Braving the rain to welcome 2003

Beginnings: Some start the year by painting, exercising or buying baby's first shoes.

January 02, 2003|By Jamie Smith Hopkins and David Nitkin | Jamie Smith Hopkins and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Eric Johnson celebrated the first day of the new year by picking out paint.

The foyer and hallway of his Catonsville home were shabby from the hands and feet of his kids, so off he went to the Home Depot yesterday, convinced that he was observing the holiday right.

"I'm trying to start out new and fresh," said Johnson, 31, who thought he could finish the chore in a day despite the distraction of children. "I have a way to keep them occupied: Cartoon Network, and lots of goodies."

Across the Baltimore area, people found reasons to go out on the rainy start to 2003 - to practice good habits, indulge in a few bad ones or simply spend an hour away from the mounting cabin fever of a long school holiday.

In Towson, Coleen and Josh Morgan said goodbye to booties and bought their 15-month-old son his first pair of real shoes. In Catonsville, Sharon Brown, 36, left St. Agnes HealthCare at noon after a 12-hour stay, grateful that the ripping pains in her chest were not signs of a second heart attack. And in Baltimore, a few folks arrived at The Block in the afternoon in search of temptations, but alas, most doors were locked.

Susan Young, a Baltimore police lieutenant who worked until 4 a.m. yesterday, walked into the 11 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Locust Point to celebrate new beginnings with the people she thinks of as family.

"Hopefully, it's a day to get refocused," said Young, 49, of Ferndale.

Amitai Etzioni, a sociology professor at George Washington University who studies holiday celebrations, thinks the way people spend New Year's Day - or any special time - says a lot about them.

"Holidays are an X-ray of our values," he said. "You tell me what anybody does on holidays, and I'll tell you what their values are."

He knows that many people want to look or feel better, so he wouldn't have been surprised to hear that plenty spent yesterday morning exercising.

Scanning the rows of bodies perched atop cardiovascular machines at the Bally Total Fitness club in Woodlawn, Rick Bernhardt, 44, said the facility was far more crowded than usual.

"I call them the `resolutionists,'" said Bernhardt, an assistant state's attorney. "It's real busy until the middle of February."

The bedraggled joggers outdoors looked like the most resolute of resolutionists, but Dan Meyer, 35, said he never makes Jan. 1 promises. He runs regularly, and said it simply didn't seem right to stay in yesterday.

"It makes me feel good, makes me feel like I accomplished something good in the new year," the music teacher said between laps around the Inner Harbor.

He added with a grin: "Since I'm not hung over, I might as well."

Others were not as lucky. At Max's on Broadway, a popular Fells Point watering hole, the clientele was sparse and groggy.

"It's Bloody Marys and coffee today," said bartender Jason Mislan.

At the top of Federal Hill Park, Charles R. Craig and his fellow detectives with the Baltimore police Technical Assistance Response Unit kept an eye on the quiet city from the toasty confines of their high-tech van.

Craig works every holiday, and worked New Year's Eve, too.

He came in yesterday morning and declared that he was glad to be right where he was, holding down a job he enjoyed in a place with an impressive view.

"This is definitely the best spot to be in the city," he said.

At Our Lady of Good Counsel, the Rev. Ray Martin was pleased to see 65 people at the church's first try at a morning Mass on Jan. 1 after years of evening services. After they sang hymns a cappella, he challenged everyone to raise their voices for peace and hope in a world full of war and pain.

"This is a time of the year when we ponder ourselves, what life is all about, where we've been," he said. "It is good that we come to ponder all these things. But it is also important that we live out that which we have pondered."

Three families from Towson, tired of pondering videotapes and television reruns, opted to take their young sons and daughters to a bowling alley yesterday afternoon.

"They can't really break anything here," said Linda Lehmann, 36, who brought her three kids and persuaded her neighbors to come along.

"It's also nice to go to places that are louder than your children."

Chris Young, 35, raised her voice over the din of 40 bowlers and explained where she'd be next - in the kitchen, making black-eyed peas for dinner. It's a good-luck tradition, she says, and her parents would never forgive her if she forgot.

"When you're from the South, you have to have black-eyed peas on New Year's Day," Young said, grinning.

The Morgans, who bought their toddler's first pair of sneakers yesterday, let Justin dash about the less-crowded-than-usual Towson Town Center in new-leather splendor.

All their resolutions for 2003 are about him, about keeping him on his good sleeping schedule, eating with him instead of feeding him first, and starting him in day care so he can make new friends.

Coleen Morgan, 29, has learned how fast a year can go by.

"Now I know what moms mean when they say they don't want their kids to grow up so fast," she said, holding her son tight.

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