The Big Smooch 

Our valentines to Richmond.

“Line of Fire” for giving Richmond the mob.

Baltimore had “Homicide: Life on the Street.” Queens, “All in the Family.” Fantasy Island, “Fantasy Island.”

Now Richmond has its own moment of televised glory, a reason to call faraway friends and turn them on to a glimpse of the Fan or a young woman’s bare behind. It’s called “Line of Fire,” and it’s a guilty pleasure, if only for the disconnect between the Miami Herald calling it the “best new drama of the year,” and the sneaking suspicion that it’s the only new drama the Miami Herald critic bothered to watch.

Richmond’s own Leslie Bibb stars as Paige Van Doren, a Clarice Starlingian rookie FBI agent who joined the bureau because her husband died in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. Got it? It doesn’t matter, because creator Rod Lurie is going to tell you again and again about how her husband died in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

The flag waving and sorrowful music comes between scenes of The Unlikeliest Mob Boss Ever, Jonah Malloy, played by guidance counselor for the ages David Paymer. The Richmond police chief is played by Peter Horton of “thirtysomething.” Norfolk is played by Los Angeles.

If you’re behind on your “LOF,” check out ABC’s Web site at or the irreverent blog by Style Weekly and Spin contributor Andrew Beaujon at

Lamb of God for unmitigated heaviness.

“… this generation’s true heirs to the mantle of classic Megadeth and Metallica.”

Randy Blythe “howls his way through every song like a rudely awakened Yeti.”

“All 10 tracks go for the jugular.”

“... these Richmond, Virginia, boys are clearly just getting started.”

The quotes above are taken from the March issue of Revolver magazine. They speak of Lamb of God, hallowed heavy-metal monarchs hailing from RVA. In the issue, Revolver performs a laying of the hands on the band’s CD “As the Palaces Burn” — released on the indie metal-label Prosthetic — calling it Best Album of 2003.

Bands that made the cut after Lamb of God? The Mars Volta, Killing Joke, Turbonegro, Rancid, Metallica. Plus, in a separate, bigger article in the same issue, Revolver names Lamb of God one of the 25 Most Terrifyingly Good Live Bands of All Time. Our boys only made No. 9 on that list, but that’s one spot above Led Zeppelin, Guns N’ Roses and The Clash.

Wow. Hard to believe, but the recognition follows a banner year for the band, which inked a deal with Epic Records in the fall and co-headlined the national MTV 2 Headbanger’s Ball tour. To top it all, they got songs on the soundtracks to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Freddy vs. Jason.”

Where do you go from there? To a feature-length article in Alternative Press, of course. Look for it in the April issue, on stands at the end of February.

Cross Over Ministry for helping those in need.

Blessings on the Cross Over Ministry for its 20 years of faith-based service to Richmonders in need. Its mission is to provide health care to “a vulnerable population that includes children, the elderly, low-income families, minorities, the uninsured working poor, and the working and unemployed homeless.”

Through its three locations (108 Cowardin Ave., South Side; Sherbourne Methodist Church in Chesterfield County; and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church downtown), Cross Over in 2002 served 6,000 patients who made 17,000 visits to its facilities.

Blessings, also, on the 200 physicians and dentists who contribute care and expertise and the 300 other volunteers who keep the ministry open and thriving.

Michael Graham for sinking his teeth into Richmond.

He infuriated a police chief. He maddened Ukrop’s PR folks. And when it came to City Hall or the elected-mayor issue, he carped and harped until his tongue was numb.

Now Michael Graham, after a year as host of the “Michael Graham Experience” on WRVA 1140-AM, is leaving, bound for a morning stint on ABC radio affiliate WMAL in Washington, D.C.

Graham, an author, once stand-up comedian and former politico from South Carolina, says he learned a few things in Richmond:

On the Paygo scandal: “If you get an invoice full of massive spelling errors and grammar errors from a dead council member — don’t pay it.”

On the Richmond Police Department: “If I ever decide to murder somebody, I’m going to do it in Richmond.”

But most of all, he says he learned that Richmond “is not a small-minded, backward-looking town that hates change. It’s a town full of people who are ready for change. It’s the leadership that is small-minded and backward.”

“What Richmond needs more of is just a few more people who are paying attention.” Graham did, and deserves an off-air smooch, for demanding a polite city to do the same.

The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee for trying to strike a balance.

A first kiss, full of possibility, on the Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, bishop of the Diocese of Virginia. His diocese with 87,000 members and 400 clergy is the oldest and largest in the Episcopal Church. It is diverse, too. And for nearly 20 years, Lee has been its conscience, a steadfast centrist and consensus builder. Until he voted three months ago to ordain the Rev. Canon Gene V. Robinson of New Hampshire as the church’s first openly gay bishop.

The election of Robinson as bishop simultaneously incited praise and condemnation from all corners of the world, perhaps no more so than in Virginia. Some churches threatened to leave or withhold funds. Customarily, Lee dug his heels deep in middle ground. Now it appears he’s trying to strike a balance between his desire to move past the tumult, while recognizing that Robinson’s consecration as bishop has deeply divided and continues to divide, the Episcopal Church.

His words to members of his diocese give us pause. He is struck, he says, by the teachings of a faith based more on grace than law. “My reading of scripture convinces me that the Gospel is ever-increasing its power to erase the barriers that we human beings erect among ourselves,” he says and asks: “What difference does this controversy mean for us in Virginia? That depends on us.”

City restaurants for helping pay everyone’s bill.

In a show of solidarity, to the cheers of civic boosters and to the dismay of some city restaurateurs, City Council increased the meals tax by one percentage point in August — the extra money would help pay for the planned $150 million Virginia Performing Arts Center.

Passing the meals tax seemed like good governance. With council chambers immersed in scandal (the Rev. Gwen C. Hedgepeth) and tragedy (the death of Councilman Joe Brooks), passage of the tax was an attempt to show those calling for change that the city was still in good hands. Even the conservative editorial board at the Times-Dispatch approved.

Of course, City Council raised the tax at the expense of the city’s biggest business sector. By tacking on another percentage point, city restaurants now pay 6 percent in meals taxes, making it more difficult to compete with eateries in the counties where there is no meals tax. In practice, only a few downtown restaurants are close enough to the future Performing Arts Center to gain business from it, and that’s if you believe the arts center will actually generate new business. (We’re skeptical.)

By the way, if this new arts center was such a good deal, then why have most of those same business leaders who are pushing it refused to donate their own money? If it’s too risky for the private sector, then why is it such a win for city taxpayers?

Alas, it is one city, our city — as long as someone else pays the bill.

2007, our date with destiny.

A blind-date kiss for 2007, the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first permanent English colony at Jamestown — and a year sending tingles down the spines of Richmond officials and tourism boosters.

It’s our Y2K, plus seven. The year the queen may visit our humble little cobblestone streets — the queen of England, mind you. Hurry! We must build a convention center, new hotels, a performing-arts complex — a Starbucks with extra scones!

Like little elves scrambling toward a Christmas Eve deadline, or the citizens of Blaine, Mo. waiting for Guffman, we’re determined to scrub up and cash in.

Even a new federal courts building — for which money is on its way down the legislative path from D.C. to Richmond — is being linked to 2007. As City Manager Calvin Jamison recently commented in the Times-Dispatch, “There is going to be a new central-city Richmond, and the timing is critical. … 2007 is going to be the 400th anniversary of Jamestown and it could be like the Olympics for Richmond.”

We think he smells Olympic-sized revenue, too. Let’s just hope the queen doesn’t mind the higher hotel- and meals-taxes. And will some wise chaperone please direct her away from City Hall? There’s a table waiting at the Penny Lane Pub.

The Red Cross for heeding the call.

Central Virginia took some tough ones on the kisser last year: A tornado swept through Amelia County and Hurricane Isabel respected no jurisdictional lines in wreaking havoc regionally. So a big, grateful kiss goes to 3,800 awesome Virginia volunteers (250 in Richmond) who rolled up their sleeves under the direction of the Greater Richmond Red Cross.

They served 109,930 meals, sheltered 1,900 people in 12 emergency shelters and answered 4,500 emergency telephone inquiries. Oh yeah, all this in addition to the day-to-day business — making 6,900 free trips in 2003 taking Richmonders for medical care, and delivering 574 emergency messages between families and those in the military, including Iraq.

Who you gonna call? You have to ask?

The RiverDogs for bad manners and good hockey.

In the great 1977 film “Slap Shot,” Paul Newman plays a minor-league hockey veteran on his — and his team’s — last legs. The hockey itself seems almost incidental to the fighting, swearing, traveling, griping, drinking and pranking.

If the Richmond RiverDogs seem a little tame by comparison, it’s only because the fans don’t get to go backstage. As coached by NHL Hall of Famer Rod Langway, the United Hockey League franchise is winning games. The players are also capturing fans’ hearts by dropping the gloves at every opportunity, and spending as much time in the penalty box as they do on the bench.

And in the AA-level UHL, there’s more than a little “Slap Shot”-style bad behavior. In December, members of the Adirondack IceHawks smeared the car of RiverDogs GM Jeff Croop with pizza. So what are the RiverDogs missing? Draft the Hanson brothers!

Philip Morris for making Richmond home.

Richmond finally owns the moniker of Cigarette Town, U.S.A. For years, people assumed that Philip Morris — the company with the South Side factory that makes millions of cigarettes a day and displays a sculpture featuring its packs writ large — was based in Richmond.

Now, it really is.

In March, Philip Morris USA announced plans to move its headquarters from New York City to West Broad Street, reviving the old Reynolds Metals headquarters. The company was bringing hundreds of jobs to the city where it has manufactured billions of cigarettes. Was the move in response to new anti-smoking regulations in the city that never sleeps? Is Philip Morris moving its offices closer to its lawyers’ headquarters downtown? Did executives come looking for the town with the most packs peeking from oxford-cloth pockets?

Tobacco once defined this town. It may still. The State Capitol sports tobacco leaves on its rotunda ceiling. Nineteenth-century tobacco warehouses have become the place for hipsters to live. The best nightspots feature aromatic clouds floating at eye level.

So what if it’s bad for you? Something that’s bad for people may be good for us. If we’re going to smoke anyway, why not get the benefits of having the company based here?


Main Street Station for coming onboard.

Anyone who’s driven to D.C. must have wondered if there’s a better way. I-95 is the Road of Inexplicable Delays, on which cars slow to a crawl for no apparent reason, and VDOT demonstrates how little can be done with modern signal technology.

So it was with unrestrained glee that Richmond late last year welcomed the renovation of Main Street Station, that architectural jewel in the spaghetti of downtown interchanges. Now it’s possible to travel in comfort to D.C., or southeast to Newport News, without having to embark at the depressing Staples Mill station.

So what if the Main Street Station isn’t finished? Who cares if it has no amenities — no snack bar, no restaurant, no convenience store? It’s still an elegant, centrally located station, not to mention a triumphant revival of one of Richmond’s signature buildings.

Then there’s the matter of “Skyrider,” a sculpture by John Newman tethered by multiple guy wires under the freeway across the street from the station. It’s the sad love child of an ampersand and a pre-Wright Brothers flying machine. From top to bottom: exhaust hood, sky-colored small intestine, cornucopia-shaped roll cage. This is a case in which the setting is more sculpturally interesting without the additional sculpture.

Richmond Police Chief André Parker for good luck.

Despite public lambasting by WRVA talk-show host Michael Graham and an unrelated Web site devoted to his demise — “Let’s show him the door in 2004,” quips — Richmond Police Chief André Parker has managed to keep his nerve, if not the peace.

So we kiss Parker as we would a pitcher in the bullpen: for luck.

It stings that Richmond’s homicide rate in 2003 makes it the seventh deadliest city of its size in the nation. Parker appears to take the news and, to a certain degree, the blame in stride. He’s chastised city residents for not taking ownership of their ability to curb crime. He’s been tight-lipped and exceedingly cautious with the media. He’s followed protocol — i.e., city politics — as much as he’s set it.

Still, he’s courted criticism as any prompt and eager date would. He’s hired officers. He’s put some of them back in the schools. He’s come up with a plan. It could be that when it comes to Richmond, Parker’s just wet his lips to pucker up.

Kroger for daring to step out of the suburbs.

Kroger challenged the old maxim that retail follows rooftops — in the suburbs, that is — opening a new grocery store at Broad and Lombardy streets near Virginia Commonwealth University in November.

No, it may not have been the first inner-city grocery to open last year, as Ukrop’s Super Markets bought Johnny Johnson’s Community Pride store at Harrison Street and opened a few weeks before Kroger in late October. But sorry, Jim and Bobby — Kroger deserves the credit here. Ukrop’s opening was a response to Kroger’s first move, and Kroger invested plenty more by building a new 52,000-square-foot store and taking a chance on a demographic potluck that includes VCU students, low-income housing and loft dwellers.

In a business that depends on high-volume sales to succeed, a grocery store opening in the city is as risky as it gets. Kroger, however, has the deep pockets — it’s the second-largest grocery chain in the country, behind only Wal-Mart Stores — to buy time for its strategy to work.

More importantly, Kroger gives Richmond credibility. With a shiny new store sticking out of the urban landscape, it is clear that Kroger saw a market opportunity in Richmond without the lure of public incentives.. We haven’t arrived just yet, but at least we can go Krogering.

VCU for obsessing about a name.

An egoistic kiss to Virginia Commonwealth University for spending so much energy seeing that the public realizes that the famous MCV (Medical College of Virginia) “does not exist as a stand-alone entity and references using only these initials are incorrect. For example, VCU/MCV or MCV/VCU or MCV are incorrect.”

Each time we want to refer to that medical school and the hospitals downtown, we should now consult the cheat sheet the institution sent to local news media. Do we want to say Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center or VCU Medical Center or VCU Health System or VCUHS or Medical College of Virginia Hospitals or MCV Hospitals or MCVH, all of which are correct?

Our copy editors are especially grateful to VCU for this clarification, but they are worried about how to fit in the name of the new component: VCU Medical Center Food Lion Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

Linda Voreland for pushing the envelope and, when it counts, the canoe.

Risky. Brave. Accessible. That’s how Virginia Commonwealth University associate arts professor Linda Voreland describes her Urban Light Works program that happened Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 at the Turning Basin. Complete with bucket-drummers, dancers, dripping-wet men and a glow-in-the-dark repertoire, the two-day event drew a crowd of 30,000, organizers say. If you were there, you must be surprised by the figure — it didn’t appear that crowded — even as you understand it. The show was avant-garde. And at the time you had to pinch yourself asking, are you in Richmond?

Unmistakably, yes. The idea behind Urban Light Works is big and bright: Art is for everybody. Unless, it turns out, it involves a canoe. In preparation for the show, the canal at the Turning Basin was outfitted with one such boat. It was to have transported videographers, and maybe artisans, into the belly of the canal, a floating, gliding accompaniment. But apparently one person’s art is another’s accident. Despite fierce protests from Voreland, a member of Richmond Renaissance — the city’s booster club — had the canoe removed. The incident was a test of wills and also a sign. Throughout the program one empty canal boat lingered — risky, brave and accessible.

Orange Door for — however briefly — shaking up the Richmond gallery scene.

Founded in the spring of 2002 by four local artists, Orange Door gallery had a mission from the start: to challenge what co-founder Heide Trepanier called the “conservative and apathetic” Richmond art scene by showcasing cutting-edge art that had “fire, passion and relevance.”

A tall order, yet for most of its too short year-and-a-half run the gallery delivered the goods with a series of provocative, content-heavy shows that stood out from the crowd.

Best of all was “Faces of Iraq,” an exhibit of photographs of Iraqi civilians devastated by a decade of U.S. bombings and sanctions that opened in the early weeks of the war. It was a powerful show — there were real tears in viewers’ eyes at the opening — but more importantly, Orange Door was the only gallery in Richmond to address the subject, pro or con.

It will be missed.

Westhampton Cinemas for holding on.

With wide-screen TVs, DVDs and a film-rental joint on every other corner, who needs to go to the movies anymore? But the Westhampton Cinemas, despite its uncomfortable seats (downstairs) and funky upstairs auditorium (carved out of the old balcony) is one of the town’s venerable institutions.

Month in and month out, the Westhampton can be relied on for high quality, thoughtful, and often foreign flicks that are worth seeing without even checking the listings. So a smooch to that 18th-century woman whose portrait hangs over the lobby mantel: Besides, what movie theater has a fireplace presided over by a portrait of Martha Washington or Marie Antoinette, or whoever she is?

City slogans for making us feel so darn great.

When the going gets tough — high crime, public fraud, hurricanes, war — it’s comforting to know that our city leaders are working hard to come up with new slogans to make us feel better.

“Easy to Love” got the ball rolling two years ago. Then came “One City, Our City,” the work of City Manager Calvin Jamison. In November, we were introduced to another pro-city marketing campaign, albeit smaller. A group of business owners decided the area that encompasses Shockoe Slip, Shockoe Bottom, the Canal, the Turning Basin, Tobacco Row and Mayo Island needed a new identity: the River District (“Start Here!” thanks to a $75,000 check from the city).

Our city still hasn’t recovered from the big-bank takeover in the mid-1990s, and our diminished tobacco heritage. But led by the spirit of the go-go Jamison — the city isn’t on fire, it’s ablaze with positivity — civic boosters have spent hundreds of thousands of public dollars injecting into Richmond a sense of place with logos, fish statues and beautification projects.

Also, with the River District, the city can now more easily pretend the bad stuff didn’t really happen. For example, the tomato festival took place in the River District. The weekend shooting – that was in Shockoe Bottom.

Stadium boosters for dreaming of unreal fields.

If you’re a fan of the city, it’s hard not to get excited about

the ninth-inning proposal to build a new downtown baseball stadium.

Then you realize this is Richmond. What started as another possible home run turned into a mangled mess of secrecy, anti-regionalism and weird economics.

Let us recount: The group pushing the idea refuses to identify its members, and their plotting takes place behind closed doors, even though a new stadium, for our beloved Richmond Braves, would require millions in tax dollars.

Supervisors in Chesterfield, unsettled by the secrecy, threaten to pull support for the project and instead propose building it in the county.

The group studying the idea receives $18,000 from the city to search for possible locations — Shockoe Bottom is at the top of the list — before researching whether the project makes sense economically. And, interestingly, this secret group says the stadium will only cost us $18.5 million, the same needed

to renovate the old Diamond.

The private sector will pick up the rest of the $50 million to $60 million price

tag for a downtown stadium? Experts say there’s no precedent, as minor-league stadiums tend to lose money. Sounds like classic bait and switch.

It may be moot now, anyhow. Management changes at the parent

Atlanta Braves have left Richmond without a new contract, which expires at the end of next season.

John Snow for the makings, we hear, of a good lesson and even better story.

Calls to U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow’s office in Washington couldn’t confirm it, but insiders say the former Richmonder and CEO of CSX Corp. recently popped into town. And if what they say is true, a coincidental encounter Snow had may have changed for one young man the game of paint ball.

It goes something like this:

You’re a kid living in what is arguably Richmond’s toniest neighborhood. You have a paint gun. You’re fearless. You hide and wait for targets. Cars, mostly. They never catch you.

One winter day you spy a stream of shiny black vehicles proceeding slowly down the street. Excitedly, you perch yourself out of sight. You’re ready. You aim. You fire. You pelt the unsuspecting vehicles or try to, gleefully envisioning the familiar smack and drizzle of paint exploding on contact.

Suddenly the cars halt. Men in suits fall out like storm troopers. They see you. They bound toward you. And they’ve got big gleaming guns — real ones. Your heart pounds. Your stomach feels as if it’s falling down a dark and bottomless shaft. The suits, you learn, are federal agents.

How could you have known the president’s chief moneyman, Snow, is in town to give a commencement speech at Virginia Commonwealth University? He’s stopped by the old neighborhood.

Your prank is foiled. You’re caught. Paint ball, you regret, will never be the same. To your parents’ relief, the incident ends amicably. And you pledge never again to splatter or attempt to splatter with paint a motorcade carrying very official people, no matter how tempting it may be.

The newcomers for taking a stab at publication.

Honest: We miss Punchline. As omnipotent and omnipresent as Style Weekly is, it was always nice to see someone else’s take on the funnier aspects of life in the Richmond area.

Since it folded, other publications have attempted to jump into the breach. The T-D’s mighty Weekend section has stepped up with hard-hitting cover stories, including a supremely unappetizing feature on burritos (loved the Gray’s Anatomy-style cross-section photos, y’all).

Then there’s Wadi, “Virginia’s Freaky Bi-Weekly.” It’s hard not to feel for a publication that reviews local music, includes (clothed) centerfolds and even apologizes for its own content. From the most recent issue’s editorial note: “Overall our content and quality has clearly increased. But, we will make every real effort from this point fourth (sic) not to include that which is just rambling.” Excelsior!

Even cheekier is the Chew On This, produced by habitues of sushi bar/Tater-Tot emporium/hipster clubhouse Sticky Rice. It’s small in size and circulation, but large in attitude and taste. Local art and design, cool clothes and music, useful advice for the bedroom — all in a size that makes it handy to honor their slogan: “Keep it on you.”

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