Tuesday, May 31, 2005


A television crisis which erupted during our recent road trip is finally settled. No longer will Columbus residents have to change the name of the game to "Where in the World is Amy Giuliano?"

Someone in the know told me Monday Amy Giuliano left WRBL for a job with St. Francis Medical Center. Given everything that's happened at her old station, she may be qualified as be an expert in psychological counseling there....

Amy Giuliano is now on the public relations staff at St. Francis Medical Center, after several years in television news. There are several conclusions we could draw from this. For one thing, she doesn't need to wake up at 3:00 a.m. anymore. For another thing, Teresa Whitaker's job as WRBL evening news anchor may be very secure.

(This may be a good hiring decision for St. Francis - because let's face it, Amy Giuliano is much more gorgeous on the air than Debbie Buckner at Doctor's Hospital.)

Amy Giuliano is the latest in a series of WRBL journalists to leave for public relations work. Jennifer Pauli went to the Columbus Museum. Anne Marie Gregory took a job in Americus. And I'm surprised Brian Sharpe hasn't replaced Mike Gaymon, hosting those Chamber of Commerce talk shows.

Other TV reporters leave the air in Columbus for different reasons. If you're wondering where Kristi Angevine has gone, she tells me she moved to San Diego "for love." And who wouldn't love to move to San Diego - except maybe for occasional wildfires?

For some reason, not many reporters leave Columbus for TV jobs in big cities anymore. You may have seen an exception to that rule on TV-16 Monday night. Former East Alabama journalist Amanda Croker anchored the news on the small "American News Network" based in Atlanta. It's so small, I think some infomercials have more viewers....

There are only a small number of other things to talk about, at the end of the Memorial Day weekend:

+ Which Columbus TV personality is being credited for preventing a serious fire at Lakebottom Park? I'm told this person moved quickly to put out a small brush fire over the weekend -- perhaps forgetting TV news crews love to put fires on the air.

+ Columbus High School advanced to the Georgia AAA baseball finals, by sweeping South Effingham. The first win took eight innings - so I suppose we should resist the urge to grade the visitors an F-ingham.

+ Auburn University's baseball team received a number-two seed to an NCAA regional in Tallahassee - even though the Tigers failed to qualify for the eight-team Southeastern Conference tournament. The NCAA must not be selling enough merchandise this year....

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Monday, May 30, 2005


It was sad to learn Sunday evening that the predicted Georgia highway death toll for Memorial Day weekend has been passed already. If you're out driving on this holiday, PLEASE don't be as sloppy as those NASCAR drivers were in Charlotte....

I beat the holiday rush, of course, by going on a long road trip before Memorial Day. I wound up traveling about 2,500 miles in eight days - with NO cruise control on my car. It was almost enough to prepare me to audition for a Hopalong Cassidy movie.

Part of the road trip took me across Interstate 40 from Oklahoma City (through Carrie Underwood's Checotah, Oklahoma) to Memphis. And in the green hills of western Arkansas, a state trooper lurked in the middle of the highway. I almost wonder why his car wasn't teal blue, to blend into the scenery.

With the speed limit at 70 miles per hour, I went around a bend at 75 and saw the trooper's car. I slowed at once to 65 -- realizing without cruise control, I still need to learn how to use the left foot on my accelerator or balance.

The Arkansas trooper's car came out of hiding after I passed. I stayed at 65 miles per hour, watching him in my rear-view mirror. I'd already fouled up my budget for the trip, finding the one suburban Oklahoma City "cut-rate" motel costing me $54 for a night.

After about 30 seconds, the trooper turned on his blinking lights. They're not "blue light specials" in Arkansas - more yellow with hints of red, as if pulled-over drivers are in for a "fall."

After thinking it over, I still can't recall the last time I was pulled over by ANY law officer short of a driver's license checkpoint. The only tickets I've received in 21 years as a Georgia resident were for a couple of crashes in 1994. Just because they happened on the same day at opposite ends of the same highway entrance ramp was a mere coincidence....

I tend to be a weirdo on the highway - a driver who actually tries to stick to the speed limit. People told me for years in Atlanta that was impossible. But if you can keep the 18-wheelers from shoving you onto the shoulder of I-285, this IS possible.

But here I faced potential trouble for going 75 in a 70 mile-per-hour zone -- and with a Georgia tag on my car in Arkansas. Before you ask: no, I didn't even think of any college football jokes to tell the officer....

I knew to reach for my drivers' license and insurance card -- but surprise number one occurred when the trooper came to the passenger's side window to seek them. Perhaps he saw that tape from Minnesota of a law officer getting plowed over by a passing car. And perhaps that's why he wanted me to open the door -- to protect him further.

I reached my vital papers through the passenger's window and unlocked the door. But the trooper probably could see my passenger's seat was filled with a briefcase. If the guy was a fraud, he couldn't carjack me without banging his head into the ceiling of my Honda.

Then it was time for questioning - but the Arkansas trooper never brought up speeding. "Is this car supposed to be red?" You see how courteous I was - by slowing to 65 miles per hour, he had plenty of time to do a vehicle check on me.

"When I bought this car, the sticker said it was red," I explained - and that's true. Only it's not Georgia Bulldog red. If anything, it's cranberry red - even darker than those Arkansas football uniforms with funny-looking pigs on the helmets.

"Have you had this car painted?" he asked. "It sure isn't red." No, I hadn't -- although Continental Carbon certainly tried to paint it black with air pollution.

The Arkansas state trooper wanted to know where I was going and where I had been. "I went to a niece's commencement."

"A commencement? Is that like a graduation?" Why yes, it was. In fact, they're sort of the same thing - although I didn't dare ask the officer if he'd been part of either one.

"Are you a professor?" he asked next. I did have a beard, grown for more than two weeks. People at church said it would make me look distinguished -- maybe just distinguished enough to be picked out of a state trooper's lineup.

"No, I'm not a professor," I replied.

"I thought you said something about a thesis."

"No, it was my niece's commencement." Imagine if I'd told the officer I worked for T-SYS.

"What does that mean?" The state trooper still was stumped.

"Well, my older brother has three daughters...." And you thought people in Arkansas knew all about family bloodlines - maybe a bit too personally at times.

Finally the trooper seemed to get my point. "I'd never heard of a 'niece's' before." Maybe he came from a family of monks.

The Arkansas state trooper reviewed my license and insurance card - then said: "You take care." This apparently was one of those "routine traffic stops" they mention on TV newscasts. Yes, civil rights leaders -- they actually DO occur sometimes....

(Instant Message to all Columbus Police officers: If this trooper from another state pulled me over and found no reason to punish me, you don't have to keep following me around downtown.)

After being polite to this seemingly puzzled trooper all this time, I finally gave him some helpful advice as I reclaimed my insurance card. "I really DID save a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to Geico."

Now some other notes to officially wrap up our latest BLOG SPECIAL EVENT:

+ A bus from the People's Baptist Church in Morrow, Georgia passed me on Interstate 24 in Kentucky. I was tempted to follow it for a while -- to see if people were heading for that Harrah's casino just across the Ohio River in Illinois.

+ Why is it that the mile markers going northbound in Kentucky are sometimes two-tenths of a mile off? In other words, a one-mile distance really is 1.2 miles. Is this a sneaky plot to pull over at a gas station, for an odometer checkup?"

+ Hopkinsville, Kentucky has a radio station with the call letters WHOP. In parts of New York state, I doubt this combination would be tolerated....

+ As I stopped for dinner at a McDonald's in Paducah, Kentucky, a group of Amish-looking people walked in the door. The women had long look-alike dresses and head covers. The men had long black coats. But they must have walked to the restaurant from somewhere - because no horses were tied down anywhere.

+ As I drove across the Kansas City area on Interstate 435, I was passed by a black four-by-four with a Missouri "DARTH V" license plate. These Star Wars movie promoters will stop at nothing....

+ As for that niece's commencement in Kansas: I almost lost track of other relatives after the ceremony because I picked up four University of Kansas soda cups from the football stadium bleachers. I think they understood when I explained: "They're letting perfectly good dinnerware go to waste."

+ How in the world can Emporia, Kansas have a freestanding Starbucks Coffee shop, while Columbus still does not? Emporia has fewer than 30,000 people -- and I doubt that many drivers of cattle trucks have Starbucks taste buds.

+ My pastor predicted in early April he was "almost positive" gas prices would reach $2.50 a gallon by Memorial Day - yet the most expensive fill-up I had was for $2.07 a gallon in Forrest City, Arkansas. At this rate, the minister's lengthy insights into "prophetic trends" are going to lose me....

+ The return trip took me down the planned Interstate 22, from Memphis to Birmingham. For all the nice words from Alabama Governor Bob Riley, why hasn't he mentioned Mississippi's section of the four-lane highway is finished -- while Alabama's portion still has a couple of slow detours?

(And how far into Jefferson County is I-22 going to go? It took me about 30 minutes to drive from the county line to Interstate 20 in mid-afternoon - so maybe they need to build a bicycle lane instead.)

+ I hadn't driven through Birmingham in years, and didn't realize the well-to-do suburbs south of town had Spectrum stations. Customers there might see the signs promoting the Mustang giveaway from "Fox 54," and conclude that's the year when the car was made.

COMING THIS WEEK: A local civil rights leader seeks online fame....

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Sunday, May 29, 2005


Millard Fuller surrendered Saturday, in one of his quarrels with Habitat for Humanity. He'll no longer call his housing charity "Building Habitat" - since all that name really did was build a controversy.

Habitat for Humanity sued Millard Fuller over the charity name "Building Habitat." [12 May] Fuller explained Saturday he doesn't want to waste either group's money on a lawsuit. A long legal case might make the final winner "Lodging for Lawyers."

Millard Fuller held a ceremony in Americus to unveil a sign with his group's new name - the "Fuller Center" for Housing. But does he really think his legal problems will disappear? Just wait until the Fuller Brush Company finds out about this....

(There's also a Fuller Theological Seminary in southern California. Students could get confused, and think the biblical "mansions" mentioned in classes really exist in the deep South.)

Millard Fuller says he's raised almost two million dollars for his new charity. AFLAC pledged one million of that, not long after employees built a Habitat for Humanity house in Columbus. Maybe if I started a group called "Building Blogs," AFLAC will pay for my retirement.

The Habitat for Humanity office in Americus released a statement, calling the name change by Millard Fuller a "positive step." But the board probably hoped for more steps than that - such as Fuller walking all the way to Columbus, and putting his headquarters there.

Despite the name change, Habitat for Humanity warns it still considers Millard Fuller liable for damages from the "Building Habitat" name. That's the thing about these housing charities - if they can't nail something, they'll nail somebody.

Millard Fuller says he wants to provide items for Habitat for Humanity projects. But the way this is going, will Habitat accept anything the new agency offers? Will the Fuller Center wind up putting contractors on "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" out of business?

E-MAIL UPDATE: Our Saturday topic concerned the tall statue planned outside the Columbus Public Library. This message is much less philosophical than ours was:

Subject: Library's $250,000 abstract statue, the "Nothingness Statue"

AKA " Wade's Waste" and "Polleys' Folly"

The Library Committee's Art Committee secretly approved the purchase of a statue for the exterior of the Library (not the Art Museum) for $250,000 in an unpublicized Oct. 2004 meeting. The announcement of the contract was made public the last week of May 2005. The contract was purportedly signed by the School Board delegated authority, the Library's Art Committee.

The School Board should be held accountable for the expenditure, as they are the body that enabled the Committee that approved it.

Does The Muscogee County School Board have the political will to dissolve the Art Committee's authority to waste $250,000 on nothingness?

Should the statuary contract be placed on hold until the School Board has had time to review the expenditure?

Does the School Board realize that the people in this city will hold them accountable for wasting $250,000 of taxpayer money on Nothingness while only spending $1 million on books. It is additionally obscene to do that in a city that has law officers who are paid, from a separate fund, but are on food stamps. Isn't this the height of egocentric selfishness by a few rich and truly uninformed people who want to show the world that they "UNDERSTAND" art.

The Library is for the entire community rather than a tribute to the stupidity of the Art Committee's acceptance of the myth foisted on the public that abstract statuary is an accepted representation of something that is at one and the same time nebulously indefinable and representing the highest good for the greatest number.

The Nothingness Statue does not represent an ideal, a people, a nation, a loss or a sacrifice. It does not represent anything. It is a myth that is fraudulently foisted on the public. The emperor is naked!

They could have spent the money on just about anything else like a playground for handicapped children or just about a thousand other things that would serve the public good in a far greater way than a statue that provides no meaning to anything or anyone.

The School Board can delegate the authority but they cannot delegate the responsibility.

Deborah Owens


I think I get Deborah's point, but she should keep one thing in mind. Jerry Seinfeld said his TV series was all about nothing -- and it not only made him millions of dollars, it's become a national favorite.

Is the $250,000 for this library statue actually coming from "taxpayer money?" After all, the library collects income in other ways. If everyone in Columbus will buy two of those big two-dollar brownies in the café, that ought to cover it....

I'm not so sure the "Nothingness Statue" fails to represent anything. Consider what used to be on the Columbus Public Library site. "Nothingness" could tell the story of the final years of Columbus Square mall.

Now let's try to make something from these other weekend items:

+ Which Columbus church pastor told his congregation in the middle of a sermon: "It was GOD who made the flowers you see here!" - only to learn after the service the flowers were silk and artificial? He's been pastor of this group about ten years, so you'd think he'd do a smell test....

+ Rigdon Road Elementary School announced all its third and fifth-grade students passed the CRCT test. As a reward, the third-graders will get new bicycles, the fifth-graders will go to Disney World this summer - and their relieved teachers will be spared the task of updating and mailing new resumes.

+ A fund-raising event in Columbus for the Children's Miracle Network featured "Hooter's girls" outside washing cars. I can't help wondering how many times police stopped at the scene - and not merely to prevent distracted drivers from crashing.

+ Atlanta police used a stun gun to force down suspected murder Carl Roland from atop a 16-story-high crane. In a way, this is disappointing - because I wanted to see Ashley Smith climb that crane and read to Roland from "The Purpose-Driven Life."

+ Instant Message to Davis Broadcasting: Did I hear the announcement right -- only four of your six Columbus radio stations are inviting me to Family Day in the Park next month? Why can't listeners to "The River 95.7" and Sports-Talk 1580 show up? Might there be a (ahem) color clash?

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© 2003-05 Richard Burkard, All Rights Reserved.

Friday, May 27, 2005

for 28 MAY 05: QUO-WRANGLE

Did you see what's planned for the front of the Columbus Public Library - a 35-foot-tall statue? Why don't they simply put it on top of the rotunda, to double as a lightning rod and cell phone tower?

But it was a quote about the statue in Friday's Ledger-Enquirer which made me stop and think. A supporter said: "Art is supposed to question the status quo, and be questioned." The story did not say which liberal public university that person obviously attended....

Do you agree with that statement about the purpose of art? I personally don't -- because art can have many purposes. Take Presidential portraits, such as George Washington's. Are we supposed to question whether his teeth were wooden?

Admittedly there are some works of art which raise questions. I've heard church pastors challenge the Washington Monument, calling it a giant phallic symbol -- and perhaps (ahem) the inspiration for Viagra.

(Which reminds me, I can't resist -- isn't there an obvious lesson in the national concern about Viagra and similar medicines causing vision problems? If you don't stop it, you CAN go blind....)

But let's go a bit deeper. SHOULD you question the status quo, at all? Many conservatives and evangelicals sound like they're supporting the national status quo, while liberals try to steal it away. So why do they sound like they don't like the status quo, when it comes to taxes and abortion?

Perhaps we should put the issue another way. The debates in Columbus and other places, whether about art or politics, involve WHICH status quo we want. Do we want the 1970 version, or the 1950 version? Of course, either way I suspect we'd still want to keep our current salaries....

This fight even extends to religion. I attend a church denomination which contends the Catholic Church ruined the Bible's "status quo" around A.D. 100. If you're wondering what I mean, here's a clue: try to find the word "Pope" in the Bible.

Yet our denomination is so concerned about its own "status quo" that it becomes downright nit-picky at times. Would you believe a study group was formed, to discuss whether church services should have hymns before the opening prayer or after it -- denomination-wide? Apparently the "Spirit's move" is only discerned in a corporate board room.

My usual denomination likes to say God didn't create humans to be robots, in a "cookie-cutter" way. Yet it often seems the top ministers want people to look, act and speak as alike as possible. I started blogging two years before church ministers did - but I don't dare call myself a pioneer. They'd call me a rebel.

I went to a different denomination for church last weekend, and some of what I saw was stunning. For one thing, the Pastor wore a tie but NO suit. In my usual denomination, this would be against the status quo and called sloppy dress. As someone wrote humorously about it on a message board: "We all know God wears a suit."

Perhaps the fight over the status quo can be summed up by a sign I saw outside a Kansas church while on my road trip: "The only people who like change have wet diapers."

Your PayPal donations can keep this blog ad-free and independent-minded. To make a donation, offer a story tip or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post a reply.

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The Columbus Career Center hosted a job fair Thursday, looking especially for school bus drivers. The Muscogee County schools have dozens of openings - but it should tell you something when not even former police officers take these jobs.

This spring's debate over changing Muscogee County school hours stemmed in part from a lack of drivers for buses. But then again, The Waggoners trucking constantly is looking for quality drivers. Have these agencies considered looking for help at East Alabama Motor Speedway?

On a typical Muscogee County school day, about 25 buses sit unused because of a lack of drivers. Yet that special district task force suggested buying 20 MORE of them, to get everyone to school on time?! Which teachers would have to pull double duty?

The Muscogee County schools actually have about 60 openings for bus drivers. Let's see, that's 60 jobs into 25 empty buses - which means either a lot of drivers call in sick, or the extras need to be remedial math tutors.

So why don't people drive Muscogee County school buses? One often-mentioned reason is the pay: $8.70 per hour. Maybe we should treat them like those other drivers of yellow vehicles - and ask students to leave ten-percent tips as they get out.

Muscogee County school officials admit there's also a stress factor involved in driving buses filled with children every day. From the tapes I've seen on TV, some drivers are finding a good way to handle that problem. They let bullies beat up riders, instead of doing it themselves.

Besides that, anyone who wants to be a Muscogee County school bus driver has to pass a criminal background check. This is only logical - since school buses aren't normally needed between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon, and those are the prime hours for robbing banks.

So what can we do to encourage people to become school bus drivers? I came up with some ideas....

+ Get Jimmy from the "YellaWood" commercials to drive a bus, instead of his western horse. You know he wants top priority for building playground equipment.

+ Borrow Wade Sheridan's logic, and organize a drive to put bus drivers on the school board. But then again, I think something like that happened in Talbot County schools - and they've had all sorts of complaints lately.

+ Adjust the bus security cameras, so drivers can audition for "Survivor" during their routes.

Meanwhile, the news was good Thursday about Muscogee County test scores. The percentages of third and fifth-graders passing the CRCT exam all went up this year. I hope there isn't a secret reason for this - like asking children to spell CRCT.

BLOG UPDATE: The word "rigged" came up on some Alabama radio stations Thursday, over the final vote on "American Idol." Several eople called one Birmingham talk show I heard and complained. But I wish the hosts had asked those Alabama callers if they thought things were rigged two years ago, in Ruben Studdard's favor.

One Bo Bice supporter reported dialing the phone number for champion Carrie Underwood and getting through - while he apparently could NOT for Bice. So does that mean the final vote was fixed? Or did all the Oklahoma voters take a break, to check outside for tornadoes?

One caller to a Birmingham radio station suggested Carrie Underwood won "Idol IV" only because she was female and looked cute. Based on that theory, Carl's Jr. restaurants will have absolutely no hamburgers left this weekend -- thanks to that Paris Hilton ad.

Bo Bice told Thursday's Birmingham Post-Herald he was NOT disappointed by finishing second, and he entered American Idol mainly to "get better gigs around town." After looking at Bice. I think the first "gig" he'd need to succeed in Columbus is an hour at a barber shop.

Now for other notes we took quickly, after returning home from our road trip:

+ Columbus first responders held a practice session, to test what they would do if the city had an anthrax outbreak. Among other things, the "Red Hat Ladies" would be warned the white dust on their hats is NOT a sign of dandruff.

+ Auburn's water department warned of a scam, where people call offering to come to your door to collect late bills. The university athletic boosters might operate this way, but not the water department.

+ A federal jury in Birmingham reported it was deadlocked in the fraud trial of HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy. The debate in the jury room must be absolutely ex-Scrushy-ating....

+ A wanted fugitive from Florida climbed a 16-story-tall construction crane in Atlanta, armed with a knife. People walking through the Buckhead neighborhood saw this and said, "I didn't know bars were bringing back bungee jumping."

+ Instant message to the children operating a lemonade stand on Warm Springs Road: Be thankful the nice reporters from WRBL visited you Thursday. They could have sent out the Restaurant Report Card guy.

COMING THIS WEEKEND: A road trip wrap-up.... including the state trooper who (gulp!) pulled me over....

Your PayPal donations can keep this blog ad-free and independent-minded. To make a donation, offer a story tip or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post a reply.

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© 2003-05 Richard Burkard, All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


MEMPHIS -- Remember the caller to TalkLine Doug Kellett used to call "the man under the bridge?" That caller died a few years ago, but those men are still around. I met one here Wednesday night -- only he was at the top of a bridge, I suppose getting some sun.

BLOG SPECIAL EVENT: "HOMELESS -- Please help and thank you!" said the sign of the man at the end of the Union Avenue exit ramp off Interstate 240. I found out from a friend this morning Union Avenue has all sorts of homeless people. Maybe they should learn from the signs, and unionize....

"Food, shelter, everything!" was the man's reply when I parked my car to see what he needed. I couldn't ask him anything from the exit ramp, as he stood to the passenger's side of the ramp. This must reduce his business -- but then again, it probably reduces the number of spitwads in his face.

"How long have you been homeless?" I asked the man.
"A few years," Anthony answered -- and claimed he slept under a bridge. Even though I was in Memphis, I forgot to ask how many blues songs he'd felt inspired to write.

Since I was on the road, I didn't know where to go to get this man help. I was technically homeless as well, since I didn't have a motel room yet for the night. So I offered to get rooms for both of us -- separate rooms, in case he felt "everything" included all the items in my suitcase.

Anthony emptied his pockets for my usual weapon check, and they revealed at least three coupons for free Burger King hamburgers. So he really didn't need food -- especially not with a Burger King right down the street. Maybe helpful people have taken him there so often, he's earned a Frequent Panhandler's Discount.

Anthony told me the cheapest place to stay on Union Avenue was a Red Roof Inn near the exit ramp. Only with tax, a one-night stay for one person was about $55. A big pro golf tournament begins here today, and this place apparently wants the golfers instead of the caddies.

"We can put you in a two-bedroom for $49," the check-in woman said.
"No," I explained, "we only met about ten minutes ago." I may pick them up, but I don't lay them down -- under any definition of that word.

My budget for a motel stay was $40 a night. Anthony blew that up simply by standing on a corner asking for help. So with his keycard in hand, I wished him a good evening. "I'm going back to Arkansas," I told him, "where the motels cost much less."

"Some finances?!" Anthony asked as I headed for my car. Finally, a definition of "everything."

"You asked for food and shelter," I told him. "I gave you both of that" -- well, no, I misspoke that. He had coupons for the food. I gave him shelter. He wore clothing. I don't recall a full wallet being one of the "basics" of life.

So, you may be asking, why would I help this total stranger in a strange town I haven't visited in years? Because last weekend at a church in Kansas City, the pastor challenged us to look for ways in the next week to help others. Then help them, do it, and tell others about it. At least a blog lets me take care of step four....

BLOG UPDATE: Carrie Underwood beat Bo Bice to become "American Idol IV" Wednesday night. The librarian in Checotah, Oklahoma told me Wednesday I should leave town early. Now I'm wondering if any part of town is left standing, after the celebration.

BLOGGER'S NOTE: If all goes well, we'll be back in Columbus Thursday evening, and back to our usual format Friday.

Your PayPal donations can keep this blog ad-free, independent-minded -- and even pay for my road trip! To make a donation, offer a story tip or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post a reply.

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© 2003-05 Richard Burkard, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


CHECOTAH, OK -- We're not far from that OTHER "Lake Eufaula," and find ourselves in the middle of a frenzy. Well, as much as a town of 3,500 people can be in a frenzy with a downtown speed limit of 25 miles per hour....

BLOG SPECIAL EVENT: Checotah, Oklahoma likely will come to a stop in a few hours, to see if native daughter Carrie Underwood will become the fourth "American Idol." But this town is so small, it probably would come to a stop most evenings around 7:00 p.m., anyway.

A giant billboard of Carrie Underwood greets you as you exit Interstate 40, to take the business road into Checotah. Radio commercials wish her well. Signs all over town root her on.... well, ALMOST all over town. The First United Methodist Church seems to realize it's wrong to promote idolatry.

Carrie Underwood watch parties are planned across Eastern Oklahoma for the big American Idol announcement. Checotah plans to have one, of course. And an "after-watch party" is planned until 2:00 a.m. at a Muskogee, Oklahoma nightclub called "The Wild Cowboy." I'm not sure Carrie's even old enough to go to that one.

(Come to think of it, wouldn't a name like "Wild Cowboy" be more fitting for Bo Bice?)

Alabama's Bo Bice is the other finalist for American Idol IV. But it's clear who the Oklahomans like. In fact, the Fox TV station in Oklahoma City made Carrie Underwood the top story Tuesday night -- complete with the phone numbers you could call to vote for her. The numbers for Bice were NOT shown. So much for "fair and balanced" coverage.

The Fox newscast also provided the answer to a lingering Columbus TV question -- whatever happened to WRBL's Jenna Maloney? She was shown in Hollywood, hugging American Idol judge Randy Jackson. So maybe she's filing a resume to replace Paula Abdul next season....

Jenna Maloney is now with a "channel 45" somewhere (Baltimore, I think) -- and she was on the American Idol beat for the "News Central" stations. We do hope she learned a lesson, from breaking her WRBL contract for bogus reasons. But then again, maybe that's why Maloney's doing entertainment stories -- as stars put on acting jobs all the time.

More Blog Special Event updates as conditions warrant....

Your PayPal donations can keep this blog ad-free, independent-minded -- and even pay for my road trip! To make a donation, offer a story tip or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post a reply.

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© 2003-05 Richard Burkard, All Rights Reserved.


Monday, May 23, 2005


KANSAS CITY, KS -- True confession: I've been a "library rat" for a long time. If I traveled through an area, I'd stop at a public or college library to read or study -- and this was long before the Internet came along, making library computers a cheap alternative to renting a laptop.

I've checked e-mail and other things at several libraries, during our BLOG SPECIAL EVENT. But on the way to Kansas City, I made a mistake. I visited a library in Missouri, and left a diskette with all sorts of information in a computer. There could have been a risk of identity theft -- assuming someone wasn't distracted by the photos of a good-looking female golfer on it.

Only after I reached Kansas City and sorted out my bags did I realize what I'd done. The lack of that diskette meant two things. First, making blog entries look the way they usually do would be tougher. Second, I'd have to confess to a family filled with loyal University of Kansas fans that I'd visited -- gulp -- the arch-rival University of Missouri.

The good news is that the University of Missouri is between semesters, so the library computers weren't getting much use. So I went online and e-mailed an urgent plea over the weekend -- could the staff find my diskette and mail it back to Columbus for me? Before some of you get ideas: I DID stop my mail for this trip....

I broke the news as gently as I could to my relatives about visiting Big Bad M.U. Thankfully, they didn't seem too upset about it -- and my sister-in-law admitted the family once went to that campus for a daughter's special event. I should have asked if they spat on the ground as they left.

Weekend checks of the e-mail InBox brought no response from the University of Missouri. Perhaps they were closed on weekends between semesters. Or perhaps someone noticed a photo of the Kansas mascot on the diskette, and wanted to hold it for ransom.

But Monday morning I checked the InBox again, this time at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The Columbia campus at last replied to my urgent question with a HUGE message. Did the staff decide to send me every Kansas joke they ever knew -- and throw in that German spam worm to boot?

I'm thrilled to report the reply from the University of Missouri was very different:

Good morning,

I found your diskette a few minutes ago and compressed the files into a .zip file, which I will attach. Let me know if you have any problems extracting the files. Do you still wish for us to mail the diskette back to you?

By the by, I often leave my pen drives in computers - absentmindedness seems to be part of the human condition.

L. H. Kevil

Collection Development Librarian

The staff went above and beyond to help me! It truly pays to visit college libraries between semesters -- when the employees have little to do, and few college students are around to pull online pranks.

I asked the M.U. library team to go ahead and mail the diskette back to Columbus. And I promised to write well about them here. Their wonderful courtesy could be a breakthrough in the so-called "border war," between the Universities of Missouri and Kansas. But then again, my older brother only seemed impressed for about five seconds when I told him what happened.

The e-mail comment about the "human condition" seems very true -- because that diskette is not the first thing I've left behind on long trips:

+ Lamar, Colorado -- I visited my late grandmother years ago, and left a nice new white tie hanging on a motel closet hanger. I don't recall even having time to spill soda or ketchup on it.

+ Bournemouth, England -- I thought I emptied all the hotel drawers, but flew home to find a pair of dark green slacks was missing. Amazingly, the hotel staff FOUND that pair and mailed it back! After all, it might be 15 more years before forest green became stylish again.

+ Toronto -- Blame this one on the hotel cleaners. They returned a bundle of clothes, but forgot a few pairs of underwear. Might someone have passed those along to Saddam Hussein?!

The hardest thing to leave behind on a family road trip should be your relatives, when it's over. Monday my older brother and I traveled to Topeka, Kansas, where a younger brother is in an institute for the mentally handicapped. Amazingly, we saw no Westboro Baptist Church picketers anywhere in town....

As we watched our youngest brother and tried to get him out of a half-awake state, a television in the room was showing "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" on the PBS station in Topeka. Fred Rogers was talking about the importance of being kind to others. Suddenly I felt guilty for all the times on this trip I razzed one of my niece's husbands, for being a Kansas State graduate.

Now other odds and ends we've spotted in the self-proclaimed "Heart of America:"
+ The U.S. Senate reached a compromise, so former Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor will receive an "up or down vote" on becoming a federal appeals judge. If he's confirmed, lawyers will remember this for years -- when they stand up and sit down for Judge Pryor entering court.

+ A gasoline leak poured fuel into the Missouri River, and forced a shutdown of a Kansas City, Kansas electric plant. I don't know if the story made the news back in Columbus. I doubt it did, because the river didn't catch on fire.

+ Which Kansas City sports-talk radio station featured a host saying, "It's true that there's a rumor"?! Doesn't this account for about one-third of all sports talk radio?

+ Instant Message to a young woman I'll call M.: The first meeting was wonderful. You're attractive, fun and interesting. We MUST do it again sometime -- only outside your office conference room.

More Blog Special Event updates as conditions warrant....

Your PayPal donations can keep this blog ad-free, independent-minded -- and even pay for my road trip! To make a donation, offer a story tip or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post a reply.

If you quote from this in public somewhere, please be polite enough to let me know.

© 2003-05 Richard Burkard, All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 22, 2005


KANSAS CITY, KS -- My, how times have changed at public colleges. Not that long ago, picket lines on campus would have meant left-wing hippie freaks protesting a university policy. On Sunday, I saw a picket line of protest by right-wing.... well, some would call them freaks, but their hair wasn't long enough to be hippies.

BLOG SPECIAL EVENT: My youngest niece graduated from college Sunday -- but I was struck by what I saw walking into one side of the football stadium. About 15 people from a controversial Topeka, Kansas Baptist church held up signs, mostly against homosexuality. I know they're Protestants, but didn't Martin Luther settle this with one document 450 years ago?

You may know the name Fred Phelps, whose Topeka church has staged anti-homosexuality protests across the country. It was quite obvious his church put on Sunday's protest at the University of Kansas. For one thing, their signs misspelled the name of legendary basketball coach Phog Allen (ahem) -- with an F-A.

Fred Phelps' church loves to say God hates homosexuals -- only it uses a slang term for such people which I wouldn't dare post here. Then again, I usually don't post the place where members say homosexuals are burning right now....

Apparently the University of Kansas officially likes homosexuality too much for this church, so members held a commencement day protest. One sign said: "LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR = REBUKE." I wonder if that approach gets single members anywhere on dates.

"POPE IN H**L," said another sign at the protest (see what I mean?) -- with a picture of the late John Paul II. I was SO tempted to ask someone why the picketers think the Pope is there. Maybe they take the TV sports show "Rome Is Burning" the wrong way....

"Don't say anything to feed them," a relative said as our group walked by the protesters. A discussion would only let the religious protesters argue their point longer and louder. But then again, maybe someone needs to bring a Bible to the picket line and explain the verses about "loving sinners and hating sin" -- because that might just stump them.

(I'm told the Westboro Baptist Church even picketed one Sunday morning outside my family's longtime church -- which is United Methodist. I guess members do this between hate crimes, to keep in practice.)

People who have been to Topeka say Fred Phelps and his family live in a walled city block, apparently to guard against reprisals. Some of Phelps's children reportedly are disbarred attorneys -- but at least they seem to know their First Amendment rights about free speech really well.

There was no mention of the picket during the two-hour commencement exercise. More than an hour of the event consisted of seniors and graduate students walking down the hill in the middle of campus to their places inside the football stadium. It was a nice parade, but it could have used a few marching bands in the middle.

(The tradition is a bit like the "Tiger Walk" at Auburn University on football game days. Only this walk down the hill is for people who actually went to college for an education.)

Several seniors spiced up their walk down the middle of the football field. My niece's Significant Other actually went out of line, and tried to catch a football another senior threw at him! Back in Muscogee County, he would have been back in a classroom today -- while everyone else was starting vacation.

Then there were the college seniors who rolled down the football field on their sides, or who did cartwheels and handstand flips. Those University of Kansas cheerleaders and gymnasts can't help showing off....

Degrees were awarded to 15 different schools within the University of Kansas. The Law School graduates preceded the Medical School graduates in the procession -- which seemed strange, because the malpractice dispute is likely to go in the opposite direction.

When the time came to officially confer college degrees, the Law School graduates were presented -- and all of them held up what appeared to be newspapers. Don't they realize sheriff's deputies and marshals are the ones who hand over lawsuits and subpoenas?

The Medical School graduates were presented next -- and all of them started spraying what appeared to be bottles of champagne. As my niece/new college graduate said later: "You'd think they were senior undergraduates who didn't know any better. But no, these folks had extra schooling."

(SSHHHH -- Don't tell anyone, but my niece Heather toyed with the idea of carrying a bottle of beer in the procession under her gown. The University supposedly has a policy against alcohol on-campus. So maybe the Medical School graduates shook bottles of diet soda really hard.)

It was a warm and sunny day in Kansas, and the University Chancellor realized it. He actually wore a wide-brimmed hat as he spoke, a bit like Bobby Bowden wears at Florida State University practices. Doesn't he realize that will encourage more people to put Jayhawk dolls and balloons on their caps next May?

(The Chancellor jokingly asked for a show of hands, to see how many seniors "are naked under their gowns." If Columbus State University President Frank Brown had tried this line, he'd face his own protest -- probably from Fort Benning officers.)

Before the commencement ceremony, the Chancellor hosted a traditional senior luncheon outside his on-campus residence. When I graduated 25 years ago, there was a formal line to greet the Chancellor while a wind orchestra played. Again times have changed -- as this time the Chancellor's son was a D.J., playing OutKast songs. [True!]

This was my first trip to Kansas to see family members in three years, and I'm absolutely glad I came. The only choke-up moment of the weekend occurred at the Sunday luncheon -- only the lyrics the D.J. played applied more to my brother, who's now the father of three college grads:

Fathers, be good to your daughters,
They're gonna love like you do.
Girls become lovers, who turn into mothers,
So mothers, be good to their daughters, too.

BURKARD'S BEST BETS, SPECIAL EVENT EDITION: Gasoline on Bannister Road in Kansas City for $1.83 a gallon.... Diet Pepsi with lime beats Diet Coke with lime.... and please Cinnabon, open a store in Peachtree Mall....

More Blog Special Event updates as conditions warrant....

Your PayPal donations can keep this blog ad-free, independent-minded -- and even pay for my road trip! To make a donation, offer a story tip or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post a reply.

If you quote from this in public somewhere, please be polite enough to let me know.

© 2003-05 Richard Burkard, All Rights Reserved.


LAWRENCE, KS -- After driving nearly 1,000 miles in three days, we've finally reached the big event of our road trip. And some of you will be sad to learn that we haven't spotted WRBL's Amy Giuliano anywhere along the way....

BLOG SPECIAL EVENT: My youngest niece graduates from the University of Kansas today. The ceremonies for Heather actually began Saturday night, with a recognition ceremony for her senior class in biology. How strange it was to hear the emcee bring up evolution in Kansas -- and I was the only one who made an audible boo.

Heather Michelle Burkard officially receives a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry today. The emcee joked about "bio" being added to all sorts of fields, from chemistry to genetics and even music. But he forgot one of the big ones -- bio-graphy.

(Before you ask -- I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism. And I noticed that "B.S.-Journalism" connection a long time ago.)

The recognition program allowed biology graduates to thank anyone they wished. Conservatives may be saddened to learn only two of the 244 graduates thanked God. But liberals may be saddened to learn none of them thanked Charles Darwin.

Heather thanked her parents, her best friend Amber -- but NOT her boyfriend of several years. Apparently that was because he forgot to thank her at some other senior event. But they're still together and in love -- while I'm still not so sure about Kenny Chesney and Renee Zellweger.

The recognition ceremony was a noisy affair at times -- with people in the audience cheering as seniors' names were called. If this event had taken place at the Columbus Civic Center this weekend, two-thirds of the crowd would have been left out in the parking lot.

(In fact, one senior put on the card for the emcee to read about her: "Can I get a whoop-whoop?" Whereupon some members of the audience gave her one! If her degree had been in the study of whooping cranes, I might understand....)

With more than 200 biology graduates being mentioned one by one, the ceremony became dull for a few people. A man sitting next to me actually pulled out his cell phone, and started playing a video game on it. That's what happens when a Kansas STATE University graduate attends a Kansas University event.

The celebration for Heather actually began off-campus, with an afternoon barbecue at a small house. She's shared the house this past year with six other young women -- but I never went upstairs to the bedrooms, so I don't know if it was like "Girlfriends" on UPN or not.

The barbecue featured a keg of beer, beef brisket, pasta salad -- and for a bit of Columbus flavor, hamburgers and hot dogs on a Char-Broil grill. I don't know how old the grill was. But from what I could see, it had NO Chinese markings on it.

The presence of beer at the barbecue brought revelations of Heather getting drunk before, her boyfriend getting drunk before -- and the boyfriend recently winning $5,000 in one session of poker. Living in Columbus must mean I'm too far away to set a good example for these youngsters....

Heather was turned down for the University of Kansas Medical School, so she hopes to be accepted to one in southern California. Her boyfriend is graduating with an engineering degree, and has a job lined up there with Occidental Petroleum. Remember: a company like that does NOT accept "OXY morons."

(But come to think of it, Heather's a good-looking gal. You'll see the evidence of that when we get back, and we can post pictures of the trip -- so will this move make her an OXY-doll?)

BLOG UPDATE: Meanwhile, about the missing person's case back in Columbus: I'm hearing Amy Giuliano chose to leave WRBL on her own. In fact, she may be leaving the television business altogether -- which could be OK, if she still has a deal to show off her hair in Alberto VO5 commercials.

E-MAIL UPDATE: Speaking of WRBL, our comments about messages from reporter Chris Sweigart [19 May] brought this:

That doesn't even begin to count that pregnancy discrimination case WRBL lost in March...." Good one, Richie! Those WRBL boys can get a little snippy sometimes, don't you think?

Maxine Hardy

Attorney at Law

Now now, Ms. Hardy -- don't spend that jury award money until all the appeals are rejected, AND the check clears the bank.

I've known some people who can be on edge at times about their work. That's true not only at WRBL, but other places. Yet admittedly I don't see that sense of urgency at places like McDonald's or Krystal....

More Blog Special Event updates as conditions warrant....

Your PayPal donations can keep this blog ad-free, independent-minded -- and even pay for my road trip! To make a donation, offer a story tip or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post a reply.

If you quote from this in public somewhere, please be polite enough to let me know.

© 2003-05 Richard Burkard, All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

for 20 MAY 05: MISSING AMY

PADUCAH, KY -- The first 500 or so miles of our BLOG SPECIAL EVENT have gone well. But suddenly, a missing person's search has intervened:


Can you provide the readers with an update on what happened to WRBL morning anchor Amy Giuliano? Her bio has been removed from WRBL.com, and the job is posted on Media General's web site.

Great blog, by the way. I read it daily.



Thomas, I'm SHOCKED by this development! Only today on the road, I heard on National Public Radio that CBS had cancelled "Judging Amy" -- but this would be going too far.

We did a Google search for Amy Giuliano on the road, and she still has a hidden page at the WRBL web site. But we found NO evidence of where she might be now. She looks so young, we almost could ask for a Levi's Call alert....

I'd been wondering why Blaine Stewart was missing for most of two weeks from "News 3 at 5." I don't tend to get up at 6:00 a.m., so perhaps he's been filling in during the morning news. Then again, maybe several anchors needed days off for the premiere of the new "Star Wars" movie.

Come to think of it, the Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders are coming to Columbus Friday for a rally. Perhaps Thomas will find Amy Giuliano there -- or at least a reasonable alternative....

More Blog Special Event updates as conditions warrant....

Your PayPal donations can keep this blog ad-free, independent-minded -- and even pay for my road trip! To make a donation, offer a story tip or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post a reply.

If you quote from this in public somewhere, please be polite enough to let me know.

© 2003-05 Richard Burkard, All Rights Reserved.


"What fraternity is that?" a young man asked me at a drugstore the other day. I was wearing a shirt from my college years with three Greek letters on it - but the shirt was NOT from a fraternity. In fact, it wasn't even left on the ground on campus after a wild fraternity party.

"It's not a real fraternity," I explained. "I lived in a scholarship hall in college, and we made these shirts in hopes of impressing sorority girls." It would be sort of like U.S. soldiers holding a Koran with plastic gloves in parts of Iraq today....

"Did it work?" the young man dared to ask.

"Not for me, it didn't. I'm still single."

Actually, one of my scholarship hall roommates caught the eye of a nice-looking Alpha Delta Pi lady with his look-alike Greek shirt. At last report, she was a doctor in eastern Kansas. He was a minister in North Carolina, who may have burned his shirt long ago as the sin of false witness.

The Greek letters on the shirt are Beta Phi Delta, because I lived for four years at Battenfeld Hall. It was the size of a fraternity -- only on-campus, university-owned and cooperatively-run. All the members had daily work duties, to cover low-priced room and board. I puzzled hall mates, by cleaning the kitchen to radio stations from Mexico.

The young man at the drugstore was a total stranger, yet he peppered me all the way through the line with college and fraternity-related questions. It was as if no one in his peer group ever had been to college - or else he wanted to confirm if the movie "Animal House" was accurate.

"Did you have any athletes in your hall?" was one of the man's questions. No, not really. I tried playing intramural flag football a few times - and one evening a big guy across the line charged so hard at me that I did a reverse somersault on impact.

But this young man never asked the most important question of the discussion - where I went to college. The cut rates of scholarship halls are available at the University of Kansas. I don't know if such a thing is offered at Georgia or Alabama colleges - that is, outside the athletic dorms which the presidents might not want to count.

The timing of the questions was appropriate - because a BLOG SPECIAL EVENT begins today. On this day 25 years ago, I graduated from Kansas. Those were very different times - because for one thing, parents weren't told to shut up throughout the ceremony.

But graduation day was one of two milestones for me - because on May 19, 1980 I started work at a Kansas City radio station. I arrived a bit after 5:00 a.m. to do morning news at KJLA, a station which was starting to move away from a disco music format. Too bad - because I longed to read news to a disco beat, which is how they did it for awhile.

After four hours or so of morning news, I marked the big day in a personal way - by driving to Winchell's Donuts between the radio station and the family house. Even back then, I was getting in the habit of developing an unusual definition of "lunch."

Later in the day, it was on to Lawrence for the evening commencement exercise. I took a little Kodak Instamatic camera with me to record the event. For those of you who weren't around 25 years ago - this was back when you actually had to use film.

We walked down a hill to the university football stadium for our graduation, much as Chattahoochee Valley Community College students marched up the Phenix City Riverwalk for their commencement last week. Thankfully I jogged around those graduates without ruining their gowns....

The class of 1980 sat at the closed end of Kansas Memorial Stadium. Somewhere above me, a few seniors tried to make a political statement with a banner during the ceremony. I never turned around to see it - but I KNEW all day I should have brought a tape recorder instead of a camera, for radio.

When the ceremony was over and the diploma was in hand, I didn't really have time to find my family to celebrate. I had to drive an hour back to Kansas City, because radio duty called the next morning. Truly I'd entered the "real world" - well, as real as radio could be when the morning announcer fixed some contests. [True!]

I mark this 25-year milestone as my youngest niece prepares to take the same walk down the hill in Kansas. So I'm heading back home to see the ceremony, spend time with my family and do some reminiscing. In the blog era, I hope to share some of the trip here. And unlike Kodak Instamatics, you hopefully won't have to wait a few days for the results.

E-MAIL UPDATE: It's always nice to have celebrity blog readers - well, I think....


Interesting story about the Columbus Police Department getting Tasers. It's kind of funny, I think I did that exact same story using the exact same facts you had in your story.

If you did the story on your own, what a coincidence. But, my reporter's instinct tells me you just copied my work, without credit to me or my station. Please be a little more responsible with your entries.

Most of the time, I enjoy reading your bog. Sometimes you're kind of funny.

Chris Sweigart

News 3 On Your Side

News Reporter, WRBL-TV

Thank you for the words of correction, Mr. Sweigart. To show I'm fair and balanced, please note this: another TV station had the very same news story Wednesday night -- but I won't mention those call letters, either.

Regular blog readers know we get our topics from all sorts of news sources, local and otherwise. If I had claimed the stun gun story as my own, I would have done what big-time TV stations like to do -- put EXCLUSIVE! all over it, with at least one "I" or "me" in every sentence.

Let the record show that in the last 20 days, we've mentioned WRBL by name at least 13 times in this blog - and that OTHER station none. That doesn't even begin to count that pregnancy discrimination case WRBL lost in March....

(Let the record also show it was Chris Sweigart who received a stun gun jolt on WRBL several months ago - and he didn't respond to that joke about "much wimpier" reporters.)

One detail the other station noted Wednesday was that Columbus Police officers will feel the sting of stun guns themselves, before using them on the beat. So suspects shouldn't be surprised to hear a detective say, "Nothing shocks me anymore...."

As it happened, Wednesday's mail brought a stock tip brochure which said two federal law enforcement agencies recently rejected the use of stun guns. The brochure claims Taser and similar companies "are in deep trouble." Now hold on - what if they make a version which jump-starts car batteries?

This brochure pointed out all sorts of flaws with stun guns. They supposedly take 15 seconds to "reload and fire again" after one round. Huh -- you mean they don't come with extension cords?

(It also claimed a stun gun "misses or fails as much as one time out of four." That won't deter Columbus Police from ordering them. They'll note people still show up for Catfish games, and they're failing three times out of four.)

This brochure suggested I invest in a different company, which is offering "non-lethal weapons which are superior to the stun gun!" It can shoot bean bags, pepper gas rounds and something called a "soft round." I used to get those things back home in Kansas -- at Winchell's Donuts....

By the way, did you notice something wrong with Chris Sweigart's e-mail? He sent a follow-up:

Please excuse the spelling error... Freudian slip? Ha!

"Most of the time, I enjoy reading your "blog". Sometimes you're kind of funny."

Christopher Sweigart

News 3 On Your Side

News Reporter, WRBL-TV

And this comes from the man who has his own military BLOG on the WRBL web site! The Third Brigade in Iraq might take the word "bog" as a slap....

Now some final thoughts from various places, before we hit the road:

+ Which area library branch has posted signs comparing libraries to shopping malls? Its point is that children shouldn't be left alone at either place. But come to think of it, the main Columbus library DOES have the makings of a food court....

+ The evening news revealed burglaries in Columbus have increased 18 percent in three years, and most home burglaries are likely to occur during the day. So if more parents home-school their children, public school teachers could stand alongside criminals at job fairs.

(Police say one sign of a potential burglar is someone carrying pillowcases in your neighborhood. Let's face it, nobody offers home delivery of laundry anymore....)

+ Columbus State University announced it will provide scholarships, to help Columbus Police obtain associates' degrees. Hopefully the regular student body won't be intimidated, when all those officers climb out of a paddy wagon to go to class.

+ An estimated 2,000 people showed up at the Carmike 15 theaters, for a midnight screening of "Star Wars 3: Revengeof the Sith." I predict the Food Network eventually will do its own version of this, called "Revenge of the Sieve."

+ Russell County pinched Pinson Valley 5-1, and can clinch the Alabama 5A baseball title today. The first game begins at 11:00 a.m. in Montgomery - and remember, you seniors: the earlier you win, the more time you have to get your gown just right for tonight's graduation.

+ Instant Message to Columbus chiropractor Dr. Jay Brodwyn: After seeing one of your TV ads this week, I hate to break the news to you - but you haven't "got the Riverdragons' back" anymore. If anything, they turned their backs on you.

Your PayPal donations can keep this blog ad-free, independent-minded -- and even pay for my road trip! To make a donation, offer a story tip or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post a reply.

If you quote from this in public somewhere, please be polite enough to let me know.

© 2003-05 Richard Burkard, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Electricity made news in several ways Tuesday -- at a state government meeting room in Atlanta, and at Columbus Council. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by this. "Electric" and "power" always have gone together....

Columbus Police Chief Rick Boren announced a controversial item is coming to the force -- the stun gun, which administers electric shock to suspects. The chief might get more support if wrestler Steve Austin came to town, and taught officers how to do the "Stone Cold Stunner."

Chief Rick Boren said the addition of 60 Tasers will help Columbus Police officers use "less lethal munitions." Now hold on a second - my dictionary [American Heritage] says munitions refer to "war materiel." Are these stun guns rejects from the Abu Ghraib prison?

Chief Rick Boren says he has a seven-point scale for measuring how lethal a weapon is - and he rates the Taser a four. No one asked if his wife has anything which scores higher, if he forgets to take out the garbage.

Chief Rick Boren offered several other examples of how Columbus Police try to use something less lethal than firearms. Officers are equipped with batons, bean bags, pepper spray, pepper balls - and if a suspect is inside a restaurant, habañero peppers might come out as well.

But as you may know, stun guns have critics who claim they lead to deaths. Civil rights leaders went to LaGrange to express concern about one recent death of a suspect. But TV reporters never die when they do a demonstration - and they tend to be much wimpier.

Tasers are not cheap playthings, as each one costs $800. Columbus Police will use grant money to buy the stun guns - while Council members urge the desk staff to apply for grants to cover everything else on the force.

But with a tight city budget, Columbus Police won't get everything they want or need this year. Chief Rick Boren asked for 38 new pursuit vehicles, but it appears the Council will only give the force 15. Now it hurts that the Tour de Georgia didn't come through Columbus, to provide leftover bicycles.

The other big electric moment Tuesday occurred in Atlanta. The Georgia Public Service Commission approved a rate increase for Georgia Power -- starting just in time for hot weather in June. Will someone tell this utility Columbus Council hasn't approved that public safety fee yet?

For the average residential customer, Georgia Power bills will go up about six dollars a month. This could be the moment some local churches have been waiting for -- to make money selling candles door-to-door at mobile home parks.

(It's almost high enough to get me to drive across the river, look for those talking birds on the Alabama Power billboard, and ask them to intervene....)

BLOG UPDATE: Speaking of Georgia Power, questions were raised Tuesday about how it raises the water level on the Chattahoochee River. It simply isn't right for the staff to pour out perfectly good six-packs of Dasani....

But seriously: Georgia Power officials say they sound alarms when Lake Oliver is adjusted, to raise the river level. Trouble is, there's no alarm within two miles of the 13th Street dam downtown. I figured the big Synovus Financial building along the riverside would have one - if only for misguided bank robbers.

Some people say fishermen are getting caught on rocks in the middle of the Chattahoochee when the river level rises, and that can be dangerous. But as we mentioned, there are four signs along the Phenix City Riverwalk warning: "DO NOT WALK ON ROCKS." Can we start requiring literacy tests for a fishing license?

Mayor Bob Poydasheff says he's working on putting warning alarms in the downtown area of the Chattahoochee. One noise could tell fishermen the river level's going up. Then a different one could tell them to move away, because they're ruining the window view from the River Club.

Speaking of fishing - did you see the story about the man in Lee County, Alabama who caught a 65-pound fish? Terry Newsome says the fish broke his rod, so he wrestled it ashore when it swam into shallow water! [True/WRBL] How did he do that, after a 45-minute fight? Was his T-shirt so sticky, that the fish couldn't squirm away?

Now other hard, dry discoveries from Tuesday:

+ Opelika's City Council rejected all the bids for solid waste disposal. Baptist churches are asked to follow their usual order -- and burn the dirty books first, then the pornographic videos....

+ Five days after their scheduled Columbus concert which was postponed, Montgomery Gentry appeared live at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas. So who will be the first Columbus city official to propose opening a casino?

(OK, this isn't a Columbus thing -- but where was Renee Zellweger at this show? She wasn't sitting around new husband Kenny Chesney. And Chesney never mentioned her when he was named Entertainer of the Year! If he records a new version of "He Stopped Loving Her Today....")

+ Newsweek magazine retracted a report that U.S. military personnel flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet. Now I'm wondering if Auburn and Columbus High Schools really ARE among the 1,000 best in the country.

+ "Baseball America" kept Russell County at the top of its national high school rankings, despite a loss last weekend. Two undefeated schools are ranked lower - so if coach Tony Rasmus has any memories of January in Auburn, he'll give a final national title away to them.

+ Instant Message to Lonnie Jackson: Let me get this straight - the Vietnam Veterans Memorial still has a damaged wall, yet you're asking for donations of new flags?! Is the Bay Avenue construction crew going to bring by a truck full of bricks?

COMING THURSDAY: We announce our next Blog Special Event - and it all begins at a Columbus drugstore....

Your PayPal donations can keep this blog ad-free and independent-minded. To make a donation, offer a story tip or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post a reply.

If you quote from this in public somewhere, please be polite enough to let me know.

© 2003-05 Richard Burkard, All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


"Do you have 80 cents?" asked the man on the other side of the pay phone Monday afternoon. I knew pay phones were in short supply these days, but is BellSouth still trying to make a profit from them?

This pay phone is on the corner of Fourth Street and Second Avenue -- in the parking lot of a Spectrum store more famous for selling lots of lottery tickets. If you're spending dollars to win a lottery fortune, you're probably not as likely to afford a cell phone plan.

The man was on the business side of the pay phone, as I walked by on the sidewalk side. The noisy traffic heading toward the Oglethorpe Bridge made me ask for a rerun of what he said - and yes, he asked for 80 cents. At least this beggar realized you need more than a quarter nowadays for something to eat.

"What do you need the money for?"

"I'm trying to make a long distance call." Trouble is, I tend to carry less than a dollar in coins. Less jingling equals fewer beggars.

Lacking the change, I offered a better idea. "I only live about a block from here. You can use my phone, at four-point-nine cents a minute. Costs less on my bill." And with no monthly fee, the deal is so good that other long-distance companies seem to have finally surrendered - since their telemarketers haven't called in weeks.

"Thank you, anyway." The stranger turned down my offer of a free phone call - which means two things. He's not a Fort Benning soldier, and he's not a wanted criminal.

I walked on to a convenience store to buy a bag of corn chips. On the way back, I heard more words which seemed to call out to me: "Habla español?" A few miles down the road, Fourth Street turns into Victory Drive -- where at least half the people would say yes.

This second man was standing in what used to be the Lo Bucks discount gas station, at Fourth and Third. The gas tanks have been dug up, and the concrete spot with an overhang has become a corner for street peddling. Amazingly, on Monday they were selling flags of Mexico - but none of the Confederacy.

An older man in a motorized wheelchair sat at the edge of this shopping spot, as a man in the overhang area held some kind of jewelry. "Habla español?" he repeated. It appeared to me this wheelchair-bound man might not know how to say quesadilla properly.

I strolled over to the gentleman with the jewelry. "Yo hablo español," I told him -- which means I speak Spanish. "Interpretando?!?" This wasn't my first attempt at linguistic intervention. Years ago, I helped a couple of customers in line at the College Park city hall with their electric bill. But of course, they didn't leave me a tip.

But it turned out the man with the jewelry didn't need any translation help from me. "This man's a friend of mine," he said of the man in the wheelchair. "I was just having some fun with him." Maybe if I walked back and forth outside Columbus Park Crossing....

A writer in the church denomination I attend suggests we should all do a good deed for someone each day. Monday I tried to do that twice - and twice was turned down. Maybe I was right all along to quit scouting in the Cub Scouts.

Let's walk home now, and check news items from Monday:

+ The Muscogee County School District officially committed to buying new buses, and building a new Rigdon Road Elementary School. But the members never set dates for when these things would happen -- which means they've been learning carefully from Columbus Council.

+ Several Muscogee County judges went to the Columbus Police firing range, for training with firearms. Don't the judges have weapons in their courtrooms already? A well-tossed gavel could knock somebody out cold....

(Columbus Police refused to let WRBL show which judges went through target practice. But here's a hint for all criminals - Judge Bobby Peters was once a law officer.)

+ Lee Road 148 was closed until further notice, due to continuing problems with sinkholes. Residents on this road should look on the bright side. There's never been a better time to work on their golf shots.

+ WXTX "News at Ten" showed a man in the Atlanta area whose pickup is fueled by recycled vegetable oil. My question isn't about how well it works, or how much money you save. It's whether you should use olive oil instead of soybean oil, to preserve the life of the engine.

Your PayPal donations can keep this blog ad-free and independent-minded. To make a donation, offer a story tip or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post a reply.

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© 2003-05 Richard Burkard, All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 16, 2005


Sunday was a gorgeous day in Columbus - low-80's, mostly sunny with a light wind. So I decided to relax at the beach. And the great news is, you don't have to drive to Panama City Beach to do that anymore -- especially in a procession of bikers ignoring the speed limit.

One benefit of recent high water on the Chattahoochee River is that a small sandy area has developed along the Phenix City Riverwalk. In a way, it's a downtown beach -- only the sand is tan and brown instead of Florida Gulf Coast white, so this is not for the race-conscious.

The best spot for beach activity is between the "center circle" of the Phenix City Riverwalk and 13th Street. The sand is several inches deep in some places, and you'll even find a few shell pieces mixed in. Please don't tell me this was bought at a Home Depot....

When I strolled off the walkway and onto the beach Sunday afternoon, the area wasn't crowded at all. About ten people were trying to catch fish in the Chattahoochee near the 13th Street dam. Any fish which climbed over that dam is probably groggy, and easier to catch.

By the way, at least four large signs along the Phenix City Riverwalk warn: "DO NOT WALK ON ROCKS." A Fort Benning soldier apparently did while fishing last week, and wound up dead. So I barely set foot in the river enough to clean sand off my feet -- and amazingly, it did NOT turn into mud.

I came well-prepared for a day at the beach - with sunscreen, a towel and a "travel chair in a bag" which I'd never opened before. After taking about 15 minutes to put it together, this may be known from now on as the "travel chair in a trunk."

With the travel chair finally assembled in a shady spot, I took off my shoes and socks and settled my feet into deep sand. One nice thing about having a beach along the Chattahoochee River is that stingrays are quite unlikely to crawl ashore and bite you.

In keeping with the stereotypical summer beachgoer, I brought a book to read - Dick McMichael's "The Newsman." The first several chapters contain marvelous details of his childhood, as well as Columbus in the 1930's. But if KDKA is the only "K" radio station east of the Mississippi, where did KYW in Philadelphia come from?

"Who needs Panama City Beach when you have this?" I said to four young people who walked by as I read. Come to think of it, Phenix City should market this area as "P.C. Beach" - and gain countless mixed-up travelers.

Besides those young people, the only other person to stroll by during my hour on the beach was a Phenix City police officer. He was out with his training dog and a tennis ball -- in case someone decided this was the perfect secluded area for making meth.

"Secluded" is a great word for this beachy spot - because with the rushing dam as a waterfall on your left, there's no city noise to distract you. It's a quiet place, nestled amid two downtown areas. For now, at least -- unless Phenix City starts bringing in bustling downtown restaurants, with loud oldies music on back porches.

With my beach time concluded, I started heading back down the "Riverwalk Phenix" to my car. Phenix City planned this well enough to have a few water spigots along the walkway. I suppose they're for cleaning feet -- unless people come here to wash their cars.

My car was parked in the Phenix City Amphitheater parking lot -- and it was interesting to find few cars in the lot Sunday afternoon, but all of them with Georgia license plates. Where were the Alabama people? Is it more fashionable to open your Sunday cans of beer at home?

BLOG UPDATE: A national official with the NAACP visited Columbus Sunday night. WRBL described the crowd for a rally at Spirit-Filled Ministries as "semi-packed." What does that mean? Did everyone sit on the left side of the sanctuary?

NAACP Chief Operating Officer Nelson Rivers found much "unacceptable" about the Kenneth Walker case. The city response to the big January march was unacceptable. The lack of action by the federal Justice Department is unacceptable. Too bad no one asked Rivers where he was staying overnight.

Dr. Nelson Rivers is unhappy that a police "Citizens' Review Board" formed in the wake of the Kenneth Walker case has turned into a "public safety advisory committee." But this brings up a theory I've never heard anyone mention. If sheriff's deputies earned more money, David Glisson might never have opened fire.

After 17 months, the U.S. Justice Department still hasn't issued a ruling one way or the other about the shooting of Kenneth Walker. Maybe it let another branch of the Bush administration speak in its half - by announcing almost 10,000 more soldiers are moving to Fort Benning.

THE BIG BLOG QUESTION ends divided about Spencer High School student Kevin Francois. After one week, 53 percent of you say he should have been suspended for his actions after Mom phoned him from Iraq. But 47 percent say he should NOT have been (8-7). Should we assume all the yes votes were from men, and the no votes from women?

Now for other findings from a day in mid-May:

+ The Ledger-Enquirer revealed Columbus State University graduates did NOT receive their diplomas Saturday, because they won't be ready for several days. This almost seems like a slap in the face at the seniors. Did C.S.U. expect many of them to flunk their finals?

+ The sign outside the Columbus Civic Center revealed Hilary Duff is coming to town in August. There's plenty of time for parents to prepare for this - by limiting the amount of sugar their children eat.

+ A company in Atlanta started selling "Jennifer's High Tailin' Sauce" - a hot sauce with a drawing of a runaway bride on the label! Maybe I should buy a case of it, get on a bus and try to sell it in New Mexico.

+ Georgia Tech's baseball team beat Virginia Tech 11-1, one day after winning 27-2. I think it's safe to assume no one in Michael Vick's family plays baseball....

+ Instant Message to the City of Columbus Waste Collection Department: Why are you sponsoring one TV station's nightly weather report? Are crews from The Sandman sneaking around before dawn, and picking up people's garbage from the curb?

Your PayPal donations can keep this blog ad-free and independent-minded. To make a donation, offer a story tip or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post a reply.

If you quote from this in public somewhere, please be polite enough to let me know.

© 2003-05 Richard Burkard, All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 15, 2005


The sermon at church this weekend was about angels - and the preacher said the Bible has NO cases where angels manifest themselves as women. Now I have to reassess this marriage situation all over again....

I'm thinking about "that situation" again, because today marks ten years since a farewell evening with the last woman I seriously dreamed of marrying. She'd become engaged only a few weeks before - and no, I did NOT try to talk her out of it. Jerry Springer wasn't showing that sort of thing back then, to give me ideas.

I met Lyanne on the job in Atlanta, and became quite smitten with her. When she was transferred to New York, we kept in touch by computer messages. I even surprised her with flower orders to her office a few times. How many times she passed them on to the cleaning lady, I may never know....

Twice I flew to New York, hoping to win Lyanne over - but she only wanted friendship with me, and nothing more. The last time she made that clear was at a Sunday brunch on Thanksgiving weekend. After we parted, a passing truck splashed a puddle full of water on my raincoat - reminding me how all wet I was.

Lyanne took a new job in San Francisco, and I'd already bought an airline ticket to visit her when I learned she was engaged. I went ahead and made the trip in May 1995, and she was gracious enough to join me for a Monday evening dinner. She also was gracious not to bring her fiancee, to watch our every move.

The long weekend in San Francisco was memorable, for all sorts of reasons:

+ I called the pastor of a local church, to verify when and where his service would be - only to show up and learn he'd been kicked out of the church days before, in a denominational split. He didn't invite me to his new group, which I guess makes him less gracious than Lyanne was.

+ My usual Saturday evening run was on a walkway around San Francisco Bay. I'm guessing I only went about one mile nonstop. By comparison, my Saturday night Riverwalk run this weekend was 3.6 miles nonstop - so not being lovesick can improve all sorts of things.

+ I had dinner at a "Pie Shoppe" - then returned to my hotel room and threw some of it up. Next time, I'll ask how they make the whipped topping.

+ I drove down the "world's most crooked street," in the heart of San Francisco -- and to this day, I'm convinced most NASCAR drivers would crash before completing that block.

But of course, the highlight of it all was the Monday evening dinner with Lyanne. I dressed in a jade-green sweater, wearing the color of the San Jose Sharks hockey team which had a playoff game that night. For those of you who may have forgotten - this was back when teams played MAJOR league hockey in this country....

Lyanne walked into the restaurant on Union Street, coming straight from work - and we chatted about everything from her job to her wedding plans. I'll never forget how she doubled over with a wide-open jaw, when I told the waiter asking about coffee: "No thanks, I'm driving."

(Do you think Lyanne never heard that line before? My Dad used to use it at almost every restaurant our family visited. Servers around here tend not to even notice it - perhaps because they're too busy trying to earn every tip they can.)

I really wanted an "exit interview" with Lyanne at that dinner - to learn what I'd done well in our relationship, and where I could improve. She didn't offer any of that. Considering she hasn't tried to set me up with any other women, maybe the silence speaks truckloads....

After dinner, Lyanne let me drive her home - and she guided me on a scenic route around some San Francisco city landmarks. One was the house where the movie "Mrs. Doubtfire" was set. Considering ten years later in San Francisco, that Robin Williams movie looks almost G-rated now.

Lyanne also showed me the block with a row of narrow houses, which was the street shown on the TV comedy "Full House." If what I found in a Google search is accurate, Lyanne's a mother of twins now - and amazingly, one is named "Ashley" as in Olson.

We finally came to Lyanne's house - and the woman who grew up in Puerto Rico said, "Well, amigo...." then she planed a kiss on my cheek and hopped out of my rental car. Shame on me for not becoming interested in salsa music until AFTER she met that other guy....

After stopping at a Safeway store for a nightcap snack, I returned to my hotel and left a message on Lyanne's work voice-mail which she'd hear the next morning. I thanked her for the nice evening, choking up as I did. Yes, Miriam Tidwell, this blogger DOES cry sometimes - not over thousands of people like you, but over one I still want to be around.

But enough about lost loves - let's check some found news items from Saturday:

+ An 11-hour fire left extensive damage to a Russell County lumberyard. Crews from several surrounding fire departments responded to the call - but "Yella Fella" of YellaWood was conspicuous by his absence.

+ Vanilla Ice performed in concert at The Vibe. Yes, THAT Vanilla Ice - the man I figured could only get gigs at Bruster's Ice Cream anymore...

+ The annual "Mayor's Fitness Walk and 5K Run" was held at South Commons. I assume that's why I saw several portable toilets along the Riverwalk - for people whose kidneys may not be so fit.

(So did any of you go to this event? Did public safety supporters force Mayor Bob Poydasheff to quit fitness walking, and start running?)

+ Brookstone's tennis teams won Georgia boys' and girls' state titles. Maybe there's a lesson here for the people who run Cooper Creek Park. Brookstone wins all those home matches on hardcourt, not clay -- and hey, we're not in France or the Netherlands.

+ Russell County's baseball team bounced back from its first loss of the year to stop Stanhope Elmore 2-0. Russell County will meet Pinson Valley in the Alabama state finals -- which is scary, since Vada Pinson was a pretty good player for the Cincinnati Reds years ago.

+ Instant Message to the ambulance driver who went through a traffic light on the 280 Bypass by honking "shave and a haircut, two bits": Should I assume from that honk this was NOT a life-and-death call?

Your PayPal donations can keep this blog ad-free and independent-minded. To make a donation, offer a story tip or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post a reply.

If you quote from this in public somewhere, please be polite enough to let me know.

© 2003-05 Richard Burkard, All Rights Reserved.