Folks on alert and waiting ... for something

Worries: Vague suggestions from D.C. don't alter the course of too many lives.

October 31, 2001|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,SUN STAFF

As the sun began to fall over the Patapsco River, Clarence Tyson cast his line one last time from the chilly heights of Nicodemus Bridge into Liberty Reservoir.

He reeled in one small fish yesterday, but he had not caught the news.

"Really, another alert?" the 42-year-old plumber said. "If I had heard, I probably wouldn't be here. I'd be home watching TV."

But even if he had stayed home, Tyson acknowledged, he's not sure what he would do. "It's not within anyone's power to stop it, or take any precautions," he said. "I guess at times like that you just want to be still and be informed and be home with your family."

Other than that - given its vagueness - he wasn't sure what purpose the warning from Washington officials served.

"It just makes it more scary. You're not telling me anything except something is going to happen in the next week. It's like, be careful, but of what? It's just becomes paranoia then."

The day after the "high state of alert" didn't seem much different from the day before, whether it was at a suburban reservoir, a rural post office or the rumor control office in the city of Baltimore.

Liberty Reservoir, primarily a backup water supply for the region, was closed for four days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as a security precaution. It has been open since then, but drawing fewer anglers, said Doug Geis, owner of Old Reisterstown Bait and Tackle - particularly children and families.

Mostly, Geis said, he's seeing the regulars, who he says are unlikely to forgo fishing during tense times.

"If anything, it's the other way around - he'd go fishing to get away from the stress. It's the poor man's shrink."

Tyson says there's some truth in that. "When I'm not fishing, I'm sitting in front of the TV, so this is kind of a relief.

At least it was until he was informed of the latest "alert."

Five minutes later, he reeled in his line, packed his tackle box, picked up his liter bottle of Coca-Cola and headed back to his car.

"You know, sometimes you just want to say, `Shut up - stop promoting it,' because somebody's going to grasp the idea."

Geis and his colleague, Steve Morea, say they don't view the reservoir as a likely target. Poisoning the water, because of the reservoir's volume and treatment and monitoring systems, would be a difficult proposition.

The far bigger threat, both men said, would be blowing up a dam. Even when closed, area reservoirs are accessible and impossible to fully patrol. Liberty, for instance, is 3,100 acres and has 82 miles of shoreline.

But neither Geis nor Morea is fretting. Both men, as well as customers who hang out at the tackle shop during the day, seem to be taking the latest warning, as fishermen tend to, in stride.

Neither has altered his lifestyles.

"I ain't into that," said Geis, 59. "Something happens, and I'm dead no matter what. The mailman hands me the mail, and I open it. I figure if he has the [guts] to do it, I can do it, too."

"I'm concerned, but I'm not worried," added Morea, 38. "I have faith in our government, our military, our police and firefighters."

And they have faith as well that fishermen - no matter how heightened the alert - will still take time, even make time, to fish.

The words "high state of alert" and "Boring, Maryland" are rarely coupled in a story or conversation. In the heartland of Maryland, Boring, Baltimore County (pop. 280), postmaster Laura Bedwall was at her post in the U.S. Post Office here.

All was well. "But there is more awareness," the postmaster said, dutifully.

It's nice sometimes to know things don't change when the world seems to be changing drastically and frightfully every news cycle. There have been no anthrax scares at the post office in Boring. No evacuations. No suspicious characters.

A poster at the postmaster's old-fashioned counter (near the old-fashioned mailboxes: little gold-plated cages of mail) does warn people about opening suspicious letters. The warning sign seems dwarfed by a larger, framed and dim photograph of the area's first postmaster, David Boring. This Night-Owl-Bingo, volunteer-firefighting, railroad-crossing town was named after him in 1905.

But that's the past and this is, well, the past. "Nothing has changed still," Bedwell said yesterday as she was training a young woman on the ins and outs of the post office's answering machine. There's no high state of alert here. The town is still in good hands. Bedwell made a point of saying thanks for dropping by.

Nothing bad or newsworthy happened in Boring, Md., on Oct. 30, 2001. And that fact alone was worth the drive.

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