When the cream-colored Cadillac with METRO license plates drove into the New Carrollton Metro site last month, engineers, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] site last month, engineers, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] equipment operators and maintenance men all tipped their hard hats to the large man behind the wheel.
"I come here so much, they think I'm a Metro official," cracked Jimmy Rogers as he whirled around the parking lot and out onto to his land next to the Metro East commercial development.
Although Jimmy Rogers does not work for any state, county or federal transportation department, he haunts the place, and other stations like it in Landover and Cheverly. For James W. Rogers Jr., real estate developer and broker, land holder, member of a long-established area family and father of three, is, to many people in Prince George's County, the undisputed "unofficial number one booster" of Metro.
He peppers the Maryland Department of Transportation with memos about road plans, about funding for the Amtrak station at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. His attendance at area transit meetings is "astounding," according to one member.
Each day he and his secretary send out copies of newspaper articles, letters and hearing testimony on his favorite subject to more than 25 people.
"Some people play golf, some help the handicapped. My thing is transportation," Rogers said of his 60 hour-a-week "hobby."
It is not as though Rogers has nothing to gain monetarily if Metro comes to Prince George's County. He is a broker for Metro East, the multimillion-dollar Shell Oil development project near the New Carrollton Metro station. He also owns property of his own right next door. Of four sites proposed for a Metro bus garage in the Ardmore-Ardwick area, Rogers has an interest in three. And if the 40 acres he owns in the same industrial park increase in value because of the Landover station in the heart of it, he'll not complain. He owns, with either family members or by himself, more than $1.3 million worth of property in the county.
But he has also lost to Metro.
In 1970 he and others bought a three-acre piece of land in the Ardwick-Ardmore area. They used the old white frame house on the property for an office. "We had peacocks and geese there. It was a place to take business friends." Rogers said he knew some of the land would have to go to the then-proposed commuter rail stop planned for Landover, but they planned to use the rest for office and industrial development.
"Then in 1974 the State Highway Administration came along and decided to take all the land for a water retention pond adjacent to the track. They gave us just compensation for it, but there's no question it would have been good to develop," Rogers said.
And now Metro is going to take his home, a 51-year-old house valued at more than $80,000 on Queens Chapel Road in College Park. If the county approves the E Route from Fort Totten to College Park, a complicated S-curve under University Park "will run right under my house," said Rogers. Rogers is a supporter of both alternatives.
"We've lived there 18 years and people say I bought the property because I knew Metro would want it. They'll give us just compensation for it, but I'd rather have the house."
Not all of Rogers' houses are in danger, however. Recently he purchased the Grigsby house, an 80-year-old pillared mansion in the heart of the industrial area of Landover Road, which he uses as an office. The rooms are filled with antiques; a large oak conference table is loaded with blueprints for the Shell site, the Metro bus garage, the New Carrollton Metro site and several other projects.
Next door to the house is a 175-year-old cabin Rogers also owns. Nearby is his mother's house, the 200-year-old Beall's Pleasure, behind a row of apartment buildings and surrounded on three sides by an industrial park.
"My father bought all this land and the house in 1944," said Rogers. "We had a tobacco farm on 50 acres and I used to go hunting out over those fields." Fields now filled with truck terminals, warehouses and apartment buildings and a good bit of Rogers' land fortune.
"People say my interest in Metro comes from what I've got to gain from it. In a way they are right. But this is my home. I mean, if you go to the man's ball park, you've got to talk to the man."
A tall, balding man of 52 whose brown eyes sparkle as he talks about his business and his enthusiasm for Metro, Rogers combines Maryland-style southern charm with the image of a world-travelled and clever businessman.
"His first appearance may be that of a Southern rube," said an acquaintance who is familiar with his style, "but you know the wheels are always turning."
To grease those wheels Rogers said he had five years of school at the University of Maryland in engineering and law. But he credits most of his savvy to experience.
"I'll tell you a funny story," he said. "I was called into the principal's office a few years ago to talk with the school psychologist and the principal about my son. The principal said he (my son) was having trouble concentrating in class.
"Well this guy was standing in his office in front of his two degrees and fiddling with this little plastic toy airplane while he was talking.
"'Mr. Rogers,' he said, 'Your son needs a degree from here to succeed. He needs to go to college.' All the time he kept fiddling and fiddling with that toy.
"Well, I couldn't stand it anymore. I told him, 'Fella, when I go to visit my brother, who has barely a high school education, I have to walk by his three Cadillacs, his chauffeur, his French maid and into his mansion to speak with him.
"'I saw you drive up in a Volkswagen just now. Are you telling me my son has to have those two degrees up on your wall to succeed?'"
Rogers, pleased with his story, adds, "You need education, sure. But it's also experience that counts and the ability to be a doer."
When asked what will happen to all his energy when Metro is completed, Rogers laughs and bubbles with excitement at the new prospects he has thought up. "I need challenges and there are always things to pursue. After Metro, there's the B&O that needs refurbishing, there is the study for the Outer Beltway and Rte. 50 needs upgrading.
"And we have to start talking about a high-speed train from Annapolis. Put them from New Carrollton to the bay and then hydrofoil (the people) across."
Some people who know Rogers say his vision is almost too broad, his interests almost too extreme for the county. Rogers, of course, disagrees.
"Look, they call me Buck Rogers, and maybe I sound like it sometimes. But somebody has got to do it."