Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Move Over Madison Avenue

Who needs Madison Avenue when you have Stonybrook Drive.

If you've driven down Stonybrook Drive in Bowie anytime in the last four years, chances are you've seen this advertisement for real estate professionals Thomas and Stacy Allotta. They offer Allotta service and Allotta results according to their web site. Cute. If you can't make out the faded rural mailbox letters on the back gate, Thomas and Stacy list and sell homes. They would also like you to slow down while driving on Stonybrook Drive - that is, slow down while you ever so gently cross the double yellow line while driving around their truck. Yellow is the official color of Weichert Realtors. Double cute.

It seems like this truck never moves. In fact, it's captured on Google's street view for Stonybrook Drive.

This truck doesn't really scream out, "list with me!" I might be more inclined to call if it said, "Have truck. Will help with move."

Finally Got Some Rain

Dark clouds and much needed rain rolled into Bowie at the end of last week - finally. Below are some pictures that I captured.

I thought these clouds looked kind of cool.

I call this one Sun Shines Through Clouds over Buckingham. That's Bowie's Buckingham section - not the palace.

Here are some menacing looking clouds as seen from the Safeway parking lot at Market Place.

Safeway didn't have what I needed, so I had to go across the street to Giant.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Speckled Paint

I live in one of the Levitt sections of Bowie, Maryland. For those of you who aren't familiar, that means that my house was built on what was once a colonial plantation known as Belair Estate that contained a horse stable known as Belair Stud and Stable. The stable was world renown, and it produced two Triple Crown winners (father and son Gallant Fox and Omaha) as well as Nashua, the first horse to be sold for more than $1 million. Belair Estate was sold in 1957 to Levitt and Sons, the home builder run by William Levitt - known for developing planned communities in assembly line fashion. Levitt's first planned community was the famous Levittown, New York, followed by Levittown, Pennsylvania, Willingboro, New Jersey and Belair at Bowie, Maryland (later annexed by the City of Bowie).

In order to support assembly line like production of houses, Levitt limited the styles of houses, and common materials were used in all homes. One of the common materials that was used is what residents refer to as speckled paint. I didn't live in Bowie during the early days of the Levitt houses, but I have heard stories about the interior of some houses being painted completely with speckled paint. I've also heard recent stories about original homeowners selling houses that still contained rooms painted with speckled paint.

I had only heard speckled paint stories until I started doing home improvement projects on my Bowie house. This weekend I was working on a room remodeling project that includes replacing existing trim. I found some remaining speckled paint on the underside of the top door jam for the closet. Here it is in the picture below. The speckled paint can be seen on either side of the bi-fold door track.

On the back of some of the trim that I removed, I found a sticker for Hardware City. This wasn't original trim since Levitt and Sons used to make their own.

Before there was Lowes and Home Depot in Bowie, there was Hardware City. Hardware City was more like the hardware stores that I grew up with. When I first moved to Bowie, I tried to go to Hardware City to support the smaller store. The problem was that they rarely had what I needed, and I ended up going to Lowes anyway. I eventually stopped going to Hardware City because it was a waste of time, and they have since closed.

I also founds a 1956D Wheat Penny tucked behind some old trim - perhaps it's been hiding there since the house was built 43 years ago.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

BGE Gets Low Customer Satisfaction Rating

Baltimore Gas & Electric ranked 15th in a J.D. Power & Associates customer satisfaction survey of the 17 largest utilities in the East. I'm sure this doesn't come as a surprise to Bowie residents. I previously posted here about BGE's efforts to improve reliability in Bowie, and I guess it's appropriate to cut them a little slack until they complete that project. The situation seems to be better now than it was in the past, so BGE may be paying for past sins in the survey.

Of all the places that I've lived, I've never seen power outages with the frequency and duration as the power disruptions in Bowie. I think it was the summer of 2005 when we lost power for four days from a thunderstorm, and a couple of weeks later, we lost power for another three days when we received the remnants of what had been a hurricane and a tropical storm before it arrived in Bowie as rain and high winds.

BGE has said in the past that conditions are unique in the Levitt sections of Bowie, but the outages that I recall affected Anne Arundel County residents as well. Some people have speculated in the past that BGE gives more attention to the Baltimore area than customers to the South.

To BGE's credit, whenever we do have widespread outages, crews are brought in from other companies around the East to assist.

Even if/when the reliability issue is resolved, there is still the issue over billing. Some customer's bills have mysteriously doubled from one year to the next. BGE seems to have two general responses:

  1. You must have doubled your electricity usage.
  2. We installed a new meter on your house. Those old meters just weren't working right, and you've been undercharged all these years.

And what recourse do you have if a utility claims that your usage was higher than you think it was? Last summer we received a $600+ bill from Washington Gas for one month's worth of natural gas for our hot water heater. The bill is generally between $20 and $30. Luckily they adjusted the bill, and the description on the bill suggested a new or faulty meter. But if they hadn't adjusted the bill, I'm not sure what I could have done.

Check out this blog post and a related update to see how you can save on your electric bill in Maryland.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bowie to New York City Commute

I have to travel to New York City and Jersey City on a regular basis to meet with clients. Although a flight to Laguardia takes less than an hour of flying time, the total travel time adds up once you include the drive to BWI, arriving early, parking, passenger screening, boarding time, flying time and getting to where you need to go once you land in New York. Laguardia is not near any place that I ever need to go. And most of the travel time is not very productive.

In Bowie, we are lucky to have Amtrak service close by. I can usually get to the New Carrollton Metro station in 15 minutes. There is no need to arrive an hour or so early to go through screening. No need to take your shoes off when you check in, and you can bring more than 3 ounces of liquids.

On Monday, I went from home to train in 30 minutes. And once I was on the train, I had time to sleep for a bit and prepare for the day's meeting.

The trains are equipped with power outlets, so there is no need to worry about laptop battery life. I also have a Verizon air card, so I have Internet access for most of the trip (not in the tunnel under the Hudson).

Another benefit of taking the train is that the trains generally take you near where you need to go. If you're going into New York Penn Station, you are generally a short subway ride away from your destination. If you need to go to Jersey City or near World Trade, you can get off at Newark Penn Station, walk across the platform, and take the PATH train.

I never buy a return ticket in advance because I never know for sure when the client meetings will end. The train stations have handy kiosks, and I have purchased tickets less than five minutes from departure time.

Unfortunately the faster Acela trains do not stop in New Carrollton. Although those trains save some travel time, it also takes more time to get to Union Station.

Ridership is currently down, and ticket prices have been lowered. The best prices are available for advanced purchase.

I have had celebrity sightings (of sorts) on my last two trips - both on the platform at Newark Penn Station.

The first was former Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich. He was traveling with a small posse. I never voted for Ehrlich, but I did have a good laugh when I saw his cameo appearance in The Wire as a security guard in the Maryland State House in Annapolis. Ehrlich and his posse took my train to Baltimore.

The second celebrity sighting was on Monday. I was waiting on the platform when I saw Frank Lautenberg, one of the United States Senators from New Jersey, board an Acela train. My travel companion said, "who?" I didn't know this at the time, but Lautenberg was the primary sponsor of a bill that provided more funding for Amtrak. It's nice to see that he also supports Amtrak as a passenger. I guess Joe Biden wasn't the only senator that liked to take Amtrak.

The picture above shows an Acela train heading North through Old Bowie. I took it during one of the many trips with my kids to Old Bowie to see the trains go by. More on that in a future post.

Bowie Needs Rain

I was mowing the lawn tonight when I saw this patch of dry and cracked dirt underneath the swing. Family and friends from New England have been complaining about all the rain that they've been getting for the last three or four weeks. Would be nice if they could send some of it our way.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Belair Drive Blogger

Every neighborhood seems to have one house that kids are afraid to go near.

This phenomenon is nicely captured in the movie Monster House, where a young boy named D.J. is scared to go on Mr. Nebbercracker's lawn, but his curiosity causes him to obsess about his neighbor.

Bowie may have it's own Mr. Nebbercracker living on Belair Drive. Check out the signs that are hanging on the tree in this front yard.

And the signs on the fence... If you can't make out the letters written on the fence above the signs, they say, "WARNING, I SHOOT TO KILL."

Bowie's Mr. Nebbercracker (not his real name) blogs from his front lawn. He always has an easel-like device in front of his house, and sometimes he posts his thoughts. You can't really read his posts from a passing car, but you can read it from the sidewalk - or if you dare to stop your car and take a picture for your own blog.

This week's posts had to do with unwanted pregnancies and teen driving - two topics that are sometimes related.

If you can't read the above sign, it says:
Practice Birth Control
It's Plain Common Sense!
Stupid is as Stupid Does
Your 5 Minutes of Self Gratification versus a Kid for Life?

And the sign above says:
Now that Maryland has passed your kids to get a licence to
1) They will drive like you ... Ha Ha
2) They will drive like cops do (joke)
3) They will drive like their friends do???
*Make sure you have enough
common sense to teach them to always be aware of the stereotype drivers...we all
know who they are!
These aren't the most articulate posts that I've ever seen, and I've never known anyone to get pregnant as a result of practicing self gratification. The real Mr. Nebbercracker was a much better communicator.

I previously posted here and here about a more tame sign on this lawn. My guess is that Mrs. Nebbercracker put up that sign.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bowie Fireworks

This year, family and friends saw the Bowie Fourth of July fireworks a couple miles away from Allen Pond - at the Maryland Science & Tech Center. There were maybe 100 or so other people there as well. No traffic jams getting in or out, but we missed the Allen Pond festivities.

This picture gives a sense of the distance.

I zoomed in for the other shots.

This parking lot was our viewing area. This is one of two office buildings that opened up at the Tech Center in 2008.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Man vs Nature - The Bowie Electrical Grid

Scenes like the following are fairly common in the Levitt sections of Bowie this summer as Baltimore, Gas & Electric makes progress on the Bowie Electric Reliability Action Plan (BERAP). I spotted 10 or more trucks on a recent morning drive through the Somerset section.

The current project was preceded by a tree trimming pilot program in the Meadowbrook and Chapel Forge neighborhoods. The intent of the pilot program was to determine how tree trimming alone could address the frequent power outages that Bowie residents experience.

The BERAP extends tree trimming efforts to additional Bowie neighborhoods, and the program also includes upgrades to transformers, cables and poles. Some poles are being replaced, and the location of some poles are being changed.

The Leavitt sections of Bowie create a challenge for BGE because the utility poles are located in residents' yards - often in close proximity to houses. Although BGE has criteria for which trees, branches and shrubs must go, the residents' criteria is often different. Some residents are also finding new poles and support cables in their yards where there weren't any before.

At a high level, the goals of BGE and the residents of Bowie are the same: greater reliability and reduced outages. When it comes to lower level decisions, I've heard complaints about a favorite tree that was cut down or about a new support cable ruining the appearance of a yard. Unfortunately, those are the sort of trade-offs that are going to have to be made.

Chris Jones Family Benefit - A Thank You

Last week I posted about a yard sign I had seen advertising a benefit for the Chris Jones family in the wake of his death. I assume the benefit was a success, and the yard sign has now been updated.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Baltimore Red Sox Played at Camden Yards Tonight

I went to see the Baltimore Red Sox take on the Baltimore Orioles tonight - or so it seemed. The biological home team won. The adopted home team lost (Orioles 11, Red Sox 10).

It was hard to tell whether there were more Red Sox fans or more Orioles fans tonight, as is always the case when these two teams play in Camden Yards. The cheers from Red Sox fans were loud early in the game, but then again, they had more to cheer about. Orioles fans cheered loudest in the end when Nick Markakis hit a triple that ended up driving in the game winning run. It was quite an exciting finish considering the Orioles were down 9-1 earlier in the game.

My brother in-law was the beneficiary of corporate seats very close behind the screen toward the first base line. My brother in-law, father in-law and I would be sitting with the beautiful people.

We were escorted to our seats by Ron, the seat attendant with the Windex. "Thanks, but we can find our own way," my brother in-law said, but Ron insisted that we have clean seats.

Red Sox jerseys were everywhere. A long time Red Sox fan was wearing a "Yastrzemski." I saw a "Lowell", a few "Varitek", several "Youkalis" and many "Papelbon". Red Sox fans love Papelbon.

I saw a fan wearing a Chelsea Fire and Rescue t-shirt. I didn't think people from Chelsea would know how to get to Baltimore. Don't you need a passport for that? The city beneath the Tobin Bridge went bankrupt in the 1990's, and the mayor pleaded for help from the state by saying, "I beg of you, don't open the gates of heaven and let us in, but for God's sake, please open the gates of hell and let us out." One made it out, apparently, and made it down to Camden Yards.

Michael Jackson's P.Y.T. played over the loudspeaker. The fan reaction was neutral, but the estate was blessed with a modest royalty payment.

It had been a couple of years since I had been to a major league game. I had to transition myself from Bowie Boys & Girls Club softball to MLB. When the first few players got out, I found myself yelling, "nice try. Nice try. I know you'll do better next time."

The sky grew dark. It started to sprinkle. I took a well timed bathroom break. The rain came pouring down, and a rain delay was declared before the game was official. My father in-law described the protocol for calling the game - the home plate umpire would have the final say. Always the cynic, my brother in-law theorized that MBA types working for Peter Angelos had super computers that compared concession inventory, real-time purchases, payroll data and radar to determine the optimal point to call the game to maximize profits.

We had a celebrity sighting during the rain delay. The host of the defunct CNN show The Capital Gang, Mark Shields, walked by. "Mark," my father in-law yells out while he grabs Mark's hand to shake it. Apparently they had met before, and he explained the circumstances to Mark, and then he quickly introduced me and my brother in-law. Mark says, "think we'll get the game in tonight, boys?" And then he is off. My father in-law has an encyclopedia for a brain, and quickly explains that Mark is from Weymouth, and he is therefore a Red Sox fan. Sure enough, Wikipedia indicates that Mark Shield is indeed from Weymouth. Scary.

The rain seems to be getting lighter, and we check out the field. The crew is removing the tarps. Ron is there waiting to escort us to our seats again. Ever resourceful, Ron now has a Chamois to dry our seats. I said, "oh great, a Chamois." Ron says, "you mean Cham Wow!" Another tip for Ron.

The crowd came back liquored up. The family atmosphere disappeared. A shouting match begins to take place between a Red Sox fan with a thick Boston accent and a young girl Oriole fan. The match ends with the Bostonian shouting, "don't be a baby. Kindee-gaaaaden called. They want you back in claaaaass!"

One casualty from the rain delay: most of the beautiful people have left. There are many empty seats down near the front.

Ron has to ask a group of thirty-something year old "boys" to move twice because they were in other people's seats. He finally asks them to go back to their assigned seats. One of the "kids" says, "there are plenty of seats down here. There was a rain delay, you piece of shit prick." The ugly people have arrived.

The Red Sox and Orioles fans let out alternating cheers. "Let's go, Red Sox" is followed by "Let's go, Orioles!" Common ground is discovered: "Yankees suck! Yankees suck!"

A different Red Sox team came out for the second half of the game. The infield isn't paying attention to the game, and they walk off the field after only two outs in the inning. The umpire goes to the dugout to retrieve the embarrassed players.

The post rain delay game is owned by the Orioles. They start a rally in the bottom of the 7th. Five runs scored. Michael Jackson's Wanna Be Startin' Something plays over the loudspeaker. The context is not lost on the fans, and they cheer wildly. More royalties to the estate.

The Red Sox bullpen sends out pitcher after pitcher. Nothing works. Jonathan Papelbon finally comes out, and from the cheers, you would have thought the Pope had arrived in Boston. He starts off good, but not good enough. Nick Markakis put an end to that.