Takoma Park: last lonely outpost of the '60s


LODGED between the mean streets of Washington, D.C., and the stuffed shirts of the Washington suburbs, is Takoma Park, Md., a last, lonely outpost of the '60s.

Geographically, it is inside the beltway, but spiritually, it is outside; far out.

Prade included marchers from "The Nuclear-free Soccer Club," the "Bikes Not Bombs" group and a bunch that identified itself only as "Bowling for Nicaragua."

It is also a place where one can buy a Christmas wreath advertised as "organically grown," obtain both "regular and holistic" medical care for one's pet and where not merely the open burning of leaves is prohibited, but their disposal in plastic

bags as well. Citizens are required to buy huge paper sacks to get rid of their rakings.

It is, in short, a delightfully dippy, other-worldly place filled with granola liberals who carry their good intentions before them like shining shields. They are not hypocrites -- they recently voted to allow non-citizens (mostly Central American refugees) to vote in local elections -- but they are a bit batty.

I have a friend who lives there and I make him save directives from the city council for me. David Letterman should have such material.

For example, the recycling plan requires that newspapers be separated from other trash and tied in a bundle, but only after the slick advertising inserts are removed, to be put in a pile with the magazines.

But not with phone books, which are treated separately.

As are cardboard boxes, which must be flattened and tied.

Bottles and non-aluminum cans may be put in the same bag, but aluminum cans have to be segregated.

AAnd, while those 2-liter plastic cola bottles can be thrown away, they first have to be flattened.

A couple of years ago, the city was forced to cut its garbage pickup from twice weekly to once. Concerned citizens -- there is no other kind in Takoma Park -- worried that keeping garbage for a week would increase the rat population. Residents were advised to freeze their garbage until pickup day.

The rats, incidentally, are also recognized as God's creatures. There was a movement a while back to stop poisoning them, in favor of capturing the little devils for release in a nearby rural county. As it turned out, the rural county Takomans had in mind objected to being made a rat preserve and the plan fell through.

Does this make Brigadoon seem like a slum or what?

It's hard to shop for groceries in Takoma Park because the aisles are clogged with people reading labels. If it's not organic, low fat and natural with no preservatives added, it goes back on the shelf.

Up until now, my favorite Takoma Park story has been the one about the fight between the vegetarians and the meat-eaters at the Takoma Park Cafe. It was, naturally, a co-op and the vegetarian members wanted only vegetarian fare, while the others wanted chicken included. They compromised.

They put chicken dishes on the menu, but the vegetarian waiters were allowed to serve them with small signs saying "Dead Meat" next to the plates. The cafe folded. But the other day, that story got topped.

My friend was at the Takoma Park outdoor market when a fellow pulled up on a motorbike. He was wearing a helmet. There was a young lady in a dress sitting in back of him. She too was wearing a helmet.

Sitting in front of him, perched on a rug strapped to the bike, was a cat. And the cat was wearing a helmet.

My friend approached the biker and said:

"Did you train the cat to do that?"

"No," the fellow answered. "You can't train cats. He's just a natural biker. He loves to ride."

"Does he ever fall off?"

"No. He watches the turn signals and leans around corners."

"Uh . . . where'd you get the helmet for him?"

"I had it made. I believe in helmets."

Only in Takoma Park. They should put it on the protected list of the National Register of Strange Places.

Donald Kaul is a columnist for the Des Moines RegisterGermond and Witcover are on vacation. Their column will resume tomorrow.

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