About 10 o'clock last Saturday night - the last day of Passover and Easter Sunday eve - the Maryland State Sen-the moment was a proposed ban on studded tires.
With friends and family watching from the gallery, restless for the evening to come to a close the Senators decided to spend more time debating this piece of legislation than they spent on some tax measures.
The 100 feet of snow that fell on Garrett County this winter entered the debate. Hydroplaning on wet roads was discussed by senators who had trouble defining that phenomenon. Greater questions such as the ruinous effect of studded tires versus chains took up a good 10 minutes.
Finally, as the roll call was announced, Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell III (D-Baltimore City) rose to ask to be excused. "If this is a stud bill, I'd like to be excused from the vote under rule 19."
That rule is generally invoked when a legislator has a potential conflict of interest; insurance salesman voting on insurance issues, lawyers voting on issues regulating their profession, and in this case, a self-professed stud voting on stud issues.
The Senate cracked up. The joke touched the worn-down nerves of every senator who was going blindly trying to follow the hundreds of bills that had to be passed before midnight Monday. It was the beginning of the final-hour giddiness that creeps up on all legislators, an antidote to the crankiness that also infects their moods.
At that point the mood of the Senate president was closer to cranky than giddy. Sen. Steny H. Hoyer pounded the gavel. He pleaded with his colleagues to watch their decorum, to remember that time was running out and there was a mound of bills - precious to those who worked on them - that had to be acted on.
But less than an hour later, even Hoyer became infected with the giggles.
This time the senate was dawdling over a bill that would have given the Public Service Commission a full-time public information officer. Why did that commission need such a creature? To let the people really know what was going on, replied the sponsor.
Even the press corps chuckled at that one. Then the senators laughed and started debating whether public relations or public information officers felt compelled to tell the truth when it marred the image of the company or commission that employed them.
The press section was now in stitches and Hoyer couldn't help himself. Turning to one reporter who was making a major contribution to the cacaphony, he said: "We forgot to tell you, if this passes you're the new public information officer."
Before the night was over, there was more merriment to be had.A reporter from the "UP" paper of the Washington area was cooling her heels on the Senate floor, one shoe off, the other on. Zip - up came a generally innocous senator who stole the size 5 shoe and ceremoniously dumped it on the Senate podium.
The reporter was not daunted. After a few red faces the senator showed his good nature and handed the slipper back to the brunette Cinderalla.
Some of the fun was collective. Sen. Tommiie Broadwater, Jr. established a tradition by sending up spare-ribs from his Prince George's restaurant - the Ebony Inn - for the senators to gorge that night. It was the second year in a row that the senators had sticky fingers from the hot barbecue sauce and the second year in a row that it was suggested that beer was necessary to soothe their burning throats.
The last day - Monday - began with an attempt by Hoyer to defuse some of the zaniness. Posted on the Senate press table was an order: Legislators are prohibited from speaking to members of the media inside the chamber.
That lasted about five minutes. Sen. Arthur H. Helton Jr. (D-Harford) wanted to talk to the "UP" reporter but she flashed the notice in front of his face. A clever legislator, Helton quickly amended the notice to read "shall speak to members" and the last day proceeded as expected. Hysterically.