Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Feeding the Kids: Let 'em Eat the Cheap Stuff (Repubs)

School lunch: The vegetable is under the pickle.
Sometimes it slides into comedy because if looked at rationally, it just has to be a joke. But it’s the Republican line, pure and simple, regardless of how much it sounds like satire. Nobody could make this much stuff up without being thought a little on the nutty side.

The latest jaw-dropper from the red party of the U.S. Congress has to do with determining what kids eat at school, whether it’s healthy or the same crap the kids have been eating for years. The Repubs are in favor of making our kids fat, slow, stupid and sick, apparently out of some kind of loyalty to the industrial giants who support them. Damn the kids, we’re talking profits here, babies.

According to a story here, a new bill “would direct the Agriculture Department to rewrite new, healthier menu guidelines for school lunches, which Republicans say are too costly. The bill also questions a government proposal to curb marketing of unhealthy foods to children and attempts to limit new rules that requires calorie counts to be posted on menus, according to some who have seen it but were not authorized to speak about it. The spending bill would also cut funding for domestic feeding programs and international food aid.”

So we really have come to doing bad things to children in the name of profits. I hope somebody is embarrassed.

(Photo: Care2)

Oh, Hell! Jill Was Right. It's a 'Gator

My buddy Jill Elswick and I had a disagreement about the animal on the sign at the new The Quarter restaurant in downtown Roanoke.

Jill insisted it was an alligator. I said it was a crawfish. I mean, shoot, this is a Cajun restaurant and they serve the crawfish, not the gator.

Upon further examination, however, we have determined that Jill is right and the old editor with fading eyesight is not. Sorry Jill. You win again.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Here's My First Tomato of the Season

Yes, lovely people, this is a tomato. Ready to pick. In May. In my back yard. Heh, heh, heh ...

Remembering the Peacemakers on Memorial Day

Once again, for maybe the 100th frustrating time, I'd like to suggest that part of our Memorial Day be given over to celebrating the lives of the peacemakers, not only the soldiers who have died despite the efforts of those who worked for peace.

Let's start with the simple recognition of Americans who have won the Nobel Peace Prize, some of whom--many of whom--you've never heard of. You know Al Gore, Martin Luther King, George Marshall, Jimmy Carter, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt and Barack Obama (regardless of what you think of his medal and I don't believe he deserved it). But do you know John Mott, Norman Borlaug or Jody Williams, Elihu Root, Charles Dawes, Frank Kellogg, Jane Addams, Nicklaus Murry Butler, Cordell Hull, Emily Balch, Ralph Bunche, Linus Pauling, Henry Kissinger (another who doesn't deserve it) and Elie Weisel? The American Friends Committee (Quakers) and a group of physicians for the prevention of war, put together in the U.S., also won.

Of course, the irony is that Alfred Nobel endowed the prize with money he earned by inventing dynamite (blowing up his home and killing his brother in the process).

There is a comprehensive paper on who these peacemakers were here and it gives you an idea of the breathtaking scope of the definition of "peacemaker," especially when you include somebody like Kissinger, who has been accused by many as a war criminal. Still, almost all the others deserve the recognition (Obama excepted because this was more an anti-George Bush selection than one Obama earned). The Pulitzer Committee knows how to play politics, too.

Away from that, though, peacemaking is a worthy goal, one that lives a lonely life. While the Vietnam veterans were raising hell to get monuments built to themselves, the people who were responsible for saving many of their lives and for ending a war without end were left to simply be satisfied with the work they did. It was courageous work, often involving having the hell beaten out of them by a government intent on keeping wars going as part of our economic development plan.

So I ask you to remove your hat today for the peacemakers as you hear our National Anthem. Build them a monument in your mind. Fact is, their work is blessed and that, in itself, is their monument. They don't really need others. If monuments are built, they would simply be to remind you of the importance of peace and those who make it.

(Photo: stockholmcityguide.com)

A Teensy-Weensy Suggestion for the City Art Plan

Susan Jennings and grandson, Blake.
Representatives of one of the trendiest cities on the East Coast, Savannah, Ga., were in Roanoke recently to study our greenway system. They could have looked at the city's tree planting program, its Old Southwest revitalization, the Grandin Village neighborhood with its art-house movie theater anchor, the city's new medical school or its public art program.

All of those came about through thoughtful and even visionary programming and planning, the expenditure of city funds and backing from the community.

The city's art program, which has had dramatic success since Susan Jennings took it over and made it real only a couple of years ago, will hold its final planning session in the formation of a plan Tuesday at 5:30 at the Roanoke Civic Center and there are a number of ways this plan can go--almost all of them good--but there is one item that is a must. The job Susan has should be made full-time and permanent and art should have a full-blown city department. There should be no quibbling about it.

Art and culture are a fundamental part of not only how a community feels about itself, but also about how it is viewed from outside. Don't care how others see us? You might want to reconsider because that has to do with jobs, lifestyle, economic security and livability.

The investment for art is tiny compared to something like a greenway system, which has been an enormous success. Gov. Doug Wilder once called public support of the arts a "niceity," whatever the hell that is. Art is about education, community involvement and cohesiveness and it is about the level of intelligence of the community. Susan has simply been a magnificent ambassador for the program and has built it--as she built the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge, with which the City should become a partner--to a public profile that not many imagined it could have.

Among the items that will be considered for the final plan will be the structure of grant proposals, helping arts organizations learn to pull in funding (and find funding), the inclusion of art components in planning neighborhoods and putting artworks into those neighborhoods.

I would also suggest that Roanoke artists be given any preference that is legal in buying art for the city. I know that is a touchy proposition and has caused Susan to put me on her enemies list, but I am not an enemy of hers (I have great respect and regard for her) or of art for the city. I simply believe that preference should go to those who live here, understand Roanoke and love it. Pretty simple stuff.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Repubs Challenging our Right To Vote Again

White women register Black voters in the 1960s. Who was excluded?
In the Old South, the idea was to keep African-American voters away from the ballot box. The law of the land was that everybody got to vote if they were citizens in good standing (felons weren't), but like abortion, which is legal, the fact of voting was quite different.

Southern legislators had poll taxes and literacy tests, designed specifically to keep former slaves and their ancestors from voting and--in many cases--taking over local governments. Those caveats to the nation's law were eventually struck down by enlightened Supreme Courts (which we don't have today with seven of nine members being Republicans). People could vote. Hell was paid by the Old South.

Likewise, abortion law by state is so restrictive that in 80 percent of the counties of the U.S., the procedure is not available, even though its legality is the law of the land.

Now, the Republican Party is attempting to reverse the voting law of the land by requiring photo IDs, limiting third-party registration and having fewer early voting days, among other things. Nearly every voting cycle Republicans attempt to limit the number of people voting. They hate the notion of immigrants being allowed at the ballot box because they believe almost none of them is a Republican. They're probably right.

A story in the NYTimes this a.m. details some of the efforts being made, including this: "Voters in predominantly black neighborhoods in Florida saw their votes challenged in the contested Bush-Gore election of 2000, Democrats made charges of disenfranchisement." Bush was sent to the White House and we've paid dearly for that.

The simple fact here is that no matter how it is framed, the Republican philosophy is not a majority philosophy and never will be. It is a cobbled-together coalition of rednecks (Southerners who used to be racist Democrats) and patricians who don't like or trust each other. Separately, they are about 20 percent of the electorate each. Together they reach the magic 40 percent level and have to move 10 percent from the middle with bogus issues like "socialism," gay marriage and abortion. Determining who gets to vote can remove five to 10 percent from the Democratic side, as well, so it's worth the effort, they believe. It's also un-American in a country that likes to think itself fair.

(Public domain photo.)

Marriage Status Falls to Less Than Half U.S. Households

Order info below
The combination of an aging population  that is divorced or widowed and young people waiting longer to tie the knot has put the institution of marriage at less than 50 percent of households in the United States for the first time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Married couples occupy 48 percent of the households in this country, down from 52 percent in the 2000 census.

In the 1960s, men were married at 23 and women at 20. That has climbed to 28 and 26 for a number of reasons, some economic (for which you can send a thank-you note to that old Christian conservative, marriage-is-a-sacred-institution Repub George Bush)

One of the more revealing findings: 39 percent of us think marriage is obsolete, up from 28 in 1978.

On a matter closer to my heart (as a serial monogomist), the census bureau tells us multiple marriages are common. Here's the report from the Bureau:

Among all people 15 and older in 2009, 55 percent had been married once, with 30 percent never having been married at all, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released today. At the same time, 15 percent had married more than once, including 12 percent who had married twice and 3 percent who had married three or more times.

The findings come from Number, Timing, and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 2009 [PDF], which uses data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation to provide a look at topics such as changes in the age at marriage, divorce and remarriage over the years, how long first marriages last, people who have been married multiple times, those who have been divorced or experienced other marital events, and the percentage of currently married couples that include spouses who are both in their first marriage. <

More than half of currently married couples (55 percent) had been married for at least 15 years, while 35 percent had reached their 25th anniversary. A small percentage — 6 percent — had even passed their golden (50th) wedding anniversary. These percentages are about 1 to 2 percentage points higher than they were in 1996, reflecting both the leveling of divorce rates and increases in life expectancy.

For most couples (72 percent), both spouses were in their first marriage. Six percent of those married included a wife in her second marriage and husband in his first, 8 percent a husband in his second marriage and wife in her first, and 8 percent in which both spouses were in their second marriage. A small percentage of all currently married couples (1 percent) consisted of a husband and wife who had both been married three or more times.<

Other highlights:
  • First marriages that ended in divorce lasted a median of eight years for men and women. The median time from marriage to separation was shorter — about seven years.
  • Half of men and women in all the race and Hispanic-origin groups who remarried after divorcing from their first marriage did so within about four years.
  • For all groups of women 25 and older, the majority had married, as had the majority of men 30 and older.
  • About one in five men and women ages 50 to 69 had married twice.
  • Among people 70 and older, 23 percent of men and 51 percent of women had been widowed, and most were still widowed and had not remarried at the time of the survey.
  • A higher proportion of the recently married in 2009 were Hispanic than in 1996. While one in 10 recently married adults was Hispanic in 1996, this increased to one in five by 2009.
  • A higher proportion of recently married women had at least a bachelor's degree in 2009 (31 percent) than in 1996 (21 percent).
  • Changes in the percentage of women who never married between 1986 and 2009 suggest that a higher percentage of black women than white non-Hispanic women may never marry. 
 (You can order the mug here.)

Friday, May 27, 2011

'Greatest Movie ...": Serious Message Amid the Hilarity

Morgan Spurlock's "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" gives you some laugh-out-loud moments as it wallows an ugly truth about our culture: it's for sale. And the marketing people with the biggest purses and the most audicity control the message. The rest of us are pretty much their pawns.

I said it was an ugly message.

Spurlock, unlike Michael Moore, who tries to kill a fly with a hammer in his documentaries, is funny and poignant without going overboard. He controls the movie, the message and, ultimately, even the people who paid the $1.5 million it took to get this movie made. He made us all think twice about ever again going to McDonald's for a burger and fries with "Super Size Me" and my guess is that you're going to start taking more notice of the product placement in movies and on television shows if you see this movie.

The movie is about making the movie about placing products in the movie. He takes us to the sales meetings, the negotiations, and we get to be a fly on the wall of the entire thought and creative process. Frankly, this little baby got too close to some things that are happening with me professionally for me to be completely comfortable, but his perspective gave me a good bit to consider that I might not have without the movie.

If you're in advertising or media or even public relations, you gotta see this one. You may not like it, but you need to hear the message.

Another Fat Contract for Out of Town Builders

(This post has been updated.)

It is looking like another fat chunk of Roanoke-intended federal stimulus money--$10.6 million for the New Horizon facility--will go to an out of town contractor. This problem is becoming biblical as out of town builders are chosen to do Roanoke's high-profile work.

Most prominent recently was the re-design of the City Market Building ($66 million) which went to an out-of-state firm. The restructuring of the Poff Federal Building went out of state (another $60 million) and even the selection of artists whose works will hang in the City Market Building did not include a local--or even state--artist.

New Horizons' team picked Shockey's, a Winchester general contractor, which will be paired with the Richmond architectural firm of Baskerville to complete the design-build on a facility that will offer health care to poor people. The building will be constructed on Melrose Avenue on an acre and a half. It will be close to 35,000 square feet on two floors and will provide a range of health services.

New Horizons has been operating out of a LewisGale-owned medical facility at Valley View Mall for several years. It does outstanding work in its field, but has no experience in constructing buildings, which is why it went to the city for help in selecting teams to do the work, according to a contractor with knowledge of the process.

At the pre-proposal hearing April 7, "everybody in town who could do a $10 million project was there," said the source, who did not want to be identified because he is in a sensitive position for this type of project. "Everybody was scrambling to team up" to make a bid for the project.

The builder said, "I try hard not to cry over [spilled] milk, but this happens time and time again with our city and local boards and it has a dramatic affect on dollars that flow right out of our local economy and up the Interstate where all the smart people live. Why do our city staffers not know this? It seems so basic."

Roanoke City engineer Phil Schirmer, who was part of the team that made the selection for the City Market Building, appears to have played a significant role in this process, according to people taking part in the bidding process.

Dick Robers, chairman of the board of New Horizons (and an old friend and colleague of mine), answered an e-mail from me with this:

“We had about 17 responses to our RFP [request for proposal] and it was recommended that we interview six of the teams that responded, some local and some from out of town. The team that was selected had the best experience in designing and building the type clinic we need to build. This team of Baskerville (architects) has designers who specifically deal in the design medical clinics and they have worked as a team with Shockey (contractor) on a number of these type design/build projects (medical clinics). This team also agreed to use local subcontractors when building the clinic.

“All of those on the selection team would have preferred to use local architects and contractors but in the end we felt it best to use the team with the most experience in building this type project.”

Robert Carpenter is New Horizons’ owner-representative for the building of the clinic. Says Robers, “He is with the company [MBP of Fairfax] that we hired for the purpose of working with the design/build team on a day to day basis.”

Giving local firms preference in local projects is not supposed to happen, but "try to get a job in Lynchburg," said the source. "It happens all over the place. People protect their own [contractors and design people] and their own economies. We simply can't understand why these contracts go to out of town firms when our own companies are clearly qualified."

A number of local building companies have had to lay off workers in recent months because of the slow economy and projects like this $10 million jewel don't come along often.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Today's Find: Farmer's Market in Catawba

My pals Meg Hibbert (left) Melinda Cox do a little business.
Entering Good Food Area.
A nice-sized market.
Local boys pick and grin.
I wound up in Catawba this afternoon on a photo shoot and ran into a farmer's market at the Catawba Center (the old Catawba School) that had charm and a lot of good food. I brought home some of Kathy O'Hara's greens and had a marvelous dinner tonight.

The market runs 3-6:30 Thursday afternoons, May to October. Nice looking fresh foods and prepared foods (there was a beet/goat cheese pastry that was to die for) and Meg Hibbert had some rolls that would kill you--with a smile on your face.

The market is about a quarter of a mile from the Catawba store. Turn right off Va. 311 and you're at it in a hurry.

Spam Subject Line of the Day

OK, I'm warning you: If you don't like semi-dirty, sophomoric humor, go read something high-toned, like Ann Coulter.

Here's the Spam Subject Line of the Day, which landed in the Erectile Dysfunction box of my e-mail this a.m.:

"Need a little blue pecker-upper?" 

I don't care what you say. It's funny.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Garland, Walker Among Hard Hat Award Winners

John Garland picks up his award in the firehouse.
Ed Walker, Foundations' George Kegley chat.
The winners' prizes.
The crowd gathers around in front of the fire truck.
Brian Townsend (from left), Roanoke's assistant city manager; George Stanley, Richmond, development partner with Ed Walker; David Carson, chairman of City School Board; Ed Walker, Roanoke developer; Gail Burruss, board chairwoman of Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority, and John Garland, Roanoke developer and president of Spectrum Design.
It’s beginning to sound like the same old song in the development community. John Garland and Ed Walker continue to rake in appreciation from those concerned about preservation of Roanoke’s history. They, along with one other individual and three institutions won the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation’s Hardhat Awards. It comes as part of National Preservation Month.

The awards were made at a reception at Roanoke’s historic No. 1 Firehouse, one of the revitalization projects, earlier this evening.

Award winners were Garland, Walker, George Stanley, the City of Roanoke, the Roanoke City School Board and the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

The Hard Hat award recognizes historically sensitive rehabilitation projects and long-standing commitment and financial investment in preservation. Some of the structures, like the Patrick Henry Hotel building, were vacant for years before revitalization began. Each of the developers nominated has completed more than five projects.

Garland has a long list of renovations, beginning with the completion of a $1.5 million project in 2000 for the offices of his company, Spectrum Design, at 10 Church Ave., originally built for the Roanoke Carriage Co. in 1900. Some other Garland projects have been the 16-unit Tudor Revival style apartments at 2049 Windsor Ave., commercial buildings under way at 108 W. Campbell Ave., 209 First St., 16 W.. Church Ave., a residence at 451 Arbutus Ave., and a 1915 vacant residence at 1222 Campbell Ave., recently placed on the Foundation’s Endangered Sites list.

Spectrum Design has worked as a consultant for at least a dozen buildings, including the Higher Education Center, O. Winston Link Museum, Warehouse Row Business Center, State and City Building, Community School and several downtown lofts.

Walker, developer and enthusiastic promoter, has invested over $60 million in nearly a dozen projects, using state and federal tax credits in many of the projects for preservation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings. Among them are the Grandin Theater, Cotton Mill and Fork in the City, Colonial Arms Building, Hancock Building, Patrick Henry Hotel and Kirk Avenue offices, commercial space and a music hall.

Stanley, a Richmond developer/contractor, came to Roanoke in 2005, renovating the Campbell Garage Lofts and the Candy Factory and adding 25 downtown apartments. Starting in 2007, Stanley brought his experience in renovation and adaptive reuse into a partnership with Walker for work on the Hancock Building, Cotton Mill, Fork in the City and the Patrick Henry.

In the last 20 years, the City of Roanoke has invested millions of dollars in preservation of old structures for reuse. Some of them are the Jefferson Center, costing about $12 million; Hotel Roanoke, $42 million; the Higher Education Center, $19.2 million; No. 1 Fire Station, $154,000; Henry Street bridge, $2.8 million; the City Market building, $9.8 million, and Mountain View, $293,000.

The city has established 10 National Register historic districts, as well as two local historic districts with architectural review guidelines, design districts for new construction and published a Residential Pattern Book. The city also continued an aggressive program of survey and nomination of historic districts in the City Market, Henry Street, Salem Avenue, Gainsboro, Grandin Road and Wasena, enabling historic tax credits and driving much private-sector investment in renovations. The city saved land with conservation easements on Carvins Cove and Mill Mountain.

Roanoke School Board has spent millions of dollars in comprehensive renovation of historic neighborhood schools, including Addison, Breckinridge, Forest Park Wasena, Morningside, Virginia Heights, Oakland, Crystal Spring and Highland Park schools. The decision to renovate rather than replace these historic schools was important because they have served as anchors to the surrounding neighborhoods for generations.

Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority preserved an old Norfolk and Western office building by converting it to 87 rental units at Eight Jefferson Place, as well as restoring old homes on Miller’s Hill in the 400 block of Day Avenue with the use of tax credits. The Authority cleared asbestos from the Dumas Hotel before transferring it to Total Action Against Poverty (TAP) for renovation as the Dumas Center. The Authority also transferred the historic Strand Theater and other commercial buildings on Henry Street to the Higher Education Center for adaptive reuse as the Claude Moore Culinary Arts Institute.

VTC's First Art Show Draws Large Crowd

Roanoke Higher Education Center President Tom McKeon gets a look.
Taking a closer look in a big crowd.
Mother and daughter appreciation.
Dr. Dan Harrington discusses his late daughter's work.
The mood was festive at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine tonight as it held the opening reception for its first art show, featuring a combination of artwork by regular peeps and some of the best in the region, a democratic approach that pleased many of us.

Some of the artwork was amateurish, but the bulk was good and it was all entertaining and of value, as the appreciative and large crowd demonstrated.

Among those whose work was shown was that of slain University of Virginia student Morgan Harrington, whose father, Dan Harrington, is a physician at Carilion Clinic. He was in attendance, proudly showing off his daughter's artwork.

They're Needing Volunteers for Studies at VTC

Tech professor and two students address journalists this morning.
Virginia Tech's various PR departments (and they are many) annually meets with journalists in the Roanoke Valley in order to exchange greetings, update us on new stories and introduce us to members of their departments. It's always cordial, informative and, if you pay attention, good for generating stories.

This morning's meeting was at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and it was a corker, featuring six people (four teachers/scientists and two students) with stories that ranged from astonishing to stupendous. The work going on down on Riverside will stand your hair on end.

We discovered that if you want to be part of that work, you can volunteer ($15 an hour as a standardized patient; other pay levels for other programs) for a number of studies they're doing, one of which is simply being an actor who pretends to be a patient. There are bunches of openings for those. There are spots for diabetics and variously addicted  and addiction-recovering people, as well.

If you are interested in taking part, the Standardized Patient link is here.That is for people who want to be pretend patients. Other volunteers for a variety of studies will be part of the research study and the link is here.

The study that interests me most (and for which I am planning to write a column and become a guinea pig) is one on addiction and recovery (they want to know how I've stayed off the sauce for 17 years this month; and I want to tell them).

Stay tuned for more.

Is the Bottom Falling Out of Talk Radio/TV?

You gotta wonder what's going on out there in the unregulated and vomitous world of radio and television talk these days. Glenn Beck's looking for work after losing nearly all his sponsors. Nancy Grace lost her show. Limbaugh's audience is down 33 percent and Sean Hannity's is down 28 percent (according to the new Arbitrons).

Is the public getting smarter? Probably not. Just working a lot harder and longer because the economy their Republican Party gave us deems it so if we are to keep our jobs. So the radio and TV have been turned off so people can concentrate and not get fired.

Just an hypothesis.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Parallels With Byron Pitts of '60 Minutes'

Byron Pitts, holding his prized sweet tea, chats with some fans.
Bob and Bonny Lee chat with wounded Lynn Meyer (she hurt it fly fishing).
Sizeable crowd settles in.
WFIR's Jim Kent introduces Pitts (left). FRONT was a sponsor.
Pitts talks from the heart.
Pitts signs his new book.
As CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts spoke at the Jefferson Center earlier tonight, a sense of parallel history began to take shape for me. Pitts, whom you probably know from "60 Minutes," where he is a regular, has a new memoir, Step Out on Nothing, detailing his life growing up poor in Baltimore and having to face and conquer some very real devils.

We share some of them. We both stuttered for a time. We're both long-time journalists, something nobody would have expected when we were growing up. We were functional illiterates for far longer than you might expect, flunked out (me) or nearly flunked out (him) of college (including failing English); had great mentors; played football pretty well; wrote a memoir with stories that aren't pretty; had strong mothers who were there in some tough times. (I will mention that though we've both written memoirs, the parallel ends. His sold.)

I liked listening to him because he didn't equivocate on dealing with the difficulties: he talked bluntly and directly about what it took and how it began to work.

 The event was the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce's Business Forum and it was a good one.

Group Move in Grandin Village Tomorrow

Grandin Village in Raleigh Court
My guess is that almost all of us hate to move. You can certainly count me in that group. In 2000, I was involved in eight moves (one of them mine, but I had the pickup truck) and swore "never again." I've been involved in about 15 since then.

It appears that the good people of Raleigh Court--Grandin Village, more specifically--have figured out a way to turn this drudgery into a pleasure. Let's let my friend Kurt Navratil explain it:

Join the movers and shakers! Tuesday, May 24 (tomorrow), two beloved neighborhood shops are beginning the great Grandin Village shuffle, and they need our help.

Too Many Books is moving from the corner of Westover and Grandin to the building which currently houses New To Me and Designs on Grandin.

For the time being, Linda Steadman will be selling her books in the New To Me space and part of the building's second floor. New to Me is moving two blocks down Grandin into space that is owned by Reid's Fine Furnishings, and eventually Reid's will expand into Two Many Books' space on the corner.

Linda and Jenny Prickitt need help, especially with packing. Volunteers can just show up any time after 10 a.m. tomorrow . They expect to continue working on Wednesday and would appreciate volunteers.

Both Linda and Jenny have been great supporters of the neighborhood, so joining in the Great Move is a wonderful way to thank them.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A New Addiction for Just Over $200

Flying along Carvin's Cove
The boat is easy to maneuver and fast
Parking the boat
End of the road
Took my new kayak out for the first time this afternoon and I feel like a guy who's just had his first hit of cocaine. Wow! What fun.

I've been a water rat for years, mostly with canoes and rafts, but also with motor boats, fishing boats and I'm even a graduate of Annapolis Sailing School  (you can say "la-de-da" here). I have paddled a kayak duckie (a rubber kayak) in the ocean, but that was nothing like this. I can't wait to get this baby in a river and a little faster water.

It was tricky at first and difficult to find my balance, but once I did, this little baby took off. It is a matter of constantly adjusting the nose of the boat like the site of a rifle, but it's easy to learn. I bought the boat Friday at Dick's for $179 and added the paddle for $34.95.

I had a pfd (personal floatation device or life jacket) and I didn't need anything else, save for a camera. the boat has a nice little waterproof storage compartment which doesn't hold much, but a snack and something to drink fits in there just fine.

The lake here is Carvin's Cove, Roanoke's water supply, but I can see the James River or the New River in my near future. I recommend this (but I'd stay away from water with motor boats; the wake is unsettling for a boat this light).

Survival of the End of Time: At What Cost?

OK, so we all got a pass on the Rapture. Problem is the cost. I got a Biblical proportion bad hair day. What was your penance?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Wish for Your Last Day on Earth

(Update: We didn't die.)

Since today marks the official End of the World, I want to get an early start in wishing you all a Happy Eternity.

Here's to:
  • great food in an all-you-can-because-you-won't-get-fat format, 
  • endless vacations to tropical islands with dancing girls and nobody else, 
  • families that don't fight, 
  • cars that don't break, 
  • dogs that don't bark, 
  • cats that don't pee on everything, 
  • exercise that makes you high,
  • diet that fills you with great taste and texture and just the number of calories you need,
  • pants and shoes that fit,
  • houses with dry basements, 
  • neighbors who mow your yard for you,
  • politicians who are at least as smart as the people who elected them,
  • an endless supply of good hair days, 
  • eyes that don't need glasses,
  • favorite teams that win it all with last second dramatics, 
  • water that is sweet and air that smells of kudzu flowers, 
  • rainy days when you want them, 
  • good local theater, 
  • government that serves the people and not the corporations, 
  • people who do the right things for the right reasons, 
  • home-grown energy that doesn't pollute heaven,
  • spirituality instead of religion, 
  • a good sense of humor,
  • people who love you all the time,
  • and ripe watermelon.
(Graphic: promisesandpredictions.org.)

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Quarter: A Fine New Cajun Restaurant in Downtown Roanoke

Exterior of The Quarter with outside dining.
Best looking bar in town.
There's a dandy new Cajun restaurant in downtown Roanoke--across from the Wells Fargo (Wachovia) Tower in the old Thai restaurant space--and I want to strongly recommend you eat something there.

I've had lunch at The Quarter the past two days and it's good. Really good. The interior of the restaurant has been totally renovated and the bar is the best looking one I've seen since Billy's Ritz went out of business a few years ago.

The owners also opened the area beside the building for outside dining, enclosing it like a New Orleans courtyard. It's all very appealing, sophisticated and uptown. And the food is simply marvelous. Strongly recommend the sun dried tomato dressing on any of the salads. They chef makes it.

Downtown Brick? Here's How It's Done

Hammering down the frame to create "brick."
If you've ever wondered how construction guys get that brick look in the asphalt downtown (or wherever), here's how it's done:

The asphalt is heated and sprayed a brick color. Then a metal frame with the "bricks" carved out of it is placed on the brick area and hammered into the soft asphalt. The "hammer" is the orange machine above. Another machine blows very hot air onto the asphalt and you can see two guys with canisters spraying the bricks red.

Cool stuff.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Senators Moving To Find A Place They Can Win

Can you spell 'carpetbagger'?
It looks like former Roanoke Mayor Ralph Smith, a state senator that the Republican Party obviously believed expendable, will move to Roanoke County so he can run for office again--regardless of what the party thinks about it. After all, Landslide Ralph is the personal choice of former House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, the man picked to knock off Brandon Bell, who had the audacity to buck Griffith's wishes on the budget a few years ago.

Smith moved from Roanoke City to Botetourt County to run against Brandon Bell for the Senate seat a few years ago. Now, he'll move again, this time to a district represented by Bill Stanley, who will move into a new district, a short distance from his home in Franklin County.

Stanley will move to the 20th District from the 19th to take on Roscoe Reynolds, a longtime member of the General Assembly, who took the Senate seat left by Robert Hurt. Hurt, like Griffith, scored an upset of a respected sitting U.S. House of Representatives member in the last election. When the House lost Tom Perriello (to Hurt) and Rick Boucher (to Griffith), it lost a chunk of its soul and a lot of its ethical base. Two very good men replaced by two empty suits.

If Smith knocks off Reynolds, it will be an upset, but he has scored major upsets each of the two times he has run. The Democrats split their vote 33-33 for Roanoke mayor and Smith came in with 34 percent to score the landslide win. The win over incumbent Republican Bell was out of left field in the primary. Smith is often looked upon as a buffoon by those who have served with him, either on City Council or in the Senate. He is not the sharpest pencil in the box.

As confusing as all those moves are, none of it is surprising. Republicans are looking for a way to take over the Senate and, thus, all of Virginia's government and install their particular brand of ... well, whatever it is. It won't be pleasant for anybody with a progressive notion of any kind.

(Photo: carpetbaggertours.com)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

'This Is My Office' Studio Roanoke Winner

Andy Bragen's "This Is My Office," running through May 22 at Studio Roanoke near City Market, keeps up the tradition of odd little plays with a special appeal that dot the schedule. This one is a one-man show by a playwright who admits there are some elements of autobiography involved, but not so many that you can be certain what they are.

We are introduced to a middle-aged playwright, living in an abandoned office that his father's company once occupied, living on a fellowship grant that is about to run out.

We get a full tour of the office--three rooms of it and the audience moves with the actor (Drew Dowdy, in this case) through them all--before he goes into the story--long and sad--of his father and how he seems to be following some of the same patterns.

It is a simple concept, but there is considerable complexity, revelation, discomfort, humor and honesty in the script. Dowdy, who is simply superb, delivers the entire hour and 10 minutes in an almost apologetic conversational tone that at times seems to break away from the play altogether. But that's part of it, too ("Anybody ready for a bathroom break?").

It is a continuation of the oddball and entertaining fare that makes Studio Roanoke the valuable resource it is.

Tickets are $15 ($20 at the door and $12 for kids, warriors and old people). You can order tickets (and print them) online at www.studioroanoke.com or call 540-343-3054.

One Chance on the Mound; One Shot at Stardom ...

And here's the windup from the aging editor ...
... the pitch ...
... it's on the way ...
... catcher Matt Spring reacts ...
... and pulls it out of the ground.
Catcher Matt Spring autographs ball.
No, it wasn't pretty. So all that practice in front of the mirror went for naught. And it wasn't a strike. I had a notion that'd happen, even when the first four pitches I threw in the back yard this morning were right down the middle ... with heat. The fifth one went over the utility building and into the yard with the dog that doesn't like me.

The occasion, as I mentioned earlier today, was the first pitch at the Salem Red Sox Business Professionals Lunch Day at the park. I threw out the first pitch, wearing my authentic Kansas City Monarchs Satchel Paige replica jersey (No. 25) from the old Negro Leagues. One of the Salem players asked if it was real. I told him Satch was my grandpa. Heh, heh, heh ...

I was given a four-pitch warmup in front of the dugout with backup catcher Matt Spring. The first two were impressive enough that Matt shook his hand (like it was stinging) and said, "You're ready." But noooooo. I had to throw two more. Guess I threw my arm away. I certainly threw the ball away.

The one shot I got on the mound was a carryover from the last two pitches. It got all the way to the plate, but was off to the left and in the dirt. Dang. Embarrassing. But you pays your money and you takes your chances. And by gum, it was fun.

(Photos by Christina Koomen ... and not Val.)

Arzu for Sale; A Few Feet from City Market Is Too Much

I note with a tinge of sadness that Arzu, the Mediterranean-style restaurant just off Roanoke City Market, is being sold. The restaurant--on two levels--is a shade under 10,000 square feet and it's priced at almost $800,000. Poe & Cronk is handling the sale.

This is a case of a business being out of sight, out of mind. It was a good restaurant for years, but barely hung on and was never really considered a part of City Market, although it is just around the corner from the Market proper. Arzu was part of that Brizilian group of restaurants that at one time captured the imagination of Roanoke and still has a lot of it with Carlos sitting up over Tanglewood like a beacon.

Arzu was the home of the Roanoke Comedy Club at one point and was always a nice place to hold an office party. The food was relatively healthy before that was trendy, but the service was never anything to write home about. I can't tell you the number of times I fidgeted as my lunch hour passed without getting a bill at the table so I could pay and leave.

Anyhow, I, for one, will miss Arzu and I hope somebody can do something with the building that will bring people around the corner. It's only a few feet.