It's been quite an experience riding the light rail system the past couple of weeks. Certainly it's been a great way to get to know your fellow Baltimoreans a little better. My favorite was that southbound stretch between Mount Washington and North Avenue, whipping around curves in a stuffed-to-the-gills one-car train while standing in a stairwell jotting down quotes offered by fellow members of the "crush load."
Let's just say I usually conduct my interviews with a little more personal space between myself and the interviewees. Whatever discomfort I felt was certainly exceeded by theirs in being smooshed so close to a paunchy middle-aged guy with a notebook and a bunch of stupid questions. MTA riders, your patience is appreciated.
Anyway, with a little luck, the crowding and delays on the Maryland Transit Administration's light rail system will ease sometime this week. But if they don't, or if another wheel crack is found, here's a modest suggestion for the people at the MTA:
Folks, you can't count on riders maintaining the good humor they've shown so far. The discomfort level is high enough that someone's likely to snap.
So why not put some entertainment aboard the most-crowded cars to relieve the stress? Hire a singer with a ukulele - a guitar would take up too much space - to get a sing-along going when things get tightest. Hand out kazoos at stations so those who can't sing a lick can participate.
Can't you see it? A train stuffed like a rockfish rolling along the Jones Falls with all the riders - black and white, young and old, local and out-of-towner - belting out an old Harry Belafonte favorite that now has new relevance:
Back to back, belly to belly
I don't give a damn, I done dead already
Oho back to back, belly to belly
At the Zombie Jamboree
Well, it's a thought.
Interstate 395 is the main southern gateway to downtown Baltimore. Its ramp off Interstate 95 swoops over the water in a graceful curve of almost sculptural beauty.
So why is it that the powers that be at the Maryland Transportation Authority have permitted three large potholes to thrive for the last month in the right-hand lane of the ramp as it approaches the curve? Is it because the motorists who use this stretch of road are among those who don't pay them tolls?
This trio of craters is one heck of a way to greet visitors coming into our fair city. We might as well put up a big sign that says "Welcome to Baltimore: The City Where Tires Go to Die."
Out with the old
As drivers approach Exit 20 of the Baltimore Beltway, they see a series of signs telling them they are nearing the exit for Pikesville and Garrison.
Pikesville we all know. You head south on Reisterstown Road, you're there. But Garrison? North is the way to Owings Mills.
A reader called several months ago to point out this anomaly. I was reminded of it during a recent trip to Hunt Valley.
There actually is an unincorporated section of northwest Baltimore County known as Garrison. The U.S. Census recognized it as the home of 7,969 in 2000. But as the once-sleepy hamlet of Owings Mills has grown and prospered, Garrison has all but dropped off the state highway map. (It's not on the full map but rates a small dot on the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan blow-up, just north of Fishtown and west of Chattolanee.)
The Garrison post office has been closed. The old Garrison zip code - 21055 - was retired in 2004. In 2006, the Baltimore County police renamed their old Garrison District the Franklin District. The well-known Garrison Forest School - not far from the heart of what was Garrison - claims Owings Mills as its home. And over at the Baltimore County Historical Society, library director Kevin Clement said he wasn't familiar with any Garrison, Md.
But on the State Highway Administration's Beltway exit signs, Garrison is still a happening place. SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar said the sign decision goes back to the opening of Interstate 795, which highway officials figured was a faster way to get to Owings Mills. He said the agency is sticking with that decision.
"The people who live in Garrison know where Garrison is," he said.
True, but those are the people who don't need a sign. And when an old Garrisonian dies or moves into assisted living these days, chances are they're replaced by a resident of greater Owings Mills - much of which is more accessible by Reisterstown Road than I-795.
Garrison is a charming historic anomaly - much like Scaggsville on Interstate 95, outgrown by Fulton since the addition of Maple Lawn Farms.
So there's no rush, but the next time the SHA replaces its signs along the Beltway, the ones at Exit 20 should surrender to reality and say Owings Mills.