We really need to adopt this thing called a free ride

April 24, 2003|By KEVIN COWHERD

PICTURE THIS: It's a Friday evening in the summer and you're approaching the Bay Bridge toll booths, ready for the usual hellish 5-mile backup on the way to Ocean City.

Except this time, traffic is moving freely. And overhead there's a huge banner that says: "This toll paid by Peter Angelos and the Baltimore Orioles."

In fact, leaning out of a booth and wearing an orange-and-black O's jacket is the great man himself, waving to motorists and shouting: "Hey, nice to see ya! How 'bout coming out to a ballgame? We took two of three from the Devil Rays, you know."

Or maybe he's dressed in an expensive suit and handing out business cards, saying: "Anyone with asbestosis or mesothelioma, tell 'em to see me."

Wouldn't that be wonderful?

And don't tell me it can't happen.

Maybe it can't happen in Iraq. Maybe it can't happen in Cuba or North Korea.

But this is the good ol' U.S. of A., my friend.

Anything can happen here.

Anyway, what brings this to mind is the story in yesterday's Sun that said the state was having problems getting corporations to pony up the money for free bridge crossings for beach-bound traffic.

The thinking was that this would speed up traffic during off-peak hours. In exchange, the corporations would get to place signs and banners at the toll plaza telling everyone how great they were.

Except the plan hit a little snag.

Namely, the cheapskate corporations didn't come through.

According to the article, none of the 20 companies that had originally expressed interest - including Dunkin' Donuts, Clear Channel radio and Allfirst Bank - agreed to come up with the state's minimum price of $50,000.

Oh, the Maryland Lottery has agreed to pay the tolls for one night in June. (That's just what you want to see as you cross the glittering Chesapeake: blue herons, sailboats floating lazily in the distance and cheesy lottery ads. Me, I foresee a spike in bridge-jumpings that night.)

But for the rest of the month, if you're east-bound on the bridge, you'll have to fork over the $2.50 toll yourself.

Lori Vidal, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, told me the state hasn't given up on getting corporate help with tolls during July, August and September.

But if the corporate community won't step up, then it's time for private citizens to help the sweltering masses get to the beach a little faster.

In other words, we need to lean on some rich guys.

Rich guys like, say, Peter Angelos.

In the first place, what's 50 thou to a big shot like Angelos?

Chump change, that's what. Pete spends that in one night keeping the swells in his Camden Yards skybox in crab dip.

And with the way the Orioles are drawing - what was the announced crowd at last night's game, 26? - he needs to generate all the good will he can.

And what better way to do that than picking up a few hundred tolls for some of your paying customers?

And, look, if Pete's a little shy about making a personal appearance at the toll booths, he can always send one of his players.

David Segui's always on the disabled list - send him over to shake some hands.

Or send this new guy Deivi Cruz. What's he batting, .179?

He could probably spend a month on the Bay Bridge and the O's wouldn't miss him.

In fact, Angelos could use the Bay Bridge as a motivator for the Orioles this season.

If a guy's not pulling his weight in the lineup - BOOM! - next thing you know, he's waving at traffic on the bridge instead of flying with the team to California.

Of course, Angelos isn't the only rich guy we can lean on here.

How about someone like John Waters?

With all the dough he's making on Broadway from Hairspray, he can afford 50 grand to help the riff-raff get "downy ocean."

In fact, this could be a great promotional vehicle for Waters. Have him pick up the tolls and call it, I don't know, "Hairspray Night on the Bridge."

Do it up right. Bring the cast out, have them do a couple of numbers in full costume: bee-hive hairdos, pointy shades, leopard-skin pants, whatever.

Sure, that might hold up traffic for a couple of minutes.

But it'd be a lot more interesting that a banner saying: "This toll paid by Dunkin' Donuts - ask about our travel mugs."

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