Time of the Season
November 1, 2014
On a damp Saturday, the morning after Halloween, two-dozen hearty folks and curious kids squeeze inside the warmth of Valley View Farms's garden center for the annual fall harvest "Great Pumpkin Seed Count." For weeks, a couple thousand visitors have sized up their biggest pumpkin ever, a 1,725-pounder named "Gourdzilla," writing down guesses at the number of seeds in the behemoth. At stake: a first place $300 gift certificate to Valley View, which, with its exotic squashes—plus other vegetables, herbs, trees, shrubs, and perennials—has become something of a holiday destination.
Delivered by truck from "up the river" and the size of a small car, the pumpkin's walls are roughly a foot thick. In northern states, similar gargantuan gourds are carved into canoes for fall boat races.
Valley View's seed count goes back 25 years now, beginning with a relatively smallish 755-pounder. "Breeding," says retail greenhouse manager Carrie Engel, explaining the explosion in Sumo-like squash. "People ask, but we're obligated to return all the seeds back to the grower."
Counting duties actually don't take long: This year's total is 373, just below average. Although novice predictions go upward of seven figures, two years ago only a single seed was found. The disappointment today—other than that the winner isn't on hand and will be notified by phone—is that "Gourdzilla" didn't make it here, either, "over-ripening" a few days ago. "Where's the giant pumpkin?" one downcast child asks Engel. "Oh, I am afraid we had to cut him open before he went bad. He's out back now," she says reassuringly, "resting in pieces."
First Role Model
November 3, 2014
North Gay Street
Hours before Michelle Obama's appearance at an Anthony Brown-Ken Ulman "Get Out the Vote" rally, Tamara Jones is mostly succeeding in keeping her 12-year-old daughter and friends content in line outside Baltimore's War Memorial Building. "Sandwiches, chips, juice, plus Halloween candy," Jones says. "And they all brought their iPads or devices to play."
The girls, however—Jones's daughter Riaine, Kayla Arrington, Nevaeh Donaldson, and Tara Lowery—don't know that the First Lady is actually going to be here today, which Jones has kept a surprise, offering Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as the star attraction. "My daughter loves the mayor," she says, noting that the sixth-grader at East Baltimore's Henderson-Hopkins school has volunteered alongside Rawlings-Blake at neighborhood events. The mayor, in fact, is the first elected official to appear in the packed auditorium, followed by a roster of state Democratic politicos, including Lt. Gov. Brown, who eventually introduces the First Lady, sending the girls into a frenzy.
After a brief rallying speech, as Obama comes forward to greet the audience, the girls literally climb on the backs of nearby adults, thrusting their arms in the air for handshakes with the First Lady.
"I'm never going to wash this hand," exclaims one of the girls.
"I got squished," adds the smallest girl, Lowery, 9, nonetheless smiling and holding up a smartphone video of Obama.
"Do you think she should run for office?" someone asks Jones, who scored a hug from the presidential spouse.
"Why not? She's smart, articulate, engaged in what's going on—even fashionable," Jones says. Bursting into laughter, she catches herself. "You were asking about the First Lady, not my daughter," she smiles. "Yes, she should run, too."
Brass in Pocket
November 6, 2014
"Two weeks ago, program director Scott Mullins asked me into his office and closed the door," recalls general manager Steve Yasko, as anxious former 1980s teenagers and twentysomethings wait outside WTMD's studio for the station's weekly "Live Lunch" performance. "He leans back and folds his arms, like he always does when he has something—good or bad—to tell me. He says, 'We're 48 hours away from confirming Chrissie Hynde.' Hardest thing in the world for me not to tell anyone for two days."
Beloved for her tough but tender songs and persona, the legendary The Pretenders front woman, true to form, comes out in black boots, torn jeans, and a black T-shirt. Promoting her album Stockholm, the 63-year-old sits down between two accompanying musicians, literally rolling up her sleeves for 45 minutes of classics like "Kid" and "Talk of the Town," and new material—her keening, seductive alto and attitude as distinct as ever. One moment she is waving off an encroaching photographer, and the next she's generously calling out Baltimore's All Mighty Senators, three of whom are in the audience and opened for The Pretenders on their 2003 tour.
Later, guitarist Warren Boes recalls that the Senators initially had "no idea" how Hynde chose them to fill the prestigious slot. "We were intimidated, but had to ask when we finally met her, 'Why us?'" he recalls. "She said she saw our CD and handed it to [Pretenders's guitarist] Adam Seymour for a listen. She said she told him, 'These guys must be good. They're not making it on their looks.'"