In the center of it all

August 24, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

The "blood" that circulates through the heart of Hagerstown is part flesh, part metal.

The number of people walking the sidewalks of Public Square - where East and West Washington streets meet North and South Potomac streets - swells around the middle of the day.

The steadier flow throughout the day comes from the wheeled traffic - cars, trucks, buses, vans and bicycles - streaming along Hagerstown's arterial network.

All that, naturally, depends on the day, the time, probably the weather and a host of other variables.

The Herald-Mail chose Public Square to start its "Lifescapes" series because the area is somewhat defined and confined, yet broad enough to contain a reservoir of stories.


We picked this past Tuesday to observe - and watched it spill into Wednesday.


A dozen people clutching green booklets wait on the sidewalk outside Frostburg State University Center at 16 W. Washington St. until 8:23 a.m., when a man pushes open the door and lets them in.

Krista Shanholtz and Susan Lum, in their orange Hagerstown Department of Public Works shirts, like to make their plant-watering rounds early. The sun is low, the traffic light.

Shanholtz extends a thin, angled metal wand over her head. It's just high enough to reach over the lip of a hanging planter and spray in some water.

Lum tilts the barrel in the back of their pickup to increase the water pressure.

County Commuter bus 438 arrives about 20 minutes later. Its door opens to welcome four new passengers, who have been sitting silently and watchfully on the steps of the art deco office building on the southwest corner. One is a young woman in a tank top and jeans who's off to Hagerstown Community College, where she's studying administration. She didn't want to give her name.

Across South Potomac Street, three men smoke cigarettes as they sit on the brick steps outside R. Bruce Carson Jewelers. Aaron Vaughn says he's waiting for a half-hour to pass so he can face a marijuana distribution charge in Circuit Court.

Another man says he's waiting for a ride to work.

The third man, Richard Fortunato, is melancholy. His plan this morning is "trying to sober up." Fortunato says he drank alone the previous night, still hurting because his longtime girlfriend died July 4.

"It's like part of me is gone," he says.

East Washington Street dips in front of the Alexander House, where Dan Weaver's view of the square is slightly uphill.

Weaver doesn't expect to sit outside for long; he's headed inside soon to clean his apartment because the building will be inspected in two days.

Dennis Mills is one of two men high up on ladders propped against the building on the northeast corner. They're painting. A paint-speckled Mills climbs down to the sidewalk for a break.

"Richmond bisque," he says, holding up a paint can.


"Yeah." He laughs. "It used to be tan. Now everything's got a fancy name."

At 9 a.m. sharp, a man unloads a U.S. Food Service delivery truck, which he has parked in the left lane of North Potomac. Heavy cream, red leaf lettuce, shell eggs and tortilla chips are packed on his hand truck. He makes a few trips from the truck to The Rhubarb House and back.

Melissa Fones - a "downtown ranger," according to the tag on her blue shirt - arrives with a broom and a dustpan on a stick. She says it's best to tidy up the downtown early, before the lunchtime rush. The sidewalk she cleans is covered by a patchwork of sun and shadow.

Vaughn gets to Circuit Court during the 9:30 a.m. session. He pleads guilty to conspiracy to distribute marijuana, court records later show.

Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III sentences Vaughn to a year in jail, then suspends the sentence. Wright decides Vaughn must stay on supervised probation and complete a drug treatment program he started two weeks earlier.

"He is currently motivated for treatment and expresses a desire to make lifestyle changes," his court file says.

Before he walked to court, Vaughn was sitting practically at the scene of the crime. Court records say that in June he sold marijuana to a police informant - who met Vaughn at Public Square.


A shirtless boy sprints across West Washington Street just as the R. Bruce Carson clock strikes 12.

Deliveries are picking up - and so are pick-ups. Dark brown United Parcel Service vans are parked near the southeast and northwest corners. A white U.S. Postal Service van eases into a spot by the southeast corner, behind two red H.M. Linn taxi sedans whose drivers appear to be watching for potential fares.

The bus stop could be considered crowded.

Jeff Wagaman is waiting there to catch a ride to the Social Security Administration office on Maryland Avenue. He used to frequent this bus stop more often - when it was a transfer point and could get him to Wal-Mart on the west side - but not anymore.

Wagaman packs a pipe and smokes it as he waits for the next bus to arrive.

"Quarter after - supposedly."

He has time to spare. His appointment is precisely at 1:07 p.m.

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