Victimized plumber is no match for man with clogged brain

Monday morning. Rick Arnold and his guys from John E. Ruth Plumbing -- "Serving Baltimore since 1910" -- are working an emergency job at one of those big high-rise apartment buildings on North Charles, north of University Parkway. Busted sewer pipe. Sewage spewing into basement. Not a pretty picture.

Rick parks his Ford pickup in the lot outside the building. His workers do the same. They make numerous trips from the trucks to the boiler room, from the boiler room to the trucks, fetching tools and pipe parts. Plumbers on the run.


One time, Rick runs out of the building and -- bah-da-bing! -- no truck. Truck stolen.

Cops called. Witnesses interviewed. Young cop takes report. Rick tells young cop he'd left the keys in his truck, along with a briefcase. Young cop wants vehicle identification number. Rick says he'll get it and call back.


An employe drives Rick to his office in Baltimore County. He gets the vehicle ID number, calls the Northern District in the city and gives it to another officer.

Hours later, the young cop -- the one he'd met at the scene of the crime -- calls Rick. Here's how Rick swears-ta-God the conversation went:

Young Cop: "I called to get your vehicle ID number."

Rick: "I gave it to another officer."

YC: "OK, but look, I have bad news for you. I have to give you a ticket."

Rick: "A ticket? For what?"

YC: "For leaving your keys in the ignition."

Rick: "I didn't leave the keys in the ignition, I left them in the truck, on the seat."


YC: "Leaving keys in an unattended vehicle is against the law."

Rick: "Am I on 'Candid Camera'? You want to give me a ticket? Shouldn't you be looking for the guy who stole my truck?"

YC: "My supervisor says I have to give you a ticket. I put it in my report."

Rick: "I'm at my office, in the county. Can you mail [the ticket] to me?"

YC: "No, I have to give it to you in person. Can you come to the city to get it?"

Rick: "How? I don't have a truck. It was stolen. Remember?"


YC: "I'm sure you can find a way."

Rick: "Look, you're missing the point. My truck was stolen. Why ** not stay focused on that right now and you can give me a ticket later."

"This officer was very nice," Rick says. "But he was adamant about giving me a ticket. I thought the situation called for a little discretion." I'll say. (Two veteran police officers confirmed that it's a violation of Maryland law to leave keys in an unattended vehicle. But they'd never heard of a vehicle owner being so cited after his car or truck was stolen.)

Yesterday, Rick learned that his pickup had been abandoned, then impounded in Anne Arundel County. It cost him $100 -- for towing and storage -- to get it back. Rick went along, glad to have his truck. But he has refused to accept that silly ticket. Now he's back at work -- a fugitive from justice, but not from plumbing.

Boys will be boys

At McCafferty's, a real man takes his steaks rare, his sports seriously. He doesn't whine when he loses a bet, and he pays off. Steve Cristina, sous chef at the Mount Washington restaurant, paid off Wednesday afternoon. A Dallas Cowboys fan, Cristina works with Gene Bridges, executive chef and (like ,, myself) passionate Cowboy hater. Because America's Team lost San Francisco Sunday in the NFC Championship game, Cristina had to char-broil his beloved Cowboys Super Bowl cap in the parking lot. And waiter Michael Parish had to get down on his knees and apologize for his Dallas worship. He also had to pay Bridges $20 -- in singles, one at a time, with everyone watching, on videotape, with Marty Bass doing the play-by-play. Humiliating, but they deserved it.


Save the tapes

That big class project at the Renaissance Institute -- to collect cash register tapes from Giant, Safeway and Metro and redeem them for computers for Baltimore public schools -- is looking great. The mail has brought more than $100,000 worth of tapes to the institute, and organizers think there's another $15,000 worth sitting in bags awaiting tabulation. "It's been amazing," says Gloria Cerino. "Now, we'd like to shoot for $200,000 worth of tapes by the March 1 cutoff." Convinced that inner-city kids don't benefit from the supermarkets' annual offerings as much as their suburban counterparts do -- or hardly at all -- the institute started collecting the register tapes with the goal of rewarding Baltimore schools that have the greatest need and best attendance. "My kid's school has lots of computers; they don't have the need kids in the city do," said a woman from Cockeysville who mailed a pile of tapes to the institute this week. If you want to do the same, the address is:

Save the Tapes, Renaissance Institute, College of Notre Dame of Maryland, 4701 N. Charles St. 21210-2476.

Towering confusion

Anybody out there know why one plaque on the Shot Tower says it's 234 feet high while another plaque on the tower says it's 215 feet high? Anybody proofreading plaques in this town?

Contact This Just In on 332-6166, or write to The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. I love to hear from readers. You are the wind beneath my wings.