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Bill PettawayA gas station attendant hanging out...


Bill Pettaway

A gas station attendant hanging out with Arsenio, chattin with Oprah and touring Beverly Hills?

Bill Pettaway still can't believe it's true.

But it is, thanks to "Girl You Know It's True."

Only problem is, the hit single he wrote has turned out to have one false note. Pop duo Milli Vanilli recently admitted to having faked singing it -- and every other song on their album of the same name.

Of the controversy that caused them to return their Grammy, he says simply: "I stay neutral. I just write the songs."

For a dyslexic child who was misdiagnosed as retarded, music opened up a world of self-expression. "Music gave me my personality. It taught me my identity," says Mr. Pettaway, 30, of Annapolis.

After graduating from high school, he studied guitar and headed to New York to find stardom. Years later he returned, broke and wiser to the ways of the industry.

But he hadn't given up. In his spare time, he continued writing songs in his studio basement, including "Girl You Know It's True," which eventually caught the attention of Arista Records.

Although success has changed his life, he's determined to remain levelheaded. He's splurged on a mink coat for his mom, but a Ferrari for himself is still out of the question, he says. And although his latest, "True Love, Too Late," is expected to debut next month, he plans to continue living with his folks and working at the Amoco station.

"A lot of people ask me, 'Why are you still working here?' " he says. "Sure, I could move to Beverly Hills, but that wouldn't be reality for me."

To be in the tour business, you've got to be part showman, part scholar.

At least, that's the way Zippy Larson sees it as she, well, zips through Fells Point on her latest "shoe-leather safari" -- a tour of sites in the Barry Levinson movie "Avalon."

She winds down Thames Street toward a warehouse that doubled as a discount store, then crosses over to the scene of a car crash -- all the while waving to friends and digressing about everything from bakeries to tugboats to Baltimore brick.

"I didn't start out to do tours," explains Ms. Larson, who with a wink gives her age as "late 40s." "I started researching because I was interested in all this stuff. I'm so curious. I'm probably more curious than any five people should be."

A love of history caused the former nurse (whose real name is Zeporah) to return to school and get her degree in liberal arts from the University of Baltimore in 1981. Afterward, she found herself drawn to exploring unknown neighborhoods.

Five years ago, the pastime became a profession when she started taking groups on bus, boat and walking tours through Baltimore city and county, offering what she says is a mix of education and entertainment.

"I am having more fun doing this than I've ever had in my life before," says Ms. Larson, who is divorced and lives in Northwest Baltimore.

But if there's one thing she's learned from her job, it's this: Buy good walking shoes. Hers, by the way, are $69 orthopedic-looking numbers, which she eagerly unties and shows off. "Now," she says, "if they only made this in a heel."

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