Boonsboro's reaction to fire gives cynic a lesson in optimism

February 28, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

There's something about standing on a street corner watching your adopted hometown burn up that gets a person focused on the things that really matter.

All of a sudden, you wish you could go back to the heated debate we just had about, as I understand it, whether or not a recycling bin can reasonably be equated with communism.

I wandered into the fire scene half out of choice, half out of curiosity and half out of duty (I was never very good at math) because the paper needed someone "at the scene" and one of our editors found me asleep under my desk, where I'd spent the night, and poked me with a pica stick until I mobilized.

Even though it had been well more than a decade since I had done any real "reporting," I was confident that I would be able to arrive at the edge of town, see that traffic was backed up for miles and turn around and go back to the office.


Unfortunately, I made the mistake of calling Beth and asked if she wanted me to pick her up on the way into town. I then said it probably wasn't much use since we wouldn't be able to get close.

"No problem," she said. "I'll just throw your bicycle in the back of the truck."

Everybody's a helper.

It didn't matter because the fire police had things pretty well organized and traffic was rerouted, but manageable. I just needed to convince them that I was a journalist so they would let me past the orange traffic cones.

Convincing anyone that I am a journalist is no small trick. Like everyone else in the newsroom, I have an outdated press pass, but even this a problem. Our press passes were designed by former Herald-Mail graphic artist Ryan Harpster.

These press passes have our photo, name and position - reporter, columnist, editor or what have you.

Except that on my press pass, he listed my position as "Cynical Chick." No, chick wasn't it. Close, but not quite; although the actual word escapes me at the moment.

I remember some years ago when he gave it to me that we all had a big laugh. Then, someone asked what would happen if I ever had to cover some sort of news event, and we all had an even bigger laugh.

Well, that time - inconceivable as it had once seemed - had arrived. We pulled up in an SUV with a bicycle in the back, Beth with hay in her jacket (she'd been feeding the animals when she got my call) and me with my Cynical Chick press pass. All I could do was hope the man didn't read the fine print. Bless his heart, the fire policeman let us through. Whether it was because he believed I was a journalist or because we had that look of people you just don't want to get too close to is unclear.

Obviously, there had been no small amount of excitement in town about Nora Roberts' downtown renovation projects, and it was agony to see the hard work go up in flames.

I called back to the newsroom to file my report, which basically consisted of "Yes, it's on fire." Whatever reporting skills I may have once possessed had long since dried up.

I will say, it's amazing to watch fire crews in action, everyone knowing exactly where to go and what to do. It's like Cirque du Soleil without the acrobats.

Of course, the real story didn't begin until the next day, when Nora said she'd rebuild and started looking to help those people who had been displaced by the fire. And town residents came out early, volunteering their time to sweep up the streets and powerwash walls. Everyone was asking the same question: "How can I help." Politicians of both parties were front and center, working together to offer assistance.

I found it hard to believe that could happen. It took the destruction of a town block, true, but it did happen.

Businesses were reopening. Our pet lunch counter, Crawford's, was back to frying chicken a day later, even as it's melted plastic window menu lay out in the evening trash.

I almost took it as a memento. Newcomer that I may be, I've never been prouder of my hometown.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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