Frosh were playing "Can You Top This...

THREE FEMALE

October 02, 1993

THREE FEMALE frosh were playing "Can You Top This?" outside a suburban high school. Category: paternal weirdness.

The redhead went first.

"My dad is so weird," she wailed, rolling her eyes. "He's, like, made up all these weird names. He calls me the Red Rage and the Squawking Chillator."

"My dad is really weird," countered the blonde. "He, like, sings weird songs around the house -- like, Mozart and stuff."

"My dad does that," said the brownette.

"He, like, sings in a church choir," persisted the blonde.

"My dad," huffed the brownette, incarnating scorn, "sings in a church choir -- and a men's quartet."

But the redhead hadn't given up. "My dad, like, has to wear his reading glasses at the dinner table to see his food!"

Knockout!

The redhead's dad is the weirdest dad in the suburbs. Rematch next week at carpool time.

* * * WHEN acquaintances tell developer W. Dale Hess they can barely see the new Wal-Mart, built on land purchased from him in Harford County's Abingdon, he takes it as a compliment.

And well he should.

Indeed, one could drive past the 14-acre site with the 116,000-square-foot store, off one of the busiest intersections in Harford County, and barely know the store is there.

Mr. Hess explains it was a conscious effort by his company to retain a tree buffer around the property as well as a sensitivity by Wal-Mart not to overwhelm the area with its presence. Rather than erect a towering sign on its building to loom over the tree berm, the store opted for a small, illuminated sign on the side of its building that's visible from Route 24, but only if you really look for it.

With so many Marylanders increasingly concerned about the rape of the land, of the aesthetic and environmental cost of developers reflexively turning woodlands to sawdust without reason, it is pleasing to see a developer and a merchant -- a very successful one, in fact -- acknowledge that a commercial property doesn't have to overwhelm a community to draw customers.

(The St. Charles Towne Center mall in Charles County is another notable example of a major shopping mall ringed by trees that understands shoppers are going to find it even if its presence is tastefully muted.)

"I'm proud of it," says Wal-Mart's Abingdon manager Chris Terry, who has worked elsewhere for the chain for the past 5 1/2 years. "You always want to get as much visibility as you can. . . [but] it's our community also."

We could all learn a lesson from what Wal-Mart has accomplished off Interstate 95 and Route 24 in Harford County.

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