Volume 12, Issue 8 ~ February 19-25, 2004

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Dock of the Bay

A Tale of Two Hurricanes
Five months post-Isabel, one business prospers; another struggles to reopen

As the seven feet of water receded, Hurricane Isabel wasn’t done yet. Some flood victims were buoyed up by the good deeds of neighbors, while others would barely hold their head above water in the bureaucratic nightmare that’s still continuing.

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

One hundred and fifty years after Charles Dickens wrote them, his words ring true in Chesapeake Country.

photo by Louis Llovio
Raye Price of Skippers Pier laments more delays.
Nearly five months after the final drop from Isabel’s deluge, Raye Price, owner of Skippers Pier Waterfront in Deale, is struggling to reopen.

“It’s a forgotten story unless you’re in the middle of it,” says Price. Two weeks before the scheduled March 3 reopening of the flooded creekside oasis, Price and her husband John received a county stop- work order, effectively shutting down any hopes of opening on that day. At issue, the county says, is expansion beyond the current business footprint, which is not allowed under the reconstruction permits.

“It just doesn’t stop,” says Price who has fought for months with insurance companies, the county and contractors to reopen the bar and restaurant, an outside deck and tiki bar.

“Anne Arundel County set up multiple organizations under one roof at the Arundel Center, which was smart and convenient, but no one knew what was happening. There was no communication,” says Price.

She complains of redundancy in the paperwork and no notice of looming deadlines.

Thanks to a loan from the Small Business Administration, Price has continued paying the salaries of six full-time staff and begun renovations. But as the funds have dwindled, she’s had to dip into her personal savings and line of credit.

She claims the insurance companies she’s paid over the years are offering her pennies on the dollar, and that she is faced with suing them to get what she deserves.

“We only pay for what has been touched by flood water,” says Judy Marvel of the National Flood Insurance Program. “Which means if a building is under water and the roof collapses because of damage to the walls, flood insurance only pays for the walls.”

Tougher still, insurance pays only replacement value minus depreciation.

photos by Louis Llovio
Hard Bean owner Gary Amoth and staffer Terri Livingston-Kozel behind the counter five months after Isabel.
“I think they’re forcing me to quit,” says an exhausted and increasingly frustrated Price. “Yet we’re one of the lucky ones; we have the wherewithal to fight and stay afloat. I don’t know how some people do it.”

Forty miles up the Bay, another flooded business owner faced a much different hurricane.

“I woke up at 4:15 in the morning and heard the constant wind,” says Gary Amoth owner of Hard Bean Coffee and Booksellers on Annnapolis City Dock. “I nudged my wife and said: We’re screwed. Then I went back to sleep.”

By the morning, water had run up Main Street and four feet into his store.

With the help of customers and Annapolis officials, Amoth has recovered without the entanglement of red tape. A sump pump cleared the water, and safe city officials checked on his welfare until power was restored.

The city then hosted a Hurricane Survivor’s Party to boost spirits.

Amoth credits his regular customers for supporting him while he worked with a third of his usual power and made coffee from a simple burner and a portable espresso maker that belonged on a boat. One regular baked two dozen cookies for employees working in the dim light with no air conditioning.

“All’s well that ends well,” says a cheerful Amoth now.

Price, on the other hand, is still struggling. “We’ve both wanted to quit at one point or another,” says Price of her ordeal. “Luckily, when John’s down, I’m up and vice versa. If not, we would have walked away along time ago.”

— Louis Llovio

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Humor Alert
In a serious world, Capitol Steps in the right direction

When The Capitol Steps take the stage at the Elephant Club in Annapolis Feb. 26 for the first of three local performances in two heavily political weeks spanning the Maryland Primary, the comedy troupe will perform their political satire in a climate far different than when they formed 23 years ago.

The early 1980s was a time of gentler, even respectful humor. Even if you didn’t vote for Ronald Reagan, you probably didn’t really dislike him. And you surely didn’t hate him.

It’s far different today in our politically polarized nation, where Republicans and Democrats are divided into roughly equal-sized camps that despise one another.

“It was nothing like the attitudes toward Bill Clinton and now the attitudes toward George W. Bush,” Bill Strauss — co-founder of The Capitol Steps, a writer for the comedy troupe and participant to this day — told Bay Weekly.

“We used to like to say that in the kind of humor we used, which ever side you were on, you would enjoy it. But the landscape has changed,” he said.

Strauss and some of The Capitol Steps performers were Capitol Hill aides when they began their routines two decades ago. Now, they perform from coast-to-coast; in March, their troupes will be in Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and California.

They still deploy the sort of humor that aims to make every one laugh, like their parody songs. For instance, there’s “You Gotta Have Parts,” the one about Clinton’s dog, the late Buddy, sung to the melody of “You Gotta Have Heart.”

You might be fortunate enough to hear a song from their latest album, “Between Iraq and a Hard Place” or maybe from an earlier recording, “When Bush Comes to Shove.”

But today’s humor has a sharper edge, like this verse from the album,

One Bush, Two Bush, Old Bush, New Bush.
And Gush? His QI is in the dingle sigits.
He couldn’t frick pants on a wap of the murld.
He makes Quanny Dale look like a Lobel Naureate.
When Gush was stung and yupid, he was skunk as a drunk.
He ended up in the senal pystem. For I.U.D.

As recently as the early 1970s, Strauss recalls, people didn’t joke at all about issues like the Vietnam War. You were for it or you were against it, and you certainly didn’t make light of anything connected with American foreign policy.

Then came the era Strauss calls bipartisan political humor, reflecting politicians who would do battle among themselves during the day before having a drink together in the evening.

Now, the subjects for political humor seem endless. In the days following Howard Dean’s infamous “I Have a Scream” speech after losing the Iowa caucuses last week, he was pilloried by Leno, Letterman, O’Brien and a channel devoted entirely to comedy.

“The country has been awash in political jokes, certainly since Monica Lewinsky. There are political commentaries on late-night talk shows. There’s Comedy Central; it’s just everywhere,” The Capitol Steps comedian said.

Strauss does more than comedy; he’s the author or co-author of nine books, most of them serious, like Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069.

Fittingly, Strauss, 57, sees shifting attitudes about comedy in generational terms. It has something to do with serious baby-boomers taking power without having learned to take a joke.

A new generation — which Strauss calls post-Generation X — is even more serious. Strauss recalls a young audience last year that was upset with Republican Sen. John McCain for taking time out from his duties in Congress to host Saturday Night Live.

“They’re not looking for candidates who are hip and cool, somebody who could be on Conan O’Brien,” he said.

Despite the serious times, The Capitol Steps are still hip, cool and laughing.

Local Dates:

  • Thurs. Feb. 26–Dinner sponsored by the Elephant Club and the Republican Women of Anne Arundel County. Bar opens 6:30pm @ Sheraton Barcelo, 173 Jennifer Rd., Annapolis. Cash bar; dinner and show: $75; rsvp: 410-695-0006 • www.elephantclub.org.

  • Fri. Feb. 27–Performance to benefit the Calvert Alliance Against Substance Abuse. 8pm @ Mary Harrison Cultural Arts Center at Northern High School, Owings: 410-535-3733.

  • Sat. March 13–Performance to benefit student financial aid 7:30pm @ St. John’s College, Annapolis: 410-224-2575.


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For Calvert’s 350th, Bay Bard Sings a New Song
Listen all you Jimmys, You Sallys and you Sooks! I got some information that ain’t in any books!

Tom Wisner is the break-through song-writer who made singing about the Chesapeake and her rivers an act of personal and political radicalism back in the 1960s. Singing with Wisner, you feel connected to the Bay.

I’m Chesapeake Born, Chesapeake Free,
Chesapeake Bound, Flowin’ with ease
Chesapeake Born, Bound to thee
Deed I am, I’m Chesapeake Free.

Back then, Wisner was on track to a PhD in biology at Cornell University when he decided that enumerating and classifying wasn’t what life called him to be. He turned to teaching, and began the first environmental education program for young students in the Chesapeake, down at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons. As part of the mostly-scientific education program, Tom started to make up songs. A crab song got the kids singing with him:

Listen all you Jimmys
You Sallys and you Sooks!
I got some information
That ain’t in any books!
When they bring a net
You’d better dance with all you got
If you don’t do some dancin’
They may put you in a pot

photo by Kathleen Mccabe
Chesapeake bard Tom Wisner (center) with Frank Schwartz and Teresa Whitaker.
In the years since, Wisner’s become the Chesapeake’s bard. His “Chesapeake Born” became the title song for a National Geographic film; the Chesapeake Bay Foundation filmed him in Living on the Edge; last week, he appeared on Maryland Public Television.

Now Wisner’s helping Calvert County celebrate even more years.

Settlers sailed into Calvert territory in 1640, just six years after Ark and the Dove colonists settled in St. Mary’s City. Calvert became a county in 1654, when Lord Baltimore in England decided there were enough people in that fair land to need more government. He sent a distinguished lawyer and minister, Robert Brooke, over as a commander to organize (and tax) the Calvert countians properly.

Three and a half centuries later, Wisner lives on land that was part of the very first settlement of Calvert in the 1640s, off St. Leonard Creek. (A spouting fresh-water spring near the mouth of the creek drew the adventurers in, and they stayed.) He’s written a new song to celebrate the spirit of the people who risked their lives to find fertile land and waters in this world.

To build a boat and follow on the water
Search for hidden lands across the sea.
Do all the things a people of the water do
To realize their destiny.
I’m seeking fertile ground.

The song could as well be celebrating the native people who sailed in 10,000 years ago as settlers eager to earn their freedom and prosperity by growing tobacco for English smokers. Wisner’s continuing theme is the core desire to search out destiny.

For this early event in a year of celebration, he’s brought back to Calvert two of the friends who played and sang with him back in the ’60s and ’70s. Singer and storyteller Teresa Whitaker and singer and bass guitar player Frank Schwartz, formerly also of (Mayor) O’Malley’s March in Baltimore, fly in from Connecticut to join Wisner.

Sat. Feb. 21 @ 7pm @ Calvert High School-Auditorium, Dares Beach Rd. (off Rt. 4), Prince Frederick. $5; rsvp: 410/535-0291.

— Sara Ebenreck Leeland

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Way Downstream …

In Annapolis, Constellation Energy Group, the holding company that eventually pockets your utility bills, announced last week that it will spend some of that money — $500,000 to be exact — to help sponsor the local stopover for the next Volvo Ocean Race. The race begins in November in Spain. Annapolis and Baltimore will be the only U.S. ports of call during the global race…

In Calvert County, Cove Point liquid gas terminal intends to double its capacity as a result of greater demand and escalating prices for natural gas, Dominion Resources Inc. said last week. Fishermen are still irked by the closing of the fertile fishing ground at the facility for security gas tankers unloading...

The Cove Point gas dock, photo by Sandra Martin.

In Washington, news arrived during the rush for Valentine’s Day chocolates: the cocoa bean, the source of all things chocolate, is threatened by disease. That was the conclusion of geneticist Raymond Schnell, who told a conference last week that diseases like witches’ broom and black pot rot may soon endanger the global supply of cocoa, 70 percent of which is grown in West Africa

Our Creature Feature comes from Germany, where bank security cameras caught an unusual suspect last week: a cow. Yes, those four frames that turned up in the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung showed a cow strolling through a bank in the village of Wunstorf in rural northern Germany.

No, it was not a heist. The cow named Paula was supposed to be taking part nearby in a wedding ceremony, which is another story. In rural Germany, the bride milks a cow to prove her skills on the farm. We don’t know whether this German fraulein measured up given Paula’s wandering. But we’re thinking that perhaps brides in Chesapeake country ought to be required to shuck a few oysters before nuptials get read.

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© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated February 18, 2004 @ 11:59pm.