Monday, April 30, 2007

Take A Hike

Yesterday was a great day to be outside so we took a hike up the Trolley Line #9 trail. It always surprises me how few people in Howard County are aware of this great little hike. It runs for about a mile and a half from Ellicott City to Emondson Avenue in Catonsville. It is a railroad grade so it is never too steep, perhaps less than 6%. Almost anyone can handle this trek even an old dog like me.

It is a neat little trail too. The trail hugs a portion of Cooper Branch and for the most part it is heavily wooded, at least until you begin to reach the Catonsville end. Before that though, after about 1.1 miles you can turn off on Oella Avenue and walk a block to the Country Corner Grocery store and get yourself an ice cream. This store is a throwback to another time.

And you can enjoy that ice cream because the walk back to Ellicott City is all downhill. The next time I walk this trail I'll take my daughters Razor scooter with me. I think one could coast the whole way.

You can find the trail head just behind the Trolley Stop restaurant which is just over the Patapsco River bridge out of downtown Ellicott City.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Panhandling Columbia Style

Panhandling Columbia Style

Yesterday, I found myself with about an hour to spare in between appointments in Town Center. Since it was so nice outside, I grabbed a bottle of water from Starbucks at the mall and sat down at one of the outside tables facing the plaza in front of LL Bean.

Before long my attention was drawn to a young man (late twenties) sitting on one of the yellow metal benches closest to the Starbucks patio. He was sporting a tight knit blue do rag and smoking a cigarette. His son, approximately 4 or 5 years old, was playing on the rocks around the fountain (kids love those rocks). The father was panhandling, somewhat covertly.

I watched as he selectively targeted his marks. His eyes were always darting back and forth between the mid day crowds in the plaza and the mall entry doors behind him. Young women were always asked and the response he recieved was mixed. I saw one young woman give him money and I saw another give him a short lecture about not supporting peoples drug habits.

He also targeted young men who were by themselves. Again his success was rate was about 50% but I didn't see him get any lectures. The men who didn't give him money just passed him a digusted look and kept walking.

He never bothered moms with strollers and he stayed clear of couples and people over 55.

Even more interesting was the fact that while he was doing this, a mall security guard was sitting in the mall security SUV at the foot of the plaza. The guard never caught on to what was happening.

After awhile the young man collected his son and left, somewhat richer for his afternoon in the LL Bean plaza in Columbia's vibrant downtown.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hayduke For Columbia Council

Tomorrow Columbia will hold elections for representatives to the Columbia Council and village boards in several villages. In Oakland Mills, fellow blogger Ian Kennedy (aka Hayduke) is running against the incumbent, Barbara Russell. While I admire anyone who gives their time in service to their community, I believe it is time for Ms. Russell to go. She has polarized the council and the community with her views and she longer seems capable of listening to those who do not see things exactly as she does. I believe she is incapable of building consensus and moving the Columbia Association forward.

Ian represents a fresh perspective on the challenges facing both Oakland Mills and Columbia in general. While I may not always agree with him, I believe him to be a reasoned and rational thinker and that is something that is sorely needed on the Council.

As a former resident of Oakland Mills (Thunder Hill neighborhood), I encourage all current residents who read this blog to get out and vote for Ian tomorrow.

He is a pretty fair hooper too!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Rethinking Wilde Lake Village Green

At least that is what it was originally called back in the early days. Now it is called Wilde Lake Village Center. I have been thinking about Wilde Lake quit a bit lately. Wilde Lake Village Center and I go way back.

Wilde Lake is only the latest village center to lose a grocery store and once again there is outcry throughout Columbia of the need to "save the village centers" by replacing the grocery store and making the village center whole again.

I'm not so sure that this is a good idea.

The Giant grocery store in Wilde Lake was the smallest grocery store in Columbia. It was arguably the worst grocery store in Columbia too. It wasn't always so of course. I remember when it was the first grocery store in Columbia and the village center was a vibrant marketplace with a butcher shop, a cheese shop and even a bookstore.

I also was a patron of the Wilde Lake Giant in the more recent years. The store had an uncanny knack for always being out of what I was looking for. Once they were even out of chicken. What kind of grocery store runs out of chicken?

Now it is gone but interestingly enough the village center still attracts me as a shopper. David's Natural Market is where I regularly purchase my daughters vitamins. I make a special trip to visit Produce Galore for their excellent produce and some of the best sandwiches in town. The only place I buy my running shoes and running apparel is Feet First. I have patronized these stores much more than I ever did the Giant and I still do even though I now live in Ellicott City. The absence of the grocery store has had no impact on my Wilde Lake shopping.

The thing is, demographic patterns have shifted such that a village centers retail role should probably be rethought, especially the older ones like Wilde Lake. Peoples tastes have changed. The modern grocery store is at least four times as large as the Wilde Lake Giant was and they are designed to serve a much larger population base than that of a Columbia village.

Soon, a Wegmans will open in Columbia (not in a village center) and the village center/grocery store model will be challenged yet again. It is time to rethink the village center retail model.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

29th Annual

Next Sunday, April 15th, a party will be held for the 29th time in Town Center Columbia. It is a unique event in that it is basically over by noon on a Sunday. This is due to the fact that the party really gets going around 9:30 AM as the last of the runners straggle in. Clyde's American 10K race has been held in mid April every year for the past 29 years. More than just a race, it is a free community feed. Clyde's gives everyone who shows up plenty of food and beer. By 1:00 PM little evidence remains of the 1200 runners and at least twice as many spectators who filled the Town Center plaza only hours earlier.

For runners it is a tough 6.2 mile course. The reward they receive for punishing themselves on a cold spring morning is Columbia in all of its spring glory. It is a very rich reward indeed.

Wordbones is running this year. I expect to finish in about an hour. I'll wear my black wordbones ballcap if anyone would like to say hello at the party afterward.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

"Beggin On The Freeway Bout As Hard As It Gets"

With apologies to fellow HoCo blogger Hayduke, I borrowed the title for this post from the song Cold Water by Tom Waits. This particular song line popped into my head as I tooled down Columbia's central artery, Route 175, yesterday.

It was a gorgeous spring day and I was just thinking to myself how beautiful Columbia is in the spring with the preponderance of flowering trees when I came upon two young people holding a sign begging for money. They were actually standing at the ramp from I-95 where two other young people were killed last year.

It occurred to me that I have been seeing more highway begging in Howard County over the last few years. Is it just my imagination or have others noticed this as well?

How do you feel about this?

Do you give them money?

I admit that I did not give them money. I am always torn by this though. I believe that anyone who feels compelled to beg for money on a street corner must be in dire straits. A simple contribution of a buck or two might actually help them. On the other hand, I know that some folks who do this are simply bums. I sometimes wonder what would happen if I actually offered work to someone holding a "will work for food" sign.