The Blog Squad

Friday, March 30, 2007

Sara Sue Fashion Show

You know you’re a born-and-bred Richmonder if somewhere in an attic or a closet your mother has a hat by Sara Sue, the famed designer from the dearly missed Miller & Rhoads Department Store. In bygone years when women wore hats and gloves, fashionable ladies sought out Sara Sue’s custom designs. And shoppers from all over the South would head downtown to browse Miller & Rhoads and catch up on the latest gossip in the Miller & Rhoads Tea Room.

Well, you’ve got one more chance to experience the glory of Sara Sue and Miller & Rhoads. On April 14, Gwen Cooper, owner of Second Hand Rose vintage clothing boutique, will be showcasing her personal collection of Sara Sue hats at a fashion show and luncheon in Petersburg. “Sara Sue just draws people,” Cooper says, adding that the models will all wear black to better showcase the hats.

The entire afternoon will be themed around Miller & Rhoads, Richmond’s beloved department store where Sara Sue’s hats were sold. There will be memorabilia from the store on display and Olde Towne Catering will be preparing some of the original recipes from the Tea Room. Also, in honor of the Amethyst room where Sara Sue’s hats were sold, there will be a drawing for a 1940s Kramer rhinestone amethyst necklace.

The event runs from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and takes place at Olde Towne Catering, 9 W. Old St. Hats and gloves are requested. Tickets cost $25 and are available at Second Hand Rose or by phone at 733-5050.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A New Hope for the USPS?

I've read the news reports about R2-D2 mailboxes and some sort of alliance between the United States Postal Service and George Lucas' cash cow, but this is the first one I've seen in Richmond, at the corner of Cary and Nansemond. The mailbox features the Web address, which takes you to a teaser ad featuring stormtroopers, Darth Vader, C-3PO and R2-D2 acting as a mail carrier. The ad ends with the text: "On March 28 two powerful forces will unite." Which we all know probably means Star Wars stamps, but I guess we'll have to wait a couple of days for the definitive answer.

Back in my stamp-collecting heyday (i.e. elementary school), you had to look overseas for the really wacky stamps, as our own were pretty sober affairs. But that seems to have changed, what with all the media tie-ins lately.

In any case, I give this mailbox a week or so before some enterprising rebels (no, not that kind) take a blowtorch to its legs and spirit it away in the middle of the night, federal crime or no.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Where's Lee Young When You Need Him?

Remember when being embarrassed about Richmond politicians was fun?

Former and current Council member Reva Trammell “discussing crime” with a cop at 4 a.m. at the Virginia War Memorial. A shirtless Stephen Johnson, then chairman of the School Board, posting naughty bits about himself on gay dating Web sites. Former Councilman Chuck Richardson getting busted … again. Former Mayor Leonidas Young embezzling from his congregation so he could live large, in more ways than one. Former Sheriff Michelle "Miss Buns" Mitchell … well, just Michelle Mitchell. Former Councilwoman Gwen Hedgepeth, convicted of bribery-related charges. Former Councilman Raymond Royall who faked his own death to avoid federal tax charges. Faked his own death!

Aaah, the good old days.

I guess it was so entertaining precisely because we knew most of these people were dopes and that things would turn around as soon as the citizens of Richmond decided to start caring about things like elections and electing people who, you know, weren’t dopes.

Well, somewhere along the way, Richmonders got serious. They started electing big-brain, capable people to the council and the School Board. They elected a venerable former governor for mayor, for crying out loud.

So what do we get for our trouble? A mayor so embattled with the school board that he is blackmailing them into a second audit of the school system by withholding the funds they need to run the schools. We’re talking half of non-payroll funds. (That’s money for food, instructional supplies, special ed providers, or to keep soap in the dispensers, by the way. You know, nothing important …) A mayor who has backed the school board so far into a corner the only way they can scratch their way out is with a lawsuit. A City Council stuck in the middle, paralyzed like deer in the headlights.

Kind of makes you pine for the dopes, doesn’t it?



Acting Chief Administrative Officer Harry E. Black, responding to claims from school officials that his office has ordered Consolidated Bank & Trust to deny school finance employees access to the Richmond Public Schools bank account:

"The concern is the disingenuous nature of the individuals involved in this and their looseness in regard to dealing with the truth."

He certainly wouldn't want to call anyone a liar ...

The E-Train's Quick Richmond Stop

Elliott Yamin’s hometown fans had yet another chance to meet the American Idol finalist this past Wednesday, but what exactly did it take to do so? Apparently, people started lining up at Circuit City as early as 7a.m., some skipping work, some skipping school to be one of the first to get Yamin’s new album autographed.

Fortunately, as a representative of the magazine, I was able to join other media folks and spend some time with Elliott without waiting in line. I had a chance to snap some photos of Yamin when he first arrived through the back service door of the store. And his suave-looking manager was kind enough to have Yamin autograph our poster-size version of the July 2006 cover with Yamin. It was a bit surreal to see the new shaggy-haired, chiclet-toothed Yamin staring at his cover shot from a year ago, before he transformed his look.

After the press had a few minutes with him, Yamin settled down at his autograph table, his mother by his side, and I switched hats to be a fan — which means I went to the back of the line. I did want Elliott to autograph my own memorabilia, and I was willing to wait. At that point, the end of the line was three-quarters of the way around the outside of Circuit City. I was lucky I had a few friends around to chat with during the wait. Slowly but surely, we made our way to the entrance, with Circuit City reps stopping by to let us know the rules (no posed photos allowed) and Q94’s Melissa Chase saying hello. Once inside the doors, the line went straight to the back of the store, turned to the right, and headed back to the front where Yamin was sitting. Occasional screams from female fans added to the energy of the scene, but to our disappointment, Yamin made a sudden exit at exactly 8p.m. to catch a flight back to Los Angeles. More than a few pre-teen girls were left in tears after having waited more than two hours to see their idol. I felt for them, of course, and was glad I got those first few minutes with Yamin at the beginning.

Portia Zwicker
Circulation Manager

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What Goes Around ... Comes Around

Sunday night’s Justin Timberlake concert in Charlottesville was like a delayed rite of passage for me — the last concert I’d been to was Michael Bublé with my mother a year ago. And before that? Live — way back in 1997, I believe.

Blame my lack of concert experience on my limited exposure to Top 40 music as a kid. The only “cool” tapes I owned were Tiffany and New Kids on the Block. My parents very much bought into the idea that the media and the music industry were corrupting children’s minds. When my brothers smuggled in a Bobby Brown tape, it was confiscated immediately. Ironically, we rocked Michael Jackson’s Thriller LP on a regular basis.

Don’t fret — I haven’t remained musically sheltered. Thanks to a few trips to Europe, iTunes, friends who burn music for me and my husband, who has some DJ experience under his belt (and a CD collection to prove it), I now embrace all kinds of music. My iPod is home to Common (who's coming to John Paul Jones April 11, by the way), The Killers, Morrissey, The Game, Dust Brothers and Mike Doughty, to name a few. Pop’s represented, too, which brings me to Sunday night’s concert.

Our circulation manager, Portia Zwicker, and I left Richmond for C-ville around 5 p.m. After a quick bite to eat, we headed over to the John Paul Jones Arena, where we saw so many dichotomies, including mini-skirt-wearing UVA girls chugging beer in the parking lot and a mom making sure her “tween” daughter made it safely past the “security” check point.

Pink opened, although, like the T-D’s Melissa Ruggieri, I think she could have easily headlined the evening. She’s got a great voice, and she espouses just enough girl power that non-feminists aren’t turned off.

And then Justin Timberlake came on stage (for a more, er, conclusive play-by-play of the concert, check out the T-D’s blog. With my longstanding love of Michael Jackson, I was mostly impressed with JT’s dance moves.

But the absolute highlight of my evening was a surprise guest — Timbaland. I had a feeling he might show up since he hails from Virginia Beach. Timbaland and his longtime musical partner Magoo were my intro into the world of DJs and hip-hop many years ago. Most recently he’s performed and produced with artists such as JT and Nelly Furtado. I loved his mixes between JT’s sets last night.

So my first pop concert was a lot of fun, but I think I’m going to leave the late nights to those without full-time jobs. Even after countless cups of coffee, I still had a hard time staying awake through the day yesterday, and it pretty much took me all day to write this incoherent post (in between deadline work, of course). And I’m still not 100 percent two days later. The only thing that reels me back from feeling like a total old fart is the fact that the middle school-aged girl who sat next to me started to wane toward the end of the night, too.

Check out another first for me: A downloaded picture from my cell phone. This image is Justin Timberlake, obviously, projected onto a screen on the stage.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Honey? Why is that truck in our driveway?....

We live in a right-to-your-door world, where everything from your DVD rentals to your prescription medicines (and in New York, your pot, according to NPR) arrive at your door as if by magic. So I can’t say I was actually surprised to be riding alongside an SUV yesterday on Robious Road emblazoned on the side with “PATERNITY DNA PROFESSIONALS -- WE’LL COME TO YOU.” But still, I must say, I was a little thrown. Because it’s one thing to accept the reality that this service, like any other, would be available to you in the privacy and discretion of your own home, but there was the catch. PATERNITY DNA PROFESSIONALS -- WE’LL COME TO YOU. Can you imagine that truck pulling up to your house? I tried to picture any scenario under which that would be a comfortable situation and couldn’t do it, with the possible exception of “Oh, Marge,” she says, poking her nose over her privacy fence, “isn’t it wonderful? We just found out we may be blood relations of Warren Buffet! Keep your fingers crossed!” But that seems, well, unlikely. And so, that truck -- PATERNITY DNA PROFESSIONALS -- WE’LL COME TO YOU rolls into driveways all over town presumably under circumstances that call for the utmost discretion. I wondered if, perhaps, the driver/swabber keeps a stash of magnetic door signs in the trunk to slap on the door just before arriving, like, MATERNITY DOC PROFESSIONALS -- WE’LL COME TO YOU or FRATERNITY DETOX PROFESSIONALS -- WE’LL COME TO YOU or PIZZA HUT.

But maybe I’m off-base. Maybe it doesn’t bother people to have a PATERNITY DNA PROFESSIONALS truck parked outside their house. Maybe some people, as my mother would say, have no shame. Most of the rest of us, I’m sure, would choose to handle these matters in the discreet setting of a public courthouse.


And just a word, if you don't mind, about last night's big game.

I, like millions of other people, pay attention to basketball, for only a few weeks a year. I can’t tell you the last time I watched an entire basketball game, except for last night. I hope you will forgive my fair-weatherness. In fact, I hope even if you are a die-hard VCU Rams fan, that you will welcome it, embrace it. Because moments like last night, when Eric Maynor hit that jump shot with less than two seconds on the clock to knock Duke out of the first round of the NCAA tournament and advance VCU into the second round, are less about basketball than they are about a whole city being able to celebrate in unison. It’s about civic pride and love of hometown and all those things you can’t sell in a Chamber of Commerce power point presentation. I’m guessing that VCU won’t win the whole thing. Neither did Elliott Yamin. Didn’t matter with Elliott. Won’t matter with VCU. They’ve all made us proud. Good show.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Books and Bikes Out of the Bag

We’ve been having some blog issues here at Richmond magazine (we’ve never claimed to be technically savvy, folks), so I didn’t get to post about this when it was actual new news, but it’s so cool that I’m doing it anyway.

The genius that is Ward Tefft never ceases to amaze me. His used bookstore, Chop Suey Books (1317 W. Cary St.), is not only a wealth of hard-to-find reads, but it also hosts such cultural offerings as concerts by One Ring Zero, art exhibits and the 24-Hour Bookman event.

Books on Wheels, Tefft’s latest venture, takes him on the road with friend Shelley Briggs, a graduate student in social work at Virginia Commonwealth University. The pair has purchased an old school bus — the Mo’ Book Mo’ Bike Mobile — and is traveling the South through March 16, giving away free books and providing free bike repairs to children and adolescents who might not otherwise be connected with either pursuit. Donations of books, money, bikes, bike parts, etc., are welcome. Also look for the Mo’ Book Mo’ Bike Mobile around town in the future.

And speaking of One Ring Zero, did anyone check out Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp at Gallery5 a few weeks ago? Those guys can seriously jam out on a claviola, theremin and the occasional box of kitty litter.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

City Noise

This afternoon brought a couple happenings of note in the city of Richmond.

Most significantly, Mayor L. Douglas Wilder’s spokesman announced that William A. Harrell, the city’s chief administrative officer, had resigned his position to take the job of city manager in Chesapeake. On the surface, it appears to be a benign event at City Hall — Harrell hails from Chesapeake, and at worst, the manager job could be seen as a lateral move.

In the press release from the mayor’s office, Wilder said: “I would like to thank Mr. Harrell for his services to the City of Richmond over the years, and I am sure that he will serve the City of Chesapeake well. Having spent most of his career as a ‘city manager in training,’ I am confident that Mr. Harrell will be able to hit the ground running in Chesapeake now that he is returning to his hometown.”

Also today, the independent radio station WRIR and its downstairs neighbor, The Camel, managed to circumvent what had potential for becoming a legal tete-a-tete.

The Camel, billing itself as “Richmond’s New Social Oasis,” opened early this month on the ground floor of 1621 W. Broad St., just beneath the radio station.

Days after The Camel’s grand opening on March 3, WRIR issued an e-mail to its volunteers, its board and The Camel’s CEO Farid Alan Schintzius. It openly stated WRIR’s grievances and strongly suggested legal action if The Camel didn’t correct the problem:

“When there is amplified live music at The Camel, it is quite audible in WRIR's studios and offices. In fact, it shakes the floors and other structural members of the building. This transmitted noise makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for WRIR to operate. Production of pre-recorded programming can't take place while there is live amplified music at The Camel. Broadcasts are accompanied by the sound of background music coming through the studio microphones. And it's very difficult for WRIR volunteers to think, write, converse or concentrate with the continuous thud of bass vibrations.”

I spoke with Schintzius this morning, and he wholeheartedly agreed with WRIR’s assessment, even marveling at the amplification properties of the building’s brick and wood. He told me he saw the issue more as an opportunity than a problem, and as WRIR suggested, he’s taking steps to soundproof The Camel and insulate the upper floor from any sonic overspill.

Of course, he says, it’s going to take a fair piece of change – how much is unclear — so he’s planning a fundraiser in association with, appropriately, the experimental music collective 804noise.

But this afternoon WRIR sent out a follow-up e-mail announcing that the station and The Camel planned, in the near term, to coordinate broadcasting schedules and live performances downstairs to avoid future conflicts. And beyond mid-March, according to WRIR’s latest e-mail, The Camel had agreed to schedule only acoustic music in its space until the soundproofing is in place.

It seems there may be a slight wrinkle since the upcoming fundraiser features the participation of 804noise, which seem to suggest some electronic sound in the house. Maybe not.

However, if you’re so inclined to join the fray — to both put an end to noise and give rise to it — you can show up at The Camel on April 7 at 7 p.m. when the events begin. Schintzius says the evening will also include a silent art auction. “We’re calling for ‘noisy’ art,” he says, adding, “whatever that means.”

Monday, March 12, 2007

Buz Vs. Bobby

The Food Network was in town today filming an episode of the channel's Throwdown! with Bobby Flay, in which celebrity chef Bobby Flay travels around the country taking on all comers in Iron Chef-style cooking duels. The twist is that the competitions are a surprise to the local folks, who don't know that the cook-offs are coming. Celebrated chef and author Anthony Bourdain recently delivered a smackdown of the concept (and a lot of the Food Network's programming), describing Throwdown! as "a cruel exercise in humiliation," the humiliated party being Flay, who, Bourdain suggests, is being forced to compete against his lessers in "a variation on 'Dunk Bozo' or 'Shoot The Geek,' at the carnival."

Admittedly, we've got a rooting interest, but we're thinking Flay was battling an equal, at least in the realm of barbecue, when he threw down today with Boulevard mainstay Bruce "Buz" Grossberg, of Buz & Ned's Real Barbecue fame, in a battle over who has the best ribs.

Richmond magazine's own Dave McCormack was on hand to judge the results alongside Style Weekly's Food & Drink editor Deveron Timberlake, and while we're not going to spoil the results for you (we're told the episode will air in May; not coincidentally, Dave plans to write about the experience for his Off Center column in our May issue), we will say that it sounds like they had quite a difficult decision to make in picking a winner — and judging a barbecued-ribs competition sounds like one heck of a way to spend the day.

Friday, March 09, 2007

To Bee or Not to Bee

Bees are important. Really, I would not want to give anyone the impression that I do not value the bee with respect to the ecological world, nor that I mock the role of the beekeeper in our society. But still.

We’ve been warned since the early '70s about the imminent arrival of the killer bees. They made TV movies of the week about it (starring Kate Jackson!). Every few years or so, the story still pops up in the newspaper. We were made to worry: People, the bees are coming! Millions and millions! Run for your lives!

Now, according to this morning’s Times-Dispatch we must worry again about the bees, but this time because they are disappearing. (Different bees, I know.) Collapsing colonies, mites, starvation -- all threaten Virginia’s bee population and therefore pollination and honey production.

Again, not that I don’t care deeply about the $220 per hive the beekeeper loses every time he or she loses a hive, but I still puzzled as I stared at my paper this morning and the giant picture of the tiny creatures. What is wrong with this picture? (Well, other than it being a little dull in its composition, with no framing or scale … Oh, never mind …) My eyes drifted lazily across the dozen items vying for my attention when I found it: down in the lower right corner of the page —— “Democrats call for pulling out of Iraq in ’08.”

I realized I was feeling a slight sense of news vertigo. Everything was topsy-turvy, off balance. The T-D’s front page lately has seemed like a desperate buffet trying to please everyone from the human shovel to the pickiest eater. The other day, the front page featured chunklets on Elliot Yamin, the astronaut chick with the diaper, the George Washington gold dollar and the non-news story that some people never claim their lottery winnings.

Has anyone else noticed this change in the front page? Does it bother anyone but me?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Seinfeld's Soupman Comes to Richmond

As a former resident of New York City, I was lucky enough to regularly lunch on delicious soups created by a true master of the form — Al Yeganeh, better known as the real-life inspiration for the Soup Nazi character on Seinfeld. Funny as that episode was, I always felt like Yeganeh got a bad rap. (And apparently he feels the same way, since Rule No. 2 for the press on his Web site reads “No ‘N’ word.”) The harshly enforced rules at his soup stand did exactly what they promised — kept the line moving for “the most efficient and fastest service.” In my experience, the only people who got tossed were those annoying creatures who are always holding the rest of us up at lunchtime by waiting until they’re at the head of the line to decide on their order or figure out if they’ve got enough money.

Of course, Yeganeh could afford to lose the occasional customer because he really delivered the goods (that part Seinfeld definitely got right). It wasn’t cheap — the best things in life rarely are — but along with a very generously portioned cup of delicious soup (my fave was the turkey chili, but I’d also occasionally dip into the chicken gumbo or the beef goulash), you’d get a piece of crusty bread, fresh fruit and a chocolate with each order. It was always an occasion for sadness around my office whenever Yeganeh would close up shop in the warmer months, just as it was an occasion for joy when he returned.

Now there’s an occasion for joy in Richmond: Yeganeh’s soups are available locally in the freezer section at Ukrop’s (and Joe’s Market) under The Original SoupMan label. Apparently while I’ve been away from Manhattan, Yeganeh has franchised out his restaurant concept (closest location is in Tysons Corner, sadly) and his soups are now sold in 15-ounce packages at grocery stores. (You can also buy the soup online, but shipping costs are a bit prohibitive.) The cost ranges from $3.99 for garden vegetable to $6.49 for jambalaya, and Progresso and Campbell’s simply can’t compare. Needless to say, I’ve stocked up. A couple nights ago, I heated up some turkey chili, and the turkey and kidney beans bathing in a spicy tomato base reminded me of why I used to make the trip to Yeganeh’s Soup Kitchen International on 55th St.