Bermuda Shorts and Fishy Fish

July 28, 1994

What a gem is our state capital. How can you not love a city where hoity-toity tradition is juxtaposed so beautifully with wackiness? A city that has the State House and Mayor Al Hopkins' singing. Sailboat races and Chick & Ruth's. J. Crew fashions in the shop windows and lawyers who want to wear shorts in court.

In Annapolis, the nutty and the eccentric are always butting heads over what's "proper." For a while it was the appropriateness of the neon sign at Chick & Ruth's Delly along historic Main Street. This week, it was Gill Cochran, the lawyer who would bare his legs, and T.F. "Tedd" Biddle, who insists she has a constitutional right to sell fish from the City Dock.

"We should all loosen up a little," said Mr. Cochran, as he asked Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. to let lawyers wear Bermuda shorts in the county courthouse -- a piece of advice the whole city, the Historic District in particular, should consider adopting now and again. Does a Spiderman poster in a bookshop window ruin the ambience? Should snowball stands be banned because they don't match the Georgian architecture?

The trick, of course, is knowing when to and when not to loosen up. Judge Thieme knew enough to say "no" to lawyers in shorts. The last thing the judicial system needs is to erode what respect people still have for it by subjecting them to the sight of hairy lawyerly legs. Besides, the courthouse is air-conditioned. If other people can endure pantyhose and long pants while walking from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned office, so can lawyers.

In this case, tradition should triumph. In Ms. Biddle's case, tradition should remain buried.

The idea of returning to the days when fishermen sold fish off the dock sounds quaint, but the reality is that a dock full of fish-laden boats means a whale of a headache in terms of trash disposal, health codes and the inevitable fish smell. If the city thinks snowball stands pose a threat to downtown's quality of life, wait until it gets a whiff of a couple of fishy boats in mid-July. A fish smell is all right in a working fishing village, but that's not what the Historic District is any more.

It's a tourist town. A little eccentricity only makes it more fascinating, but you have to know where to draw the line.

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