A storm is brewing in that land of gentility and grace, Montgomery County. Let me step in and try to blow the clouds out to sea.
The issue is the county's Adopt-a-Road Program. If you've driven around Montgomery lately, you've seen the evidence: roadside signs, erected and paid for by the county, that announce the name of the program and blare the name of the person or organization that has agreed to keep that stretch of highway as free of litter as possible.
Yes, "blare" is the verb of choice. Not only is the Adopt-a-Road sign a prominent ad that would never be permitted in any other form or context, but the colors of the sign are throbbing orange and luminescent black. You might be able to miss the sign in a dense fog or a driving hailstorm, but you'd have to try awfully hard.
Adopt-a-Road signs began to sprout last March. It didn't take long for county residents to object. One body, the West Montgomery County Civic Association, will consider a resolution next week that would ask officials to bar names of businesses from the signs, reduce their size, limit signs to one per mile and make their color scheme classier.
I give that agenda a hearty four-for-four. It's not just a matter of garishness. It's a matter of fairness.
If politicians and kiddie football leagues have to remove their day-glo roadside signs (and they do), why should real estate agents and CPAs be allowed to have a free Adopt-a-Road ad in place forever? Pretty soon, by this logic, businesses would be allowed roadside signs strictly for business purposes, without the "cover" of keeping Montgomery clean. That way lies creeping Southern Californiaism.
But can we throw out the baby of cleanliness with the bathwater of garish signs? Not so easily. Adopt-a-Road is a positive, forward-looking, get-involved program. When I spoke a few days ago to its overseer, Aileen Rappaport of the Keep Montgomery County Beautiful Program, she was bubbling with enthusiasm and proud of the program's results. In my telephonic travels, I seldom meet that combination, particularly from a government employee with a limited budget.
So I have decided to Adopt-a-Road. With that ringing statement, I hereby throw open the gates and invite volunteers among you readers to join me in preserving some one-mile stretch to be named later.
If you're interested in donning blue jeans and purifying a stretch of highway every three months or so, give me a ring at 202-334-7276. Once our army is in place, I'll choose a piece of pavement, with Aileen's help. Then I'll report from time to time on how close cleanliness really is to godliness, and how much sweat and toil it takes to get a piece of Montgomery County to that point.
But I'm going to go beyond McDonald's wrappers. I'm going to try to keep my little corner of the world free of other forms of creeping crud too.
However, I don't want the county to spend $114 to erect an orange-and-black sign that says BOB LEVEY, or WASHINGTON POST TYPIST, or WORLD'S GREATEST FORTYSOMETHING SOFTBALL PLAYER. I just want a simple sign (perhaps in pale blue and egg-shell white?) that reads: VALHALLA.
Taking a page from Takoma Park's book, VALHALLA will be a nuclear-free zone. But it will be heaven on Earth in these other significant respects:
No spitting permitted. No ethnic jokes. No smoking. No revving one's engine for no reason. No turns without signaling. No referring to women as "chicks." No "finger signals" if someone cuts you off. No red-light running. No haughty use of eyebrows if your car costs $20,000 and the one stopped next to you at a red light doesn't. No radios played so loud that the floorboards shake. And no food fried in fat.
All right, it may be impractical. But I figure that man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a Valhalla for? I look forward to your calls.
One evening last month, after addressing a civic group about Children's Hospital, I was given a lapel pin by a man in the audience. When I undressed that night, I removed the pin from my lapel and said to myself, "What do I do with it?" My answer was the same as it always is with stray business cards and old bus transfers: Onto the junk shelf, to remain forevermore.
Now there's a better destination for lapel pins: David Peller, of Silver Spring.
David collects them. He says he has spent years walking up to total strangers (buttonholing them, you might say) and asking for that there pin. He has been successful to the tune of several hundred pins. But he wants more.
So David has asked if I will publish his appeal and his address. I'm happy to do so. He lives at 8201 16th St., Silver Spring, Md. 20910. He wants any and all lapel pins, from any and all sources.
David promises that the pins will never be used or shown in any disrespectful way, and that they will always be mounted and housed carefully. David also reminds donors to wrap pins in crumpled newspaper before mailing so they won't "pop" through the envelope.