Monday, July 30, 2012

Beyond Whole Foods

At the formal announcement of the Whole Foods deal last week, Howard Hughes displayed a board showing some of the other proposed changes in the newly christened Lakefront neighborhood of "downtown" Columbia. In addition to two new parking garages, it appears that the existing parking deck around Copeland's is targeted for redevelopment.

Curiously, though other existing buildings are clearly shown, the Copelands building is not.
It also appears that the road passing through the Hug statue area is back in. You may recall that this connecting road was opposed by the CA Board of Directors back in 2007 and subsequent plans by General Growth, Howard Hughes predecessor, showed it taken out in response to the outcry,

I should note that the display board noted that “All plans for future retail, housing and parking structures are approximate and for illustrative purposes only.”

That being said it appears that this little connecting road is now literally back in the picture.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Hike Taken

I was restless today. I felt the need for outdoor time. At first we considered attending the German Festival but it was indoors.

We decided to head for the woods instead. 
After a brief discussion of some of our more familiar treks, I mentioned the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area.

Mama Wordbones had never been  to the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area so it was settled. I really wasn’t all that surprised Mama Wordbones, a lifelong HoCo resident and former Girl Scout volunteer had never been to the MPEA. I  think it may qualify as one of HoCo’s best little secrets. Today, while on the 2.4 mile Wildlife Loop Trail for a little over an hour, we encountered a total of six people and two dogs. There are places where the trail shrinks to a rather narrow single track and you realize how infrequently this place is visited.
It was a perfect day to be out there.
Since I first visited MPEA about eight years ago, the trail network has expanded with the South Wind Trail, adding another three miles for the younger, more adventurous types. The 1,021 acre park stretches from Route 108 all the way down to the new Robinson Nature Center on Cedar Lane. I suspect the trails will one day connect with the nature center too.
Getting There: Take Route 108 (Clarksville Pike) to Trotter Road. Travel about mile and look for the small white gravel parking area on your left. It’s easy to miss. At the trailhead grab a guide in the unmarked black box by the information board. It contains a map and lots of interesting information about the habitat you’ll pass through. The park closes at dusk. I’d like to say it’s free but the truth is that your taxes pay this so that's all the more reason you should get out and enjoy it.

And One Last Thing: I’ve always thought those moments of nature you get at the end of CBS Sunday Morning provide a nice wrap up,so with apologies to CBS, I offer these thirty one seconds in the life of one of our HoCo loco rivers.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why We're Here

As we were getting started with our podcast at The Mall yesterday, an elderly lady stopped to examine our show banner as she passed by. At this point we already had our headphones on so we just nodded at her when she then turned to consider us.

The banner did not provide enough information for her. “What is this?” she asked.

Paul was closest to her. He took off his headset. “It’s a podcast about local issues,” he explained.

“But why are you here?” she wanted to know.

I wanted to say “because we got thrown out of the coffee shop.”

It was good to be back.
After taking an extended summer break we returned to The Mall yesterday afternoon for the 70th episode of  “and then there’s that…”. Appropriately enough our guest was Michelle Jose, the Marketing Manager for the Mall. She’s got alot of things going on in her world right now, beginning next month with the opening of the SA Elite store. This will be the first east coast store for the new retail concept from The Sports Authority. We also talked about the plans to open up the LL Bean plaza with new retail and the unlikelihood that there will ever be another flash mob in The Mall.

Not inside perhaps but maybe with this new outdoor plaza…

It was a big local news week too. We talked about WholeFoods, Allen Dyer, gambling, the general plan, Clarksville, BGE, and even our old coffee shop.

It’s been a long time since we started in Lakeside back in 2009. We’ve been in The Mall since November of 2010.

Michelle said The Mall likes us there. We like it there too and that’s why we’re there.

So there.

...and you can listen to the 70th episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Victory Lap

This morning I asked Paul Skalny if he was going to attend the Howard Hughes / Whole Foods announcement ceremony today.

“No. I already know what they’re going say.”

Excellent point. No sooner had HowChow broken the story late yesterday then the story went viral. At that point events got a little ahead themselves. The Whole Foods cat was out of the bag before the announcement invites even got sent out. HowChow picked up the big clue from Marketwatch in a transcript of Whole Foods third quarter earnings call. A list of future openings was included and Columbia, Maryland was among the list of newly signed leases.

Where else could it be?

Anyway, the two companies decided to go ahead and have their moment regardless. I went, not so much for the actual announcement, but more to see friends and foes alike gathered in the same room.

The only notable absence was Alan Klein. He would have loved it too. The’re were lots of press seeking reactions from  "the people of Columbia."

Liz Bobo attended as did Cindy Coyle and Alex Heikimian. Cindy and Alex have not exactly been staunch supporters of the Town Center redevelopment program. They were all smiles today though.

Ken came to bask in the moment. This is a big win for his business cred and a nice little spot on the evening news to boot.

John DeWolf was the real man of the hour. After today the downtown crowd will be saying “Greg who?”

In a nod to Columbia history John said that the building will still be called The Rouse Building, though that sign will be considerably smaller than the Whole Foods sign.

I’m excited and yet somewhat saddened by the imminent transformation of a building that its architect once described as an “elegant warehouse.” I had the pleasure to work in the building in the early eighties. Although my office was on the ground floor I had friends on the second and third floors too. It was an easy place to wander around.

After the announcement this morningI slipped back down to the ground level to take a final picture of the pigs. The pigs fountain was a focal point of the ground floor dwellers back in the day. I wonder where it will end up.

The good news is that, as part the massive interior makeover that John is undertaking with the lakefront building, Frank Gehry will be bought back to Columbia to get his input. John’s planning on having  him take a look Merriweather as well since he designed that too. It would be very cool if Howard Hughes had some of Gehry's reactions to the new downtown taped and posted on You Tube.

As I was leaving I was handed a Whole Foods reusable shopping bag with cookies and a bottle of sparkling water. I’m keeping the cookies and the water but I’m giving the bag to HowChow for Mrs. HowChow. I hear she’s a big fan.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Whole Lotta HoCo Shakin’ Goin’ On

Whole Foods Market , Columbia Town Center

It’s official. Whole Foods Markets has inked a deal to occupy what amounts to the second and third floors of the former Rouse Company headquarters in Columbia Town Center. In a joint release this afternoon Whole Foods and Howard Hughes announced plans to significantly alter the interior of the Frank Gehry designed building  “creating a spectacular double height space for the store by removing the floor above the main level in the building.”

The four story building will now be a three story building but that's another story...

It’s a grand slam for John DeWolf and Howard Hughes. Back in March he was in the bottom of the ninth with this deal.

When you couple this with the announcement of GGP’s plan to reopen the main entrance of The Mall and the previously announced Metropolitan project, you get the sense that the long awaited Town Center makeover just kicked into high gear.

But wait there’s more…

Clyde’s has finally renewed their lease in Town Center. Sources have told me that the mainstay of Town Center dining is about to embark on an epic makeover. I hope to have more info on those plans soon.

It’s not just Town Center that’s happening either. The former Rocky Run Tap & Grill on Dobbin Road has been gutted, stripped down to the studs as it transforms itself into the Columbia Ale House. This is a big job, a large investment and very good news for HoCo beer drinkers.

There’s a whole lotta shakin goin on in HoCo this summer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

HoCo Open Mike Night

I attended the county execs Public Forum at the Robinson Nature Center last night. I figured it would be a good opportunity to find out what was on the minds of the HoCo locos. Ken had key department heads, including the police and fire chiefs, on hand to address specific areas of residents concern.

So what are those areas of concerns?

I arrived a little late but from what I heard they included a wide range of issues including speed cams, growth in North Laurel, a high school for Elkridge, the shooting in Aurora, Colorado and defense spending.

It seems that no topic was considered too big for our exec.

Ken let Bill McMahon speak about the shooting. Bill lauded the response of the Aurora police and rescue units, pointing out that the police were on the scene within ninety seconds. Granted that was fast but for the people in that theatre, those ninety seconds probably seemed like an eternity.

Folks from the High Ridge community in Scaggsville turned out in force to implore the exec to slow down the development occurring in their community. They pointed out that new home developments are twice as dense as the developments built in the nineties. One resident even suggested that the addition of townhome projects has led to increased crime. All I could think of was “Welcome to Smart Growth.”

 Ken expressed concern and said that “he wants to look at this more.”

Marc Norman got a turn with the mike. After complementing the exec on his stewardship of the county and the broadband initiative, he proceeded to complain about how a certain unnamed county employee seemed to take pleasure in stymieing his attempts to get information, specifically about the activities of his nemesis, the Mangione family. I got the sense that Ken found Marc’s diatribe rather tiresome. I snapped the following pictures as Marc unwound his dark conspiracy theories for the exec.
Howard Johnson, representing the Greater Elkridge Community Association, followed Marc. He thanked the exec for his help in keeping the intermodal terminal out of Hanover and then proceeded to make the case for more county projects, including a high school and a traffic light at US Route 1 and Ducketts Lane. Ken reminded everyone that the county recently purchased Belmont in Elkridge and that construction of the first phase of Troy Hill Park in Elkridge is slated to begin this September.

The last speaker of the evening was Ken Schafer, a resident of Turf Valley Overlook in Ellicott City. Mr. Schafer wants the county to place speed bumps in his community but was told that a neighbor “who is well connected in the county” would block any attempts to get them.

Ken told Ken that “nobody is well connected” in HoCo.

That got a laugh.

Monday, July 23, 2012

General Alexander and the Hackers

General Keith Alexander, Director of NSA and Commander of the U.S. Cyber Command will travel to Las Vegas next week to speak at Def Con, the 20th annual hacker conclave. According to this story by Timothy W. Coleman in, the gathering “has become a Mecca of sorts for those interested in groundbreaking developments and nefarious possibilities within the computer security and cyber realm.”

It could present an awkward moment for the four star general.

“Attendees are encouraged to make a scene and yell out that they spotted a Fed. An interview of the suspect will take place and an informal vote will be conducted, as to the likely veracity of the attendee being a so-called Fed.  It’s meant to be in good fun and if the Fed is ousted a tee shirt is awarded to the accuser (“I spotted the fed!”) and to the Fed (“I am the fed!”).”

I’ll bet he gets a t-shirt.

Protection Racket

Last week Bill Mackey told the HoCo Planning Board that the Route 1 corridor, which comprises less than 10% of the county’s land area, accounts for 30% of the county’s jobs. He said the goal of the general plan is to protect this major economic engine.

We haven’t done a very good of this so far. Two years ago the county council voted to rezone the largest remaining tract of industrial land in the Route 1 corridor to Transit Oriented Development. The rezoning allowed the 122 acre parcel to be developed with a mix of residential, office and retail with residential comprising the lions share of the land.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, now Preston Scheffenacker Properties is asking the county to permit even more residential development on the property at the expense of the commercial development. According to this story by Sara Toth in Explore Howard the developer “is proposing an additional 822 units be included in the plan.”

This would be in addition to 954 residential units already approved. Left unsaid in the article is what impact these additional residential units would have on the commercial portions of the project. My guess is that they would be significantly scaled back to make room this residential expansion.

So much for “protecting” this important economic engine!

Friday, July 20, 2012

HoCo Plan 2030

In his presentation of the HoCo 2030 General Plan to the Planning Board last night, Bill Mackey shared insights to the challenges facing the growing county. Bill is the Chief of the HoCo Planning Department Division of Comprehensive and Community Development.

According to Bill, 41% of our current population of 287,000 is made up of minorities. This is a significant increase from 27% in 2000. We’re getting older too. 29% of HoCo locos are from the Baby Boom generation. Today, roughly 10% of the population is 65 or older. By 2030 that is expected to almost double.

I don’t plan to be one of them. In 2030 I’ll be in my seventies and my general plan is to be in a place “where there ‘aint no snow” by then. Then again, if these recent warming trends continue that could well be HoCo.

Our regional transportation network is being “challenged” by this growth. Today, HoCo locos log 3.8 billion vehicle miles annually. 90% of trips to work, school and shopping are done by car.

To turn that statistic around we’re going to need a lot more walkable communities than Maple Lawn and Columbia Town Center. A bicycle superhighway and an expanded pathway network will help but likely won’t make that much of a dent in those 3.8 billion vehicle miles.

Solving just this single issue will take innovative thinking and bold leadership. I hope we’re up to challenge lest we drown in our own success.

Natures Flash

Last night, as the thunderstorm rolled though Ellicott City, I made my first attempt to photograph lightning. Sitting on my front porch and steadying my camera I tried to get the timing right.

I pretty much failed.

On the other hand I was able to capture that brief moment when lightning’s flash illuminates the night.

This picture was taken at 10:39:27 PM

Seconds later, at 10:39:54 PM, it was daylight for a brief moment.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Not an Acceptable Word

While attending my college reunion last month, my buddy Stan got me started on Words With Friends. Though the game has been around for a few years now, I’d never played before. Stan warned me that it was addicting. He was right.

Like the game of Scrabble, the money letters are Q, Z and J. Last night, playing against my old fraternity brother, I had a chance to put the game away with the word “Nazi.

“Nazi is not an acceptable word,” the game told me.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Taco Tuesday & Telephones

Last night was one of those rare occasions when I found myself alone for dinner. I was actually in the mood to be around people so I drove down to the Pure Wine Café on Main Street and grabbed one of the last seats at the bar. The small café was packed on a Tuesday night and I soon discovered why. It was Taco Tuesday.

For ten bucks on Tuesdays, Pure Wine offers your pick of two soft tacos. These are no gas stations tacos either. I had the Mediterranean Shrimp & Chorizo and the Cajun Style Vegetarian and each was equally delicious in their own right. They also offered a Southeast Asian Grilled Chicken, Latin American Pork Shoulder and a Rockfish taco prepared California Style with roasted red pepper aioli, jicama-cabbage slaw and pickled chili.

I understand now why the place was packed.

I like sitting at the bar at Pure Wine too. It’s intimate configuration facilitates impromptu conversations with your fellow patrons. Each time I’ve visited Pure Wine by myself I’ve ended up meeting new people and learning new things. Last night was no exception.

Earlier yesterday I was in The Mall for a haircut and ran into the Marshmallow Man sitting in Starbucks. He told me it was his birthday. After wishing MM a happy birthday we talked a bit about the upcoming BOE election. It is no secret that Marshmallow Man holds a pretty low opinion of candidate Ann De Lacy and I happen to share that sentiment. I told him I’d be going out of my way to promote the better candidates as we begin to get closer to the election. As I see it, five of the six candidates look pretty solid.

Right outside of where we standing the old public phone kiosk is being dismantled. These kiosks have been fixtures at the mall entrances since The Mall opened in 1971 and were once the critical link for mall rats needing a ride home. They have now joined the ranks of technologies castoffs.

It would be nice if they’d replace them with something like this.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

HHC Continuing Whole Foods Courtship

It aint over until it’s over. It appears that the deal to bring Whole Foods Markets to the former Rouse Company headquarters building in Columbia Town Center is not dead…yet anyway. Despite the pronouncement back in March that the deal had effectively “stalled,” John DeWolf, Howard Hughes Senior Vice President, has continued to aggressively pursue the specialty grocer.

Last month a knowledgeable source informed me that negotiations were ongoing and now John seems to have confirmed that. A slide presentation given to the Columbia Council in an open meeting last week included pictures of the Rouse building with the Whole Foods logo gracing the façade. He made it clear to the council that they were still trying to get a deal done.

So what’s the deal?

Why is this taking so long?

I was thinking that maybe Whole Foods just isn’t feeling the HoCo loco love yet. I mean look at how we gushed over Wegmans, years before they even opened! If I were Whole Foods I’d be wanting to feel a little of that love too.

Where’s the  “I Want a Columbia Whole Foods” facebook page?

This sounds like a job for HowChow

Monday, July 16, 2012

Local Beer

Although it’s been in Halethorpe for over fifteen years, we just got around to visiting the Heavy Seas brewery this weekend. Heavy Seas is the rebranded Clipper City Brewing Company which is the largest brewer in the region and it’s just over the border from HoCo.
I wouldn’t say that it is easy to find. The brewery is housed in a nondescript warehouse tucked back in an older industrial park on the far side of the train tracks.

It’s worth searching out though. As Tom Coale wrote in HoCo Rising two years ago, the five dollar tour and sampling is “a great deal.”
It’s fun too. The tour begins in the tasting room and guests are encouraged to bring their beer along on the tour of the warehouse and brewery. Kelly, our tour guide, was animated and enthusiastic about the brewery, beer, and Baltimore.
Heavy Seas beer is heavily rooted in Baltimore too. Hugh Sisson, the Managing Partner, opened Sisson’s, the first brew pub in Maryland since prohibition, in 1989 next to Cross Street Market. He left the restaurant business to concentrate full time on making beer in 1995 when he opened the brewery in Halethorpe. They now produce about 20,000 barrels of beer each year which is sold in 20 states. Heavy Seas beers have won numerous awards in national and international competitions.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Local Coffee

Last Friday, at the Colosseum Gyms' member appreciation barbecue, I struck up a casual conversation by the deserts with Patti Griffin. Predictably our small talk turned to work.

“What do you do for a living?” I asked.

“I work in a family business,” she replied.

It’s an old family business too. Pfefferkorn Coffee has been roasted in Baltimore for over a hundred years. Patti is the daughter of the family patriarch; Louis Pfefferkorn, Sr. She told me that her grandfather once owned a sizable farm in western HoCo. “He moved out here after selling his original farm behind what is now Edmonson Village Shopping Center in Baltimore." The business needed a farm for the horses for their delivery wagons. Before they focused exclusively on coffee the family was in the grocery business.

It’s good coffee too but you can’t buy it in HoCo right now. The last HoCo retailer that carried Pfefferkorns coffee was Yates Grocery on Main Street in Ellicott City. Last month the store owner, Betty Jacobs, announced that Yates would be closing after 127 years.

“We hope to have a couple of new retailers in Howard County soon,” Patti told me, “and we also plan to make it available online.”

Friday, July 13, 2012

We Interrupt This Podcast

We bagged the podcast today. This wasn't a decision we made lightly. Since November of 2009 we’ve produced 69 shows. If you do the math you’ll find that we’ve kept to our biweekly schedule fairly religiously.

Still, things happen. It was my job to line up our guest for this weeks show and by Tuesday I still hadn’t done that. All three of us try to juggle doing the podcast with our real jobs and in this instance I simply didn’t juggle very well. No one got upset. In fact, Dave and Paul eagerly gave me a pass. I suspect they were ready for a little summer break and my dropped ball provided the perfect opening.

So "and then there’s that…" is on vacation this week but all of our old shows are still available online if you still need that hyper loco HoCo fix. One of my recent faves was Episode 58 with Roger Caplan and Chris Oxenham. You can find that podcast here.

We’ll be back with Episode 70 in two weeks.

Rescue Charge

Yesterday, at Arundel Mills, I ran across this free cell phone charging station sponsored by Toyota. My first instinct was to dismiss this as nothing short of gimmick. I just couldn’t imagine anyone standing there for an hour or more waiting for their phone to recharge and it certainly wouldn’t be wise to leave a phone charging while you went off and shopped.

Then I read the instructions. This is an emergency charger. Its only purpose is giving your phone a temporary boost with a fifteen minute charge. I immediately thought of my teenaged daughter. It is easy to imagine how a day at the mall, texting and talking with abandon, could drain the juice out of a phone and leave her incommunicado. A fifteen visit with the charging station would be enough to restore her mobile lifeline.

It’d be nice to see one of these in every mall.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

No Post Day

I spent today playing host and driver for Peanuts birthday activities. That left little time to drop in a few words in here at To2C. I barely had enough discretionary time to just read the morning paper.

So instead of my usual blather and  in honor of her birthday, I offer To2C readers another installment of Peanuts Picks. My teenage daughter digs up some pretty unusual stuff on You Tube and she is now sharing her best finds here.

This one is called “adsfmovie5.”

  Fear the turtle indeed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Columbia Goes to the Dogs

It’s been a long time coming but it appears that, by this time next year, Columbia will have its very first dog park. According to this story by Luke Lavoie in Explore Howard, “CA staff has recommended that a dog park be built off Rivendell Lane near the CA Sports Park.”

Construction is expected to begin next February and will likely be ready for HoCo canines by early spring.

It could soon be followed by a second Columbia dog park. The HoCo Department of Parks and Recreation is working on plans to bring a dog park to the new Blandair Park in Columbia by spring of 2014.

“The county has identified two sections of Blandair park, one in the southwest and one in the northwest, as potential locations for a dog park.”

Parks and Rec currently operates the only existing HoCo dog park in Ellicott City.

A big wag of the wordbones tail goes out to all those who work to make HoCo even more dog friendly.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Maryland vs Kansas

The governors of Maryland and Kansas were singled out in the national press today for being polar opposites in their respective approaches to taxing and spending. In this article by Michael Cooper in The New York Times the reporter writes that “the proper balance between taxing and spending has been raging in Congress, on the presidential campaign trail and in statehouses around the country, and no two states have settled it more differently this year than Maryland and Kansas, whose fiscal years began July 1.”

The Kansas guv “was persuaded that his state needed to cut its income taxes and taxes on small businesses significantly when he studied data from the Internal Revenue Service that showed that Kansas was losing residents to states with lower taxes.”

Many have made the same argument about our neighboring states but our guv takes a very different tack. He was quoted from an address he gave last month at the Maryland Municipal League annual convention.

“How much less research and development would be good for the innovation economy that we have an obligation and a responsibility, a duty and an imperative, to embrace? How many fewer hungry Maryland kids can we afford to feed? Progress is a choice: we can decide whether to make the tough choices necessary to invest in our shared future and move forward together. Or we can be the first generation of Marylanders to give our children a lesser quality of life with fewer opportunities.”

Coincidentally, I also came across this story by G. Scott Thomas in The Business Journals which ranked how well the individual states have recovered in employment since the recession began in 2007. He writes that nine states and DC, “have recovered all of the jobs they lost during the recession.”

The number one state was Texas, led by a Repub guv and the number two state was New York, led by a Dem. Below the top ten were 41 other states that have yet to recover their recession employment losses. Kansas was 21 and Maryland was 23. At that far down in the rankings you’d have to call it a draw.

That being said, I smiled when I noticed the dateline on The New York Times story. It was Ocean City, Md. Kansas may rank two places higher than us in State Nonfarm Employment but it doesn’t have a beach town to file a story from.

That’s gotta count for something.

Another Statehouse Report Card

Delegate Steven DeBoy could be the poster child for a legislator who is able to balance economic and environmental interests in Annapolis. In yet another report card released today on statehouse legislators, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters gave the Elkridge Dem a 100% rating. In the MBRG report card issued last week, DeBoy received a 60% making him the highest scoring of fellow HoCo Dems in that pro business barometer.

Guy Guzzone, Frank Turner and Shane Pendergrass also received 100% scores from the MLCV.

This time around it was the HoCo Repubs who got the bad grades. Senator Allan Kittleman and Delegate Gail Bates both got a 0% score from the environmental group. Perhaps Allan's defense of Eastern Shore chicken farmers didn’t sit that well with the greenies. Warren Miller fared just a little better with a 14% score.

Overall the HoCo Dems earned good grades as friends of the earth. Senator Ed Kasemeyer received 80%, while Jim Robey got a 60%. Delegate Jimmy Malone got a 91% and Liz Bobo, 82%.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Live! But Not Real Lively

Last Friday night we headed over to Arundel Mills to check out the new Maryland Live! casino. We were curious to see what the states newest and largest slots parlor looked like inside.

It was dark, though that is fairly typical for a gaming establishment. Casino operators like to separate their guests from the world outside so windows are as rare as clocks. It hardly matters. The views from this casino in a parking garage wouldn't be that great anyway.

If you’ve ever been to Las Vegas or Atlantic City, the sounds you hear upon entering the casino are very familiar, a cacophony of bells and chimes from the sea of slot machines and other electronic table games.

What really struck me though were the patrons. There were a large percentage of older, overweight people plopped down in front of slot machines. The atmosphere may have sounded lively but most of the people we saw were anything but. The absence of dealers and pit bosses further contributes to the indolent atmosphere. This is a place where the machines are much livelier than the humans.

In an article by John Wagner in The Washington Post, Milton Peterson, the developer of National Harbor in Prince Georges County, referred to Maryland Live! as a “slots barn.”

I think that’s a little unfair. What Maryland Live! lacks in exterior design, it makes up for inside. It’s not the nicest casino I’ve ever been in but it’s hardly a barn.

Peterson’s derisive comment about “slots barns” should be taken in context. If the guv is successful in expanding gambling in the state, National Harbor “would partner with MGM to build an $800 million facility with a hotel, nightclub, spa and other upscale amenities.”

That’s about $300 million more than the Cordish Company claims they spent on Maryland Live!

We considered having dinner at one of the two restaurants in the casino, Bobby Flays and the Cheesecake Factory. Bobby Flays is open to the casino and all the attendant slot noise so we ruled that out. The Cheesecake Factory was packed with a long wait just like every other Cheesecake Factory I’ve ever visited.

We ended up going to the DuClaw Brewing Company with their great selection of beers instead. It may not have been that much more lively but at least we didn’t have to wait an hour or talk over a chorus of slot machines in the background.

...and the EuForia ale was so good, I had another.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Sunsets and Salmon

Last nights sunset was a real beauty. We first grasped its magnificence as we exited Route 100 at Long Gate around 8:25 PM last night. Mama Wordbones immediately began suggesting places to pull over and take a picture. She was thinking of you.

“You should take a picture for your blog,” she suggested.

I love it when she thinks of To2C. I wouldn’t exactly call her a regular reader. She’s sort of blog neutral.

She was right about the sunset though. It was picture perfect. I decided to head for high ground, Glen Mar Church on New Cut Road.
And speaking of salmon…

I’m not a fan. I enjoy an occasional piece of salmon sushi but otherwise I find the fish unappealing. This is not good. Salmon is good for you. I always try to balance the bad stuff I put into my body with some good stuff. Salmon is good stuff. I feel a need to like it.

That’s why I was intrigued by the salmon on a plank.

One of my joys at Wegmans is the seafood section. As someone whose cooking skills are limited, I appreciate the pre packaged cook and serve offerings of tuna, tilapia, and salmon to name a few. The salmon on a plank caught my eye. For eight bucks I had to give it a try.

It was excellent.
I soaked my plank, coated the fish with spices provided and dropped it on the grill. In about ten minutes it was ready. When I do this again I’ll apply the spices a little more liberally. I was way too conservative with the dry rub. They give you more than enough and it's exquisite.

There’s hope for me and salmon yet.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Cool Walk

The only way to enjoy the outdoors during a heat wave is either by staying up late or getting out early. This morning I opted for the latter as I set out at 7:30 on a four mile trek from my house to Main Street Ellicott City and back.
As I wound my way past the Worthington Dog Park, the mercury had already climbed past the mid seventies but there was also a light breeze. Soon, I was in the shaded confines of New Cut Road and it was just like any other summer day, warm but not oppressive. Although there isn’t a sidewalk or much of shoulder on New Cut, at this time of morning I saw just as many cyclists as I did cars.
I passed a couple of runners too.
Before long I reached the outskirts of the historic district and worked my way down to the Bean Hollow coffee shop for a quick coffee and perusal of the morning paper. The heat wave made the front page, above the fold.

Before heading back home, I stopped and snapped of picture of an artist painting a picture as part of this years Paint It! Ellicott City!
For the return trip I headed up College Avenue, a decidedly steeper route than New Cut. The developers of a housing development called Autumn River are installing a new traffic circle on College near Sheppard Pratt. The work has been stalled as they wait for BGE to move the old poles that are now in the relocated road. I imagine that this work is a little low on the utilities priority list right now.
By the time I turned back into my neighborhood, the temp has climbed to the mid eighties and I was ready to reenter a climate controlled world. For me anyway, the best part of the day was over.

Friday, July 06, 2012

In This Months Business Monthly

When I sat down to write this month’s column for The Business Monthly, the prospects for a second special session of the General Assembly as early as next week to ram through new gambling legislation looked pretty good. That may no long be the case. According to this report by John Wagner in The Washington Post, the guv has decided “that is not a realistic timeframe and wants to spend some more time seeing where House members stand, said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.”

The delay is being at least partially attributed to last Friday’s stormus interuptus. As of this morning at least 30,000 homes in Maryland are still without power.

That is not to say the guvs attempts to expand gambling in the state are over. He just needs a little more time to twist some arms. According to this story by Annie Linskey in The Sun, Governor O’Malley “intends to announce Friday that he will continue trying to hammer out a deal to expand Maryland's gambling program, according to an official close to the governor.”

It’s only a matter of time. Just like four years ago, voters are being told that expanding gambling will help our schools, stave off tax future increases, and cure the common cold. 

In other words, it’s appears to be only a matter of when, not if.

You can read this month’s column here.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Failing Grades for HoCo Dems

Although it is probably not a report card that they care all that much about, our HoCo statehouse Dems didn’t fare that well in the annual Roll Call report card from Maryland Business for Responsive Government (MBRG). The annual rankings call attention to legislators “attitudes toward business, jobs, economic growth, and investment in the state…”

As I wrote in this post two years ago, MBRG ranks the elected officials based on their votes on business legislation, including committee votes.

“In order to compare a legislator’s score with his or her colleagues, both Senate and House members have been ranked by percentiles. The percentile represents where a legislator’s 2012 MBRG % rating ranks in relation to other legislators’ ratings.”

Delegate Frank Turner scored the lowest, earning a 0% for 2012, followed by Guy Guzzone with a 1%. Delegates Jimmy Malone and Liz Bobo were both ranked at 14% while Shane Pendergrass  got 46%.

The most biz friendly HoCo Dem in the General Assembly was Steven DeBoy at 60%. Senator Ed Kasemeyer scored 50% and Senator Jim Robey, 34%. For Jim this was actually a huge improvement over 2010 when he was given a 2% score.

The Dems seem to heading in the wrong direction on making Maryland more business friendly.

The Repubs fared much better in the Roll Call scoring. Senator Allan Kittleman received 76% and Delegates Warren Miller and Gail Bates each got a 72%.

Since I began paying attention, these numbers rarely fluctuate all that dramatically. As long as Maryland remains a one party state, there is probably little chance of change in the Old Line State's business climate.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Early Birds

I like going down to the Town Center lakefront before the festivities get started on July 4th. The Columbia Association allows folks to start claiming a spot for the fireworks at 8:00 AM and by 1:30 PM the area has become a colorful mosaic of blankets and tarps.

Late arrivals discovered that finding an opening amidst this sea of blankets required all the concentration of a game of scrabble.
While most people stake out a spot with plans to return later others, like Brittany and Isaac Saunders Sr, make a day out of it with their family. Isaac told me they set up camp at noon today, even though the action didn’t get started until three. “We live just down the street from here,” he told me.
Brittany said they’ve come back to this same spot for a couple years now.

When asked Isaac if I could take a picture of his family for To2C, he seized the opportunity to promote his photography business. He also let me know that his wife was a writer in case I needed any help with the blog. I thanked him for the offer but informed him that this was pretty much a one man operation.

Early today, there was some talk of cancelling tonight’s celebration due to concerns about the possibility of another severe storm. As I was heading back to my car I received a text from Notify Me Howard that the show will go on tonight.

Happy Independence Day

Today marks the 236th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It’s a day to celebrate American democracy. To that end I share a quote from the man often referred to as the father of our country.

“Party disputes and personal quarrels are the great business of the day, while the great and accumulated debt, ruined finances, depreciated money and want of credit were postponed from day to day, from week to week, as if our affairs wore the most promising aspect.”

Although that was written by George Washington in 1778 during the Revolutionary War, it sounds very familiar today. For those who lament that modern politics in America has denigrated into placing personal agendas over the national good, you should take heart that this is something that has plagued our democracy from the git go.

Here’s hoping everyone can toss aside politics for the day, and celebrate the fact that even after 236 years of this stuff, our country endures in spite of ourselves.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Down in the Hole

Our recent weather event has once again raised cries for burying all power lines. Even here at To2C, readers have chimed in on the issue.

It has also again highlighted the longstanding Columbia/Ellicott City divide. In some recent casual conversations I've detected a hint of  an infrastructure superiority complex among some Columbians. Columbia, of course, was a pioneer in the burying of power lines forty five years ago. As a result, Columbia in general, suffered fewer power outages than the rest of HoCo, percentage wise anyway.

That being said, there were still power outages in Columbia. The infrastructure is only as strong as its weakest point which occurs in and all around Columbia. This is also true in Ellicott City. In the newer developments, including my own neighborhood, all of the power lines are buried. The problem is that they are connected to the old parts where the wires are hung on poles, the aforementioned weak link. In Ellicott City the old parts occupy a larger geographical area than the new parts.

 Whether or not to just go ahead and bury everything everywhere has been battered around for some time now. According to this story by Mike DeBonis in The Washington Post, “In 2005, the Maryland Public Service Commission studied whether creating a statewide system of underground lines would be wise. The group concluded that building such a system would be too expensive, …”

There also seems to be a question as to whether it is even worth it.

“A 2009 report from the Edison Electric Institute, a trade association for public utilities, said data show that underground systems have “only a slightly better reliability performance” than above-ground systems.”

Then again, if you just measured the performance of underground power lines in times of storms like last Fridays, putting the power in the hole wins hands down.

“Pepco said in a 2008 report that outages involving overhead wires took 2.8 hours to repair, while the average outage involving underground equipment took 4.4 hours. But during and after storm events, the calculation changed: Above-ground equipment took an average of 8.2 hours to repair, “while there were no [underground] storm related failures for comparison.”

And then there’s that…

Monday, July 02, 2012

Three Days, No Donuts

As HoCo headed to normalcy this morning, signs of the disruptions caused by Friday nights “super derecho” storm were still evident.

The Dunkin Donuts on Montgomery Road in Ellicott City was open for coffee but had no donuts for dunkin’. The store lost power on Friday and didn’t get it back until late yesterday making it one of the storms losers.

The winners were mostly next door in Columbia. Overall Columbia appears to have fared much better than Ellicott City. Yesterday I took Mama Wordbones to visit Wegmans for the first time and it seemed as if half of HoCo was in the store. One of the employees by the sushi bar told me that the store never lost power and that they'd been "crushed" all weekend.

It was a different story on Main Street in Ellicott City. Instead of the usual summer weekend crowds the historic district was largely empty as shops closed due to lack of power. When I drove through the old mill town on Saturday morning, restaurants were scrambling to preserve their perishables. I spotted this crew moving food from Tersiguel's to a refrigerated truck while a generator droned in front of Scoop Ahh Dee Doo.

As Ian Shapira wrote in this story in The Washington Post, “Natural disasters have a natural way of doing this. They mysteriously transform some people into the haves and the people next door into have-nots.”

In this particular storm, it appears that Columbia was the haves, and EC was the have-nots.