2001 met with joy, reflection

New Year: Maryland greets the start of a century and millennium with celebration and varied traditions.

January 02, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon and Mark Ribbing | Stephanie Desmon and Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

In one sense, yesterday was the most unusual of days. After all, it will be another thousand years before a single day kicks off not only a new year but a new decade, century and millennium. Written on a letter or a check, the date looked as clean as digital code: 01/01/01.

Around Maryland, the day was greeted with hope, shrugs and - for a few lucky horses in Laurel - some peppermint candy.

Where you are at midnight on New Year's Eve is where you'll be all year long.

His family had always lived by that motto. So more than a quarter-century ago, James N. Mathias Jr. drove his little Triumph TR-6 onto the Ocean City boardwalk as 1974 became 1975 with his then-girlfriend, now his wife. "I guess you could get in trouble for doing that now," the 49-year-old said with a laugh yesterday.

Mathias, a Baltimore native and graduate of Calvert Hall College high school in Towson who moved to Ocean City at age 21 to make pizzas, is the three-term mayor of the beach community, where the population of less than 10,000 swells to a quarter-million on summer weekends. His town greeted the new year with a convention center bash, a ball drop and fireworks.

But midnight wasn't the end. At 7:20 a.m. yesterday, Mathias led a prayer on the beach and oversaw the city's second annual bonfire at the dawn of the year's first day. "We called it the first light," he said.

"It's just a beautiful place to be. It was a beautiful sunrise this morning. It was very still."

As the 20th century officially gave way to the 21st, the name of the 20th Century Gallery on Howard Street became a bit dated.

Not that it matters to Steven Stegner, the store's owner. Stegner, a 54-year-old Otterbein resident, opened the shop last year after retiring from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Although it might seem a bit odd that he chose to name his business after a century that was about to end, he did it very much on purpose. "I had to come up with a name to mirror what I was trying to do," Stegner said.

Stegner wants his gallery to stand as a tribute to the furniture and visual-art styles of the century that ended at midnight Sunday, particularly works from the 1930s to the 1970s.

"It's not strictly antique. There's sort of a modern look," Stegner said of his collection, which includes wooden Danish furniture and Depression-era paintings. "I just like the clean, spare look and the abstractions of the artwork. It stimulates your imagination."

It was the perfect road race for the morning after: The fastest runner didn't win. The person who most correctly predicted his or her finish time got the prize - a watch, of course.

Sixty-four members of the Baltimore Road Runners Club gathered at Loch Raven Reservoir for a 9 a.m. start on New Year's Day. One hour and eight miles later, they had a winner: Baltimore's Matt Springer, who had guessed it would take him 60 minutes to finish the clockless course. It took him 60 minutes and five seconds. Serge Arbona ran the fastest time. Too bad that wasn't the idea.

"I don't know how it originally started," said Rick Bingham, president of the 30-year-old club. "It's just a tradition. Everyone was out partying the night before. No one wants to be running fast. All year long, people are out running as hard as they can go. It's a nice change of pace to run whatever pace you want and you can still win."

"Everyone feels that it's a good way to get the year started, to get your exercise in," he said. "On the first day of the year, you like to get off to a good start."

So how fast did Bingham, who works at Goddard Space Flight Center, run yesterday? He didn't. As one of the organizers of the event, he had to sit this one out.

"I may go running this afternoon," Bingham said sheepishly. "I've had the flu. I may go real slow."

At Our Daily Bread, a downtown soup kitchen, the breakfast and lunch crowds were smaller than normal yesterday, said operations manager Christine Smith.

Smith said the kitchen usually draws 825 people a day, but only 657 showed up yesterday.

The reason for this is simple, and repeats itself on the first days of every month.

"On Friday, they got checks," Smith said, referring to the welfare payments that many of the kitchen's guests receive.

As staff members cleaned up the kitchen after lunch yesterday afternoon, Smith said she had noticed a shift in emotion among some of the people who take meals there, a change perhaps brought on by the end of another year.

"Their mood is different. They seem a little more quiet, more somber," she said. "They're taking stock of their lives and of where they're at."

New Year's Day is traditionally treated as the birthday for racing thoroughbreds, regardless of the day on which they were born.

Robin Graham, a trainer for Quantum Racing Inc. in Laurel, said the purpose of this was to ensure that horses could be grouped easily into age categories.

At first glance, this quirky rule would seem to promote equine inequality. Why should a horse that was born on Jan. 1 be placed into the same age category as another horse born on Dec. 1 of the same year?

Because, according to Graham, such disparities in birth dates are unlikely. Breeders take pains to ensure that racing thoroughbreds are born in May or June, creating a general parity in the ages of horses born in a given year.

For their collective birthday, Quantum's 25 horses all received peppermint sweets. However, they still had to run their standard workout of a mile or mile and a half around the track.

Graham said her horses did not seem to notice anything different about yesterday. Perhaps they're just unsentimental. "Just so they get their candy, they don't care," she said.

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