IT'S THE LITTLE things that happen in Baltimore that constantly fascinate me.
Take for example, this past Sunday night, when I emerged from BWI airport after a flight in from Chicago. Chicago was bitterly frigid. So was Baltimore.
On the cab ride home I could not help but notice that there had been an unexpected snow and ice storm while I was away. As the taxi moved along Pratt Street, and northward along Calvert, I could see it was one of those tenacious January snows whose effects do not evaporate or melt quickly.
I had thoughts of having to hire a paving contractor to bring jackhammers to my home and blast the accumulated ice loose. After all, there had been no one at home to shovel or to pay someone to execute this chore.
And to make matters worse, I live on a block of St. Paul Street where the pedestrian traffic is heavy. Walkers tend to smash down the snow into rock-hard clots that linger until April.
But when I arrived at my door, my pavement was clear and clean, diligently shoveled from property line to property line, not a speck of white stuff anywhere. It was, in fact, one of the most expert shoveling jobs I'd ever seen.
My neighbors' sidewalks looked as if they been iced by a drunken baker -- with clods and patches of ice and snow left all over the way.
I opened the front gate and discovered that my walk was also snow sanitized -- the same immaculate removal job that characterized the public sidewalk. Very pleased, I headed inside and soon drifted off to the Land of Nod with a clear conscience and the peace of mind that I didn't have to face Monday morning with a snow shovel in hand.
Come dawn that day, I went downstairs and inspected the backyard. It too had been virtually vacuumed of snow and ice -- as expertly as had the front.
This was now truly amazing because my house, though constructed on the principle of a rowhouse, actually stands by itself and possesses nearly 180 running feet of walk that must be shoveled. Every brick was clean and clear, while all my neighbors' properties resembled a travel poster for the Arctic -- or at least Chicago.
Now my conscience was beginning to trouble me? Who was my anonymous snow angel? Who had been so thoughtful to remove that frozen mess in a way that would have surpassed the standards even of my most demanding German grandmothers? No one left a note or bill. No one demanded money. No one took credit.
I called the man who lives at the back of my property. This gentleman, Martin Bennett, reported he had been off from work the afternoon of the snow and seen a figure dressed in a coat and hat, with a snow shovel in hand, toiling away at the 180 feet of work.
"I assumed it was you," he told me. Another resident of my block confirmed how promptly the walk had been cleared. Robert Simmons, who works at the John Hopkins Medical School, arrived home that Friday evening to see the spotless pavement. But he, too, had no clue.
Then I questioned the other likely subjects -- mostly neighbors nearby -- and still came up empty-handed. No one took credit for the job. No one sued for compensation either.
It is now more than a week since my phantom benefactor -- who somehow looks like me when upholstered in a heavy coat and hat and wielding a shovel -- and no one has stepped forward.
Maybe this weekend I'll have the time to rap on doors. Maybe I'll get a bill. But in the meantime, I'm just going to thank one of those ever-thoughtful Baltimoreans who take care of me when I dip out of town.
Pub Date: 1/16/99