What do you mean, Boring? Hamlet: Out among the cornfields of Baltimore County, a small town of 280 (not counting dogs, cats or cows) has a most fascinating name.

December 10, 1997|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Beyond these city limits, something keeps tugging at us. Something about a place, a name, something we cannot resist.

Pursuant to journalism's manual, every fourth year (or so) a Maryland reporter must step foot in Boring, a Baltimore County farm town known for its "funny" name. It's where the yuks never stop, where the story never quite ends. We keep coming back to Boring, can't get enough of Boring, can't figure out Boring, got Boring on the brain.

Small towns are getting big press. Lately, the ground zero of small towns has been Carlisle, Iowa (pop. 3,589); the home of the septuplets has become Our Town. "Why more Americans Are Fleeing to Small Towns" is this week's cover story in Time. Since 1990, 2 million more Americans moved from "metro cen-ters" to rural areas than left the big city for the small town, the magazine reports.

These "new emigres" are engineers, artists, doctors and lawyers -- young people with options. Also, retirees and their 401(k) accounts are resettling. All these people yearning for the simple life, aiming to reinvent their rat-racy lives, to live some place where the population is in the four digits. Or three, if they're truly blessed.

Enter Boring (pop. 280). Technically not invited, we showed up two days before last weekend's Boring Volunteer Fire Company's annual "Fire Blanket Demonstration." The blankets, it's said in Boring, make "unique Christmas gifts."

You know these small towns -- they're always making blankets, quilts and down-home biscuits. You know these small towns -- where "time stands still" and "it's not a town but a way of life" and "it's the way things used to be." Don't we all want to live in a place that outsiders craft by cliche?

Bet your Aunt Bea we do.

A roadside marquee (about the fire blankets) signals us to hang a right on Old Hanover Road. Out Route 30 beyond Reisterstown and before the Carroll County line, old Western Maryland Railroad tracks zig and zag through Boring.

On this two-lane, shoulder-less road, a speed sign has been vandalized. Using spray-paint, someone turned the speed limit 30 into 80. Judging by the sporadic truck traffic, the amended speed limit is being enforced.

First impressions of Boring:

Vandalism is rampant.

Trucks go fast.

It's so quiet you can hear the grass grow. No, that's impossible. It's so quiet you can hear the Ford Explorers approaching at warp speed. The experienced traveler knows to leap into any of the cornfields thoughtfully planted alongside Old Hanover Road.

Boring has yard signs. "On this Site in 1897, Nothing Happened!" Another sign staked in a garden says, "Grow Dammit." The unimaginative reporter would devise a cute little category for Boring -- "Most Unusual Yard Signs." But that would be boring.

Find the post office for local "color."

As reporters know, every small town has a small post office -- manned by a small, elderly postmaster who knows everyone. He also doubles as the town's unofficial mayor, fire chief, doctor, school principal and minister. And he does tax returns.

Wrong. Boring's postmaster is a young woman committed to one job. Laura Bedwell, 35, makes no claim to knowing everybody in town. She does have a massive headache as we speak. It's uncertain whether her headache is caused by another round of Boring questions; certainly, it's a contributing factor. We begin to feel her pain.

People come through here all the time asking about the name, Bedwell says. Always the same questions. is it really Boring? "Nothing happens here. It's just a small country town." How did the town gets its name? "It's a family name." In 1905, the area was named for its first postmaster, David Boring.

Well, those aren't funny anecdotes. "Sorry," the postmaster says, clutching her aching temples. "It's just not a big deal."

Come to think of it, the town could have done a lot worse than naming itself Boring. Judging by the roadside debris, this place could have been named "Mountain Dew" or "Marlboro" or "Dead Cat." Domestic pets don't always live happily ever after in small towns. We were wrong again.

Look who just dropped into the post office! Why if it's not Walter DeVilbiss Sr. himself, the "unofficial mayor" of Boring. "The man you need to talk to," the postmaster says. Every small town has an "unofficial mayor," as any reporter knows and writes. Also, "folks" live in small towns, which are also called "hamlets." (You'll never read a news story that begins, "In a hamlet in East Baltimore. ")

In short order, Walter DeVilbiss says he is neither the official nor unofficial mayor of Boring. He is bored with stories about Boring. Appearing on the verge of a headache himself, DeVilbiss says he does not wish to participate in this story. Fair enough.

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