Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Checking Out Other Peoples Houses

Basically that’s what a home tour is, you get to go and check out other peoples houses without appearing to be too nosy. This Sunday you can do that at the Second Annual Columbia Home Tour. In one of those rare but wonderful moments of total Columbia cohesion, the ten villages of Columbia collectively put this together which insures that you get a pretty good representation of Columbia's varied housing. Last year the tour included homes in Wilde Lake, Harper's Choice, Long Reach and Oakland Mills. This year the tour visits homes in Owen Brown, Kings Contrivance, Hickory Ridge, Town Center and Dorsey's Search.

Of course not just any home gets to be on the home tour. You need to be selected. Joan Lancos, the Special Events Coordinator for the Village of Hickory Ridge, is the home tour czar. She has the final say in who’s home is in and which homeowners are left with a list of things to work on.

Just kidding about the list.

Anyway, Joan tells me its her “job to find the homes. I get suggestions from people, we advertise for volunteers, and I literally cruise the streets looking for promising homes.”

“We try to find a variety of homes styles: single family, townhouses, maybe a "WOW" home. This year's wow is the historic home in Kings. Last year we had a 6000 square foot home in Hobbits Glen! I also try to find interesting or unique locations. Both years we have had lake homes. Last year a home had a really interesting art collection. Most homes have had some kind of renovation to the traditional tract style home so popular in Columbia. Finding the homes and then convincing the homeowner to allow 400 people through on a Sunday afternoon is lots of fun!

I bet. I don’t think Mama Wordbones would be very receptive to the notion of four hundred strangers walzing through our house on a Sunday afternoon. Then again we'd probably be one of those who get the list.

The tour is this Sunday from 11 AM to 5 PM. Tickets are twenty bucks and available at all Columbia village center offices. It’s for a good cause too. Proceeds will benefit “One Month’s Rent Initiative,” a non-profit that helps Howard County residents who are threatened with losing their housing.”

Hot Car

I followed this 1955 Chevy into the parking lot of Dunkin Dunkins on Montgomery Road this morning. It belongs to Mark Brashears who lives in Ellicott City.

The 55 Chevy is an icon in American automobile history. It was featured in the movies Two Lane Blacktop and American Graffiti.

This was the first year of a new body style for Chevrolet and the marketing people dubbed it Motoramic.

A TV commercial for the car boasted that the car had a “new high level ventilation system for greater comfort.”

That wasn’t air conditioning. It was more like a system for moving hot air through the car. On a day like today, hot car certainly has a double meaning. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

Because it isn't just about picnics and pools....

Almost the Worst

Maryland ranks 49th out of 50 states for good drivers. According to a recently released study by GMAC, only Hawaii and the District of Columbia scored worse. The ranking was determined by responses to a quiz about driving rules. Thirty one percent of Marylanders who took the quiz failed.

Not so fast says Michael Dresser in The Sun. pointing out that the “sample size was relatively small, and wild swings in state performance from year to year suggest the survey is not the gold standard in research.”

Still I suspect that there is more truth than fiction here. In a study released last year by Allstate ranking 193 US cities for “Best Drivers”, Baltimore was second to last at 192. The worst was Washington, D.C.

“For the past six years, Allstate actuaries have conducted an in-depth analysis of company claim data to determine the likelihood drivers in America's 200 largest cities will experience a vehicle collision compared to the national average.”

In Baltimore you are 79.4% more likely to have an auto accident than the national average. In DC, the likelihood rises to 95.5%.

That puts us smack dab in the middle of the worst

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sloop Betty

As noted here earlier, Maryland has a new distillery on the eastern shore. Blackwater Distilling is the states “first licensed beverage alcohol distillery in nearly 30 years.”

Their “flagship product” is a wheat vodka called Sloop Betty. Last night I gave it test drink with a dry martini. It was just as smooth as my usual martini vodka, Grey Goose.

That’s about as far as I go in describing vodka. True vodkaphiles are better sources for more detailed reviews but since Sloop Betty is so new (it debuted just three months ago) not much has been written about it...yet.

Holly Morris - Blackwater Distilling / Sloop Betty - Made in the DMV Week: MyFoxDC.com

Perhaps the best thing I can add is “I’ll have another.”

Saturday, May 28, 2011

HoCo Rules High School Lax

Two HoCo high schools came out on top in the state lacrosse championships this past week. On Tuesday night the Marriotts Ridge Mustangs girls lacrosse squad dominated the Knights from Century High School in Sykesville 8 to 4 while the Glenelg Gladiators survived a nail biter against the Huskies from Patterson Mill High School in Belair.

Carol Gralia reported on the girls win in this story in the Columbia Flier noting that, “The play Tuesday wasn’t always pretty for two teams that combined for nearly 600 goals this season, but that’s a mark of the intensity that each team brought to UMBC.”

“Wow!” said Marriotts Ridge coach Natalie Gaieski, summing up her team’s newly minted state title. It is the first girls team championship at Marriotts Ridge, and comes in the school’s fifth year as a varsity program."


Additional coverage of the Mustangs victory can be found here and here.

The Glenelg boys had a big night Tuesday too. The Gladiators took the boys 2A/1A state lacrosse title in a closely fought contest with Patterson Mill.

According to this story by Brent Kennedy, also in The Columbia Flier, the game was “often sloppy, with both teams struggling with turnovers and going through lengthy stretches without a goal. The Gladiators committed 19 turnovers and were held to their lowest offensive output of the season.”

“But Glenelg (18-1) came up with enough defense and timely offense to hold off a Patterson Mill (12-7) team playing in its first state title game.”

This is the Gladiators third state championship in five years.

More on the Gladiators triumph can be found here and here.

Congratulations to both schools, and their parents, teachers and fans.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Out of Office, for Some Anyway

Since we were already away last weekend we didn't plan on going anywhere this holiday weekend. That means that today is just like any other workday for me, only slower. 

One of the projects I am currently working on is finding an existing building with at least 50,000 square feet of freezer/cooler space north of Baltimore.

That’s kind of hard to find.

As part of our search effort, this morning I prepared an "in search of" email blast to the Baltimore commercial brokerage community.

Within minutes of sending it off I was inundated with “Out of Office” auto replies.

“I will be out of the office through May 30th and will not be checking email. In the event you require immediate assistance, please contact so and so at such and such number.
Thank you.”

I suddenly felt like I was only one working today.

Retail & Real Estate

Two years ago this month I wrote a post proclaiming that Potbelly Sandwich Works was going to take over the space vacated by Atlanta Bread Company on McGaw Road.

I was wrong.

I later learned that, although they closed the store, the parent company of Atlanta Bread remained under lease obligation. In the retail business this is also known as controlling the space. Retail is as much about real estate as it is about anything. This remaining lease term gave Atlanta Bread a seat at the table in deciding who the new tenant  will be and under what terms. Sometimes retailers simply warehouse a good location until they decide to try out a different concept. Other times a retailer may control a vacant store simply to keep a competitor out.

Of course as that lease obligation begins to burn off so does the retailers bargaining power.

In any event, it looks like a deal may now have been struck with Jason's Deli. Long time Tales of Two Cities netizen, Lotsabogeys, sent me an email this week saying “Jason's Deli is going in across the street from Wegmans where the Atlanta Bread Company was, but you might already know that.”

In fact I didn’t know that. Thanks for sharing it.

This could be welcome news amongst the gluten-free crowd in HoCo.

The Bounty of the Bay

I spent the better part of yesterday on the eastern shore. After taking care of some business at our project in Centreville I headed over to Stevensville for an afternoon on the bay with Captain Tilghman Hemsley.
Fishing and crabbing with Tilghman is a unique experience. His sixty year old boat, the Breezin Thru, is real bay boat having been built in Rock Hall by AJ Stevens back in a time when boat building on the eastern shore was a thriving industry.

We began our trip by crabbing with a trot line in Price Creek. Prior to yesterday, I had thought that May was a little early for bay crabs but apparently the crabs didn't know that. In short order, after tossing back the females and the little guys under five inches, we had collected about fifty of the crustaceans. Kathy, Tilghmans mate, tossed them into a pot and started steaming them as we headed out to deep water in search of rockfish.

After setting our lines we sat down and enjoyed some of the freshest steamed crabs I’ve ever had.

While we were eating Tilghman showed us a bottle of vodka called Sloop Betty. Sloop Betty is produced by Blackwater Distilling, the first new distiller in Maryland in thirty five years. In consideration of the fact that I had to drive home when we returned to shore I took a pass on sampling it yesterday. I intend to pick up a bottle if I can find it in HoCo and try it out in the comfort of my own home.

After we snagged a couple of rock, Kathy once more retired to the galley and began preparing a second meal. We feasted on fresh rock, crab cakes, corn and cookies as we watched the sun go down on the bay.

It was a perfect way to kick off the official start of summer.

UPDATE: I found Sloop Betty at The Wine Bin in Ellicott City...thirty four bucks. She's already in the freezer...will review later...but not likely tonight.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wegmans Saga Part Thirteen

The good news is that Wegmans has received a building permit for their new store in Columbia. The bad news is that Philip Rousseau is appealing it. He is also appealing the approval of a minor “red line” change to the Site Development Plan that allows the grocer to adjust the height and location of a clock tower.

On the other hand, Wegmans does not appear to be overly concerned with these appeals. Work continues apace at the site on McGaw Road and Snowden River Parkway. When I drove by the site this morning to take a picture, it didn’t appear that they are slowing down at all. The $10 million project is slated for completion around this time next year.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Rapture Rupture

Last week I was suggesting everyone run up their credit cards before Rapture Saturday. With the world ending on the 21st why not? Thankfully I wasn't foolish enough to take my own advice.

Apparently someone else in HoCo had a little fun with the Harold Camping prediction too. Tales of Two Cities netizen Andrew Liberman spotted this highway message board Friday night at the corner of Harpers Farm Road and Route 108 in Columbia.

There will be another opportunity for rapture revelry this fall. The self proclaimed prophet now claims he made a semantic error and that the real date for the end of the world is now set for October 21st.

A big ol' wag of the wordbones tail to Andrew for sharing this.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Yelp Yipes!

If you’ve ever patronized a business based upon a Yelp recommendation you may have been duped. A whole new industry has sprouted to provide businesses with favorable faux reviews on the service.

According to this column by David Segal in The New York Times, there now exists “a small, semi-underground group of entrepreneurs who, for a fee, will post a rave about your company. Others will post a negative review about your rivals.”

This of course isn’t good news for the increasingly popular Yelp and they are fighting back with some novel tools. In addition to filtering efforts they also provide a link to reviews that have been filtered out to let the consumer be the final judge of its veracity.

Yelp Vice President Vince Sollitto told the journalist that they do this in acknowledgement that their filtering "isn’t perfect. Some legitimate content might get filtered and some illegitimate content might sneak through. We’re working hard at it. It’s a tough one.”

It’s doubtful any writers will get rich writing fake reviews though. In one instance writers were recruited to write fake reviews for a company called Southland Dental “for which they would earn 25 cents.

That and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee.

No Shame in Walking

Over the years I have participated in a fair number of 5K and 10K races yet even though I once ran a half marathon, I have never considered myself a serious runner. I often quip that I run because I like to eat and drink.

When Mama Wordbones told me that Washington College was having a 5K run and walk as part of their commencement weekend activities I initially figured I’d do the run. Mama Wordbones said she was planning to do the walk.

On Saturday morning when we arrived at Wilmer Park along the Chester River, I noticed that there were less than 25 fellow participants and the majority of them were running. There were only two walkers besides Mama Wordbones.

I don’t have an aversion to walking. I have actually been doing quite a bit walking this year but walking in the back of a pack of runners was not something I really wanted to do. My fragile male ego suggested that walking would make me feel like somewhat of a lesser man. On the other hand, if I ran with the pack, Mama Wordbones would likely end up walking alone. That just didn’t feel right. I sucked it up and decided to walk with my girl.

As it turns out, the other two walkers were a good deal younger than us and it wasn’t long until the two us were alone at the back of the pack with the Chestertown police cruiser rolling slowly behind us. It was a gorgeous spring morning though and I quickly settled into enjoying our stroll through the eastern shore countryside.

Of course we were the last ones to finish but as we crossed the line we were greeted to cheers from our fellow participants. As it turns out, there was a prize for the first male finisher in the walk and since I was the only male walker…winner!

Trains & Home Values

One of the central points being put forth by the opponents of a Hanover intermodal site is that it will dramatically reduce the value of the approximately 350 homes within a quarter mile of the site. A few realtors who live in Hanover have given this notion their professional endorsement as well.

This is a specious claim at best. Future values of real estate are affected by a wide variety of variables and are therefore difficult to predict. Now, Phoebe Woods Orsini, another realtor who lives in the Elkridge/Hanover, took it upon herself to contact an outside expert in the field and concluded that “we would be looking at under 10 percent in value decrease,” if the intermodal terminal were located there.

Under ten percent is a far cry from dramatic.

In this story in Elkridge Patch, Phoebe tells how she arrived at her value prediction.

I have had the honor to be in contact with Robert (Roby) Simons, Ph.D. He is one of the nation's leading experts on environmental property damages, brownfield redevelopment and real estate economics, and he does research on effects all over the world.”

Needless to say, some of her neighbors have taken issue with her findings. To her credit, Phoebe has answered her critics and continued to defend her conclusion.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Return to Campus

We spent the weekend in Chestertown at Washington College. We traveled to the eastern shore to bear witness to and celebrate CG’s commencement. It is truly astonishing how quickly these four years have blown by.

For the people of Chestertown, it’s just something that has been happening every spring since 1783.

Today’s commencement speaker was sports columnist Frank Deford. Frank proffered that the graduates should allow themselves to be surprised in life. He lamented that in a world where we know who’s calling before we pick up a phone, instantly know if someone had their eyes closed when a picture a is taken, and because of facebook, blind dates aren’t really blind anymore, we’re continuing to pave over opportunities for surprise.

It may have fallen on deaf ears, at least amongst the guests of honor. Frank also said that a University of Chicago study found that 97% of college graduates can’t recall who spoke at their commencement, let alone what they said.

I remember mine but mostly because, as seniors, we were very disappointed. The class before us had Bob Hope. We had Archbishop James Aloysius Hickey. I have no idea what his speech was about.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sparkling Pineapple Wine

Howard County is one of the last counties in Maryland to pass legistlation enabling the establishment of wineries and our guest yesterday, was instrumental in making that happen. Kevin Atticks is the executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association and adjunct professor at Loyola University. He has also written books and articles about wine so he had a wealth of knowledge about viniculture to share like sparkling pineapple wine that is now being produced in Hawaii. Kevin told us that the only Maryland county that doesn’t have winery zoning in place is Caroline County but they will join the fold this fall.

With the annual Wine in the Woods celebration kicking off today and HoCo’s newly enacted wineries bill we thought it would be fun to do a show about wine . Councilperson Mary Kay Sigaty also joined us. Mary Kay was instrumental in crafting the amendments that addressesd some of the biggest objections to the bill.

This is the 19th Wine in the Woods. From seven wineries in those early years it has grown to 29 participating wineries this weekend, unfortunately, Black Ankle won’t be one of them, not this year anyway.

We aslo gave shout outs to my HoCo blogging bretern, Tom Coale and Trevor Green. The Columbia Council may never be the same now that HoCo Rising will be posting regular reports of the boards public meetings. To say that the new councilperson has upset the old guard apple cart would be a gross understatement.

We gave Trevor homage for sharing the story about "Maryland Influencers " from Campaigns and Elections. Ken Ulman did not make this list.

For those of you heading off to Symphony Woods today or tomorrow, Kevin has a couple of suggestions on things you might want to check out, such as first time participant, Slack Winery from Southern Maryland.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Evolution of the Blogtail

The HoCo Blogtail parties are a real HoCo loco media affair. Though originally conceived as a socializing opportunity for loco bloggers and blog readers, the monthly event has now become a meet up for all HoCo loco media types. Last night at the party sponsored by the new well & Wise blog at Union Jacks, I spent time with Steve Early from The Sun, David Greisman from Patch, Stan Rappaport, Sara Toth and Lindsey McPherson from Explore Howard and Dave Bittner from HoCoMoJo. Though we often run into each other at HoCo events and functions we rarely get the chance to socialize.
A big wag of the wordbones tail goes out to Jessie Newburn for nurturing this event over the past six years and allowing it to evolve. It was a very fun evening.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Enough Already

I realize that you are probably just as sick of hearing people kvetch about rain as you are of the rain itself. Still, you have to admit that this has gotten to be a bit ridiculous.

Then again, it could be worse.

So instead of bemoaning the wet season I’ll just share this one minute of rain from my porch this afternoon. Maybe it will provide some comfort later, the in the hot, hazy and humid days of midsummer. For now I’ll bemoan something else, like attribution, or the lack thereof.

In the Letters section in Explore Howard today, Diane Juray from Long Reach quoted this blog almost verbatim, only instead of attributing the quote she identified the source as a “reported blogger.”

Okay, which of you reported me?

Perhaps she missed the Creative Commons license at the bottom of the screen. No matter, even though she was obviously unimpressed with Tales of Two Cities, it was what she wrote after my quote that made question her grasp of reality.

I found one reported blogger's comments especially disturbing: that "He (Dyer) wants everything to be open, and sometimes open meetings are the least honest discussions boards can have. Closed-door meetings are where things get done, because there's no posturing for the public." There is something seriously wrong if our elected representatives are not open and forthright before their constituents. What kind of example is the school board setting for our students?

Oh Diane, what is it like in your world?

Seriously, when was the last time you spoke with an elected official?

Personally, I have fairly regular public and private conversations with some of our local electeds. Public conversations tend to be more measured than forthright. Private conversations tend to be more candid.

Notice I make the distinction between electeds and politicos. Politicos not in office can be candid and forthright in public until they actually get in office.

In the meantime Diane, how about setting an example for "our students" when writing Letters to the Editor by attributing the things you quote. It will serve them well in college.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Other Easton

I finally got around to listening to the John DeWolf interview on HoCoMoJo. John is the new executive that the Howard Hughes Corporation has hired to steer the Columbia Town Center redevelopment project. He replaces Greg Hamm who left in December.

In the interview, John mentions that while working for The Limited he spent half of his time working on Easton Town Center. Easton Town Center was conceived in 1990 by Les Wexner the chairman and CEO of The Limited. Today it contains over 3 million square feet of office space (Columbia Town Center has approximately 2.7 million square feet) and 1.7 million square feet of retail space (Columbia Town Center has approximately 1.4 million square feet).

In 2000 it won the Innovative Design of a New Project Award from the International Council of Shopping Centers.

According to this description in Wikipedia, the project also has some pretty novel regulations.

"Easton has an age-restricted curfew of 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. People under the age of 16 are not permitted in the interior areas of the center without an adult present. People over 16 are permitted if they present valid government-issued photo identification. The reason for the curfew that is most commonly cited by the Easton security staff is the change from a "family-oriented" environment during the day with more emphasis on the shopping to a more "adult-oriented" venue during the night with more of an emphasis on the upscale restaurants, bars, and nightclubs."

I’m not so sure you could get away with that in HoCo.

Easton was one of the original “lifestyle centers” and set the standard for the industry. It would be interesting to know what, if anything, he thinks they may have done differently today.

Angry Bird

We sort of have our own home version of Angry Birds going on. For two straight days now this guy has been trying to bust through the screen to our family room.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bluestream Breaks Ground

Arnold Sagner has owned 85 acres next to the US Route 1 Flea Market for over twenty years. Over the ensuing years he considered a variety of development scenarios for this property including warehouses and offices. It wasn't until the Corridor Activity Center (CAC) zoning was adopted by HoCo in 2004 however, that he began getting really serious about moving dirt. This month, with his partner Murn Development, he finally broke ground on what is now being marketed as The Overlook at Bluestream.

According to the website of the project architect, Henneman + Associates, the first phase will consist of “254 unit luxury rental apartment community planned with a combination of four–4 story elevator buildings, three-3 story single breezeway walk-up “Manor Homes” and twenty eight-3 story two garage townhomes. Additionally, the project contains as 8000 square foot clubhouse/leasing center facility with a lavish outdoor pool, a 1,000 square foot maintenance building and six-5 stall detached garage buildings.”

Later phases will include additional residential units and about a half million square feet of office and retail space.

No Rain Relief

A month ago I wrote a post expressing gratitude for the rain that was washing away the pollen that was plaguing allergy sufferers. Last night I found out that the rain is actually the problem. In fact, this could turn out to be the worst allergy season on record because of it.

According to this story by Kim Carollo at ABC News, “Record rainfalls in some parts of the country have caused the levels of pollen -- one of the most common allergens -- to skyrocket.”

So much for that theory... 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Decatur Dorsey

One of the greatest heroes of the Civil War came from HoCo, though not by choice. Decatur Dorsey, one of only sixteen African American soldiers in that conflict to receive the Medal of Honor for courage under fire, was born a slave in HoCo.

Actually, he was born here before there even was a HoCo. Prior to 1851 it was known as the the Howard District of Anne Arundel County. He became a free man in 1864 at the age of 28.

According to the National Park Service website, he “was released by his owner and enrolled in the 39th United States Colored Infantry (USCT) in Baltimore, Maryland. In May he was promoted to corporal and then by July, to sergeant.”

It was at the Battle of The Crater outside Petersburg, Virginia later that same month that people realized that Decatur Dorsey was one incredibly brave dude. Decatur was the colors bearer for his regiment which meant that when the troops charged into battle he carried a flag but no weapon. His hands were already full.

I’ve got to believe that the guy carrying the flag makes a pretty tempting target, especially if that guy also happens to be black in the south in 1864.

Though the men were able to breach the Confederate defenses they were soon driven back by a counterattack. Undaunted, Decatur rallied his men for a second assault.

According to this account from Wikipedia, at the end of the day his regiment “breached the Confederate works and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the defenders. They captured two hundred prisoners and two flags before being pushed back again and ordered to withdraw.”

Despite this, the battle overall went badly for the Union cause that day. Instead of being hailed as heroes, the black soldiers were blamed by some of their fellow white soldiers and newspapers for the defeat that claimed over 5,300 casualties on both sides.

I wasn’t able to find out much about his life after the war. I wasn’t even able to find a picture of him. I do know that he moved on from HoCo, settling in Hoboken, New Jersey where he died in 1891 at the age of 55.

His HoCo roots are honored today by Civil War history marker outside the restored Ellicott City Colored School on Old Frederick Road which, according to their website, also houses the Decatur Dorsey Institute.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Yet Another Elkridge Intermodal Perspective

Yesterday, at the Voices for Children Wine Tasting in Ellicott City, fellow HoCo loco blogger and emerging Columbia politico, Tom Coale, told me about a column in Elkridge Patch about the proposed Hanover intermodal site. He thought I’d enjoy it.

He was right.

In a piece entitled “Train, Train, Go Away," Katryn D. Stewart postulates that the external threat of nuisance noise from the loading and unloading of containers is not likely to drown out the internal noise in her own household.

“You see, as I lay in bed one night thinking about how annoying this intermodal facility is going to be, my husband began to snore. And when he snores, he snores. So I elbowed him. And he rolled over and continued to snore. And so I pinched his nose shut, and he began to snore even louder through his mouth. Just as I raised the pillow to smother him, the hall lights flashed on, footsteps banged across my hall, the toilet seat crashed down, and water began to run. Thirty seconds later, more water running, another crash that I couldn't label, more feet running, door banging.”

Or how about the guy next door who likes to mow his lawn first thing Saturday morning.

The Joy of Discovery

I readily acknowledge that I attend wine tastings primarily to drink wine rather than to just simply taste wine. My strategy is to keep tasting until I find something I like at which time I’ll fork over as many tasting tickets it takes to get a decent glass of it.

Yesterday, at the Spring Wine Tasting at the Wine Bin in Ellicott City, it took me three tastings before I discovered the silky smooth Zuccardi Zeta. I loaded up the glass.

Later, when I returned for a refill, they were all out. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who liked it.

At this point I realized there was still one wine station I had yet to visit so I decided to take one more shot before calling it a day. The server poured me a taste of Val de L’Ours, a Cabernet Sauvigon-Syrah blend. It was delicious. I forked over my remaining tickets for a  respectable glass.

The truth is, I liked both wines equally but when I took into account that the Zeta sold for $45.00 a bottle and the Val de ‘Ours $10.00 a bottle, I had to admit I liked the Val de L’Ours a little better.

Plastic Bags Fight Back

The MoCo county council has approved a plastic bag tax that will go into effect next January. A proposed statewide tax on the bags is  also gaining momentum. A similar tax has been in place in DC since the beginning of this year.

When Jean Micheal Cousteau was in a Baltimore back in October of 2009, he lambasted Americans infatuation with plastic bags.

The plastic grocery bag has become the the whipping boy du jour of environmentalists. More and more I see people bringing their reusable bags to the grocery store.

Not so fast say the plastic bag people.

I discovered this video clip in a post by David Lublin on the Maryland Politics Watch blog.

Plastic bags as a healthy alternative?

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Call to Action

On Wednesday, Sara Toth wrote a piece in Explore Howard about school board member Allen Dyer and his litigious ways. Sara interviewed me for her story.

It’s certainly no secret that I am not a big fan of the guy. I’ve been writing about him on this blog since 2006. I’d like to see him off my school board and, the sooner that happens, the better as far I am concerned.

I’m not the only who feels that way of course. Tom Coale summed it up nicely in this post on his blog: “Mr. Dyer is attempting to turn his deliberative position into an executive position.  While we have approached his antics as a nuisance up until now, our electorate must realize that these lawsuits have created, and will continue to create, long term problems for our Board's ability to get things done.”

But getting rid of him is much easier said than done. A very small portion of the HoCo electorate pays attention to school board races. That reality just gives incumbents another big advantage.

To defeat Allen Dyer we need more people to pay attention. We need to enrage the uninformed as much as the informed are enraged. In other words, we need a You Tube video.

There is plenty of good material to work with too. All of the Board of Education meetings are streamed live on the web. Past meetings are also available for download. The full Allen is out there for all to see and judge for themselves. If he wasn’t on my school board I might even find it all so entertaining.

And that is, of course, is what needs to be done here. We need to entertain in order to educate. It is perhaps the ultimate irony that his behavior in the open meetings he so vigorously champions could actually be his undoing.

So here it is, a call for action to the HoCo creative community for a three minute video of the best of Allen Dyer. I’ll plan to post each video here, depending on how many answer the call (if any), and let Tales of Two Cities readers be the judges for the winner.

The winner gets a round of drinks at the HoCo watering hole of their choice, a bottle of Black Ankle Rolling Hills and, perhaps, the satisfaction of contributing to ending Mr. Dyers reign on our school board.

If for nothing else, do it for our kids.

Email your submissions to wordbones@verizon.net.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Technology Redlining in Retail

When Giant introduced the self service “Scan It” program a little over two years ago I took to it like a duck to water. Prior to this technological advancement in grocery shopping Giant was not one of my preferred grocery stores.

Now I seek them out. 

This past weekend, when I happened to drop by one their other HoCo stores instead of my regular store, I learned that not all Giants are techno friendly . I immediately looked around for the Scan It terminal after walking in the door.

“We don’t have them here,” a manager informed me after asking what I was looking for. He went on to explain that because of the high incidence of theft in that particular store, they were unlikely to get them anytime in the future either.

Though the Scan It system does include random audits, it is largely dependent on shoppers being honest about what they put in their bags. Apparently that doesn't work well across the board.

It appears we now have technology redlining in retail. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Great Pear

Admittedly, I am a big fan of both HoCo General Hospital and the HoCo Public Libraries so it is no big stretch for me to recommend their new joint blog, well & Wise. That being said, what I really like about this effort is that it comes with a sense of humor.

A recent post about Skin Cancer Month included a link to Procol Harums 1967 debut hit, Whiter Shade of Pale.

It is also interesting to see two of HoCo’s largest institutions embrace hyper loco blogging. Since “bloggers” are still perceived by some in the community as little more than vermin who write, having these two enter the HoCo loco blogosphere may actually help to raise that perception a bit.

They aren’t shying from their HoCo loco brethren either. Next week, on May 19th at Union Jacks Pub in Columbia Town Center from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM, well & Wise will host a blogtail party for HoCo bloggers and blog readers.

I’ve missed more than a few of these gatherings over the past few years for a variety of reasons, but I definitely won’t miss this one.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Scene This Week In…

Driving back to Columbia from Elkridge on Old Montgomery Road today I spotted this graffiti on the underpass of Route 100. I immediately thought of Pants On Fire, one of the favorites in the Kentucky Derby. I'm not a huge horse racing fan so when I pick my Derby horse, I usually go for the name. I liked the name Pants On Fire. He finished ninth thereby proving this statement is not an absolute.

I should have bet on the Maryland horse

This message also put the song “Happiness is a Warm Gun” in my head and as I write this its still there.

On Sunday, after picking up some mulch from Home Depot, I decided to walk across the parking lot to the Giant to pick up something to grill for dinner. As I approached the store I noticed a Verizon pay phone on the wall. Once ubiquitous in and around HoCo, pay phones, particularly ones owned by a major carrier, have  become increasingly rare.

I wondered if it still actually worked. It did. I picked up the receiver and heard a dial tone. It felt odd. I can't recall the last time I picked up a pay phone.

I suspect the days are numbered for this one too. It’s twin on the other side had already been removed.

What Would Be Acceptable?

In a comment to this post about the proposed Hanover intermodal site, Bob Mumper, a Hanover resident who lives nearby the site, wrote, “There are plenty of permitted uses in the M2 zone which would be compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. A rail to truck intermodal transfer facility is not one of them.”

I wondered what permitted uses might be more acceptable to Bob so I checked my HoCo zoning manual. There are over 86 uses “permitted as a matter of right” in an M2 zone. They cover everything from ambulance services to wool scouring. Included are asphalt manufacturing, construction equipment assembly, chemical manufacturing (including paints, varnishes, pesticides, soaps, bleaches, detergents, inks, dyes, gum and wood chemicals, plastics and synthetic fibers), livestock slaughtering, manufacturing of metal alloys or foils, rubber processing or manufacture, auto dismantling, and welding shops.

In other words, the M2 (Manufacturing: Heavy) District is set aside for some of the vital but less than glamorous business uses.

After looking at the list, an intermodal rail facility begins to look like one of the more benign uses for the surrounding neighborhoods.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Ascension of Android

A little over two years ago I wrote a column in The Business Monthly about my mobile phone blues. My trusty old hip pocket Motorola Razr had been slowly crippled by the vestiges of time, so I found myself in the market for a replacement. At that time, in the late winter of 2009, I think I may have been one of only two commercial real estate brokers in HoCo who didn’t have a Blackberry.

The other was my colleague TW.

And then there was the iPhone. The iPhone came on the scene in 2007 and quickly made the Blackberry look like a dowdy old maid. Within two years it seemed as if all the cool kids had sleek iPhones. Nothing else came close…for awhile.

The problem was that I was locked into a Verizon contract. The iPhone was only available to AT&T customers. I was left with inferior technology while anxiously following any news that Verizon and Apple would strike a deal. As early as last May I was still openly admitting to having iPhone envy.

So perhaps you’d think that when Verizon finally rolled out their iPhone earlier this year that I’d be one of the first in line to snap one up.

I wasn’t.

A funny thing happened on my way to the iPhone, while waiting I discovered the Droid X. Apparently I’m not the only one either. In Wired Magazine this month, Fred Vogelstein writes “the Droid halted Apple’s march toward smartphone dominance. In fact, it is by some measures outpacing its rival, powering 23 percent of all smartphones worldwide in 2010—more recent estimates are even higher—compared with the iPhone’s 16 percent.”

“Users activate more than 300,000 new Android devices every day; by comparison, as of October, combined iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch sales accounted for about 275,000 daily activations. Even Steve Jobs seems rattled; last October, he dropped in on an investors’ phone call to deliver a rant on what he sees as Android’s flaws.”

On the other hand, Apple still has a dominant lead in the highly lucrative apps market. Vogelstein writes that “iTunes apps have brought in almost $3 billion. Android apps have garnered just over $100 million.”

As for me, for now at least, I think I’ll just hang on to what I have until circumstances dictate otherwise.

The Umbrella Rule

When we parked for dinner at Clyde’s Friday night we had a brief discussion as to whether or not to take the umbrella. At six thirty there wasn’t a cloud in sky. We left the umbrella in the car.

Later, Paul Kraft, the General Manager of the restaurant, dropped by our table. I had spoken with Paul the night before at the Columbia Foundation Spring Garden Party. Clyde’s has catered this event for the past twenty nine years and Paul had been helping his crew keep the party guests well fed and lubricated. In addition to the food, the party features an open bar.

“What was the most popular booze this year?” I asked. I expected his answer to be beer or white wine.

“Gin,” he replied. “We actually ran out.”


By the time we finished dinner it was pouring rain. We made a dash for the car, getting soaked in the process.

Saturday, after dropping by the Flowermart, we decided to try and catch the finish of the Visionary Arts Museum Kinetic Sculpture Race. The 15 mile  race began Saturday morning and by 3:00 PM the human powered sculptures were making their way back to the finish line at the museum.

When we parked the car along Key Highway, the sun was hiding behind the clouds. This time we took the umbrella with us and it didn’t rain.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Stink Bug Eating Plants

Yesterday, at the Flowermart in Baltimore, we discovered the Carnivorous Plant Nursery from Derwood Maryland. Inside their booth Mama Wordbones spotted a sign next to a tray of plants that read “I eat Stink Bugs, wasps, yellow jackets and other insects.”

That certainly got our attention.

The bugs are attracted to the nectar inside the "pitcher" and once they check in, they don't check out.

The plant is called a Purple Pitcher or Sarracenia purpurea and, according to the lady working the booth, it is also a native Maryland plant. 

There's nothing like using a native plant to fight an invasive bug.

Let a thousand purple pitchers bloom.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

A Good Discussion


When we originally thought of having a state legislative wrap up show we decided that Ed Kasemeyer might make a good guest. He is one of the few loco politcos that we haven’t had on and he is now arguably the second most powerful person in the Maryland Senate. Unfortunately, because of an apparent miscommunication with his staff, we were unable to get him for yesterdays show. Fortunately, Allan Kittleman was more than happy to fill the spot.

Allan was one of the first guests on the podcast, joining us for the sixth show back in January of 2010. Paul and I were still pretty new at this and Allan was not only a state senator representing District 9, he was also the minority leader. Thirty four episodes later Paul and I  are much more comfortable with each other the show and Allan is no longer minority leader freeing him to speak more independently. In episode six Allan was all suited up. Yesterday he wore a golf shirt.

After episode six I lamented the fact that I didn’t challenge Allan on the pollution caused by chicken houses on the eastern shore. Though we didn’t revisit chicken houses, we did have a spirited discussion about the recent legislation to allow the children of illegal immigrants in state tuition at our public colleges and universities. Even though I was the odd man out on that debate, I thought the exchange was informative.

We also made an error of omission when we pointed out that Allan was our first repeat guest. In fact, my HoCo loco blogging brethren, Tom Coale has been on  our show twice as well. He was on episode 20 as our  "two minute" guest and on episode 27 as our main guest.

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

Friday, May 06, 2011

Dear Sixteen Year Old Me

Sometimes I run across something that just speaks for itself, especially with summer right around the corner.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Original Bug

I first saw this white 1967 VW Beetle in the Dobbin Road Starbucks parking lot earlier this year. This morning I met the actual owner. His name is Russ. Russ has owned this vintage compact for twenty years, having purchased it from the original owner.

It’s in amazingly good condition. After 137,000 miles he recently had the engine rebuilt. I didn’t see any rust.

“I keep it in the garage,” he told me.

It shows. He has the original owners’ manual too. I told him that I recall these cars were more fun to drive in the spring. The heaters weren't much to speak of. Most owners kept a blanket in the back seat.

“Not this one,’ he insisted, “It’ll toast you right out.”

The advertising for these cars broke all the rules for new car marketing back in the sixties.

This was the same car that my father drove to work everyday back when I was in elementary school...a very long time ago.

Retailer to Lead Town Center Redevelopment

This morning the Howard Hughes Corporation announced the appointment of John E. DeWolf as Senior Vice President. According to the companys press release Mr. DeWolf will “lead strategic developments in Columbia, Md., Alexandria, Va. and Princeton N.J.

“Mr. DeWolf was Executive Vice President Real Estate/Strategic Initiatives for New York & Company where he oversaw the addition of 225 stores, the closing of 100 stores, and downsizing of over 250 stores. Additionally, as head of strategic initiatives he managed the development of two accessory store concepts and four new store prototypes. Previously, Mr. DeWolf had senior leadership roles with New England Development, Woolworth Corporation and The Disney Stores, Inc.”

John now becomes the eighth person in forty four years to lead development in Columbia. He follows Bill Finley, Mike Spear, Doug MacGregor, Al Scavo, Dennis Miller, Doug Godine and Greg Hamm.

Welcome John!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Howard Hughes Set To Name New Columbia GM

Tomorrow, at 8:30 AM,  the Howard Hughes Corporation will announce a new general manager of Columbia to direct the Town Center redevelopment program. The position has been vacant since early December last year when they abruptly dismissed Greg Hamm and the community has grown increasingly uneasy over the delay in naming a replacement.

230 Jobs Saved in Jessup

Teamsters Local 730 and C&S Wholesale Grocers have successfully negotiated an agreement that will save approximately 230 jobs in the dry goods distribution facility in Jessup. C&S purchased the dry goods business from Giant in March. There was some speculation that C&S would shutter the HoCo facility and move the operation to Pennsylvania. In this article in Food Logistics, Ritchie Brooks, the president of the union local went as far to say, “We know Giant and Royal Ahold are planning to outsource these jobs to a non-union out-of-state supplier, C&S Grocers.”

Only it didn’t turn out that way.

Of course the headlines in the loco press were all about 200 jobs being eliminated as part of the deal. The lead in this article by Andrea K. Walker in The Sun, declared that almost half of the workers at the Jessup facility “will lose their jobs under a new contract negotiated with the union local, labor leaders said Monday.”

That’s certainly a better outcome than all of the jobs being lost.

To their credit, the Teamsters recognized that automated warehousing systems have reduced the need for as many employees as they used to have.

"They have that machine that just does the work cheaper, and we couldn't compete, so that is why some of the workers are leaving," Brooks said. "We made the best of a bad situation. Everybody will have an opportunity to have a job or take the money and leave."

I give the union kudos for recognizing this trend and making the best deal that they could for their members and keeping those jobs in Maryland.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Neighborhood Hero

My regular HoCo commute route runs under some major electric transmission lines. These lines and their towers cut a swath of land through HoCo from Hanover to Woodstock. It’s a little wider than half a football field.

In my neighborhood, the road splits as it enters the power company land and then rejoins as it exits, leaving a 130 foot long oval island in the middle. The amazing thing is the grass on this island is nice as any lawn in the neighborhood. Someone cuts it regularly too. I knew BGE wasn't doing this but I was always curious about who did.

As I drove by this afternoon I saw a guy cutting the grass. This is probably only the second time in the last six years that I’ve actually seen someone cutting this grass. I decided that this time I’d stop and find out who he was.

Dick has lived in the neighborhood since 1966. He doesn’t live in any of the homes close by; he lives a couple of streets over. He just decided one day that the uncut grass looked bad and that if nobody else was going to take care of it then he would. He’s been taking care of this hillside green ever since. He’s 78. He uses a push mower.

He also carries a trash bag. When I told him that I was going to write about him on the blog he asked if I would just ask everyone not to throw trash out the window when they pass by.

Seems like such a simple request.

It occurred to me as I drove away that HoCo probably has other neighborhood heroes like Dick Graham; people that do things to make our neighborhoods just a little nicer with little expectation of anything more than the occasional thank you.

If any Tales of Two Cities readers know of a neighborhood hero you’d like to share, email me (wordbones@verizon.net), with a picture if you can, and I’ll write ‘em up.

If we get a few I’ll even add a new category.