It's about time for the city to pony up

August 19, 2007|By DAN RODRICKS

Every time something happens with the arabbers of Baltimore - the controversies and contretemps are cyclical - I think: When are we going to get our act together and give the produce ponies, their handlers, their customers and the city's tourism industry what they all deserve? Ten things should happen:

1. City leaders need to announce, boldly and clearly, that they want the produce ponies to thrive and that they are willing to promote them to the world. While the sight of the arabbers might be familiar to longtime Baltimoreans, they have a real wow factor among visitors and newcomers. It's never been fully appreciated, and the ponies never smartly showcased.

2. The mayor should appoint a civic-minded business leader to negotiate a new future for the produce ponies. Full potential has been missed because of clashes between the vendors and the city. We need an independent authority to strike compromises and oversee the arabbers, and the arabbers need to cooperate to have a more profitable future.

3. Expand the program: Recruit 50 new ponies and new handlers and educate them in the care of the animals.

4. Fix the Retreat Street stables and turn vacant lots into turnouts for the ponies.

5. Build three new stables on the north, south and east sides so that ponies can better serve neighborhoods in those parts of town. We should see more of the ponies throughout more of the year - from Homeland to Cherry Hill, Butchers Hill to Ten Hills, Ashburton to Canton.

6. Provide produce pony parking spots at the Inner Harbor, near the convention center and hotels, and offer them to all vendors by lottery.

7. Establish a connection between the vendors and local farmers and organic gardeners.

8. Establish a museum, as the Arabber Preservation Society has proposed, explaining the tradition, how the ponies are cared for and what a typical vendor's day is like, and showing off the splashy tack. Give schoolchildren rides on the pony carts. Tell the story.

9. Provide retirement stables and pastures for the older ponies.

10. Create "Arabbers Row" outside Oriole Park and M&T so that sports fans can purchase produce on their way home after games and the ponies can get some mug time on regional and national telecasts.

Spare me the debate

Please make it stop - the debate over slots in Maryland. Ocean City is not going to become Atlantic City if they put a few slots at Ocean Downs. People who currently spend money for restaurants and hotels there aren't going to suddenly start eating at Royal Farms and sleeping in their cars so they can spend money on slots. Tell you what's more likely to happen:

Granny, who lives in Parkville and never had a lick of interest in driving to O.C. to spend time with her grandchildren - because the trip is too long and she never liked the guy who married her daughter and wouldn't want to spend a whole week in a condo with him - is all of a sudden going to adore the idea because she can go to the track and work the slots all day - except for a couple of hours every afternoon when her stories are on - while the grandchildren go to the beach, and then in the evening she'll take the kids to the boardwalk, reach into her pockey-book and buy them some funnel cake and a kite, and while that's not huge new business for Ocean City, it's one person who will finally go once she knows she can blow some coin on the slots, and that's all I'm going to say about this anymore because I'm sick of the whole thing.

No smoking. Period.

I don't understand why hotels still have - or want - smoking rooms. They're nasty and, no matter what, the smell remains forever, diminishing a room's appeal even in times when it is in high demand.

There certainly must be liability issues, too. Maryland's new ban allows hotels to designate rooms for smoking - as long as the total number is not greater than 25 percent. I don't even know why the hotels want that. (All Marriott rooms have been smoke-free for a year, and last month the Bethesda-based hotel chain reported an 11 percent rise in second-quarter profits.) A smoking ban won't keep people from traveling and staying in hotels. What are they going to do, sleep in their cars?

A day in traffic court

Some people take accusations that they've violated traffic laws quite personally. Friday, in the District Court building on Patapsco Avenue, I heard a man named Leland assert his never-fail compliance with extraordinary passion. Leland was downright indignant at the accusation - that he had parked along a city street against the flow of traffic.

That was impossible, he told Judge Timothy D. Murphy. "I take great pride in the fact that I always park with the flow of traffic," Leland said, pulling out photographs showing his motor vehicle at various Baltimore locations, and in each one of them, Leland had parallel-parked with traffic. Here was a man who always goes with the flow - and don't let anyone think otherwise!

"It's nothing personal," Murphy told the defendant, assuring him that we all make mistakes at times.

I think the judge waived the fine and had Leland pay court costs. The man left court muttering and still indignant. I felt for the guy, I really did.

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