, September 2005

Bob Bizzarri, owner of Countywide Taxi & Transport, probably thought I was crazy when I called and asked if one of his drivers could give me a tour of Taneytown for ten dollars. There was a long silence after I explained my request, but then he finally let out a raspy laugh and said he guessed it would be alright.

“I’d rather give you the tour myself than sending out one of my drivers, though,” he said.

“That would be fine,” I said.

“And it’s gonna be a really quick tour. There’s really not much to see.”

“That’s okay. All I have is ten dollars.”

He agreed to pick me up in front of Kennie’s Market at 1:30 and said he would be driving a burgundy Cadillac with a big antenna on top. I was pleased that we would be touring Taneytown in style.

* * *

The sun is blazing over Carroll County, the mercury having crossed over into the nineties a couple of hours earlier. With notebook in hand digital camera hanging around my neck, I take a seat on the bench next to the sliding glass door of Kennie’s and for the next half-hour enjoy the blast of air conditioning that hits me every time someone enters or exits the store. I’m starting to worry that Bob isn’t going to show until I finally spot the Cadillac approaching from the entrance next to McDonald’s.

“So, you wanna write something about Taneytown?” Bob says after I slide into the back seat. He’s a big guy who, with his thick mustache and sunglasses, looks like a veteran cop, and as soon as he starts driving, a police siren starts wailing. I look around not sure if it’s a siren that he turned on or if we are being pulled over despite not yet having exited the parking lot, but it only turns out to be his cell phone ringer.

“Yep,” I finally answer after he turns off the siren. “Just point out anything that’s interesting—up to ten dollars worth.”

Bob pulls the Caddy onto Genevieve Drive, and when we reach the corner he points out the Taneytown branch of the Carroll County Public Library in a tone that sounds as if he is unsure if this is the kind of thing I want to see. I nod into the rearview mirror, and then he turns right on Grand Drive and left on East Baltimore Street, Taneytown’s “Main Street,” towards the heart of downtown.

We ride in silence for about a minute until we reach a road crew flagman in front of the Sheetz gas station/mini-mart. After being flagged to proceed and clearing the construction zone, Bob points out the Taneytown police station, which was built only a few years ago alongside the railroad tracks and is modeled after the old train depot that once stood there.

“There’s nothing that really goes on,” Bob says of the T.P.D. “They’ve still got their share of some crimes, but nothing major.”

After crossing the tracks, Bob points out the post office, a historical museum, and a building that used to be a bank next to a building that used to be a shoe repair shop. We eventually arrive at Taneytown’s main intersection, where East Baltimore Street becomes West Baltimore Street and York Street becomes Frederick Street. This intersection is the location of one of the town’s two traffic lights, and turning on red is not permitted at this corner, so we wait.

When the light turns green, Bob makes a right onto York. Up the road he points out a place called the Used Car Factory, a name that doesn’t entirely make sense to me but must work because he says the guy who owns it stays pretty busy. Next door is a place called Southern States that I can’t tell exactly what kind of business it is, but there is lumber scattered about the lot and a slogan painted on their sign that says QUALITY FOR EVERYONE, which seems fair enough. Up ahead Bob points out The Hitch Man Trailers & Truck Accessories, an establishment that promises Sales, Parts, & Good Ol’ Fashion Service on their sign.

There doesn’t appear to be much beyond The Hitch Man and I think we’re about to turn around, but Bob keeps going. On the right we pass the entrance to the Meadowbrook housing development, where he says homes have more than doubled in value over the past five years, and then he surprises me yet again by continuing ahead on what is now only known as Route 194 and heading towards the Pennsylvania border. I take solace in the fact that the meter isn’t running.

“The town hasn’t come out this far yet,” Bob mentions.

“Do you think it will?”

“I’ll be honest with you—I think it might.”

Finally we make two quick rights and stop in front of a place called Westminster Hydraulics.

“They do a lot of, you know, hydraulics,” Bob explains. “They get a lot of vehicles in like the big box trucks. They’ll get the trucks with the frames and everything and set it up for those boxes to go up on the trucks.”

After we admire the building for a moment, Bob turns around and heads back towards town. He mentions that there’s a liquor store out here somewhere, but it is apparently not interesting enough to include on the tour.

Back at the main intersection we are stopped at another red light and find ourselves staring at the Bei Jing Restaurant to our right, which looks a little run down, but Bob says it has recently reopened after several ownership changes. Across the intersection he points out a store called Crossroad Emporium that advertises Fine Art & Collectibles, Etc…, then an unnamed antiques store across the street, and then St. Joseph’s Church up the block. Further along we stop momentarily to admire a barn that has been renovated into the office of Red Maple Builders, and then he slows down so we can get a look at T-Bone Motorsports & Custom Cycle. Finally we arrive at the southern edge of town, where two of Taneytown’s three biggest companies reside, The Taney Corporation, which Bob explains builds custom wooden staircases, and Evapco, which manufactures big air conditioning units like the two he points out on top of the building.

After turning around and heading back towards the main intersection, we pass by “The Haunted Barn,” which Bob says is a popular attraction with the kids on Halloween. We are again stopped at a red light, and this time to our right is the fairly new Irish Moon Coffee House, which he says is pretty popular but that he has not been in there himself.

“There’s all different coffees and things like that, but Dunkin’ Donuts is about as good a coffee as I get,” Bob says, tapping the lid of a Dunkin’ Donuts cup beside him, which he has apparently purchased elsewhere since there is no Dunkin’ Donuts in Taneytown. “When you’re on the road twelve to sixteen hours a day, you don’t have a lot of chances to sit down and eat a lot of gourmet meals and stuff.”

Bob turns left on West Baltimore Street and quickly points out No Anchovies Pizza and the new location of The Bowhunter’s Den, a shop that sells archery equipment for people who hunt with bows and arrows. Up ahead we pass the Taneytown Memorial Park, which is not a cemetery but just a regular park with fields and picnic tables and a pool that appears not to have any water in it.

“They had some problems there last year with the kids and they didn’t open it back up this year,” Bob says of the pool. “But it’s got all the fields, the ball fields and everything, and it’s pretty nice.”

Out towards the western edge of town is Taneytown’s other big corporate enterprise, the “pump division” of a company called Flowserve.

“It was Ingersoll-Rand,” Bob explains, but he isn’t exactly sure when they changed their name. “They’re a really popular company for your airless sprayer pumps, big commercial pumps, and mechanical pumps.”

Bob takes me out a little further and pulls into the parking lot of a roadhouse called the Steel Horse Grill & Saloon. The roadside sign is currently advertising Pit Beef, DJ Big Al, a Sunday Biker Breakfast, and Karaoke Thursdays. There are several Harley Davidsons parked out front, and next to the front door there is a sign that says Red Neck Cycles, Inc., which is apparently a bike shop nearby.

“I don’t drink, so I wouldn’t really have a need to go in here,” Bob says. “But at any given time there’s usually fifteen, twenty, thirty bikes out front.”

Bob turns around and heads back into town towards the inevitable conclusion of the tour. He mentions an auto salvage yard named Chaz’s nearby that has helped keep him in business over the years, which reminds him of the Advance Auto Parts store that recently opened across the street from CVS.

“It’s the only parts store in Carroll County that stays open until nine o’clock,” he says with more enthusiasm than he has expressed during the entire tour. “There are no others. Before then you got no parts up here after five o’clock, which I think is terrible. We’ve got a twenty-four hour McDonald’s now too. We’ve got the latest parts store and an all-night McDonald’s, the only one in Carroll County—go figure.”

Back across the main intersection we backtrack down East Baltimore Street, where Bob points out the recently renovated City Hall that somehow went unnoticed earlier. We also pass by several other things we missed earlier such as the fire station, the original rail depot that was moved down the street and converted into an antiques store, an eye doctor’s office down one of these sidestreets but he can’t remember which, and the Antrim 1844 Country Inn, which is the only hotel in town and a popular country retreat for affluent city slickers.

“You could stay there, but who wants to spend two hundred dollars a night?” Bob says. “And there’s no TV and no telephones! I guess it’s okay if you’re looking to get away and spend a lot of money to do it, but for two hundred dollars, you want something to do!”

The last stretch of our tour includes Daugherty’s Ice Cream Shack, a ’50s style ice cream shop that advertises itself as A Dip Above the Rest, and then across the street Bart’s Place, which Bob says is owned by a guy who used to host his own cooking show on Maryland Public Television.

“I’m not real thrilled with it, but I guess some people are,” Bob says of Bart’s. “Honestly, I like to have a little more selection on the menu than six or eight items or eight or ten items.”

We turn right on Grand Avenue and then make a quick left on Genevieve behind Advance Auto Parts. Bob mentions that a new automatic car wash has just opened up over near the traffic circle, which he forgot to mention earlier.

“Thank God,” Bob says. “It’s expensive as hell, but we got it. The automatic car wash is nine dollars, so it’s not cheap, but I’m not gonna complain. At least we got one.”

Back at the Kennie’s shopping center, Bob points out the Family Dollar store, which he says is “like our Wal-Mart,” and finally The Liquor Barn tucked away in the corner.

“That liquor store probably gets the most business in town,” Bob laughs. “Sorry, but that’s the truth. There’s not a whole lot to do up here, bud.”

After all I have just seen, however, I am inclined to disagree.

Author Notes

This was a David Letterman-esque piece I did when my wife and I were living in Taneytown, Maryland, out in the exurbs. I was pretty nervous about calling the local taxi service and explaining what I wanted to do, and, after I had explained it, I remember a very long pause—but then he said he’d be happy to do it, and Bob Bizzarri turned out to be a super nice guy and a great sport, and he even drew me a map of the route afterwards so I would remember it.