It pays to talk to the teacher


December 28, 2005|By LAURA VOZZELLA

Random 1, the reality TV show that relies on serendipity and a pair of pickup-driving buttinskis to change lives, owes its own fate to a chance encounter in Charm City. Baltimore filmmaker John Chester and former WBAL-TV fitness trainer Andre Miller had spent about a decade trying to make a documentary out of their offbeat hobby - approaching and offering help to strangers.

They'd pretty much given up hope when Chester pitched it one more time - through an exercise in the Greater Baltimore Committee leadership program.

As a young guy who chose filmmaking over college, Chester felt like the odd man out in a program full of corporate strivers. That was especially true at one session, when participants were supposed to pair off and describe their lives as they hope they'd unfold two years down the road. Arriving late, Chester was matched up with the session's facilitator. "Like getting stuck with the teacher," he recalled.

Stumped for something to say, Chester fell back on his well-rehearsed vision for Random 1.

"It's a documentary series that goes around the country, follows the laws of coincidence, connects people in need with people who can help them, all at random and all instantaneously and with reckless abandon," Chester told the "teacher," David Sibbet of San Francisco-based The Grove Consultants International.

"His mouth was open, and his eyes were popping out of his head," Chester said. "He said, `This is amazing. You need to make this.'"

Sibbet had more than encouragement to offer the frustrated filmmaker. He had a friend in television. And the rest, as they say, is reality TV. The 10-part series started Nov. 1 on A&E.

"Sometimes, the way we see getting to an objective is not always the way," Chester said. "It's usually just staying open to coincidence."

Watch where the big bucks go

We get to peek inside the paychecks of the area's richest execs now that the Baltimore Business Journal's 2006 Book of Lists is out. Here are the top five, based on company SEC filings for their most recently concluded fiscal year:

Raymond "Chip" Mason of Legg Mason - $7.5 million.

Mayo Shattuck of Constellation Energy - $5 million.

Thomas Brooks of Constellation - $4.6 million.

Nolan Archibald of Black & Decker - $4.5 million.

Paul Norris of W.R. Grace - $3.5 million.

A Festivus for all of us

Who says public displays of religion are on the wane?

Along with recycling and trash schedules, the 2006 Baltimore City Public Works calendar notes all the holidays.

For the Christians, there's Christmas and Easter. For the Jews, Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah. For the Muslims, the first day of Muharram.

And for the rest of us - the Seinfeld fans - Festivus Appreciation Day.

It's right there on Dec. 23, the date the TV show says it should be celebrated. There's even a picture of an unadorned aluminum pole, Frank Costanza's answer to "distracting" tinsel.

Everything must go! Fine antiques and dried rodents

People will part with treasured family heirlooms for the right price, as every antiques dealer knows. Which is why Yale Klein has decided to sell the dead rats.

As you might recall from Sun reporter Jill Rosen's article this month, Klein is the proud owner of Klein's Antiques in Federal Hill. He recently dressed up the shop window with a bunch of petrified rats, discovered a few years ago when he knocked down an outhouse on the property.

"I wasn't selling them at first and then I got all these offers," said Klein, who thinks he started with eight rodents and has just four left. "The large ones go for $100 and the mediums go for $50 to $75."

Collectors will have to hurry. Klein has decided to close the business at the end of this week.

Half a loop, half a loop onward

When the city decided to dredge Lake Montebello, officials announced alternatives for the many joggers, walkers, in-line skaters and bicyclists who made the 1.3-mile loop around that reservoir. Chief among the substitutes was Druid Hill Park, with a 1.5-mile loop around its lake, now complete with a jersey-barriered lane along Druid Lake Drive.

One of the appeals of Montebello was that it was usually free of snow and ice. Plowed and salted and exposed to the sun, it was a great alternative to dangerous roads after a snow. With similar terrain and exposure, the Druid Hill Lake circuit offers the same possibility.

But a cyclist who headed there after the recent snowfall was disappointed. When he reached the western end of the lake, the roadway was totally covered in snow. Close to half the loop seemed never to have been plowed or salted.

With a little work, city Rec and Parks could get a lot more winter customers for one of their biggest parks. The department should see the potential. Its headquarters is in Druid Hill Park, facing the lake.

"I wasn't selling them at first and then I got all these offers. ... The large ones go for $100 and the mediums go for $50 to $75."

Yale Klein, owner of Klein's Antiques in Federal Hill, who has decided to see the petrified rats that have adorned her shop window.

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