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A nasty bell and some nice things

December 23, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

Two years ago, I attended a workshop for editorial page writers at the American Press Institute in Reston, Va. It was not a convention; there were no breaks for a round of golf or shopping. It was all work and when I left, I brought back a lot of good information on how editorial pages can attract those who prefer to get their news and comment on the Internet.

But getting home wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. The "door open" sensor on our family van began to malfunction on the way back, but only when my speed dropped below 35 mph.

The route back to Hagers-town included a stretch of rural Virginia that was beautiful, but for most of the way, it was a two-lane road. Just at the point when I'd gotten used to the quiet, traffic would slow and the infernal "ding, ding, ding" would start.

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I stopped several times, slammed all the doors, but nothing stopped this audio version of the Chinese water torture. I was tired - having your performance compared to that of others in your profession can be exhausting, particularly if you have come to believe that you're better than you really are.

Finally I pulled up to a combination antique store/gas station and considered the possibilities. The previous week had shown me that I wasn't Benjamin Bradlee - nor was I likely to become such an icon of journalism.

Perhaps, I thought, it was time for a career change. I would pull the van off to the side of the road, walk into the next little town and take whatever work I could get - provided it didn't involve driving a vehicle with an alarm as irritating as any electric clock.

But as I sat there, I thought to myself: What would I be giving up? My loving family members, certainly, but I could relocate them if I had to. To get back in spite of that bell, I had to consider what else I would miss, if I knew I would never live in Washington County again.

Here's the list I came up with:

1. The Washington Monument in Boonsboro. When I lived at Kline's Mill on U.S. 40 Alternate, I would sometimes end a tough day just before dusk by going to the park and climbing the monument.

Below was the valley and all of the lights of the homes of the people who lived there, but little noise, except for the distant whoosh of traffic on a calm day.

At certain times of the year, there were hawks soaring above the monument, perhaps looking for prey, but maybe just enjoying their ability to rise above everything.

2. Corderman's and Startzman's neighborhood hardware stores in Hagerstown. Neither has everything, but if it's an essential product for maintaining your home, chances are they've got it - and someone who can tell you how to use it. At both places, I've had people decline to sell me something I wanted because they knew it wasn't the right item for the job I was doing.

3. The Susquehanna Bank branch on Jefferson Boulevard near the intersection of Md. 77. Pull around to the drive-through and just across the fence is a pair of beautiful horses. It sure beats looking at a brick wall.

4. The small farmers' vegetable stands where purchases are on the "honor system." I won't identify them by address, but it's nice to know that someone still does business on the premise that most of their customers will be honest.

And when there is someone minding the stand, most talk to you as if they know you, or would like to.

5. Lou Scally. Here's a radio personality who genuinely likes his job and his listeners. Compare him to some others, whose voices tell you that they're just waiting for any opportunity to go somewhere else and you'll appreciate Lou even more.

6. Catoctin Mountain National Park, near Thurmont, Md. The Camp David presidential retreat is there, but if you drive through it near dusk, you'll also see nearly-tame whitetail deer. For a guy who grew up in West Hyattsville, Md., where the only wildlife we saw was the occasional rabbit, this is neat stuff.

Another good time to visit the park is when the leaves have turned and have begun to fall. The red and yellow leaves color the light that reaches the forest floor and the falling leaves, tumbling silently toward the ground, seem like a ticker-tape parade without the cheering.

7. The night sky. Away from the lights of the city and the shopping center, the stars dot an ink-blue sky. I look up and wonder whether we are alone in the universe.

To conclude that we are alone seems conceited. Considering the mess humans have made of so many things, it would be surprising to me if God didn't try more than once to give the gift of life to a planet. Like so many things, we might never know whether such thoughts have any link to the truth.

There are other things I cherish in this county, but those few were enough to pull me out of my funk - and out of the parking lot. When I slowed down, the bell continued to ring, but by then it seemed to be toting up the miles I still needed to drive to get to the people and the things that I love.

Bob Maginnis is

editorial page editor of

The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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