Roger Hayden, screamless and cool at 85 mph


February 04, 1993|By DAN RODRICKS

I have been trying to imagine what it was like in Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden's car last Thursday morning.

It was clocked at 85 mph.

To which I say: Wooooooooo-eeeee!!

I'm impressed because I'm a speed wimp. I get the willies when I'm in a car that hits 70 on the highway. The reason is simple: I was traumatized in childhood by Uncle Lester.

Uncle Lester was, like Roger Hayden, a mild-mannered man. He was a Seventh-day Adventist who read the Bible every morning and ate prunes every night. He was one of the gentlest and sweetest of men.

Except when he got behind the wheel of his Caddy.

My brother and I were passengers when Uncle Lester hit 90 mph on the road to Maine, and he had such a maniacal expression on his face -- something like Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" -- we were afraid to look.

We should have screamed.

Which is what Roger Hayden should have done the other day.

Hey look, a lot of people say, "No big deal." That's just the problem.

Eighty-five is a car zipping by on the left when you're driving in the center lane of the Beltway doing 55 to 65. There are plenty of people doing 65 to 70 these days. There are plenty more doing 70 to 75. But when you get up past 80, you're streaking, baby, you're a puree of steel and taillights.

You're calling attention to yourself. You're saying to the state police: Take me, I'm yours!

You're a public menace.

So when I first heard the news about the county executive's car being stopped for doing 85, I was shocked.

Who knew Hayden was such a wild man? By appearances, he comes across as a mild-mannered fiscal policy wonk. And a Republican one at that -- an Uncle Lester, if you will, of county government.

Who figured him for the fast lane? Next thing you know, they'll be telling us Roger Hayden is nicknamed "Roach," suits up in leather and ripped jeans and plays sax with a Fells Point blues band.

Actually, don't get your hopes up about Hayden's being a party animal. It wasn't he who made the car go 85 mph.

A Baltimore County police officer was driving the county executive's big gray Ford sedan.

The officer was driving at 85 mph in the southbound lane of the Beltway just before the Key Bridge causeway. The Baltimore County executive was in the back seat.

What was he doing back there and why wasn't he screaming?

Why didn't Hayden do something about the fact that his car was going 85 mph, a rate that would have guaranteed his transportation from Towson to Annapolis in less time than it takes to get the new roast chicken at Roy's drive-through?

What could Hayden have been doing? Reading the latest edition of Soil Recycling Today? Working on a proposal for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) on the site of the Granite stump dump? Going over the names of the 400 or more county employees whose jobs he plans to cut next week? Looking for a new tweed jacket from the Blair Menswear catalog? It's hard to say.

So let's assume Hayden was doing nothing more than chatting with his entourage. The county attorney, the deputy county attorney and Hayden's executive secretary were in the car. Let's say they were caught up in passionate dialogue. Even so, how could Hayden not have noticed that his driver was busting the speed limit by 30 mph?

Hayden has no excuse. He must have known his driver was speeding to the point of public menace.

Had you or I been passengers in a car hitting 85 mph, do you think we would have become at least mildly distracted? Do you think you would have screamed or at least said: "Hey, hey, hey!" I think so.

Amazingly, Roger Hayden didn't notice. He didn't get nervous. He didn't pull a Ralph Kramden: "Homminna, homma, homma, homma, homma." Didn't scream at his driver to slow down.

It took a state police corporal to do that. Good thing, too. I wish the state police would hit more speeders. But the corporal gave Hayden's driver only a "verbal warning."

Had it been me or you behind the wheel, on the clock at 85, would we have gotten off with a verbal warning?

I might be wrong, but I doubt it.

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