Thursday, February 28, 2008

All we need is just a little patience...

The email from Little Duke says it all...

"Uh oh":

There will be no sneak peek via On Demand of the 90-minute series finale of HBO's The Wire, according to a spokesman for the cable channel.

The finale will premiere at 9 p.m. March 9, and that will be the first time anyone will be able to see it - whether or not they have access to HBO On Demand.

Throughout this fifth and final season, subscribers have been able to use On Demand to see each of the nine previous episodes starting the Monday before their Sunday night cable premiere.

HBO says they are breaking with that pattern so that On Demand viewers don't "spoil" the finale for those who want to watch March 9. During this season and last, On Demand viewers have often posted details of episodes online in a way that made the spoilers almost impossible to ignore.

Man, it's gonna be a long week.

At least I can surf the internet again without fear of someone spoiling the ending. So, there's that.

Anyway, Wire fans, what have you thought about the season so far? If the trend in quality of episodes continues, this last one could be the best and saddest ever.

As I said earlier, I was apprehensive about the plot lines and story trajectory at first, but I'm totally on board now and, obviously, can't wait to see how it resolves (or doesn't).

Monday, February 25, 2008

But if you're waiting on the wind, don't forget to breathe...

Dinosaur Mom (via Jessie) shares more sad news for Oakland Mills: The Blue Cow Café is allegedly closing. If true, the news may be bit shocking but, sadly, not surprising.

Karen Blue (owner of the café) was a supporter of mine during the CA elections last year. I only hope that things work out in the end for her.

Although it may be too late to reverse the tide of recently or soon-to-be closed restaurants in Oakland Mills, it's not too late to leave an impact on the long term health of this village. Tomorrow night (Tuesday, Feb. 26, 7:30 pm) is the Oakland Mills Town Hall meeting, a big opportunity for residents to help set the agenda for the redevelopment of their village.

Leave the posturing about revitalization to others. Here's your chance to actually do something. Take action. Get involved. Make a difference.

Yes we can?


OK, seriously. Words may make it sound trite, but nowhere is your contribution more meaningful and change more possible than in your own backyard.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I've been trying to get down to the heart of the matter...

There's this conventional wisdom floating around that the health of our village centers is contingent on the health of their anchors, grocery stores. Example here:

[Wilde Lake] Village Board Chairman Vincent Marando told [General Growth Vice President Greg] Hamm that the village had gone without a grocery store for a year and a half. The Giant store at that location closed in September 2006.

"I'm not sure the health of the Village Center can be held hostage for the next couple years," he said.
While not stated explicitly, the underlying sentiment in this statement seems to be that without a grocery store, the health of the village center is in peril. But is that really the case?

Once but, perhaps, not anymore.

For instance, compare the offerings at Wilde Lake's village center versus those in Oakland Mills (PDF) and ask yourself: Which would you rather live near?

I can count the businesses in Oakland Mills with just my hands (nine establishments). In order to count those in Wilde Lake (19), I need to take my shoes off, and trust me, you don't want that.

Wilde Lake has everything Oakland Mills does and much more to boot. Yet, the former is the center without a grocery store.

What gives?

Many hands have been wrung over the future of our village centers, about how we keep these vital components of our community relevant in the face of significant social and economic change. But we seem to keep coming back to the idea that an anchor grocery store is the most essential element. Maybe it's time to ditch that idea.

Back in the day, grocery stores were physically smaller and drew from smaller geographic areas. Today, however, with increasingly diversified tastes and shopper preferences, the thought of getting groceries at the store that happens to be closest to you is almost quaint. People want to go where they want to go, not where they should go because of geography and some mushy ideals about community.

Big families like Costco. Funky folks like Trader Joe's. Hippies like natural food stores. Rich hippies like Whole Foods. Cheapskates like Wal-Mart, Target or some other discount retailer that squeezes everything under the sun into their aisles. People who want it all like Wegmans. And so on.

To be sure, there is still a small segment of the population that must or chooses to walk to get groceries. And most of us don't want to go 20 minutes out of our way to get milk, toilet paper or some other essential item. In general, however, the bulk of our grocery shopping seems to be done on a weekly basis at the store of our preference, assuming it's within a reasonable distance (10 - 20 minute drive).

If this is how society has evolved, why should we fight ourselves and insist on full-sized, modern grocery stores in every village center?

To be sure, the "daily needs" element of village centers is still very relevant. Dry cleaners, banks, barber shops, and the like all belong in village centers, as do places that provide basic food and grocery needs. Beyond these requirements, restaurants and other small businesses seem like the most appropriate uses. The dearth of such establishments is bemoaned by anyone who has sought good, non-chain restaurants, specialty items or just decent customer service -- that is, all of us.

Admittedly, I haven't fully thought out the repercussions of such a shift in thinking. Perhaps, as we ponder their future, we need to look at our village centers as a whole, instead of individually, and try to understand how they can serve as retail and commercial hubs for neighborhood needs as well as those of the broader community. Perhaps I'm wildly off base and most people still want to go to whatever store is closest.

Regardless, a discussion about the potential of post-grocery store village centers seems to be in order for our sake and that of one our community's most cherished institutions.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I keep the ends out for the tie that binds...

Just a couple odds and ends for today...

I'm working on the Montana trip Round Up but haven't gotten too far. Really, all I have is a working title: "Southwest Montana: The Dirtbag Chronicles." Also, I organized most of the pictures from the trip -- only 650ish this time, compared to over 1,500 from my last Montana adventure. 

Here's the problem: While I want to write with enough detail to satisfy any skiers or boarders who read this blog and might be looking for ideas for a future trip, I don't want it to turn into one of those painful ski resort recaps you can find all over the internet. That is, the kind that earnestly and laboriously list all of the runs the author did, the price of food in the base area and the relative comfort of the accommodations. There's no "pop" in that.

Maybe I'll just post a video of me hitting a gnarly jump and call it a day.

What else? Hmm...

What about The Wire? Who's watching it On Demand? Man, the latest episode -- #58 -- had a shocker, huh? Let's avoid spoilers in the comments for the non-On Demand audience.

Something I've noticed: Some of the show's lovers have become haters -- this season's too didactic, the newsroom too staged, some of the plot lines too forced or unrealistic, they say. At first, I was on the fence about the newspaper stuff, too, but in the past few episodes it has come around. Also, I read two things on the plane -- an essay by David Simon in Esquire and Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen -- that added a ton of perspective to The Sun story line. 

Regardless, the show's coming to an end in only a couple of weeks and television will become a little poorer because of this.

How about the weather? Couple chances of snow and other wintry messiness this week. Anyone excited? Even though I just came from a place that has received over 20 feet of snow so far this year, I'm still pretty jazzed about the prospect of a couple flakes/pellets falling in the area.

To all my Oakland Mills peeps, next week is the annual Town Hall meeting, which is pretty cool and certainly worth a couple hours of your time on a Tuesday night. From the OM eNews:
Listen – Brainstorm – Report Back!

Oakland Mills Town Hall Meeting
Tuesday, Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m. at The Other Barn
(Please enter through the side/courtyard door)

Our purpose for the Town Hall Meeting is to provide an opportunity for Oakland Mills residents to create agenda items for our next phase of community development! We are gathering together for the purpose of identification, prioritization, and implementation of creative ideas to move us forward as a community.

Be a part of Oakland Mills ongoing community development! We’re setting aside a few hours on Feb. 26 to find out what the residents of Oakland Mills think, what you want to see happen in Oakland Mills, and, what you are passionate and committed to work on.

We have proven over the past three years of our revitalization initiatives that it indeed takes a village to make things happen. Our board, committee volunteers and staff have been working diligently to create a framework for community development. Help us define Oakland Mills’ future on February 26th. Be a part of the exciting thing about to take place in Oakland Mills! (No r.s.v.p required, refreshments will be served. Bring a neighbor or two!)
Finally, I made a couple changes around here. Mostly subtle stuff, but I updated the link list and the RSS feeds on the side. As always, if there's anything I'm forgetting or should do differently, let me know.

All for now. More tomorrow.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Oh, Mama, can this really be the end...

Let's be honest: Most people read this blog for its travel tips, the witty dispatches about foreign locales most in our suburban community could only dream about seeing.  

OK, that's clearly not true (and therefore dishonest). In this blog's storied history, only twice have I gone on personal trips -- both times to southwestern Montana. Me, I'm not much of a world traveler.

But I did have a pretty good time at my sister's wedding a couple years ago and this time -- the week spent sliding down big mountains -- well, it was pretty cool, too.

Actually, it was more than just cool, but I'll get to that later this week when I'm not sitting on the floor of the Denver airport waiting for my delayed flight to board.

Until then, here's a picture from the week's pinnacle: Hiking up The Ridge at Bridger Bowl and riding what was, without exaggeration, the greatest run of my life.

Monday, February 11, 2008

I feel it coming in...

Well, we've yet to get dumped on, but with a couple inches last night and tons of trackless snow back in the trees, I'm happy to report (and I'm sure you're happy to hear) that I'm scratching my powder itch. 

Here's a shot of Bridger Bowl yesterday. Note the excessive crowd.

I think we're moving on to the big mountain tomorrow, but who knows? If it's snowing somewhere in southwestern Montana, we'll probably be there.

Don't forget to vote tomorrow! Oh, and here's something about Obama and specifics that I found interesting.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Can't you see the sunshine, can't you just feel the moonshine...

The week leading up to a vacation is the worst, right? You have a million things to do before you leave, but you can't focus on what's in front of you long enough to get anything done.

Not only that, but the days start slowing down the closer you get to departure and, if you're like me, the night before leaving is usually full of anxious anticipation rather than sleep (and considering my flight leaves before sunrise on Saturday, this is going to be particularly annoying).

Anyway, that's where I'm at right now. And with that in mind, here's a disjointed series of thoughts…

Sad news on the Oakland Mills front. It seems the Fire Rock Grill has closed for an indefinite amount of time for, apparently, indefinite reasons. This really sucks. Bad. But at least it frees up a couple of parking spots in the village center.

Somewhere there's a tree on a clear-cut hillside thankful for its safety…

Jack Johnson, who's pretty awesome, just came out with a new album on Tuesday. It's called Sleep Through the Static and so far, I like what I hear. But I'm a pretty big Jack Johnson fan (understatement), so my opinion probably isn't worth much to the disinterested music fans.

Two cool things about the album. First, it was recorded using only solar energy, which I got no problems with. The second is he's using its launch to promote All At Once, described thusly:

All At Once is a social action network providing information, tools, and motivation for individuals who want to become active in their local and world community.

All At Once brings together non-profit organizations and fans to create change - your actions, your voice, and your choices all have a huge impact.

All At Once connects people together through a new online community (full site to launch March 1 – come back and check it out!). is a connecting place for people to discuss issues and events, learn about non-profit groups, and take action together.

Pretty cool.

Finally, I'm a little hesitant to mention this because anything can happen, especially when talking about weather, but it looks like my jinx has come to an end. You see, in my life I've taken only two extended trips away from the East Coast in the middle of winter. The first time was January 1996 when I went to New Orleans and the second time was February 2003 when I went to Las Vegas.

These dates may not mean much to you, but to weather nerds like myself, these dates are spoken of in hushed, reverential tones. In the last twenty years, Howard County has received more than two feet of snow from a single storm only twice, and both times I was somewhere else wearing shorts. And each time, a little bit of my soul died.

When I booked the tickets for my trip to Montana in December, I was afraid that we'd get another mega-storm this week, but such a storm now seems pretty unlikely. Which is fine by mean, especially if it means more snow out west.

Alright, that's all I'm saying for now. Probably nothing tomorrow, but stay tuned next week for some stupid posts and pictures (and perhaps even another guest blogging appearance from a random family member) from Montana.

Monday, February 04, 2008

So close, yet so far away...


Yes, like most of America, I am reveling in the schadenfreude of the New England Patriots' historic loss at the hands of goofy Eli Manning and the G-men. 

I think I've watched close to 1,000 replays of "The Play" and it just never gets old; I mean, how does David Tyree not drop that ball?  

Great play. Great game.

Anyway, nothing but a couple of pictures today. Enjoy!