Friday, September 19, 2014

Richmond Magazine on 'Building the Bijou'

 

Writing for Richmond Magazine about the Bijou Film Center’s first fundraiser, Stephanie Manley provides background:
Parrish and Rea, who are both deeply involved in the arts community in Richmond, have focused much of their careers on film. (Rea was manager of the Biograph Theatre and Parrish co-founded the James River Film Society).

In addition to constructing their own theater, Parrish and Rea decided that attaching it to a café would create a more successful business. The partners also frequently returned their discussion to their love of film preservation, which led them to add to their business plan a center devoted to transferring small-format amateur films to digital.
Click here to read the entire article, "Building the Bijou."

On Sunday, September 21, at 6 p.m. the Bijou Film Center will present “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) at the Byrd Theatre.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How Many Previous “Confidentiality Agreements” Have There Been?

Why should members of City Council sign a “confidentiality agreement” to do with Byron Marshall leaving his $181,560-a-year job at City Hall?

To say Mayor Dwight Jones' secrecy policy in this affair stinks to high heaven is obviously an understatement. Hopefully, the Freedom of Information Act will soon allow for taxpayers to better understand Marshall’s mysterious “departure.” 
City Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell said she had not been told anything because she refused to sign.

“I told them it’s going to be a cold day in hell before I sign anything like that,” said Trammell, 8th District. “I think it’s a damn shame that everything we do we’ve got to go sign something to keep the taxpayers of Richmond in the dark.”
Click here to read Graham Moomaw’s “Mayor‘s Office Mum on Marshall Departure” in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Now, on top of knowing why Marshall quit, or was fired, I want to know how many such “confidentiality agreements” have City Council members signed since Mayor Jones took office?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lohmann: "Cinema Plan Taps Into Downtown's Potential."

Terry Rea and James Parrish in front of Anchor Studios.


In his RT-D piece about the Bijou Film Center concept and the first fundraiser Bill Lohmann writes:
James T. Parrish Jr. and F.T. “Terry” Rea, film fans and co-founders of this venture, have taken the first step toward opening a small, storefront cinema and café in the city’s Arts and Cultural District along Broad Street east of Belvidere.

The independent, nonprofit project is called the Bijou Film Center, and as a kickoff event, the Beatles’ classic, “A Hard Day’s Night,” which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, will be shown at the Byrd Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 21, at 6 p.m.
 
Click here to read, "Cinema Plan Taps Into Downtown's Potential."

Starting in October, the Bijou Film Center's first workspace will be a basement studio at Anchor Studios in the Arts District.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Bijoumania!

Terry Rea, former manager of the Biograph, and James Parrish, 
co-founder of the James River Film Society, are launching their new 
Bijou Film Center project with a showing of the 50th anniversary restored 
version of the Beatles film, “A Hard Day’s Night” at the Byrd Theater.

For STYLE Weekly's Fall Arts Preview issue, Brent Baldwin writes:
Parrish attended the last three Art House Convergence gatherings held by the Sundance Institute and notes that 80 percent of the country’s art house cinemas are nonprofits — places such as the Castro and the Roxie in San Francisco, the Austin Film Society in Texas, and the Charles in Baltimore. He’s convinced that Richmond is ready to support a community-based, mission-driven art house cinema.

“We need a place where we can see great little films, a place where we can eat, drink, and talk about these films,” he says. “ A place that helps filmmakers and anyone with a home movie they don’t know what to do with.”
Click here to read the entire article, which explains the Bijou Film Center concept and devotes some ink to the Bijou's first fundraiser.

Click here to visit the Facebook event page for the one-time-only screening of "A Hard Day's Night" on September 21.

-- Photo by Scott Elmquist for STYLE Weekly.

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Strange Case of Gus the Cat

Note: This piece was published by Richmond.com in 2000. 

Though cynical people like to say, “All cats are gray in the dark,” the difference between this and that counts with me. Thus, if for no other purpose than to satisfy my own curiosity, I set out to find the truth about Gus, the cat that had long presided over lower Carytown from his plush basket in a bookstore display window facing the street.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-ohaIkmTZU_0/TYOKL0YuoAI/AAAAAAAAAxw/v5kt5utrTbc/s1600/gusstacywarner.jpg

The mystery began in the course of a casual conversation about re-makes of old movies. Film aficionado Ted Salins, a regular among the society of conversationalists who gather at the tables on the sidewalk in front of Coffee & Co., tossed out that the cat living next door in Carytown Books is not the “original” Gus.

Since I’ve known Salins, a writer/filmmaker/house-painter, for a long time, I suspected his charge was a setup for a weak joke. To give him room to operate I asked, “So, this Gus is an impostor?”

“Just like Lassie, several cats have played the role of Gus over the years,” Salins said matter-of-factly.

Until that moment it hadn’t occurred to me that Gus, someone else’s cat, had slowly become important to me over the years. In the past I’ve been told that he’s over 15, maybe pushing 20. Who can say what that is in cat years? He still has a few teeth left.

“You see, in ‘91 I had lost my beloved Skinkywinkydinky in a separation,” Salins went on, as if revealing a dark conspiracy. “When I first saw Gus, I took to him because he reminded me of Skinky. That Gus wouldn't let you touch him. But, this Gus…”

“Ted, this is absolutely the most off-the-wall nonsense you’ve come up with yet,” I accused.

“The place has changed hands a few times since then,” Salins smugly offered. “The problem is each owner falls in love with the cat and keeps it. But since Gus has become an institution in Carytown, each set of new owners has to find another cat that looks like Gus. The switch is made at night in order to preserve the secret. I’ve seen it.”

Before I could say “horsefeathers,” another member of the Carytown intelligentsia, who had just walked up, spoke: “Salins, as usual you’re all wet,” said artist Jay Bohannan. “That is not only the same cat, but Gus is, let’s see, yes, he’s nearly 70. That particular cat is probably the oldest cat this side of the island of Lamu.”

I laughed at Bohannan’s crack and excused myself from the table to let them hash it out. The two of them have been arguing good-naturedly since their VCU art school days in the early ‘70s.

Walking toward my car, Ted’s suggestion of a fraud having been perpetrated on the public bothered me. I felt certain that if somebody had actually installed a faux Gus in the bookstore it would have been all over the street the next day. As I tried to imagine people spiriting nearly identical cats in and out of the back door, in the dead of night, the matter wouldn’t rest.

So I turned around and went into Carytown Books. The shop’s manager, Kelly Justice, who has worked there for six years under three editions of ownership, scoffed at Salins’ charge.

“Anyone who knows Ted, knows he’s a nitwit,” said Ms. Justice with a wry smile. “More likely than not, this is an attempt to raise funds for another one of his documentaries.”

When I told her about Bohannan’s equally outrageous suggestion that Gus was almost a septuagenarian, Justice laughed out loud. “Perhaps Jay and Ted are both trying to hitch their wagons to Gus’ star,” she suggested playfully.

Back outside, Salins and Bohannan were both gone. So I walked east on the block to Bygones, the collectable clothing and memorabilia store known for its artful window displays. Since Maynee Cayton, the shop’s proprietor, is an unofficial historian for the neighborhood, I decided to see what she knew about Gus.

Cayton, who has been at that location for 16 years, said she had some pictures of the block from the ’30s and ‘40s, but she didn’t think she had any shots of a bookstore cat. However, she did remember that when she was a child she saw a gray and white cat in the window of what was then the Beacon Bookstore.

“It was in the late ’60s, I think it was 1967,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “And I’d say it was a young cat. Either way, I can’t believe the feline impersonator story, so maybe it was Gus.”

The next day, Bohannan called on the phone to tell me he had something I needed to see right away. He was mysterious about it and wouldn’t explain what he was talking about, except to say that it was proof of his claim about Gus the Cat.

Unable to let it go, I told him I’d stop by his place to see what proof he had.

Bohannan’s apartment, located between Carytown and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, was an escape from the modern world altogether. It’s furnished in a pleasant mix of practical artifacts and curiosities from yesteryear. The heavy black telephone on his desk was almost as old as Jay. Next to the desk was a turn-of-the-century gramophone. Bohannan, himself, dressed like a character who just stepped out of a Depression-era RKO film, reached into a dog-eared manila folder and pulled out a photograph. When I asked him where he had gotten the picture, purportedly from about 1930, he shrugged.

In such a setting, his evidence of Gus’ longevity took on an eerie authenticity. Sitting in one of Bohannan’s ancient oak chairs, surrounded by his own paintings of scenes from Virginia’s past, I thought I could see the cat he claimed was depicted in the storefront’s window. Why, it even looked like Gus.

Jay told me I could keep the photo, it was just a Xerox copy. What a scoop!

Later, when I looked at the grainy picture at home, I could hardly even see a cat. The next day, back in Carytown, I spoke with several people who hang out or work in the neighborhood. A few actually thought Bohannan’s bizarre contention could be true. Others agreed with Salins.

One man, who refused to be quoted with attribution, said he was sure the original Gus was an orange cat. A woman looked up from her crossword puzzle to note that Bohannan's evidence was at least as good as what she'd seen on the Loch Ness Monster.

Then the whole group of chatty know-it-alls went off on the general topic of conspiracy theories and hoaxes. At the next table a woman in a straw hat started sketching the sidewalk scene.

A few days later, I saw Ted Salins holding court in front of the coffee shop. I told him what Kelly had said about his claim and I showed him Jay’s so-called proof that Gus is ancient.

“The next thing you’re going to tell me is Shakespeare actually wrote all those plays," Ted said mockingly. "Look, it’s not the same cat. Live with it. This Gus is a ringer, maybe three years old.”

Turning around, I looked through the storefront’s glass at good old Gus in his usual spot. He looked comfortable with a new electric heater under the blanket in his basket. It dawned on me that there was a time when Gus used to avoid me, as well. Now he seems happy for me to pet him, briefly.

Pulled back into the spell of the mystery, I wondered, had Gus changed or had I? Gus stared back at me and blinked. Like one of his favorite authors, J. D. Salinger, Gus wasn’t talking.

Gus was smiling as only a cat can; a smile that suggests equal parts of wisdom-of-the-ages and dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers. One obvious truth about Gus the Cat was that he had grown quite accustomed to having a public.

*

Note: The photo of Gus was taken by Stacy Warner for Richmond.com. On June 19, 2001 a cat alleged to have been the authentic Gus the Cat was found dead in Carytown Books; he was estimated by the bookstore's spokesperson to have been about 18 years old.

Have You Got Your Ticket, Yet?

https://www.facebook.com/events/681330548611741/
Click here for more information at the Bijou Backlight. 
Click here to visit the Facebook event page.
Click here to buy tickets online.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

About Advance Tickets to 'A Hard Day's Night'


On September 21 "A Hard Day's Night" (1964)
will be screened at the Byrd Theatre. 

  • The show starts at 6 p.m.
  • Admission is $7 at the box office.
  • Before the day of the show advance tickets are available at Bygones Vintage Clothing and Steady Sounds for $5. 
  • The proceeds of the screening will benefit the Bijou Film Center and the Byrd Theatre Foundation’s “Journey to the Seats.” The film will play one time only. 
  • The after-party at the New York Deli starts at 8:15 p.m., where The Taters will play live; no cover charge. 
  • To visit the event's Facebook page click here

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Sept. 21: 'A Hard Day's Night'

On Sunday, September 21, 2014, the Bijou Film Center will present a classic film followed by some splendid live music to launch its fundraising effort and begin putting the story of its mission before Richmond's movie-loving public.

4 p.m.: Thirsty admirers of the eye-catching Beatlemania window in Bygones will cross the street to take advantage of a special Happy Hour getting underway at Portrait House, 2907 West Cary Street.  It will offer Fab Four fans a selection of themed drink specials at attractive prices.

6:05 p.m.: From the stage in front of the screen at The Byrd Theatre, James Parrish and Terry Rea will introduce the feature attraction, “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964), which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The sound and picture have been newly restored. And, perhaps a wee surprise will be served up. 

6:30 p.m.: “A Hard Day’s Night,” starring the Beatles in their first movie, will be screened. Shot in glorious black and white the motion picture runs 87 minutes.

8:15 p.m.: At the New York Deli, The Taters will start their first of two sets of live music. Drink specials will be available. And, yeah! yeah! yeah! The Taters will do some Beatles-related material.

Admission to the screening will be $7 at the box office. Up until the day of the show, advance tickets will be available for $5 at Bygones Vintage Clothing and Steady Sounds and online at Eventbrite for $5 plus processing fee ($1.27). 

There will be no cover charge at the Portrait House or at the New York Deli -- free admission!  

The proceeds from the screening will be split evenly by the non-profit Byrd Theatre Foundation’s “Journey to the Seats” and the Bijou Film Center (a non-profit work-in-progress).

https://www.facebook.com/bijoubacklight?fref=nf 

Click here to visit the Facebook event page. 

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.