Thursday, December 31, 2009

31 DEC 09: '99 Ways



It's easy on this day to think back over the last year. But I want to do something different. Think back even farther. What was on your mind TEN years ago today? Were you happy? Anxious? Downright concerned? Or simply concerned about getting used to writing checks with a year starting in "2"?



Ten years ago today was the brink of "Y-2-K." Months of concern had built about whether computers would recognize the start of 2000, or shut down forever. Some people made special preparations, such as withdrawing money from bank accounts. Compared with the fall of 2008, this potential collapse actually was expected.



But a friend of mine from the CNN years had an even better idea. Lisa Napoli was an Internet reporter for MSNBC, and suggested everyone take pictures of life on the last day of 1999 - on film, not digitally. Prints of film negatives could last through coming changes on technology. And this was back when an "I-Pod" referred to modular seating in an office.



(Lisa Napoli has a book coming out in the new year, and describes herself these days as a "recovering journalist." Maybe that's what I am, too. The humor here is a bridge between broadcast news and the "funny farm.")



So I took Lisa Napoli up on her historical challenge, and used a disposable camera to take a visual record of Columbus at the end of 1999. A review of the pictures Wednesday reminded me of how much has changed in the last ten years. Not everything has changed, of course - such as the residence of Carlton Gary.




I started with a picture of my computer system as of 31 December 99. My eMachines mainframe and monitor were about 18 months old. I still have the computer case on my kitchen floor, simply waiting for someone to break in and steal it.



That eMachines, uh, machine had frequent problems, and finally died for good in 2006 [23 Jun 06]. Yet I dared to replace it with another eMachines, which has given me no problems at all. It even has the original stickers in front - one of them urging me to try a six-month membership in AOL. Talk about old....




Downtown Columbus was being transformed at the end of 1999. The RiverCenter was starting to take shape. Imagine where we'd be without it - with the sight of Columbus Symphony Orchestra performers smoking during intermission in the Three Arts Theater parking lot.




There was no 13th Street Bridge at the end of 1999. Construction equipment was parked between Broadway and Front Avenue, and downtown drivers crossed the Chattahoochee at 14th Street. Hasn't that 14th Street Pedestrian Bridge concept worked out well? A few people like me jog on it, while the majority of users sit and gripe.



(That building on the left was the Holland House Furniture store on Broadway. It went out of business, as the bridge designers apparently couldn't afford to add a Front Avenue exit ramp for a parking lot.)




But as we like to say in Columbus (or do we still?), some progress was preserved downtown. The historic Mott House was kept intact, as TSYS built its headquarters around it. The Mott House is still there - and amazingly, no one is trying to sell rooms as loft space.




This historic building at Ninth and Front Avenue was in somewhat of its original condition in December 1999. It's since been renovated, and now is the home of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau. The only place where you can smoke Tampa Cigars is on the other side of the back door, at Belloo's.



Downtown Columbus merchants tried to celebrate Y-2-K with a family-friendly New Year's Eve party. The original name for it was "Last Sunset in Georgia" - which some of us thought actually made people more nervous about power failures and computer crashes.




The Dillingham Street Bridge was closed for the "Sunset Celebration," and a Ferris wheel was set up there. That approach continued for several years at Thunder on the Hooch in July - but the "First Night" celebrations ended within a couple of years, due to lack of interest. Columbus residents apparently love drunken rides in SafetyCab that much.



A "Millennium Clock Tower" was dedicated on Bay Avenue during the Sunset Celebration, and a time capsule was buried with a message from Mayor Bobby Peters. Perhaps by the next millennium, someone will get the clock to run accurately on all four sides again.




The last day of 1999 was a Friday, and WTVM had its entire full-time news team on duty in case Y-2-K trouble developed. I had become a part-time freelancer about a month before, and was NOT called in. But I showed my compassion by taking boxes of Golden Donuts to the newsroom. No, there was NO pastry shaped like a 2 thrown in.



The WTVM newsroom was a cramped "bowling alley" for years, before moving to a modern spacious area a few years ago. The woman facing our camera is Alicia Smith, who now anchors morning news in Detroit. To her left is the person I trained to succeed me on the 6:00 p.m. news. Valerie Fuller now is Muscogee County Schools Director of Communications -- but hmmmm, she hasn't trained me to do HER job yet.




But there were other sights to see on 31 Dec 99. Columbus State University had a large construction project underway. As I recall (but I might be wrong), this became the Lumpkin Center. In another sign of changing times, I don't recall any students complaining in 1999 about being unable to find parking spaces.




Across the street from the university, it was a quiet Friday morning at the "train station" Burger King. It was built that way in anticipation of the promised trolley service between downtown Columbus and Peachtree Mall. The past year revealed the closest thing we may ever see to that is a procession of bicycles built for two.



I shot a picture of the drive-thru lane at Burger King because I wanted to record the prices as of December 1999. It didn't turn out very well, but you can see there was a 99-cent value menu with ten items on it. These days, items on the "Breakfast Value Menu" start at one dollar. And you thought inflation had disappeared....




An ambulance stopped our drive at River Road and Veterans Parkway - but note the Citgo station on the right. It's still there now, but the gas prices in December 1999 started at $1.17 per gallon. The best price I saw Wednesday was $2.49 - which almost makes me long for another national financial collapse.



I still have a copy of the Ledger-Enquirer from 31 Dec 99. A Winn-Dixie ad in that edition showed lettuce on sale for 99 cents a bunch. Last week at Piggly Wiggly, it was selling for $2.19 - but instead of telling the staff to "bag it," I bought bagged cole slaw.



(And another sign of changing times, the Ledger-Enquirer's self-proclaimed "Historic Edition" that day had more than 100 pages with several sections. If someone suggested that for a Friday edition in 2009, he or she might have been furloughed for a week.)




We can't overlook Midtown Columbus. The marquee for Cross County Plaza in December 1999 included Service Merchandise, CVS Pharmacy and Talbot's. All of them have either folded or moved now. And the Pier 1 Imports building was bulldozed last year for a new bank -- which I'm not sure can even exchange your imported Euros for dollar bills.




And this picture invariably starts a conversation when people see it. Columbus Square Mall still stood in December 1999, featuring a Radio Shack store. You can tell from the parking lot that the "digital decade" was yet to arrive....



Even my envelope with the pictures reflects a change from ten Decembers ago. The photos were processed at Eckerd -- which is now RiteAid. That beats Wolf Camera, which at last report was on the endangered business species list.



For those of you who might not remember how Y-2-K turned out: nothing disastrous happened. I went to bed on that Friday night around 10:00 p.m., but awakened just in time to see my bedroom clock switch to 12:00 midnight. It didn't beep, blow up or anything.



Let's return to 2009 now, where some news actually happened Wednesday:


+ An evening fire extensively damaged the kitchen at Ruth Ann's restaurant downtown. The building is NOT a total loss - but if I was the owner of Minnie's Uptown Restaurant, I'd start a breakfast menu to achieve a total gain.



+ Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren told WRBL the year ends with 85 new officers hired. The department is still 15 short of the promised 100. Don't the residents of Valley Rescue Mission recognize a good career opportunity?



+ A Pew Forum study concluded Alabama is the second-most religious state in the U.S., while Georgia ranks ninth. Alabama places nine states higher than Georgia in worship attendance - but let's face it, most of Alabama is unable to watch Bill Purvis's telecast on Saturday nights.



+ Alabama Attorney General Troy King joined 12 other states in threatening a lawsuit over the Senate health care reform bill. I haven't seen so much jealousy over Nebraska since Tom Osborne was the football coach.



+ WTVM reported Woodrow Lowe has been hired as head coach of Phenix City Central high school football. This comes two weeks after the Phenix City Council presented Lowe a key to the city - so the school superintendent had better get the locks at Garrett-Harrison Stadium adjusted quickly.



+ Roundball Night in Dixieland found Georgia's men pasting Pepperdine 64-47. These colleges have a common history, as both once were coached by Jim Harrick. On the west coast, Harrick was a rising star. At Georgia, his staff got in trouble for raising grades.



SCHEDULED FRIDAY: Our 1 January blog tradition (black tie optional)....



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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

30 DEC 09: Fighting Like Cats and Dogs



Do you make New Year's resolutions? Maybe public officials at all levels in Russell County should make one - to borrow from a Glen Campbell song and "Try a Little Kindness." Don't sue each other. Don't telephone each other when you're angry. And if you simply must get something off your chest.... well, the "write me" link below still works.



The latest public fight in Russell County involves a newly consolidated animal shelter. Yes, we've moved beyond fireworks and football - and now they're feuding over fur.



It started last week, when the Russell County Commission voted to put a combined animal shelter under control of the Phenix City Police. WRBL reports that's fueled a controversy involving veterinarians. And with Fort Benning so close by, you're asking for trouble if you get the "vets" upset.



Phenix City Police Chief Ray Smith says a trained "shelter coordinator" is ready to take care of animals in need. But veterinarians who used to serve on the Russell County shelter board warn the coordinator lacks proper knowledge and experience. That hasn't stopped some people from winning election to city councils and county commissions lately....



The Phenix City Police Chief explained the shelter now is using veterinarians on an "on-call" basis, instead of keeping a full-time doctor on staff. Ray Smith explains this will save the city money. Which reminds me - why aren't animal rights groups lobbying to have pets covered by health care reform?



The animals at the combined shelter are available for adoption, and Phenix City officials want to offer vouchers to have them spayed or neutered. But Tuesday night's news revealed two east Alabama animal hospitals are refusing to accept them. Those hospitals had better watch their step - because the Police Chief might bring in Bob Barker to pressure them.



I wondered Tuesday night what other shelters in the Columbus area do, when it comes to treating sick animals. The Paws Humane web site didn't offer a clear answer. But its building on Milgen Road has a spay/neuter clinic - and hopefully employs staff members who know the difference between the two.



The Lee County Humane Society web site doesn't explain its approach to veterinarians, either. But volunteers can be "Animal Behavior Assistants" - perhaps training dogs to become skilled in tracking down energy-saving lightbulbs.



The "animal story" thickened in another way Tuesday, when Russell County's administrator claimed money might be missing from the old animal shelter board's budget. LeAnn Horne says some paper documentation hasn't been submitted. But of course, a dog at the animal shelter might have eaten it.



Former leaders of the Russell County animal shelter board say they have the receipts to back up their expenditures. They might want to take those documents to the District Attorney's office, because the administrator has taken the matter there. Prosecutors who usually spend their time handling cases of robbery and rape soon could be investigating 25-pound bags of dog food.



-> We tried to hit it big in yet another online poker tournament Tuesday night. How did we do? Find out at our other blog, "On the Flop!" <--



BLOG UPDATE: My guess about Ron Sparks was proven wrong Tuesday. The Alabama Agriculture Commissioner announced he'll stay in the race for governor, and a change to run for Congress next year never crossed his mind. But Sparks would like to thank whomever started the rumor, because he gained some free campaign publicity from it.



Now let's see what else stepped up to the microphones Tuesday:


+ Columbus Police reported the Fred's store on Auburn Avenue was burglarized for the fifth time in recent weeks. It's about time the discount store dumped that "how low can you go" jingle....



(Two break-ins occurred in the last week at Fred's. Cigarettes were stolen the first time. Then early Tuesday, perfume was taken - perhaps in a last-ditch attempt to get the cigarette smoke out of clothing.)



+ Manchester's mayor announced all city employees will have to take two furlough days a month. Anthony Clifton explained to WTVM Manchester is a "poor little town" with a tight budget. So why doesn't he do what people do in Columbus - and go door-to-door with boxes of candy?



+ Union Springs Mayor John McGowan denied he was drunk when he was arrested last week. So he's apparently heading for trial - and we'll see if there's a recording of McGowan claiming the town's springs simply are too bubbly.



+ The children's production "Elmo's Green Thumb" opened at the Columbus Civic Center. I didn't go to opening night, so perhaps someone can help me. If Elmo has a green thumb, does that prove he's the secret love child of Oscar the Grouch?



+ The South nipped the North 27-20 in the annual Georgia high school all-star football game at McClung Memorial Stadium. Again this year the crowd was small, and I admittedly never read or heard much publicity about the game. The organizers ought to follow the example of local college football games -- and give Columbus its sixth downtown parade in three months.



+ The Atlanta Hawks were clipped by Cleveland 95-84, before the largest regular-season crowd in Philips Arena history. The Hawks failed to score for the first 8:49 of the fourth quarter - and then Hawks announcer Steve Holman dared to say the officials are "blinded by the stars?!"



+ Instant Message to Wanda the "Bang Bang Lady" at Fireworks Outlet: I'm with you on this one. If someone told me about "wigging out," I'd think a costume party was coming up.



2009 IN REVIEW CON'D: Speaking of fireworks, November was an explosive month of showdowns in the area. Mark Shelnutt was a big winner. The Phenix City Central Booster Club was a loser. And part of me hopes January's mixed martial arts card at the Civic Center adds a "DiChiara-Wetzel" match.



November was the month when Mayor Jim Wetherington finally received what he wanted from.... well, make that half of what he wanted. Columbus Council approved a new Crime Prevention Director. But then a Councilor had to prevent Wetherington from running unopposed for re-election.



The impact of the "streets and safety" sales tax became apparent in Columbus during November. With dozens of new officers on beats across the city, no bridal shop can stash champagne in its back room anymore.



November was a month for grand openings. Kia rolled its first car off the assembly line in West Point. The Muscogee County Public Education Center held an open house. And thanks to pieces of Hurricane Ida, the heavens opened up in a grand way again.



Some people were in a gambling mood during November. First there were arrests outside the Fountain City Classic football game. Then the Alabama Supreme Court issued a six-point ruling on what defines a legal bingo game. Nursing homes across the state are still scrambling to respond to that.



A November tradition in Columbus was off a bit from past years. SOA Watch protest attendance seemed to be down - but at least no one blamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation for removing the two Spanish-language radio stations.



We found a fascinating federal statistic in November: 30.5 percent of the people in Muscogee County are obese. Yet as the year ended, Fat Boys Farmers Market still refused to change its name -- and there are NO scales for pedestrians walking on the Brown Avenue Bridge.



Big-name country music stars visited Columbus in November. Charlie Daniels had a day named in his honor. Darius Rucker didn't even get an honorary luncheon hosted by Calvin Smyre.



That brings us to December. So far it's been a month where Cessna announced plans to cut dozens of jobs, Carmike Cinemas saved a job by not decorating its building -- and the Russell County School Board pulled the Superintendent's job listing out of a recycle bin one more time.



SCHEDULED THURSDAY: An unusual "picture day" as we party like.... well, you'll see....



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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

29 DEC 09: Kit Kats or Flim-Flam?



If you want to save on your 2009 taxes, only three days remain to make a donation to charity. Charities certainly know it, because they're making appeals in all sorts of ways. One called recently, seeking donations to obtain bulletproof vests for sheriff's officers. Considering the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police once donated a set to Columbus Regional [9 Mar 05], I wonder if lobbyists prepared the priority list.



Then there was the man who knocked on my door Monday evening. He introduced himself as a "community awareness representative," dealing with drugs and homelessness. That title made me wonder if he worked for the city -- or in my neighborhood, if he might be bold enough to be offering drugs.



"Are you with the city, or...." I tried to ask.


"I'll explain, if you'll allow me to continue." But the next part of the Community Awareness Representative's speech didn't answer the question - explaining instead that we have a drug and homelessness problem, and asking if I agree with that. All I have to do is watch "COPS" on Saturday nights to realize that.



About one week before, two men from a nearby church were at my door giving me a free turkey. This Community Awareness Representative held a box containing a family pack of Reese's peanut butter cups, a family pack of Kit Kat bars and a paperback book. I must have missed the door-to-door fruit and vegetable salesman in between.



"I'm not selling anything," the Community Awareness Representative said. Instead, he was seeking donations to help needy people in exchange for his packs of candy. But he clearly was frustrated by my questions about whom he represented. I might as well have been a Republican attending a speech by President Obama.



Seconds before this man arrived, WTVM aired a report on how Columbus Police are cracking down on "gold parties" -- people trying to buy spare gold without getting city business licenses. The man's claim that he wasn't selling anything ruled out the need for a business license. But I still was wary - since a man came to my door at 7:05 a.m. years ago, selling cologne and aspirin.



The Community Awareness Representative wouldn't say which group was involved until I specifically asked him. Then he held up the paperback book, which mentioned Covenant House on the cover. That agency has assisted homeless young people for decades. But I've never heard of it going door-to-door - and not even the House of Mercy has become that desperate.



"Aren't they out of New York?" I asked the Community Awareness Representative.


"It's nationwide," he answered. A check online found houses indeed are located in several states, and even in Central America. The closest Covenant House to Columbus is in southwest Atlanta - but are that many homeless teens out hitchhiking on Interstate 185?



I never caught the man's name, but he claimed he does NOT live in Columbus. The badge around his neck said "California" on it - and he told me his "territory" includes California, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Perhaps California was added because of the upcoming Bowl Championship Series title game.



To make this even more curious, the Community Awareness Representative told me he does NOT work for Covenant House. He claimed to work for a company with the web site BailoutCapital.biz . A check Monday night found the web site is registered to a man in Las Vegas, but isn't operational at all. Too many office outings to casinos can do that....



The Community Awareness Representative went on to say homelessness is an issue "close to my heart," because he's been a homeless veteran in both the Air Force and Marines. So he was looking for donations of cash, clothing - "or if you don't have anything, I'll give you the candy." I might go nibble on supermarket samples once in a while, but I'm not that broke.



"Let me see if I can find some clothing," I told the Community Awareness Representative. But after a quick search, the best I could do in terms of ready-to-discard clothes was a well-worn white short-sleeve dress shirt. The man at the door simply wouldn't accept the used underwear I had in a stack.



"Will this be used locally?" I asked the Community Awareness Representative as I handed over the shirt. His answer implied no - and he never gave me a choice of Reese's or Kit Kats in exchange for my donation. Oh well, it didn't seem like that sweet an exchange all around.



Later in the evening, a check of the Covenant House web site found nothing to indicate it raises money through Community Awareness Representatives on your front porch. In fact, I could donate online with a credit card. Instead, I left a message explaining what you've just read. We'll see if my visitor was a charitable fund-raiser - or if he believes charity begins at your own home.



Here's a taste of what else crossed our path Monday:


+ WTVM confirmed December is the wettest month on record in Columbus history. We've had more than 12 inches, with one more storm system expected by Thursday. But the good news is that shoppers may have purchased more raincoats for holiday gift-giving than ever before.



+ The 5:00 p.m. news showed city workers dredging the Charter Oaks watershed lake, to prevent a repeat of last spring's Teak Drive flooding. A lawsuit by residents against the city remains a possibility - so if the Merry Maids haven't shown up in the neighborhood yet, they'd better hurry.



+ WRBL reported the veterinarian on duty at the Phenix City-Russell County Animal Shelter has been fired. Police Chief Ray Smith explained the building is a shelter, "not an animal hospital." This leaves me wondering if suspects in the city jail are allowed to get flu shots.



+ Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks promised to announce today if he'll abandon his campaign for Governor to run for Congress. Considering Sparks was endorsed by Larry Langford before the Birmingham mayor was found guilty of bribery, I think a switch is fairly safe.



+ Georgia toppled Texas A&M 44-20 in the Independence Bowl. The Bulldogs wind up with eight wins for the 13th season in a row, the longest streak in major college football - yet Jim Donnan can't get a coaching job to save his life.



(The Georgia broadcast team noted much of the stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana was filled with Texas A&M fans. Perhaps those "dumb Aggies" knew something Bulldog fans didn't - that the Shreveport area has several casinos.)



+ Instant Message to Westwood One broadcaster Kevin Harlan: Bud-dee! We shared a college sportscasting class, remember? Now you're a pro football voice on national radio - but trust me, Kev. After hearing the second quarter Monday night, you do NOT have to recite the colors of the uniforms four times in a period.



2009 IN REVIEW CON'D: September brought cooler weather to the Columbus area, but seemingly hotter emotions. Some parents of schoolchildren demanded an "Obama opt-out." A health care town hall meeting in Lee County led to a scuffle. Yet for some reason, the Columbus Tea Party never staged a march in support of Orly Taitz's lawsuits.



Columbus voters went against many predictions in September, and approved a new school sales tax. The outcome might have been different - but Bert Coker and Paul Olson simply could not resist joining in public debates.



There were other signs of an economic rebound in September. St. Francis Hospital announced a major expansion. And the Phenix City Council was able to give city workers a four-percent raise - which I guess was due to a short break from paying off city lawsuits.



But there were also signs of continuing difficulties in September. The Columbus USO office dropped its paid director position. The Ledger-Enquirer ordered mandatory furloughs. And when the "Honor Flight" of World War II veterans returned home from Washington, a few people were surprised that Army recruiters were NOT waiting with enlistment papers.



Several long Columbus traditions came to an end in September. At River Road Pharmacy, the reason was a fire. At WRCG radio, the reason was a move away from 13th Avenue. And at the Greater Columbus Fair, it was a simple case of funnel cakes being tastier than foot-long hot dogs.



A curious police call in September involved a man who burglarized Pizza Pronto on Second Avenue - then was found sleeping behind the business. Once you've played "Grand Theft Auto" over and over, all other crimes seem boring.



September meant the start of football season across the area. This year, even Columbus State University fielded a club football team -- and somehow did it without building a $750,000 temporary building for uniforms and weights.



But when the calendar turned to October, football took a more serious tone. The head coach of Russell County High School was indicted on charges of painting graffiti in a school driveway. By comparison, the Phenix City Manager settled for leaving verbal graffiti in the superintendent's ear.



Signs of change went far beyond the autumn leaves of October. The Columbus Mayor decided one term was enough. The Postmaster was placed on leave, amid controversy. And a Blog Exclusive found Judge Doug Pullen somehow received a promotion - far above replacing Magistrate Mallon Faircloth, to spokesman for God.



Fort Benning closed its Infantry School in October, in a major step toward base realignment. Leaders of SOA Watch were unimpressed, and held a protest in November anyway.



The economic comeback remained somewhat shaky in October. Goldens' Foundry filed for bankruptcy protection. The Phenix City-Russell County librarian admitted to this blog she had to reduce staffing and hours. And the Jay Auto Group reached an agreement to.... wellll.... am I allowed to mention what happened at the Nissan dealership BEFORE the critical e-mails came?



Every Democratic candidate for Georgia Governor came to Columbus in October for a dinner - and the mainstream news media ignored them all. This is how you know the Republican takeover of state government is complete....



Yet famous area Democrats were not overlooked completely. A section of road in Columbus was named Tom Buck Parkway. The airport in Americus was named after Jimmy Carter. And you could hear about Democrats more clearly than ever, after WRCG started an FM simulcast - albeit from critical Republicans and libertarians.



The Liberty Theater presented an award for acting in October to TV reporter Chauncy Glover. He's now at a station in Jacksonville - but that's still close enough to Orlando for him to hit it big, in a show at Walt Disney World.



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Monday, December 28, 2009

28 DEC 09: Weight for Change



WXTX "News at Ten" showed its year-end countdown of top local stories Sunday night. Michael Registe's return to Columbus was number one, while the Muscogee County Schools sales tax vote was number nine. And then critics say the news media pander to children too much....



The SPLOST vote in Muscogee County will have repercussions for several years - and a surprising one surfaced over the weekend. Richard Hyatt's web site noted the school board is considering spending $750,000 for a "temporary athletic facility" at Baker Middle School. So? Supporters DID say it would be a temporary tax.



We already knew Carver High School students would be moved to Baker Middle School, while their high school building is replaced. But apparently the athletic facilities at Baker aren't good enough. And the new hotels being built along Victory Drive must not have any swimming pools or exercise rooms.



The football field next to Baker Middle School apparently is NOT an issue. A Hispanic soccer league has used that field on weekends for several years. In fact, Carver's coaching staff might want to visit some of their games - because I understand the Tigers have had place-kicking problems recently.



The last Muscogee County School Board agenda listed some of the apparent shortcomings with Baker Middle School. For one thing, Carver High School needs a temporary building to hold a "boys' locker room." If the Baker boys and girls are sharing one now, that may start a new enrollment rush at Pacelli and Calvary Christian.



The temporary athletic building also would include a weight room. We can't expect Carver football players to get by simply with lifting science tables and cafeteria benches.



Several different ideas come to mind, as I consider this proposed athletic building. First of all: why should it be temporary? Build something permanent that Baker Middle School students can use, once the new Carver High School is ready. The weight room could double as a math lab, for teaching addition and subtraction.



Richard Hyatt reposted the list of school SPLOST projects, and asked where a Baker Middle School athletic building is. I think I found it -- under "athletic upgrades systemwide." But then again, some 11-year-olds might consider the new locker room a "playground."



But another thought comes to mind here. Why can't Carver High School use facilities a short walk from Baker Middle School? The Frank Chester Recreation Center is only three doors down, with at least a basketball court. And if that's too far to walk, there's a fire/EMS station in between them.



And again the question must be asked -- why can't Muscogee County Schools use part of the old Baker High School, which the district still owns? Has that building become so rundown that it would cost more than $750,000 to renovate?



The Carver High School men's basketball teams will be in action tonight, as the annual "William Henry Shaw Christmas Tournament" begins around Columbus. The men's schedule offers one surprise - as area schools are joined by Franklin County, which is between Athens and Toccoa. Maybe the players are sticking around to help build a Habitat for Humanity house.



Let's see what else we could find, from a Sunday with little news to offer:


+ The Christ Community Church broadcast on WBOJ-FM included a confession from the pastor. Keith Cowart admitted he became annoyed with two women talking during a screening of "The Passion of the Christ," and spoke to them about it - only to learn one was blind, and the other was reciting the subtitles. Some ministers have to learn not to say too much....



+ The Columbus Cottonmouths lost in overtime to Knoxville 3-2. A two-minute penalty against Columbus in the second period for "too many men on the ice" led to a game misconduct against Ryan McCarthy for "abuse of officials." Hopefully he did NOT compare their mathematics skills to some Muscogee County schools.



+ The Atlanta Falcons bounced Buffalo 31-3. Both Atlanta kickers were hurt during the game, so defensive lineman Kroy Biermann was called on for a couple of kickoffs. It's a wonder the football didn't explode from the force of the blow.



+ Instant Message to Davis Broadcasting: Again?! For the second night in a row, you switched away from a game before it was over. But at least this time, the pro football game was out of hand - and NBC probably wishes it could have done the same thing.



-> We tried to win $20,000 at the online poker table Sunday night. How did we do? Find out at our other blog, "On the Flop!" <--



2009 IN REVIEW CON'D: People in Columbus had to adjust to some changes in July. The city took over the recycling program. TV newscasters suddenly flipped to different radio stations. And morning lows in the range of 62 degrees F. actually were worth the trouble.



The Columbus sales tax for "streets and safety" took effect as July began. You may have noticed the impact of extra police officers and beats already - as young women no longer are getting drunk at bridal shops.



Yet a couple of Muscogee County Prison inmates got away from a work detail in July, and escaped all the way to Las Vegas. This suggests to me they don't show C.S.I. on the prison TV screens - because otherwise the inmates would have fled somewhere else.



Fort Benning unveiled a new safety-conscious device in July - a hand-held scanner for checking visitors. But sadly, it only checks their license plates. Given what happened over the weekend, we could use a scanner which checks visitors' underwear.



The Muscogee County School Board approved tough new rules on student cell phones in July. This had an immediate impact, as rumors about teacher furloughs spread much more slowly.



This blog broke news in early July of a sewage spill into Holland Creek in Phenix City. It turned out to be one of many in the Columbus area, which were blamed on record rain. It's a wonder a small-scale "water war" hasn't started, with a lawsuit from the city of Eufaula.



A Harris County Commissioner caused a stir in July, by proposing a ban on purchases of General Motors and Chrysler vehicles. He withdraw the proposal hours later - but amazingly, he still drove the Saturn and Saab names out of business.



Then came August, which was marked by a contentious town hall meeting on health care reform in Columbus. Ever the skilled tactician, retired General William Calley chose that very day to come out of hiding and talk to a civic club.



The economy remained a major concern in August. Colonial Bank went out of business. Reports spread of furloughs in the Georgia State Patrol. Even the University of Georgia football coaches had to take furlough days - which may be the real reason why the Bulldogs have to settle for tonight's Independence Bowl.



A new school year opened in Columbus in August, with a curious mix of developments. Parents were told to stop idling their cars outside school - yet a high school principal who was forced to become idle due to scandal was named Georgia's Principal of the Year.



Yet a "New Day Campaign" began in August, to push for a Muscogee County school sales tax. For the 43 percent of voters who opposed it, I think you have four days left to buy everything you can.



Small towns outside Columbus made unusual news in August. A couple in Richland was charged with running a ponzi scheme. The mayor of Hurtsboro was indicted, for not handing over some records. And Webster County had to survive without a high school football team - which somehow has NOT caused residents to move en masse to Cusseta.



We learned in August that Fort Benning had launched a program to promote religious sensitivity. Yet SOA Watch seemingly was not impressed by this - because protesters again left crosses in November, without any stars of David.



Then there was the Columbus attorney who performed a feat of strength for his birthday in August. Cecil Chaves ran 60 miles, rode a bicycle for 60 miles, then swam 60 laps around Lake Oliver. You wondered where the National Football League got that "Play 60" idea, didn't you?



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Sunday, December 27, 2009

27 DEC 09: Calm After the Storm



Around 5:45 Saturday evening, I saw my first line of shoppers. But strangely, it was NOT inside the Walgreens store. It was outside the store, at the Redbox movie rental machine. I'm not sure if this reflected people with new DVD players, or a stunning lack of good sports events on TV.



Because I keep a seventh-day Sabbath, I didn't go to any stores until sunset Saturday. That means I missed the 5:00 a.m. after-Christmas sale at one of the big department stores. At first I considered this absurd - but then I remembered how I woke up my parents at 5:15 a.m. on some Christmas mornings when I was a boy.



A few Columbus stores were open until 12:00 midnight Thursday. I don't remember stores doing that in recent years. Were they trying to help every last-minute shopper they could -- or trying to salvage a bottom line for the year?



For one store in downtown West Point, the "Christmas rush" was the end of the line. Hengstler's Jewelry Store closed after 95 years of business -- which should be a hint that salaries at the Kia plant aren't quite as large as we dreamed.



The midnight pinch on one end and the 5:00 a.m. reopening on the other end left Friday like an island. The only businesses which seemed to be open were convenience stores, 24-hour pharmacies and movie theaters. Speaking personally, eating buttered popcorn at the movies makes more sense than stringing it around a tree.



(I was reminded this year of a former co-worker who likes to say certain things are "slower than Christmas." When WTVM doesn't even have a 12:00 noon newscast, you know it's slow.)



But anyway: I went to Walgreens to follow my sweet custom -- taking advantage of half-priced chocolate. Yet when I walked inside, the place was practically empty. And even though other shoppers had a 13-hour head start, some half-priced bags of M&M's actually remained. Now this is a chocolate lover's version of a "Christmas miracle" - well, after the fact.



"It must be a lot calmer now than a few days ago," I said as I walked right up to the woman at the Walgreens cash register.


"Oh my g**h," the woman answered. For some people, the "peace on earth" part comes after the deadline.



There's another group of workers now relieved of annual year-end pressure - teachers, especially in elementary schools. One substitute teacher told me this weekend about some second-graders, who tried to get her to take a stand on Santa Claus. No, NOT whether he's a conservative Republican because he leaves gifts only for good girls and boys....



The woman told me she dodged the question. "I'm here to teach social studies. We're not going to get into that," she told the second-graders - knowing if she declared Santa Claus a myth, she'd get in trouble with school administrators. Who would have thought Santa and Darwin have something in common?



We probably won't know for a few days how the year-end shopping binges went in the Columbus area. One man reported online he couldn't find "Wii Rock Band" sets anywhere in town. So I assume he cried "Wii! Wii! Wii! Wii!" all the way home.



One Auburn business reported sales of college gear are better when the football team has a winning season. So let's see -- that means the Tigers are up. Crimson Tide items are way up. And based on the news of Saturday night, Gainesville, Florida is on the brink of a depression.



-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. People around the world visit "On the Flop!" <--



BLOG UPDATE: Columbus fireworks specialist Stephen King told me Saturday night he faces at least 15 days of hyper-baric treatment, starting Monday. He still could lose his feet, due to infection after an assault in Richland. I'd suggest police there go ahead and arrest a suspect - before a lawsuit makes them wish the entire city had tracked him down.



Now let's check other news items from the holiday weekend:


+ The Friday late-afternoon temperature on the Columbus Civic Center sign was 59 degrees F. -- which is strange, because the official temperature at the airport was 47. The sun wasn't shining on South Commons, so what could explain this? There weren't even that many skateboarders burning up the concrete.



+ Columbus Police reported someone was robbed at gunpoint at the front door of RoadAmerica on Victory Drive. Aw, c'mon - I don't think that office really looks like a strip mall.



+ The mayor of Union Springs was arrested on drunk driving and obstruction charges. If recent history repeats itself, John McGowan could be on the Hurtsboro City Council in a couple of years.



+ The mayor of Taylor, Alabama was arrested on public lewdness charges. Dothan police say Joel Napier was undressed and (ahem) making love with a younger woman in a car, in the parking lot of a Waffle House. So I guess she was smothered, but not covered....



+ Words of Wisdom Christian Center had its annual all-comers holiday giveaway. From what I saw on TV, several children were given toys - but I keep waiting for Bishop Barbara Shepherd to give away part of her collection of big hats.



+ The Atlanta Thrashers were topped by Tampa Bay 4-3. Atlanta made a late rally, but Columbus radio listeners missed it because WEAM-AM/WIOL switched to the Emerald Bowl at 10:00 p.m. ET. Did that many people want to hear Jarvis Jones's name called, making tackles for Southern California?



(Davis Broadcasting apparently set a computer to switch games, based on when the staff guessed the hockey game would end. WSTH-FM "Rooster 106" seemed to do the same thing with a NASCAR race in August. And then we wonder why Columbus rates so low in national rankings of "top sports towns.")



+ Instant Message to Lisa Rowe of Uptown Columbus: Did I hear you right on WLTZ - all downtown businesses are locally owned and operated? If you think the Ledger-Enquirer is locally owned, you should talk to the employees who went through furloughs in recent weeks.



2009 IN REVIEW CON'D: June was a big month for the Columbus economy, as NCR announced a move from Ohio and plans for a new plant. The City Manager wanted federal stimulus money to cover the move - but instead we're stuck with a bike path which isn't even being moved to go by the front door.



But not all the local economic news in June was positive. This blog broke the news that Victory Pawn and "Indian Joe" were about to disappear, and that the Rod Hood Football Camp quietly was canceled. Things were so bad that a newly-crowned Miss Georgia couldn't hold the job more than 24 hours.



Another big event in June was the formal grand opening of the National Infantry Museum. The entrance has a giant statue of a soldier, who seems to be waving at you. The best the Port Columbus museum can do is pretend to have friendly ghosts in the hallways.



June was a month of changes as well. The commanding general of Fort Benning was transferred. State Representative Vance Smith was named Georgia Transportation Commissioner. And several Columbus television stations switched to digital signals - but this did NOT explain why some employees were pointed toward the door to pick up final paychecks.



The Georgia Supreme Court had Columbus on its mind in June. It ruled in favor of the Education Park Coalition and "greenspace," but against Expedia in a fight over hotel-motel taxes. Columbus Council voted in June to increase those taxes - which should prove which ruling was more important, because nothing's happened regarding the other case.



The Columbus Police Department faced another embarrassment in June, as two officers were fired in a scheme involving stolen motorcycles. But things could have been much worse - those officers could have fixed the outcome of Saturday poker runs.



June was the month when state experts officially declared the drought in Columbus over. We still have alternate-day watering rules - but after all the rain we've had in December, is anyone still bothering to water their lawns at all?



But all the rain through a leaking roof forced the closing of the Chattahoochee Valley Community College library in June. As far as I know, Owen Hall remains closed - and students probably wish country singer Jake Owen had raised some money for repairs, while he was in Phenix City for a concert.



Perhaps the most stunning sight in June occurred on WLTZ, when news anchor John Beard suddenly appeared without any hair. His medical treatment apparently is going well, because the hair is now back. And I'm thankful Stefanie Tiso and Maria Jones didn't shave their hands in a show of support.



Columbus's version of a "big June wedding" occurred at the Botanical Gardens, when 20 Third Brigade couples either were married or reaffirmed vows in one ceremony. Hmmmm - were those couples in favor of that short-lived "no pregnancy" rule in Iraq or not?



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Saturday, December 26, 2009

26 DEC 09: Lord of the Dance



(BLOGGER'S NOTE: You may find the following item humorous, serious, or a little of both - but we offer these thoughts from time to time, as we keep a seventh-day Sabbath.)



We received several e-mails this past week about our news of a Columbus fireworks specialist, who's recovering from an assault. We have no new information about his condition, but this message hopefully brought comfort and encouragement....



Can you tell Stephen King that God does heal. I broke my back and had numerous other broken bones. I was locked out of the house and came home at about 8:30 one June evening. I tried to get in by pulling a chair up to the window of my old home in Weracoba. When I was halfway in the window, the old full length heavy, sashed window fell on my back. I fell forward into the room and crashed my head into a rocking chair. I was upside down for a long time! When I awoke I did not know what day it was, all I could think was, well I am not hurt too bad, since I can still think.



The window fell on my back in one of the homes where the stocking strangler had attacked, and I kept thinking how someone could come along and hurt me. I was helpless and in need of rescue. When I awoke again I pulled myself to the bed. The next time I was aware of anything was when I tried to get out of that bed. I knew I was hurt bad, and had been there a long time. I managed to go to the hospital on my own steam, though I looked pretty rough. I had fallen on Mon. night and that was a Friday afternoon. At the ER the attending physician, gave me orange juice and said that the x-rays showed nothing and that I could go home. I drove home, embarrassed at the fuss I had caused, and the attention I had needlessly drawn to myself by such dedicated professionals, with a waste of their valuable time. I was still in tremendous pain so as soon as I got home, I went to bed. I had been unconscious all week, and I was still tired.



The next morning I got a call at 7:30. The voice said something like this: "Uh, Ms, What are you doing."



"I am trying to sleep, it is Sat. morning, what do you think I am doing."



"Uh, Ms, this is the ER, we have reviewed your x-rays. DON'T MOVE! You have a broken back, ribs, clavicle, and more. You must be in a lot of pain. We are sending an ambulance."



Not long after that, the swelling set in, inflammation went wild and I lost the ability to walk. I had so many broken bones and I had sheared a tendon on my hip bone with the contortion. 6 months later I did not know if I would ever walk again as I then lost total use of my legs. The drs. at Houston did not know if I would ever walk again. My recovery took one year.



A year later I was running up and down hills, through the forest, with botany teams identifying plants. God is so good!



At a Bachelorette Party, I ran into one of my Drs., and he asked me to dance! Now, that was a happy dance, filled with laughter and Praise for God! We were both so humbled by the end of the dance that we were teary.



We both knew God had miraculously healed me!



Tell Stephen, that God is still in the healing business. Keep the Faith. Keep PRAYING, Stephen, Keep Praying. Turn your life over to GOD. Keep the FAITH. God is still in the healing business.



It is all to the Glory of God!



An Unworthy Believer



A few weeks ago, I heard a local pastor declare during a sermon: "Doctors don't build up your faith. Doctors destroy your faith." Apparently this woman met a doctor who's an exception to this rule - and one national association claims to have thousands of them. I don't know if they recommend a "fish diet" or not, with the logo on backs of their cars to match.



A New Testament book is named Luke - and the book of Colossians refers to him as a "beloved physician." Would Paul have written that, if Luke lacked faith in Christ? Come to think of it, I'm not sure a "healing God" would have allowed Luke's book to appear in the Bible at all.



I believe in God's healing power, and I'm thankful he removed pneumonia from me nearly three years ago. But as we mentioned last Saturday regarding Oral Roberts, the miracles we desire don't always happen in this life. I pray they will with Stephen King - but if they don't, we should strive to be resurrected by God with eternal life. That body's probably going to be much better.



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Friday, December 25, 2009

25 DEC 09: Poker Night 122/123 - Double Down



(BLOGGER'S NOTE: In a cost-cutting experiment, today's post is a "blog simulcast" - appearing on both The Blog of Columbus, Georgia and On the Flop.)



'Twas the night before Christmas. At least for most people. Not for me - because I'm a Christian who doesn't keep Christmas. It would have been a challenging Thursday night, looking for something to do besides watching the local 24-hour weather channel to see where the mass of rain is going.



But thankfully, this year offered something unusual. While most Columbus bars and clubs shut down for the holiday, Lil Kim's Cove on Fourth Street was open as usual, holding its weekly Thursday night poker doubleheader. Someone might sing "We Three Kings" there for a very different reason - holding three of a kind, to win a pot.



Since Lil Kim's Cove is walking distance from home, Thursday night has become poker night for me over the last couple of years. I play fairly well and have won money on several occasions, but that's not the only reason for going. I conduct "poker ministry" when the time is right - trying to show there's more to God than cursing when you lose a hand.



So while much of Columbus shut down Thursday night for Christmas, it was business as usual for me. I took the short walk, and for a change played in both poker tournaments instead of the first one. A mix of rain and the holiday reduced the odds of late-night trouble significantly. Next Thursday night may be different, due to amateurs shooting fireworks.



As we suspected, the turnout for poker night was down this week. Only about 20 people showed up -- which increased our chances of making the final table and winning money for the top two finishers. These were the hard-core poker players. I hesitate to call them addicts - but hardly any of them bothered to pay attention to Southern Methodist winning the Hawaii Bowl on TV screens.



I sat for the first tournament at a seven-player table. Five players were African-American, one was Asian-American - and then there was I. A minority in terms of race, and perhaps in morality as well.



The Asian-American man sat next to me, and plopped a basket of fries on the table. He apparently bought them merely for the bonus poker chips you get for a purchase, as he allowed me to eat most of them. Those were the only "chips" other players were willing to share all night.



"Since we're all here playing poker," I said to the table at one point, "I suppose you're like me - not keeping Christmas." No one really responded to that. Perhaps it would have been an admission many of the people didn't really have a life.



It didn't take long for the action to get interesting in Game 1....



BLINDS: 25/50



IN THE POCKET: A-Q offsuit



It's a strong hand and it's early, so we raise to 250. Several players around the table call.



ON THE FLOP: 10-8-10



We missed, but we have "overcards." Not wanting to look weak, we bet 300. A few players call to stay in.



ON THE TURN: Q



Ah, that's better - two pair with the top kicker. We bet 300 again, and one other man calls.



ON THE RIVER: 5



That looks harmless and inconsequential. But now we check, hoping to get a read on what our opponent has -- and he answers by betting 1,050. Uh-oh. Is he hiding a third 10? We call to see if he's bluffing - but he's not. He has 10-5, and had us topped all along. His full house leaves us emptier.



While that loss hurt, I recovered by winning a few modest pots. One hand was downright strange, when I played A-4. Nothing paired on the board, and it turned out three other players held Aces with small secondary cards. The pot wound up as a four-way split -- something General Motors hasn't even been able to accomplish this year.



Late in the first hour of play, a shouting match erupted at the table next to ours. "You had a FLUSH!" one man standing at the table yelled. A lot of haggling ensued - in a possible preview of what department stores will face Saturday.



(I was told later the argument developed because the dealer put out all five face-up cards at once - not waiting for players to bet "on the flop" when the first three came out. Some players simply are too used to high-speed broadband online games.)



But then came the strangest sight of the evening, as a little girl walked into Lil Kim's Cove. She held a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and gave some kind of prepared speech which I couldn't really hear. Is this what school clubs have to do in December, to compete with the Salvation Army?



The girl had no mother or father standing by her - and after a moment, one of the female poker players suggested she leave. Lil Kim's Cove is essentially a bar, after all. The only product made with yeast that most people want is a bottle of beer.



Back at the game, our chip stack increased to 9,500 by the one-hour break. But the cards didn't come our way after that, and we finished the first tournament in tenth place. The remaining nine combined for the final table - so at least we had the courtesy of making room for them.



Usually we leave after the first game at Lil Kim's Cove, and walk home to blog about it. But this week we stayed for the second game - since late-night local newscasts were canceled, and the Christmas Eve church services downtown weren't giving away door prizes.



There's a jukebox inside Lil Kim's Cove, and its screen offered "Christmas hits" for the playing. But no one at the club selected any Thursday night. Well, I heard "The Midnight Special" at one point -- but I don't think that really counts as a carol.



When an Elvis Presley song came on the jukebox, I started modestly doing the twist in my seat. "You can't dance here," a man to our right declared. "This is a no-dancing table." Talk about a killjoy - but then again, Lil Kim's Cove does NOT have a pole in one corner.



The second half of the poker doubleheader began shortly before 10:00 p.m. ET, after the first tournament was settled with a three-way division of the prize money. While the play settled down, the "trash talk" by players escalated - leading me to say: "If a poker player tells you Santa Claus is real, don't believe him."



A moment of courage and decision came our way in Game 2, and it had nothing to do with trash talk....



BLINDS: 200/400



IN THE POCKET: A-7 offsuit



Our chip stack is only average, compared to the players around us. We call the blind, prepared to push if necessary - but the table doesn't.



ON THE FLOP: A-K-6



A pair of Aces always looks nice to us. But a man to our immediate right is playing first, and betting.1,000. Holding top pair, this is a no-brainer - and we call.



ON THE TURN: 8 (as best we recall)



The man to our right checks. So do we, actually feeling a bit relieved by this.



ON THE RIVER: 6



The man to our right examines our chips, then bets 3,000. That's enough to force us all-in, as we have 2,950 left. Uh-oh - is he holding a third 6?



"Ooh boy," a woman across the table says in sympathy with our situation. Then she asks about our work situation - a perfect stress release.



We explain what's happened to us in recent weeks. "But in this case...." we add, as we contemplate some more. Finally we decide to risk it all.



"Show me your 6," we say in semi-defeat as our stack of chips hits the table. "I have two pair with a King."



"You got it," the opponent says - as he held a King. Our two pair were higher, and we're thankful for an A-grade.



I reached the one-hour break in Game 2 with 9,000 chips. Then the second hour brought my strangest personal moment of the night. I put in a 1,000-chip piece for the big blind as the jukebox began playing Ray Charles' "Georgia on My Mind." So I stood up, and removed my hat. "It's the state song," I explained. If GPB had played it at sign-off, I might still have done it.



Trouble is, it was NOT my turn to post the big blind. Someone else wound up dealing the hand, and by the time play reached me it was too late to remove it. I made a substantial donation to someone else's chip stack - and didn't even get a doughnut for my trouble.



Forced to go all-in with the big blind with only 1,500 chips left, my Q-8 was outgunned by players with A-Q and A-10. An Ace on the river paired them, but not me. I wound up in 12th place, going none-for-two in reaching the final table -- even though earlier in the day I finished fifth in an online tournament with 250 players. Of course, they can't see your eyes or sweat online....



No one said "Merry Christmas" as I left Lil Kim's Cove. The remaining players simply kept up their games, as I stepped outside in pouring rain to quickly walk home. The only major holiday reference of the evening came when a player sitting next to a Christmas tree complained of having "pine needles up my...."



MINISTRY MOMENT: For the second night in a row, I took a AAA battery for a "card protector" at the tournaments (and of course much more).



"Why do you have the battery?" a man across the table asked during Game 2.



"It reminds me that I receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes upon me. I read that in a book once. Do you know what book that is?"



The man surprisingly made a good guess. "That's the Good Book, isn't it?"



I'm not sure how that phrase became attached to the Bible. It isn't found in Scripture -- and by the way for you zealots, neither is "Merry Christmas."



But I'm convinced reading and studying the Bible can do much good. It contains "good news," which is what the word "gospel" means. Paul summarizes that gospel in I Corinthians 15 -- and interestingly, he does NOT mention Jesus's birth. Paul focuses on the Savior's death, burial and resurrection. So if a minister Thursday night tried to keep Him in a manger, that was a mistake.



Paul then offers the hope of a resurrection to all who believe -- but verse 33 reminds us: "Bad company corrupts good character." Perhaps that's why I haven't probed too deeply into the lives of the poker players around me. Many of them smoke, some don't mind getting drunk - but at least none of them have tried to play strip poker at our games.



UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 48 final tables in 123 nights (39.0%) - 10 cashes. We're counting Thursday's doubleheader as two nights. But with only one final table in the last 12, this is a serious slump for us.



YAHOO POKER TOTAL: $13,816 (no play)



NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Five-player sit-n-goes - 3-6-3-1-0. Full tournaments - 7 final tables in 68 games (10.2%), no cashes. There's no slump here right now, as we've had top-five finishes three times in the last eight days.



POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: One-table sit-n-goes - one top-three finish in seven games.



SCHEDULED THIS WEEKEND: A reader's story of recovery.... and our year-end review of 2009 resumes....



To offer a story tip, make a PayPal donation, advertise to our readers or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post your e-mail comment and offer a reply.



BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 400 (+ 7, 1.8%)



The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.



© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

24 DEC 09: The Butler's Done It



Right when I think I've visited every nice restaurant in Columbus, I'm reminded of one or two I've missed. My last chance to try one of them vanished Wednesday -- like so many potato peels down a garbage disposal.



The Butler's Pantry closed its two Columbus locations, after 24 years in business. The deli on Auburn Avenue was especially popular - and now the staff at Temple Israel may have to cast lots to determine the most kosher place left for lunch.



WLTZ showed a "memory wall" inside the Auburn Avenue location, where customers left going-away messages. Several heaped special praise on the chicken salad at The Butler's Pantry - which only proves we're in the South, where many residents are programmed to eat chicken at least every other day.



But if all goes well, the chicken salad will not disappear completely. The Butler's Pantry plans to shift its focus away from delis, to products for grocery stores and other restaurants. That seems to be a trend in the food business - although I'm still waiting for supermarkets to carry something from Dunkin Donuts other than coffee.



The Butler's Pantry will partner with Columbus Gourmet to put its most popular items in grocery stores. I knew Columbus Gourmet was over Kendrick Pecans - but I didn't realize until I checked online that it also offers "Dodge City Steaks." That's yet another sign we're in the South. I grew up in Kansas City, where no one ever referred to steaks as coming from western Kansas.



But there's an intriguing side story at The Butler's Pantry, which you might have overlooked. The business has been owned for about six years by Trip and Teresa Tomlinson - yes, the Teresa Tomlinson who's in charge of MidTown Inc. So she's closing her own deli in the heart of her own beloved neighborhood. But please, pay more attention to the nice new trees and brickwork on Wynnton Road.



On top of that, Columbus Gourmet opened a new office earlier this month in the Corporate Ridge Industrial Park. That's on Cargo Drive - well outside the MidTown Inc. boundaries. But come to think of it, Schatulga Road has had a shortage of retail shops for even more years than MidTown....



The Butler's Pantry web site was NOT updated Wednesday night, to reflect the closing of its retail shops. But it includes this quote from Teresa Tomlinson: "The Butler's Pantry is part of the character of this community." So was the Kinnett Dairy - which is now down to a wayward cow outside a Best Buy store.



Keep in mind that Teresa Tomlinson has been rumored as a possible candidate for Columbus Mayor next year. Could a shift in business strategy for The Butler's Pantry hurt Tomlinson's image with voters - that she doesn't love MidTown enough to keep her own business there? Or will male voters ignore that, and simply consider her the best-looking candidate in decades?



Fans of The Butler's Pantry will be able to make one last "pick-up" sometime in January, when the furnishings from the two locations go on sale. I'm more curious to learn who will get custody of what the web site calls "an extensive collection of small, eclectic" wines. Will the Tomlinsons keep them - or perhaps ship them to Eclectic, Alabama?



Now let's see if we can make chicken salad out of sense of other Wednesday news:


+ Which areas of Fort Benning are making employees work today, when they've supposedly been off on 24 December in other years? I really can't imagine soldiers are going to stage a Benning Tea Party, to mark the health care reform vote.



+ Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue asked Attorney General Thurbert Baker to examine whether the state can file suit, to block the Senate's health care reform bill. The governor should look on the bright side. The way it's written right now, low-income people could flee Georgia for Nebraska in record numbers.



+ Acquitted attorney Mark Shelnutt told WLTZ he put in "20-hour days" preparing for his federal trial. He shouldn't really complain about that - because all those "20 hours" kept him from receiving 20 years.



+ The Russell County Commission voted 4-3 to accept a merger agreement of animal shelters with Phenix City. Commissioner Peggy Martin said it came down whether the county would buy out the city's shelter, or the city would buy out the county's shelter. About 60 years ago, this might have been settled with a big poker game on Broad Street.



(Members of the Russell County Animal Shelter board don't like the merger. They say Phenix City doesn't want to pay for a veterinarian to visit the animals every day. Maybe city council members plan to stop by, after hanging around City Hall for hours each day.)



+ A nightclub on Broadway held a contest to find the "tackiest Christmas sweater." If you have one that's a mix of bright red and forest green, remember something -- it's also appropriate for Cinco de Mayo, because you'll look like the Mexican flag.



+ The University of Alabama announced a lack of money will prevent 25 alternate members of the marching band from traveling to California, for the Bowl Championship Series title game. Isn't this amazing? Even the "Million Dollar Band" has lost some value to inflation.



+ Roundball Night in Dixieland (tm) featured Georgia's men flattening Florida Atlantic 77-60. The Stegeman Coliseum scoreboard malfunctioned at one point, and showed 1:82 to play [True/WHAL-AM]. Die-hard Athens rock fans saw that time, and blinked.



(Am I the only one who thinks it's weird to hear Dennis Felton as an analyst on the Bulldog Radio Network? He was Georgia's head coach less than a year ago -- and he was fired, instead of resigning. Is Felton talking up the Bulldogs with severance payments, or hush money?)



+ Instant Message to the organizers of the Tour de Georgia bike race: Too bad you've called off the event again for 2010. Columbus has a challenging new course nearly ready to use - and I'm sure the contractors could leave a few railroad ties on it, to make things more challenging.



2009 IN REVIEW CON'D: May was marked by several major moves in Columbus. The Mildred Terry library branch was moved to a new location. Wayne Bennett moved off the TV anchor desk, and tried to move to Panama. But amazingly, no one seemed moved enough to protest a revival by Dr. Jeremiah Wright.



(We say "tried to move" because Wayne Bennett is telling friends he now lives in Florida. If I had to choose, the Panama City in Florida probably would be more in my comfort zone as well.)



This blog broke a big education story in May - the suspension of a Georgia teaching certificate for once-praised Rigdon Road School Principal Phyllis Jones. So does anyone know what she's doing these days? Is Jones living out her retirement dream, by attending the wrestling matches in Phenix City?



The Muscogee County School Board voted in May to begin a new health curriculum for ninth-graders, promoting abstinence. But it's being implemented over four years - so for awhile, "WAIT-Training" is more likely to refer to the Carver High School football team.



May also was the month when Mark Shelnutt was indicted on 40 federal counts -- including alleged bribes involving University of Georgia football tickets. Shelnutt wound up 40-0, while the Bulldogs went 7-5. So you tell me who's more likely to be the "hot ticket" in 2010.



May was a historic month in Phenix City. The mayor and council voted themselves a big pay raise, only weeks after two members quarreled in the middle of a meeting. Love may conquer all, but a profit-sharing plan can come pretty close....



But not all was well in Russell County during May. The Boys and Girls Clubs lost their charter. Phenix City Mayor Sonny Coulter declared the Phenixian project as good as dead. And the discovery of an eight-foot-long alligator in Fort Mitchell should have been a sign that many lawns would become swamps.



May was the month Columbus lost the Spanish-language radio station "Viva 1460." I miss that station at this time of year - because if they're playing annoying Christmas music, I'm much less likely to know it due to fast-talking singers.



But not all the news was depressing in May. Restaurateur Scott Ressmeyer went on a cross-country motorcycle ride for charity. Lance Foods announced an expansion in Columbus. And the "Fountain City" nickname gained new popularity - albeit when Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Fountain was arrested.



A new amateur baseball team for Columbus gained a nickname in May - the Woodbats. So far, the managers are living up to their promises. I've yet to hear a single threat to move the team to Kentucky.



SCHEDULED FRIDAY: Since so many others are doing it, we try a cost-cutting experiment....



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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.



© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.




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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

23 DEC 09: Moving Out, Moving Over



There was a big news event in Columbus Tuesday, involving a local business. But several readers have made clear I must not joke about it, because a relative of a key figure is dead [8 Dec]. Let's hope nothing bad happens to anyone in Phenix City government for the next three years....



(Maybe WTVM received the same complaints I did. They didn't attend Tuesday's big news event. The other TV stations made it a top story, so they apparently have nothing to lose.)



Given this guidance, we had to look outside Columbus for a main topic Tuesday. Thankfully a couple of politicians cooperated, by announcing surprising decisions. One week after visiting Columbus to promote her bid for Georgia Governor, Karen Handel announced she's resigning as Secretary of State. Critics will say she can't Handel two things at the same time.



A statement from Karen Handel says she's leaving the Georgia Secretary of State's job one year early to avoid any appearance of a conflict, as she runs for Governor. That's strange - former Secretary of State Cathy Cox didn't do that in two different elections, and she lost both of them.



Karen Handel adds she wants to show she's "all in," when it comes to a campaign for Governor. There, you see - if a Republican like Handel can use poker phrases, it must not be gambling.



But WRBL pointed out one interesting aspect of Karen Handel's decision. Georgia state law bars elected officials from campaign activities during a legislative session. By leaving the Secretary of State office at the end of December, Handel doesn't have to worry about that rule. She can follow Sarah Palin's example, and appear on the Oprah Winfrey Show during January.



One poll suggests Karen Handel is second place right now, among Republicans running for Georgia Governor. So she might need those extra weeks to campaign - because the G.O.P. has yet to conclude Handel's "Messiah."



The second surprising announcement Tuesday came from north Alabama. Congressman Parker Griffith announced he's switching to the Republican Party, one year after he was elected as a Democrat. Never underestimate the example of Senator Richard Shelby....



Rep. Parker Griffith told reporters a year in Washington has shown him "the differences between the two parties could not be more clear...." Did Griffith really need to be elected to Congress to learn this? He could have scanned the cable television dial on an average weeknight.



Rep. Parker Griffith faulted the Democratic Party for promoting "massive new spending, tax increases, bailouts...." What IS the deal with these politicians - focused on nothing but money?



Parker Griffith was considered a "Blue Dog Democrat," much as Rep. Sanford Bishop is. But Bishop remains loyal to the Democratic Party - which I guess makes him Northside High School dark blue, while Griffith was a Carver High School light blue.



-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. People around the world visit "On the Flop!" <--



E-MAIL UPDATE: Our review of 2009 brought a challenge from a reader Tuesday....



Sir-



Actually, you are mistaken when you say there isn't a nice restaurant within 300 feet of the new National infantry Museum. There is a very nice restaurant inside called the Fife & Drum! Have you visited the new museum?



Also, there is a chapel on the property although I think it is probably more than 300 feet from the museum.



The entire place is amazing and a fitting tribute to those who have served and sacrificed.



- D. Thompson



Yes, I've been inside the museum several times. In fact, this blog reviewed The Fife and Drum only weeks after it opened [10 May]. But I don't really consider that "close to" the museum (as we worded it), because it's actually inside the building. It's a bit like keeping your kidneys close to your body.



I'm also aware of the "Chapel and Mess Hall" on the National Infantry Museum grounds. The chapel can be rented for weddings and memorial services. I don't know if any church group is using it for weekly services -- but I assume pacifist Quakers would NOT be welcome.



Before we continue our year-end reflections, let's check other Tuesday headlines:


+ The Literary Alliance handed out free books to children at seven Columbus housing complexes, accompanied by police officers. Huh - police again?! Have that many grown-ups been stealing gifts, then selling them on eBay for fast money?



+ The Eufaula Tribune reported Quitman County will receive five million dollars in federal stimulus money to improve Union Church Road - an eight-mile road with one church and 12 houses. These rumors about new Wal-Mart SuperCenters are getting out of hand....



(Quitman County Manager Larry Clark admits no one in the county asked for the federal stimulus money. It's not even on the federal government's "Recovery" online map. But Rep. Sanford Bishop apparently lobbied for it - and come to think of it, there's still no area highway named in his honor.)



+ Troy Public Radio's "Community Focus" featured an official with the Alabama State Parks system. He said the renovated Lakepoint Resort near Eufaula includes a shower that measures four-by-five feet. He actually seemed impressed by that - but compared to where I live, it's the equivalent of a double-wide bathtub.



+ ABC "World News" showed a recent taxpayer-funded party by Federal Aviation Administration officials in downtown Atlanta. In fact, it occurred in the atrium of CNN Center - which leads me to ask why CNN didn't have this story first. The cable network must be so low on money that everyone is taking a lunch to work.



+ The Columbus Cottonmouths were handled by Huntsville 4-2, in a game which had a fight after only three seconds of play. So much for those hackneyed platitudes about "peace on earth" and "good will...."



+ Atlanta's baseball team traded pitcher Javier Vazquez to the New York Yankees, for outfielder Melky Cabrera. Some Atlanta fans are enraged by this move - but look on the bright side. When someone goes up to a player next season and asks, "Got milk?" he can answer, "Well, sort of."



2009 IN REVIEW CON'D: April was a scary month in some ways. First a tornado cut through downtown Columbus and Phenix City. Then a giant Columbus Water Works tank collapsed. Perhaps the installation of a "hurricane simulator" at Peachtree Mall prevented things from being even worse.



This blog had a couple of surprising exclusives in April. First we broke the news that Fiesta Columbus was canceled "never scheduled" by the Civic Center for 2009. Then an official with the Columbus NAACP blew up the excuse that President Bill Madison resigned due to an "ailing wife." Simply because the agency's budget is ailing doesn't always mean a wife is.



The lack of a "fiesta" wasn't the only news from South Commons in April. Golden Park hosted a college baseball tournament which had hardly any publicity. And a skateboard park had its "grand opening" ten months after the real opening - which doesn't really help with that "Columbus is behind the times" stereotype.



A tight economy forced the city of Columbus to order a hiring freeze from April through June. Some people wanted it continued until the end of the year - but the new Crime Prevention Director was approved, anyway.



The parent company of Peachtree Mall filed for bankruptcy protection in April. But despite some rumors, the mall remains open this week - with sales which could drive credit card customers bankrupt.



Even local media were affected by the tight economy in April. WDAK fired morning show co-host Chris Weber. WRBL dropped 90 minutes of daily newscasts. Yet WLTZ found the money to broadcast The CW Network on a second channel - so those "Vampire Diaries" marathons must not cost an arm and a leg.



April was the month "Columbus Tea Party" protests began downtown. I still don't understand why a barbecue restaurant isn't sponsoring those things....



April was also the month when Muscogee County school officials decided to tear down Carver High School, and build a replacement. The school board showed it had learned a lesson - that one historic high school sitting idle with peeling paint is enough.



The crime blotter in April included a federal raid at the Ritmo Latino nightclub. The managers' next big event might be billed as "So You Think You Can Dance - wearing leg shackles."



One of the most curious sights in April involved Auburn city council member Arthur Dowdell, picking up Confederate battle flags from cemetery plots. Amazingly, he never offered them to people attending the Sticks country music festival.



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BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 379 (+ 17, 4.7%)



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© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.




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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

22 DEC 09: Fire and Fur



Today we borrow from Charles Dickens, and present a tale of two hospitals. Monday was the best of times for one, and the worst of times for the other. One had an event which was warm all over -- while executives at the other feared things would become much too hot.



The first hospital to get attention Monday was Columbus Regional Medical Center. A fire broke out in a kitchen, while workers prepared breakfast for patients. The smart-aleck patient who requested oatmeal fajitas needs to stop that....



Fire calls to The Medical Center happen all the time - but the vast majority of them turn out to be false alarms. This one was real, as smoke from the kitchen reportedly could be seen miles away. Besides, the hospital can't possibly have THAT many employees smoking outside the door at once.



(The fire apparently was declared a "Code Red." Either that's a really serious emergency, or Columbus Councilor Red McDaniel is there for an inspection.)



Columbus fire crews kept the damage to a Medical Center kitchen. Some people on the first floor were evacuated, but no patients had to be moved out. In fact, a few probably hoped their expensive medical records were going up in smoke.



Deputy Fire Chief Greg Lang says the Medical Center fire was traced to a flexible natural gas line behind a stove. The gas line ruptured - and suddenly the hickory flavor to the bacon was replaced by something else.



Until the Medical Center kitchen can be repaired, patients will have their meals delivered from Doctors Hospital. If Rose Hill Seafood served breakfast, the managers could have enjoyed a year-end windfall.



The scene was very different later in the day at St. Francis Hospital. This time the visitors were not firefighters, but law enforcement officers. And in a bit of a surprise, the officers did NOT try to persuade hospital security director Joe McCraa to return to a public safety job.



A mix of law officers continued a 20-year tradition, by delivering gift teddy bears to patients at St. Francis Hospital. A Georgia State Patrol officer explained it was an opportunity to show law enforcement in a "different light." You know, as opposed to flashing blue....



But something seemed missing from this event. Maybe I'm showing my age -- but if you're going to give away teddy bears, shouldn't an Elvis Presley impersonator be there to sing about them?



While we're talking about hospitals, the Ledger-Enquirer had a story the other day about the old Phenix Regional building. It's been vacant for years, its future apparently is still in doubt - and there's not even talk about putting a combined city-county animal shelter there.



-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. People around the world visit "On the Flop!" <--



BLOG UPDATE: We were first to mention last week that Jason Dennis is becoming the 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. co-anchor on WTVM. Now he's disclosed online Barbara Gauthier will continue to anchor the 11:00 news by herself. Dennis DOES look young, after all - and Columbus has city curfew rules.



Now we operate without an anchor (or even a paperweight), in reviewing other Monday news....


+ The morning low in Columbus was the coldest of the season, at 27 degrees F. Atmos Energy employees finally feel comfortable about holding a holiday party.



+ Acquitted attorney Mark Shelnutt filed a motion in federal court to have the government pay his expenses for his recent trial. If you think about it, this is shocking - because Democrats don't often support "loser pays" rules in court cases.



(Shelnutt's motion claims the legal fees and other bills come to about $250,000. There's another way to raise that money, of course. But this time, Shelnutt would have to stand at the doorway of a Publix store with a box - instead of walking around the parking lot.)



+ A court hearing in Connecticut considered whether Pratt and Whitney can be blocked from transferring hundreds of jobs to its Columbus plant. The machinists' union claims its contract requires the company to make "every reasonable effort" to keep jobs in Connecticut. So when does NCR plan to file a "friend of the court" brief?



+ Russell County Sheriff Tommy Boswell was named to the Alabama Historical Commission. Then Boswell asked county commissioners to hire an architect to expand the jail - perhaps forgetting the county firing range already is named after him.



+ Parts of Hurtsboro were added to the National Registry of Historic Places. They include a downtown bank which is now the library, Perry Hardware - but for some reason, former Constable Robert Schweiger and his horse were left out.



+ Auburn University football coach Gene Chizik suspended two running backs, after they were arrested on drunk driving charges. They could have played in the Outback Bowl - but now they're simply out.



+ Instant Message to the Columbus Civic Center: That's some uncanny timing you have - holding your next mixed martial arts card on 15 January. You know, the day when Martin Luther King Junior was born....



2009 IN REVIEW CON'D: March began with an unusual sight in Columbus - a Sunday morning snowstorm. So has anyone checked local hospitals this month, to see if the birth rate is higher?



The snow was followed by a five-inch mid-March rainstorm, which led to flooding in some Columbus neighborhoods. This should have been a sign that a wet year was ahead -- but local officials kept stalling on making the Chattahoochee River a kayaking course.



As it happened, Columbus Water Works marked "Fix-a-Leak Week" during March. The utility later realized how much it costs to do that -- hundreds of thousands of dollars, to settle lawsuits near River Road.



March was a difficult month in some ways for Columbus Police. One officer was charged with helping in a bank robber. Another officer was the target of NAACP calls for a state investigation. So when a program called "Cops and Clergy of Columbus," was announced, a few people expected it would include confessionals.



Not even the Muscogee County Marshal was immune, as rumors surfaced about political favoritism in the Junior Marshal program. Those rumors eventually were dismissed - but Greg Countryman probably wished the robotic talking dog he introduced in March was equipped with real teeth.



In a stunning move, the editor of the Ledger-Enquirer turned against District Attorney Julia Slater in March with a scathing front-page commentary. But that strategy must not have done much good. If newspaper employees had to take furloughs later in the year, cranky Republicans still must be staying away.



Several curious crimes made news in March. Federal agents raided the Joche and Associates tax offices. Someone was charged with cattle rustling in Hurtsboro. And a brawl broke out at Chuck E. Cheese in Columbus - which we're happy to report had nothing to do with using rustled cattle to top pizzas.



Aflac stock hit a low price of $10.83 per share during early March. It closed Monday at $46.18 - which optimists see as a sign the economy has recovered well recently. Of course, pessimists see that big nine-month jump as evidence of hyperinflation.



Columbus Council voted in March to have the city buy the Legacy Terrace apartments, east of downtown. Perhaps in 2010 they will be converted into luxury flophouses for recovering panhandlers.



Columbus Council also approved new rules for restaurant alcohol sales in March. Drinks now can be served within 300 feet of schools and churches - yet there still isn't even a church close to the National Infantry Museum, much less a nice restaurant.



Columbus received a top national ranking in March from U.S. News and World Report - the best U.S. city for older single people. By some definitions, I'm one of those. Yet I lack one key element for finding older single women - membership in a military veterans club.



The Columbus Cottonmouths took an unusual break from their playoff drive in March, by traveling to metro Atlanta for a NASCAR race. So why haven't any NASCAR drivers returned the favor? I can think of a couple who could give the hockey players a good fight in the middle of the rink.



To offer a story tip, make a PayPal donation, advertise to our readers or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post your e-mail comment and offer a reply.



BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 362 (+ 10, 2.8%)



The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.



© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.




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