H. Margaret Fletcher of Falls Church says she remembers reading my first column but can't remember who preceded me as the conductor of the District Line column.
Small wonder she can't remember. There wasn't any District Line column until managing editor Alexander F. Jones assigned me to write one.
He had known for years just what he wanted, but newsprint was scarce during World War II. There was no space for a local column. When the war was over, Jones began to expand the editorial content of The Washington Post, and this column was one of the many things he added. The entire project was his idea, even the column's name.
By coincidence, the first District Line column appeared on Jan. 13, 1947, so today's offering closes out 33 years of telling the same jokes and working for the same causes. It there is a Monday the 14th this month (and the way things have been going there may not be), and if I am here to greet Monday the 14th, Margaret and I can start on our 34th year of District Lining.
It distresses me somewhat to realize that in this 34th year I will be writing about the Virginia and Maryland legislatures, just as I did in the first year. In some cases, I will be writing about the same legislative proposals.
For example, Maryland still has no law requiring periodic inspection of vehicles licensed in that state, and Maryland still has no law requiring truckers to cover "loose loads" (sand, gravel, and other things that fly off open-bodied trucks).
A watered-down version of the loose-load bill will be offered this year "in an effort to get at least something on the books." But no doubt the trucking lobby will throw a lavish party for the committee that handles the bill, just as it does every year, and no doubt the committee will on the next day kill the bill, just as it does every year.
I have a feeling that it's going to take at least 34 more years to get that bill through the Maryland legislature, and if Casey Jones wanted his local columnist to see the project through to the end he should have hired a much younger man.
I'll be joining Jones in that Big Newsroom in the Sky long before a trucker hauling gravel in Maryland is required to throw a tarp over his load to keep it from blowing off and cracking a hundred windshields.
Oh, well -- you win some and you lose some. The trouble is that I keep losing more than I win.Maybe that's why I was always able to identify with the Washington Senators. MEA CULPA
Speaking of losing some: On Jan. 3, I wrote about trying to break into a plastic bubble that held a GE appliance bulb to a piece of cardboard. In the course of that column, I wrote:
"The dagger is razor sharp and made of hardened steel that looks like it could penetrate a brick wall."
I take no column to our copy editors until I myself have been over it repeatedly -- perhaps 30 or 40 times. I saw nothing wrong with that sentence. The copy editors saw nothing wrong with it. The editor who puts this column into the page each day is my final backstop. He saw nothing wrong with it.
But Howard O. Allen of Allen Studio in Middleburg did. "Was this a slip of the pen?" he asked. "Or have you decided to surrender to this use of the word 'like?" P.S.: Do you realize that pretty soon you will begin the fifth decade in which you have written the District Line column?"
No, I didn't surrender, Howard. I just plain made a mistake. I've been making them for too many years to change my ways now.
As for those five decades -- the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s -- please don't put it that way. It's bad enough to admit that I have worked at the same job for 33 years without meriting a promotion. Please don't make it sound like 50. AFTERTHOUGHT
By golly, this year could be different. Maybe I could get out of this rut and start a new career.
You wouldn't happen to know anybody who needs a 180-pound apprentice jockey, would you?
Or perhaps I should become an economic analyst. I could predict that a recession is coming next quarter. Or if not next quarter, in the third quarter. Would you believe the fourth quarter? Certainly by next year, at the very latest.
If one keeps writing that kind of stuff, eventually he can say, "See -- what did I tell you?"
It may take 34 years, but eventually a bad year is bound to turn up.
When it finally arrives, the forecaster looks like a genius for predicting it so far in advance.
The only drawback is that while he's waiting for his recession to arrive, people ask embarrassing questions such as, "Why is that recession of yours taking so long to get here? Is it coming in by parcel post?"