Pick up, hon. Please pick up.
"It's the last time I'm calling him, then I'm making my own decision," the holiday shopper says. Hope Johnson of Hampden is on the brink of a pivotal choice at the Lowe's in Timonium. Does she buy a plastic light-up angel or the 30-inch, fiberglass triple candle?
The candle would look good on her front porch near her nativity scene, but her husband, Ed, is not picking up. The candle is 60 bucks. Another adult probably should sign off on this.
Seriously, what do you buy a rowhouse on 34th Street in Hampden that has every holiday decoration? One more thing. One more something because it's not about adding clutter - it's about finding a way to keep the hometown attraction new.
The tradition started 18 years ago with one strand of lights strung across the street, then another and another. Today, it's hard to imagine how the 25 rowhouses in the 700 block could make room for another inflatable Santa, 6-foot plastic snow globe, train set, pink flamingo, welded crab or hubcap tree. Blades of grass compete for space. But this year if visitors look hard - and they always do - they'll see additions to the old "Miracle on 34th Street."
The Annual Street Lighting is tonight around 6, and features the arrival of Santa and hot chocolate and parking challenges. It will be chilly because it always is. Tradition is about consistency - and electricity. Such 34th Street luminaries as decorating pioneer Bob Hosier will probably be interviewed, and TV crews and the Home & Garden channel are expected to drop by this weekend - along with hundreds of souls clotting the street.
Santa - who arrives on Ed Johnson's flatbed - will lead the crowd in the lighting countdown: 10 ... 9 ... 8 ... 7 ... and it would help if everyone could keep their lights off before then. But apparently, not everyone is on the same page, and this does not go over well with Hope Johnson.
"The subject is a little touchy," she says.
She and her husband steadfastly debut their lights at countdown. They not only decorate their rowhouse at No. 717, they were married on the front porch six years ago come Dec. 23. The street was lit in all its glory as they exchanged vows. An encore would be tough, so they just add little touches to their home. Last year, it was palm trees.
"People want one more thing to add to their collection," says Ed, who was last seen hauling the nativity murals off his truck's flat bed. (There's no room at the house, so he rents a garage to store the wise men, animals et al.) He's an important man this time of year: Ed strings lights on the windows of the 11 rowhouses on his side of the street. He leaves his wife in charge of additions.
"It's the wow factor," he says. Wow, that inflatable Santa wasn't there last year. That bell wasn't there on Bob Hosier's house last year, either.
Oh, that bell would have been nice, Hope says. She was set to buy one at Michael's craft store until she looked across the street. "That knocked the thrill out of it for me," she says. "I'm not going to copy them."
Leave it to Bob.
Bob and Darlene Hosier's corner rowhouse has been the anchor of Miracle on 34th Street. The couple's snow-carpeted (electronics wrapping material) display is a faux winter wonderland with Disney characters, cardboard gingerbread house and, this year, two $45 resin bells hanging on their front porch. "They do look good," if Bob does say so himself.
He holds the distinction of being the first one to string lights across 34th Street in 1988. After that, the communal decorating began to snowball, and
the rest is Hampden legend. Given the work involved, it's a miracle the decorations are put out every November and hauled back in every January.
The street isn't getting any younger. "No one is in the wings" waiting to assume the tradition, Bob says. But two women moved in across from his house, and they got into the spirit by erecting a Christmas tree made of PVC pipe. It's impressive - even in the daytime. As for the regulars, they waited until a nice-weather Saturday this month to hoof it up roofs and down basements to haul out the nativity scenes, candy-cane gardens, inflatable snow globes and bear tea parties.
To call the decorations tacky would be tacky. There are standards. Hope Johnson does not buy anything inflatable - none of those whirling snow globes for her. She's not into the acrylic reindeer, either. And no Santa on her front yard - only a nativity scene. People used to steal her baby Jesus from the manger, so she did have to chain the figurine down.
Last year, someone stole a baby Jesus from a manger a few doors down from long-time resident Patsy Dailey. But apparently the thief found a conscience. After the holidays, the baby Jesus was returned unharmed. Someone dropped him off right at her front door as if nothing had happened, Dailey says. Now that was something different.