Start Your Engines
The Shops at Kenilworth would have been crowded on Black Friday no matter what. But the Towson mall’s managers traditionally compound the madness by opening its legendary holiday train garden, now in its 22nd year, on the very same day.
By midday, hundreds of tiny faces are pressed up against the plexiglass to view the enormous display, which fills the retail hub’s central atrium. In addition to a half-dozen trains of various sizes chugging around interwoven tracks, there are dozens of mini-scenes, featuring everything from a replica of the Bromo-Seltzer Tower and a city zoo to skating rinks, airplanes hangars, wind turbines, and construction sites.
Dozens of tiny hands lunge through the crowd to press the electric buttons around the display’s periphery to make the planes circle, the sledders sled, and the roofer hammer in shingles, among other things. Of particular interest to many are the scenes from movies ranging from Cars and Shrek to The Wizard of Oz. Perhaps the biggest attraction this year is the giant new Grand Prix race track, which circles a Ravens game at a mock M&T Bank Stadium.
“Can I have a turn?” is frequently heard as kids, who for the most part don’t know each other, haggle for access to the buttons. Despite the chaos, there is a certain kid-understood order of things and only occasionally do grown-ups have to intervene.
Some parents have taken the opportunity to sit at the nearby tables to drop their overloaded bags and rest their feet. Others, though, stand just a step behind the short crowd, looking on with the same sense of wonder. None of them join the jostling to press a button, that, say, makes a Goodyear blimp pirouette, but when a clearing presents itself—and they think no one’s looking—a few let themselves have the thrill.
It’s just like any other December night on the 700 block of 34th Street in Hampden as hundreds of visitors throng the sidewalks to glimpse the glowing bulbs and holiday fixtures that, for 64 years, have made this street the pinnacle of holiday cheer.
Joining the merriment on this chilly evening are about 40 women decked out as Ms. Claus, singing their hearts out to the season’s favorite carols. They are part of the 4th annual Ms. Claus Pub Crawl, which crawled into its first pub, Holy Frijoles on 36th Street, several hours ago. Despite a chill in the air (and several cocktails in their bloodstream), these women carol in harmony.
The Ms. Claus that grabs the most attention is Jenny Campbell. A cofounder of the event, she is decked out in a Marie “Santoinette” outfit, her white wig so large that it encases a snow globe equipped with a small light and fan. Her red velvet dress billows overtop enormous hoops and lands at her feet, which are strutting a pair of knee-high gold platform boots. In her left hand is a red and white striped chalice containing an unidentified substance.
“We’re drinkers,” Campbell says of her fellow carolers, but quickly adds that money raised from the pub crawl will go to the House of Ruth.
The Ms. Clauses finish up their final song of the evening before making their way to one last watering hole, Rocket to Venus on Chestnut Avenue. Singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” as they walk, they wind their way through traffic to the sounds of car horns and hoots.
Despite some inevitable hangovers, the crowd has agreed to march in the 39th annual Mayor’s Annual Christmas Parade tomorrow, representing Hamden’s Ma Petite Shoe.. Troopers all, they’ll go on to win Best New Entry. —Justin Snow