The return of Hon Man and other pleasant events along the road


August 17, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

Since May 9, when a couple of state troopers caught him in the act and politely told him to cease and desist, Hon Man has resisted stapling "Hon" to the wooden welcome sign on the median strip of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. A few interlopers tried taking up where he left off, but none showed the persistence of Hon Man. So now our boy's back, vowing more of the civic-minded mischief in which he had engaged for two years. "I could resist no longer," Hon Man said. He attached one of his many laminated "Hon" placards to the welcome sign Saturday. Someone had ripped it down by Monday. It'll be back. Watch that space.

A nice moment to remember

The woman yelled clearly over the truck traffic but her accent, a distinct Western Maryland voice with a little drawl attached, made it impossible to understand exactly what she said to the boy. Something about potatoes, which is why I was there. I had spotted the red-potatoes-for-sale sign stapled to the telephone pole on the lawn in front of the big white barn just east of Boonsboro, Washington County, a good 70 miles from Baltimore. This time of year you see roadside produce stands from Ocean City to Oakland. Calling them "stands" accords them a stature they aren't due. A lot of them are just tables -- and that's all they need be, right? -- holding baskets of tomatoes and cantaloupes, cukes and squash. On Route 40, "Honor System" was hand-lettered to a sheet of plywood propped on the tailgate of a pickup truck loaded with $1.50-a-dozen corn. Along Liberty Road in Sykesville, a woman set out squash and cukes with a sign that said, "Take what you want." There was a can with a note that said donations would go to a local church. And the can was filled with dollar bills.

"Bring a half-bushel," the woman yelled to the boy at the farm outside Boonsboro, and pretty soon he came from behind a white building with a conical basket big as his upper body. It was kind of funny -- baseball cap, basket and legs coming across the lawn. The boy dumped the dusty potatoes in a brown shopping bag, filling it to its saw-toothed brim. "Three dollars," the woman said, and we were quietly shocked at the low price. The cantaloupes were 50 cents each. Tell you the truth, we felt a little guilty. Those roadside stands look like they're set up for the neighbors, not the tourists, and the fruits and vegetables seem to be priced accordingly. It's as if the local gardeners and farmers mean to share with friends across the road and don't really intend to sell their produce to strangers. But still, it's hard to resist stopping and buying something right off a farm. They could have charged us twice what they did and the sight of that boy struggling with the basket of potatoes, the sound of the woman's drawl -- that would have been worth every penny.

Balm for the backward

With indignation, resentment and nearly demoniacal rage, dozens of readers from all over the Baltimore metropolitan area have telephoned, written and issued faxes in response to the admittedly sarcastic, yet honest, complaint, registered in this space a week ago, about people who back into spaces in busy parking lots and garages while the rest of us endure this tedium. No names of individuals were mentioned in the published gripe, yet everyone to whom it applied took it personally. Not only were they insulted at my impertinence, but aghast at my ignorance. Don't I know that driver safety experts recommend the "forward exit" from parking spaces? Don't I know that one cannot make a "forward exit" without first backing into a space? Don't I know that lives are at stake? And don't I know that most people who back into spaces always get it on the first try?

Some of these epistles dripped with unbridled fury and crude counter-sarcasm. Everyone who responded was defensive about their personal parking habits and some, I might add, were a little self-righteous. For example: "The driver who takes a few extra seconds to back in is not doing so to make your life hard. He/she might be making it a bit longer."

Well (sigh), what can I say? It appears some people took my little poke so seriously that I risk alienating them permanently, and that's not what I want. I only want to alienate people temporarily.

So, OK. If you want to back into spaces and hold up other people in crowded parking garages and busy parking lots, fine. I concede: Your reasons are honorable. And you are, I'm sure, all honorable people. You would never break 55 on the highway, would you? You never take more than 10 items through the 10-items-or-less express lane. You don't smoke. You don't eat meat. I bet you even recycle the paper labels off tin cans. I'm sorry I hurt your feelings. I love you. I honestly love you. Don't go changin'.

Java in yuppieland

One way to measure yuppification is by the number of espresso stands. If you go by that, Baltimore isn't exactly drowning in yups. In some cities, you can get espresso or cappuccino on every corner. In Chicago, there are more espresso shops and carts than -- oh, how would Royko put this? -- crooked aldermen. In Baltimore, we're looking at maybe six downtown espresso carts. One of them, the "Jitters" wagon operated by Jamie Jones and Peter Winer, operates each Sunday at the farmers' market under the Jones Falls Expressway. They're looking for a permanent downtown location with lots of yuppie traffic. If you know a good one -- I'm curious about this myself -- report yuppie blooms to This Just In, 332-6166.

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