THE MORE things change. . . A neighbor visited the Soviet Union in autumn 1953. His most vivid impression on the automobile ride from the airport to Moscow was of men in uniform, stooped over in the fields. His guide said that they were soldiers, gathering the potato harvest.
"We were all afraid of Soviet military action then," he still recalls. "But, I figured, if that's what the troops were for, they were less dangerous than numbers suggested. Troops picking potatoes are not training to conquer West Germany. Nor is the farm economy that needs them so hot."
What stimulated this memory was the recent explanation of the Soviet defense minister, Marshal Dmitri Yazov, of certain troop movements in Moscow. He was speaking to the Supreme Soviet, denying Soviet newspaper speculation of a military coup.
The troops observed, he said, either came to Moscow for the Revolution Day parade, or to pick potatoes in the nearby countryside. Troops digging potatoes are too busy to overthrow governments.
* * *
PLAYBOY centerfolds are sending U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf autographed pictures of themselves. In deference to Saudi Arabian mores, only faces and shoulders of the fully-clothed women are photographed. Since social standards of the host now seem to dictate Playboy's behavior, one can only imagine what the magazine would send to the soldiers if they were stationed in Las Vegas.
* * *
BLASTING OFF with a 131-page statewide Commuter Assistance Study, the state's transportation planners have told lawmakers the only way to avoid massive gridlock in Baltimore is a huge building program.
Here's what they would build: scads of light-rail lines to such suburban locations as White Marsh, Dundalk, Woodlawn and UMBC. That's in addition to the light-rail route already under construction between BWI airport and Hunt Valley.
Older Baltimoreans might be forgiven if they note that the region is preparing to go into the 21st century with the same kind of mass transit the area had coming into the 20th. Too bad we underwent such a long period of ripping things up in between.
* * *
A PROFESSIONAL couple we know is renovating a sprawling 1857 townhouse on Union Square. It's a house with promise (seven fireplaces) and peculiarities (a brick privy in the backyard). It didn't become clear how deeply that renovation job had changed our friends' lives until we heard what the lady of the house wants for Christmas. A circular saw! We can't wait for their anniversary.