Just in case you didn't notice -- and, frankly, only slugs should have missed this -- Maryland National Bank is now NationsBank. That humongous company from North Carolina -- The Bank That Ate Baltimore -- has orchestrated a complex corporate transition that, despite first-day glitches, is rolling along nicely. From a re-gilded and re-lighted bank tower on Light Street to a smartly produced advertising campaign, the metamorphosis from Maryland National to NationsBank has been artistically achieved.
But, in an effort to endear itself to customers, did the bank violate a basic rule of propriety? Apparently, some tellers have started addressing customers by their first names. "I went into a branch, conducted a transaction and the teller said, 'Thank you, Sarah,' " said Sarah Fawcett, who speaks in an appealing British accent. "I don't like to be called Sarah by bank tellers I don't know. This bank muscles its way in, paints the town gold, and now they're calling me by my first name!" That's a no-no, according to Miss Manners. A NationsBank official says that, if such a practice is being observed, it is by individual or branch initiative, not by corporate edict. Ms. Fawcett got the impression it was part of the big bank's I-wanna-be-your-friend strategy. "There was a computer-generated sign in front of the teller that said, 'If I don't use your name, ask me for a quarter,' " she reports. "I don't want a quarter and I don't want to be called by my first name!" I'm hearing that.
Can you beat the Fells Point scene on Halloween night? Oh, no. I don't think so. If you appreciate the art of costume, if you like surprises, if you yearn for a nocturnal city adventure more frivolous than perilous, there isn't a better place to be. If you didn't make it down there this year, mark it on your 1995 Snap-on Tools calendar. Once again, the sidewalk show was spectacular. Among the best costumes:
A guy in an apiarist's outfit, covered with swarming fuzzy bees and wired for sound (bzzzzzzzz); a tall female mannequin wrapped in a red robe, carrying a baby against her chest, the head of the baby being the real, live guy inside the costume; a man with a talking skull on his shoulder (the skull sported a cowboy hat and bandanna); a Bedrock family tooling down Thames Street in a superb replica of a Flintstones-mobile; a healthy young woman in a Valkyrie breastplate and loincloth (the kind of goddess I hope to see in Valhalla); lots of cats, lots of Howard Sterns; one Barbara Bush in a blue-and-white polka dot dress; and a caped couple with complementing phantom masks (she had a red light for an eye, he had a vent pipe for an arm and a mini-propeller for a hand). Great stuff.
Of men and leather
We should make a note that the last pair of shoes Peter Dongarra fixed belonged to a Mr. John Jones of Baltimore. They went off the shelf at Dongarra's Roland Avenue shop at 4 p.m. Monday, 47 years and six months after Dongarra put the first pair there. He's been fixing Baltimore's shoes since May 1947. That's a lot of leather, maybe 10,000 repairs per year in the good years. "I made a living, raised six children -- five girls and a boy," Dongarra says. "The first few years, after I went into business, it was tough. I was only 20, and there were a lot of shoemakers in Baltimore, and people looked at me and said, 'He's so young, what does he know?' So it was tough at first." Dongarra knew plenty. He learned the craft from his father, George Dongarra, who learned it from his father in Sicily. "I sat and I watched, that's how I learned," Peter Dongarra says. "That's how a boy must learn this craft -- sit there and watch your father. But, it's not being taught much anymore." From what I've seen, it's being imported. As a matter of fact, the new owner of Dongarra's shop is a man named Stefan Gegala. He has been fixing shoes and VTC leather goods for 35 years, the last 10 of them here. He learned his craft in Poland.
How's the waistline, Joey?
My official food taster, Joey Amalfitano, was out with his girlfriend, Maxine, the other day and files this report: "Karson's, that landmark of Holabird Avenue, remains a great eating joint. Sunday, after taking in the Port Fest at the Dundalk Marine Terminal, Maxine and I stopped by and had oyster pot pies, great breads and hot muffins, and all the ice water you could drink. Up the street is Jimmy's, also superb, and farther up Holabird is Squire's, tremendous pasta joint and still some of the best pizza in town. None of these places is trendy, all substance, substance, substance. Oh, and I gotta tell ya: The crust on those pot pies were like they came from a fine pastry tray, flaky and golden. Maxine was so stuffed she asked for a doggie bag."
Bad timing department
Smile on this: Americans now receive, per capita, half the number of dental fillings they needed 30 years ago and, as a result of fluoridation, half of today's school-age kids have never had a cavity. That's all according to the American Dental Association. And that's all well and good. But parents still worry about cavities from too many sweets -- especially on Halloween. Don't think it wasn't on our minds Monday night. Even more so for a young mother in Wyman Park. Get this: Around 5 o'clock, she was helping Benny, her 6-year-old, prepare for trick-or-treating, when the phone rang. Guess who was calling? Cross Keys Dental Associates -- with a reminder that it was time for another appointment for Benny! Spooky stuff.