Someone’s always coming to town

I don’t know what it is about Annapolis, but people always seem to come through town when they are some kind of cross-country or globe-trotting challenge.

I think the main reason is that Annapolis is a state capital, and quirky people tend to work their way through state capitals on their missions. It also doesn’t hurt that Annapolis is a cute town on the water, I’m sure.

One day recently, I found out at the last minute about some 20-something kids who are walking across the country picking up trash.

OK, I thought, at least these people are doing something related to my beat. I can get into trash.

The latest cross-country travelers I've had to write about: Pick Up America.

Still, as I headed over to Lawyers Mall to meet the crew — called Pick Up America — I wondered how I would write the story. How would this story be different? What would my lede* be?

It turns out, the members of Pick Up America had a good story that was easy to tell. It wasn’t a stellar piece of journalism, but I think it made for an interesting read.

But this story made me think back to all of the other times I’ve had to write about people traipsing through town on a mission.

My all-time favorite story in this theme was back in 2004, when a couple on a pro-voting crusade rolled into Annapolis in their VW bug. I hope you enjoy the story!

Quirky couple on a mission to inspire voters

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer.

We’ve had a Russian bicyclist (1991), a French jogger (2003), a Brazilian photojournalist in a paddleboat (2004) and even a lawn-mowing teen from Utah (1999).

Then there was the cross-Atlantic jet-skiing Spaniard (2002) and the Texan who rode into town on horseback (2003).

And now Annapolis has been graced with the presence of Phil and Betty McGarrigan, a middle-aged New Jersey couple parading stuffed dummies of President Bush, first lady Laura Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry around the country in a Volkswagen Beetle in hopes of encouraging people to vote.

“You get to talk to people,” Mrs. McGarrigan said. “People start talking good and bad about politics.”

That was the case yesterday at City Dock, where the McGarrigans met gawking tourists from as close by as Montgomery County and as far away as Taiwan.

Dorothy Reilly and Coreta Osborne, friends from Potomac, chatted up the McGarrigans while strolling along the waterfront.

“Fortunately, I see two Republicans here I support,” Ms. Reilly said, nodding toward the stuffed likenesses of President and Mrs. Bush.

The ladies said they appreciate any effort to get more people to vote.

“It’s an honor, a privilege and a responsibility,” Ms. Reilly said.

Tara Absher, visiting from Finksburg with her family, had her picture taken with her kids – Matthew and Madison, both 7; and Caroline, 3, – and the political dummies. Mr. McGarrigan jumped in wearing a mask of President Bill Clinton.

“We were eating at Phillips, and we saw George Bush in the back,” she said. “It’s an eye-catcher.”

The McGarrigans started their unique display on a whim back home in Audubon, N.J., in 1998.

They were making a Christmas sleigh display in front of their industrial electronics store out of an old Beetle and thought it would be amusing to make Santa Claus look like Mr. Clinton.

They even added a version of his interning paramour Monica Lewinsky, complete with the goofy beret.

Sure, it ticked off some folks in town, but it got plenty of praise, too.

The VW sleigh came out again in 2000, along with a display of a moving truck supposedly full of disputed ballots running over Mr. Bush. Mr. Clinton and then-vice president Al Gore were behind the wheel.

“With the reaction we got, I said, ‘We’ve gotta get a convertible and drive around,”‘ Mrs. McGarrigan said.

And drive they have. This year they’ve taken long weekend trips to Savannah, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Las Vegas and New York City. They were in Boston for the Democratic National Convention and plan to return to New York for the Republican National Convention next week.

Their only motivation is to get people talking about politics and the election, and hopefully convince them to register to vote.

Wearing matching red flag T-shirts, they hand out star-spangled mints with slogans such as, “Voters Rule” and “Your Vote Counts.” They encourage people to visit the Web site of the National Constitution Center to learn how to vote.

They’ve gotten their fair share of hecklers along with good-natured visitors. Without fail, however, everyone asks same question.

“People always ask who you’re for,” Mr. McGarrigan said.

Well, this affair is truly a bipartisan effort if there ever was one. Not only do the McGarrigans try to keep a balance of stuffed Democrats and Republicans in the car, they have mixed views themselves.

Mrs. McGarrigan is a registered Republican, and voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader last time around. This time she’s favoring Mr. Kerry.

Mr. McGarrigan, on the other hand, is a Democrat. But he says he’s thinking about supporting President Bush on Nov. 2.

“We’re poking fun at everyone,” Mr. McGarrigan said.

Published August 24, 2004, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright © 2004 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

* “Lede” is journalism-speak for the “lead,” or the introductory paragraph (“graph”), of a story. Yes, journalists are sticklers for grammar, but not when it comes to our own shorthand.

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