The last farmer in the Washington area finally sold his land to a real estate developer this afternoon. But as he lit a cigar with a $100 bill, Floyd Sodbuster told a packed news conference that his long holdout had been worth it.
Sodbuster has farmed 10,000 acres south of here since 1955. His family has owned the same land since the 19th century. The tract will now become Damascus Dipsydoodle Center, the largest enclosed shopping mall in the Washington area and one of the largest malls in the world.
In 1989, Sodbuster was offered $250,000 for his land by megadeveloper Alfred Q. Paveitover, who recently completed Tysons VI in Northern Virginia and Pink Flint in southern Rockville. But Sodbuster refused to sell, claiming that his heart was in farming, and always would be.
"If God wanted a Bloomingdale's in northern Montgomery County, He would have put one here long before now," Sodbuster declared at the time.
Paveitover continued to improve his offer. Sodbuster continued to insist that he wasn't interested.
In a celebrated 1992 incident, Paveitover came to visit Sodbuster to try to change the farmer's mind. Paveitover was accompanied by Gov. Lefty Driesell and U.S. Sen. Gordon Peterson. Sodbuster responded by sicking his trusty hunting dog, Anne Arundel, on the visitors. They hastily departed.
"You know that if my dog is named after a whole county, she must be tough," Sodbuster was quoted as saying. Soon afterward, Peterson returned to broadcasting, saying he had never realized that politics could be so threatening.
Declaring that he had "never lost a fight, and don't intend to start now," Paveitover hired the Washington public relations firm of Greaseman & Gallaher. In a controversial ploy, the two publicists marshaled public support for Damascus Dipsydoodle Center with a series of demonstrations.
On a Saturday afternoon in 1994, 1,000 well-scrubbed protesters marched through the streets of Damascus, chanting, "Volvo! Perrier! Cleansers by Clinique! Why won't Sodbuster give us a boutique?"
Maryland State Police made more than 250 arrests for disorderly conduct. The episode, known locally as The Yuppie Rebellion, was believed to have been the first time so many Americans were arrested while all were wearing Reebok sneakers.
Sodbuster responded to the demonstration with classic rural Maryland calm. "I've got nothing against those people protesting," he told CBS News anchorman Ted Turner. "But it isn't going to change my mind. Nothing will."
The business community thought that Sodbuster was not as sincere as he seemed. Analysts theorized that Sodbuster was cleverly trying to frustrate Paveitover into offering him an even sweeter deal.
In a 1995 front-page feature article, The Wall Street Journal called Sodbuster "The Damascus Wheeler-Dealer With a Large Case of Coy." No one had ever resisted Paveitover's blandishments -- or bankroll -- for so long, the Journal reported.
After the Journal article appeared, Sodbuster was in wide demand as a motivational speaker. He spent six months on the road, most of it in Las Vegas and Anaheim, lecturing to business conventions, at $15,000 per appearance.
But Sodbuster's 1995 apple crop failed while he was speaking to The American Society of Perpetual Profiteers in Fort Lauderdale. Sodbuster left the lecture circuit and returned to his farm -- "for good," he told interviewers.
In 1998, on the advice of his new P.R. firm, Speakes & Donaldson, Paveitover made one last effort to rescue the deal. He tried a friendly gambit. He invited Sodbuster for brunch at the new Hyatt Regency in downtown Darnestown. To the developer's reported amazement, Sodbuster accepted.
In one of the most controversial episodes in American journalism history, their coversation was secretly recorded by a reporter disguised as a busboy. A transcript was published in the next day's National Enquisitor.
"Look, Al," Sodbuster was quoted as saying, "I'm getting sick of this. If you give me $11 million, and my own permanent parking space in front of the Narcissism Forever Health Spa, you've got a deal."
At yesterday's news conference, Sodbuster called the deal "fair" and "worthy of my daddy and granddaddy." Standing beside him, Paveitover said Sodbuster "drove a hard bargain, but it'll be worth it to both of us."
Neither man would confirm the reported $11 million sales price. But Sodbuster called the settlement "enough to keep Anne Arundel in dog biscuits and Benetton sweaters for a long time."
Asked about his future plans, Sodbuster said he is considering an offer to enter the public relations business. "Sodbuster, Harden & Weaver," he mused. "How can we miss?"