Thanks for using BWI. Have a nice ego trip.

May 18, 2006|By DAN RODRICKS

Nice guy that Gary W. McLhinney. We knew him when. He went from being spokesman for the rank-and-file Baltimore cop, a leader of the Fraternal Order of Police, to chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police and now escort to the stars.

According to a report in this newspaper yesterday, McLhinney has a six-member executive protection unit so Cal Ripken and other celebrities can get in and out of the airport without causing a commotion.

These are armed authority officers, working on the taxpayer clock.

Say what you will - decry it, blast it, trash it - but I think it's nice.

It's so Gary.

It's so McLhinney.

It's so Baltimore - so big city-and-small-townie at the same time.

We don't have that many celebrities; those we do have should be treated first-class, all the way.

You wouldn't see this kind of thing in New York, or some other sophisticated metropolis where sports and show business celebrities come and go like ants on a discarded Dorito.

"We have priorities that need attending to that we would consider a little more important [than celebrity escort]," said Pasquale DiFulco, spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

OK, Mr. Big Important Smarty Pants.

That's New York. Fuggedaboutit.

This is Baltimore. After professional sports stars - and we only have, like, three - our biggest celebrities are lawyers who do TV commercials.

And, OK, Richard Sher.

And maybe the Gebco Girls.

But, after that, we just don't get that many opportunities to make a fuss and have a little celebrity excitement. (The Preakness being one major exception.)

That's why I appreciate what McLhinney is trying to do here.

He's trying to make us all feel a little better about ourselves, starting with his own officers.

I think it's nice.

McLhinney probably knows that his guys might get a little bored on the job. Let's face it, there's a fair amount of tedium involved in guarding roads and bridges and an airport. You see a lot of macadam in your day; a cop's eyes can glaze over.

So, I figure McLhinney was looking out for his officers when he came up with the celebrity escort service.

A cop on duty at an airport needs a little excitement in his day.

So Cal's coming to BWI-Thurgood Marshall, and one of McLhinney's officers meets him at his SUV in the parking garage and sees that he gets where he needs to be on time without a lot of backpack-toting kids hittin' on him for an autograph.

I can see how that avoids disturbances at the airport - and how it can make a cop feel special.

Ever notice those big, burly state troopers who get to escort college football coaches to and from the sidelines during nationally televised games? They get a fair amount of mug time on millions of TV screens across the country. That must be a huge ego boost. You can't pay for that kind of employee gratification.

Same with this.

If it makes McLhinney and his officers feel a little more important - touched by stardom - what's the hurt?

In fact, I'd like to see more of this kind of thing.

Baltimore and Maryland need some glitter.

Which gets me to my only criticism of the McLhinney Escort Service.

It should not be so secretive.

It should be out in the open, orchestrated for optimum impact without jeopardizing security.

People need to see Cal and other celebrities coming through the airport with a police escort. It won't be disturbing. It'll be cool.

It'll give visitors the idea that we have a real celebrity culture here.

Gary's List needs to get longer. Kyle Boller, Gary Williams, John Waters, Jonathan Ogden, Peter Angelos, Cardinal Keeler, Bob Turk, Brian Billick, Kimmie Meissner - let's get all these people lined up for the service. They should all be Gary's Kids.

I know this is not what you were expecting.

You were probably expecting me to trash this whole thing.

But I see it as money well-spent. All taxpayers should see this as an investment in Baltimore and Maryland promotion and tourism.

Let's build on what McLhinney hath wrought.

Let's hire on the cheap drama majors from local colleges and students from the Baltimore School for the Arts to serve as professional fans.

When a celebrity of any stature - Stephen L. Miles, Ed Norris, Odonna Matthews - arrives to catch a flight out of BWI, these paid greeters - all wired up for direction like the pedestrians in The Truman Show - meet them, scream, cheer, ask for autographs, faint, whatever it takes to create a sensational but controlled atmosphere.

People who aren't really celebrities can pretend they are by paying for the service.

I see the state making money from that.

I see Baltimore getting a reputation for being some kind of big-shot city. Celebrities get to their planes on time. The cops feel special. You're looking at a win-win-win-win here.

Cheers

Speaking of celebrities, Boston Red Sox players bought drinks Monday night for about a dozen U.S. soldiers who were staying at the same hotel, the Renaissance Harborplace. Michelle Zaleski, the bartender in Windows, the hotel's restaurant and lounge, described a spontaneous scene in which the Sox broke into applause for camo-wearing soldiers, just returned from overseas duty, then picked up their bar tab. Almost too much to bear: The Sox beat the Orioles on a regular basis - and they're nice guys. "Unlike," Zaleski says, "that other team from up north."

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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