Just another typical evening in Howard County:

County Executive Chuck Ecker wrestling Howard County General Hospital President Vic Broccolino to the floor, while Shane Pendergrass whizzes by on roller skates and Marge Rappaport fetches drinks in a "very" French upstairs-maid uniform.

Although some might argue that the strains of high office have finally taken their toll, these wild and crazy guys were letting loose for a good cause. They were waiters for the American Heart Association's recent "Celebrity Waiter a la Heart" event at The Columbia Inn.

Besides serving up tableware and drinks, the 20 waiters had to sing, dance and do whatever else that was requested by diners June 4 -- all for the price of a tip, which would be handed over to the Heart Association.

The celebs also dressed for the occasion -- as Carmen Miranda, colorful turban and all; a nasty nun; an irreverent cardinal;Sonny and Cher; Dolly Parton; a Southern belle; and a surgeon offering free examinations, just to name a few.

Their only guideline in amassing tips was to be creative -- and creative they were, charging patrons for use of silverware, a drink of water or the return of one's shoes.

Attorney Kevin Kelehan, a.k.a. Cardinal Kelehan, even charged each table $5 for the safe return of the two bartenders he kidnapped. The ransom was quickly raised.

Master of ceremonies Bob Nykyforchyn, a teacher at Wilde Lake High School and owner of Harmonyk Sounds, called upon waiters to meet the challenges posed by the 220 patrons.

Sandra Gray belted out "God Bless America" to cheers -- a laKate Smith -- after husband Vernon strained to tell an old joke.

Patrick Hagan of Patrick's Hair Design sang the Dutch national anthem; Pendergrass jumped rope; and Ann Domerchie, the fairy godmother of real estate at Coldwell Banker, sang "I Want To Be Rich," while another waiter raised money to get her to stop.

When Pendergrass was later asked to skip rope on roller skates, Nykyforchyn suggested she pretend it's an issue; and $50 was offered to Ecker if he would wear a Howard County Education Association button, although Nykyforchyn advised Ecker to refuse all contracts and only take cash.

(Ecker agreed to wear the button for one working day.)

The award for best costume and the coveted Golden Fork Award, a tribute to the waiter that raised the most money, were presented to Joan "Carmen Miranda" Athen, president of National Communications Network, for hustling $2,446 in tips. Athen humbly thanked her friends and business contacts.

Nykyforchyn was a bit more direct. "Just goes to show a little rumba goesa long way," he said.

At evening's end, more than $15,000 was raised. And that included money from tips, raffles and auction packages such as the nifty "Get Out Of The Dog House" basket of gift certificates redeemable at local flower, jewelry and clothing stores.

But good times weren't had by all.

Carolyn "Cher" Kellerman soon becamepoor Carolyn "Cher" Kellerman when she announced she would fork over$1,000 if anyone could do a tricky triple-time step-dance.

A patron who happened to be a professional dancer, having performed in "A Chorus Line," leaped from her seat and ran to join the now-faint Kellerman in a dance.

"Who would've thought she'd be here?" said Kellerman 10 minutes later, as she downed a drink. "I thought this was a sure bet."


Howard County police recently delivered leaflets to my apartment complex, warning residents to be awareof a rash of car thefts in the area.

I found the announcement useful. Besides informing me of a problem at my doorstep that I didn't know existed, the leaflet reminded me of the basic rules of conscientious car owners. Lock your car, take your keys, keep your car parked in well-lighted areas and so on -- the thought being that if your car is going to be stolen, at least make it challenging for the sleazeball who has chosen to elevate your blood pressure.

Then I got an idea. Actually,the owner of a sleek, brand new, jet black Toyota Celica GT parked near my apartment caused my light bulb to activate. I was walking past the car, admiring its sporty look and shiny paint job, when I noticed a catchy vanity license plate with the inscription, "Stolen2."

I surmised the owner was communicating a sorry tale of having been victimized by a car thief not once but twice. After all, thiswas the type of car that I'm sure drives a thief to do his crummy deed. I realized I had stumbled onto an innovative crime-prevention tactic.

Why not try to drive the thieves away with license plates that contain a message? I'm considering purchasing one from among the following:

"For Sale." You think the easiest way to drive someone away from your car is to put a "For Sale" sign in the window? This might be even more effective.

"Lemon." Especially believable if you drive a Ford or Chrysler.

"Bomb." This one could ward off potential thieves with a double-edged sword. They won't be sure whether you're hinting at the quality of the car or what might be wired under the hood.

"Christine." The name of the vehicle that spread terror in Stephen King's movie.

"Feel Lucky, Punk?" This would require two plates, but it's worth it. You get to use one of Clint Eastwood's -- and Hollywood's -- all-time great movie lines to your advantage.

"Quayle." Enough said.

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