A columnist's farewell to a second home town


March 31, 1996|By Elise Armacost

I DIDN'T KNOW too much about Anne Arundel County when I came here as a reporter six years ago, despite having grown up on the Carroll/Baltimore County line a mere 35 miles away. The distance between the counties in this region has always been greater than the map indicates.

Annapolis was a place you saw on the news or visited on school field trips. Ritchie Highway was a metaphor for congestion and too many billboards. Glen Burnie and Linthicum seemed like industrial cities compared to the small towns and farm communities my family knew. We would have felt more in common with South County had we known anything about it, which we didn't. It might as well have been a foreign country.

Working here changed all that long ago. Today, as my tenure as Anne Arundel's editorial writer and columnist comes to an end, this county's people, places and issues are as familiar as those of my home town and, indeed, more familiar than those of the community where I now live. Beginning next week, I will be writing a column on metropolitan issues in the Sunday Perspective section as well as editorials about Baltimore County. I'm going home, yet in many ways this feels like leaving home.

So many uniquely Arundelian things to miss:

Pastore's, and the Wooden Nickel's hot-'n-hefty roast beef sandwich. Rick's Cafe and Cookie's Kitchen. Mario, the maitre d' at La Piccola Roma in Annapolis.

The way the state capital looks as the sun goes down and all the buildings and boats turn on their lights, sending golden splashes across the water.

A summer afternoon stolen on a park bench on the banks of the West River in Galesville.

So many characters. Captain Seaweed. The late Bill Padfield, who rode through Glen Burnie dressed up as Santa each year. Glen Burnie's Ted Rodriguez, erstwhile bar owner, a-rabber and founder of a pet cremation business called "Personal Cremations by Ted."

How about Mayor Al Hopkins, who gave me a tour of Annapolis and countless malapropisms I'll never forget? Or the late Stuart Morris, whose weekly visit to our bureau on behalf of the Severn River Association was always accompanied by a gentlemanly bow in my direction? I've never known anyone who could disagree with an editorial more graciously. Or Bob Schaeffer, father of the property tax cap and sworn enemy of elected officials everywhere. He's a blowhard and I rarely agreed with anything he said, but I confess I always liked him.

Beyond the places and personalities, there's something intangible -- a certain spirit of independence and activism -- that distinguishes this county. It's this spirit that produces people like Mr. Schaeffer, environmental maven Mary Rosso, PTA leader Carolyn Roeding and West County community activist Al Shehab. You may not agree with them, but you have to admire their willingness to throw their heart, souls and energy into a cause. Apathy is hard to find here. People act to make their community the kind of community they want. The voter-approved property tax cap was a perfect example of that.

This activist spirit extends to the political realm, where local representatives -- especially state lawmakers -- are more deeply involved in their communities than their counterparts elsewhere. For all the cynicism that surrounds politicians, Anne Arundel has produced some truly sincere, committed and capable elected leaders. I didn't always agree with Sen. Phil Jimeno of Brooklyn Park, former Glen Burnie Sen. Michael J. Wagner, Brooklyn Park Del. Joan Cadden or North County Councilman George Bachman, to name a few. But I always respected the extent to which they cared for and worked for their communities. I suspect that Anne Arundel is somewhat unique in this respect.

In many other ways, of course, the county is not unique. The distance from here to my home town in northern Carroll, or to Owings Mills, or to Bel Air, or to Columbia, is growing shorter all the time. As the Baltimore-area counties become suburbanized, the problems they face become ever more similar.

The quality of public education and the tension between school boards and governments over school spending are issues in all the counties, not just here. Residents everywhere are worried about crime. How to manage growth and development is a metropolitan problem, not a local one. As the counties become more diverse, they all must deal with race relations. They all must decide what services government should provide when revenues are stagnant.

Most important, perhaps, the counties all must face the problem of Baltimore City, whose troubles will ultimately become theirs. Until now, the suburbs' strategy for dealing with the city's economic and social woes has been to ignore them and hide from them. But that is no solution, as the counties will discover as Baltimore continues to decay and its ills seep beyond the city line.

I expect these region-wide issues to form the crux of my new Sunday column. To that extent, this isn't really goodbye. I'll be coming back again and again.

Elise Armacost has been The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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