Life's Never Dull On The Light Rail


"You're looking at my earrings," the lady with the painted orange toenails said.

I was sitting on a bench at the Camden Yards light rail station, waiting for the train back to Glen Burnie, when she and her friend came along. They were also headed south.

Yes, I was looking. Staring, in fact. When you see two middle-aged women with huge plastic rectangles dangling from their ears -- one with little crabs glued on, the other with orange-and-black baseball bats and gloves -- you notice.

"You know what they are?" she asked.

I confess I was still trying to figure it out when she announced, "They're condoms!"

Then she reached into the huge bag she was carrying and pulled out a whole sheaf of the things. Condom earrings with footballs, with sparkly things, with tiny Budweiser cans -- you name it, she'd glued it onto a condom. "I make them," she said.

Ever since the new Glen Burnie line opened, I'd been curious to know what kind of people were using it.

Well, here was Peggy Parr of Millersville, owner of "Condom Sense Jewels," just finishing up a sales trip to Baltimore. Business wasn't so hot today at The Rubber Tree, the Fells Point shop where she usually plies her wares, so she took her earrings over to Camden Yards.

"I sold 10 pair at Bambino's," she said. "At $10 a pair."

After we got on the train, a lady sitting across the aisle asked if she could look at Mrs. Parr's earrings.

"Sure," she said. "They're condoms."

Have you ever seen that E. F. Hutton commercial where the room suddenly turns silent at the mention of E. F.'s name? Mrs. Parr produced a similar effect.

Who would have thought the light rail could be such a wonderfully wacky place?

At first, I chalked it up to the All-Star Game, figuring that maybe something a little nutty was in the air. That atmosphere certainly pervaded Camden Yards, where, among other adventures, I was hit on by a guy holding a "NEEDS TICKETS" sign and approached by a 50ish-looking man wearing a Chicago Cubs uniform at the intersection of Camden and Howard streets.

He saw my notebook and asked if I was writing an article. When I said yes, he put out his hand and introduced himself as "Ronnie Woowoo of the Chicago Cubs," as if I should know him.

My first thought was, "Oh God, it's some famous ballplayer and I've never heard of him." Then I realized no self-respecting baseball player would have a name like "Woowoo." He must have been a very, very devoted Cubs fan.

Anyway, I wondered if this craziness could be spilling over onto ++ the train. After all, the people were a far more colorful bunch than the business suits and families with kids-in-baseball-caps I'd expected.

But they all said they're light rail regulars -- even Scott Cofiell and Steve Wineseckel, two Brooklyn Park natives who got on at the North Linthicum stop.

Mr. Cofiell, 33, lives in Finland; Mr. Wineseckel, 22, is stationed with the Army in Germany. They are such die-hard Oriole fans that in Finland, "Everyone wonders why I have a hat with a bird on it," Mr. Cofiell says. "They ask if I'm a bird watcher."

The two men flew home especially to ride the train to All-Star day; they use it whenever they're in town. "I always thought it was what we really needed in Brooklyn Park," Mr. Cofiell said.

Four senior citizens who work at Camden Yards got on at the Glen Burnie and Patapsco stops. They're regular riders.

A Glen Burnie computer salesman named Lee Warren was riding home after helping out at "Fanfest" at the Convention Center.

He said he never drove into the city more than three times a year -- even from as nearby as Glen Burnie -- before light rail; now he rides in all the time.

Mrs. Parr loves light rail -- uses it whenever she goes downtown to sell her earrings. Her friend, Evelyn Wilson of Severn, the one with the baseball earrings in her ears, said she'd "never drive to Baltimore" now that she can ride.

Need I say that I stepped off the train feeling pretty good about my share of the $462.5 million it took to build light rail? People from Anne Arundel and South Baltimore really are using it. And why not?

It was fast, it was cool, it was cheap, and once the passengers got to talking, boy, was it fun.

Why, Mrs. Parr even gave me a pair of those crab earrings.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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