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Snowbound resort to indulgence, helping each other

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If anyone deserved a lunchtime indulgence Monday, Barry Robinson did. His normal 60-minute drive to work, from Accokeek to Baltimore, took four agonizing hours, much of it spent on a ramp to Interstate 495, waiting for the tractor-trailer in front of him to unstick itself. "I was thinking there's got to be a better way," says Robinson, Baltimore's chief of transit and marine services.

Seeking the type of consolation that comes only between two slices of rye, he waited in line at Attman's Deli, just east of downtown, for a corned beef sandwich: "A big one," he said.

With the aftermath of this weekend's snowstorm lying heavy over the region, countless thousands of Marylanders were left inconvenienced, aggravated and just plain stuck. Those who had to get to work were struggling and swearing, wrestling with Mother Nature to free their cars. Those whose workplaces stayed shuttered had the morning free to walk brazenly up the middle of snowy streets, thinking only about where to stop for coffee, where to sled and what today forecast of more snow might bring.

Early Monday morning, Ken Crowley sprinkled some snow-melt pellets outside his store, Lombard Hardware, near Fells Point. He and his wife, Lillian, had hiked there from their home in Canton. His hands froze while she stayed warm bundled in her grandmother's beaver fur coat.

Their four-wheel-drive car was simply not making it out of their alley, not unless, Ken Crowley said, "someone goes back there, or I go back there, and shovel it out." Even if the car could make it, there wasn't a single parking spot near the shop - only huge piles of dirtying snow.

Inside, the couple sipped hot coffee, and though they'd only been there an hour or so, thought about trekking home. They hadn't sold a thing. What people wanted, they didn't have.

The phone rang, and Ken apologized before quickly hanging up. The front door jingled open and then quickly closed. No shovels, no business. The Crowleys sold every one they had within two hours Friday morning as the storm loomed.

"I wish we had 300 shovels," Lillian Crowley said as the door banged shut. "Three hundred?" her husband said with a snort. "I would have bought 3,000."

Not far away, things couldn't haven't been more different for Sean Guy, who owns Water for Chocolate at the corner of Lombard and Wolfe streets.

The tiny gourmet takeout has struggled at that spot for nearly four years, ignored by most of the neighborhood. What turned things around? Staying open in nearly 30 inches of snow.

After seeing a dramatic uptick in foot traffic on Saturday, sledders and shovelers suddenly wanting hot drinks, Guy opened on Sunday, his typical day off, and all but sold out.

Eager to restock in case Monday brought more sales magic, Guy got up at dawn, dug out his car with the help of a neighbor and set off for the market in Highlandtown. He got stuck three times, but persevered, desperate to buy the spinach, tomatoes and asparagus he needed for his saltimbocca, his salad nicoise.

Before he left, Guy and his wife had a little argument about saving their parking spot. She said chairs. He said no.

"She said we could lose the spot and I said, 'The spot? What about the chairs? Those are $50 chairs," Guy said, laughing. "She was right. We got home and the spot - and the chairs - were there."

While Guy was serving the morning's first chai and latte, Matt Malaquias stood a few blocks south with his husky, Echo, at a snow-covered intersection. He looked lost in contemplation.

Behind Malaquias, on Ann Street, a large tree had fallen into the street, blocking it entirely and crushing a car with, the neighbors giggled, Florida plates. In front of him, nothing but more barely passable roads.

"I'm just trying to figure out what we're going to do," he said. "And I think I decided we're not going in to work."

By we, he meant Echo, who usually accompanies him to the office near Penn Station. Malaquias sells museum cases. He had a big deal pending, but figured he could work on it from home.

"I won't make it down my street," he said, adding that he's also worried about his roof terrace. "I was listening to NPR and they said people with flat roofs should beware. And I thought, 'Mmmm. Great.' "

Plenty of folks made the same decision. Stay home. Or their offices made that decision for them.

Adam Bradbury teaches math at Patterson Park Charter School, one of hundreds of area schools that didn't open.

Not feeling the need to be particularly enterprising on a day off granted by the elements, Bradbury figured he could grade papers at some point. ... Or not. On Sunday, feeling stir-crazy, he walked to the gym at Harbor East to find a game of squash. But by late Monday morning he admitted: "It's been a little online shopping, a little e-mail checking."

And a little stopping for a fancy tea drink at Guy's place with his Great Dane, Cleopatra, in tow.

As a native of Maine, Bradbury has seen plenty of snow. But up there, he says, folks handle it with New England independence. Here, he's been charmed to see his neighbors coming together, sharing both salt and car-pushing muscle. "It forces people to be a bit more social with each other. Everyone's stepping in and helping each other out."

Anthony Howells, who lives in Upper Fells Point, spent the morning trying to rescue his wife, whose car got stuck halfway up their block when she tried to make it to work. While Howells works from home in sales, his wife is a chemist who needed to get to her office near Bel Air.

"That," says Howells, still red-faced and a bit sweaty, "didn't go so well."

She turned right around, dialed work and called in "snow." Not sick. Snow.

Only on the job for a month since moving to Baltimore from Texas, Bob Lesher also had to sheepishly make the call. His boss at Tesco in Timonium was pretty understanding.

"I just couldn't get out of my garage," he says. "We tried, but there's nowhere to put the snow."

Darcy, his wife, who's not working now, spent the morning pulling her obstinate small dogs, Poppy the miniature pinscher and Lily the pug, through far taller piles and drifts.

Tired of struggle, by lunchtime the couple had ditched the dogs and were picking their way across icy Federal Hill sidewalks, headed for burgers at The Abbey Burger Bistro.

After Robinson finished his hard-earned corned beef at Attman's, he had a meeting that somehow hadn't been canceled. He hoped to start his adventure home by about 5:30 p.m. And he really hoped the trip would be easier than his morning ordeal.

"And then," he said. "I have to worry about what's going to happen tomorrow."

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