Friday, February 03, 2006

Why I love my hometown

I wish I could film this...from the Baltimore Sun...

Police are looking for a jogger who kicked a toy poodle so hard that it landed on the other side of an Edgewater street, leaving it paralyzed.

The 9-year-old, 4 1/2 -pound poodle named Jacquelyn was at a veterinary hospital in Annapolis yesterday, paralyzed from the neck down. It is unclear whether the paralysis is from structural damage or traumatic shock.

Witnesses told Anne Arundel County police that the jogger kicked the dog three times after it ran up to him barking and nipping at his heels just before 9 a.m.

Janice Tippett, the poodle's owner, told The Capital newspaper, "This guy is so bad. She did not deserve that. Neither me or her ever hurt anybody."

Tippett said she had opened the garage door to her townhouse just as the man jogged by and Jacquelyn ran out, barking.

Tippett said the man shoved Jacquelyn with his foot as the dog came up on his heels. Then he turned and kicked the animal and "stopped and did it again."

Ah, yes, I can see it now...soft camera focus on a small town on the water, right at golden light, small haze coming from the water, Bruce Springsteen's "My Hometown" fades up...

I'm almost 33, live in Northern Virginia and have a sensible career with a sensible Defense contractor. My mother just moved from Edgewater last month, so I have little-to-no-reason to return, but stories like this show me that no matter how much the town has changed, it'll never change.

Nearly 400 years ago, as the English settled in Maryland, they set up a trading post and settlement on the shores of the South River, and named it Seaport. It was quickly changed to London Town, and the small settlement grew quickly. The only surviving structure, the London Town Publik House, was a place of commerce, a place of lodging, dining, drinking and a home of ill repute, if a sailor played his cards right. As England poured more resources into the region, they built roads for land-based commerce. Tobacco was so easily grown in the area, and England was making wads of cash from the area. But, the settlement of Annapolis was only five miles north, and while smaller than London Town, and with a shallower harbor, was slightly closer to Baltimore and Philadelphia. Through a political debate both in the colony and in Parliament, the new road was built to Annapolis, not London Town, and a new harbor was dredged in the colony's new capital. London Town fell out of favor as a trading post, and the small bustling community disintegrated.

London Town became buried by the wilderness as Annapolis grew into a real city. It essentially remained barren for years, except with the Publik House serving as a warehouse, a whorehouse, an orphan's asylum and a hulking remnant of what once was. There are other Lost English Towns of the Chesapeake, and, if some Spanish texts are to be believed, a couple of former Spanish outposts buried between the Potomac and the Chesapeake. None of them had a structure like the Publik House, which, for some reason, withstood decades of abuse, neglect, misuse and Maryland's notoriously fickle weather in one piece.

In the late 1800s, with London Town long forgotten and a burgeoning middle class developing in Baltimore and DC, a trip to the beach became a wonderful vacation idea. Places near London Town began to attract weekend and holiday visitors, like nearby Beverly Beach and Shoreham Beach. Large grandstands and concert halls were built along the shores of the Chesapeake and the South River, both on the Annapolis side to the north and the south of Beverly and Shoreham. Anne Arundel County's large waterfront areas, from the Patapsco to the North, the Severn and South Rivers in the middle, and the West River in the South (hey, I didn't name the damned bodies of water, and how the hell you get a West River south of the South River is beyond me) became the getaway places of choice.

Anne Arundel County was a playground for the urban citizens of the nearby cities. Media outlets like the Washington Star and the Washington Post began buying real estate on the peninsula between the South and the West Rivers, enticing would-be subscribers a couple of lots of property in exchange for subscriptions to their papers. The idea worked, and in 1920s, lots of weekend and summer beach cottages were erected. What was once London Town became Woodland Beach. The area between Beverly Beach and Shoreham Beach eventually became known as Mayo and Selby, and the whole thing was called Edgewater by the various governments and the Post Office.

When the Depression hit, many folks couldn't afford their cottages, and so they remained abandoned. Poor folks looking for shelter found it in these cottages, and there was always some work to be found shucking oysters, catching crabs, or working on boats. The communities founded by the newspapers didn't die, but they certainly didn't thrive.

So, Edgewater became pretty blue collar, pretty seedy. Definitely polluted. After the War, industries in both cities dumped their waste materials either in or near the South River. What, were the poor people gonna complain? Hell, would they even notice?

As the seafood industry quietly died, the town's demographics swtiched from nautical to construction workers, auto mechanics, and rednecks. I was born there in 1973, during the height of it's trashiness. Shows like Archie Bunker, Roseanne, Married With Children - those could have easily been set in Edgewater. Just there would have been less racial diversity. I was in kindergarten with a black kid. The black kid. Not just for kindergarten, or even the elementary school. For the whole town.

"My Name is Earl" *SHOULD* have been set in Edgewater. Every one of my neighbors had the glorious Earl Hickey 'stache - including half the women. Tattoos may be hip to the point of becoming cliche' now, but in the straightlaced Cosby Show '80s, tattoos were almost Satanic. Not in good ole' Edgewater, though - Harley drivin' men were more inked out than an NBA point guard and even the chicks had "Budweiser" tats. On their boobs. And exposed them often in public.

And maybe I've watched too much "Earl" - a redneck, white trash criminal decides to right himself through karma - but the thought of karma is simply too delicious for me to pass on. This is a long post - basically an essay - but bear with me, and don't punt the dogma yet.

My family owned a small grocery store in Edgewater. Coming from the hills of Western Pennsylvania, they were just grateful to live in a town that didn't get 20 feet of snow a year. Sure, there were occasional biker gang shoot outs down the street, guys walking in the store with pythons around their necks, and folks smelling like they bathed in Pabst Blue Ribbon. All part of the joys of getting out of Pennsylvania, I guess.

I figured out pretty quickly that I had little in common with Edgewater, when I found I had pretty much zippy skills in auto repair, firefighting or motor skills. I tried to hod rod my Big Wheel with disasterous results. Remember how those things had the plastic lever, like a parking brake, that could allow you to skid out? Well, on a dare from some much bigger and older kids in the neighborhood, I took a box of those 4th of July snapping fireworks, sparklers, a book of matches, and was going to be like my hero, Evel Kinevel, and skid out in a blaze of glory. I pedalled as hard as I could to a tall hill, lit my sparklers and hauled ass down the hill. The sparklers ignited my shirt. The idea was that the SPARKLERS would be on fire, not ME! I freaked out, trying to thow the shirt off me...all while under the power of gravity. I lost control of my Big Wheel while throwing the shirt off, and tumbled down the hill like that Agony of Defeat ski jumper in the old Wide World of Sports intro, except I was ablaze. The snappers fell out of my pockets, sounding like small arms fire as I rolled down the hill. Once I got done tumbling, which felt like 300 feet of agony, I looked at my ruined Big Wheel, my scorched shirt, felt a series of cuts up and down my arms, legs, and head, and the group of 10 or so older kids laughing like they had just seen a nutshot compilation on America's Funniest Home Videos, and I did what any self-respecting six-year old would do - I bawled. Luckily, Grandma was the first to find me, and planted the seed in mom's head that MAYBE I should go to private school in Annapolis. Perhaps Edgewater's public schools weren't for me.

Looking back, it was more like a 20 foot fall, and not steep of a hill. But when you're six, that was a mountain, and the people who lived on top weren't unemployed, but Zeus and Apollo know, had I known about Greek mythology then.

Edgewater began to change around 1990, when the South River Colony development was planned. It was a developer's wet dream - great highway and waterway access, and a bunch of dumb poor rednecks sitting in dilapidated shacks. It was no contest. The developers and their slick lawyers managed to avoid most on Anne Arundel County's growth requirements by signing a contract with Edgewater's form of local council, the London Town Property Owners Association. In exchange for tapping into Edgewater's already shoddy sewer and storm drain system, South River Colony would create a sign saying "Welcome to Londontown!"

To give this perspective, this is akin to the Red Sox trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees, but NOT getting enough money to put on "No No Nanette," quite the popular musical. Or, how about when the Cowboys totally suckered the Vikings into trading them the 1990s for Herschel Walker. The Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the wake of that trade and the Vikings...well, they'll always have Lake Minnetonka.

O.K. - a non-sports analogy - trading sewer and storm drain rights for a sign is like going to a car dealership with a 1967 Ford Mustang, garage-kept, 1800 miles on the odometer, pristine condition, and trading it straight up for Scion because you want to try out XM radio.

Or, let's put it in dollar amounts - a MINIMUM of 2.6 million dollars in infrastructure, labor and engineering for a $10,000 sign. And some mums to plant around it.

The LTPOA got played like a wholesome, virginal doe-eyed sweet girl hanging out with the football team's star quarterback in some not-quite-rated-x-bastardization of a John Hughes' movie. There's no Jake Ryan for you, Molly Ringwald, only a massive hangover and 20 years of regrets. Edgewater had a chance for a Flush at the Turn, but lost it at the River.

What really provides the extra kick-in-the-crotch is that the vast majority of the older areas - Woodland, Shoreham and Beverly Beaches - are all on well water, with that water fed from a corrupted, tainted aquifer. There are SO MANY chemicals living in the standard drinking water of this area it's like a who's who of carcinigens. Cadmium? Check. Mercury? Check. That exact same stuff that Evin Brockovich fought against? Check. However, SRC - well, my goodness, isn't this great? You get to have nice, pristine public water piped all the way down from Annapolis. 99.999% pure water. Your water doesn't turn purple or brown, or set off a Geiger counter.

So, this poodle's tale of "whoa" happened in that high-end development, South River Colony. This poodle gets kicked like a keg of Schlitz at a frat party, and makes the Baltimore Sun. The poodle's owner describes how hard it is to provide physical therapy to its little legs and back. I'm sure it was traumatic for her to see her dog go airborne like that beret-catching mutt in European Vacation doing a base jump off the Eiffel Tower.

However, when I was 13, and decided that I wanted to be a professional cyclist, I was riding my bike on a training run through Edgewater pre-South River Colony, when it was just construction workers, mechanics and KKK members, I had an unchained, unfenced Rottweiler mix chase me almost a mile and a 1/2, according to my bike computer, along Shore Drive, down several other streets, weaving through neighborhoods like a furry heatseaker missle. I had one of those long tire pumps that fastened underneath the bike's top tube, and I reached down and swung it at the dog. He was getting dangerously closer to getting my bike, or even me. In one of my manic flails, I actually connected to the side of his head. Bad idea - that only pissed him off more. I was on the roads, and he was cutting through yards. Not fair. Damn dog was tracking me like those bullets Gene Simmons' fired at Tom Selleck in "Runaway," you know, back when Kirstie Alley was still hot? Anyway, as I tried to make a 120 degree turn back on to Shore Drive at about 22 mph, I hit some gravel and wiped out, spinning me away from the bike. The dog caught up to the wreckage and started *eating* my bike. He attacked my rear wheel like a fat kid attacks a fantasy role playing game. He ripped the tire from the rim, and bit through the spokes of the still-spinning wheel. Me, being the brave sub-100 pounder that I was, didn't confront the dog and instead ran like a French infantry unit up a hill and into some older guy's yard. He heard the commotion, and was poking his head out the door to see a bloodied skinny kid wearing cycling shorts - not exactly common in a blue collar town in 1986 - a damaged helmet and a Rottie mutt eating a racing bike outside his front yard. He goes "What in the hell happened to you, kid?"

Breathing heavily, and probably in a bit of shock, I said "I was riding my bike home from a training run when this dog ran out of the woods on Shore Drive over by Mayo Road and started chasing me and wouldn't stop eventhough I was riding as fast as I could and I went around Laurel Road and tried to double back on Shore to lose him when I wiped out and now he's eating my bike and call the cops..." when the guy broke me off and said "You should have pedalled faster, kid." He went back inside and slammed the door.

After a few minutes, the dog got sick of ruining my bike, satisfied he'd made his kill,and ran off back towards the woods. I looked at the wreckage of my bike - luckily, it was a fairly cheap bike, a step above a department store special, but I knew I'd get yelled at by my folks. I also knew they'd never believe that I couldn't outpace a dog, but Cujo-FloJo back there was a different breed. I picked up the pieces of my destroyed rear wheel, some still covered in dog saliva, and walked the remaining mile or so back home.

I eventually told my mom what happened that day, about how I was chased by a crazy mutt, and her words of solace? "You should have gone faster."

So, Ms. Tippett, I'm sorry your dog got treated like an extra point, but it's about time some dogs in Edgewater got some karmic retribution.

And that South River Colony got some, too. Maybe fighting for your slightly less fortunate neighbors - now less redneck than they used to be, and more young professionals with families, looking for somemthing resembling affordable housing as you sit in your golf course McMansions, to get the public water they DESERVE more than your carpet-bagging selves....that'd be a start.

- me

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