Karen Whittington was looking for a good time last night, so she headed to Baltimore's main post office to fill out her 1990 tax return -- with all the other last-minute filers.
"I guess I should have come a little later," Ms. Whittington said as she flipped through an instruction manual. With five hours still left before the midnight deadline, the annual Procrastinators' Ball was not yet in full swing.
Ms. Whittington saw the Fayette Street bash on television last year and thought it looked a lot more entertaining than filling out her return at home alone.
"Everybody was just laughing and joking," the West Baltimore woman explained. "It looked like fun."
Minutes before midnight, cars clogged Fayette, and postal workers stood on both sides of the street collecting returns from harried motorists. Others parked blocks away and sprinted to the entrance of the building, emerging breathless but triumphant.
"We made it!" shouted one relieved woman, jumping up and down.
After helping 281 people with their taxes, Jacqueline A. Hill, an Internal Revenue Service representative, pronounced herself "beat." But she said she enjoys working on April 15.
"It's fun to me," she said. "You get some interesting people. It's amazing. None of them are really upset."
While the vast majority of Maryland's 2.2 million taxpayers filed their federal and state returns weeks ago, about 220,000 waited until yesterday, according to Marvin Bond, a spokesman for the Maryland Comptroller's Office. Post offices in Annapolis, Glen Burnie, Columbia and Towson collected returns until 11 p.m. to help them make the deadline. Downtown Baltimore stayed open until midnight.
Many last-minute filers owed money and didn't want to fork it over any sooner than they had to.
But others are what Internal Revenue Service spokesman Dom LaPonzina describes as "the same people you knew in school who were up typing term papers the night before they were due," he said.
Sheila Moore didn't offer any excuses as she stood at a post office table calculating her refund.
"What can I say? I had other things to do," the Park Heights woman said.
The die-hard procrastinators hurried into the post office as the deadline approached and requested automatic extensions, which put off the inevitable for another four months. But they still had to estimate what they owed and pay the check by midnight -- or pay penalties and interest on what they owed.
Howard Abramson gets an extension almost every year. The Owings Mills certified public accountant doesn't have the time to work on his own taxes. He's too busy banging out returns for clients.
"There's not an accountant I know who files on time," said Mr. Abramson, who drove to the post office to file for the extension.
Accountants don't need to go to Fayette Street to experience tax madness. Their offices take on a frenzied air long before April 15.
The week before the deadline, Marilyn Mathis, the office manager of Schluttanhafer, Tarner and Anders, a Charles Village accounting firm, took to wearing jeans to work, making it easier for her to kneel on the floor to root through piles of tax return folders.
"You want to see madness?" demanded Ms. Mathis, pointing to a coffee table in front of her desk laden with files. "My office is in total disarray at this point."
She and the three CPAs at Schluttanhafer, Tarner and Anders were putting in long hours to complete all their clients' tax returns before the deadline. But they kept their sense of humor through the worst of the crush.
"It's like Christmas around here with the wrappers all over the floor," CPA Kenneth W. Anders said cheerfully.
At the post office, letter carrier Lee Whitaker soaked up the chaos like a sponge. He got a kick out of the firefighters who drove their truck up to the post office yesterday to hand over their returns. "There must have been eight or 10 of them," Mr. Whitaker said. "That was good."