Golden Ring Harry victims have beef

THIS JUST IN ...

January 05, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

Let me say, from the start, that no perverse pleasure is taken in the story that follows. Though cynics might suspect that I offer it strictly for public amusement, that's not the case. I offer it, mostly, as a public service -- a warning, you might say -- and only in part for amusement. After all, there are people out there -- perhaps several dozen by now, possibly some of them readers of this column, possibly members of my immediate family -- who will cringe at the mention of Golden Ring Harry, and find any celebration of his endeavors in bad taste.

Harry is the name given by a man who frequents the Golden Ring Mall area of Baltimore County, often asking for handouts. He's a panhandler, but not in the original sense of that term. This Harry fellow asks for "loans," not direct cash grants. He tells people that he has a flat tire and needs some cash to have it repaired, and that he will gladly repay them later in the day.

"At first, he asked people for $5," says Mike DiCarlo, who has been hearing Harry stories for about a month. "Eight is pretty much his number now, though. He asks almost everybody for $8."

Harry has been seen around Golden Ring banks, convenience stores and department stores. He is said to be clean-cut, earnest and articulate. Apparently, he's very convincing, too.

As stated earlier, Golden Ring Harry asks for "loans." He tells people to meet him later at his place of employment -- the popular Big Al's Pit Beef on Pulaski Highway -- to be repaid.

So, for the past month, a lot of well-meaning men and women have been showing up at Big Al's and looking for this Harry fellow. But Harry doesn't work there anymore.

In fact, Harry never worked there. A guy named Brian Thrift and a guy named Mark Baker -- they work there. But there's no Harry.

"It happens every day," says Mike DiCarlo, who owns Big Al's. "Two or three people come by looking for Harry. And they're the nicest people, too. Some of them are good-natured about it. Some of them get really [angry]. About half of them end up buying a sandwich from us.

"One time, this real nice guy comes up and says, 'Is Harry here?' And we said, 'There's no Harry here.' So he says, 'Man, I knew I got scammed.' But he bought a sandwich from us. Then, while that guy was eating the sandwich in his car, another guy came up and asked, 'Do you know a guy named Harry?" And we said, 'No, but that guy eating the sandwich does.' "

Four more victims came by Big Al's yesterday. Mike DiCarlo thinks it's time people were warned about Golden Ring Harry. Employees at Big Al's have alerted Baltimore County cops with the hopes of putting this scammer out of business. Which is good of them, seeing how it could mean a slight drop in pit beef sales.

Heavy metal

Gripe of the Month (and this is only Jan. 5!):

At Martin's supermarket in Westminster on Wednesday night, a young woman walked into the express lane with a few items. Cereal Mom, a regular contributor to This Just In, was right behind her. "This was around 6 o'clock," Cereal Mom says. "That's always when the store crowds with people on their way home from work, running in to get last-minute things for dinner. This woman only had a few items and the express lane at Martin's usually is a real express. So I figured, hey, I was finally going to get home before my husband."

One problem: The young woman was paying with pennies, nickels and dimes; she had a plastic sandwich bag full of them. And the cashier had to count out every last coin! A long line of shoppers formed. Everyone was miffed. "This shopper wasn't poor-looking or anything," says Cereal Mom. "She just wanted to get rid of all her pennies. Hey, it was a cash-only line!"

Where was the water?

The multi-alarm fire that destroyed the CSX warehouse near Fort McHenry the other night begs a question: Whatever happened to the sprinkler system?

The old four-story warehouse, which once stored Maryland tobacco, was not in use and not heated. As a result, it had a "dry" sprinkler system. (To prevent pipes from freezing in winter months, water flows through such a system only after an alarm goes off.) Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres says the city Fire Department was alerted to the blaze because the warehouse's sprinkler system had been tripped. "We had water flow," insists Kathy Burns, spokeswoman for CSX Transportation in Florida. But how far did it flow? Did it flow throughout the building? Given the dimensions of this fire -- flames shot 100 feet in the air, and six alarms were sounded in less than 30 minutes -- one has to wonder. More on this later.

More on Mustard

From Vickie Mabrey, former WBAL-TV reporter now with CBS News in London, on Jim Mustard, the Channel 11 newsman who died the other day: "He was someone you could learn a lot from. He always said that ego had no place in a story and that news was a tool that could be used to right a lot of wrongs. He was always fighting for the underdog."

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