2004-12-28

Reflections on Blue Sky closing

The Athens Banner-Herald finally presented the story on why Blue Sky Cafe closed. The summary it presents is that they did not generate the revenue they expected after they did an expensive remodeling job and began serving dinner and drinks, and so they did not have enough cash to operate. Whereas I and others that didn't like the change might want to say that they shouldn't have fixed what wasn't broken, their impetus to change in the first place was the fact that their sales were declining, so they were in trouble regardless. A remark from one of the owners quoted in the story is that they probably would have benefitted from a name change, so they have realized that the coffee shop's goodwill was not transferrable to new services.

What does this all mean? The article noted strong competition from Jittery Joe's. I also think that Starbucks must have had an effect because Starbucks has indeed served a lot of coffee beverages that Blue Sky could have served. It is also the case that recent economic problems of the last couple of years have caused a decline in travel and consumption of food services, so Blue Sky may have been hit by that. Perhaps if Blue Sky had stayed the course they may have seen their sales pick back up since supposedly the economy is improving now.

In summary, I would speculate that the economy and competition hurt Blue Sky. I would encourage everyone to ask themselves why they ever went to Starbucks instead of Blue Sky, which is asking why you would shun a unique local business run by people with passion for their work in favor of a corporate entity only concerned with profits for their shareholders. (I admit that I have gone to Starbucks for the brighter lighting.) I am also curious if Blue Sky was entering a market that really needed a new player when it began serving food and drinks -- maybe it moved from serving coffee in a saturated market to serving food in an even more saturated market, but I would like to hear opinions on that.

2004-12-24

Blue Sky Closes -- WTF?

This is totally surprising, and I wish it were a false rumor: The Day Jobs blog reports that Blue Sky Cafe has closed for good. Maybe everything that touches the north side of the Western Union building turns to crap. I never asked Perry Pledger if it was due to success or failure, but he told me about selling an ice cream business that occupied that unit, and then I think it went downhill afterwards. There was some kind of grill there for a time when I first came to Athens, and generally I didn't pay much attention to which businesses were there until Peter Woodworth started Classic Dogg 'N Deli. Peter seemed really hardworking and friendly, so when he closed for renovations and stayed closed I don't know if it was because of failure or because the Blue Sky people made a good offer. They turned two separate units into one, so if the north side space is bad luck then the whole floor is screwed now. The reason for the alleyway on that side is to provide a fire escape path for Clayton Street apartment residents, and the county requires clearance four feet wide. Anyway, Blue Sky was looking neat and swanky, so I am surprised that there is sudden trouble. I wonder if maybe they should just reorganize the operations, get a new name, and reopen as a restaurant without the coffee shop schizophrenia. If anyone has information about what the deal is, please write comments.

2004-12-15

South Campus labyrinth

The Romance Languages department was either sadistic or just desperate for lecture hall space, so I had to go to the Pharmacy Building to take my final exam last night. Yes, last night at 7:00 p.m., a wonderful time to find your way around a new place. A classmate and I approached the building from the west side, walking through the McPhaul Center grounds after which we encountered a massive complex of greenhouses and gardens. This is the kind of place Saddam Hussein used to hide his stuff from the UN.

Each row of greenhouse space is connected by more enclosed structure, and the adjacent gardens have confusing pathways and long landscaping enclosures that impede foot traffic. So we walked past this place only to encounter a fence right against the grounds that forced us to turn around. We eventually found a twisted pathway to the Pharmacy Building, so we followed it, walked up to the building, and found the door locked. College of Pharmacy and Romance Languages, damn you both. Romance Languages, you sent a bunch of undergraduates to a building they've never had any business in before after dark. College of Pharmacy, you can't play host to other colleges and lock them out.

I guess the Pharmacy Building people expect everyone to use the front door, but the front door is also highly inaccessible. I later left through the front door and got lost around the greenhouses again. I guess I was supposed to take the D.W. Brooks Greenway all the way to Carlton Street and then walk back to my car in the S10 lot. Pardon the expression, but that's like going around your ass to get to your elbow. The Greenway is some lofty, ivory-tower scheme to make South Campus pedestrian friendly, but it is blockaded from casual use by labyrinthine sidewalks, greenhouses, and construction fences. I still cannot figure out how to walk straight from a parking lot to that greenway. At least the North Campus quads that inspired the monstrosity have straight sidewalks that reach other straight sidewalks along straight roadways accessible to the public.

OK, OK, so am I supposed to park in East Bumble and take a bus? The nearest bus stops are incredibly far away from the Pharmacy Buidling and God forbid you want to take a bus to the ecology department. By building a stupid greenway over an important traffic corridor and closing the cross streets, the architects have guaranteed that the buses are never going to help you in this area and that pedestrians are going to be too freaking tired to look at all those pedestrian-friendly trees and fences that got planted. This is the architectural epitome of a Southern backhanded compliment.

Yes, so the only straight path through South Campus involves wire cutters (for fences) and crowbars (for greenhouses). The fences are blocking off Green Street, which is an important cross street. I called the grounds maintenance director of the Physical Plant, Dexter Adams, and he explained that utility construction has been ongoing for a very long time. (Green Street was closed immediately after the Greenway opened, and it has been closed ever since.) I mentioned I had to go to the Pharmacy Building, and he knew exactly what I was talking about. He said that as soon as possible they will be opening the sidewalks as the utilities project nears completion, so he understands the labyrinth problem. After that, the third phase of the greenway project will be started. The utilities director, John Benca, views his work in the context of the bigger picture of the university's mission, so I'd bet he also understands the frustration that the project is causing. So while it would be nice to rail against the incompetence of some administrator or contractor, I doubt the Physical Plant deserves any blame for Green Street being closed month after month after month.

2004-12-10

Radioactive vomit indeed

Jackson Street really was partially blocked for a cleanup of radioactive vomit last week. According to the incident report from the University of Georgia Police Department, the victim of the illness had taken radioactive iodine pills. She vomited into a paper bag and a box and had laid them on the street. Her husband said that her physician, who was contacted by phone, warned there would only be danger if physical contact was made with the vomit. Her husband drove away with the containers. The county fire department's hazmat people declared the area safe, but the university's Environmental Safety Division checked on the scene and detected radiation, so they spraypainted over the residue to contain it, and a barricade was placed over the spot. The barricade is still there today in the southbound bike lane of Jackson Street at Fulton Street.

Big question: What did the victim's husband do with the vomit? I hope the physician had some manner of disposing of it. And what happened to their car? Of course we wonder how radioactive the material could have been since obviously it was safe enough for medical use, probably for medical imaging and diagnosis. I mean, the university was concerned about the residue left after it was cleaned up. An unofficial speculation is that the final steps were taken to protect the institution from liability. (I had assumed Jackson Street belongs to the county, though. Jurisdiction over streets is a little confusing.)

2004-12-05

Chris Tucker, WUOG News Director

David: "WUOG News...bringing you the hard-hitting investigative journalism you deserve and asking the important questions of important people."

Chris: "What the hell is this? Who the hell are you? Where the hell are we? What the hell is this microphone looking thing?"

--from a promo script already aired and transcribed on wuog.org



WUOG Newsroom WUOG FM Filing Cabinet Chris Tucker at WUOG




WUOG is the student-run radio station at the University of Georgia broadcasting on 90.5 MHz FM. If you tune in at various times you'll hear a lot of different music -- including rock, jazz, reggae, country, and all kinds of foreign stuff -- as well as a range of talk programs, news reports, various announcements, remote broadcasts, and even live performances by bands playing at the radio studio itself.

I have often heard a mature radio professional reading the news on air, and he identifies himself as Chris Tucker, the news director. But one Wednesday afternoon while sitting in one of our white university vans, I tuned in to 90.5 and caught the show "All Up in Your Grill," which is apparently a regularly scheduled bitch session for none other than Chris Tucker and friends. I was suddenly exposed to the disgruntled, violent, and -- most importantly -- tee-totally hilarious side of the guy. (Hilari-ass would be the appropriate adjective.) Basically, he is funnier than the celebrity of the same name. I decided that you, gentle reader, needed to learn more about him, so I climbed the narrow, winding stairway of Memorial Hall to the fifth floor to talk to him (yes, I could have taken the elevator).

Tucker is an international affairs major in his senior year at UGA, and his studies focus on the profileration of weapons of mass destruction. He started at WUOG his freshman year and worked for a year and a half as the public affairs director before moving into his current position last April, so all his broadcast journalism experience is based at this station. He chose UGA over Georgia Tech after graduating from Collins Hill High School in Lawrenceville, the "land of surburban horror" as he described it. He interns at the Center for International Trade and Security, which provides him the chance to expand his studies, visit Washington, D.C., and be apprised of special opportunities. He said, "The funny story is that I was recruited by the CIA, the part of the CIA that doesn't exist ... operations. Operations doesn't explicitly exist -- that's like the spies and stuff. And I wanted to be a desk monkey, so I was kind of confused as to why I was there."

So what does the news department at WUOG do? "I coordinate a small group of journalists. We do top-of-the-hour newscasts, we do a weekly news magazine called Athens Journal Wednesdays at five ... and then we also do special events, like, you know, if another football coach got fired for doing something ignorant, we do live coverage of that, or if someone punched president Adams in the face and stole his wallet. And then we did a seven-hour election special on election night ... I still do a talk show called 'All Up in Your Grill' at six o'clock on Wednesdays, which is just these anger-based rants upon whatever upsets me on any given week. ... You have the crazy version of me. ... I welcome callers that want to argue with me because it's not like Bill O'Reilly where we'll cut you off if we don't like your point. ... Like today, I bashed the Amazing Students thing on the UGA website because I think that's just the biggest crock ever created."

Yes, you'll find that Tucker can be just as opinionated as he can be professional or funny. He was involved in an hour-long bashing of the Red & Black newspaper once: "What a horrible fishwrap crapfest of a paper it was, a giant grammatical deluge, sentence fragments and incoherent ideas. The other thing that I've gotten some flack for is that our news department and our public affairs department will not cover SGA [the Student Government Association] because I do not believe it to be a real organization. And I've gotten some heat from the Athletic Association for calling the addition to the stadium a monstrosity that blocks out the freaking sun." He agreed with my observation that apparently some people take his comments too seriously, which must be the case since the stadium undeniably has grown to monstrous sun-blocking proportions, eclipsing the attractive architecture of Memorial Hall and Reed Hall with its utilitarian concrete mass. He isn't the only WUOG member to complain about the loss of sunlight on the fifth floor. Anyway, because he so often vehemently defends his views on the air, when people recognize him he feels he has to immediately apologize.

He explained more of his position on the SGA: "I feel like SGA is people going for lines on the resume and not making any real accomplishments. If you watch -- and watch -- the president of SGA is always a dopey-looking shaggy-haired frat guy, the vice president is always a very tall, very slim blonde girl -- without fail. Just watch. It's uncanny. I think there are parts of SGA that do great things -- like their minority board, their public works board -- but they never publicize, you never hear about it."

So Tucker really makes an impression on the community. He was recently asked to emcee a music festival held for the benefit of the Athens Justice Project, though back at the station he has made the place a welcome media outlet for student organizations and university representatives to visit in order to share news and announcements. He enjoys talking to a variety of people on the air, the most notable people being comedian Patton Oswalt and the creators of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming.

We talked a bit about the music played on WUOG. "It's a music philosophy that you either love or hate. It's all independent artists. Sometimes it can be just ambient noise ... sometimes you hear what's obviously the next great band. ... Our music philosophy can be described as really hit or miss, and what's interesting about our audience is our audience is not college students at UGA. I mean, yeah, there are college kids that listen to us, but thae vast makeup of our audience, I've found, is the townies of Athens," which includes those into the music scene as well as county employees at work. He said that WUOG is lauded at College Music Journal conferences by other stations for having such an independent voice, which surprises Tucker "because up here to me it's just like we're just a ragtag bunch of thugs doing whatever we do on a daily basis."

So what does Tucker think of Athens, Georgia? "I truly love this town, I love this campus. I bash certain aspects of it because ... anywhere you go there are things that upset people. I seriously want to go to law school here, not because of the law school, but because I don't want to leave here. ... Part of me knows I probably should branch out and get a change because I know the rest of the world isn't like this." He said that the unique character of Athens is revealed by its attraction to national figures, such as when Patton Oswalt came to Athens a second time to record his CD: "He said this place is like no place else, that these little college towns like Athens are like these wonderful sanctuaries, is how he saw it, these sanctuaries of progressive thinking -- which is debatable, but I'd agree with that -- progressive thinking, friendly people, and I agree with that. I'll admit that I despise the really pretentious indie rock alliance members ... I despise the really air-headed drunken Greek system that we have here. I've found very few pluses from those sides. But as far as the townies, the people you meet ... Here's an example: This music festival I was emceeing, benefitted the Athens Justice Project, a wonderful cause -- anyone can go look into it, research it -- and there were literally seven bands donating their time and energy to play. And on top of that there were these professional stage crew people that built a massive, fully functional wooden stage from scratch -- stayed up until four in the morning, volunteering their time for this to make this event happen. I gotta love the people, I gotta love the atmosphere."

Tucker is grateful for the skills the radio station has helped him develop and for the opportunities for fun experiences and interesting interviews, and when I asked what more he like to add to this article, he said he wanted to encourage students to go out and explore. One can do as he did with WUOG and just find a flyer advertising a club or an opportunity and go check it out.