In Carroll Co., Norman Rockwell feel coexists with reality of drug problem

June 07, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

AT BAUGHER'S, the generations bump into each other. The country-style restaurant, located on Main Street just beyond Western Maryland College in Westminster, feels like a Norman Rockwell painting coaxed to life. The waitresses are so attentive, they practically mend your socks. The veal steak dinner, with hot rolls, two vegetables and a drink, goes for $4.85. The homemade pie evokes standing ovations from your taste buds.

But, as you enter the restaurant, with its big banner out front declaring Baugher's 50th anniversary, you glance at the local newspaper boxes out front, and there's the shadow of the future: front-page stories, bold headlines, on the spread of heroin among young people in Carroll County.

It's a reality check as you step into the past. At Baugher's, there's a bakery with homemade bread and cakes, and a fruit market with lush home-grown produce. Inside the restaurant, signs trumpet a Strawberry Festival on Saturday at the Baugher orchard, with free wagon rides, a strawberry-pie-eating contest and the crowning of the Strawberry Princess.

Never mind the impending 21st century, this is the innocent flavor of the 19th. It's where Carroll County's always felt most comfortable, holding on to its links with the land, embracing the eternal family values, trying to slow down the world and its modern computer pressures, fending off the premature arrival of the future.

Once, the notion of heroin in such a place was unthinkable. Now there are billboards around the county warning of drug problems. The police issue worrisome statistics, and school administrators lament unmistakable signals in classrooms. The Carroll County Times runs an exhaustive seven-part, front-page series, "Teens and Heroin: A Special Report," complete with charts and graphs showing the rise of drug traffic.

In fact, the numbers are thimble-sized compared with the trafficking in Baltimore. The annual drug-related teen arrests in Carroll County equal a few weeks' figures in the city. But there are connections, relating to geography and psychology.

The geography is this: Some of the Carroll County kids are driving into Baltimore for their connections, defying drug warnings they've heard since they were children and defying all sense of personal safety as they hit some of the city's most unforgiving streets.

The psychological connection is this: Decades ago, when it was a shadow creeping through its neighborhoods, the city chose to ignore its drug problems. Those who ran City Hall and the Police Department were like stiff-necked parents not wanting to admit they were losing control. They imagined the problem would go away and life would return to normal. And then it was too late, and entire communities have since been ruined.

Carroll County's trying to get a grip while there's still time. But it's caught between shrugging off its discomfort to recognize the problem, and trying to hold on to its sweet, simple past.

Standing by bins of homemade ice cream at Baugher's the other morning was Scott Bair Jr., who was a county commissioner more than a quarter-century ago. Back then, nobody imagined a heroin problem. But Bair and the other two county commissioners -- McKinney and Walsh were their names -- were sometimes regarded as stubborn, conservative, obstructionist men reluctant to approve new housing developments, new roads, new shopping centers. They were seen as trying to fend off the 20th century after it had long since arrived for the rest of America. But that America was beginning to cope with drug problems -- and now, inevitably, they've arrived here.

At Baugher's, there's always a big crowd. The older men have a brawniness from years of working with their hands. One of the older women mentions growing up with farmland all around her. Now, she says, she looks through her kitchen window and sees the back end of a shopping mall.

The county's teen-agers come to Baugher's, too. Some of the boys have their hair tied in long ponytails, the way kids in the big cities wore it maybe 25 years ago. It's as if they're sorry they missed the party back then, so they're making up for lost time. The older folks look at them, and a few shake their heads a little, and wonder: Are these the kids the newspapers are talking about? Or are they like previous generations of county youngsters, simply trying out a few costumes before slipping into mainstream adulthood?

Carroll County's grown enormously in the past decade, as families slip away from the Baltimore area. The urban and the suburban increasingly blend, and balances are struck. There's drug traffic everywhere now, but maybe this county can deal with it more intelligently than other communities have.

In the meantime, though, people still go to Baugher's, with its Norman Rockwell feel, its doting waitresses and its homemade pies, and its strawberry festival. It feels like yesterday here, which has its comforts.

Pub Date: 6/07/98

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