Celebrity overtakes quiet cul-de-sac Attraction: Until a week ago, Linda Tripp lived in relative anonymity in suburban Columbia. Now, she is the reason for a daily media frenzy some neighbors find entertaining.

January 28, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth and Craig Timberg | Dana Hedgpeth and Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

The scandal that has engulfed the White House has changed the quiet Columbia cul-de-sac of Cricket Pass into a media staging ground.

For a week, camera crews have been parked outside a two-story, blue home there, waiting for Linda R. Tripp to show her face.

"It's been fun and entertaining," says Cricket Pass resident Ben Harris, 14, who started charging camera crews and reporters $3 a visit to use his bathroom. "Stuff like this doesn't happen here."

What does happen on Cricket Pass would probably surprise Columbia founder James Rouse, who envisioned the planned city as a place where neighbors' lives would be intertwined like the bodies on the People Tree, Columbia's symbol.

Instead, the photographers and reporters seeking neighbors' insights into the woman whose tapes of an alleged affair and cover-up threaten the presidency of Bill Clinton have found that she lived in a world of suburban anonymity.

"She never waves to anyone, that's all we know," neighbor Mark Farfaras says.

The biggest impact Tripp made on neighbors' lives before this week was of a quintessential suburban variety -- a dispute over her dog and its deposits.

Details remain in dispute, but this much is clear: In 1993, Tripp's Labrador -- Cleo -- did its business on the lawn of her next-door neighbors, the Valentines, in full view of Regina Valentine, who took the matter to Howard County's Animal Matters Hearing Board.

From there, the two accounts differ.

Valentine says Tripp stood idly by during and after the incident, refusing to clean the mess up. Tripp, according to a tape of the hearing, contended that she tried to restrain the dog and later performed cleanup chores.

The board fined Tripp $25 for letting her dog run loose of its leash, prompting a scathing letter in which she accused Valentine of a "complex vendetta."

"Have any of you animal owners ever tried to stop a dog mid-stream in the defecation process?" she asked the board in the letter.

Now, the neighbors don't acknowledge each other at the street's mailbox cluster -- right between their homes.

Those mailboxes were part of Rouse's vision of Columbia, a place where neighbors would get to know one another as they retrieved their mail each day. It doesn't seem to have worked with Linda Tripp.

Many in the Hickory Ridge village have learned more about Tripp in the past week than in 16 years of living near her. The frenzy of camera crews and satellite trucks has grown into the kind of neighborhood block party that might have made Rouse smile.

Neighbors walking their dogs stand and chat about the latest developments in the scandal.

Grown children have driven four hours to their childhood home after seeing their family dog on CNN.

One neighbor got a long-distance scolding from her daughter for wearing a tattered robe while taking a morning walk -- on national TV.

At the McSweeney house, a few doors from Tripp's house, Kimberly McSweeney finds it awkward to explain the scandal to her two daughters, ages 7 and 5.

"We tell them Miss Linda says one thing, President Clinton says another, and we're waiting to hear who's telling the truth," she says. "I'm a piano teacher, and I've got students who show up for their lesson and ask me, 'What's going on with President Clinton and your neighbor?' I tell them to go ask their mom."

The McSweeney girls so far seem satisfied with the answer.

Meanwhile, Tripp's house has become a rarity in Columbia -- a genuine attraction.

Cars find their way through the town's serpentine streets, along Sunny Spring, past roads named Satan Wood, Slender Sky, Dusty Glass and Plaited Reed, turning into Cricket Pass where passengers point and gawk.

"I find myself looking out the window all the time and watching the news all hours of the night," said Liz Harris, who lives at the end of the cul-de-sac. "If it didn't involve my neighbor, I would probably not care as much. It's all kind of exciting."

For the three other families in Columbia named Tripp, none of whom is related to Linda Tripp, answering dozens of calls has become a bit of a nuisance.

"It is becoming a bit of a pain in the neck," said David L. Tripp, a Rouse vice president and its director of investor relations who lives in Long Reach.

His son, Jason Tripp, who lives about a half-mile from Linda Tripp in Hickory Ridge village, jokingly put his wife, Denise, on the phone after getting several calls from news stations.

"When they would ask for Linda Tripp, I'd say, 'Hold on a moment, please,' " said Jason Tripp, 25. "I'm still hoping for a book deal."

Pub Date: 1/28/98

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