Friday, February 29, 2008

Don't move to Hillwood

If you're in the market for an apartment in Northern Virginia, don't bother with Hillwood. Save your business for someplace that appreciates it.

I'm debating whether to write the rest of this now while my rage is fresh. At the moment, I'm past a level of seething I didn't know was possible.

Here are the unvarnished facts: I parked illegally last night. I got towed.

I take responsibility for that; my fault and no one else's.

Dig past the top level, however, and that's where the source of my frustration lies.

I parked across from a dumpster, which has ample room around it - including the spaces directly across from it, where I was. An SUV was parked in one space next to it that's just as illegal; yet when I walked out this morning, there sat that SUV. Mine was gone.

We seem to have a problem of selective enforcement; how much Hillwood plays into this and how much the towing company, Henry's, does is unclear.

To legally park in our lot, a car requires decals available only from the main office. We walk past multiple cars each night that display no stickers; there are two motorcycles in a front space that show no signs of a decal yet have sat there for several months, despite the presence of a motorcycles-only space about 50 feet away.

Most of my neighbors have stickers. I do too.

But when I arrive home late, as I have twice in the past week because of basketball playoffs, spaces are extremely limited. I have to park pretty far away from my building; but I understand that. Most people get home at 6 p.m. or so. Because I don't, I pay the price. I do understand.

This week, on both Tuesday and Thursday nights, there were no spaces available. Zero. None.

So this tells me that one of two things is happening: 1. The management company is unconcerned about how many decals they give out. Each person that rents with them gets one sticker; a second can be purchased. But is there any sort of regulation that goes with this? If they sell too many stickers for a certain lot, where will the overflow cars go? Each of the other lots nearby is packed at midnight, too.

2. The management company or the towing company is paying lip service, nothing more, to towing those without the proper credentials. When I called Henry's, I was told that looking for non-decaled cars was the thrust of their operation; why, then, has parking gotten harder, not easier?

So here I sit, waiting for my wife to disrupt her day to pick me up to take me to this towing company.

This has been the only place we've ever lived since Linds and I moved in together. With one exception, we've paid our rent on time every month; to our knowledge, we've never caused so much as a complaint from our neighbors.

Yet we're continually treated with indifference. Borrowing a phrase from my work blog, we're simply viewed as revenue supply.

Do yourself a favor. Go look elsewhere for an apartment.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Water, water everywhere

Quick, name a state whose territory includes land that doesn't touch another part of the state.

Michigan, right? Of course, with the lower portion and the smaller, Upper Peninsula. Hawaii? Duh. Washington state? There's a tiny sliver of land called Point Roberts that is south of the 49th parallel - in the United States - accessible only by entering Canada or crossing a body of water. Same thing with the Northwest Angle in Minnesota.

How about Virginia? The main body of the Commonwealth is separated from the Eastern Shore by the Chesapeake Bay; the only way the two connect is via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, a 16-mile combination of bridges and tunnels that allow for both vehicle traffic and ocean-going vessels.

I like to think that we in Northern Virginia are affected by the waters around us as well. The Potomac serves as a natural boundary between D.C. and the Commonwealth and is the primary natural feature of the area.

But when I make the trip to Hampton Roads, as I did this weekend, I'm reminded that I'm woefully wrong.

One of the state's two wrestling tournaments was in town, which brought me there as well. I went straight to the site on Friday; the Magellan took me over the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, a smaller version of the CBBT. The longer way - one I had taken in years past - took me over the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. (You'll see that Wikipedia's list of bridge-tunnels mentions those three as the only bridge-tunnel combinations in the U.S. and nearly half of the worldwide total.)

Coming back from the site, I sat through miserable traffic in the downtown tunnel, which connects Norfolk to Portsmouth, where my hotel was.

Trying to get anywhere in that region seems to involve some major crossing of water. On Saturday, I went off the beaten path to Wood Chicks BBQ - well worth the trip, by the way - and stumbled upon a crossing over the Elizabeth River. Even on a mostly quiet two-lane road, there was a drawbridge over the river to allow for traffic.

When I was in the hotel, I had a great view from the 15th floor. Outside of my window was a look up the Elizabeth River and Norfolk and Portsmouth; at the elevator I took in a gorgeous view down the river. And just outside were a couple of paddleboats to ferry passengers between the two sides.

We have dinner boats in Alexandria, but nothing like that.

Struck in traffic at the Downtown Tunnel, I was struck by something the two areas shared: challenging traffic at times (though I'm sure they'd be willing to concede that our traffic is far worse) caused by too much water and not enough ways to cross it.

Unlike D.C., it's more understandable in Hampton Roads.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

RIP, Jeff Carlton

I had some minor chores to do on my day off - get my haircut, get my car's oil changed. I went to Wal-Mart to accomplish the latter and sat in the waiting area, biding time by checking on my phone.

That's where I learned that Jeff Carlton, a sportswriter at the Greensboro News & Record, passed away this morning due to complications from malignant brain tumors.

I was not a close friend of Jeff's; we had met a few times through mutual friends, but no more. Still, I was deeply saddened for my friend's loss and saddened at the memory of one fun weekend several years ago.

My post from SJ:

Five years or so ago, I had one of the most fun weekends of my life with Jeff.

He was up our way to celebrate at a bachelor party for a friend of ours, former BA writer Lacy Lusk. The weekend was a baseball road trip.

We had several others join us for a Saturday afternoon game at Camden Yards for O's-Blue Jays. My uncle was kind enough to hook us up excellent seats - two sections to the right of being directly behind home plate, about 10 rows up. I caught a foul ball that game.

Most of the group headed back to DC after the O's games; Lacy, Jeff and I were left to head north to Aberdeen; I believe they played Auburn that night. We waited out a rain delay, somehow got great seats again (front row down the 3B line) and chuckled at the reliever throwing an 86 mph 'heater' with no movement. But what I remember most was us reading - and laughing our asses off - at the free weekly we had picked up, particularly the crime log. There was a long story about some dispute between area residents that - forgive me for not remembering the details - involved a slab of meat at the center of the dispute with some guy getting threatened with a tire iron. Funny enough, no? It gets better.

Whoever the reporter was took the police report as gospel, apparently. One of the quotes from an eyewitness was something like, "That's the man! That's the man from 15 Evergreen Street" or wherever the incident took place. Because someone in their excitement would yell out the exact address... we howled over that all night.

We stayed at some crappy motel and got up early the next morning for the drive to Reading, Pa. to see the R-Phils and Akron. We had crappy left-field tickets this time, made only more tolerable by the fact that I (not so much Jeff and Lacy) was steps from the Yuengling stand, to which I made several trips. We got bored with the seats and decided to check out the rest of the place.

Eventually, we found ourselves in right field at the stadium pavilion, which was set up for a party for folks from a local grocery store chain. Except no one was manning the front entrance. So we snuck in and settled down at one of the picnic tables, which had a small TV at one end. We tuned in the big-league Phillies while keeping track of the game we were at. I had just enough beer in me to say screw it, so I took off my shoes and wandered over to the small pool. I stuck my feet in, chatted up one of the moms watching her kids and enjoyed the day. That was one hell of a way to end a weekend.

I hadn't really kept in touch with Jeff, especially after Lacy moved on to bigger things. But I was deeply saddened to check in here this afternoon and find the news of this thread.

RIP, Jeff, and I hope you enjoyed that weekend as much as I did.

I re-post it to give the world a glimpse of what was lost this morning.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Birthday money, well spent

Last Thursday, I had the day off, since I was working on Saturday. So I put the time to good use, spending an hour or so at our nearby Washington Golf Center.

I had plenty of birthday money; most of it was earmarked specifically for golf equipment. But it wasn't just about prettying up the bag - I had actual needs.

Last summer in Oregon, the head to my three-wood snapped off. Snapped may be a little too violent a description; after one tee shot, I noticed the head was a little wobbly. I took a look at it and the next thing I knew, the head was in one hand, the shaft in the other.

Less of a need was a sand wedge. I've never played a round with one, chipping lightly with a pitching wedge. My wife - clearly the most talented golfer of the family - said a sand wedge was a great idea.

I had done the requisite research, reviewing Golf Digest's 2008 equipment rankings. It was helpful to a degree - like reading that Titleist irons/wedges might be too complicated for a less-skilled golfer (which I definitely am) and reaffirming my knowledge that Cleveland makes a pretty damn good set of irons.

Based on those prices, I'd come home with both clubs and really make a concerted effort to get better this year. No, really.

But that wasn't going to be the only test. I was going to give each club a try, even just a half-swing to see what felt most comfortable.

So with some knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, an open mind, I trekked up I-395 to Washington Golf. It was a quiet Thursday afternoon; no more than, say, seven customers in the massive store.

I perused all of the equipment displays: Nike, Taylor Made, Callaway, Ping, Cobra, Nicklaus and Cleveland, in order. Cleveland was the furthest away, so that's why it was last.

While there, though, something caught my eye: A CG4 sand wedge, sitting kind of off to the side. It felt good in my hands, not perfect, but certainly among the better ones I'd tried to that point. Then I saw the price.

Forty bucks.

Huh? I was expecting to spend triple that amount. Two different salesfolks assured me that there honestly wasn't anything wrong with it; most likely, it was part of a set that was left behind for one reason or another.

OK. Sold.

I took it up front and asked them to hold on to it for me. I wasn't certain I could trust the other six people not snatch it up first.

I walked back to the displays with a new sense of purpose. The savings from that club would allow me to put all of my birthday money toward three clubs.

Now it was onto the 3-wood, where my selection was more limited. I took brief looks at Ping's Rapture and Taylor Made's Burner, but both cost a lot more than I was willing to spend. Instead, I found myself coming back to the Big Bertha, which had the right combination of price and feel.

I had expected to be done by now. But there was more shopping to do - a club I don't much need but would love to have in the bag anyway.

Again I went through each of the displays (the first time around, I had no intention of looking for a third club). And again, the best came last: The club that felt best in my hands also had the bonus of being $20 cheaper than its competitors. So, with a wide grin, I picked out a Cleveland HiBore XLS 3-iron hybrid.

I took that and the Big Bertha to their indoor driving range and hit a few balls. My suspicions were confirmed: The clubs felt awesome. (Though I did feel a bit weirded out, since someone outside of family was watching me hit a golf ball. He assured me that I was nowhere near the worst he's seen, like the person who hit their head with the club on the backswing. Then I felt better.)

The two Clevelands are waiting for their spot in the bag, which is buried in our utility closet. The Big Bertha is due to arrive any day now; the guy who helped me said that since my swing speed wasn't terribly fast, I didn't need a flex shaft. But they were out of the normal clubs and needed to get one from their store in Chantilly. It should arrive any day now.

That took care of my birthday money - all with $20 to spare. Sadly, I spent the last $20 on this disappointment.

We're still a long way off from golf season. It's 29 degrees at the moment after an unexpected ice storm this afternoon; our highways were an absolute mess. My poor wife left the office around 8:15 and didn't get home until close to 9:00 - that's rush-hour traffic two hours after you expect rush hour to be over with.

Weather issues aside, I can't wait to get out to the course.

I've never been so excited for golf season.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The GOP apparently doesn't need my vote

I'm a moderate. If that's a dirty word to some, fine. Call me a centrist then.

I told my wife a few days I could not, in good conscience, vote for Sen. Hillary Clinton - if she is the Democratic nominee - in the general election. With Clinton, the first word that pops into mind: divisive. At least Sen. Barack Obama, the first word that comes into my mind is "potential" - despite the fact that many of us are still waiting for Obama's first significant legislative accomplishment.

Sen. John McCain is a possibility as well. I won't really know until I can put McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, up against one of the Democratic opponents and compare them side by side.

That qualifies me, I suppose, as a swing voter.

Earlier in the week, I read the accounts of the CPAC meeting in the city. That was where Mitt Romney abondoned his presidential quest to the cries of his supporters. At that same meeting, McCain's reception was rather hostile.

Really, it's been that way for some time. The bloviation from the right-wing pundits - Rush and his ilk - complain that McCain isn't conservative enough. Romney was a better option; he was, they said, a conservative's conservative.

That got me wondering: I presume that, most generally speaking, I'm more liberal than McCain. I can only surmise I would be treated with such disdain by the rest of his party. My swing vote, it seems, is of no importance in their eyes. If they booed McCain, as some did, it's not hard to guess I'd have not been let in the building.

From an outsider's perspective, the whining about McCain seems petty and childish.

"You give us a candidate that follows our views to the 'T'!" they seem to say. Barring that, an independent candidate may not be out of the question.

It's all laughable, really. If that faction of the GOP goes its own way, it sinks McCain's candidacy - who wouldn't stand a chance behind a unified Democratic party - while its own candidate is likely never taken seriously by folks closer to the middle.

This CPAC gathering received Vice President Dick Chaney warmly. Reports from there indicated that he got a robust ovation. Chaney and President Bush are hard-core conservatives; that much is clear.

They've run the country for a full seven years now. And as his presidency winds down, there are an awful lot of people dissatisfied with the job he's doing. An ill-conceived, ill-deceived war in Iraq; continued government shenanigans in areas like torture and homeland security; ongoing unnecessary secrecy within the top levels of government.

They've run the country for a full seven years now, and this is where we find ourselves. The CPAC booers want more of the same and will complain until they get it; most of the rest of the country wants something different.

McCain is something different. That he dares step away from the party line at times diminishes him in some eyes, which is unfortunate.

The gap between left and right has widened for much of the decade. At last, McCain isn't a candidate that more resembles me and my political stances than Bush ever has. For as much as he preached about working together and reaching across the aisle - I was at Bush's second inauguration, I heard him say it with my own ears - he never followed through. A promise left by the wayside.

Finally, there's someone closer to what I believe; yet a sizeable chunk of the GOP believes him unfit.

I'm tired of being marginalized by the louder factions of the GOP. They castigate McCain for being too liberal; to me, that says someone with beliefs such as myself has no real place in their party. Don't folks like me determine elections?

The Democrats don't seem to have this problem. Aside from the sniping between candidates, it certainly seems as if Clinton's supporters will take up for Obama and vice versa when crunch time arrives. My gut feeling is that they'd, you know, appreciate my vote.

The GOP, meanwhile, has a few months to get its house together. If the loud, far-right faction continues its dissention, it risks sinking any sort of hope for getting a Republican in the Oval Office.

I may yet vote for McCain in the general election if he proves himself as the best candidate. At this point, I would do so with a disgust for how he's been treated by those who are supposed to be on his side.

The people have spoken; by the GOP's rules, McCain has the most delegates. Why is the will of the people not good enough? Why is McCain not good enough?

The GOP needs me more than I need it.

Your clock is ticking.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Getting in on the top floor?

I've put a lot of effort into improving my page design skills. I used to do nothing but your standard front page - a normal-looking centerpiece with elements surrounding it - but over the past six months or so, I've tried to improve the look of my centerpieces. A big photo, a headline and a story just weren't cutting it for me.

As you can see, I've tried to play with photos and text a little more. The Super Bowl page was the most ambitious project yet; it took me the better part of a full week to get it all done.

But lately, I've begun to wonder: Does any of it matter?

Maybe it's merely a case of feelings of inadequacy. Take a look at some of the work exhibited over at Sports Designers. You'll see my Big Cactus layout was there, along with stuff from lots of other folks.

I can easily admit that the other work on the page is better (in some cases, considerably better) than mine. Particularly of note is the work done by the folks at the Arizona Republic. Take note of the quote from Luke Knox:

These daily Super Bowl sections are being designed by me, Joey Kirk and Ayrel Clark, with direction from Bill Pliske.

That's three people with help from a fourth. Not only is it 3.5 people, but 3.5 people that are, presumably, talented and trained in the art of graphic design. Otherwise they probably wouldn't be in the position they are.

Me? I've got no formal training, only 10 years of seeing things I liked and seeing things I didn't. And I pushed away a week's worth of work, diminishing any writing assignments or postponing long-term projects, all to do two pages.

Maybe it's more than feelings of inadequacy. Maybe it's a feeling like none of it really does matter.

If you've paid any attention to the media industry, you've seen that newspapers as a whole are in the toilet: predictions of doom (like here), layoffs and cutbacks galore (like here, here and here, just in the past week) and a falling reputation among the beancounters (stock charts for publishing's big boys like Belo, Gannett, McClatchy, N.Y. Times Co., Scripps, Tribune and Washington Post Co.).

And none of these skills that I'm trying to develop is very portable. The design of a static newspaper page doesn't really equate to the design of a dynamic webpage - not to mention learning entirely new programs like Flash and DreamWeaver.

Is it all worth it? I don't know. In my happiest of dreams, I like to think I'm bettering myself as a newspaperman - the ultimate compliment for someone who could do it all.

Maybe in a few years it won't much matter.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Plaintiff: F--k your rights

People never fail to amaze.

From the Washington Post yesterday: James Bogden (who happens to be a public health educator and anti-smoking advocate) has filed suit against four local restaurants - one of which appears to the right - to force the restaurants to go smoke-free. He claims that after suffering a mild heart attack, he cannot be anywhere near second-hand smoke but should not be limited to which restaurants he can patronize. He believes he is protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act.


If I'm understanding this correctly - and I believe I am - the rights of one trumps the rights of many. If I'm a smoker (and I'm not), then my right to smoke should be taken away because this guy says so? Because of his heart condition, my right to smoke is simply cast aside?

How on earth does this make sense?

Look, I'm sorry the guy had a heart attack; I don't wish ill health on anyone. I'm glad to see he's fully recovered and has continued to live and succeed in life. But I fail to see how his condition should impact me.

For a moment, imagine he wins. Clyde's goes smoke-free. Maybe Clyde's loses a big chunk of its business and, after some time, is forced to close. If I want to enjoy one of my favorite hangout spots, I'm now driving to Tysons Corner or into the city.

Where, then, is my recourse? Can I litigate against this man for essentially closing one of my favorite restaurants as well?

Things happen in life, not all of them good ones. Sometimes we get a really raw deal. We adjust and we move on.

It seems like such a simple concept.

And hiding behind the ADA is shameful. The law was set up for people whose lives have been impacted by a real, life-changing disability, not a mild heart attack. It's a good law and shouldn't be subjected to such perversion.

Let's call this what it is: One person's attempt to advance his personal ideology; as he steps forward, he tramples others' rights in the process.

Have you no shame, Mr. Bogden? Have you no consideration for how others may want to run their lives? Or is your life the only one that matters?

Hypothetical questions, of course. The answers are clear enough already.