Was that the future president eating a grilled cheese sandwich at Sidewalk Cafe? Uh, not likely ... Axed Channel 6 anchor lands on his feet at Fox ... Sen. Emily Couric's fight for colorectal screening coverage hits close to home ... All that snow actuall 

Street Talk

Sen. Emily Couric's fight for colorectal screening coverage hits close to home
Axed Channel 6 anchor lands on his feet at Fox
Was that the future president eating a grilled cheese sandwich at Sidewalk Cafe? Uh, not likely
All that snow actually did some good
Longtime Arthur Ashe friend wants to offer another mural to Richmond
Not so fast, swing dancers, says fire marshal
Sen. Emily Couric's fight for colorectal screening coverage hits close to home

mong the 13 bills sponsored this General Assembly session by Sen. Emily Couric (D-Charlottesville) is one that hits particularly close to home: Senate Bill No. 26, which would add screenings for colorectal cancer to the list of tests for breast, ovarian and prostate cancers that Virginia's insurers, including the state government, are required to cover.

Couric's brother-in-law, Jay Monahan, 42, died of colon cancer in January 1998. The husband of NBC broadcaster Katie Couric, who is Sen. Couric's sister, Monahan was not diagnosed with the cancer until it was too late. Sen. Couric thinks that if testing for cancers of the colon and rectum had been as routine as screenings for other cancers have become, he probably would have survived the disease, as surgery to remove colorectal cancer that has been detected early is nearly 100 percent effective.

While cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the nation, and colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death, Sen. Couric says lack of awareness about the disease and discomfort discussing it have contributed to delaying action among individuals and state governments alike: Only two other states, New Jersey and Illinois, require insurers to cover screenings. "We would be in the forefront ... we'll have the best bill in the nation," Couric says. Most HMO plans already cover the screenings, but many fee-basis plans, and the state itself, do not, she says.

Senate Bill No. 26 last week cleared another hurdle on the way to passage by the full Senate and could become one of the few bills to receive unanimous bipartisan support, as it has from the Republican-controlled Senate committees from which it has emerged. "I'm very optimistic about this bill," Couric says. "I'm honored to be carrying it."

Couric says her sister applauds the progress of the bill thus far, and though she is focused on finding a cure for colorectal cancer through the foundation she and others established after her husband's death, "of course she's pleased."

Rob Morano

Axed Channel 6 anchor lands on his feet at Fox

TV news is quick and cunning.

And when former Channel 6 weekend news anchor Collins Spencer was asked by new station manager Mark Pimentel to trade his 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. anchor seat in exchange for a reporter's notebook, Spencer was keen to the scent of the all-too-common routine.

In the hound-hungry world of broadcast journalism, anchor spots can be as changeable as weekly ratings.

"I don't think that was the right move," bristles Spencer about Pimentel's decision to pull him from the weekend anchor spot. The local CBS affiliate hired the rookie Spencer three years ago as Saturday morning anchor and reporter. Within three months, Spencer was promoted to weekend anchor.

But, last year, when new management under Pimentel rocked the Channel 6 news boat, and faces like news veteran Charles Fishburne and Sherri Richmond faded quickly, Spencer, then an already ousted-anchor-turned-reporter, decided it was time to pull the plug on a contract he felt had soured.

"After I was taken off the anchor desk," explains Spencer, "I asked to restructure my contract to get out six months early." Instead, Channel 6 released Spencer nearly a year in advance.

Now, just weeks after cleaning out his Richmond desk, Spencer has found an even bigger desk to fill — that of a Washington, D.C., correspondent for Fox News Network.

"To go from Richmond to network is quite a blessing," says Spencer from his home in Maryland where he worked only four weeks as a free-lance reporter before landing the network job with Fox.

Last week marked a milestone for Spencer: his network debut. "There's a little bit of nervousness but a lot of excitement," Spencer says, noting the expectations of a much larger audience — and much larger paycheck.

Still, Spencer says, if he had to do it all over again, he would. "[At Channel 6] I got a lot of experience in a short amount of time and it really made me a good journalist," says Spencer. But of his new job, Spencer adds happily: "It's network — it's the ultimate."

- Brandon Walters

Was that the future president eating a grilled cheese sandwich at Sidewalk Cafe? Uh, not likely

Someday, it might be the President George W. Bush Memorial Booth.

Right now, it's just the first booth at the Sidewalk Cafe.

The Fan bar and restaurant at 2101 W. Main St. had a visit Feb. 9 from someone who claimed to be none other than the Texas governor and Republican front-runner for president. If it was indeed the presidential hopeful, we can only imagine that Bush felt either intense relief or overwhelming panic when no one — not a single person — recognized him.

The man's identity remains in question because local and national Bush headquarters insist that Bush was campaigning in South Carolina all day that day and not in Virginia. By all reports, Bush was in South Carolina that day. According to the Associated Press, he met with business leaders in Newberry, S.C. — more than 300 miles from Richmond, by the way — in the morning. Interestingly though, that was the same day that Bush's mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, was in Glen Allen campaigning for her boy.

Hmmm. Complicating matters even further — no one recognized him at Sidewalk.

It was "Bush's" two suited companions who asked server Kimberly Ellyson, "Do you know who you are waiting on? This is George Bush." Could they have meant former President George Bush? Nope. Ellyson is convinced the man was indeed George W. Bush.

Owner Johnny Giavos says he had no idea who was munching on a grilled cheese sandwich, French fries, and chicken and rice soup in the booth near the front door until the man was on his way out the door.

After the patron walked out, Giavos said, "We should all be ashamed of ourselves that we could have the next President of the United States here and not one of us recognized him," to which one customer replied: "We're a Democratic bar."

— Janet Giampietro

All that snow actually did some good

Sure, the kids drove you crazy, and some of the more stubborn, dirty piles have yet to melt, and the streets now are coated with dirt and dotted with potholes, but there was a silver lining to the infamous Blizzard of '00: It dealt a sharp blow to flu (and got newscasters talking about something besides getting your shots, too).

While the evidence is all anecdotal, emergency rooms around town say they experienced a noticeable decline in the number of flu patients coming through their sliding doors. "We did see a definite reduction," says Dr. Kathy Cook of Patient First on North Parham Road. She estimates that the number of post-blizzard flu patients dropped as low as one-tenth of what it had been before the big snow, although it appeared to have ticked back up a bit last week with rising temps and recirculating Richmonders.

How come? Health professionals say it probably was the quarantine effect: homebound influenza-bearing bodies not being able to come into contact with healthy ones, giving time for the flu to run its course in one person without getting a shot at too many others.

- Rob Morano

Longtime Arthur Ashe friend wants to offer another mural to Richmond

Ashe Mural in the Works

In some ways, artist Clarence Hagins says, he has been working on his mural depicting the life of Arthur Ashe Jr. since the tennis star died Feb. 6, 1993. In other ways, Hagins feels, he has been creating it subconsciously ever since the two were schoolmates at Maggie Walker.

"This man was so elevated, even as a child. He was beyond the flesh," he says.

Hagins, 57, says the 9-by-12-foot canvas he began painting in 1994 probably will be finished this summer. He describes it as a free-form, flowing composition that features images of Ashe playing tennis as he grows from boy to man.

A nice tribute to be sure, but what makes this project — and Hagins' perceptions of the Ashe Monument, among other recent racial controversies in Richmond — particularly interesting is the fact that Hagins has not lived here since 1961, when at age 19 he took his wandering artist's self north, then to Europe, and finally to Mexico, where he has lived the past 18 years.

Hagins did keep in touch with Ashe and periodically returned to Richmond for visits to his own family. He and Ashe got together often when both lived in New York in the 1970s, Hagins says, and they struck up a 25-year correspondence as both men traveled the globe.

"He was a friend and a sponsor to me," Hagins says, explaining that Ashe encouraged his painting, bought some of his works and paid for a trip to France to study. Now, he feels, it's time to settle accounts: "I do owe the world something," he says. "I knew him all his life."

Living now in a storied artists' community in Mexico, Hagins says he will need financial help to insure and ship the completed mural back to Richmond, where he hopes it will be displayed in the Arthur Ashe Center on Boulevard.

Sculptor Paul DiPasquale, creator of the Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue, says the city could use another piece of Ashe art. "I think it's neat that he's doing it. The fact that somebody would just take this on" to honor Ashe impresses him, DiPasquale says.

Hagins returns the compliment. Of the Ashe statue: "I think it's a worthy tribute to him."

- Rob Morano

Not so fast, swing dancers, says fire marshal

Didn't the flame burn out on the swingdance rage with khakis and spectator shoes?

Not according to the Richmond Area Swingdance Society that planned to rekindle its Friday night swing nights thanks to the collectively built, yet-to-be-scuffed dance floor at Baja Bean Co. in the Fan.

The group was ready to dance the night away and prove swing dancing is here to stay until the fire marshal smelled trouble and put the skids on the swingin' soiree.

In 1989, the historic building that once served as Stonewall Jackson School caught on fire and was badly burned. Since then, a sprinkler system has been installed, but according to Catherine Farmer, an architect and RASS member, it's not enough to meet the fire marshal's standards for a dance area. Plus the new floor breaches current building-use specifications that are currently restaurant-only.

Farmer says that in order for the dance floor to get the green light, two fire doors must be built, and the restaurant must get a night-club permit in order to use the dance floor.

Neither Farmer nor the restaurant's manager, Jeff Allums, were aware that installing a small dance floor was subject to approval from the fire marshal. Nor did they think it would set them back anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000.

So far, Farmer has agreed to work pro bono to design new plans for the restaurant's fire walls. And, she says, Allums still wants the group to use the restaurant.

For now, Swing Night is in limbo at the Baja Bean Co. RASS still meets there most Friday nights. But the dancing may take a while.

- Brandon Walters


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