Thursday, August 07, 2014

A Sign of the Times

One afternoon in the mid-1970s, I was walking about 20 yards behind a guy heading east on the 800 block of West Grace Street. I think it was in the summer. Then, like it was his, he casually picked up the Organic Food Store’s hand-painted sandwich board style sign from the sidewalk in front of the store.

Without looking around for any witnesses to his act of dishonesty, the sign thief kept going at the same pace. To close the distance between us, I walked faster down the red brick sidewalk.

By the time we had passed the Biograph Theatre, where I worked, I had sized him up and decided what I was going to do. He was a big-haired hippie, 18 to 20 years old; he could have been a student. Or, he might have been a traveling panhandler/opportunist. In those days there were plenty of both in the neighborhood.

Passing by Sally Bell’s Kitchen, in the 700 block, I was within six or seven yards of him when I spoke the lines I had written for myself. My tone was resolute, my voice clear: “Hey, I saw you steal the sign. Don’t turn around … just put it down and walk away.”

The thief’s body language announced that he had heard me, but he didn’t turn around. Instead he walked faster. Moving closer to him, I said with more force: “Put the sign down. The cops are on the way. Walk away while you still can.”

Without further ado the wooden sign clattered onto the sidewalk. The sign thief kept going without looking back. As I gathered my neighbor’s property I watched the fleeing hippie break into a sprint, cross Grace Street and disappear going toward Monroe Park at the next corner.

Then I carried the recovered property back to the store. Obviously, I don’t really remember exactly what I said to the thief nearly 40 years ago, verbatim, but that was a faithful recounting of the events and the spirit of what I said.

What I had done came in part from a young man’s sense of righteous indignation. That, together with the spirit of camaraderie that existed among some of the neighborhood’s merchants in that time. There were several of us, then in our mid-to-late-20s, who were running businesses on that bohemian strip — bars, retail shops, etc. We were friends and we watched out for one another.

My tough guy performance had lasted less than a minute. Now I’m amazed that I used to do such things. The character I invented was drawn somewhat from Humphrey Bogart, with as much Robert Mitchum as I could muster. Hey, since he bought the act, the thief probably felt lucky to have gotten away. Who knows? Maybe he’s still telling this same story, too, but from another angle.

This much I know — that quirky pop scene on Grace Street in those days was a goldmine of offbeat stories. Chelf’s Drug Store was at the corner of Grace and Shafer. With its antique soda fountain and a few booths, it had been a hangout for magazine-reading, alienated art students for decades. It seemed frozen in time.

The original Village Restaurant, a block west of Chelf’s, was a legendary beatnik watering hole, going back to the 1950s. Writer Tom Robbins and artist William Fletcher “Bill” Jones (1930-‘98) hung out there. Strangely, that location has remained boarded up for decades, while the new Village still goes on across Harrison Street. In the '70s the same neighborhood was also home to cartoon-like characters such as the wandering Flashlight Lady and the Grace Street Midget.

During the late-‘60s the hippies had come on strong to replace the beats, as the strip went psychedelic, seemingly overnight. By the mid-‘70s the hippie blue jean culture had peaked. It was about to be replaced by the black leather of Punk Rock and polyester of the Disco scene. All-night dance clubs became popular.

So, by the late-‘70s the mood on the strip had changed severely. Cocaine was becoming the preferred drug of choice with the druggie in-crowd, replacing pot. Several restaurants were serving liquor-by-the-drink, the dives catering to the young set began having rugged bouncers at the door.

Into the early-‘80s, I can also remember a day when an angry, red-bearded street beggar with a missing foot was scaring old ladies coming and going from the then-new Dominion Place apartment building on the 1000 block of Grace. We were about the same age. I said something to him like, "Cut it out and move on."

The surly panhandler laughed like a villain in a slasher movie and threatened to, “Bite a plug out” of me. Wisely, I didn’t press my case any further. Instead, I moved on.

Walking eastward away from that unnerving confrontation, passing the 7-Eleven store that's still there, it was more obvious than ever that the times had indeed changed in the neighborhood. By then Chelf's was history. The same space had become home to a greasy spoon restaurant. 

-- 30 --

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Last Call for 'Where the Frisbees Landed' GRFGA T-shirts

On Thursday, Aug. 14th, the window will close on placing orders for the second and final printing of the most recent model of Greater Richmond Frisbee-Golf Association T-shirts. By my count, beginning with the first one in 1984, this model is the eighth different GRFGA T-shirt I've designed. Although I can't promise there won't be a ninth, I'm still expecting this one will be the last of the series. So this is the time to get an extra one to pack away and save. One day you'll be glad you did.

Regardless of the garment’s fabric color, the art (as shown above) on all of the shirts will be silk screen printed in just two ink colors -- black and white. Thus, the gray halftone in the illustration represents the fabric color.
  • Short-sleeve T-shirts are $17.
  • Long-sleeve T-shirts are $19. 
For double-X T-shirts add a dollar. 

The 100 percent heavy duty cotton T-shirts will be available in three fabric colors:

Antique Sapphire (a bright greenish-blue)



Cardinal Red (a cool red)




Military Green (olive drab) as shown in photo below.




  • Crew neck sweatshirts are $26, hooded sweats are $27. Please note: the sweatshirts are available in athletic gray only
For double-X sweats add two bucks. 

No, you don't need to be a member of the GRFGA to place an order. The T-shirts should be ready by the end of the month. Message me on Facebook or send an email (ftrea9@yahoo.com) for more details and to discuss payment and pick-up/delivery. If you aren't in Richmond, I'll be happy to mail them to you, COD, as I'm not interested in trying to make money on the shipping.  

Thanks.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Coldest Warrior

Note: This is piece a I wrote for Richmond.com in 1999 (with some touch-ups to update it). I did the illustration back then, too.

August is usually a slow month for news, so we are spoon-fed anniversaries to contemplate: Hiroshima’s 69th, Woodstock’s 45th and 40 years ago Pres. Richard M. Nixon took the fall -- he resigned.

The entire culture shifted gears the day Nixon threw in the towel. The brilliant strategist, the awkward sleuth, the proud father, and the coldest of warriors had left the building.

August 9, 1974 was a day to hoist one for his enemies, many of whom must have enjoyed his twisting in the wind of Watergate’s storm. It was the saddest of days for his staunch supporters, whose numbers were still legion. Either way, Richard Nixon’s departure from DeeCee left a peculiar void that no personality has since filled in anything close to the same way.

For the first time since his earliest commie-baiting days, in the late-‘40s, Dick Nixon had no clout; he hardly mattered. Upon Nixon's departure, concern for social causes went out of style for a lot of young Americans. It was time to party.

Soon what remained of the causes and accouterments of the ‘60s was packed into cardboard boxes to be tossed out, or stored in basements. Watergate revelations killed off the Nixon administration’s chance of instituting national health insurance. On top of that, many people have forgotten that he was also rather liberal on environmental matters, at least compared to the science-doubting Republicans who have followed. Although he was a hawk, Nixon was moderate on some of the social issues.

Nixon's opening to China and efforts toward détente with the Soviets are often cited as evidence of his ability to maneuver deftly in the realm of foreign affairs. No doubt, that was his main focus. Still, at the bottom line, Nixon is remembered chiefly as the president who was driven from office. And for good reason.

Nixon’s nefarious strategy for securing power divided this country like nothing since the Civil War. Due to his fear of hippies and left-wing campus movements, Nixon looked at ex-Beatle John Lennon and instead of a sarcastic musician, in his view he saw a raw power to galvanize a generation’s anti-establishment sentiments. Fearful of that imagined potential, the sneaky Nixon administration did everything it could to hound Lennon out of the country.

Nixon deliberately drove a wedge between fathers and sons. To rally support for his prosecution of the Vietnam War, he sought to expand the division between World War II era parents and their baby boomer offspring. The families that never recovered from that time's bitterness were just more collateral damage.

However, Nixon’s true legacy is that since his paranoia-driven scandal, the best young people have no longer felt drawn into public service. Since Watergate, for 40 years -- taken as a whole -- the citizens who’ve gravitated toward politics for a career have not had the intellect, the sense of purpose, or the strength of character of their predecessors.

We can thank Tricky Dick for all that and more. So weep not for the sad, crazy Nixon of August, 1974. He did far more harm to America than whatever good he intended.

Some commentators have suggested that he changed over that period, even mellowed. Don't buy it. The rest of us changed a lot more than he did. On top of that, Nixon had 20 years to come clean and clear the air. But he didn’t do it. He didn't even come close. In the two decades of his so-called “rehabilitation,” before his death in 1994, Nixon just kept on being Nixon.

So, spare me the soft-focus view of the Nixon White House years. Tricky Dick's humiliating downfall should be a lesson to us all -- he surely got what he deserved.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Accordions Helped Me Keep a Promise

At the A Ring Around the Diamond event yesterday, we had a little over 100 people out there. Perhaps, to some who rode by in their cars, the unusual doings looked more like a performance art piece than a political rally -- a demonstration to dramatize the opposition to the mayor's so-called "revitalization" plan. But with all the arts and show biz hams we had on hand at the Diamond, maybe it was both.

No, Mayor Dwight Jones didn't show. Neither did the cops. 

Riding over to the Diamond in Larry Rohr's orange '74 VW bus, he predicted 77 people would show up for the parade. So we topped a practiced wizard's best guess. Truth is, I had no idea how many people to expect. How could anybody?

Nonetheless, I thought all along that the number 1,000 and the notion of circling the Diamond would catch people’s attention and spark interest. OK, I actually wanted 10,000 people to show up, but I knew better than to expect it. My real plan was to march around the Diamond with whatever turnout we had. That’s what we did. One former Richmond mayor was there. An enthusiastic Rudy McCollum was working the crowd.

Wishful thinking aside, what happened at the Diamond was gratifying. Thanks to Barry Bless and Karen Weatherspoon Sokohl we had accordions leading the parade that circled the Diamond. Three television stations sent reporters with cameras. So the stunt drew the coverage we schemers had hoped would also turn out.

Some history: In 2005 and 2009 I covered the baseball stadium debate for Richmond.com. In both instances I saw building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom as another build-it-and-they-will-come folly in the making. Thus, my opposition to baseball in the Bottom is nothing new. So much for disclosure.

Some eight months ago, when Mayor Dwight Jones' announcement revived the twice-killed idea of dropping a baseball stadium into that same neighborhood, it was disappointing. However, my own thinking about the issue has evolved over the years. Since the critical and box office success of the Oscar-winning film, “12 Years a Slave” (2013), Richmond's slave jail history leading up to the Civil War has become more interesting to a lot of people, here and elsewhere. No doubt, there are folks at City Hall who wish that movie’s release could have been delayed a year or two.

Having grown up in Richmond, I’d like to better understand the slave market business that once thrived in this city. Everybody has heard plenty about Richmond's days during the Civil War. Not so much about the way of life in the 30 years leading up to war, especially as it pertained to Shockoe Bottom. Accordingly, I’d also like to learn more about how that aspect of local history was rather effectively covered up for so long. Regarding the institution of slavery, it's time to shine a new light on how our history books were cooked in the 20th century.

A fresh look needs to be taken at how the truth was systematically processed into palatable lies -- denial. For instance, in 1961 my seventh-grade history book, which was used in all of Virginia's public schools, had this to say at the end of Chapter 29:
Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy. The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living for themselves and for those whom they worked. They were not so unhappy as some Northerners thought they were, nor were they so happy as some Southerners claimed. The Negroes had their problems and their troubles. But they were not worried by the furious arguments going on between Northerners and Southerners over what should be done with them. In fact, they paid little attention to those arguments.
In 2014, to think building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom will really facilitate the scholarly investigation of that neighborhood’s history and archeology is just more denial. The same sort of denial that fueled Massive Resistance in the 1950s and ‘60s. The same desire to bury history that was behind the writing of that damn book of pickled history. 

So please do put me on the growing list of those who believe a slavery museum in Shockoe Bottom, sans ballpark, will draw tourists from all over the world. Still, I don’t quarrel with those who oppose baseball in the Bottom for other reasons. Richmond residents who oppose building a new stadium anywhere, saying that with schoolhouse roofs caving in taxpayers ought not to spend another nickel on spectator sports, have a good point. Those who assert that a lot of Flying Squirrels fans aren't likely to go to the Bottom for games, probably know more about local baseball fans than the mayor does.

My personal reason for having taken up the baseball stadium location cause stems, in part, from being asked to write a story about a benefit show in December for STYLE Weekly. Click here to read my review of the “Billy Ray Hatley Tribute Concert at the National.” After spending the afternoon backstage, watching the musicians and stage hands put the complicated show together, and then being there for the show to feel the vibe from the connection between those on stage and in the audience, I was knocked out.

All that, while the weather outside was wretched and they had no idea who would show up. The common desire to celebrate Hatley’s contributions as a musician/songwriter and to help out his family was uplifting. Filled with admiration for the effort it took to put that show together, I decided then to act upon something that had been bothering me. I had been resisting the notion that I needed to step out of the fog of geezerhood to do something, propaganda-wise, to combat the LovingRVA campaign, and ultimately stop Shockoe Stadium from being built.

It was wintertime and the job seemed too big for a guy out of the loop. But being so close to that Hatley show suddenly gave me courage that I could focus the scattered pockets of opposition to Shockoe Stadium. Thus, I soon put my shoulder to a push to let Richmond’s voters weigh in, by way of an advisory  referendum.

After so many years of watching the parade go by and making my wisecracks as a commentator, I decided to cross the line and become an activist for a cause. It became my New Year's Resolution. 

On August 1 the deadline to use signed petitions to get a referendum on the ballot passed. Unfortunately, I don't know how many signatures the Citizens Referendum Group gathered on its petitions for two ballot issues. The group fell apart; it’s too bad its laudable effort was sabotaged by some complicated agendas.

While five members of City Council can still combine to put a referendum on the ballot, it looks quite unlikely. Still, talking about a referendum was useful to the debate. Seeing the fear it inspired among the boosters for the mayor’s plan was revealing. 

Back to Sunday’s colorful demonstration -- there was no sense of failure hanging in the air. Via local news broadcasts, explanations of our impromptu group’s presence at the ballpark have become part of the record of the stadium story. There are lots of nice photos of smiling demonstrators on Facebook. It seems most of them enjoyed the experience. At the moment, some in the group seem poised to do more. Good. 

Now I believe I have followed through on that promise to myself, a resolution that was inspired by live music. My thanks go out to all who helped promote the event, and especially to the faithful who showed up. The point of this piece is not to say I’m giving up. Far from it, but I simply can’t go on neglecting other projects, to stay on top of this worthwhile cause. The stark reality of my need to make some money is bearing down on me.

To finish up, I hope some of those civic-minded individuals who marched around the ballpark, following the accordions playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” will hear the call to do what they can to keep the parade moving. The cause needs more leaders with new ideas. Focusing the scattered opposition is still smart. And, of course, please keep me in the loop.

Note: Here’s the link to the report on that ran on WRIC Channel 8 on Sunday evening.

-- Aug. 3, 2014: Top photo from WRIC Channel 8. Bottom photo by Mark Brown.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Cantor's Parting Shot

Soon to be a former Congressman, Eric Cantor wrote a piece for the Richmond Times-Dispatch explaining his decision to quit serving as the elected representative of Virginia’s 7th District. It was published on Aug. 2.

Cantor opened his OpEd piece in this way: 
It has been the highest honor of my professional life to serve the people of Virginia’s 7th District in Congress. That is why it is with tremendous gratitude and a heavy heart that I have decided to resign from Congress, effective Aug. 18.
Cantor went on in this cloying fashion: 
During this time of transition for me and my family, it is my foremost desire to ensure that representation is maintained for the people of the 7th District. For this reason, I have asked Governor McAuliffe to hold a special election on Election Day, at no additional cost to taxpayers, so my successor can be sworn in immediately in November. It is vitally important that the constituents have a clear and strong voice during the consequential lame-duck session of Congress.
Then Cantor continued with several paragraphs of boilerplate Republican talking points. But, his heavy heart notwithstanding, at no time did the man who was first elected to serve in the House of Representatives in 2000 explain why he resigned. After all, if he truly is so concerned that the voters in his district have representation he could have just finished the job he was elected to do without issuing instructions to Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Apparently, after being a boss, to stay on the job for four months as a lame duck didn't suit Cantor much. Instead, he appears to have taken a page from Sarah Palin’s book and walked away from his job at his own convenience, in order to get a head start on a new career of chasing money. How surprised will anyone be should that career include lobbying Congress from a K Street office?

So the clock starts ticking on the one year the law requires between Cantor's leaving Congress and directly lobbying his former colleagues. Apparently he can become a paid adviser to lobbyists and he’s allowed to call on federal agencies for clients as soon as he pleases. Maybe he'll wait until after Labor Day to assume that role.       

While I understand that some conservative ideologues may have been happy with Cantor’s voting record, over the years, but I doubt all that many of his constituents will really miss Cantor’s transparently self-serving ways, his weasel words or his trademark sneer.

So to be fair, Eric Cantor, 51, is leaving elected office exhibiting the same style he has used in his public life all along. Whether McAuliffe will choose to follow Cantor's parting shot strategy to call a special election remains to be seen.

Update (Aug. 6): Jeff Schapiro tells it like it is.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Don't Tread on Property Owned by the RMTA


Regarding the A Ring Around the Diamond event on Aug. 3 at the Diamond, I have received a message that pertains to what property should be avoided. Via email Brian Johnson, Toll Road Manager for the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority, has advised me that “protesting activities are not allowed on RMTA (the name changed to include the word Transportation on July 1st) property.” Furthermore, parking lots controlled by the RMTA surrounding the Diamond will be closed on Sunday.

The text of the email is below: 
Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority
July 30, 2014

Dear Mr. Rea,

It has come to the RMTA’s attention that this Sunday, August 3, your group plans to host an event in the vicinity of the Diamond ballpark. Your stated plan is to use the public sidewalks to create a human ring around the Diamond. We greatly appreciate your plan to use public sidewalks. Please be aware that public sidewalks are those which border the Boulevard, Robin Hood Road, Hermitage Road, and Avenue of Champions. All other sidewalks in the area are located on property that belongs to either the RMTA or other entities. 
Attached to this email is an aerial view of the RMTA’s property, outlined in red, which includes the Diamond and associated parking. Please refer to this exhibit while positioning your participants along the public sidewalks. Please be aware that all RMTA parking lots surrounding the Diamond will be closed on August 3. 
If your current plan involves sidewalks inside the red lines shown on the exhibit, please modify your plans. To be clear, protesting activities are not allowed on any RMTA property, so it is imperative that your activities are limited to the sidewalks outside of the area outlined in red on the attached aerial view. 

Please don’t hesitate to call me (804-523-3381) should you have any questions.

Sincerely,
Brian E. Johnson
Johnson sent copies of the email to:
  • Angela Gray, General Manager, RMTA
  • Eric Ballou, Esq., Secretary, Board of Directors, RMTA 
  • Capt. John A. O’Kleski, 4th Precinct, Richmond Police Department
The idea that parking lots owned by the RMTA (until the end of the year, when the city will own them) are off limits is interesting. Now that the counties have equal representation on the board, as of July 1, I wonder how much their representatives really don't want anybody walking through those empty lots to show support for keeping baseball on the Boulevard.

Furthermore, I wonder how many of the elected leaders in Chesterfield and Henrico, or in Richmond for that matter, really want to come down on the side of trying thwart citizens who plan to peacefully exercise their freedom of speech rights on what amounts to property those citizens own. After all, the plan for this event was to choose a date that would not to disrupt a baseball game.

The map image was provided by the RMTA.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

On Rescheduling the Ringing

To: Those who had planned to demonstrate at the Diamond today
From: Terry Rea 
About: A Ring Around the Diamond
When: The demonstration is now scheduled to surround the Diamond with fun-loving citizens on Sunday, August 3, at 2 p.m.
Why: This event will create a picture to illustrate how widespread and passionate the opposition to building a Shockoe Stadium is. That includes those who are calling for saving the Diamond. Maybe some members of City Council will notice it.   

Explanation for rescheduling: When considering moving the time of the event, from today to next Sunday, I wasn’t happy about doing anything to sidetrack the momentum that had gathered. It surely went against my show biz background to not defiantly say, “The show must go on as scheduled, come hell or high water.”

But at 10 a.m. this morning, the Weather Channel said Richmond had a 75 percent chance of having rain falling at 2 p.m. and at 3 p.m. The grizzled promoter in me knew then we would be facing a greatly diminished turnout, if we went ahead with the original time, even if the weather surprisingly turned out sunny. So, like it or not, in my view it had to rescheduled. As I was the one who had established the event page on Facebook, I took the responsibility to make the call.

Of course, we now know the weather defied predictions and did turn out to be beautiful. That's life.

However, the purpose of the stunt in the first place was not to facilitate the building of an organization. No, it was to demonstrate for all to see how varied and substantial the opposition to the mayor’s plan to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom is.

That’s because some of us want to protect a historically significant neighborhood. Others prefer pro baseball to stay put. Some of us want the city to spend more on schools and infrastructure and less on spectator sports. Others just don’t believe baseball in the Bottom is a good investment.

It was conceived as a way for the unorganized opposition, neighbors with different reasons to be there, to say as one -- we’re standing on common ground to encircle the Diamond.This event was not designed to launch a freestanding political organization. So driven by the thinking that by pressing on today it would foster camaraderie, didn’t fit our mission.

This morning at 10 a.m. we had to recognize that no matter how the weather turned out four hours later -- based on the forecast of a 75 percent likelihood of rain -- too many folks had already made plans to do something else. Which meant that by going on with the stunt today, as originally planned, we would have been setting ourselves up to underachieve dramatically -- probably with the media there to report that the event was a fizzler.

Now we have a whole week to make this bump in the road work in our favor. Moreover, let’s use this extra time to invite more people to ensure that next Sunday we do encircle the Diamond with thousands of folks who will go home afterward, happy to say:

“Rather than just complain, we did something. We went out to the Boulevard to march on the sidewalk around the ballpark with a bunch of civic-minded folks. We saw some funny signs. We ran into some old friends and met some new friends. All in all, we did no harm and we had a good time.”

-- Video by Barry Bless

Rescheduled: A Ring Around the Diamond: Sunday, August 3, at 2 p.m.

Last night, on the Facebook event page, it was suggested that I reschedule the event based on the likelihood of rain in the forecast for today. I knew it might be good advice, because some people had probably already changed their plans for Sunday afternoon.

Still, I wasn’t at all happy about doing anything to arrest the splendid momentum the event had gathered in the last four days. It went against the spirit of my the-show-must-go-on background to postpone the thing. So I checked the Weather Channel’s forecast; it gave Richmond a 30 percent chance of rain/scattered showers from 1 p.m. through 5 p.m.

So optimism ruled my thinking and I decided to put off the decision until 10 a.m. today, four hours before the event. Since I started the A Ring Around the Diamond event page on Facebook, I felt like I had to take responsibility for making the best decision I could at the right time; I decided to let the numbers rule:

At 10 a.m. if the Weather Channel gave us at least a 50 percent chance of not having rain at 2 p.m. today, I figured we’d go for it and take our chances. If we had worse than a 50/50 shot, then I determined we should move the date a week forward, the next Sunday when the Squirrels are on the road.

Accordingly, at 10 a.m. this morning Richmond had a 75 percent chance of rain at 2 p.m. and at 3 p.m. As an old promoter that told me we would face a greatly diminished turnout, if went ahead with the original time, even if the weather turned out sunny.

Now I’m praying for rain like a farmer with thirsty crops.

Please note: The A Ring Around the Diamond has been rescheduled. It will unfold on August 3, at 2 p.m. Otherwise it’s the same plan.

Now I’m praying for no hail storms next Sunday.

Friday, July 25, 2014

STYLE Weekly: 'A Diamond Ring'

http://www.styleweekly.com/richmond/a-diamond-ring/Content?oid=2100118

Tom Nash at STYLE Weekly writes about the A Ring Around the Diamond event scheduled at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 27. 
Opponents of Mayor Dwight Jones’ plan to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom say they're going to encircle the city’s current ballpark Sunda
Click here to read the entire piece. 

So, as the momentum has snowballed in the last two days, I've been asked several times how many people I expect, and whatnot. But since there's no precedent for this stunt/demonstration, I've had to laugh and say, "I don't know."

How could I know? Nothing quite like this has happened before, at least, not in Richmond. However, I do know this:

If we could turnout just 10 percent of those who want to protect historically significant Shockoe Bottom from a wrongheaded development, and 10 percent of those who want to renovate the Diamond, and 10 percent of those who prefer to build a new stadium on the Boulevard, and 10 percent of those who think professional baseball would likely fail in Shockoe Bottom, and 10 percent of those who don’t think the city should misuse its limited ability to borrow money on spectator sports -- instead of fixing school roofs and crumbling roadways -- well, that would put several rings of 1,000 people each around the Diamond.

No, this isn't a referendum. It won't guarantee us anything, but now we who oppose Shockoe Stadium, for whatever reasons, can all finally do something -- something! -- to demonstrate our sentiments. Yes, today you can help spread the word; invite your friends.

Show up on Sunday, if you can. Let’s have some harmless fun and create a memory that will always bring smiles to our faces. Why not?

Click here to see the A Ring Around the Diamond event page on Facebook. 

-- Photo of the Diamond by Scott Elmquist for STYLE Weekly.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Ring Around the Diamond


Spread the word that a one-of-a-kind happening will unfold on Sunday, July 27, at 2 p.m. To protest the mayor's Shockoe Stadium plan citizens will encircle the Diamond and everyone is invited to participate. (No baseball game will be played as the Flying Squirrels are on the road.)

This event won’t feature speechifying by big shots. It won’t cost you a cent. Bring your signs and petitions. Bring your drums and kazoos. Maybe a bottle of water would be smart. And, please bring your sense of humor. Let’s have some fun and do no harm.

To see the Facebook event page for A Ring Around the Diamond click here.

Note: The photo was taken by me for Richmond.com when the R-Braves still played at the Diamond.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Crab-Folder

By F.T. Rea
Carlos Runcie Tanaka, a Peruvian sculptor of what one brief biography called, “of mixed Japanese and European ancestry,” is a star in the international art world. As it happened, in April of 2001, he was in Richmond’s Fan District for a few days.

Let me tell you, after watching the sculptor fold and crease a piece of paper in a local bar, I’ve got two words of advice for him -- show business. This concept would combine the origami with Tanaka’s considerable talent for yarn-spinning.

OK, maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Like so many tales, this one began with Happy Hour:

The Baja Bean is a Fan District watering hole located in the basement of what was originally a schoolhouse. The building itself is a stone and brick fortress. It was a typical crowd of mid-week regulars -- there were about 20 decidedly adult faces around the three-sided, horseshoe-shaped bar. The group was approximately equal parts white collar, blue color and no collar.

When then-chairman of Virginia Commonwealth University’s sculpture department Joe Seipel came in the room, with Carlos Tanaka at his side, Joe was smiling more broadly than usual. Seipel, who enjoys telling a good story, maybe even more loves to present a cool visiting artist to his pals at Happy Hour. It’s a tradition left over from the Texas-Wisconsin Border Café (1982-99), the nearby much-missed saloon which Seipel himself once co-owned. Seipel (who is now the Dean of VCUarts) introduced Carlos to those who hadn’t already met him.

Tanaka has done much traveling, owing to his acclaim as an artist. At an art confab somewhere in South America he had met and gotten to know Seipel, plus a couple of other art faculty types at VCU’s world renown fine arts school. Then they arranged for him to come to the art school here as a visiting artist/scholar. That’s how a Peruvian artist ends up in the Bean at beer-thirty.

As an aside, Tanaka was among the hostages taken by the Tupac Amaru in that bizarre 1996 incident in Lima, Peru, at the Japanese ambassador’s home. Nonetheless, his experience as the hostage of hell-bent terrorists for 50 days apparently did nothing to diminish his overall sense of humor.

Eventually, someone asked him about the crab-folding thing.

Bingo!

Someone else supplied a blank sheet of paper. For the next 20 minutes Tanaka told stories, made observations, ad-libbed and entertained everyone on hand. Nothing else was happening in the room for that spell. The product was an intricate paper crab made from an ordinary piece of white bond paper.

Looking at the crab was fun; it almost seemed cute, for a crab. But watching the artist fold the paper, over and over -- each fold exactly where it had to be -- as he offered his lighthearted patter, like a pro, was a rare treat. To the delight of the person who had supplied the sheet of paper, the crab-folder gave it to them.

Of course, someone else had to have one, too. Then another. Tanaka must have folded four or five paper crabs that afternoon. He never ran out of offbeat stories about drinking, playing practical jokes, making art, fools in high places, and so forth. By the way, the upbeat Tanaka never mentioned the dark time he was a hostage. I found out about that later.

The next time I saw Carlos in the Bean, a couple of days later, he gave me a paper crab as a souvenir (as shown above). Soon afterward he went back to Peru. As he’d been away from his studio for months, traveling and lecturing, the artist had said he was glad to be going home. I haven’t seen him since.

Occasionally, I have seen Tanaka’s name associated with a big art happening in South America or Europe. (He's now a Facebook friend) Regarding his mixed ancestry, one of Tanaka’s grandfathers was British and the other was Japanese. Both men married Peruvian women. Anyway, whenever Carlos is ready to take a break from the sculpture gig, I still say a career in show biz as a crab-folding monologist awaits.

No doubt, I’ve spent too many of my personal allotment of hours in bars. Although it’s easy to say many of those hours were wasted, every now and then something genuinely unusual has happened, out of the blue, that makes me say -- “I’m glad I was there.”

If nothing else those times provide fodder for a story to tell at a subsequent Happy Hour. Like our ancestors, we listen and observe, so we can tell stories about what seemed unusual. To see a gallery of Tanaka's work click here.
-- 30 --

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Where the Frisbees Landed T-shirts

Orders for the second/last printing of the most recent model of Greater Richmond Frisbee-Golf Association T-shirts will go in on Monday, Aug. 11th. (Yes, the date has been moved a week forward. That has been done to allow for accepting orders from participants in the GRFGA's partners tournament on the 10th.)

The art was designed by me (F.T. Rea). Regardless of the garment’s fabric color, the art (as shown above) on all of the shirts will be silk screen printed in just two ink colors -- black and white. Thus, the gray halftone in the illustration represents the fabric color.
  • Short-sleeve T-shirts are $17.
  • Long-sleeve T-shirts are $19. 
For double-X T-shirts add a dollar. 

The 100 percent heavy duty cotton T-shirts will be available in three fabric colors:

Antique Sapphire (a bright greenish-blue)



Cardinal Red (a cool red)
Military Green (olive drab) as shown in photo below.



  • Crew neck sweatshirts are $26, hooded sweats are $27. Please note: the sweatshirts are available in athletic gray only
For double-X sweats add two bucks. 

No, you don't need to be a member of the GRFGA to place an order. The T-shirts should be ready by the end of the month. Message me on Facebook or send an email (ftrea9@yahoo.com) for more details and to discuss payment and pick-up/delivery. If you aren't in Richmond, I'll be happy to mail them to you, COD, as I'm not interested in trying to make money on the shipping.  

Thanks.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

From Yeats to Greene to Stone

As a professor, Balcomb Greene
is said to have had a significant 
influence on Andy Warhol. 
Revved up over an English class assignment to write a paper on "The Second Coming," by W. B. Yeats, I stayed up all night crafting it, and thought I had hit a home run. The professor, an awkward, gangly sort of fellow in his late-20s, gave me a “C” on it.

Well, I just had to ask him to explain to me what was wrong with the paper. In a private conference he told me my analysis of the poem didn't jibe with the accepted school of thought on what Yeats was saying. While admitting my writing and analytical technique were fine, he nervously explained that I was simply wrong in my conclusions, no matter how well-stated my case might have been.

That sort of pissed me off, so I told him I thought that ambiguity could imply multiple meanings, and it deliberately invited alternative interpretations. Rather than defend as his stance the man suddenly grabbed his face and broke into tears.

The sobbing professor went into a monologue on the shambles his life had fallen into. His personal life! Worst of all, he said, his deferral had just been denied by Selective Service, so he would soon be drafted.

He was wearing a pitiful brown suit. His thinning beige hair was oiled flat against his scalp. My anger over the bad grade turned into disgust. As I remember it, I walked out of his office to keep from telling him what I thought.

Now, four decades later, I regret my impatience and feel sorry for the poor schlemiel. Still, when the offer came at the end of the semester to expand my part-time job to full-time, I took the leap. My chief duty was to schlep visiting scholars around Virginia from one university campus to the next in a big black Lincoln.

Each week, under the auspices of the University Center in Virginia -- a consortium of Virginia colleges and universities -- there was a new scholar in a different field. Somebody had to drive them to lectures, dinners, convocations and to hotels throughout the week. For one whole semester in 1969 that was me.

Naturally, in the crisscrossing of Virginia, the wiseguy driver and the actually wise scholars had a lot of time to talk. Some of them kept to themselves, mostly. Others were quite chatty, in several cases we got along well and had great talks.

Three of them stand out as having been the best company on the road: Daniel Callahan (then-writer/editor at Commonweal Magazine), Henry D. Aiken (writer/philosophy professor) and Balcomb Greene (artist/philosopher and art history professor).

Callahan challenged me to think more thoroughly about situational ethics and morality. He was happy I was reading the books of Herman Hesse and others. He turned me on to “One Dimensional Man,” by Herbert Marcuse.

Callahan was quite curious about my experiences taking LSD, we talked about drugs and religion. Click here to read about him.

Aiken (1912-‘82) was then the chairman of the philosophy department at Brandeis University, he loved a debate. He was used to holding his own against the likes of William F. Buckley. Talking with him about everything under the sun in the wee hours, I first acquired a taste for good Scotch whiskey (which I haven't tasted in many a year).
From a ‘pragmatic’ point of view, political philosophy is a monster, and whenever it has been taken seriously, the consequence, almost invariably, has been revolution, war, and eventually, the police state.

-- Henry D. Aiken
Aiken, like Callahan, agreed to help me with a project I told them about. Inspired by popular new magazines Ramparts, Avant-Garde, Rolling Stone, etc. -- at 21-years-old -- I wanted to jump straight into magazine publishing, with no experience, ASAP.

That dream stayed on the back burner for 16 years, until the first issue of SLANT came out in 1985. How I went about designing SLANT to be a small magazine, mostly featuring the work of its publisher, flowed in great part from my brief association with Balcomb Greene (1904-90). Of the rent-a-scholars I met, he was easily the funniest.

The son of a Methodist minister, Greene grew up in small towns in the Midwest. He studied philosophy at Syracuse University, psychology at the University of Vienna and English at Columbia University. Then he switched to art, having been influenced by his first wife, Gertrude Glass, an artist he had married in 1926. He became a founder of the avant-garde group known as American Abstract Artists in 1936.

After World War II, just as abstract art was gaining acceptance, Greene radically changed his style. He began painting in a more figurative, yet dreamy, style that fractured time. Click here,
and here, to read about Greene and see examples of his work.

One day I’ll write a piece about the visit to Sweetbriar with Greene. It was a hoot collaborating with him, to have some fun putting on the blue-haired art ladies of that venerable institution. This time my mention of him is to get this piece to I.F. Stone. It was Greene who gave me a subscription to I.F. Stone’s Weekly.

I.F. “Izzy” Stone (1907-89) was an independent journalist in a way few have ever been. In the 1960s his weekly newsletter was a powerful voice challenging the government’s propaganda about the war in Vietnam. Click here to read about Stone, and here.
"All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out."
-- I.F. Stone
Stone remains one of my heroes. At my best, over the years, I have emulated him in my own small ways. Thank you for the schooling, Professor Greene.

-- 30 --

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How About a Ring Around The Diamond?

Thinking about a stunt to dramatize the opposition to a Shockoe Bottom stadium and the widespread sentiment to keep baseball on the Boulevard, a friend (Larry Rohr) and I walked completely around the Diamond a few months ago. Staying on public property, it took something a little less than 1,000 strides of about three feet each.

The reason we were counting the steps it took to encircle the Diamond was that we guessed each step would represent one person. Thus, we determined it would take about 1,000 people to surround the Diamond, while standing/parading on public property.

Voila! A ring around The Diamond.

If people showed up on a day with no baseball game -- flash-mob-style -- carrying signs, beating drums and tooting horns, chanting slogans, seeing old friends and meeting new ones, etc., I bet that party-like scene would appeal to photographers. Some of those shutterbugs might be on the job shooting still or moving pictures for the media. We could create one of those pictures-worth-a-thousand-words moments. Once it gets underway, via the Internet, messages would be flying around town saying, "join us!"

Note: July 26 and 27 are the next Saturday and Sunday when the Flying Squirrels are on the road (Erie). If it happened on one of those two days the stunt shouldn't interfere with anything, so the authorities would probably not try to stop it.

Let's say the whole thing would take an hour, or so. Virtually no money would need be spent and hopefully no laws would be broken. Unlike a referendum, which would only permit voters in the city to participate, this stunt would allow for anyone who cares to join in the fun.

For all the folks who’ve stood on the sidelines, watching this 10-year-old debate drone on, feeling frustrated, because they wanted to do something, anything! to make it stop, this could be your chance. If 2,000 people show up we could put two rings around the Diamond, etc.

While City Council and Mayor Dwight Jones continue to stall and strike poses, we the people could do something. And, it wouldn't be fun to see it/make it happen?

Update: Weather permitting, 2 p.m., on July 27, would be as good time as any to do this. Of course, it would require that people do more than just post their opinions on Facebook and complain to their friends. It would take an hour, or so, of your time on a Sunday afternoon to create an event that would be memorable.

Update: It's going to happen. To visit the Facebook event page, A Ring Around the Diamond, click here

Monday, July 14, 2014

Should Shockoe Bottom Be Declared a No-Stadium-Zone?


Over the last 10 years I’ve penned many blog posts about where not to build a baseball stadium in Richmond. And, several articles I’ve written on the same topic have been published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, STYLE Weekly and Richmond.com. In all of them I have opposed the concept of playing professional baseball in a stadium in Shockoe Bottom.

This time, I’ll skip the passion and the history to cut to the chase. Here’s the question a carefully worded referendum could settle:

Should Shockoe Bottom be declared a special historic area that is a “no-stadium zone”? 

Yes or no. This approach would not say where to build anew, or whether to renovate the Diamond. It would simply allow voters in all nine districts a chance to rule out the Bottom for sports stadiums and arenas.

Then, on November 4, if the voters actually choose not to set aside and protect an old neighborhood that many in Richmond have come to understand matters greatly to the nation's history, then so be it. However, most of the politicians in Richmond know perfectly well that if the voters get the opportunity on election day, the majority of them will say, “No!” to baseball in the Bottom.

Given his trouble with getting sufficient support for his so-called "revitalization" plan by City Council, if Mayor Dwight Jones and the Shockoe Stadium boosters thought they could get the endorsement of a majority of the voters, they would happily support a referendum. They might try to tell you there are all sorts of other reasons not to hold a referendum to help settle this 10-year-old debate, but don’t buy it.  

Since the baseball stadium debate began, 27 different people have served on City Council and the matter remains unsettled. Still, today I won’t speculate about why members of that body would oppose holding an advisory referendum that would allow democracy to settle the squabble and get them off the hook.

If you brush aside all the hidden agendas and gamesmanship, the solution could be as simple as yes or no. "Should Shockoe Bottom be declared a no-stadium-zone?"

Update for Background: 

This same strategy was discussed at a meeting of Referendum? Bring It On! members on Dec. 17, 2013, at Gallery 5. I called that meeting and seven others attended it. We talked for about an hour about various ways to go about stopping the new momentum toward building a stadium in Shockoe Bottom. Chiefly, we talked about a referendum.

This was also the approach to a referendum we discussed, when Paul Goldman called me on Mar. 3, 2014, to talk about joining forces to stop baseball in the Bottom. In our initial chat, he said he liked the idea. Liked it a lot. We talked a second time and agreed to invite others to a meeting to be held at the City Library on Mar. 8.

Meanwhile, on Mar. 6, Don Harrison interviewed me for his WRIR radio program, Open Source. We covered the baseball stadium issue and using a referendum as a tool to settle it. During the taping, to answer one of Don’s questions, I told him Goldman and I had talked briefly about my approach to wording the proposal and that we were in accord. The tape ran the next afternoon, a Friday. It’s on the record.

The next day at the library about 20 people showed up. Goldman told me he didn’t want to talk about the idea of allowing voters to say whether the Bottom should be declared a “No-Stadium-Zone.” Without much explanation he simply said, it wouldn’t work. I was surprised and disappointed, but since he was the expert I let it go. Goldman dominated the confab by telling lots of stories about his vast experience in politics ... if you know him, you know what I mean.

Two weeks later, at the third meeting, Goldman showed up with petition forms already printed up. That came as a surprise to some in the room. The forms had two proposals, and for the most part, the language barely resembled what the group had been leaning toward. Some of us left that meeting a bit puzzled, but determined to give it a try.

Without guessing, I can’t say what happened in the four days between my first talk with Goldman and the first meeting of the ad hoc group that subsequently decided to call itself the Citizens Referendum Group.

However, today I still think that a referendum giving voters in all nine of Richmond’s districts a chance to cordon off the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood, to protect it from a bizarrely inappropriate development that would bury aspects of Richmond's history, yet again, is the best way to resolve this longstanding debate.

While I know there are people in town who don’t particularly like this approach, for rather tangential reasons, I’ve yet to have it explained to me why -- from legal and strategic standpoints -- this wouldn’t work to finally resolve an issue that has bedeviled us for way too long. Setting aside land to serve specific purposes or be protected in specials ways, when it benefits the commonweal, is how the whole concepts of zoning laws and having public parks works.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Re-creation of Baseball Games on Radio

Photo of Frank Soden from the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame

The job I left to become manager of the Biograph Theatre was in radio. Lee Jackoway, a veteran radio and television ad salesman who was the general manager at WRNL AM/FM, hired me to sell time for the two stations. That gave me the chance to learn a great deal about advertising; the job lasted a little less than a year (in 1971).

By learning to write commercials, I also got my first taste of professional writing there. Learned a bit about production, as well. Some of my efforts were aimed at being funny, as I sometimes imagined myself as a budding Stan Freberg.

Jackoway, who could be a tyrant, took me under his wing and gave me a bunch of big accounts. That was partly because he liked me, and partly to piss off the senior salesman who he wanted to drive off. I also learned some good lessons about promotion from media buyers and account executives at local ad agencies, too.  

Jackoway sometimes liked to hold court, telling the young DJs and salesmen stories of his freewheeling days as a top salesman, working for Ziv Television. He had been a national sales rep for popular half-hour TV shows, such as "Sea Hunt" and "Home Run Derby." Traveling to markets large and small Lee sold the shows directly to local affiliates on 16 mm reels, literally out of the trunk of his Thunderbird. Lee died at the age of 78 in 2008.

During my stint at WRNL AM/FM the ownership changed from the Richmond News Leader to Rust Communications. Rust promptly changed the call letters for the FM station to WRXL.  

In 1971 WRNL AM carried lots of local sports -- the R-Braves games, college football, etc. A previous station manager there, broadcasting legend Frank Soden, who died at the age of 91 in 2010, was in and out of the station frequently, because he was still the talent for much of the station‘s sports broadcasting.

Bob Gilmore also did some of that kind of work for WRNL, as well. Before coming to Richmond, Gilmore had been the play-by-play man for the Cincinnati Reds on radio. One of my fondest memories from these days took place on an afternoon that Soden and Gilmore were trading stories about their “re-creation” era.

As a kid, I listened to Richmond V’s games on the radio. But in the late-1950s, when they were on the road, the voices I was listening to weren’t coming from press boxes in Rochester or Havana. They were in the WRNL studio in downtown Richmond. In those days for away games Soden and his partner Frank Messer would get the bare details of the game in progress by way of Western Union, or over the telephone. Then, using canned sound effects, they would re-create the game as if they were watching it live. This was done to save the money it would have cost to send the announcers on the road.

A lot of times all Soden knew was that a batter got a single, struck out, or smacked a fly ball that an outfielder caught. He might not have known what the pitch count was, etc. So he would make it up. Sometimes the sender would leave out a play entirely. Again, that called for the announcer to improvise.

With a few other guys who worked at the station as their audience, Soden and Gilmore told several stories about how they covered for times when no info would come in for 20 minutes, and other such calamities. They’d create a rain delay, or whatever they needed to keep from breaking the spell and saying what was the truth -- that they had no idea what was going on.

By 1971 re-creation was a thing of the past. As I remember it, Gilmore said he was the last guy doing re-creation broadcasts in the major leagues, when he was with the Reds in the late 1950s. It was a rare treat hearing those radio yarns, whether they were true or not. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Situational Conservatives

Remember when Republicans cried crocodile tears over sending the boy refugee, Elián González, back to Cuba? Seems like times have changed quite a bit with regard to deporting children. Now angry Republicans appear ready to instantly deport thousands of kids seeking exile back to scary countries.

Meanwhile, Republicans have demanded Obama go to the border. So, with the way the game is being played these days, Obama has refused. But I think he should announce that he wants to spend a couple of days touring the border in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. For each stop, the White House should invite the two senators from that state to join him. Democrats and Republicans. Throw in all the members of the House whose districts touch the border.

Then we’ll see who shows up.

Speaking of monumental hypocrisy, how many Republicans who have been ranting for years about passing laws to eliminate frivolous lawsuits are now onboard with Boehner’s bizarre lawsuit strategy against Obama?

One of the aspects of this unfolding story that hasn’t been covered yet is provoked by this question: Why would the Republicans want to do something that has almost no chance of working, but if it did, it would hobble future presidents in a way no president has ever faced?

Why would the GOP risk doing that to future Republican presidents?

The answer may be that some Republicans have accepted that with the way the population is changing, they aren’t likely to win the White House again for a long time. So they would be happy to diminish executive power in favor of strengthening the power of Congress.


Monday, July 07, 2014

Half-Rubber


An excellent photographer, Jack Leigh (1948-2004), was part of the Biograph Theatre’s staff in late-1973/early-1974. While he worked at the Biograph as an usher, Leigh taught me to play Half-Rubber, a game he said originated in his home town, Savannah. Half-Rubber is a three-man baseball-like game that is played with a broom handle and half of a red rubber ball.

Jack’s best known picture was snapped in 1993, when he was commissioned to shoot the photograph in a Savannah cemetery that would appear on the cover of what became a bestselling book -- “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt. Later the same photo was used to promote the movie with the same title.

When I knew him, Jack was earnest and quick-witted. He liked to play chess and talk about movies, and of course -- photography. In his Biograph days he was already a very good photographer.

Once, when we went out shooting pictures together, he snapped his shutter maybe twice. In the same amount of time, a couple of hours, I went through two rolls of Tri-X. The quiet style Jack would use throughout his career was already evident. He eventually authored six books of photographs, including "Oystering," which featured a foreword by James Dickey.

So, to kill time one warm afternoon, I cut a ball in half, ruined a broom and crossed the street with Jack and the theater’s assistant manager, Bernie Hall, to play a new three-man game. At the time there were several vacant lots on Grace Street, across from the Biograph.

It turned out the key to pitching was to throw the half-ball with a side-arm delivery, with the flat part down. That made it curve wildly and soar, somewhat like a Frisbee. Hitting or catching the damn thing was quite another matter. Oh, and hitting the ball on a bounce was OK, too. In fact, it was better to do so, from a strategic standpoint.

The pitcher threw the half-sphere in the general direction of the batter. If the batter swung and missed, and he usually did miss, the catcher did his best to catch it, which wasn't easy, either. When the catcher did catch it, providing the batter had swung, the batter was out. Then the pitcher moved to the catching position, and the catcher became the batter, and so forth. Runs were scored in a similar fashion to other home run derby-like games.

But the best reason to play, other than the laughs stemming from how foolish we looked dealing with the crazy ball, was the kick that came from hitting it. When we connected with that little red devil it left the bat like a rocket. It felt better than crushing a golf ball. Smashing it over the theater and halfway to Broad Street was a gas.

Click here to visit Jack Leigh’s online gallery.