All Heather Nicoll wants to do is ride her bike to school starting next fall. When you're an eighth-grader, as she is, that sort of thing seems like a matter of obvious justice and plain common sense. But Heather is getting zero cooperation from her school-to-be. It has no bike racks on the premises and no plans to put any there.
Next September, Heather will enter the ninth grade at Quince Orchard High School in Darnestown. She lives less than a mile from the school's front door. She would like to stay fit -- and help the environment get a little more that way.
According to Carol Ehrlich, the principal's secretary, the question of a bike rack was considered last year. But school officials decided that there was no real desire or need to have one on the school grounds.
Ninety-nine percent of the students are bused to school, Carol pointed out. Besides, she said, the school's location isn't the greatest for biking. The main entrance is near the intersection of Quince Orchard Road and Route 28. Both are heavily traveled roads -- so heavily traveled that Carol says she sometimes has a tough time making a left turn as she drives out of the school parking lot. A bike wouldn't do any better in all that traffic, and it might do worse.
The clincher, according to Carol, is that there are no bike paths leading to the school. Bikers would have to use the roadway or the sidewalk. Each has obvious disadvantages.
School officials did announce that starting this fall, bike riders would be allowed to chain their bikes to the school's front-yard fence, which is easily visible from the school's main office. But Carol says she hasn't seen a single bike on campus since school opened.
That's a dreadful shame, for exactly the reasons Heather Nicoll raises. Several dozen Quince Orchard students live as close to school as Heather, or closer. They don't need a lift in a big yellow whale of a school bus. They need the lift that pumping their legs for five minutes each morning and afternoon would give them.
Heather knows a bike rack would be no insurance against theft. "But people can buy bike locks and chains," she observes. And the sight of a rack might induce fence-sitters to become pedalers instead.
"Quince Orchard could do better, I think," she concludes.
No question about that, Heather. And here's how. I just called a couple of Montgomery County salvage yards that are listed in the Yellow Pages. All of them say they have used bike racks in stock. All of them quoted prices from $25 to $40, depending on how bent the racks are.
For such chicken feed, can Quince Orchard really be so chicken?
A few days ago, I blew the whistle on mourners who apparently are too cheap to buy flowers before they visit cemeteries. At one Prince George's cemetery, mourners solve that little problem by stealing whatever's handy, right off a nearby grave.
Now comes word of flowers' being stolen right out of the ground.
Tracy Chase was visiting a friend who lives on Wyoming Avenue NW. On Sunday, Oct. 7, at 8 a.m., in broad daylight, as Tracy was returning from a nearby store with the Sunday paper, she saw a man steal some flowers that were growing in front of 2009 Wyoming.
According to Tracy, the man hopped out of a van, picked a bunch of flowers as fast as he could, hopped back in the van and hummed out of there. Tracy supplied me with his license number, and I in turn have supplied it to the police.
The story had a tinge of culture shock for Tracy. She has just returned to the United States after 3 1/2 years of living in Japan. Stealing flowers would be "unthinkable" there, she says.
The police say they'll see what they can do. I hope they mean it. This is the sort of crime that never makes the FBI's annual report. But it causes just as much civic discouragement as some felonies.
By the way, if I seemed to imply in my earlier column that flower-snatching at cemeteries is new, it isn't. Carol A. Petrusky, of Vienna, has been living with it for 24 years.
In 1966, her brother was killed in Southeast Asia while serving in the military. He was buried in a small cemetery on the New Jersey shore.
The day of the burial, "the VFW placed a 'Vietnam War' flag holder on his grave," Carol writes. "It didn't last a week.
"The next Memorial Day, they planted another. My parents didn't even get to see it before it was stolen. They placed one more, then gave up."
Meanwhile, in the past 20 years, the family has planted "a dogwood tree, a small rose tree, azalea bushes and other small shrubs. My husband and I have personally planted mums and pansies. Needless to say, everything has been stolen."
Carol's advice to all who want to leave flowers at graves: "It is best to remember our loved ones in our hearts." Sad, but I'm afraid it's true.