Tuesday, January 11, 2011

11 JAN 11: The Big Chills

After eight years and five days, this blog reaches 2,500 posts today! But please, do NOT consider the timing of this milestone a big conspiracy. No one ever said it would be an icy day in January when the blog hit 2,500....

Several news items competed for "main event" attention in post #2,500. But then I realized Monday evening they all had something in common -- they were cold. Let's take them in the order that they occurred:

1. COLD CLIMATE. Monday's high temperature in Columbus was only 35 degrees F. A layer of overnight ice and snow led to school and business closings throughout the area -- and left my next-door neighbor a little concerned. I overheard him tell someone near my door at 8:45 a.m., "The liquor store isn't open yet."

The Government Center shut down for the day, but Mayor Teresa Tomlinson was able to make a scheduled 12:00 noon appearance on WLTZ's "Calvin Floyd Live." Tomlinson said it was a good idea for people to stay home unless it was absolutely necessary - proving the new mayor of Columbus is much "wussier" than the Governor of Pennsylvania.

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said Columbus had 300 tons of sand at its disposal for dealing with icy streets. She joked it was enough to build a beach - and she's so concerned about improving Columbus South that she actually might propose a Victory Drive beach party next June.

The winter weather made Tony Battle an early candidate for Dumb Criminal of the Year. Columbus Police say he robbed a Money Back store on Buena Vista Road - then left shoe and bicycle tire tracks in the snow and ice, which led to his back door. You can always spot the people who've never lived up north....

Icy conditions forced at least one TV station and one radio station off the air for a while. But the temperature was barely above freezing, which allowed for slow melting during the day. Not fast enough for me - as I walked under a tree during a short hike to the convenience store, and the "melt" was crushed ice pellets.

Both the Alabama and Georgia Governors declared a state of emergency due to the winter storm. For Georgia's Sonny Perdue, it was his last act before leaving office -- and the conditions were so bad that his dream of piloting a state helicopter one last time to Warner Robins had to be dashed.

(Alabama Governor Bob Riley canceled a trip to the Bowl Championship Series title game, because of the emergency he declared. But he could dream about a replay of last summer on the Gulf coast - and hope waterfowl from Oregon were covered oppressively.)

2. COLD AND CALCULATING. Weeks of speculation became reality Monday, when Synovus Financial announced plans to lay off more than 800 employees company-wide by the end of June. Or as President/CEO Kessel Stelling put it: "The head count will be impacted across our footprint." The what?!?! Does this mean managers are head over heels about this?

Kessel Stelling admits there's short-term pain for the employees being eliminated. But he said there are long-term advantages, as Synovus Financial will save about $100 million per year. And if the laid-off workers would please not file for unemployment checks, the total could rise to $101 million.

There's speculation several Columbus Bank and Trust branches will close, as part of this cost reduction. An official announcement apparently was delayed Monday by the winter storm - but is it fair to predict the branch on Buena Vista Road will stay open? After all, a closure could prompt police officers next door to intervene.

Investors didn't seem impressed by the Synovus announcement, as the company's stock dropped one cent to $2.57. At one point in 2008, Synovus stock was worth about 19 dollars - but then shares might as well have been on cardboard boxes, sliding down the hill from the headquarters to the Riverwalk.

3. COLD KING? During her WLTZ interview, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said the original plan for an ice rink next to the Columbus Civic Center had NO separate manager planned for it. Yet today's Columbus Council meeting is scheduled to discuss hiring a manager - maybe someone who also knows how to drive a Zamboni.

Councilor Skip Henderson is leading the drive to hire an ice rink manager. Part of the job apparently would involve keeping track of scheduled activities. But why can't the current Civic Center staff handle that? They seem to avoid putting conflicting fairs in the parking lot.

4. COLD-BLOODED. That word could describe the Auburn University football team, which won the Bowl Championship Series title game 22-19 Monday night. We'll now see if Valley and Eufaula newspapers are consistent, do what they did in early 2005 - and declare undefeated Texas Christian the real national champion.

Wes Byrum kicked the winning field goal for Auburn as time expired. Tiger broadcaster Rod Bramblett went wild for a moment - while ESPN's Brent Musberger sounded so nonchalant, I'm wondering if he lost a $200 bet.

Somebody's gotta ask it - why didn't Oregon intentionally let Auburn score a touchdown, to get the ball back for a final drive in the final minute? If ever there was a moment for a "duck blind," that was it....

The B.C.S. title game had an unusual amount of fakery. Oregon faked an extra-point kick into a two-point conversion. And Auburn sideline reporter Quentin Riggins revealed a planned fake field goal by the Tigers in the second half was foiled by noises from the head linesman. I've never heard of an official "cheating" like this - with his mouth, not his whistle.

But the title game was marred at times by the grass field. New turf was placed inside the suburban Phoenix stadium last week -- yet it was so slippery, I thought at times it was an Auburn home game on ice and snow.

(Isn't it amazing that the college football title game was played at University of Phoenix Stadium - but the University of Phoenix doesn't even have a team?)

When the winning field goal was kicked, it seemed like downtown Auburn was celebrating New Year's Eve ten days late. Thousands of people rushed to Toomer's Corner to holler, throw toilet paper - and show how much concession money the university lost, by canceling the viewing at the Auburn Arena.

Auburn Police prepared for the Toomer's Corner crowd, by deploying every officer not assigned to the morning shift. About 60 officers watched over the celebration - but I didn't notice anyone willing to trade orange Tiger T-shirts for orange jail jumpsuits.

If you think all the bars in east Alabama were packed to watch Auburn-Oregon, think again. The weekly Monday night poker tournament went on as usual at The Red Barn in Phenix City - with only about ten customers who weren't playing poker. I'd like to think all the Phenix City drivers for heeding those warnings to stay off the road, because I had plenty of room.

Columbus TV stations went "all-in" to cover Auburn's big football moment. WTVM interrupted Jimmy Kimmel for an hour of live coverage - and even caught a few Auburn fans rolling Toomer's Corner before the winning field goal was kicked. I can hear the rumors of point-fixing starting already....

WRBL presented a special 90-minute evening program on Auburn football - and in the process, the regular hour of "Two-and-a-Half Men" was moved to digital 3-2. I didn't realize that show had such a following at 5:00 p.m. It must be the real man's alternative to guilt-cloud shows such as "Oprah" and "Maury."

So for the first time since the 1930s, a state has won back-to-back national championships in college football with two different schools. Alabama could go for three in a row in 2011 - so will every top high school player please sign next month with Alabama-Birmingham?

Instant Message to all Auburn students reading this from Arizona: You won't miss any classes after all. The start of spring semester has been called off two days in a row due to the weather. Why, it was SO COLD Monday night that thousands of Tiger fans huddled together at Toomer's Corner to stay warm.

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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.

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