Enough already with the plastic

August 07, 2008|By DAN RODRICKS

The City Council of Baltimore might not be ready to ban single-use plastic shopping bags, but I am. I'm done. I don't know when this happened exactly, but I reached some sort of tipping point with plastic bags a few weeks ago. Now I can't stand them. Some people don't want to see Kyle Boller as the Ravens' quarterback anymore. I don't want to see plastic bags.

Of course, going cold turkey requires asking for paper at the supermarket - not a great option - or toting reusable bags into the store with you. A lot of people, especially males, struggle with this. It's a self-conscious guy thing - being oh-so-blatantly Earth-friendly, bringing your own bags, carrying them across the parking lot in plain sight of manly men eating salads in pickup trucks. But it's got to be.

The only other option I like is the one discovered at the Price Rite store on Queen Street in York, Pa. They sell heavy-duty, reusable plastic bags at the checkout for 10 cents each. They are meant to last, too large for lunch and too good for poop patrol. If more stores around here sold those - and if more guys would walk proudly into supermarkets with lovely cotton bags - we wouldn't need no stinking government ban.

Eco-commuter

David Schapiro, the Roland Park resident profiled in this space a few weeks ago because of his determination to take a bicycle to work in Hunt Valley, has inspired others - or, at least, one other.

After reading the July 6 column on Schapiro's healthy and eco-friendly commuting routine, a 43-year-old woman, who describes herself as "overweight, under-exercising [and] suburban-dwelling," decided to put more foot power into her trip to work at the Johns Hopkins University. "My trip consists of a ride on Light Rail, and then a two-mile walk to my office," she writes in an e-mail. "My whole commute takes about an hour one way. ... I should be walking four to seven miles every day, depending on whether I walk to and from Light Rail. I'll let you know whether it is a lifestyle change that, like David Schapiro's, takes hold!"

You go, woman.

Something gold

"Things change," my 94-year-old mother said, breaking a silence that had lasted several minutes. At the moment, we were sitting in the front seat of a car, waiting on a traffic light in Massachusetts.

"Things change" is about as reflective as the former Rose Popolo gets these days, but her comment was trenchant, and it indicated keen awareness of her surroundings. To our left, on the corner, was a fast-food place where there used to be a historic restaurant called the Toll House. Several winters ago, a New Year's Eve fire destroyed the Colonial-era building - white, with black shutters, adorned in rose trellises - and instead of rebuilding, reopening and selling their famous cookies again, the owners sold out, and Wendy's moved in. A Walgreens, too.

Yeah, Rosie, things change.

"Nothing gold can stay," wrote Robert Frost, another native New Englander.

The old manufacturing city where my mother used to take us shopping - and shopping endlessly - never seems to have recovered from decisions made by men in suits in the 1960s and 1970s to send jobs overseas. The big factories closed long ago. No one seems to make anything on a grand scale any more, and over the three-plus decades since I moved away from southeastern Massachusetts, recovery from the loss of manufacturing never seems to have been realized. Other such places, including my adopted home, Baltimore, have done a lot better.

So some days, when I pick my mother up and take her for a drive through the city and small towns, hoping that things will look friendly and familiar to her, everything in our view seems smaller, broken, shuttered or trashed. I exaggerate, of course, but not by much.

The seafood store, where people used to line up on Fridays for fried haddock dinners, moved to another part of town, where the crime rate is lower. Some stretches of town seem to offer nothing but pawnshops and thrift stores. A once-thriving retail section - with family-owned jewelers, shoe stores, haberdasheries, sporting goods shops - seemed to vanish overnight when the local Mad Men decided to build a mall on the outskirts of town, out by the highway. That was four decades ago, and every time I go back for a visit, it seems like the recovery of the abandoned areas of the community never happened - or started and stopped.

And then, a few miles away, in one of the neighboring towns, we come to the intersection where the Toll House used to be. All that remains is a historical marker. This is where, in the late 1930s, restaurateur Ruth Graves Wakefield invented the world's greatest cookie. Now, you can get a Wendy's Frosty there.

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