Friday, June 29, 2012

Advisory Overload

While taping our podcast today I quipped with the exec that the proposed advisory board for the new Downtown Columbia Partnership includes everybody but Santa Claus. In order to mollify criticism that the partnership board vests too much control in the hands of the Howard Hughes Corporation, the county council is considering eleven amendments to the enabling legislation that includes the addition of an eleven member advisory board. According to this story by Lindsey McPherson in Explore Howard, the advisory board “would be allowed to attend the Board of Directors meetings.”

“The amendment specifies that a representative of the advisory committee must be provided with an opportunity to comment on all matters pending before the board. It also authorizes the advisory committee to examine the partnership's books and records "at any reasonable time."

Though the advisory board members will be able to comment and examine to their hearts delight, their influence is limited to an advisory role with no voting power. In other words it’s basically window dressing meant to appease those who fear giving HHC too much say in how the partnership is run.

That fear is misplaced. Over the course of the next thirty years or so, HHC will be expending tens of millions to remake Columbia Town Center and the partnerships role is "to be the entity conducting marketing, maintenance, security, transportation and other services in downtown Columbia." It is in the companies’ best interests as the master developer to see that the project is done right.

As the largest developer of master planned communities in the United States I don’t think they really need an overloaded advisory board to accomplish the task but it looks like they're going to get one anyway.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Bounty of Bags

People send me stuff. Most of the time it is simply tips for blog posts but every once awhile they send me actual stuff. Today I received three reusable shopping bags.

Last Sunday in this post, I made a light hearted jab at Joan Lancos for disqualifying me from receiving a yellow Columbia Villages bag because I wasn't a resident of Columbia. Today she sent me two along with a note apologizing for the slight and hoping that “this incident won’t prevent you from saying nice things about us in the future.”

I should note here that Joan and I both share a fond appreciation for sarcasm.

I also got a Baggu from Mickey Gomez, the Executive Director of the Volunteer Center of Howard County. I suppose Mickey read about the yellow bag incident and decided to send me one of her bags, a nice little fold up number.

Thank you, Mickey and Joan. You both get a wag of the Wordbones tail for the smiles I got when I opened my mail today.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

This Could Get Interesting…And Expensive

The news today that Allan Kittleman was cranking up his political machinery for a run at county exec in 2014 came as a welcome surprise. It has long been known that he was interested in the job and now he’s become the first of the top three, or four, to lay the gauntlet down, sort of. According to this story by Lindsey McPherson in Explore Howard, the state senator told guests at a breakfast fundraiser that “we are putting an organization together to anticipate we will be moving for county executive in 2014.”

The news was greeted with reserve by his rivals. Courtney Watson told Lindsey that “it's too early to discuss a race still more than two years away.”

Okay, right. If you don’t know that Courtney plans to run for county executive in 2014 then you aren’t paying very close attention. Next to school board member Brian Meshkin’s business troubles on the West Coast, it’s the worst kept secret in HoCo.

Guy Guzzone, on the other hand, at least admitted that he’s working on the makings of a run for the top HoCo job. "I am putting together the necessary pieces to make sure that option is open to me," he said.”

I think “putting together the necessary pieces” means the same thing as “putting an organization together” in HoCo loco politico speak.

Allan has the most to gain by getting out early in this race. Despite the inherent disadvantage of being a Repub in a predominately Dem county, he is either the third out of three or the fourth out of four in fundraising as near as I can tell.

The top dog with dollars is Guy. For some reason many of the candidates 2012 Annual Campaign Reports are not yet available online so I used 2011 numbers when comparing the campaign war chests of the top three, or four. In 2011 Guy reported having $100,274 in cash on hand. Courtney had $31,785 and Alan had $20,188. Interestingly, Calvin Ball had $40,847. I know it sounds crazy but if Courtney and Guy decide to duke it out in a Dem primary, Calvin could justify jumping into that fight too.

Despite Professor Cools detached demeanor towards further political ambitions, his bank account makes him a playa.

The bottom line is that all four of these front runners are good candidates for the job. We are fortunate for that but it will also make decisions of who to support all the more gut wrenching…and expensive.

During this season of non declared campaigning, at least three of the four will be ramping up the fundraising breakfasts, lunches, cocktail receptions, and family picnics. Tickets will run from twenty some bucks to a couple hundred some bucks and many us will attend events for each of them, not necessarily because we plan to eventually vote for them but simply because we know them and like them.

So while this is getting interesting it is also going to get expensive for some of us anyway, especially when you consider that our county exec is running for governor. (Tell me you knew about that, right?)

Such is the price we pay for a healthy HoCo loco democracy.

Before Mini There Was Morris

Before there was the Fiat 500, the Smart Car and the Mini, there was the VW Beetle, the Citroen 2CV, and the Morris Minor 1000. I spotted this 1969 Morris at the Old Mill Bakery Café just outside Ellicott City last Sunday.

Much like the Ford pickup I wrote about in this post, what I liked about this car was that it is not a showpiece driven only on Sundays and other special occasions. Judging from its condition, this car appears to still be in regular service and in fairly good shape considering.

The Morris was built by BMC, better known for producing the MGB and the MG Midget. According to this report on Epinions, “cars built by BMC shared a large number of parts so availability of them is still an easy and economical affair.”

“Finding and nurturing a Morris Minor 1000 through 21st century life could be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Still viable on today’s roads, more economical to operate than some new economy cars, and easily restored, a Morris Minor 1000 might be the best answer to a new Mini or Smart Car purchase.”

You just have to get used to driving on the right.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What He Said

Though some folks may look down their noses at loco bloggers as nothing more than nattering nabobs, at least one of us backs his words with a call for direct action.

For the third time in less than two years, Tom Coale, the author of HoCo Rising, has harnessed his blog energy to rally support for the HoCo loco homeless. Last year, thanks to a fundraising campaign he spearheaded on his blog, over $3,000 was raised for Grassroots enabling the loco charity to establish a sober house in the county.

Now he’s at it again. Yesterday Tom began a new campaign to raise $2,300 for Living in Recovery in order that they may open a second sober house.

I have often said that it is the readers who make loco blogging so rewarding and Tom’s efforts shown just how rewarding that can be. The loco blog readers have shown that they are not just interested in reading and commenting on loco stuff, they are also committed to fixing stuff. As he wrote in this post, the loco blog reader is “not satisfied to watch public need and chat about it with removed fascination.  We do things.” 


If you haven’t done so already, you can learn more and help make a difference here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

“Like Eating a Fat Angel”

Last night I took Peanut to the relatively new “Scoop Ahh Dee Doo" ice cream stand in Ellicott City. Earlier last week I sampled their frozen confections for the first time and was blown away by a flavor called Honey Graham. It was just like graham crackers only ice cream, if that makes any sense.

Peanut decided to try one of her favorite flavors, strawberry. After only a few bites she declared that it was the best strawberry ice cream she’d ever had. “It’s like eating a fat angel,” she said.

I’m not sure exactly where that expression came from but I took it to be high praise.

I was tempted to try the Berger Cookie flavor but the Honey Graham so good the first time I decided to get it again.

The ice cream comes from the Taharka Brothers Homemade Ice Cream Company in Baltimore. The company and its founders were the subject of this story by Dick Gordon on American Public Media. It’s worth a listen and makes the delicious ice cream all the more enticing.

The setting is pretty terrific too. Peanut and I took our ice cream over to a bench by the river and soaked in the summer evening while listening to the water cascading over the rocks just below us. It was just like eating a fat angel.

We’re heading down there again tonight. I've been thinking about that Berger Cookie flavor all day.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Birthday Town

It is somewhat unfortunate that Columbia’s forty fifth birthday celebration had to fall on the weekend after LakeFest. The temptation to unfavorably compare the two events is almost too great.

It would also be unfair.

Columbia’s birthday party is more hyper loco than the regionally marketed LakeFest. This was bought home to me almost as soon as I arrived. Passing by the Columbia Villages booth, Joan Lancos started to hand me a Columbia Villages reusable shopping bag but then pulled back explaining “You don’t live in Columbia do you?”

I’m a Columbia expat. No yellow shopping bag for me.

Despite the shopping bag stiff I lingered for awhile talking loco politico stuff with Joan long enough to eventually elicit an audible sigh from Peanut. We moved on, without a yellow shopping bag.

Passing in front of Clyde’s I showed Peanut the brick I bought her. I don’t think it made that great of an impression with her. Perhaps she’ll grow more comfortable with the whole brick thing over time. 

As we were inspecting the decorated umbrellas lined up along the dock, a couple came by with a young golden retriever, named Dakota. The owner (I believe her name was Claire) asked me if I was a blogger. I pleaded guilty and she proceeded to tell me that she is a regular reader. “I’m a lurker though,” she said, “not a commenter.”

I immediately liked her. The fact that she and husband had a sweet golden retriever only made it better.  I thanked her for recognizing me and being a reader. That is one the best parts of hyper loco blogging for me, random encounters with HoCo locos that I otherwise may have never met.

After taking our aforementioned paddle boat ride, we headed up to the main stage area when a Tae Kwon Do demonstration was about to take place. “This is something that really interests me,” Peanut informs me.

Who knew?

As we settled in to watch I noticed a young couple had found themselves a private perch to watch the show. I wondered how long it would be before someone told them to get down. It was approximately fifteen minutes. Still, for the moment they were getting away with it, it made a perfect summer picture.
As we left, I grabbed one of the available Sharpies and penned my birthday greetings to Columbia on the birthday cake replica set up for this purpose. I may no longer qualify for a free yellow shopping bag but I still love my old hometown all the same. Happy 45th!

The Boats Are Back

Yesterday, as Peanut and I were checking out the Columbia birthday festivities, I noticed a familiar site had returned to the Town Center lakefront…paddle boats.
As it turns out, yesterday was opening day for the new paddle boat concessionaire, Capital River Cruises. After a brief chat with boat attendants Mick and Ryan, we decided to take one out for a spin.
It was a nice day for getting back out on Lake Kittamaqundi again.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Trouble in Paradise

You might think that,with the long awaited and much debated Columbia Town Center redevelopment process finally underway, the county council would be celebrating their accomplishment and working to move things forward as smoothly as possible.

Hardly. Last night, two of the council members got fairly testy with the developer over what appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding of business , capital and risk. 

In a work session on the enabling legislation for a new Commercial  District Management Authority (CDMA) for Town Center, tempers were raised and threats were implied over the issue of who will control this authority. As it has been proposed by the exec, the Downtown Columbia Partnership would be governed by a board of seven members, four of whom would be from the Howard Hughes Corporation, giving HHC majority control.

Jen Terrasa and Calvin Ball seem to think that's a bit too much. They expressed a certain discomfort with allowing a developer to have so much control over the Town Center redevelopment program, even though it isn't the county's money at risk. 

This is a potential deal killer for HHC.

They are the ones putting real money into Downtown Columbia Partnership, both in new commercial development fees and in funding public amenities. In addition to immediately stroking a check for $1.5 million for affordable housing, HHC will be funding the renovation of Merriweather and a variety of transportation and environmental initiatives. Estimates of their total investment in Town Center runs into the tens of millions.

Of course they want to control the authority, at least initially. They are the only ones with real skin in the game. As John DeWolf told the council, HHC is still committed to the project as long as they can manage the risk. He further suggested that they are uniquely qualified to accomplish that. He wryly pointed out that when HHC took over this project “there wasn’t anyone else lined up outside the door to buy this (Town Center redevelopment) separately.”

Greg Fox and Courtney Watson seemed to get that. They attempted to get their council colleagues to give HHC some sort of reassurance that they’d work this out. HHC is up against some critical dates in the development process and needs to have this resolved sooner rather than later. Calvin and Jen balked. Mary Kay Sigaty, the current council chair, was silent.

Two out of five, not good. Trouble in Paradise.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Wire to Go

I realize I’m a little late to the partyon this but I’ve finally gotten around to watching The Wire. I really don’t like coming into the middle of a series and trying to get in sync with the seasons by using On Demand was too much brain damage.

Then my neighbor Peter told me about HBO Go. I love HBO Go. I now can start at the beginning of any of their series (Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Deadwood, and The Wire of course) and keep going right up to the latest episodes, if any.

I also love The Wire. What’s not to love? It’s all about the city of my birth, B-more. It’s not pretty but neither is life in the big city sometimes. More than anything it’s familiar. The scenes from the city make the story all the more real for me not to mention the fact that the scenes from inside the Major Crimes unit offices were likely all filmed in HoCo. I’ve spotted our former guv in at least two episodes and the mayor in the series is inspired by the current guvs stint as mayor.

The episode openings are one of my favorite parts. While the opening credits roll, the blues song “Way Down in the Hole,” plays in the background. Each season a different artist performed the song. In Season 1 it was The Blind Boys of Alabama, Season 2, Tom Waits, Season 3, The Neville Brothers, Season 4, DoMaJe, and Season 5, Steve Earle.

I’m in the fifth and final season now. These episodes start with Steve Earle’s version. Looking back on the previous four seasons I've started thinking about which version I like the best. It's pretty interesting what the five separate artists do with the same song. I think Steve Earle’s take on "Hole" is my second favorite.

Picking my favorite is harder. I really like the harmonica in The Blind Boys version and DoMaJe’s version sounds like is being sung in a dark smoky bar. The Neville Brothers version on the other hand has an industrial feel.

At the end of the day I’ve decided I like the way Tom Waits brings it best. He also wrote the song.

Anyone else wanna share their favorite?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Good Show for a No Show

In the two plus years since we started, we’ve had every member of the county council on our podcast except Jen Terrasa. It’s not like we haven’t tried. Our latest attempt was for the show we taped this past Monday. At least two weeks prior we reached out to her and she indicated that she was interested in joining us but demurred from making an actual commitment. She told us she’s get back to us.

As late as Wednesday last week she still hadn’t gotten back to us. We were running out of time. It was four days before the show and we didn’t know if we had a guest or not. That night I attended her fundraiser at Kings Contrivance and when I got a moment to speak with her I asked again if she was coming on the show.

“Can I let you know tomorrow?” she asked.

"Sure, but please let us know by then so we can make other plans if you can't do it." I replied.

She never did. Maybe she just  didn’t like what I wrote about her party.

Thankfully, on short notice we were able to get the Programming Manager for the Columbia Festival of the Arts, Josh Stoltzfus. Josh is the guy who lines up the entertainment for the ten day festival, including Lake Fest. He’s the guy who bought Marching Fourth to the Columbia lakefront and he wanted us to know about the rest of the festival lineup. It’s a pretty impressive lineup including Rosanne Cash, The Flying Karamozov Brothers and Momix, all within the intimate confines of the Rouse Theatre.

It turned out to be a pretty fun show and probably a lot more interesting than talking about HoCo loco zoning and land use with Jen. 

You can listen to the 68th episode of “and then there’s that…” here.  

Right at Home

Last night, as I passed through Ellicott City, I spotted this 1961 Ford pickup parked across from the Phoenix Emporium. Though unremarkable in terms of restoration, it caught my attention from a historic perspective.

In 1961 a pickup truck just like this would have been a familiar sight on Main Street. In that pre-Columbia period HoCo was largely an agrarian county and EC was the center of commerce. In those days E.T. Clarkes Hardware was next door to the Phoenix.

When I take a picture of an interesting auto for To2C, I always make some attempt to find the owner. Since it was parked directly across the street from the bar I thought this would be as good a place as any to make an inquiry. I enlisted the aid of Ashley, the bartender, who in turn asked the other patrons at the bar. She came up blank. I spoke with John the bouncer too. He hadn't seen the truck yet and went to the door to check it out.

“Not a very good paint job,” John observed. It turns out that John is a bit of a car guy himself and we talked cars while I finished my beer.
Considering that the truck is over fifty years old, I’d have to say that its paint job is more than serviceable. It doesn’t look like a showpiece. It just looks right at home.

Dinner for Two, Under Ten Bucks

Yesterday my colleague TW paraphrased Yogi Berra in describing the new Columbia Wegmans store. “It’s so busy that nobody is going to go there,” he commented after seeing the queue of cars waiting to get into the parking garage. He opted to take a pass.

I had a decidedly different experience less than an hour later. The store was still busy but the traffic was moving and I was immediately directed into a convenient parking space by a helpful Wegmans employee.

Though I did have a couple of items on my grocery list this trip was really to just to check the place out. Prior to this visit, the only other Wegmans I had been in was their store in Hunt Valley.

The Columbia Wegmans is nicer. For one thing, Hunt Valley doesn’t have outdoor seating for the café.

Though I wasn’t intending to pick up dinner, a pass through the Market Café soon changed my mind. I picked up a pound of Italian sausage with peppers and onions and half pound of Kansas City rice for $9.53. It was plenty of food for two people.

It occurred to me that it’s not only the existing grocery stores that should be concerned about this new competitor. Wegmans could alter the paradigm of the HoCo loco carry-out business as well. Why settle for pizza when, for the same amount of money, you can get Tuscan ribs or Etruscan salmon?

On my way out the door I stopped to check out the grocery cart escalator. I had read that it had broken down on opening day so I wasn’t surprised to see an employee stationed at the foot of the escalator helping customers acclimate to this new technology. It seemed to be working just fine.

“It was only down for about a half hour on opening day,” the cart guy told me. That apparently was just long enough to get the attention of the Explore Howard reporter, Pete Pichaske

Monday, June 18, 2012

Back By Popular Demand

Last year, when the Marching Fourth Marching Band appeared at the Columbia Festival of Arts LakeFest, they proved to be so popular that the festival invited them back.

I was happy to hear this because I missed last years performance. That night Mama Wordbones and I attended the performance of "A Midsummer’s Night Dream" at Shakespeare in the Ruins instead. 

As it turns out I almost missed them again because of my college reunion. Fortunately, this year the festival made the Portland based performance troupe their closing performance. After getting home and unpacking yesterday, I headed over to Town Center to catch the show.

The March Fourth Marching Band is a perfect fit for a summer festival. Their high energy show is infectious and last night, in very short order, they had the audience dancing and waving arms. You can’t help but smile when you hear them perform.

I’m just glad I finally got to see them.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reunion Weekend

When I informed a colleague that I was traveling to Cleveland this weekend to attend my 35th college reunion I was met with a half smile and a quizzical look that said “really?”


Like graduations, spring is also a time for college reunions. I understand that reunion programs can vary widely from school to school, particularly in the larger ones but when it comes to hosting a reunion weekend, my little alma mater does a pretty bang up job.
I haven’t attended every reunion in our quinquennium reunion cycle, but I’ve been to more than a few and I’ve always had a great time. Not only do I reconnect with old classmates, I also get to interact with other generations that passed through the same halls and grounds on their way to adulthood. We share a common bond from a formative time of our lives that allows us to relate to each other across the decades that separate us. 

This year the oldest class in attendance at my reunion was the Class of 57. The initiates to our five year tribal gathering were the Class of 2007. Like my own clan did thirty years ago, the twentysomethings kept the party going until the wee hours of the morning.  At the other end of continuum, the thinning ranks of classes older than ’57 were consolidated into a “golden” group. The oldest registered attendee was from the class of 1936.

This morning, in the courtesy shuttle back to the airport, four generations of alumni were represented. There was a guy from Los Angeles from the Class of 1962, a couple from Fort Lauderdale from the Class of 2002, Ellicott City from the Class of 1977 and with our Cleveland native shuttle driver, the Class of 2013. Though none of us had ever met before, in no time at all each was sharing stories and experiences. By the time we arrived at the airport everyone wished each other a safe journey home and expressed a hope that we’d meet again in five years.

Experiences like that are what keep me going back.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wayside Going by the Wayside?

The history of Ellicott City's Wayside Inn predates the creation of Howard County. When the granite stone house on Old Columbia Pike began hosting overnight guests back in 1780, HoCo was still part of Anne Arundel County.

The roadside inn has seen many travelers passing through HoCo over those years, including rumored visits of George Washington and John Adams.

I know for certain that it was at least visited by Jim Robey. According to the Inn’s website, in 2004, to celebrate the latest “reopening” following an extensive renovation, then county exec Jim Robey cut the ceremonial ribbon.

The inn is now listed with rock-star HoCo realtor, Creig Northrop. The asking price is $1.2 million and the listing says it “May also be purchased for single-family or multi-family use.”

In other words you don’t have to run the property as bed and breakfast anymore if you buy it. After 232 years, it's days of hosting HoCo visitors may now be coming to an end.

In a way, it really isn’t much of roadside inn anymore. Before they built the hulking sound barrier right across the street, the inn with its candles in the windows was a HoCo loco landmark, visible to all travelers passing by on the county’s main artery.

Nowadays, the only traffic that passes its door are the members of the Forest Hill Swim Club and HoCo locos taking the back way to Dorsey’s Search. Folks passing through HoCo on their way from Point A to Point B wouldn't even know it was there.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

American Woman

Cruising south on 29 early this evening, with the windows down and the sunroof open, American Woman came on the radio. I cranked it up.  I was on my way to JenTerrasa’s reception at the Corner Stable Pub in Kings Contrivance.

“American woman gonna mess your mind”

This was the first time I’ve attended a Jen Terrasa fundraiser. That, in and of itself, is not surprising. I supported her opponent in the last election. She ended up kicking his butt.

“American woman she gonna mess your mind.”

The Corner Stable was packed and not with just the usual HoCo loco politico suspects either. Rank and file citizens filled the room along with an impressive turnout of the loco Dem power structure. Dem council colleagues Mary Kay Sigaty and Calvin Ball were there but Courtney Watson was not. Jen’s council seat predecessor, Guy Guzzone, acted as master of ceremonies.

Courtney wasn’t there because she was also having a Wine Women and Watson event tonight. I don’t know who scheduled what first but HoCo is really too small for two politico fundraisers in the same night. A couple of the ladies I spoke with this evening were bugging early on the Jen jamboree to dash across town to wine with Watson. Others, including at least one loco elected Dem told me they wouldn’t have wined with Watson even if it was the only loco politico event this evening. Ouch!

“Colored lights can hypnotize, Sparkle someone else's eyes”

It wasn’t just Dems at Jen’s party either. Former Repub county exec candidate Steve Adler was there. His Savage Mill development is in Jen’s district after all. Steve was leaving as I arrived but he had a great parting quip. “A Dem fundraiser and a Jewish Federation dinner in the same night, all I need now is a root canal.”

“You're no good for me, I'm no good for you”

I also met Jackie Scott tonight. Jackie is one of the good candidates running for school board. She’s even better in person than she is in writing.

In her remarks, Jen talked about the role she’s played in helping to reinvent the Columbia village centers. She’s a geek for zoning and I find that oddly attractive.

“Go, gotta get away, gotta get away”

All in all it was a nice turnout tonight for the two term councilperson. I’m glad I went. It won't be my last time either.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Room for Rent

The Room Store's days in Columbia may be numbered. The low priced furniture chain filed for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December with hopes that they could reemerge as a going concern.

That may no longer be the case. In April the chain exited the Texas market where it got its start by closing ten stores. Now the rest of the stores may be on the chopping block. According to this story by Gregory J. Gilligan in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the company has asked the bankruptcy judge “to allow the beleaguered chain to sell its assets at an auction.”

“The stores and inventory could be sold in their entirety to a buyer that would continue running some or all of the locations, or piecemeal to a variety of buyers.”

Judging by how quickly the adjacent former Borders store was back-filled, this space is not likely to be dark for very long.

Monday, June 11, 2012

In This Months Business Monthy

It was during a recent walk with Mama Wordbones that I began contemplating the fate of the poor mailbox. As we crossed through an established neighborhood in Ellicott City I noticed that many of the homeowners had landscaped around their mailboxes. Some had flowers and shrubs while others were a bit more elaborate.
“That’s something you won’t see in Columbia,” I said in reference to the planned communities cluster mailboxes.

She was a bit surprised to find out that even single family homes in Columbia are serviced by these communal mail receptacles.
“I don’t think I’d like that,” she said

It’s almost irrelevant anymore. The mailbox is not the conduit to the larger world that it once was. It’s place in our content delivery hierarchy has slipped to a lower tier. It is conceivable that, in my lifetime, I will witness the phasing out of regular delivery of mail by an agency of the federal government.

I’d be okay with that. Providing mail service to every single household in the United States is a very expensive proposition. The USPS has over 574,000 employees, operates 31,000 postal facilities, and owns over 218,000 vehicles. It last reported net revenue in 2006. Since then the losses have been in the billions.

The argument for keeping the USPS is that it reaches every single home in the country, urban, rural, rich, poor and everyone in between. Not everyone has broadband but everyone, except perhaps the homeless, has a mailing address.

Still, at the rate these USPS losses are accumulating, we might be better off giving everyone a 4G iPad.

You can read this month’s column here.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Where Did the Weekend Go?

“Where did the weekend go,” I thought to myself as I cleaned up after Sunday dinner. Here it was the night before another work week and it felt like another weekend had flown by.

That’s not to say I didn’t have fun. Friday was the last day of school and Peanuts last day of middle school. Unlike some private schools, Ellicott Mills did not have an elaborate eighth grade graduation ceremony. They had a formal dance on Wednesday and a nice little assembly on the last day but no caps and gowns scene. I think that’s a little too much, for eighth grade anyway.

We marked the occasion beginning with lunch outside at Johnny’s Main Street Bistro in Ellicott City and later with one of her one of her favorite meals enjoyed under the stars at home. In between we launched our summer reading project while sitting in the white rocking chairs on the screened in porch.

Saturday night Mama Wordbones and I narrowed our outside dining choices down to Eggspectation and Rams Head Tavern in Savage Mill. We concluded that the food quality was about the same at both places but Rams Head won out on ambiance. The outside deck at the old mill overlooking the river won out over the best storm water management view in Columbia.  
After breakfast this morning Peanut and I set off to try and find nectarines, one of her favorite fruits. I realize that it is too early for loco nectarines but with all of these farmers markets going on around here, I figured somebody would have nectarines. We started with the Second Sunday Market in Ellicott City but it was fruitless. We then headed over to Catonsville where the market held more offerings but nary a nectarine. On a whim we decided to check out the Green Valley Market in Elkridge and was there that we found our nectarines. This grocery store has the warm feel of a real community market as opposed to the bigger chain grocers.

After we returned home, unprompted, Peanut suggested that we spend a little time reading together. I asked her what she thought of Game of Thrones so far.

“Awesome,” was her response.

Sigh. So far so good.

I don’t know exactly where the weekend went but the journey along the way was awesome.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Summer Reading Project

I just downloaded Game of Thrones Book One on to my Nook. After trying out the free sample last night I still wasn’t certain it would make the cut. Today however, as I drove to pick Peanut up from her last day of middle school, it occurred to me that this just might be my best stealth summer study opportunity. Peanut and I will read the book together, I decided, preferably at the same time.

Left to her own devices, she would be just as happy lounging around and playing on her computer all summer long. That of course is not an option when she enters the dreaded sphere of my parental control. We do stuff, all kinds of stuff.  She often tells me I'm "annoying."

A few weeks ago, while having dinner, I asked her if she’d ever heard of “Game of Thrones.”

“I’ve heard the kids at school talk about it,” she said, “but I haven’t seen it.”

We discussed the fact that it probably isn’t appropriate for her age but accepted the fact that she’s already been exposed to as much already. Twilight and New Moon are not our parent’s vampire stories, if you catch my drift.

“It has dragons in it,” I told her. I knew she would rise to this bait. She loves dragons. Wait until she gets a load of the Calisi.

Anyway, we watched the first episode of the first season on my iPad that night and that set the hook in. This afternoon I decided to exploit the initiative. I purchased a paperback version of the book for her and we sat outside in the screened in room with cool drinks and jumped right in. We won’t watch any more episodes’ together until we’ve caught up to that point in the book.

We’ll see how this goes.

Schools Out for Summer

For HoCo students, summer officially begins today.  Enjoy the respite from your studies but please be careful out there…parents too!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Double Rainbow

Tonight, for the first time in my life, that I can recall at least, I witnessed a full double rainbow. Though the second one appears faint in the photo, in real time there was no doubt about it.

Has to be a good omen, right?

Then again, as I think of it, one end of the rainbows appeared to be in the vicinity of the new Maryland Live! Casino.

I hope somebody got lucky.

Summer Book List(s)

Back in my primary school days I remember being given a summer reading list on the last day of school. Back then spending any of those precious lazy days of summer with my nose in book was very low on my to-do list. It was only through parental dictates that the list was cracked at all.

Nowadays reading a good book is one of my favorite summer pastimes and I find myself seeking out summer reading lists, particularly now that I find myself between books. Having just finished and thoroughly enjoying the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, I’m hoping to find something that will keep me similarly engaged. The problem is that there are almost too many choices. I’ve poured through the NY Times Book Review, The Washington Post Style Section and the HoCo Library website. I’ve downloaded samples of books on my Nook and taken them for test run, including Fifty Shades of Grey. Yesterday I checked out what some national politicos are reading in this list in The Washington Post; Barbara Mikulski is reading Cleopatra, Chris Matthews is reading “They Eat Puppies Don’t They” and Virginia Guv, Robert McDonnell is reading one of the books on my short list, "Washington:A Life.” I’m a little partial to biographies too. The guv and I apparently share that.

The good news is that my list is finally narrowing and I’ll likely make my first summer reading pick today or tomorrow.

The Post also had an article by Michael Rosenwald about e-readers and summer reading pointing out that “sand and electronics are not best friends.”

“I shouldn’t have to point this out, but I will: You might be able to continue reading from a printed book that accidentally takes a dip in the ocean, but a waterlogged e-reader is as unusable as an empty tube of suntan oil.”

What are you reading this summer?

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Scene This Week In…

If you ordered a brick from the Columbia Association in the latest batch you can go visit it now in the walkway in front of Clyde’s. The other day, after lunch, I went to check them out and saw that the blogging community was pretty well represented. In addition to yours truly, I also spotted a Columbia Compass family brick and a hocoblogs brick.
Did I miss anyone else?

And then there was this brick. Six years later and the sudden recall of this tragedy still hit me hard.
If you did buy a brick and want to find it the best I can tell you is to go to the walkway along the lakefront in front of Clyde’s and look for the newer bricks. The shiny new ones kind of stand out from the older bricks who’ve endured the weight of HoCo humanity for years. After that, you are on your own. Just be careful not to run into anybody as you search the sidewalk with your head down.

Two years ago, weekend revelry at the Patuxent River in Savage got a little out of hand and loco residents petitioned the county to do something about it. 

I thought about that recently as Mama Wordbones and I took our chairs down to the Patapsco River for a Sunday afternoon chill out. The water was clear and cool and the sun was perfect. We were also not alone.
It wasn't crowded. There was a group of four young women wading in the water and a family of four just getting ready to leave. Further up the river we could hear sounds of a little more raucous group taking turns on a rope swing

In other words, there was revelry but it rather reserved as revelry goes. Nobody seemed to be bothering anyone.

It’s nice to know that there are still places, close by, where rules and behavior are self enforced. Watch out for the kids, pick up your trash, respect each others space and don’t behave like an asshole. If everyone adheres to these simple tenets, it works.

It did occur to me that this could just as easily go the other way. That would be unfortunate. 

Monday, June 04, 2012

Free Basting Oil

With only thirteen days to go before the Columbia Wegmans opens, I recently learned that, on April 11th, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the HoCo Circuit Court’s dismissal of the Kendall/Rousseau lawsuit that attempted to keep the popular grocer out of Columbia.

You may recall that Phillip Rousseau is the guy who complained that the new store would threaten his health by the increasing the diesel fumes on Snowden River Parkway. Phil’s house backs up to Snowden River Parkway.

Paul Kendall, Phillip Rousseau, Carvel Mays and Frank Martin originally filed suit to not only stop Wegmans but also to overturn every HoCo zoning decision for the past fifteen years. They even sought a Fed takeover of the HoCo land use process. They lost and appealed every court battle. Those appeals have now apparently been exhausted, just like everyone else concerned with this case.

Thanks to To2C netizen, Lotsabogeys, for staying on top of these convoluted legal proceedings over the years and providing me with updates. 

And speaking of Wegmans…

My new Wegmans Shoppers Club card arrived in the mail today, along with a coupon for a free 8 oz bottle of Wegmans Basting Oil. After reading this description of the product by Kurt Kulzer in the Wegmans blog I’m anxious to try it out.

“Basting Oil was released in August 2003. It had a sleek looking bottle and an elegant label. Soon, you were roasting Brussels sprouts or cauliflower and telling us how your kids were eating vegetables without argument.”

They also included a coupon for a free reusable shopping bag. We can always use another one of those.

Two weeks ago, Wegmans showed HoCo some love by donating eight tons of food to the HoCo Food Bank. Today they spread a little of that love to my doorstep.

Only thirteen days to go.

Fighting Fire with Fire

In our politically polarized world, there are still two things that can engender disdain from both sides of the aisle, robocalls and bandit or snipe signs. Snipe signs of course are those roadside signs that hold messages like “we buy houses,” and “credit repair ” along with a phone number to call. Unlike robocalls, snipe signs are prohibited in HoCo but that doesn’t seem to stop the loco proliferation of the signs. As fast as public works crews remove them, new ones pop up in their place.

In Hollywood, Florida, local officials have begun using the legal nuisance, robocalls, to fight back against the illegal nuisance, snipe signs. According to this story by Robbie Brown in The New York Times, “some coastal communities have begun aggressive campaigns against the signs — by robocalling the advertisers’ phone numbers.”

“It’s the only crime I know of where a person deliberately leaves their phone number behind,” said Mayor Peter Bober of Hollywood, which uses computer software to call the phone numbers, up to 20 times per day, until offenders pay a $75 fine. “They want us to call. So let’s call. And keep calling.”

It appears to work. In Hollywood, snipe signs have dropped 80%.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

A Little Help From Some Friends

Last Wednesday, HoCo Government made a bit of a loco Internet sensation when they posted a story about a duckling rescue in Town Center on facebook.

At lunch the next day I got “the rest of the story.”

Chris and Jason, who work for Ease Technologies, noticed a very distressed duck by a storm drain near the Merrill Lynch building parking lot on their way to an appointment. They decided to see what was up and soon discovered the cause of the ducks angst. Her babies had fallen into the storm drain and were still there. The boys called 911 who alerted HoCo Animal Control resulting in a successful rescue mission.
The whole episode was captured on the iPhone of Chuck Bubeck, the president of Ease.

“Mall security showed up and the animal control woman was able to scoop up the ducklings into the carrier one at a time as mom looked on nervously.  Once they were all safely  in the carrier, she walked the carrier to a the gassy area parallel to LPP with the mom trailing behind where they were released and reunited with mom (video).  The mama was a wreck over her babies being trapped and when I approached to take these shots she was careful to keep me back from the rescue action.”
In sharing this story over the weekend some of my friends have commented that this was nothing but a big waste of county money. I disagree. It’s not as if we don’t already have the resources in place to handle things like this. Animal Control has to deal with some pretty heartbreaking stuff so it’s nice to see when their work has a happy ending too.

50 Shades of Loco Politico

The night before this week’s podcast I attended a concert at Merriweather and ended up staying out way too late for a work night. Consequently I wasn’t as sharp as I would have liked to be for the show. Even though Paul and I had worked through the sequence of news stories at lunch, I screwed it up at least twice. I even forgot to do the show closing.

Even with my missteps I think it was a pretty good show. Alice Giles, our guest, is sharp and funny. The HoCo League of Women’s Voters is lucky to have her as a spokesperson. She’s almost convinced me to become a member. I just have to get over that name thing. That isn’t a problem for Calvin Ball or Greg Fox, who are both members. Ken Ulman, on the other hand, isn’t.

And speaking of Calvin, in the loco news recap portion of the podcast we tossed around his legislative initiative to extend the term limits for council members. Paul suggested that extending the term limits would create a sort of parking lot for loco politico ambitions. If a certain councilperson decided that they wanted to sit out the next county executive race to wait for the next election cycle, they would theoretically be able to continue serving on the council while awaiting their shot.

At the end of the show we decided to randomly stop shoppers in The Mall and ask them about the banning of 50 Shades of Grey in public libraries. This is always a fun thing to do and I’d like to thank the four folks who agreed to be part of it. For everyone we asked who agreed at least one other said no. We promised all of them anonymity.

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

Saturday, June 02, 2012

It’s a Meme Dad

Back in March I decided to begin featuring the occasional video of my daughter’s choosing. Peanut is a teenager about to enter her first year of high school. She plays Minecraft and watches YouTube videos more than she watches regular television.

She has shown me things that make me laugh. What surprised me most though was the realization that I’m probably the last person on earth to see this. This particular video has been viewed by over 14 million people.

“It’s a meme dad.”

I’m still trying to get used to that word.

This Peanut’s Pick is called Trololo Sing Along.

That Was Close

Yesterday around 4:30 PM, as I sat at the traffic light at Bloomsbury Avenue and Frederick Road in Catonsville, the sky suddenly darkened as the intensity of the rain increased. My smartphone chirped signaling a new email message just as the light turned green.

I decided to concentrate instead on maneuvering through streets that were quickly becoming flooded as storm drains struggled to handle the torrential downpour.
I had almost made it home when I encountered a newly fallen tree blocking my passage on New Cut Road in Ellicott City.

A u-turn and minor detour finally bought me to the shelter of my garage. As turned off the engine, I picked up my phone to check the message that came in earlier. It was from Notify Me Howard warning me that conditions were ripe for a tornado in Catonsville.

“Take cover now. Move to an interior room or the lowest floor of a sturdy building and avoid windows. If outdoors or in a mobile home or vehicle…move to the closest substantial shelter and protect yourself from flying debris.”

That was close.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Merriweather Rocks!

It’s been awhile since I last attended a concert at Merriweather. It’s not that I haven’t been interested in any of the shows; it has more to do with my general dislike of navigating through big crowds, particularly once a show is over.

I still don’t care for the post show exit herd but last night it was a small price to pay for an otherwise perfect evening in downtown Columbia. The weather was perfect and the sellout performance by the Zac Brown Band was as about as good as it gets.
I have a very long history with Merriweather. The first show I ever attended was The Who in the summer before I went to high school. Later I went on to work at the outdoor theatre every summer until I graduated from college. I was an usher, security guard, groundskeeper and stagehand. Working at Merriweather was the best job(s) I ever had.

It’s changed a good deal since the years I worked there, mostly for the better. Columbia and HoCo owes a debt of gratitude to Seth Hurwitz and Jean Parker for breathing new life into Merriweather after the former promoter almost almost ran it into the ground. Kudos also go out to Ian Kennedy and Justin Carlson who launched the Save Merriweather effort back in 2003. Nowadays Merriweather is poised to play a starring role in the makeover of Columbia’s urban core.
It sure bought life to downtown last night. Before the show, Union Jack’s patio was hopping with concert goers. At 11:00 PM, as we headed back to our cars, it was still going on.