a meager offering of cards.

Judging from this product placement I suspect it won’t long until they vanish from the shelves completely.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Coffee Mugged

I no longer feel guilty about using disposable coffee cups. According to this story by Danielle Braff in Men’s Health, “Twenty percent of office mugs carry fecal bacteria, and 90 percent are covered in other germs…”

The problem of course is that most office mugs are regularly cleaned using a common sponge or scrub brush instead of a dishwasher. These low tech cleaning devices are veritable petri dishes of nasty stuff.

"Bring your mug home daily to be washed in the dishwasher, and make sure it goes through the dry cycle, which uses the hottest temperatures and zaps every last germ. At the very least, wash it with hot water, soap, and a paper towel. If it sits unwashed on your desk after being used, germs will start reproducing immediately—and bacterial colonies grow even when the cup contains nothing more than a coffee ring."


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Good Parker, Bad Parker

Last night I tried out the new Streetline parking system in Ellicott City for the first time. At 5:32 PM I pulled into a space in front of the Phoenix bar and dutifully noted the number of my space. When I then entered the number in the parking kiosk I received the message above.

I must say I was pleasantly surprised by this. I had been under the impression that the new system would not allow unused time to stay on the meter after the car left the spot. It appears that this was a mistaken assumption.

That was the good news.

Around ten this morning, as I pulled into a space in front of the Little French Market, a freezing rain was falling. I thought this would be a perfect time to test out the Parker app on my smart phone allowing me to feed the meter in the comfort of my warm and dry car. I entered my space number along with my credit card but when it came time to finalize the transaction the app said I was paying for space 402 in Miami, Florida.

I wish. If I had been in Miami I wouldn't exactly need the warmth of my car. It appears that this little feature is not yet activated for Ellicott City.

I headed out in the rain to a nearby kiosk where I learned something else about the new system.

It doesn't take American Express.

I see a potential commercial here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Ruminations on Presidents Day 2013

Presidents Day is one of those half holidays, sort of like Martin Luther King Day. Banks, schools and government offices are closed but in the private sector, commemoration of the holiday is not universal. From my own experience, I’d guess that only about a third of our HoCo loco non retail businesses gave their employees the day off.

That would include my own company.

For those of us who were trying to conduct business today it can be challenging. In my own personal experience, more often than not the person I really need to speak to will inevitably be one of those who have the day off.

That’s not to say that nothing gets done. There is even a certain bravado expressed among those who had to work. When a meeting is held on day like today there is certain to be someone who points out that “at least somebody is working today,” as if being stuck at work today was some sort of badge of honor.

Then there is the whole homogenization of what once was celebrated only on the 22nd, no matter what day of the week it fell on. Congress gave that up in 1971 after deciding that a wandering holiday was inconvenient. It makes you wonder how long they’ll tolerate the 4th of July.

I did find a couple of Presidents Day items in The Washington Post this morning. First there was this column by John Kelly about a book entitled “The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia” It includes multiple choice quiz for serious history buffs. Until today I never knew that Grover Cleveland was called the Buffalo Hangman by some critics.

Then there is this feature by Chris Cillizza in which readers are asked to weigh in on the most underated and most overrated presidents. This is a political minefield and picks are bound to reflect personal political affiliations. One reader, identified as “blackwell575” tried to achieve balance.

"Over-rated by the right – Ronald Reagan 
Over-rated by the left – LBJ 
Under-rated by the right – FDR 
Under-rated by the left – Warren G. Harding"

Happy Presidents Day!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Brit in Clarksville

I can’t recall exactly how I first stumbled across Claire McGill's blog, ukdesperatehousewifeusa, but I’m pretty sure it wasn't the result of using a search term like “undressed housewife.” According to Claire, those words or some similar iteration, are the most frequent keywords used to find her blog. She shares this insight with us, not with anger or revulsion, but with a certain sense of amusement. That same sense is reflected in her writings, which she describes as “a little bit adventure, little bit stream of consciousness, little bit Bill Bryson.”

In her blog she writes about her observations of American culture from the prospective of a thirty something mother of a five year old, transplanted from Britain to Clarksville about two years ago when her husband accepted a job here. Instead of pining for home she’s embraced the move as an adventure.

George Bernard Shaw once wrote that Britain and America are two countries separated by a common language. Claire points out that it is more than just language that sets us apart. Restrooms, fire hydrants, and football are but of a few of the topics we covered in the podcast.

We had such a good time with her that we are already talking about having her back later in the year. I should also note that Claire is co-sponsoring the HoCo blogs party with Marshmallow Man on February 26th at Union Jacks pub in Columbia. The event is free and open to the public but registration in advance is encouraged. You can find out more here.

In news stories we talked about the Inner Arbor Plan, the apprehension of the suspected Mall flasher, Lisbon firefighters, HoCo’s bond rating, the accreditation of the Tai Sophia Institute and the move to push back the school start time for HoCo high schools.

You can find the 84th episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Neuman Covets Exec Job

Laura Neuman, the CEO of the HoCo Economic Development Authority, has tossed her hat into the ring for the Anne Arundel County Exec seat.  John Hammond is currently serving as acting exec since John Leopold resigned after being found guilty of misconduct in office. John has also applied for the non acting job.

I guess she determined that after serving under Ken Ulman she could just as easily do his job.

She has some formidiable competion for the job though. According to this story by Robert Lang from the Associated Press sixteen people have applied for the job including “former Anne Arundel County Executive John Gary, former Maryland First Lady Kendel Ehrlich, current Anne Arundel County State Delegate Steve Schuh and former Delegate Phil Bissett.”

Laura was appointed CEO of the EDA by Ken in 2011 after Dick Story retired. Curiously, the AP story made no mention of her current job instead describing Laura as a “former interim director of a county homeland security incubator…”

She does have one important qualification for the job in that she actually lives in Anne Arundel County, not the county she's paid to promote

Friday, February 15, 2013


It doesn't seem like all that long ago that having a Blockbuster store nearby was seen as a plus. Then came Netflix in 1997, Redbox in 2002 and Video on Demand shortly thereafter and the corner Blockbuster store began to lose relevance.
Seeing this banner draped across the Blockbuster storefront on Dobbin Road reminded me just how quickly a hot retail trend can cool off. The first Blockbuster opened in 1985 and by 2004 the company had over 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees. Six years later the company sought protection of the bankruptcy court. Today, the company now owned by Dish Networks, has approximately 1,000 remaining stores. I believe this is the last one in HoCo.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Simpson Bowles 2.0

Tonight at the Baltimore Speaker Series, Erskine Bowles boiled the country’s fiscal crisis down to five issues: healthcare, defense, social security, the tax code and compounding interest. The former chief of staff to Bill Clinton also expressed his disappointment with President Obama for not embracing the recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that he co-chaired with former Repub Senator Alan Simpson.

Erksine was entertaining and a bit scary too. As he sees it, if Congress and the president fail to proactively take bold measures to fix the nation’s deficit on their own, a crisis of epic proportions will force them to, sooner rather than later. He said that when they first started working on the commission he believed this was something we needed to do for our grandchildren. He now believes the problem is much more urgent. “We need to do this, not for our grandchildren or even our children. We need to do this for us.”

To point out the absurdity of our current situation, he noted that we are bound by treaty to protect Taiwan from an attack by China but we’d have to borrow money from China in order to do so.

Once again the speaker series did not disappoint.

The good news is that he and Alan have not given up. They have launched a grassroots efforts “The Can Kicks Back,” as well as an online petition “Fix the Debt” to encourage citizens to get involved. Erskine also told the audience that next Tuesday they will announce a joint effort with Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin and their Debt Reduction Task Force to apply a full court press on Congress. He called it Simpson Bowles 2.0.

Hike the Gorge

This spring the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) will allow hiking and jogging on designated trails at the Rocky Gorge and Tridelphia reservoirs for the first time. The 733 acre Rock Gorge and the 800 acre Tridelphia Reservoir help define HoCo’s southern border with Montgomery and Prince Georges counties. According to this story by Katherine Shaver in The Washington Post, the recreational season “also will be open 30 days longer, from March 15 to Nov. 30.”

You’ll have to pay for the privilege though. Hikers and joggers will need to purchase a Watershed Use Permit from the WSSC.  

 “Seasonal permits will increase to $70 from $60, and single-day permits will increase to $6 from $5. A new picnic fee will vary by the group’s size but will be $6 for up to five people. People 65 and over can still use the areas for free. The utility issued about 5,600 recreational permits last year.”

You can purchase permits online here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Victory Lap

Ed Reed and Jacoby Jones returned to New Orleans, the site of their gridiron triumph a little over a week ago, to celebrate Mardi Gras. Yesterday morning, as Mama Wordbones and I watched the Zulu parade, we were pleasantly surprised to see our hometown Super Bowl champs and those familiar purple jerseys.

Overall it appears that Baltimore fans and their team made a good impression here in the Big Easy. Waiters in restaurants and natives alike went out of their way to compliment Baltimore. I suppose it didn’t hurt that Ravens purple is a popular color here too, it being the primary color of Mardi Gras and LSU.

It was nice to see Ed Reed sporting an Orioles baseball cap too. Maybe some of that Raven mojo will pass on the other birds of Baltimore this spring.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Local Weatherman

As a self professed weather geek I am happy to share the news that a HoCo loco has been named the new director of the National Weather Service. According to this story by Jason Samenow in The Washington Post, the service “appointed 24-year NWS veteran Dr. Louis Uccellini as its next director.”

“In addition to his federal government experience, Uccellini, a resident of Columbia, Md., is one of the co-authors (with Paul Kocin) of the book “Northeast Snowstorms”, a definitive account of the region’s most impactful snow events. With a possible historic blizzard slated for New England Friday, the timing of his appointment is certainly fitting.”

In hearing this news, Ian Kennedy, another loco weather geek wrote on Facebook that he'd like to meet his Columbia neighbor and  "maybe we can just hang out and talk about snow and cold fronts and stuff."

Count me in for that. I'll even buy a round...or two.

Congratulations Dr. Uccellini.

Friday, February 08, 2013

What Will Calvin Do?

While many of us HoCo politico watchers have been focusing on Courtney Watson (D) and Allan Kittleman (R) as the presumptive candidates for county executive in 2014, another name has begun to be bantered around. On more than a couple of occasions over the past two months Calvin Ball’s name has also been raised as a possible contender for the seat.

He’d make a formidable foe for Courtney, not to mention Allan. In his latest campaign finance filing Calvin reports having almost $200,000.00 in the bank. Though Courtney has almost twice that amount, it is about the same amount Allan has raised. Notably it is also far more money than his other council colleagues have in their campaign kitties and much more than he’d need for a council seat reelection campaign.

What makes his campaign war chest even more impressive is that, unlike Courtney and Allan, Calvin hasn't been playing the unannounced candidate game. He’s quietly raised this money without giving any solid indication of what his future plans may be.

Over lunch recently he was predictably coy. “I’m considering my options,” he told me. One of those options would presumably be to forgo elective office altogether, preferring instead to pursue tenure at Morgan State where he currently teaches in the Community College Leadership Doctoral Program. 

I just don’t see that option as a serious consideration. Calvin is an extremely well liked council member  He often comes across as the measured voice of reason when the council wades in deep water, smart and cool as a cucumber. I think the bigger challenge for him is deciding which political tack to take. His name has even been mentioned as a possible candidate for lieutenant governor.

On the other hand, becoming county exec would provide a nice springboard for even greater things.

If Calvin does decide to run for exec, you can pretty much count on a Dem primary. I don’t see Courtney backing down from anyone. That is a scenario that Allan would undoubtedly welcome.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Merrill Lynch Facelift

I've always considered the Merrill Lynch office building in downtown Columbia to be a bad building in a great location. With its close proximity to The Mall and commanding views of downtown Columbia and the lakefront, this should be the best office building in town.

It isn't.  From the day it first opened in 1982 the building has been plagued with an undersized heating and air conditioning system that, on any given day, left half the building tenants cold and the other half hot.

It also had a split lobby that often left visitors confused. Crossing the pedestrian footbridge from the lakefront, you entered the building on the ground level. Parking in the top level of the garage you entered on the second floor. Parking on the lower level of the garage, you entered a side door on the bridge level.

The upper floor elevator lobbies were a mishmash of finishes as various owners over the years tried to put lipstick on the pig.
The newest owner, First Potomac Realty Trust, is finally doing justice to the buildings great location. The most visible improvement is the opening up of the first two floors creating an impressive two story lobby. They are also upgrading the buildings mechanical systems, elevator cabs, upper floor lobbies and restrooms.
The work is scheduled to be completed in April.

Crate & Barrel Coming to Hanover

The home furnishings retailer, Crate & Barrel has leased 78,000 square feet of warehouse space in the Parkway Industrial Park in Hanover, just across the HoCo border.

Could a HoCo store be far behind?

The location of this new link in their supply chain puts Crate & Barrel right in the middle of its existing Maryland stores in Towson, Annapolis and Bethesda. A store in Columbia would seem to make strategic sense.

Crate & Barrel is owned by Otto Group, and also operates the CB2 and Land of Nod retail brands. The closest CB2 store is in Georgetown. Land of Nod, a children’s furnishing concept, doesn't have any stores on the east coast.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Those February Blues

Despite being the month of Valentines, it’s hard to find love for February. It’s the last full month of winter and by now, for me at least, the cold weather has really worn out its welcome. Everything outdoors looks uninviting.
It seems appropriate then that on Tuesday we learned that the Washington, DC metro area is the worst area in the country for traffic congestion. According to this story by Ashley Halsey III in The Washington Post, DC is the “most congested metropolitan area in the United States, a place where the average driver burns 67 hours and 32 gallons of gas each year sitting in traffic.”

Great. Then again, it’s probably not quite that bad in HoCo. Our Super Bowl champion city to the north is ranked 15th in the same study.

On yet an even more positive note, signs of spring are beginning to appear. Pitchers and catchers report next Tuesday.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

In This Months Business Monthly

January was a rough month for me, both personally and in business. As such I gave little thought to the monthly deadline for my column. When Mark Smith dropped me a note telling me he needed the column even sooner than usual because he was headed out of town I snapped.

I quit.

Truthfully, I had been contemplating giving up the column for the last six months or so. Each month it seemed it was getting harder and harder to pull off. More often than not I was not happy with the end result. I was on the edge so when Mark, in his role of editor in chief chastised me, I snapped.

I quit.”

On the surface it seemed such an easy solution. Just below the surface it felt so very wrong. Quitting in a huff is no way to exit a twenty plus year relationship. Ironically, the act of quitting provided me the inspiration to stay on. I banged out another column.

I didn't quit.

You can find this month’s column here.

Stifling Dissent

Alan Klein showed his true colors today when he circulated this survey to his supposed supporters. It may be the best example ever of HoCo loco political hubris.

Thank you Alan, for demonstrating so clearly how you really feel about dissenting opinions from your own "so-called" supporters.  I could not have done better if I tried.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Happy Purple People

The Baltimore Sun posted this snapshot on Facebook of last nights celebration on Fed Hill. It appears that no cars were harmed  in the making of this video

Stand Up and Shout

When you get right down to it, the number of people who are actively involved in HoCo loco politics is relatively small in proportion to the population. Most villages in Columbia struggle to reach a simple quorum in their village elections. Even when there is a hotly contested issue such as growth tier legislation or intermodal terminals, it’s usually the same core of a hundred or so people who turn out to testify at public hearings, a pretty small number from a total population of almost three hundred thousand.

This could easily be interpreted as evidence that, for the most part, people are relatively happy with the way things are. This is one of the best places to live in the country after all.

The problem with this laissez-faire attitude is that the vocal minority can often dominate and frame debates, often twisting the facts. Fortunately in HoCo, when the issue is important enough, some folks in the bleachers stop sitting on their hands and let the players on the front lines know they are with them.

This is one of those times when those cheers need to be heard. The Columbia Association has stepped out their customary comfort zone to put forward a bold vision for Columbia’s central park, Symphony Woods. Instead of taking baby steps towards the future, they've laid out a vision that matches the dynamism that will soon take form all around the edges of the long dormant woods. The Inner Arbor plan embraces those changes, instead of turning its back on them.

Naturally, this dynamism is upsetting to some older residents who've grown accustomed to the status quo. They prefer the baby step approach because, in truth, they’d rather just leave things as they are. Opponents of CA’s plan argue that it’s too much too soon and too expensive.

I happen to think they are wrong as do several other people who care deeply about Columbia and Howard County but we need more people to let their voices be heard. It doesn't take much to show your support  either. Just watch this little one minute clip and if you like what you see, go to the website and add your name to the list and raise a cheer for the future of Columbia

That would be awesome.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Koffee Kups

It’s no secret that I am a coffee lover. Some might consider it more of an addiction than a love affair. In any event, over the years I've gone through a progression of coffee grinders and coffee machines. More recently I’d relegated those machines to storage opting instead for a daily visit to a coffee shop or two. The reason for this shift was that I seldom finished a whole pot of coffee at home. Mama Wordbones does not enjoy caffeine so she would never share the pot I brewed which resulted in half the pot going down the drain.

The only problem with the coffee shop strategy was that I couldn't get my java jolt before leaving the house. On days with inclement weather it was particularly troublesome.

No longer. For Christmas Mama Wordbones gave me a K-cup coffee maker. According to this report by Rhoda Miel in Plastics News, as of last April single cup coffee makers “have gone from 4 percent of the U.S. market in 2010 to 12 percent.”

“While automatic-drip coffee makers like those sold under the Mr. Coffee brand name are still the most popular in the U.S., holding 39 percent of the market today, their share is slowly shrinking, while the one-cup format is on the way up.

“It’s just growing,” said Robert Vu, a Houston-based creator of Solofill LLC. “Everybody has to have a one-cup [system] these days,” he said.”

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Battle of the Bulge

When Howard County General Hospital became part of the Johns Hopkins Health System fifteen years ago, included the deal was the establishment of a foundation “to improve health and wellness in Howard County.” The Horizon Foundation now doles out approximately $4 million annually to a variety of initiatives to advance this goal. Sitting at the top of this foundation is Nikki Highsmith Vernick.

Nikki joined the Horizon Foundation about a year ago and soon began focusing her efforts on childhood obesity. According to Nikki, over twenty thousand HoCo children are dangerously overweight. To draw attention to the foundations efforts to promote healthy snacking, they recently staged an event at Burleigh Middle School dumping 9.6 tons of white sand in the schools parking lot to dramatize “the amount of sugar the school’s students would consume if each drank one 12-ounce soda a day for a year.”

The same day, HoCo Exec Ken Ulman announced that he was banning the sale of sugary drinks on county property, a move that immediately bought criticism from State Senator Allan Kittleman saying that “is not a function of government to determine what you should and should not drink.”

In our podcast yesterday Nikki offered a defense of the execs ban pointing out that since we are paying for county employees healthcare we have a responsibility to promote healthy snacking in their workplace.

In our news recap we discussed Ken’s state of the county address, Symphony Woods Inner Arbor plan, and the legislation to allow HoCo public library employees to form a union.

We also briefly discussed the new parking system in Ellicott City which debuts next week. Paul told how he got a ticket last week on Main Street, despite assurances from the client he was visiting that parking was still free. Paul’s offense was that he parked twelve inches over the marked lines. That little indiscretion cost him thirty five bucks, meters or not.

You can listen to the 83rd episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Communication Breakdown

Paul Skalny made an observation at lunch today that older folks (my people) tend to use letters to the editor to publicly share their thoughts and opinions while younger folks (his people) use social media such as Facebook and blogs.

Of course there are no absolutes. There are plenty of older voices on Facebook and the blogs…including yours truly.

That being said, I think in general terms he’s right, particularly if you consider this letter to editor in Explore Howard, the online successor the Columbia Flier. Cy Paumier, a former planner for The Rouse Company in the late 60’s and early 70’s tells the community that the plan he worked on for Symphony Woods “was approved by the Columbia Association and the Howard County Planning Board in July of 2012.”

CA has now scrapped his plan in favor of a plan devised by Michael McCall, another planner who was influenced by Jim Rouse.

Over in the social media world, Tom Coale, who serves on the Columbia Association Board of Directors representing the Village of Dorsey’s Search, shared his own view of what was actually approved, writing on his blog this morning that “the Paumier Plan, as conceived in the public, is not what was accepted by the Planning Board.  The revised Plan would require meandering paths and better connectivity with Merriweather Post pavilion.  The Planning Board also expressed a lack of excitement or draw by the Paumier Plan, which is a conceptual defect that cannot be cured by redirected paths.”

I wonder which published view is reaching the larger audience.