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October 6, 2009

In the Street Origin

Roy Meachum

I don’t remember that there were several thousand marching; I could be wrong. Among the numerous people who poured out that October Saturday in 1983 were my then-wife, her 88-year-old father and me. The weather was decent; I can’t recall details. But it didn’t rain that day, nor was it beastly hot.


It was, if nothing else, a grand promenade from the Square Corner to the Seventh Street fountain, paced by Ron Young, the seemingly “lifetime” mayor of Frederick. That day in his political career Mr. Young stood elevated above all politicians. He was in the comfortable position of showing off the miracle he had wrought on North Market Street. I had lived on East Fourth less than a year.


But, much to my good fortune, I knew Carson Frailey well; his family was responsible for the Emmittsburg road that still bears their name. At the time Carson tended a law practice inherited mostly from his dad; the office was in the same building that housed a former vaudeville house converted long since to movies: RKO Keith theatre. He had been raised in Chevy Chase, but still honed for the simpler life pursued by his ancestors.


At the time, before returning to The Washington Post, I gave my best-shot at promoting the National Symphony Orchestra, and he was the president. More than several Saturdays, he phoned and asked if I wanted to join him going to Emmittsburg “on the new road.” What is now I-270 had been finished. So off we’d go, driving past all sorts of exotic names: Lily Ponds was the best.


At times, we wended through downtown Frederick, not a pretty sight. Wires were everywhere, festooned on ugly poles. Streets featured humpback grading that tapered off deep in the gutters; they were relics of horse-and-buggy days, and weird to say the least.


As he turned the horrible 1976 flood that drowned the city’s central parts into today’s splendid Carroll Creek revitalization, Mr. Young led the crusade to transform Frederick’s most historical and important streets from their 19th century reality. My first images of the city where I now intend to pass my remaining years were less than impressive.


The one-time “boy” politician changed all that, and that first In the Street he could have been elected mayor for life. I have never met more of a genius for sorting and selecting ideas than Ron Young; unfortunately, the 1985 election was followed by a last term chiefly marked by his growing bored in office. He craved something new and thought about running for a state office, chiefly as lieutenant governor, accepting his limitations for name recognition in other parts of the state. In 1989, his defeat came at the hands of a man who was his direct opposite. The best words I can summon for Paul Gordon came in his decision not to run again.


As reporters have observed, In the Street attracts thousands of people from elsewhere. That night downtown restaurants and saloons are overcrowded; there are throngs leftover for the art galleries who put themselves out and on display for First Saturdays those very dates.


When Ron Young and crew promenaded 26 years ago, I would like to say I foresaw what lay ahead, but it would be a lie. That first Saturday we paraded by people who may have wondered what the commotion was all about. There were no booths and tables; the food and the entertaining bands and singers came later, chiefly by evolution. Walking around with beer in cups and displaying creatures, especially dogs, have gone into the pile marked discarded and illegal.


Last weekend son Roy and I had little trouble keeping Pushkin safely on my stoop as we observed the goings-on. The only Young we saw was Ron’s wife: Karen Young led the Democratic primaries for aldermen. We saw her, and her party’s mayoral candidate Jason Judd with his two young daughters. Fortunately, a Chinese restaurant erected a booth at my front door, acting as a camouflage for our small party. My recent knee surgery kept me from joining the parading throng.


But I had these thoughts, which I’ve now shared with you.


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