There's something in Fells Point air

B notes: Everything stops when Joe Pobieglo strolls the dock with his bagpipes.

March 09, 2000|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Yesterday sounded different.

Something like 81, holy-cow, degrees in Fells Point, on the bricked pier, folks stretching their lunch hours, even kicking off their shoes. A Heineken umbrella goes airborne from a lunch table at Lista's, causing one broken water glass and a quick blast of excitement. Then, one sound quiets everyone down.

You know the sound. Like somebody died. Funereal. Ancient. Wailing. Pied Piperish. And Scottish, of course.

Bagpipes.

People look up from their boxed pizzas, Grisham novels and cell phones to see the crusty dude alongside the tugboat playing the bagpipes. He stands alone, with the three drone pipes hoisted on his back. Working the finger stops, the man plays a familiar, slow march. Sounds good. Truth is, who can tell if a bagpipe player is bad?

"Nobody has thrown anything at me yet," says Joe Pobieglo, laughing. "Until you get used to the music, it does all sound the same."

Pobieglo is the 49-year-old chief engineer of the oceangoing tug Beaufort Sea. After delivering a barge of asphalt to Baltimore, the New York-based tug and crew leave today for somewhere else. But at every port, Pobieglo likes to step out, stretch his legs, and play his pipes for 30 minutes after lunch. He plays until his fingers get tired and stop following directions.

He's been playing the pipes 18 years. Taught himself mostly. Back home in Vermont (he works three weeks on, three off), Pobieglo is in a pipe band. On the job, when he can't get off the tug, he plays on board. But there's always competition from the tug's generator.

"It's a B."

Come again?

The droning of the generator sounds like a B note, he explains. So, when Pobieglo plays, the tug's B notes blend or rather cancel his B notes. There are only nine notes played on bagpipes, so losing one note is serious.

No wonder the visiting bagpipe player from Vermont had himself a pleasant shore leave yesterday in Fells Point. He easily outplayed the tug's generator. No one threw anything at him.

And the weather was fine.

Time out for play

Warm weather affects everyone a little differently. But in Patterson Park on the balmiest winter day imaginable, everyone seems to want to talk.

On the southernmost athletic field, 12 young men sprint, leap and jostle their way through a game of ultimate Frisbee. Shouts ring out as players get free in the end zone. Two jump for the disk as it hangs in the air, then crash in a heap. One hobbles off with a sprained ankle.

All 12, it turns out, are missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It's their "prep day" -- the one day of the week they're not walking door-to-door to spread their message.

"We may not look that religious when we're out on the field," chuckles Rhett Walker, 20, an elder from eastern Utah. "Things can get pretty rough on `P-day.' "

Two fields over, Kristin Clous does her best Tony Banks impersonation; she takes a two-step drop and lobs a football skyward as her friend, Andy Packard, completes a neat 10-yard down-and-in, snaring the ball off his shoetops.

"We're getting ready for the season," says Packard, 31. The two play on the same touch football team in the Baltimore Sport and Social Club, and their schedule starts up in a week.

Clous, 30, enjoys the sport, but can do without publicity.

"I shouldn't really tell you my name," she says sheepishly. "I'm supposed to be at work right now."

Joe Szumlanski is going about his daily rounds. He's worked for the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks 28 years, and today he's lining the fields with lime.

"It'll take me eight hours to do the three football fields here," says the tanned 52-year-old, leaning on the hand-pushed contraption that distributes the chalky substance. "It'll take 10 50-pound bags just to do this one." Baseball season doesn't start for two weeks, so the foul lines can wait.

"You know what? I like the cold weather better anyway," he says with a shrug.

Bob Wall may be the only forlorn fellow in Patterson Park. It's 80 degrees out, and he'd most likely rather be trolling the pond for crappie, bluegill or trout. But it's still ice-skating season, and for now he's stuck behind a desk.

Wall is the manager of Mimi Di Pietro Ice Rink, and the weather signals a little extra work today. "On the south side, where the sun shines, we'll have a meltdown between 2 and 4, he says. "You could skate through it, but you'd get wet. We'll get the [Zamboni] out there and suck it all up.

"Oh, we'll have hockey tonight," he says with a mixture of pride and chagrin, "8 o'clock, we'll be dropping the puck."

-- Jonathan Pitts

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