Front-wheel-drive van is too much for thief to resist

This Just In. . .

January 17, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

The kindness of strangers is a double-edged snow shovel. Ask Barbara Bustard. During last week's misery, strangers dug her van out of the snow. But they didn't do this to reach their monthly quota of random acts of kindness. They just needed wheels. They stole the van.

As far as we know, they're still using it, too. Ask Barbara. Twice she's seen her beloved blue Voyager being tooled around North Baltimore.

This started, of course, with the blizzard. On Sunday, Jan. 7, Barbara's van was buried on Hickory Avenue, around the corner from her Hampden house, along with a lot of other vehicles.

By Thursday, her 14-year-old son, Matthew, had started digging it out. "But he didn't finish, far from it," Barbara says. "It was never dug out all the way."

Thursday night came, then Friday morning and Storm No. 3. Barbara never bothered to look at her van, figuring the additional snowfall would render it unusable until the weekend. She planned to dig it out Saturday morning and drive it to her part-time job in Mount Washington.

That never happened.

The van was stolen Friday (as near as Barbara and her neighbors can figure, in the wee hours between 1:30 and 4:30). "Someone finished digging it out and stole it," she says.

Saturday afternoon, while walking home from Mount Washington, Barbara saw the van twice -- once going south on Falls Road near Northern Parkway, once going north.

The second time, the van pulled into a gas station. Barbara followed it and watched as the thief refilled the van's gas tank. "It was incredible, I was standing right next to my stolen van," Barbara says. Of course, she didn't approach the thief, fearing he carried a handgun. Instead, she got the station's owner to call police. Ten to 15 minutes later, they arrived. By then, of course, the van had disappeared.

It's out there somewhere. If you see it, call the cops. It shouldn't be difficult to spot. The rear is covered with bumper stickers: "Question Reality," "Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge," "The Mind Is Like A Parachute: It Only Functions When Open." Tag number: 497418M. Oh, and it has front-wheel drive. Works well in snow.

Lee, Jackson and who?

When Steve Balog, financial officer at Baltimore Opera, went to a Signet Bank branch on Charles Street last week, he noticed an odd sign stating that the institution would be closed in observation of "Lee-Jackson-King Day."

Huh? Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. What's "Lee-Jackson-King Day"? At Balog's office, no one had ever heard of it. Who on earth would combine a national observance of the birth of the century's greatest civil rights leader with equal honors for Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, leaders of the Confederacy? When I first heard this from Deborah Goetz, the opera company's director of marketing, it sounded like some kind of twisted skinhead joke.

But then, I'd forgotten that Virginia has Lee-Jackson-King Day as an official observance. Lee's birthday (Jan. 19) has been a state holiday there for more than a century; Jackson's birthday (Jan. 21) was added earlier in this century. When King's birthday was made a national observance, Virginia combined all three. There was a stink about it at the time, but the hybrid holiday survived. How did such a combo make it to a Signet front door in Maryland?

Signet is a Richmond-based bank, and a sign that should have been used in Virginia was used to announce the holiday closure here. "It was a mistake," says Gail Sanders, spokeswoman for the bank. She was apologetic and said bank employees were checking to see how the Lee-Jackson-King sign ended up on Charles Street.

It was an odd occurrence but reminded us that Virginia still feels a need to honor men who fought for the Confederacy in the 1860s the same day it "honors" the man who fought to vanquish its legacy in the 1960s. Fortunately, in Maryland -- and most other states -- the King holiday stands on its own, as it should.

Blowing smoke

Somebody please tell Max's of Broadway that its "Cigar Happy Hour" might be cool, but its TV ads for it aren't -- especially when they air on Nickelodeon at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Counting on Mom

A TJI reader gripes:

"The place: Circuit City Express, in the busy post-holiday period. Customers are five-deep at the counter. A teen-age girl decides to buy a radio, which comes to about $23. As everyone waits, she counts out the amount in pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, with a few crumpled bills as well. The clerk (very polite, very patient) recounts it. The girl is about $1 short. At which point, her mother produces a $20 bill to make up the difference. So I guess mother's lesson was twofold: One, the importance of money, and two, the unimportance of everyone else's time!"

A treat for Spot?

A woman in a Towson supermarket couldn't find a certain item. She couldn't even remember its name. So she asked the clerk. "You know, those doggy snacks," she said. "What are they called? Liver Spots?"

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