For some months, I've been engaged in a friendly debate with Laurie Cole, a member of Vienna's Town Council, over the merits of building a mini-city at the Vienna Metro station.

I think it's a smart idea. Laurie thinks it's dumb.

No doubt Laurie is smart; heck, she even appeared on TV's "Jeopardy!" a few months back -- and won. As for me, well, I'd be lucky to win the home version.

A few weeks ago, Laurie invited me to see what a cool town she lives in. I checked out Jammin Java, the concert venue and coffee shop on Maple Avenue, and Laurie was right about that. We had lunch at a sushi place that was in the same league as some downtown sushi bars.

But I got bogged down in traffic on Maple, and I couldn't easily walk around. I craved the vibrancy Vienna would get from MetroWest, the 2,250-unit project planned for a site next to the Metro station. More people would lead to denser development and a less car-oriented community.

Laurie argues that MetroWest would spoil Vienna's small-town character. With high-rise condo buildings down the road, she'd be far less likely to run into her son's baseball coach at her favorite sandwich spot, where the owners have known her family forever.

This week, Money magazine landed on Laurie's side, ranking Vienna as the fourth-best place to live in the entire nation. (All of the top 10 places were suburbs; No. 1 is Moorestown, N.J., outside Philadelphia.) The editors used statistical rankings to come up with the winners: The top places had high average incomes, low taxes and crime, good cultural amenities and schools, and decent weather.

The magazine included average commuting time in its mix, but the supposed prime bugaboo of suburban life, traffic, seemed not to be determinative. Not one of the 25 places with the fastest commutes in Money's survey made it to the top 10 list. Places such as Vienna and Gaithersburg (No. 17) triumphed without regard to their gummed-up roads.

Laurie says those who cherish Vienna value "intangibles like having a sense of place," quick police response (Vienna has its own police force) and proximity to good food and culture (Money says Vienna is within easy reach of twice as many restaurants as the average for the best places) above any frustration about traffic.

That conforms with a Washington Post poll this year in which 34 percent of respondents said they like commuting to work. Most people don't like commuting, but the numbers showed no great passion to escape the daily drive.

Maybe that's why opposition to Maryland's intercounty connector has persisted for nearly half a century. Places such as Vienna, Washington Grove and Olney feel like home not because they're hard by a highway but because they know enough to fight against projects designed to speed people through communities that work. On that much, Laurie and I can agree.

Two people who rode along with many Washingtonians on our commutes died this week. David Haines delivered the news on WPGC-FM's "Donnie Simpson Show" for the past 14 years, and if you weren't awake before his morning report, you certainly were after his clarion voice rang out with his patented "Burnt Toast and Coffee Time" and his announcement of the end of the workweek: "Iiiit's Friii-day!"

Without trivializing the news, Haines served up headlines as a friend, not a voice from Mount Olympus.

Freda Wright-Sorce was also more a friend than a performer. She didn't work for a radio station but was the wife of Don Geronimo (real name Michael Sorce), the brash host, with Mike O'Meara, of WJFK's "Don and Mike Show." If Don sounded callous or snide, Freda's frequent phone calls to the show revealed his more vulnerable side, and their willingness to let the audience in on their arguments over how to raise their son or over the most intimate aspects of marital life made for riveting radio -- a window onto a love affair in all its colors.

Freda died Sunday in a car crash on the Eastern Shore. Don, the ultimate showman, stayed home the next day but made sure the show went on, with O'Meara playing recordings of some of Freda's best calls.

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