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Oklahoma bombing reminds again how close terror feels


It was midafternoon, the television was on and, instead of cartoons, there was news. And the news, of course, was all about the bombing in Oklahoma. An anchorwoman said the words "17 children" and "dead" and "buried," and before I could do anything about it -- grab the remote, change channels -- the words were going into the ears of the little boy who lives in my house. He seemed drawn into the news in a way I had never noticed before -- the way he's usually drawn into Shari Lewis. Usually, the news -- even with all its local horror -- is just background noise to him. This time, it seemed to mean something, and it was frightening. Every parent wants to run and clutch. To pull them close. To cover their ears, and their eyes. To protect a child's psychic space, just a little longer. And even if you get there too late -- after the anchorwoman speaks -- you can always say something that comforts, right? Something like: "Don't worry, that awful thing happened far away from us." Right? It happens right here

Truth is, we don't live far from terrorism. Not at all. If your definition is "that which terrifies," you can find examples of the phenomenon right here -- down the highway, in the city, across town, up the street. So when you hear a commentator, perhaps one with a British accent, declare at an end America's insulation from the terrorism that has gripped so many other places on the planet, be mindful that a distinction is being suggested -- car bombs vs. drive-by killings. It's a distinction without much of a difference; the results, physically and psychologically, being about the same. Random acts of violence? The killing of innocents? Fear that it could happen anytime, any place? That's not something American citizens should find foreign. Not by now. Not at all.

Architects of the absurd

Based on the letters and telephone calls received in the last 30 days, readers of this column have many and varied ideas about what constitutes Dumb Suburban Planning, and they seem anxious to discuss it.

For some, DSP leads to inefficient and environmentally detrimental use of the land. For others, it results in ugly and obtrusive developments on landscape that had been relatively pristine (the Wal-Mart in White Marsh, for example, received many votes). DSP could be a poorly designed traffic system, or a bizarre mixed use (such as the architecturally akin pizza parlor-funeral parlor tandem in a commercial development north of Bel Air). Here are other offerings from readers:

Jim Cook: "The greatest DSP and detrimental land use project of this or any other century -- the land development in Baltimore city and county that allowed all the silt and absolutely good top soil to wash down Herring Run and Stemmers Run into Back River. The river has been made so shallow above the Eastern Avenue bridge that sea gulls can walk on the river at high tide! I would hate to have a shorefront home there and not be able to use a boat."

Susan Cusick: "For DSP, come to Bauernschmidt Drive, Essex. We moved here 10 years ago. We were told that it was wetlands and only single homes (if any) could be built. Even though the community protested, they cut down the trees and are building townhouses. One day, we watched two pairs of wild ducks standing on the edge of the road. They were all facing the construction area. I'm sure they were wondering what happened to their nesting area. If you are really lucky you may see a red fox. I saw one running behind the construction. . . . The homeless on this peninsula are the wildlife."

An Anne Arundel County police officer -- "If you use this, don't use my name," he writes -- sent a handwritten diagram of the traffic problems occurring on Route 2 in Edgewater, south of Annapolis. His commentary: "During rush hour in the morning, northbound Route 2 can get backed up, blocking off all side roads, causing considerable delays. In the evenings, the road can get backed up nearly a mile southbound, sometimes continuing over the South River Bridge. Weekends can be even worse." The officer is worried about increased traffic once a major retail store in Annapolis closes and shoppers head down to a new one opening in Edgewater. In addition, hundreds of new BTC townhouses will be built in the area. "Perhaps the development will be named 'South River Penal Colony,' " he writes. "The already bad traffic will seal the community in better than most prison programs."

From Jeff Thorssell comes this assessment of the parking lot at ** Perring Plaza Shopping Center, Perring Parkway and Joppa Road: "The moron who designed the traffic patterns should be forced to shop there for everything he buys."

More to come. Watch this space.

Matzo on the menu

If you've seen one McDonald's, you've seen 'em all. If you've eaten one Big Mac, you've eaten 'em all. Which is exactly what Ray Kroc wanted. This cookie-cutter approach to fast-food restaurants is part of what's wrong with them, if you ask me. But, at least one McDonald's is trying to customize its service. The one at the Beltway and Reisterstown Road, owned and operated by Cynthia Brown, has many Jewish customers. So it has been giving away matzos during Passover. It also serves bagels from the Bagel Shoppe, and has been doing so for three years. "You've got to cater to the community," says Tony Swinney, supervisor of operations and proud of it.

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