Summer comes with first bag of salt water taffy

June 28, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

When people start carrying paper bags of salt water taffy home from Ocean City, summer in Baltimore has truly arrived.

I spotted a woman at Charles and Saratoga streets one day last week. She had a Candy Kitchen sack from the boardwalk. Was it full of peanut butter taffy or fudge? Makes no difference. She was in full flower of summer.

Get used to other sightings, such as seasonal Baltimore fashion accessories.

Watch for the cotton-poly snap-front housecoat, the Ban-lon shirt and Bermuda shorts preserved and worn from the Lyndon Johnson administration. For a few months, the three-quarter-length, all-purpose coat can rest in storage.

There's the certainty that water bugs will dart around the bathroom, kitchen and cellar after dark during the Baltimore searing season.

Folk tradition holds that water bugs are not dirt carriers in the way that common roaches are. Water bugs always appear when a strong overhead light is switched on at 2 o'clock in the morning. Their sight can be especially disconcerting after an evening of heavy imbibing, not on iced tea.

The impending July-August heat slap ushers in some pretty strange odors to Baltimore, a place where unusual scents are more the rule than the exception.

Sometimes it's merely a whiff of malt and hops from the G. Heileman Brewery in Halethorpe. Other times, it's a real nostril killer, like week-old hard crab shells.

A Baltimore summer brings an earful of street noises, some pleasant, like the sound of a huckster or A-raber calling out "Sweet corn!" or "Cantaloupe!" This time of the year also brings the maddening and incessant amplified electronic chime on the ice cream wagon.

Why is it, in the late afternoon, in the worst heat of the day, that there seems to be a greater number of joggers out than in the coolest part of the morning?

And explain to me why roofers select days when the mercury is well into the 100s to spread on roofs hot tar from smoky asphalt wagons.

One of the most reassuring summer sights is that of a Ferris wheel or Wild Mouse popping out over the rooftops and trees in a neighborhood. Small street fairs and carnivals arrive on vacant lots and in church back yards for a week's duration. The reflected glare of the rides' green and blue lights is another seasonal sight.

So is the sound of the city's shamelessly old-fashioned Park Band as it plays the greatest hits of Rodgers and Hammerstein all over the hills of Northeast and Northwest Baltimore. Pass the song sheets.

Get your driving nerves ready for the road games played every summer. Streets that don't need to be excavated will be torn up for long intervals. At the very least, crews will put up the detour signs as they repaint the center lines.

Just when you think the 20th century has done away with many quaint local customs, something comes along to tell you not just yet. Watch the sidewalks of Baltimore on a hot day. It is still not uncommon to see people walking under opened umbrellas. And there is not a hint of rain in the hot sky.

Other cities may fight the summer heat with window units and central air. It's always reassuring that Baltimoreans fight the heat with dusted talcum powder, aluminum folding porch chairs, snow balls, peach cake and an Oriole radio broadcast.

Something tells me that home-and-garden maven Martha Stewart would not give up a Connecticut summer for one along the banks of the Patapsco River.

Part of a Baltimore summer is the frustration at why the impatiens isn't blooming as well as those in Ms. Stewart's garden book. And why are the zinnias full of bugs and rust? And the phlox and roses do not look so healthy, either.

Any self-respecting local alley will be full of piles of discarded air conditioner compressors, plus new air conditioner wrappings and window fan boxes.

When did the pasta salad replace macaroni salad and seriously challenge potato salad as a side dish at so many picnics and cookouts?

And watch the harried MTA bus driver finally acknowledge the air conditioner isn't working, pull over and stop the bus and open the roof hatch to draw some air to the suffocating riders.

And should anyone at the office offer you some boardwalk taffy, watch your bridgework. Dentists, even in Baltimore, are expensive.

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