Our regulars were not Your Elected Officials, who were either too busy or getting their ice cream from Ben and Jerry's two blocks away, but a clientele of soccer moms, country-club dads, and the various crazies who wander the streets of Rockville late at night. They weren't homeless, but eccentric: the woman who asked me to pour her milkshake into a used Subway cup; the guy who'd eat his ice cream over the Gazette and leave the entire sloppy mess on his table.
Former County Executive Doug Duncan was also a frequent customer. This was the summer of 2007, a year after clinical depression ended his bid for governor, and right when he started working for the University of Maryland. He and his wife Barbara live a few blocks from Rockville Town Square. I know this because he visited my high school as County Executive to have a question-and-answer session with our AP Government class, and when my turn came, I asked him where he lives. (I was confused because he said he lived in a house and could walk to the Metro, which at the time didn't gel with my understanding of things you could do in Rockville.) Cue torrent of laughter from seventy teenagers who smelled blood. "You can look me up in the phone book if you really want to know," Duncan said. And, of course, I did.
The first night he visited, I was so embarrassed I hid in the back room. I lean in close to the girl scooping out Duncan's sundae. "You are making a sundae for our former County Executive," I whisper before sneaking away. He has a sundae and his wife has a sundae, two scoops each.
When I return, they're gone. He flipped out over the coupon, she says. The store is only a few months old and we placed ads in the local papers with a "buy one, get one free" coupon in them. Of course, the catch is that it only applies to a single scoop. No sundaes. No double scoops. No funny business. It's no surprise that people get pissed off. "I can't use this coupon?" I can imagine him growling. "I don't want to pay twelve dollars for this ice cream." And so on. "What'd you do?" I ask her. "I let him use it," she says.
This was the last time the Duncans tried to use a coupon, but they'd come back whenever the store was empty, sitting in a little table in the corner where no one would notice them. After all, this is the same Rockville they wanted to name the library after him. One night a few weeks later, a woman comes to our walk-up window with two dogs and two kids and orders ice cream for all of them. When I get her stuff and take her money, she asks "is that Doug Duncan in the corner there?" Yeah, I say, a little taken aback by how excited she was. "I don't want to go up to him because I'm embarassed, but could you tell him I said 'thank you'?" For what, I ask. She motions to the town square behind her. "For all of this," she says. "For everything he's done here."
So I do. I go up to the Duncans' table, fidgeting with my hat because I'm a little nervous. (Cue recollection of laughter.) He was wearing a Maryland Terrapins polo and appeared to have gained some weight since high school. "The lady at the window wanted to thank you for your work," I say. "Really?" he asks, genuinely surprised. Doug looks up and there she is, dog leash in one hand, waving with the other. "You're welcome!" he yells.
Where did Doug Duncan live? He lived in a place where, even if his name wasn't on the library, people remembered his accomplishments at a time when he needed reminding. It had taken a few years, but Doug Duncan had finally answered my question. Thankfully, he didn't have to recognize me to do so.