O'Mayor could have a little more passion about city hotel plan

Dan Rodricks

BEFORE THE Baltimore City Council votes on Mayor Martin O'Malley's proposal for the public financing of a $305 million convention center hotel, it would be nice to hear from Mayor Martin O'Malley. Exsqueeze me? Have you noticed that O'Mayor has been relatively low-key on this high-profile project?

We hear from his assistants and chief of staff. We hear from the council president. We hear from the city's respected economic development guy. But O'Mayor hasn't exactly brought passion and confident resolve to this debate, certainly not in the way one of his predecessors, William Donald Schaefer, did in his crusade for public financing of the half-billion-dollar stadium complex for the Ravens and Orioles.

At one point, O'Mayor said the hotel would be in the "best interests" of the city. He also said that, all things considered, the financing plan in the current convention market presented a "very acceptable" risk. And if you've been over that plan carefully you might even agree with him.

But those pronouncements sound like wish-wash from a mild-mannered financial geek, not the savvy, progressive mayor of a rapidly redeveloping East Coast city.

So, let's hear it, your honor. You could even go back to the place where you forged your reputation -- the floor of the City Council, tonight -- and tell us exactly how you feel about this, clearly and firmly. There's still time.

Steroid solution?

Here, again, is my proposed solution for the steroid problem in Major League Baseball: If athletes like Rafael Palmeiro want to put performance-enhancing substances into their bodies, it's their stupid business. But when they play, they should wear uniforms with asterisks next to their numbers, and they should only get two strikes in each at-bat.

Summer treat

Have you been to Belvedere Square for the free Friday night music? Get there. It's one of the best bets of summer, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., through mid-October.

And I hear there's a belly dancer at one of the Belvedere shops, Egyptian Pizza, every Tuesday night.

Resilience of memory

I like the feeling you get when the words to a long-gone song come back to you. It means your deep memory banks are still functioning and even accessible. You hear a few chords, the first few lyrics and, before you know it, you're singing something that hadn't crossed your lips in maybe 30 years.

A friend handed me a CD and I popped it in the player the other night while coming down Route 30 through Manchester and Hampstead. It was "Don't It Make You Want to Go Home," the Joe South song, as performed by the Kentucky Headhunters. Nice pick by this band, a tribute to a soulful Georgia songwriting star who burned bright and fast in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I think I last heard that song -- Joe South singing about the New South rolling over the Old South -- back in high school, and almost every word came back, too. ("There's a six-lane highway down by the creek, Where I went skinny-dippin' as a child,/ And a drive-in show where the meadows used to grow, And the strawberries used to grow wild.") Y'all want to dig that one out when you're up for a dose of American country irony.

On the forgotten

Thursday morning, I visited an old farm in northern Baltimore County. There's a 20-foot-high peach tree on the place, but I happen to know that it never bears much fruit. Aside from pruning dead branches now and then -- so that he can get a lawn mower under it -- the owner never pays much attention to the tree. No one fertilizes the tree or sprays it for pests or disease. As a result, the peaches are always small, spotted, moldy or brown-spotted even before they hit the ground.

But this summer, something happened.

This summer, the tree is heavy with peaches of market size and shape, with spotless yellow-and-red skin. It's as if the tree had decided to do this on its own. Only professional self-consciousness about overstatement keeps me from calling this a miracle.

We picked three bushels, as excited as children finding treasure, but feeling a little guilty because no human enjoying this golden bounty had done anything, aside from last fall's limited pruning, to deserve it.

That evening in West Baltimore I attended a graduation for men and women who had completed one year of drug abuse therapy through Recovery In Community, the outpatient center in West Baltimore. It was an inspiring event -- adults who had put forth the hard sweat of recovery from cocaine or heroin to get to a better place in their lives. After years and years of addiction, lost in the city's dreary drug subculture, the RIC graduates had stepped into a new phase of their lives -- cleaner, healthier and closer to achieving their potential.

After the ceremony, I told one of the graduates about the surprising peaches -- a bounty we didn't see coming from a tree we never considered productive. "That peach tree had been forgotten, like we were," the graduate said. "It did a lot on its own, didn't it?"

Yes, and that seems to be a key to recovery -- doing a lot on your own when others have given up on you.
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