Talk about good quality bus service. . . .
Shortly before boarding the No. 11 last Thursday, longtime bus rider Gladys Hall was approached by several Mass Transit Administration employees bearing gifts of a dozen roses and a cake with pink-and-white frosting.
That's pretty good treatment for 5:30 a.m., when MTA representatives are usually more focused on exact change than floral bouquets and baked confections. But then Mrs. Hall is no ordinary commuter.
For 29 years, she has ridden the No. 11 to her job at the William T. Burnett Co., a foam rubber manufacturer in Southwest Baltimore. She's retired now. Thursday was her last day on the job.
Burnett happens to be just a couple of blocks away from the MTA's Bush Division bus facility on Washington Boulevard. Her work day started at 6 a.m., about the same time a lot of MTA employees were showing up for work.
As a result, everyone at Bush Division knows Mrs. Hall.
Correction: Everyone at Bush Division loves Mrs. Hall.
"She's someone you can easily get attached to, just from her personality and her smile," says Carolyn Barnes, an MTA information clerk.
"She always has something nice to say about somebody."
Whether they met her on the No. 11, or walking on Washington Boulevard or chatting at the bus stop, many of the day-shift workers at Bush Division have grown attached to Mrs. Hall over the years.
They talk about church. They talk about kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They talk about music and clothes.
Mrs. Hall always contributed when MTA workers were collecting for a charity. She always shows up when invited to church social events. She never complains about bus service or seeks special treatment, not once in 29 years.
"She's always smiling. She never says anything negative," says Sandra Johnson, an MTA information coordinator.
"I ride with her in the morning, and whenever she takes a vacation or a sick day, the bus stop's not the same."
There were a lot of long faces at the MTA when 62-year-old Mrs. Hall -- "Miss Gladys" to her friends -- announced she was retiring. So they decided to give her a surprise.
"I was so excited I couldn't even talk," Mrs. Hall said after the presentation. "I certainly wasn't looking for it."
Mrs. Hall said she has no special plans for retirement. But she's promised to visit her many friends at the MTA.
"I wouldn't change anything about the bus service," Mrs. Hall says. "At my age, I would like it to come close to the curb when the driver can. But overall, they've been pretty good to me."
Salt vs. sand: The debate rages
The roll call of great issues this millennium -- religion, government, fluoridated water -- probably doesn't include the snow-removing merits of salt vs. those of sand.
No doubt you find this shocking. Admittedly, there has been many an evening at the Intrepid Commuter's dinner table when family members have grown hoarse arguing the subject. But then we are an irascible lot.
It may even surprise loyal reader George Jacob of Parkton, who recently wrote us to ask:
"With winter on the way, would it be cheaper and better for the environment to use a sand-and-salt mixture?"
For an answer, we turned to David J. Malkowski, chief of highway maintenance for the State Highway Administration, and Paul L. Burns, chief of traffic operations at the city's Bureau of Transportation.
Their answer was no.
But perhaps we should explain a bit.
Each winter, we dump tons of salt on Maryland roads to make driving safer in the face of snow and ice. The SHA last year used 159,332 tons of the stuff, almost twice as much as the agency needed in 1992.
There's a simple reason for this. Salt melts ice. Sand does not.
Sand will provide traction in bad weather. It's particularly useful when the temperature falls below 20 degrees -- so cold that salt is ineffective.
The SHA uses a salt-sand mix in Western Maryland, where the weather is much colder and storms are more severe. But in Central Maryland, salt is the rule.
"Sand will clog drainage. It has to be swept up after a storm. That makes it a lot more costly," Mr. Malkowski says.
Sand can even be dangerous. When snow and ice are gone, it actually can make the road a bit slippery, Mr. Burns notes.
The experts agree that salt can have adverse environmental effects, and road crews try to use it sparingly and store it properly to lessen the problem.