A-rabs need support, not hassles

This Just In...

July 01, 1998|By DAN RODRICKS

STEVE BLAKE has this poetic way of rapping about the a-rabs of Baltimore. He gets downright passionate about it, too. Example: "Jughead works out of Carlton Street, but will he get fined if Man Boy hires him to drive Dirty White out of Retreat Street?"

We'll come back for a translation in a minute. First, some background about Blake:

He's front man for the Arabber Preservation Society, dedicated to keeping the horses healthy, the vendors organized and the institution intact. A-rabbing in Baltimore goes back a couple of centuries, and its survival here is unique in the nation, though a lot of people in power don't seem to appreciate that.

In fact, Blake and others formed the society a few years ago when it looked like City Hall was out to ban the a-rabs for good. They still seem to be fighting City Hall.

Of late, Blake claims, the city has made it tougher for a-rabs to sell their produce on the side streets. There are new and arbitrary licensing hassles, he says. (A-rabs must now have a Maryland driver's license or state-issued identification card to get a city permit.) And, Blake adds, a-rabs must declare a "home stable" and restrict themselves to working from it. Thus that quote from above: If the a-rab known as Jughead is assigned to the Carlton Street stable, but gets hired by another a-rab known as Man Boy to drive a produce-laden wagon hauled by the horse known as Dirty White out of the Retreat Street stable, will he be fined under the new rules?

It's harassment, Blake says. So the preservation society plans to sue the city over the rules change, possibly this week.

Too bad. Here's a place where private-public cooperation can preserve a parochial institution of charm and utility.

The Arabber Preservation Society has worked hard to provide a bridge between City Hall and the a-rabs. It has given the vendors a voice. It has studied the problems and complaints - specifically, charges that the work constitutes cruelty to animals, especially in the heat of summer - and found that a-rabbing still has a lot going for it. The nature of the work is not cruel, as long as guidelines for the care of the ponies are followed by responsible people. A-rabbing constitutes a colorful tourist attraction. It serves neighborhoods. Believe it or not, Blake says, it actually provides a decent living for the a-rabs.

So mark these among the things we'd like to see: fewer hassles and more official support for the a-rabs; a centralized stable with a grassy turnout for the horses, and a little promotion to give Jughead, Dirty White and their two-foot and four-foot brothers a higher profile in Baltimore's tourist traffic. I think there should be an a-rab parking spot at every major hotel, so guests can buy fresh 'lopes.

Police tailgater

Only thing worse than being tailgated is being tailgated by a cop. It happened Monday morning, about 7:30, on busy Route 40 between Ellicott City and Catonsville. A black-and-green state police cruiser in the fast lane nibbled at the rear of a light-colored sport utility vehicle whose driver, obviously aware of the police presence, stuck scrupulously to the 45 mph speed limit. Talk about pressure. Poor guy had to observe the speed limit and tolerate a 'gater! (Sans police presence, traffic usually blitzes through the big Patapsco Valley dip at 50 to 65 mph.) With vehicles in both lanes bunched up, the slow procession continued at its legal pace until, approaching Rolling Road, the right lane opened and the cruiser slid across, turned right and out of sight. The trooper continued his power trip elsewhere. (We wonder what would have happened had the guy in the SUV sprayed the cop with windshield wiper fluid, a trick that supposedly makes 'gaters back off.)

Read all about it

Woodholme House, the publishing arm of Bibelot bookstores, will offer an interesting and eclectic array of books for the fall: One of Baltimore's most popular radio shows, WQSR's morning team, has agreed to a compilation of its funny bits. "Rouse & Co.: Booked!" is the name of Steve Rouse's paperback, due in September at $16.95. Rep. Bob Ehrlich has already blurbed it: "A literary masterpiece to be prominently displayed in every bathroom stall in the Capitol." In addition, many readers of The Sun who miss her stuff on our opinion page will be happy to see Helen Chappell's Oysterback tales in paperback. "Oysterback Spoken Here" is due out in October at $14.95. My Sun colleague Michael Olesker has co-written a book with Holocaust survivor Leo Bretholz. "Leap Into Darkness: Seven Years on the Run in Wartime Europe" has a November publication date. Diane Scharper, who teaches writing at Towson University, has edited a collection of 38 memoirs by college students, offering insight into the minds of the post-Baby Boom generation. I'll let you know if there's anything there.

Culture icon

We just love roadside attractions. Here's another, reported by The Beverly Hillbilly, literary tourist and intermittent contributor to TJI: "Ellie Mae, the kids and I travelled toward Bethany Beach on Route 404, and when we took the turn at Bridgeville, Del. onto Route 13, we saw another icon of American culture: In front of a shack that had that 'lived-in' look was a guy sitting in a rust-colored, prejunked Chevelle and he was selling the entire canon of Jerry Springer's 'Too Hot for TV' videos. He was advertising them on torn-up sheets of plywood. On the way back a few days later, we passed the same place. The guy, the Chevelle and the videos were gone. But sprinklers were running out in front of the shack, watering tiny patches of crabgrass.

Think maybe they were sprucin' the place up for a visit from Jerry?"

Pub Date: 7/01/98

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