A gala so popular that nobody goes and a band with a plan

THIS JUST IN ...

March 25, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

The Phantom Ball is one of those charity galas -- I love that word, gay-lahs! -- that occur every spring and require black tie, gowns and a lot of fancy-schmancy cha-cha. Except this ball the well-to-do don't have to do. Lenny and Gail Kaplan are hosting the thing, and even they aren't going. That's because the Phantom Ball is a nonevent. No food, no drinks, no fancy-schmancy cha-cha. The party people just buy a ticket -- $100 per person -- and the substantial proceeds go to Baltimore Reads, which operates four literacy centers in the city. Call 752-3595 if you don't want to go.

New marching orders

Longtime fans of the Baltimore Colts Marching Band noticed a subtle but significant addition to the band's equipment at the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Flapping among the many flags the band usually displays was a Canadian maple leaf and the Canadian Football League flag. The 179-member band, which hasn't missed a step since the NFL Colts left Baltimore 10 years ago this month, hopes to be playing when the CFL Colts take the field in July. (The band will play at Memorial Stadium tomorrow to boost ticket sales.) "We are in negotiations, and it looks very positive," said bandleader John Ziemann. He said he has no objections to overhauling the uniforms to comply with the new league and team. "We definitely need new uniforms. These are 14 years old and are getting gamy."

The band has played at 30 NFL halftime shows since its namesake team fled to Indianapolis in March 1984. Ziemann said the band's mission was to return football to Baltimore, and that has been accomplished. "This is our home team now," he said, referring to the CFL Colts. And if an NFL team can be persuaded to move here? "We'll play for both," he said.

But if Jack Kent Cooke moves his Washington team to Laurel -- that's a different matter. The team never invited the band to play at RFK Stadium, and stopped returning the audition tapes Ziemann submitted. "Jack Kent Cooke says he loves Maryland," he said, "but we haven't heard a peep." Figures.

Post scripts

Del. Ray "The Flag Is Like A Corporation" Huff says he was rTC going to hoist a new American flag outside his Pasadena insurance agency anyway, and no one had to put the idea in his head. So there! . . .

On the op-ed page of The Sun on Tuesday, a writer indulged in cheap-shot speculation that Hon Man is "white and lives, happily removed, in the county." For the record, Hon Man, the guy who attaches those "hon" placards to the welcome sign on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, lives and works in the city. So ,, there! And about which. . . .

The 'hon' factor

The phenomenon has been described, I think perfectly, as "the homogenization of the provinces." It's what happens to communities when their local character and culture become neutralized by pop culture, mass communication and the

franchising of institutions, small and large. Without efforts to preserve and celebrate the local culture -- we're up against Disney, McDonald's and the omnipresent force of television -- each town and each city ultimately could lose its identity.

Arnold Zwy, long ago a columnist for the City Paper, once remarked that he loved Baltimore because it wasn't Washington, wasn't New York. And Arnie appreciated that, within this region, there was enough cultural diversity to satisfy most anyone who enjoys life in a land of unpredictable and unpretentious delights.

"Hon" fits into this. A term of endearment, that's all, and something that makes Baltimore a bit different from Someplace Else. It might not be part of everybody's greeting -- whoever said it was? -- but it was poured into the pot a long time ago and survives as a provincialism that distinguishes this city and the communities adjoining it from all other metropolitan areas. You can hear, "You want fries with that?" anywhere in the United States. Only near Baltimore did I hear, "You want fries with that, hon?"

So before the effort to make "hon" part of one greeting at one entrance to Baltimore gets crunched by the political correctness police, remember: Like it or not, it's part of this community's tradition and culture, as much as snow panic in winter, bull roasts in spring, snowball stands and produce trucks in summer, streets filled with kids in new clothes at Easter, marble steps, painted tires filled with petunias, the pride felt for Brooks and Frank. And not only is it harmless -- pardon me if this sounds insensitive, but I can't imagine that anyone who used "hon" ever meant it as a put-down -- it is actually a way to give people a smile on their way from the airport.

And I'll tell you this, friends: "Hon" is one of many things that made this guy feel instantly welcomed when he moved to the Queen City of the Patapsco Drainage Basin half his life ago.

Froggies go a-courtin'

If you happen to go out for a spring stroll this weekend, and happen to take the Northern-Central Rail Trail from the Monkton station up along the Gunpowder Falls, and you happen to get, oh, about a quarter-mile north of the station at about, oh, 4 o'clock, listen for the croakers. Them little froggies are courtin' and making a racket so awesome and bizarre that, if aliens were monitoring the sound from space, they'd turn around and head home. . . . Oh, and hey, trout fisherpersons! Get your Velveeta balls and corn niblets ready. It's that time again.

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