Moochers, bakers and errant lawmakers

This Just In...

April 14, 1999|By Dan Rodricks

ANOTHER General Assembly session has passed -- like a kidney stone. Oh, blessed tax relief. We gave $44 million worth of it to Marriott, a hotel company that had a profit last year of $390 million. We also approved tax breaks for hotel developers in downtown Baltimore, including Big John Paterakis, the politically wired baker who's building a hotel just one convenient mile from the Baltimore Convention Center. I say all taxpayers should get a special discount on rooms in these hotels and, if we stay in Paterakis' place, a loaf of bread when they turn down the bed. Do a I hear a second?

Do I hear a cell phone?

Too bad about John "Johnny Delegate" Arnick's bill to ban motorists from using them while driving. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and chatty drivers distracted by conversations on hand-held cell phones. I hope Johnny Delegate files this same bill next year -- and amends it to ban cell phones during movies in theaters, during Orioles games in Camden Yards, and when one's using the facilities in restrooms at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. (There ought to be a law against a guy standing at a urinal and talking on a cell phone. You with me on that?)

Johnny Delegate's bill to keep panhandlers from asking for handouts on median strips went down to sound defeat. Good.

But even better, an ethics bill that limits the handouts legislators can take from lobbyists went up to sound victory. This is a good thing, though a lot of legislators saw it as an insult. I know it's hard to see the benefit right now, ladies and germs, but some day you will. Some day you'll thank us for it.

I'll tell you what's too bad: the defeat of Del. Mike Weir's save-the-ducklings bill. Opponents of this measure cleverly called it Mike Weir's kill-the-turtles bill, which made it sound sinister. All Mike was trying to do was protect baby ducks from snapping turtles. The bill would have made it legal for landowners to hook snapping turtles and turn them into a hearty soup. Opponents said hooking turtles is cruel, and they won the battle. I hope that, next year, Weir tackles this problem with a different tack. We should just have the Department of Natural Resources start a snapping turtle relocation program (an STRP). I'm sure animal-rights activists will want to adopt them. They make great pets.

A cure for 'window arm'

Eureka! John Broderick, a truck driver from Anne Arundel County, has secured a patent on a simple device to protect truckers' arms from sunburn. Broderick likes to drive with his left arm propped on the sill of the open driver's-side window. Consequently, his "window arm" is always darker than his right, and sometimes he gets a bad burn on it. "I've hung towels on my arm to protect it," Broderick said yesterday from New Jersey. "I've dropped my arm down inside the door to keep it out of the sun." His "Sun Sleeve," made of cloth, fits loosely around the arm, allowing air to flow through it as it protects the skin from rays. It looks like a soft cast. Invention Submission Corp. is helping Broderick market the device.

Adios, BoxCar Willie

As a closet BoxCar Willie fan, I'm kicking myself today. I didn't get to Branson before he died. For years, he'd done as many as six shows a week in that Missouri music town, in a theater named after him, and though I had notions to go, I never did. As BoxCar would have said: Doggone it! Should have just jumped in the pickup and gone. Now I'll never get to hear him in person.

All I have are his cassettes, including his Christmas album, the one with the song that, over the years, has become my holiday favorite: "Sante Fe Sam and Hobo Bill." It's about two hobos sitting by a fire, their heads filled with food fantasies. With Christmas approaching, Sam and Bill would just love to have pies and rolls and hot coffee and "a big ole ham." Sure enough, a bright light appears from the sky and an angel delivers a Christmas meal with all the trimmings.

It was as corny, as blue-collar and as American as a song could be, which is exactly why I like it.

I first heard BoxCar Willie on a stereo in the cab of an 18-wheeler in the big truck plaza just off Interstate 70 near Frederick. I believe his religious album, "Jesus Makes Housecalls," was playing, and the trucker I was visiting said he enjoyed the songs for their catchiness and simplicity. Later, I saw BoxCar on late-night TV -- not "The Tonight Show" or Letterman, but a 90-second commercial for one of his albums, with the titles rolling up the television screen, and BoxCar in his hat and scruffy whiskers singing away. He didn't have a great voice. He didn't even have a good voice. His music was old-fashioned, country without the cross-over. But I liked it, especially on trips on long, lonesome highways.

In reading his obituary yesterday, I discovered another reason to like the guy: He didn't try to pass himself off as a for-real hobo who'd made it as a singer. He got the idea for the BoxCar Willie persona in the early 1970s while he was stuck in traffic in Nebraska. A freight train passed by. "And there was an old boy sitting on a boxcar, and he looked just like a buddy of mine named Willie Wilson," he told an interviewer. "I said, 'There's Willie in a boxcar,' and that's where it came from."

Rest in peace, BoxCar Willie. is the e-mail address for Dan Rodricks. He also can be reached by post at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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