To many Catonsville residents, veteran Jennings Cafe waitress Peggy Bailey is considered a fixture of the community, much like the annual Fourth of July parade.
Sporting clothes in patriotic colors, residents and neighbors packed Frederick Road on Saturday with coolers and aluminum and canvas camp chairs for the parade put on by volunteers with the Catonsville Celebrations Committee Inc. This year's parade theme not only focused on the national holiday, but also on Catonsville's 200th anniversary.
Bailey has been riding in the back of convertibles in her sparkly red, white and blue gown for the annual parade for the past eight years, waving at fans and receiving not only cheers, but orders, too.
The waitress, who tells her regulars what to order — whether it's soft-shell crabs on toast or shrimp salad — received just as much recognition as Gov. Martin O'Malley, but she did not get any of the boos.
The Catonsville parade, like those in Towson and Dundalk, are well-attended by politicians in this election year. The governor, as well as former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who are expected to face each other this fall, were scheduled to attend Fourth of July events throughout Baltimore County this weekend.
But while the candidates got varied responses, Bailey remained a crowd favorite.
In 2004, she was named Baltimore's Best Waitress by Zagat Restaurant Guide. In 2002, she was the parade's grand marshal, and "everybody still thinks I am," she said.
Bailey, 68, who has been waiting tables at the cafe in Catonsville for 30 years, started her career on roller skates at a restaurant in North Carolina, where she grew up.
"I just stayed with it," she said, rather than pursuing a career as a teacher as she had initially planned. But she said waitressing has been a good job while she raised her two sons and took care of her elderly mother.
"Once you get used to it, it doesn't seem like it gets harder. I'm just so used to working," she said.
She broke her pelvis after a fall earlier this year, and was gone for nine weeks — to her customers' and her managers' dismay. She said she has regulars come from all over the state. But while Bailey has earned a reputation and a group of loyal customers, she said "I just treat everyone the same." If a customer is giving her a hard time, she said she just tries to "kill them with kindness."
What impresses her customers the most is her ability to remember orders without having to write a single thing down.
She said her best tip was $600 for a $1,500 bill at a restaurant she worked at in Dundalk. The customer told her that he would give her the tip, if she could memorize all 42 orders right down to the appetizers.
"You just concentrate and picture what they tell you," she said.
And Bailey is not forgotten, either. She said people often recognize her on the street in town and call out orders to her just as they do at the parade.
Jane Bowen, 70, has lived in Catonsville for 44 years. She said she has attended many of the past parades and her kids were often on the floats.
She said Catonsville "is really like a community — a small town." While she didn't recognize many new faces that were in the crowd, she said that not much has changed, including the parade.
It not only drew residents out into the heat Saturday, but also others from the surrounding area.
"It's all about the parade," said Jeannie Paul of West Baltimore, who came with her husband Frank and their 18-year-old daughter Carolina.
Paul said they often come to Catonsville and the parade. "It's very unsophisticated, but it's so much fun."
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