Tax filers make deduction that stranger is trustworthy


I FEEL compelled to ask Holly Price to describe the total stranger who offered to take her income tax return - and, apparently, the returns of more than 30 other taxpayers - from Lutherville to Baltimore's downtown post office Monday night.

"She looked like a social worker," Price says, failing her first attempt to give us a picture of this overly - and, one might say, suspiciously - agreeable woman.

"OK, she was like a 48- or 50-year-old hippie," Price tries again. "She had dangly earrings and ... and she looked like the kind of person who might work with abused women, or with kids. You know?"

Sorta, kinda, not really.

I mean, Price had handed her tax return over to a stranger, trusting that this person would not only drive into the April 15 madness of Fayette Street and deliver it to the U.S. Postal Service by midnight, but resist the temptation to chuck it out her car window while sailing down the JFX - just for laughs.

For all we know, Holly Price's tax return might today sleep with the fishes. It might be lining an osprey's nest. It might be baking on the shoulder of an expressway.

If my mother, the former Rose Popolo, taught me anything, it was this: Never take candy from a stranger, and never give one your tax return.

But according to Price, at least 30 people - "and maybe more" - did just that during a 30-minute span between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Monday night at the large Deereco Road post office that serves Lutherville and Timonium. "I'm talking dozens of people," Price says.

Most of these last-minute taxpayers had heard radio station reports of traffic jams downtown - and of a later-than-usual closing time at the Deereco branch. Reportedly, the Deereco post office would be open until 8.

But it wasn't, as many people found out when they got there.

A crowd gathered, pondering what to do next - and how to avoid the rush downtown.

"Word passed that a women was going to the Fayette Street post office, and if you wanted to trust her, she would gladly take your tax return," Price says. "I heard the woman say she was taking an 'entire community's' tax returns downtown.

"Many people simply got directions to the downtown post office and went south. Some talked to the woman, thought about [her offer], then walked away. ... But many, many others gratefully took the woman up on her offer."

Price pondered what to do for close to half an hour. "I dwelled on it," she says.

She sat in her car and even called her husband for advice - "We file a joint return, after all" - but couldn't reach him.

As she watched from the parking lot and saw others - "a little blonde in a convertible with a stack of returns, a construction worker in dirty clothes" - trusting the stranger, and not even bothering to get the woman's name, address or tag number, Price thought, "Why not?"

So she walked over to the woman and placed her return on a 6-inch stack of envelopes, both federal white and Maryland brown, and offered a $5 bill for gas.

The woman didn't want the money. "She said I should donate it to my favorite charity," Price said. "So [yesterday] I wrote out a check for the House of Ruth. ... Come to think of it, she looked like she might have worked for the House of Ruth. ... She looked like, 'This is my life, this is what I do for people,' and I trusted her.

"I hope she made it safely into town, and I thank her for her time and good will. She helped many people out and helped the city by limiting the traffic flow. ... I hope I see her next April 15, even if it's just to learn her name."

A comeback

I'm happy to report that one of Baltimore's best singer-songwriters, Lisa Mathews, and her band, Love Riot, go back into action this weekend after about two years of "closure."

Popular for years in these parts and a band with some national exposure, Love Riot went off the club and festival calendars in December 1999 because Mathews was pregnant. Her baby, Jesse, was born 22 months ago, and two other Love Rioters, drummer Ron Campbell and guitarist Mikel Gehl, have also become parents during the band's hiatus.

Mathews, Campbell and Gehl return to the stage at 5:15 p.m. Friday during Baltimore's Waterfront Festival. Three new musicians will join them. Love Riot fans should be quite happy with this news.

But wait, there's more!

During her mommyhood, Mathews has written 15 children's songs, and she and Gehl, trading as Milkshake, will be performing them at the festival Saturday and Sunday afternoons. That amounts to quite a re-entry - one show leading Love Riot, two as Milkshake. Can Mathews handle it? Is her hair still auburn? (Actually, I dunno. I haven't seen her in a while. Welcome back, mama.)

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