Snack bar lights up crossroads of Middle River

April 22, 2004|By DAN RODRICKS

I DISCOVERED "The Times Square of Middle River," and I'll bet you didn't even know there was one. Listen, don't feel bad. Neither did I - until last week.

I was sitting with Turkey Joe Trabert in Coffman's Snack Bar, nice little place at Orems and Middle River roads, blowing off the no-carb resolutions with a couple of hot dogs in steamed buns with the works, when I noticed the waitresses' T-shirts. Commemorating Coffman's, which has been at this location since 1947, the T-shirts showed Wiley Ray Coffman's original snack trailer and proclaimed the intersection of Orems and Middle River roads as "The Times Square of Middle River."

Beautiful.

I took this to mean that, if you stand there for about 20 minutes, you'll see someone you know. (This happened to me the first time I went to "The Times Square of New York" in the summer of 1975. Walking on a crowded sidewalk, on the way to see a Broadway show, I saw a man from my hometown in Massachusetts - population 8,500 - who had been an usher in the Catholic church where I did time as an altar boy.)

It was Jim Coffman, Wiley's son, who coined the term "The Times Square of Middle River."

Jim used to be in the Navy, and he was stationed in Norfolk, Va., where Granby Street was known as "The Times Square of Norfolk." So five years ago, he similarly crowned the intersection outside his family's snack bar. Coffman's is one of those neighborhood places where people talk current events and sports, and the waitresses make lush milkshakes using real ice cream. There's a barbershop next door and a new laundromat across the street - all places where you're bound to see someone you know or can strike up an easy conversation. So "The Times Square of Middle River" sticks. I was in Coffman's not five minutes last week when a guy I hadn't seen since my police-beat days in 1977 said hello. Beautiful.

And the chili dog didn't repeat on me.

The uglier, the better

Speaking of beautiful - I want to remind everyone that the Flower Mart marks the true start of spring in Baltimore, and this year it occurs Wednesday, May 12, in the usual location near the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon. And I wish to further remind readers that The Sun will be host of the Third Annual Ugly Tie Contest there. So start digging for truly awful neckties from the 1970s, the wilderness years of American fashion. You know them when you see them - wide sheaths of polyester in eyesore colors and psychotic patterns that, when recovered and considered 30 years later, make you exclaim out loud: "What was I thinking?"

Why ugly ties at something as pretty as the Flower Mart?

This is Baltimore, hon. We need all the smiles we can get.

Sports are the answer

Colleges are going boom. They're turning tons of students away from Salisbury University. The University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County have limited enrollment at 34,000 combined. Towson University has about 14,000 undergraduates.

Meanwhile, according to a report in The Sun last week, Maryland's historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have room to spare. Bowie State University has just 4,000 undergraduates, many of them part time; Bowie is in heavily populated Prince George's County, yet it's smaller than Frostburg State.

The University of Maryland Eastern Shore has only 3,300 students, despite $128 million in new buildings since 1989.

It's a sad fact, but no one should be surprised. Did anyone really think Maryland's HBCUs would suddenly become fully integrated if a new student union had a bowling alley?

There's a phenomenon known as "recent history" at play here. You can look it up: White people tend to move away when numbers of blacks move into their neighborhoods. (Check Baltimore's population numbers some time; starting in 1954 - coincidentally, the year of Brown vs. the Board of Education - there's a precipitous fall, mostly of whites, that didn't stop for four decades.) White people won't move to black neighborhoods, even upper-crust ones like Ashburton.

Black people vote for white candidates, but whites tend not to vote for black candidates, who typically can't get elected outside majority black districts. While more black students have been entering majority-white colleges, there has been no comparable increase in white students entering the HBUCs.

This is America. We all know the racial score. The question is, where do we go from here?

Money and sports. Those are two of the big engines of American culture.

Why not break down and give more minority scholarships to white students to further integrate Bowie and UMES, in particular, and Morgan? Why not sweeten the pot to encourage the reluctant, especially those who find themselves being turned away by other state colleges? Put more money into image makeovers and into promoting the strongest academic programs at the HBUCs, the way College Park and Towson did.

And then there's sports, one of America's great, if not its greatest, integrator.

Recruit some top lacrosse coaches to establish strong men's and women's lacrosse programs at each of these schools. That would not only help those schools toward integration but expand Maryland's stature as a hotbed of great lacrosse.

There's been talk out of UMES about turning some of its land into golf courses and establishing a golf academy there. Why not? Go for it. Turn it into one of the leading varsity golf programs in the country. Establish a Tiger Woods Chair. Hey, students: Get a bachelor's degree, become a scratch golfer.

I am not kidding, and these are not gimmicks. If we want to integrate these schools - and get them on the map of consideration by the population ignoring them - put up the money for scholarships and promotion, crank up the sports. That's not the whole answer. That's just for starters.

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