Firefighters deserve high-fives and another fete

NOW THAT was a cool coincidence: "Firefighter Appreciation Day 2001" at Oriole Park fell in the midst of the diehard, underground inferno that put the city's Fire Department to an extraordinary test. Too bad many of the firefighters who deserved the tribute could not attend, though they were near Camden Yards. There will have to be another honor for those who worked so hard to end the danger posed by derailed tankers of hazmats stuck in a downtown tunnel fire that burned as hot as 1,500 degrees and turned railroad steel red.

The Charles Towers rooftop rescues in 1999 were impressive, with helicopters and sky-high heroics that saved lives.

The Howard Street Tunnel fire, on the other hand, was deep, grungy, ugly and searing, a troglodyte battle, with setback after firefighting setback, and a hydrochloric monster fixed in the smoky darkness to make things even more interesting.

Considering all that it was up against, including an impatient public and national attention because of the disruption in Orioles games, the Fire Department deserves some major league high-fives for getting things under control, with no loss of life, in just a few days. (The know-it-all whiners on talk radio seem to think it should have taken just a few hours.)

So, when the smoke finally clears, let's get the stage up in City Hall Plaza again, Mr. O'Mayor. We need a rally for the men and women of the BCFD, like the one we had for the Ravens and The Rock. You could even bring in the Baha Men again, this time to sing, "Who Put the Fire Out!"

Search should end here

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Fire Department still does not have a new chief to replace Herman Williams, who retired in February. There's some kind of search going on ... and on ... and on. Certainly there must be someone of rank in Baltimore who showed enough stuff the past few days to impress the mayor. I didn't hear of anyone from New York working the tunnel fire, did you?

The solution is plane

Somebody out there must have read this column June 18 -- the one in which I expressed exasperation with the nation's illogical and confusing airfare system -- then had Drew McEwen, vice president for sales with Raytheon Travel Air in Kansas, contact me. In a letter dated June 19, McEwen presented a simple solution to my problem with airlines: aircraft ownership.

"The convenience and comfort of aircraft ownership at a fraction of the cost," McEwen's letter began. "It's yours. Yours without the headaches. The lines. The maddening delays and business-crippling flight cancellations of commercial air travel. Yours without the heavy capital requirements of whole aircraft ownership."

Curious as to how many incomplete sentences a corporate vice president could write in a single letter, I read further still.

"A fleet of planes to meet any need. A regional trip. A transcontinental flight. Or anything in between."

The letter said. That I could choose. From a fleet of popular planes. The King Air B200 turboprop. The Beechjet 400A. The Hawker 800XP. The intercontinental wide-body Challenger.

"First-class comfort," McEwen said. "Spacious, comfortable, and elegantly appointed cabins allow for productive in-flight conferencing or simple quiet contemplation."

Suddenly, I could see myself, 25,000 feet above Dundalk, quietly contemplating this thing we call life, with a cold Rolling Rock, a dish of Smokehouse Almonds and a nice big pillow for my head.

What a simple and sane solution. To all those headaches the commercial airlines give us. All I have to do. Is lease a piece. Of a luxurious jet! For as low as $3,600 per month.

"And your lease payments may be tax deductible," McEwen said.

Is this a great country, or what?

Debate isn't fluff

It was quite a little tempest I started in Friday's column. I guess I didn't appreciate how broad and deep the appeal of the mighty crab fluff. One TJI reader, Barbi Shaffer of Randallstown, is pregnant and says she has planned her delivery for St. Agnes HealthCare because of its proximity to Kibby's on Wilkens Avenue (or, as our old pal Turkey Joe calls it, "Der Vilkens Strasse.")

"Kibby's offers a fluff that is large and tasty, allowing the sweetness of the crab to escape the nongreasy battered coating," she says. "And the crabmeat is always warm."

Apparently some restaurants serve a crab fluff in which the inner core of crab remains cold through the deep-frying and that, says Shaffer, is a "yuck."

Shaffer and too many TJI readers to mention know a lot more about this than I do, since I haven't had a crab fluff in 25 years. My first was my last.

Speaking of which ... this columnist appreciates the distinction between a crab cake fluff and a soft crab fluff. A crab cake fluff is what most people refer to as simply a crab fluff: a crab cake dipped in batter and fried. The first fluff I ever had in this town was a soft crab fluff: a soft crab stuffed with crabmeat and filling, dipped in batter and deep-fried, soft legs, claws and all. Some readers -- I can't, for the life of me, recall any of them being present when I ordered this concoction in 1976 -- insisted that I had had a fried hard crab: a Chesapeake blue, its lid removed, stuffed with crab meat and deep-fried.

Whatever that was I ate 25 years ago, it was in the "fluff" class of crab dishes.

But it's the straight crab fluff we seek.

Actually, I don't seek it. I'm boycotting Chesapeake crabs because of the decline of the fishery. These columns were meant to explore the crab fluff as cultural phenomenon, though I realize I'm promoting its wider consumption. It is not for me to insist that readers cut their crabmeat intake until the stock rebounds. I can only suggest it. Some day in the near future, we'll celebrate the resurgence of the blue crab with an All-Star Crab Fluff Fest at one of the places suggested by readers: Tall Oaks and Arundel Seafood, in Anne Arundel County; Buddie's Pub & Jazz Club in downtown Baltimore; Glenmore Gardens in Northeast Baltimore; the Crack Pot and Ocean Pride in Baltimore County.

Until then, the only thing I'm fluffing is the pillow aboard my new King Air B200 turboprop.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun