Not even King Kong had to deal with this


September 13, 1992|By Chris Kaltenback

Even though King Kong was never really welcome in New York City, even though he was chained inside a huge theater, shot at by planes and had the only woman he ever loved taken away, there was one thing the big ape never had to worry about.

He was never denigrated to the lowly status of advertising sign.

Fortunately for all of us, the good folks roaming the government halls of Anne Arundel County know better. They know an ape when they see one, they know a sign when they see one, and they know an ape that's really a sign when they see one.

And that's why the ape that stood for years outside a Ritchie Highway car wash has been declared illegal. A county zoning inspector drove to Brooklyn Park, looked at the big monkey, said, "That's a sign," and ordered car wash owner Tom Fine to get his simian friend off the sidewalk or face up to a $1,000 fine.

Ladies and gentlemen, your tax dollars at work.

Forget the ludicrousness of it all, the urge to simply ask, "Don't these people have anything better to do with their time?" Forget that the ape had stood there undisturbed since 1986 -- long before most of our local lawmakers even got themselves put into office. Forget that the ape was a harmless conversation piece.

What is it about this county that can't take a joke, that can't look at itself a little less than seriously or allow -- maybe even encourage -- something a little out of the ordinary?

And does anyone really think that removing a mechanical ape from Ritchie Highway will do anything to improve that urban planning nightmare?

Items like the Brooklyn Park gorilla help give a community character -- and Lord knows Ritchie Highway, with its patchwork quilt of strip shopping centers and drab commercial facades, could use some character.

The gorilla was a happy exception. Every day, he could be seen waving his mechanical arm at passing motorists (at least until the mechanism broke and his arm became stuck, like a simian version of the Wizard of Oz's TinMan). A bus driver once pulled over, thinking the guy in a gorilla suit was motioning for a ride. People who couldn't tell you where Belle Grove Road is on a bet knew where the gorilla was, and used him as a handy landmark when giving directions.

Our furry friend suffered quietly through rain, heat and wind (although the latter would occasionally cause him to topple over). But he was done in by a sign ordinance that, apparently, allows signs along Ritchie Highway at a density of about 1 million per square yard, but doesn't make provisions for even a single gorilla.

(This isn't the first time someone in the county has tried to do something original, only to be thwarted by bureaucracy. A few years ago, a woman in Orchard Beach wanted to air her "dirty laundry" and warn people thinking about buying homes in a nearby subdivision about the pollution affecting her neighborhood. Not interested in buying a genuine sign, full of fancy lettering and with all the requisite licenses attached, she merely spelled out her message on some old sheets and hung them in her front yard. She, too, was threatened with a hefty fine.)

The county ought to be ashamed. Instead of outlawing such novel advertising strategies (OK, I admit, the gorilla is essentially a sign), the folks who actually spend time monitoring this stuff should encourage it. Most of the signs in this county are about as interesting as loose-leaf paper; sadly, the days when a pack of neon horses raced across the top of Glen Burnie's Paddock Bar are gone forever.

I'm angry that the gorilla has been forced off the street, because of a law that is so stringent, it includes no right of appeal. I'm angry that this county can't laugh at itself a little, and encourage something a little offbeat. And I won't be happy until that ape is back where he belongs, flagging down passing motorists and waiting for his own Fay Wray to show up and steal his heart.

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