Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Lie We All Live In

Earlier this week, my next-door neighbors Devon and Trina Ward noticed the letter N sprayed into their front lawn, accompanied by an empty container of Skoal, beer bottles and chicken bones. Soon after it became mailbox conversation and sidewalk small talk.

On Friday, police officers were canvassing the street, interviewing neighbors about the unfortunate incident. I myself got a ring at the doorbell from officer Rodriguez. None of us had noticed anything out of the ordinary. The police downplayed the incident and advised the Wards to cover it up.


The Wards reached out through other channels; local papers, WBAL TV-11 News and myself.
Melissa Carlson and John Cassini from WBAL interviewed the Wards, my mother and myself. Do I feel safe in my own neighborhood, they asked.

"Its the lie we all live in," I told Carlson. Its Columbia and anyone who thinks civility is the categorical imperative of our town needs to add Tom Paine to their bumper. Einstein said time and space are relative. I think he should add safety to the list.

Now I'm asking the readers of this blog and other local blogs to spread the word. The "not in my neighborhood" mentality ends where the driveways meet the streets. And on Columbia's summer streets, many a youth walks around with nothing to do.

So if you've got nothing better to do, or you'd like the details, tune in to 11 News at 11pm for the story and thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Declaration of Independence

WHEN in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness--That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security. Such has been the patient Sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the Necessity which constrains them to altertheir former Systems of Government. The History of the present King of Great-Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World.

-Excerpt from The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776-

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Demise of Dobbin Donuts & Deli

What happened here? From the lonely view through the front door and windows, the place looks deserted. I remember walking in a few weeks ago and having breakfast, The couple who ran the place told me that business had been slow.

They never gave me any indication that they'd fold, nor had I heard from any outside source as to the precarious state of their operation. Regardless of the cause, the effect is the same. Dobbin Donuts & Deli is closed.

My father and I have frequented this "Mom & Pop" type of restaurant for years. As we approached the front door this morning, the grim reality finally set in.

Juicy details. You want them, I don't have them. Actually I'd like them too. Journalism doesn't work so well when you don't have credible sources to interview or patrons to observe. The only bit of information I could find was a sign on the back door.

So for anyone reading this with inside information concerning the demise of Dobbin Donuts & Deli, spill it. When did it close? Why? How has Dobbin Pizza affected the business? Did the business move or is it gone for good?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bon Fresco: Update

While manning the register at work today, I struck up a conversation with two plain clothes detectives from the Howard County police department regarding the break in.

The detectives requested anonymity because of the ongoing nature of the investigation. They spent about two hours looking over the security tapes at Bon Fresco, attempting to locate footage of the suspects.

As it turns out, the security cameras were set to record continually, not for motion detection. Since the date when the cameras first recorded activity, the hard drive of the corresponding computer system has been slowly filling up with footage of Bon Fresco employees and guests.

The detectives learned that the hard drive filled to capacity on June 27th, two days before the break in. In short, the suspects were not caught on camera. The cameras, computer system and security system have since been restructured, so don't get any ideas!

Under The Sun

"Well I don't want no preacher telling me about the god in the sky." Thanks Ozzy for a great song. This post has nothing to do with gods, preachers, or Ozzy Osbourne but it seemed fitting for sitting in a tunnel playing a flute under the sun.

On lake Elkhorn in Owen Brown there are are two concrete and steel tunnels that connect the lake to the river that runs behind Allview. On sunny days I enjoy sitting in the right tunnel, practicing my flute.

If however you're one of those people that likes to fish, take my advice and take the left tunnel down to the other side of Broken Land parkway for the best fishing spot in Owen Brown.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bon Fresco: Broken Into

At this time I don't have much to give you. I spoke with the owner, Gerald Koh, this morning. He told me the suspect was caught on the security camera breaking into the restaurant by pitching a rock through the back window.

Both windows on the back door were smashed clean and had been swept into a box by the time I arrived this morning. I wasn't scheduled to work, but I wanted to help if I could. Koh said the suspect had hit other establishments over the course of the night, four or five. I left a message for the officer who took the police report, but nothing has been posted on the Howard County police website as of yet.

Koh said the suspects took money. Upon a visual inspection, nothing else appears to be missing. I guess the food is so good they couldn't wait for Bon Fresco to open to eat it. That elicited a small laugh from Koh. As I sit here, typing, trying to analyze what happened, I wonder why Koh didn't remove the money from the registers after closing last night? There's no office or safe in Bon Fresco? I am however, thankful for the security cameras, and the fact that we all still have jobs.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bat Country

I had heard about this place from my friend Nickel. During the spring and fall semesters, I would often hang out with Nickel in the tunnels underneath Towson University. In the summers when he works for Columbia Association, Nickel often finds and shows me recently discovered chill-spots.

I wasn't scheduled to work on Tuesday, so I went to the East Columbia Branch Library with Joey to help him prepare for the GED. After studying at the library, we walked around Owen Brown as we often do. I remembered Nickel telling me about a tunnel underneath Broken Land parkway, so we went to check it out.

At the bottom of a forested slope on the corner of Broken Land and Cradlerock lies a stream and two concrete tunnels spanning the width of the parkway. To satisfy my curiousity, I decided to walk through one of the tunnels, Joey followed. One hundred feet through a steel ribbed, sand filled sewer tunnel. No snakes that I could see, just the sound of trickling water and the echo of flip-flops.

On the other side of the tunnel was a concrete slab followed by a stream choked with brush and fallen timbers. Among the twigs and trash, Joey found an expired Maryland learner's permit for Jhef Herard Felix of 6361 Windharp Way along with a lone black athletic shoe. After snapping a few pictures of damsel flies and waterfalls, we decided to head back through the other tunnel.

That was when we entered Bat Country! As far as people go, Joey's reserved and not easily startled. However, not long after we entered the tunnel, we discovered Bat Country. His mannerisms quickly changed to panic as he screamed out about bats and snakes and death.

A podcast of our adventure through Bat Country can be found here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bon Fresco: Now Open

I haven't posted in over a week. Have I gone AWOL? Are the lack of posts the result of some turbulent mix of apathy and stupor? Actually, I've been busy with my MsgworX internship and landscape engineering for Mom Duke.

I've also spent a few hours here and there at Bon Fresco, four more today for the official opening of the restaurant. Little things like the bus-yellow wall tiles, Micros heat tape tickers and plastic containers filled with baguettes remind me of Atlanta Bread Company.

Gerald Koh, the owner and manager of Bon Fresco says he's changing the menu slightly. For Howchow and any other curious patrons, I've scanned a copy of the handbill menu I've pedaled and peddled to the surrounding office structures. The bottom of the menu cuts off on the Capri, so I've listed it below:

Capri: Prosciutto, Genoa salami, capicola and provolone with lettuce, roasted red peppers, hot peppers, onions and vinaigrette on ciabatta.

The layout of the restaurant is similar to that of Chipotle, one of the restaurants with which Bon Fresco is competing for your business. Orders are picked up at the counter adjacent to the front doors and taken at the opposite end of the counter. Bon Fresco is small however and only seats 27.

So what makes Bon Fresco any different from Panera Bread or Subway? I'm sure there are many patrons pondering this point, as have I. The ingredients. As Koh has stated before, he wants everything to be fresh, so he won't refridgerate tomatoes nor will he buy them with the additive spray film even if this means 86ing tomatoes for the rest of the shift. All of the bread is made on site, by hand. No frozen-boxed baguettes here.

Business has been slow primarily due to lack of advertising, so get the word out. The more guests Koh gets, the more hours I get. If the management is sound and the operation is streamlined, then the business should succeed. The food will sell itself.

Bon Fresco is located in Dobbin, behind Ledo's Pizza. Here's the street address for all of you Google mappers:

6945 Oakland Mills road (At the corner of Oakland Mills road and Snowden River parkway).

So is it ethical for me to report on a business I work for? Honestly, when I was in J-School at Towson, I was given the choice of electives; either take media ethics or media law. Complimentary to my character, I chose media law.

As for objectivitiy, well that's a subject better explained by Hunter S. Thompson. Refer to Fear And Loathing: On The Campaign Trail '72, page 33.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Gerald Koh on Bon Fresco

Columbia resident Gerald Koh has been busy over the last few months, overseeing the building and inspection processes of his new restaurant venture, Bon Fresco. Koh, who earned a BS in accounting from College Park in 1982, has been working in the food-service industry for over twenty years.

In the cube behind Ledo's Pizza in Owen Brown, Koh works daily meeting with potential employees, contractors and inspectors. He says he hopes to open Bon Fresco to the public by June 15th.

Bon Fresco is small, about the size of your average Subway restaurant and will employ only 15-20 people. Thankfully, I count myself among those 15-20 employees. Details are hard to come by but Koh says menus will be printed by Tuesday. The specific items of the menu aren't yet known by anyone except Koh, but we can look forward to Koh's favorite menu item; Israeli couscous, made with caramelized onions, dried apricots and feta cheese.

"I like to have food that is good for you, that is tasty. That is what America is all about," says Koh while standing at his impromptu desk. Koh says many restaurants in the area work on three basic principles: good bread, freshness and service. He points out however that none of his competitors have nailed all three yet.

When asked, he says restaurants like Chipotle and Panera Bread will be his primary competitors.

So where does the name Bon Fresco come from? Koh says he spent a lot of time thinking of names for his concept company like sweet and fresh, sweet and simple. Finally he came up with good and fresh. Bon Fresco translates as good and fresh in Italian and French respectively.

Elijah Andrews on Lake Front

I met Elijah Andrews back when I started skateboarding in Town Center. In those days he wore a Cat-In-The-Hat styled red and white hat which made him instantly recognizable. I used to see Andrews skating at the bridge between The Columbia Mall and the Lake Front and at the double block by the docks.

After my recent visit to Lake Front, I asked Andrews, a seasoned veteran of the Columbia skateboarding scene about the surge in security and the risks involved in skating at Lake Front.

Do you think it's fair that CA prosecutes and bans skateboarders at the lakefront, even though the property is rarely used by others, except during summer evenings?

"I can understand why they don't want us there when they're playing a movie or something. The skateboards can make enough noise to distract the viewers. But otherwise, I'd say just let us use the place when there's no actual events going on."

When were you first banned, who were you with, what happened and do you think banning skateboarders is an effective deterrent?

"When I was first banned, I was alone. It was more or less an official slap on the wrist - where if I got caught after that, there'd be legal consequences. And no, its not an effective deterrent. Most skateboarders are used to that shit by now anyway."

Have you personally, or have you heard of pedestrians having problems with the skateboarders at the lake front? complaints about the noise or disruption? Or do you feel as though the other tenants of the property coexist with skaters?

"Personally no, but I do know the security got more intense after some kid accidentally ran into some older guy. I heard he broke a bone or something. Ever since then they've been super anal about security."

Its common knowledge that the lake front is under used, except during the summer CA season. Even then, events only occur during the evening. In your opinion, should CA allow skateboarders to use the property much like they would a skate park during designated hours? Do you feel that if they did allow skateboarding, it would act to draw more people to the lake front?

"Yes, it definitely would. A good example of sparked interest is in Louisville Kentucky. They invested millions into a skate park and it paid off well for them. People from all over the country go there to skate it and the locals hang around there to do all sorts of things."

Do you think its fair that CA prosecutes anyone who so much as carries a skateboard across the lake front property? And from your experiences, what are the ramifications of being banned from the property? Have you been arrested or fined? Does the ban effectively keep you from returning to the lake front?

"No its not fair. Its not like carrying a gun. No permits are needed to carry one. People always forget its a mode of transportation as well. I have no idea what they do now when they catch you for skating. I've heard everything frmo getting fined and board taken away to arrested for trespassing. I guess it depends on the situation. Bans definitely don't keep from the lake front either, it just makes them more careful to not be caught. I've known dozens of people who were banned and still came back."

Oh Snap!

Snapping Turtle sightings have increased with the recent rainy weather. If you're walking your dog or strolling along open space paths, keep an eye open for these snappers. Snapping turtles tend to hide themselves in the low brush near stream beds. Though they don't move very fast, they have quick reflexes and can bite without warning so keep pets, appendages and skateboards out of range of their beaks. The snapping turtle shown here had claws almost two inches long and hissed just before lashing out.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Battle For Lake Front

I thought of the Rage Against The Machine album while writing and rewriting the slug line for this post.

I interviewed Greg Hamm in March about a diverse array of topics. One of the points Hamm made was that General Growth Properties doesn't prosecute skateboarders at the Lake Front. This sounds encouraging, since he made the point that the property itself is seldom frequented by other residents.

Last night I discovered the loophole while talking to this unnamed sentry. GGP won't prosecute but Columbia Association will. I told him my name was Frank and that I was new in town, a recent emigrate of Baltimore. In fact, I've been banned from the Lake Front several times. Our conversation served as a testimonial to the inadequacies of their cruel and crude system.

According to the off-duty police officer who moonlights as a security guard, even stepping foot on the property with a skateboard is a hellworthy trespass. Last night I had been skating the white wooden stage at around 6:30 with no problems. I left for the mall but doubled back to the double block to retrieve my tea shades. It was then that I was informed of my transgression. After a short conversation and a well crafted ruse, he gave me a flier with dates and events on it, claiming that CA had events every day of the month.

As I sat on the double block, reading Fear & Loathing On The Campaign Trail and sipping steam through my hookah, I noticed that not a damn thing was going on. No band, no movie, business as usual.

The point of my story is this: Most of the time, the Lake Front is not being used. If the weather is nice, people may walk through the Tivoli square or fish at the docks. I've never seen people sitting on the double blocks nor have I read a newspaper article reporting on the injury and hospitalization of some young skateboarder at the Lake Front.

The laws are unfair, and the restriction of the space goes against the ideals that the space was intended to uphold. To date I haven't heard of an incident involving a skateboarder and a pedestrian. We do our thing, they do theirs. Destruction of property? Nothing has been destroyed and seldom is any of it used, except by us.

By prosecuting us, you are draining the lifeblood from the already desolate Lake Front. What else is there to do for young people, have a Singapore Sling at Clyde's?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Grapeheads Spotted!

I found Grapeheads along time ago while at a video arcade in theTowson area. Grapeheads are firm with some give, blue dried blueberry shaped candies. Addictive. 25 cents a box. These candies are also available in lemon, cherry and apple flavors at the Cradlerock Mart in Owen Brown. I thought it might weird the owners out if I started taking pictures of the candy isle even though I go here weekly.

May Crime Map

Residential Crimes, Commercial Crimes, Vehicle Thefts.

View Columbia Crime Map in a larger map

April Crime Map

Commercial Crimes, Residential Crimes, Vehicle Thefts.

View Columbia Crime Map in a larger map

Better late than never, here's the Columbia crime map updated for the month of April, 2009.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


I'll bet you can't watch this just once. "Oh Shit"

Dmitry Kalikhman: iReporter

I use Facebook to talk to friends. Dmitry reports on the condition of the internet connection at Supreme Sports Club in Columbia. People talk better when they don't know they're being recorded but I asked him anyways, after the fact.

My guess is he was trying to load pages or refresh a page, who knows. The gym itself hasn't changed since Wednesday night so no worries readers.


connection is fucked im at the pool
alright im out man enjoy ur graduation night!
i'm at the gym and they're shit's fucked up.

what's closed, describe it?


lol haha, naw the connection is retarded
I keep trying to post shit, but it logs off at the one at the gym

thanks for the tip


np man tips are good my man

mind if I quote you on that?

it's not the prettiest quote my man can i tryu a new one

I guess but I thought itd be sweet just to post the last five lines of dialogue
gimme something:
a quote preferably:
its 9:47 PM Friday Night
you're the reporter right?
I can't pressure you into saying yes or no


you can quote whatever u want.

that's all I needed thanks man

Friday, May 22, 2009

News And Notes

Howard County General Hospital hiring. 6 hours ago, Explore Howard - Derek Simmonsen, reports. Starts hiring 220 now-June 21, 2010, 7:23 a.m. EDT.

jobs include: nurses, patient care technicians, receptionists, housekeepers. Majority of hires staff new hospital wing due to be completed summer 2010.

[“We’re doing this expansion to meet the demands of our community,” said Dorothy Brillantes, senior vice president of human resources for the hospital. With Baby Boomers aging, the demand for services is just going to increase, not decrease.”] Derek Simmonsen, 05/22/09.

Brillantes says Howard General Hospital is adding 43 beds = 140 new jobs. 1st unit opens 07-08/09, openings staggered until wing completes. About 80 jobs added to the existing hospital staff positions.

Reference to Health Care economic analysis. The Camden Group's annual report. Howard General provided services for more than 165,000,more than 76,000 patients in the emergency department, almost13,000 surgical procedures and delivered over 3,200 babies.

View Howard General Hospital. in a larger map
Hospital Job Fair seeks experienced nurses and patient care technicians.
5755 Cedar Lane, Columbia, MD.
June 2: 10 a.m. to noon.

Personally, I don't believe aggregating is a substitute for writing but it makes a great news writing exercise to pick, shorten & improve an article. These are my notes.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Which Lots Are Best For Tots?

In Owen Brown, behind the historic church I found this tot-lot nestled between the treeline and houses. The wood is in good condition, the swings have seats and the lot is graffiti free. The one thing that stood out though is the square-springy-thingy. I'm at a loss for words as to what it is exactly but I like it.

There are numerous tot-lots in the nine villages, some old, others new. So I'm asking readers, which tot-lot is your favorite? Factors in your decision should be location, surrounding environment and variety of play for children. Good hunting! I'm eager to hear back from you.

Follow The Reader's Lead

I received two wonderful emails tonight from two readers of this blog. I have to say its a great feeling to get such a positive reaction from residents. I've always believed journalism to be a public service and with a blog as my platform, it can be.

As I gear up for a summer of interviews and investigation I'd like to know what readers are thinking. As you (the reader) drive or walk around Columbia, what do you wonder about? What would you like me to go out and cover? Think of yourself as part of the production process because in fact, you are!

Look at these Hunteresque tea shades. Imagine wearing them around town. These shades will show you stories waiting to be told. Pretend you're wearing them for a day and think about something post-worthy. Hold that thought . . . and tell me about it.

I scribble notes everyday on ideas for posts or people I'd like to interview, so if you know someone who'd make a good interview or something interesting that's happening in Columbia, drop me a line at If you'd like to tell me how I'm doing or how I can improve, same deal, send an email to my gmail.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Behold: Bon Fresco

There's a new sandwich shop in Snowden called Bon Fresco. As I walked past the brick box building, I peeked inside and snapped a picture. One of the contractors told me they'd finish in a week or so.

Immediately, I thought of Atlanta Bread Company. Both as a journalist and a former sandwich shop slave wage I feel that I have a valid perspective on the fiscal future of this venture. When Atlanta Bread Company hired me, they were still building the place, so I got to walk around with a nail gun and electric screwdriver! Competition they said, what competition? Panera Bread, Three Brothers and several Subways later, they caved after one year.

I'm not a pessimist, I'm a realist. We don't need another sandwich shop concept. I can't believe I'm saying this but we don't need another Indian restaurant either. The building of Bon Fresco in Snowden seems almost as pointless as installing a Vocelli's pizza in the Owen Brown village center across from Jerry's pizza.

I predict that Bon Fresco will flare up like the flame on a candle and flutter out. Hopefully the place will employ competent management and a staff comprised of more than hispanics and high schoolers but realistically, they'd be fighting entrenched concepts that have done well without them.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Skate Spot

Though not technically in Columbia, there's a sweet skate spot in Centennial park in Ellicott City. Technically its not a skate park but if your looking for smooth concrete ramps and slick rails, look no further than Skate Spot.

No waviers, no pads, no helmets and no entry fee! About the size of a basketball court, the park contains a 5 x 20 quarter pipe at one end and a bank with a stair set at the other end. A hip in the center, picnic table, pole jam and a slider rail complete the setup.

Here's a video clip to show you what Skate Spot looks like.

And for all of you old schoolers out there, this trick is for you!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Somewhere Around Barstow

Barstow is that fictional place between college and the real world. If you've ever played the game of LIFE you'll understand that you can enter the job market immediately or go through college first. Well, I've done it.

In less than a week, I'll have a degree. Having never experienced senioritis, I was too focused on the present to care about the future. The semester is over, the experiment known as Columbia Blog Project has concluded, the results analyzed. If you're curious, here is the list of blogs generated by the other students in my class.

Over the course of the semester I've learned a great deal about blogging and even more about Columbia. If you've read this blog in the past, you be assured of great content in the near future. I have to say I've missed the late night posting sessions. I've missed having my ear to the ground but its good to be back.

Oh and Wordbones if you're reading this, I'm looking forward to your offer, I'd like to sit down and have a beer with you sometime, E-mail me.

Just to close one minor cliff hanger here, I'm starting a paid internship next week, so to all of you graduating seniors out there, what are YOU doing after graduation!?

-Jack Cole-

Friday, May 8, 2009

Housing Boom in Owen Brown

Despite a contracting economy, housing is booming in the village of Owen Brown. Just off the sidewalk from the historic Episcopal church, ants are building clusters of new homes. Sources say plans are underway for the construction of a microcosmic village center.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Blackout And Back Soon

Hello readers,

I've noticed some of you have continued to check up on me while I'm in the trenches. Under normal circumstances, I probably wouldn't go more than a day or two without blogging, its become something of a passion. But right now, my passion is graduating Towson University with a degree in journalism.

The last week of April and the first week of May is the so called crucible of graduating spring seniors. If you're even remotely curious why I've been so quiet, I've been shooting, editing and reshooting a video package on The Names. When I wasn't lugging around a 30lb light kit, I was studying for a final exam in mass communications research, (20 page research project due May 11th). I've also been interviewing Chinese international students for said project, writing a final exam blog on how-to-blog and creating two complex HTML pages from scratch.

Sounds like a lot, right? Well I appreciate your patronage. Thanks for stopping by. If you can give me one more week, I promise to send great content your way. You can look forward to more interviews and original reporting.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tony Hawk: The End

Tony Hawk. If you're between the ages of 18-45, he should sound familiar. Aside from the basics, I probably spent 70 percent of my youth skateboarding or playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater on Playstation.

Tony Hawk stars in Birdhouse: The End. (Banned in Switzerland)

If Tony Hawk stalls your bandwidth click here.

It's the week before finals. My head is steeped in a bittersweet tea of Research and hyper text over at Fairways. Inside Jimi's apartment, the Xbox 360 is the most advanced technology in a room full of crazies.

I just took a break from my work to watch this and it made me flip out all over again. Decapitation, exploding vans, strippers, bull ring, Bucky Lasek; its all there. *The End can be viewed on Youtube in four parts.* I think the video really belongs to the late-night, fire lighting antics of Jeremy Klein and Heath Kirchart.

I hope readers enjoy this. Just to clarify::This has nothing to do with Columbia in any way, it's just for fun. Have fun. I have. After I film, cram & exam, I'll be back [like Arnold Schwarzenegger try'n to play me out like as if my name was Sega]

-House of Pain-

Parting Est Telle Doux Chagrin

I rarely look at the obits of any paper, I'm young and I don't expect to die before I turn 60. Perhaps one day, when I'm chillin in my easy chair eating orange cracker sandwiches with peanut butter, I'll take time out of my day to check and see if any of my friends have passed.

The name Tennenbaum caught my eye this morning as I scanned through the main page of the Columbia Flier. Marcelle S. Tennenbaum, the wife of Columbia architect Robert Tennenbaum has passed.

Robert, if you're reading this, my heart goes out to you man. I'm not married, I don't know what it feels like to lose a wife to illness, but I understand the feelings of loss, grievance and understanding that comes with the passing of a loved one. Peace.

Thank You, Come Again!

When you think of Columbia, what comes to mind? Great schools, tot-lots, the bike guy and restaurants. Its hard to drive more than five minutes without finding a restaurant and damn near impossible to miss a Chinese, Italian or Mexican restaurant. I'm not a big fan of burritos, combination plates and cheap margaritas. Most of the Italian restaurants are overpriced. And if you want good Chinese food, go to Shanghai or Hunan Manor.

Indian food is the shizzle and I prefer House of India. Of course right behind the house is Ackbar, comparable but not the same. HowChow has reported about the possibility of India Delight joining the mosh pit of mango lassis and palak paneers. One more knock off won't hurt right? That's what Atlanta Bread Company general manager Keith Walthers told us in so many words on opening day. A year later, the doors closed for good.

Assuming that India Delight opens shop like HowChow reports it might, my guess is the restaurant would fill the vacant space held by ABC or California Tortilla. Will it survive with House of India and Ackbar dug in less than a mile away?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Space Between

I'm sure some people walk through Owen Brown village center but not me. After the revitalization by Giant Food owner Ahold, the layout of the village center was changed to bring parking lots up close to the stores, eliminating the central court and thus the need to actually walk through the center.

If you think back to the way things were, Owen Brown village center had a central pebble stone plaza ringed with benches. I don't think I ever saw people sitting on all the benches at any one time but they had choices.

Owen Brown village center didn't need revitalization, in fact it was fine the way it was. Giant Food, the anchor store, had entrances facing the center court which encouraged shoppers to walk the plaza. The current incarnation of the village center greets strollers with plain white concrete sidewalks and a grass square surrounded by a thin row of bushes, topped with brick walls.

I'd like to see Giant do something, anything with this space. Plant trees and flowers and insert tables perhaps. This gaping hole sticks out like a sore thumb, a constant reminder of the clumsy hand of the builder.

Breaking Down Bankruptcy: GGP

Sorry folks, did you miss me? Think back . . . decades ago you too were approaching the end of your last semester of college. You were busy right? Well its good to be back and discuss the finer points of bankruptcy law. I'm not an economist or even an economics major but as a journalist, I have the benefit of calling on the knowledge and wisdom of economics professors.

I spent my weekend in correspondence with Joe Pomykala, a professor of economics at Towson University who specializes in bankruptcy law. Hopefully after reading this, you will have a better understanding of the intricacies of chapter 11 bankruptcy in relation with General Growth Properties.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy allowed GGP to freeze it's debt of $4 billion and avoid interest payments to its creditors. Additionally, all legally binding contracts such as leases and labor contracts which exist outside of said bankruptcy can be accepted or rejected at the company's discretion.

While in bankruptcy, GGP may take out new loans which must be paid before the existing debt which are referred to as DIP (Debtor In Possession) loans. The interest rates for said loans are substantially lower than those of the company's existing loans.

Next, GGP develops a restructuring plan to reorganize and streamline it's operation, which creditors vote over. Creditors are usually paid less than the original contract allows. However the creditors should receive payment equivalent to the sum negotiated under chapter seven liquidation.

It should be noted that creditors of the preexisting debt may not necessarily receive cash as payment. In some cases, creditors receive stock in the restructured company. The bakruptcy and restructuring process may take as much as two years to complete. When asked if the process seems unfair, Pomykala says it is legalized theft.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Columbia Cleans Up It's Act

Residents from all 10 villages came out Saturday to help clean up green spaces. Community groups worked with the Columbia Association to pick up trash and remove debris from areas around lakes, parks and village centers.

I biked around lake Elkhorn in Owen Brown and around the village center in King's Contrivance and wherever I looked I saw small groups of children and seniors with grabbers and clear plastic bags filled to the gills with garbage.

Granted this doesn't happen every weekend but its a welcome sight and a great way to spend a mild Saturday afternoon. After 11 a.m., Lake Elkhorn shifted gears for another event, so I went back home. Sorry people, until dogs learn how to poop in a box, I'll stick with cats. Plus they feed themselves occasionally.

Kings Contrivance: Crossed Off

Saturday morning, two hours after my alarm went off, I biked around lake Elkhorn and down to Kings Contrivance village center to cover the clean up. I've been to King's Contrivance before but until now I never really looked at the courtyard surrounded by vibrant shops.

Compared to Owen Brown village center, this place is nice. The 24 hour Harris Teeter is integrated with the courtyard so that one draws you to the other. There is no vacant space like there is in Owen Brown village center and no two shops are alike. For example in Owen Brown, we have Jerry's pizza and Vocelli's pizza. What a dumb idea.

Then I saw it. Beyond the Amherst house in the corner of the lot is a beautiful brick structure. At first I wasn't sure what it was. Then I saw the brick bell tower with the cross on top. Immediately, I crossed King's Contrivance village center off my list. I looked up at the cross, that blatant symbol that says f--k Columbia's interfaith centers and damn inclusion.

I may live near a shell of a village center but at least I don't have to look at any religious symbols on my way to the Sunoco. I don't want any churches, mosques, temples, synagogues or any other religious type buildings in my town. Period. Go to the interfaith centers or go somewhere else.

At least that's my opinion. What's yours?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Left On Lake Elkhorn, Right?

I like to bicycle around lake Elkhorn among other places in Columbia, primarily because I live right on the edge. I'm sure this sounds pedantic to most and excessive to some but I wish people understood which side of the path to walk on in relation to the direction they are traveling in.

In America we drive on the right side of the road going forwards and on the left going backwards respectively. This is a fairly simple concept for me to grasp and for most people I would imagine. Yet every single time I bike around Lake Elkhorn, I see people walking towards me on the right side of the path.

How can you pass a pedestrian or group of pedestrians on the if they walk shoulder to shoulder? Some people walk confidently towards me on the right side of the path as though they truly believe they are in the right. My favorites are the people who walk on either side holding a stroller in one hand and a dog leash in the other; with an energetic dog at the other end of the leash.

I've never hit anybody though sometimes I may give the offender a rat face. This is in no way a major problem but if you're still reading this, thanks for letting me vent my frustrations on you. Have a nice weekend and if you have a little free time tomorrow, go out and volunteer your time to help clean up Columbia's green space!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spring Cleaning in Columbia

Saturday morning, volunteers and community groups in every village will assemble at 9 a.m., at designated sites for some spring cleaning. Details are available on the Columbia Association website.

View Columbia Clean Up in a larger map

GGP Files For Bankruptcy

Just in from WBAL radio AM 1090, General Growth Properties, the Chicago based developer has filed for bankruptcy.

"Our core business remains sound and is performing well with stable cash flows. We believe that chapter 11 is the best process for restructuring maturing mortgage loans, reducing the company's corporate debt, and establishing a sustainable, long-term capital structure for the company," said Adam Metz, chief executive. [Steve Goldstein,]

GGP currently has more than $25 billion in debt to pay off. On Wall Street, shares of the company closed at $1.05 Wednesday, tumbling 97 percent over the last fiscal year.

GGP has said in a statement that it has secured a commitment for $375 million in bankruptcy financing from Pershing Square Capital Market, the hedge fund group that owns more than 25 percent of the company.

On a more local level, the company will continue to operate, though under increasing scrutiny from Howard County government and residents. I do not believe their current financial predicament will affect the company's plans to redevelop Town Center.

I've called GGP in Columbia and Chicago, still no quote regarding the bankruptcy filing. I've just made contact with Greg Hamm. I will obtain a quote from Hamm sometime after noon. I'll post quotes and more information as it becomes available!

-The Gonzo Journalist-

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Larry Carson: Reporting on the Reporter

"Well I had dropped out of college . . . a friend of mine suggested I might like being a reporter so I just started calling and applying to the newspapers in Baltimore and I initially got a job as a copy boy at the News American for about six months."

That's how Baltimore Sun reporter Larry Carson got his start in journalism. Carson lives in a town house overlooking lake Elkhorn in Owen Brown. Carson started working for the Baltimore Sun's evening paper in 1969 and moved to Columbia in 1978.

Prior to 1978, Carson lived in northwest Baltimore. He started out as a copy boy for the paper, running takes from the writers to the copy editors. He would also go out on Saturday nights with the police reporters. When an opening became available for a reporter, he took it. Later he became a police reporter or a "leg man," who gathered information in the city and passed it on to a rewrite man.

In January of 1969, his first assignment for the evening sun was to cover howard county. Carson shared an office above the Wilde Lake village center with a morning reporter. He recalls reporting on the hilltop housing which replaced the substandard housing in Ellicott City and the shoddy workman ship of Ryland housing in Oakland Mills as well as the view of the Lark Brown road residents on the General Electric move into Columbia.

As a reporter, Carson has a detached view of Columbia because he tends to keep a distance from things he may end up writing about. He did however share his opinions on what hasn't worked in Columbia, specifically the lack of cohesion in downtown, affordable housing and transportation.

"It's not something that most people prefer to use because it takes a lot of time to get anywhere, the busses are noisy they're not that comfortable. You know, they stop a lot of places before you get to where you're going. It can take you a long time, so I think transportation's another big problem," says Carson.

Carson says the issues facing current and future Columbia are the downtown redevelopment and the revitalization of the village centers as well as the proposal for the 23 story tower. He says a lot of people are concerned about the school congestion and the congestion of major thoroughfares like Route 29.

Space: The Final Frontier

Sorry Trek fans, no voyages today. But if you think about Columbia in the sense of space, then building on vacant lots or recently acquired parcels is the final frontier. Near the intersection of Broken Land parkway and Snowden River parkway buildings are being constructed. The same is true with the intersection of Route 175 and Thunder Hill road.

The lot I'm talking about however lies at the edge of the so called Oakland Mills village center across from Bangkok Gardens where the gas station used to be. Only recently have I found out that there used to be a gas station there--and that's what I love about Columbia, I discover something new everyday.

Everytime I ride the brown route to the mall, I try to imagine what could fill that vacant lot as the bus drives past. Why not build a skate park there? Yeah that seems like a good idea execpt that as soon as you leave said designated skate park you'd get hassled or busted for riding through the so called village center. Absolute bulls--t.

Correct me if I'm wrong but some people have proposed housing of some sort be built on the lot. I think the next logical idea would be to put a gas station back, perhaps with a Subway inside? Unlike the Sunoco in Owen Brown, I don't think it would get robbed because of the Howard County police trailer behind Bangkok Gardens.

In my opinion, this issue needs to be tackled and perhaps bundled with the redevelopment that the village center so sorely needs. It has no drawing power other than the sheer human necessity for bread and grain alcohol.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stop In The Name Of The Law!

Did you know its against the law to ride a bicycle through the Oakland Mills village center? I didn't know and I didn't give much attention to the black man sitting on the planter yelling at me to get off my bike. At first I thought what's his malfunction?

Last Friday, I was biking back from an interview with Linda Morris at the lakefront. I ride across the pedestrian bridge and took a detour through the village center to take a few pictures. On my way out, pedaling casually, the man stopped me and said I had to get off my bike and walk it or he'd call the police. "OK man, you do that, have a nice one," I replied coolly. Just to be sure, I read the list of rules on the corner of the block of stores on my way out.

Lo and behold, the use of rollerskates, scooters, skateboards and bicycles is prohibited. What a stupid rule I thought. While we're on the subject, Oakland Mills is as much a village center as Al Roker is a fortune teller. Sure it has the makings of a village center with a grocery store and a string of shops. But behind that, aside from the ice rink, there's nothing. It sucks.

As I pedaled out of the village center by Bangkok Gardens, I remembered the pale blue trailer near the bus stop that houses Howard County Police, oops. As I turned the corner, down the sidewalk, I glanced back in time long enough to see a cruiser rounding the corner. What a waste of resources.

The Walk Stops Here

I live in the village of Owen Brown and I often bike through Dobbin and the surrounding villages. Wait, lets back track, which is hard because there aren't many paths in Dobbin to begin with.

On days when I know I'm in class, I try to plan a few posts ahead of time to keep you interested. Over the weekend, while biking to photograph the closing of Z-Pizza, I thought of writing about the lack of connecting sidewalks in the Dobbin area.

Turns out Wordbones beat me to it. He's written about the lack of sidewalks in the Snowden area but I consider the areas linked. While interviewing Larry Carson of the Baltimore Sun Monday, he also mentioned the issue.

I'll give you an example. Lets say you live on Downdale Place in Owen Brown. A sidewalk runs along the edge of Oakland Mills road. Its a nice day out and you feel like walking to Dobbin Donuts & Deli for lunch. As soon as you get to the brick church you notice there's no sidewalk on the other side of the road!

This is a common occurrence in the Dobbin/Snowden area. Across Dobbin road from the Blockbuster video, there is a path that runs behind Dobbin and Owen Brown and into Oakland Mills. Once you walk up the hill from that path you'll have difficulty getting to the other side.

The point I'm trying to make is that there are no sidewalks or crosswalks in places where there ought to be sidewalks. Columbia was supposedly designed to let residents walk to schools and village centers, why not restaurants and retail? There are sidewalks in some places and those simply stop as if to say "go back and get in your car and drive the rest of the way!"

Residents who live off of Carved Stone should be able to cross the street and walk to the strip mall for pho, but they can't because the sidewalk doesn't connect to the retail outlets. Instead they are required to either walk through a camoflauged cut or get in their car and drive.

The pedestrian and bicycling situation in the Snowden/Dobbin area is really f--ked up and needs to be fixed!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Columbia's Community Split On ZRA-113

Derek Simmonsen over at the Columbia Flier brought this to my attention Monday. According to the report, of the 103 people who testified to the county planning board on ZRA-113, half were for it and half were against it.

Titled 51-51 Split, this report provides a snapshot of the community or at least those who are concerned and active within the community. To a certain extent I think every one of us feels a certain amount of apprehension at the thought of a developer coming in and restructuring our downtown area.

Perhaps its because we are sick of the way things are and we are worried things might get worse as a result? Maybe we think General Growth Properties has the right idea but the wrong vision? Whatever the case I don't think there are many of us who are opposed to any development. I think we can all agree that something needs to be done and that's a start.

The planning board begins closed session deliberation on the plan Monday at 6:30 p.m.

Speed Cameras in Columbia

According to an article in the Columbia Flier, proponents for a plan to install speed cameras in Howard county like Ken Ulman and James Robey might just make it happen.

Speed cameras seem like a good idea right? Not in my opinion they don't. Why? Because speed cameras don't address the cause, they address the effect. If you're driving down Broken Land parkway and see a speed camera what are you going to do?

Slow down if your smart and when you pass, speed back up, right? So the speed cameras may in fact act as a deterrent when vehicles are within its field of view but as soon as they aren't they accelerate again.

Opponents in Annapolis disagree with the statement made by Ulman, linking the installation of speed cameras to public safety. They argue that its all about revenue. What do you think?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Linda Morris - Happy Child

Linda Sachiko Morris isn't a resident of Columbia but she goes to school here, at Howard Community College. During our interview, she pointed out that her middle name pronounced with emphasis on the second syllable, means happy child. As a child she's grown up in Wheaton and Laurel.

I first met Morris when I covered the SGA leadership series last Friday at Howard Community College. She comes off as articulate, energetic and intelligent. Its no wonder she has an interest in political science, a field she is well suited for. After meeting Mary Kay Sigaty through the Rouse scholar program, she asked Sigaty to speak to the SGA.

Morris went to high school at Reservoir where she developed a passion for journalism. She says she managed a 3.2 average even though she had a problem with attendance. While earning her associates degree in philosophy and religious studies at HCC, she ran for and won the position of SGA president.

Among her accomplishments as SGA president, Morris organized a Rock The Vote event, encouraging students to register to vote and worked with students to cook shepard's pie for the Grassroots shelter.

Finally I asked Morris "what is there to do in Columbia?" I could tell by her response that it was a hard question to answer.