Category Archives: Interviews

30 years later, the short and strange history of the USFL’s Washington Federals – Q&A with David Kendrick

Thirty years ago today, the Washington Federals and the United State Football League debuted. Washington Federals LogoI was pretty young, so I don’t remember too many specifics other than one of my older neighbors had his birthday party at a game and another one was still using a Federals key chain a decade later. I also remember green and white uniforms and somewhere in my parents attic, there is an old Post sports section with the story of SMU’s Craig James signing with the franchise. I would see that every year when we went up to get the Christmas stuff down. There is a USA Today sports section previewing the NFL conference championships, but I’m getting off topic.

The upstart spring football league had a national TV contract with ABC. Some of the first Federals game is posted on youtube:

That was Jim Lampley & Lee Corso on the call. The opposition was George Allen’s Chicago Blitz, so I’m sure the former Redskins coach’s appearance in RFK Stadium was a big storyline. I think Corso went on to coach in the USFL — maybe even the successor to the Feds, the Orlando Renegades.

I’ve been aware of The Unofficial Revival Site of the Washington Federals by David Kendrick and I have been waiting for this anniversary to ask about a Q&A and I’m delighted he agreed to one.

WFY: Why were you a Washington Federals fan and what motivated you to start up the Federals tribute site?

DK: The Federals were just getting started the year the Redskins beat the Dolphins in the Super Bowl. I loved football and being a football fan. I was just in 10th grade, and my family didn’t have Redskins tickets, so I got Federals tickets and became a fan.

In 2001 my son and I went to a Birmingham Bolts XFL game, and I shared some memories of the Federals with him, which led me to building the Federals site.

WFY: How many Federals games did you attend? Did the stands ever rock like the did for the Redskins? What was the average home attendance of the Federals?

DK: The first year of 9 home games I went to 6 including the debut vs. Chicago and their first win vs. Michigan. The second year, of 9 home games, I went to 7, including the farewell vs. New Orleans. The stands never rocked for the Federals. You have to remember that the Feds home games were all played either in driving rain or scorching heat. There weren’t any nice spring days at the stadium except maybe in ’83 vs. Boston and a beautiful spring night in ’84 vs. New Jersey. I won’t speculate on “average home attendance” since the house was pretty frequently papered up.

WFY: Did the Federals receive much local coverage in print and broadcast during their stay?

DK: At first they did, there was a lot of excitement and interest since DC didn’t have baseball and the Redskins were on top of the world. As soon as the losing and foul weather set in, interest really tapered off. This was before the Internet, so you couldn’t follow the team except on ABC if you were lucky while they were showing the Herschel Walker Game of the Week, or if you caught George Michael at 11:30 on Channel 4. The Washington Times’ coverage of the Federals was much better than the Post’s; at that time the Times ran color photos every day, which was unique, and put a lot of effort into it.

WFY: Were the Federals able to develop any rivalries?

DK: Not really. The nearest team was Philadelphia, but they were just unbeatable. There was a sort-of rivalry with Chicago because of the George Allen connection. There was no Dallas team in the USFL, so a copycat rivalry wasn’t going to happen.

WFY: Other than Craig James, did any other Federals make it into the NFL? Has James subsequent broadcasting career brought shame to the legacy of the Feds?

DK: There were several Federals who made it into the NFL after they left the USFL. Obed Ariri played for Tampa Bay; Mike Hohensee, of course, was the “replacement” quarterback for the Bears during the ’87 strike; Reggie Collier was the replacement QB for the Cowboys. Joel Patten played for the Raiders; Kevin Kellin had a good career in the NFL; D.D. Hoggard played a number of years for the Browns.

Don’t forget Myke Horton, who went on to a career as “Gemini” on American Gladiators. (WFY notes: Horton was on Press Your Luck which you can watch on a sketchy youtube wannabe with risque thumbnails)

I have a special place of loathing in my heart for Craig James, and not just because he is a hypocrite and thief. He took lots of money from Mr. Bernhard, played when he felt like it, quit as soon as he could, and then blamed the team for his bad performance in Washington, never mind that Billy Taylor and Curtis Bledsoe both had excellent years behind the same offensive line that Craig James couldn’t manage to work with. The whole fracas with his son in college is just more evidence that he’s a look-at-me guy with no backbone, and since he was just as much on the take as everyone else at SMU in those days, he ought to shut his stupid mouth. James’ time with the Feds is an embarrassment, but only to himself.

WFY: Some USFL teams have had reunions, have the Federals? Have any of them found your site?

DK: I have reached out to a number of ex-Feds like Kim McQuilken and Walker Lee, who scored the first TD in Feds history. Most of them speak fondly of the Feds and the USFL but clearly have moved on. There was a sort-of reunion in ’88 at a benefit for Gurnest Brown, who was having severe health issues and later passed away. I’ve been in contact with Mr. Bernhard and have an invitation to interview him about it the next time I’m in D.C.

WFY: Which version of the uniforms did you prefer, the white/green or the silver/green combo? Did they typically wear white or green at home?

DK: I never really cared for the silver/green/black combo. A lot of team events in ’84 still used the team’s ’83 uniforms and merchandise, like the press conference to introduce Reggie Collier had “1983 Inaugural Season” team pennants in the background.

In 1983, they wore white at home and away for the first part of the season because their green jerseys were delayed. For the rest of ’83 and all of ’84 it was green at home and white on the road.

For a while my site linked to a company called Ra Ja Sha, which made USFL memorabilia merchandise like jerseys and hats, but they folded after a year or so.

WFY: What was the high-water mark for the Federals? Was the owner calling them “trained gerbils” the low point?

DK: No, the low point was the ’84 game vs. Vince Evans and the Chicago Blitz at RFK. They would have won the game with a chip shot field goal – their kicker then was Jeff Brockhaus, who wasn’t bad. The holder, I think it was Dave Smigelsky, dropped the snap, dove on it, and the game was over. I don’t think Smigelsky would have been able to do anything with the ball if he’d picked it up and tried to make something happen, but still, it’s the last play of the game! You’re a professional football player! Don’t just FALL ON THE BALL with ZERO ON THE CLOCK and you’re LOSING!!!

The official USFL retrospective video has a whole section on how bad the Federals were. They called Feds fans “Impervious to the obvious.” That’s embarrassing.

The high point was the Friday Night Surprise in ’84 against Brian Sipe, Herschel Walker and the New Jersey Generals. Greg Taylor returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, from somewhere they came up with a 98-yard scoring drive, and they won the game. The weather was perfect, cool and dry; the stadium was pretty full with Donald Trump’s traveling all-star show in town; the Federals showed up ready to play. That was the high point.

WFY: How tough was it for you when you found out the Federals were moving away?

DK: Not tough at all. It was understood that Mr. Bernhard had lost his shirt, so to speak, and couldn’t endure the financial losses any more. The writing was on the wall, and the first sale of the team, to Sherwood Weiser in Miami, was actually announced before the ’84 season was over. At the farewell game everyone knew it was over. They won the game over New Orleans on a drizzly gray day. Afterward the players started throwing equipment to the fans in the stands; I almost caught Dave Pacella’s helmet – and we all knew it was over. Weiser was going to move the team to Miami, but that deal fell through, and eventually they were sold to the guy from Orlando who moved them to Florida and renamed them the “Renegades.”

WFY: Where else online can we learn more about the USFL?

DK: There is a pretty good site called RememberTheUSFL which covers the entire league. Wikipedia should be avoided; like all crowdsourced media, it’s full of nonsense.

AFTER YOU CHECK OUT KENDRICK’S FEDS SITE

It Was Up, Up And No WaySports Illustrated (May 14, 1984)
“For the hapless Washington Federals, the USFL ain’t what it used to be”

Washington Federals Punter

Oursports Central Washington Federals

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Q&A with M. Scott Smith of DCSki.com

This winter I discovered the Web site DCSki.com | @DCSki when I was looking for a “lost ski resort” off of I-66. It turned out to be Ski Cherokee in Linden, Va. I have since enjoyed the many reviews of mid-Atlantic resorts that DCSki.com offers. I decided to set up a Q&A with M. Scott Smith, the publisher of DCSki…

WFY: First off, how are you coping with this false winter?

DCSki: It’s been tough! It’s always hard to predict what winter will be like in the mid-Atlantic. But even though it’s been fairly mild (at times VERY mild), there is snow on the slopes. Over the past decade mid-Atlantic ski areas have invested millions of dollars in snowmaking improvements. They now have state-of-the-art snowmaking that can produce more snow with less energy in an automated fashion. With just a couple nights of below-freezing temperatures, they can blanket entire slopes. That’s something they couldn’t do just a few years ago, and it makes a huge difference in lean years like this. If it’s too humid or the temperature is above freezing, they won’t be able to make snow, but once the wet bulb reaches that magical point, they can make tons and tons of snow.

Truth be told, many resorts would prefer to have cold temperatures without the natural snow, because that keeps the roads clear so skiers and boarders can safely reach the slopes. Resorts can carefully control the quality of the snow they make, while Mother Nature isn’t always as careful. (That wet, gloppy snow isn’t too helpful to skiers.)

There are still a lot of weeks left in the ski season. In the end, I think skiers and boarders will do OK.

WFY: What was your inspiration for starting DCSki?

DCSki: When I was in college, I purchased a Season Pass at local resort and tried to ski as often as I could. Back then, the only way to learn about ski conditions was to call the resort’s snow line. These recorded messages were famous for their breathless enthusiasm, which often bore little resemblance to the conditions you would find upon arriving at the slopes. Since I was skiing frequently, I decided to create an e-mail newsletter to describe conditions in my own words. This e-mail newsletter expanded to cover more and more mid-Atlantic resorts, and jumped to the web in 1997, expanding from about 100 subscribers originally to thousands and thousands of readers today.

Things have changed a lot since then. I remember how proud I was in 1997 when I was able to take some photos at a local resort and publish them to the web on the same day. This involved shooting the photos with a film camera, rush-developing the film at Ritz Camera, and then scanning the prints into the computer. Now, of course, many resorts stream live video direct from webcams and skiers upload photos in real-time from their smartphones. Skiers and snowboarders have access to a lot more real-time information to help guide their decisions and skiing dollars. DCSki continues to provide an independent voice, capturing a lot of resources together in one place and providing a community for passionate skiers and boarders to interact.

WFY: Your bio says you are Colorado native, so I assume you picked up skiing there. How was the adjustment to the mid-Atlantic/Northeast? I took a Colorado skier with me to Camelback in the Poconos once and all he did was complain about the “ice” and ask “where is the mountain?”

DCSki: I grew up cross country skiing in Colorado, but I never actually went downhill skiing until I moved out east — talk about backwards! When you’re a kid, though, you kind of do what your parents do. And my parents didn’t downhill ski. Now I try to make it back to Colorado as often as I can.

A lot of native Colorado skiers will tell you that it’s more challenging skiing in the East. I had one instructor at Snowmass tell me that the best skiers he knows cut their teeth on the hardpack conditions of the East Coast (editor’s note – I might have bolded for emphasis). If you can ski well in those conditions, you can ski well just about anywhere.

Mid-Atlantic resorts don’t have the scale or packed powder conditions that you’ll find out west. But skiing is skiing, and the local resorts work wonders with what they have. We have some of the best snowmaking in the world right in our backyard, and that can work wonders in lean snow years, like much of the west has faced this winter. Although I’ve skied a lot in Colorado, some of my best ski days have been right here at resorts like Whitetail.

WFY: I’ve tended to ski in the Poconos since I went to college near there for 2 winters and still have friends up that way. I’ve never skied in Western Pennsylvania, so I wonder if that’s better. I’ve tried to get an answer, but I don’t think many skiers have been both places. Do you have a preference?

DCSki: I’m not sure one area is better than another. Blue Knob, in western Pennsylvania, is known for having some tougher trails that expert skiers appreciate. Some of DCSki’s Columnists really appreciate Elk Mountain, which is pretty far north in PA, although I haven’t been there. For a lot of folks, mid-Atlantic skiing is about what’s most convenient. If you live near the Poconos, there might not be much motivation to ski further south. If you live near Seven Springs, you may not have much reason to drive to the Poconos.

WFY: Which ski areas would you recommend within driving distance for a day trip?

DCSki: My favorite local resort is Whitetail — it’s about an hour and a half away from DC and Baltimore. I appreciate its vertical (1,500 feet) and high-speed quad. On a weekday, you can find great conditions and have the place to yourself. Liberty and Roundtop are also very popular with DC natives, and Wintergreen provides some Shenandoah charm.

WFY: How far north do you have to go to get skiing comparable to out west?

DCSki: I’m not sure you can drive far enough north! New England has a lot of great ski areas (particularly in Vermont), but in most years, you can’t beat the consistently good conditions of Colorado. Since I don’t get to ski outside of this area much, I would rather ski out west than gamble on great New England conditions; it’s easier and quicker to fly to Denver than to drive to Vermont. Other DCSki contributors have a soft spot for New England skiing, but my heart is still out west.

WFY: Every year I see more and more helmets on the mountain. Do you have any recommendations for selecting a helmet?

DCSki: It’s been tremendous to see an uptick in the number of helmets worn, especially by children. I began encouraging helmet use years ago on DCSki, and quickly realized I would have to “eat my own dog food” by wearing a helmet myself — something I initially was hesitant to do. There was no reason to be hesitant; ski helmets are lightweight and keep your head warm, not to mention safe! There’s really no good reason not to wear a helmet. Having said that, you do want to get them properly fit — they come in many sizes and many have lots of adjustments you can make. It’s best to see a professional at a reputable ski shop. They won’t let you walk away with a bad helmet. The key is to make sure the helmet doesn’t flop around when you make sudden head movements — it should be pretty snug. But it should be comfortable to you, too — if it isn’t comfortable, you’ll be less likely to wear it.

WFY: I want to get my son on skis when he’s 4½. Are any of the resorts better for little kids than others?

DCSki: I have two young nieces and they rave about the Ski School at Roundtop Mountain Resort. I haven’t found a mid-Atlantic resort yet that doesn’t have an excellent program for kids. Most of the local ski schools are staffed by people who are passionate about skiing and snowboarding; they want to spread their joy to others. For most of them it’s not a “job.” So I don’t think you can go wrong. The best thing you can do is try to go on a weekday — weekends can be very crowded and that can be intimidating. Weekdays may not always be an option, but it’s great if you can swing it.

WFY: What is the best way to save on skiing in this area besides going during the middle of the week?

DCSki: Midweek is definitely the best solution — low crowds, lower prices, what’s not to like? But there are other ways to save. Each fall, I spend a lot of time hunting down deals. I catalog them in the DCSki Bargain Tracker.

In recent years, a lot of resorts have started offering discounts to members of the military. Some even pick a day or weekend to provide free skiing to members of the military, police, and paramedics. Another way to save money is to pack a lunch, rather than buying at the resort. At most resorts, you can find places to stash away a bagged lunch, and few resorts mind if you eat your own food in their lodges. And finally, a lot of resorts offer late-season discounts. The snow conditions can be great into late March. In typical years, resorts close not because they run out of snow, but because people simply stop visiting once the weather starts getting warmer. So you can find good deals and good conditions late in the season.

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Another Q&A with P.J. Maierhofer

Since 2005, P.J. Maierhofer served as Blue Sapphire, Penn State’s feature twirler. The 2007 Q&A with P.J. has been one of the most popular features on this blog. Last month she answered another round of question.

WFY: Let’s start with a question about the Capital One Bowl — how much did you have to perform on that field? I have never seen a college football game in such disrepair.

PJ:The entire band marched pregame on the field… it was pretty rainy/muddy to say the least! I was really glad despite the conditions that we were allowed though considering it was my last one! For halftime, the band stood on the field and did not march. The Majorettes, Silks, and I performed off the sidelines in front of the PSU fans.

WFY: Also, what was with those sunglasses?

PJ: If you knew me, you’d know I’m kinda goofy/quirky. I just like to have fun. Last year at the Rose Bowl I got a pair of 2009 glasses for New Year’s Eve. I wore them around all night. So this year everyone was joking about how I needed to get a new pair! So… I did. I figured it would be fun to put them on during the game and celebrate New Year’s!

WFY: It seems like Blue Sapphires all go for more than four years — you are only the third in the last 15 seasons. So, was the Capital One Bowl was your final half-time performance, or are you on the 7 year plan?

PJ: That was it! I have been blessed and honored to have the position of Blue Sapphire for 5 consecutive seasons. The position takes a year or two or three to really understand and grow into, so staying 5 is really not that big of a deal. I took less classes at a time in school, but did well academically so it pushed back graduation a bit. However, I look at it as this… College is supposed to be the best 4 years of your life – why not make it the best 5? Had I not come back this year, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to compete at Nationals last year with the Majorettes and I probably would have ended my competitive career – which fortunately I didn’t, because it was a great summer :)

WFY: Now that you have been to the Orange, Outback, Alamo, Rose, and Capital One Bowls, which one was the best trip?

PJ: First of all, it was truly exciting just to get to see 5 DIFFERENT bowl games. Many schools repeat and I thought it was neat to be exposed to so many new places. They were all great in their own way. The Orange Bowl allowed us to spend New Year’s day on South Beach and I got to see my friends from FSU perform. Outback had some really neat pep rallies including one on the beach and then an awesome Mardi Gra type parade. Alamo was in a dome.. which I loved! We didn’t have to worry about wind, rain…anything – awesome. The Rose Bowl was incredible in terms of the preparation done and the amount of time and number of volunteers involved in making it happen. The 5.5 mile parade is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life – talk about an honor… Leading the best band in the nation down the streets of Pasadena with national TV coverage – so thankful for that opportunity! And lastly, Capital One was a super trip. I knew it was my last one and it didn’t matter if it snowed in the middle of the game, I was going to truly just relax and enjoy the trip/performance …and I did. I loved spending time with my teammates, the band, and soaking up my time left as a Penn Stater!

WFY: What about road venues — which was your favorite? Did you travel to all the road games?

PJ: I didn’t travel to all of them, but of the ones I traveled to… believe it or not I loved Ohio State’s stadium. They have a neat area on the side of their field for people to be able to use for various things. It was a little concreted area where I was able to perform off the field. I know that sounds dorky, but for someone like me it was nice!! And truthfully, I don’t really ever have a favorite venue or least favorite because I just take them in each as a learning opportunity. As a feature twirler you are going to have some times where the space is great and others where you twirl on carpet with 2 inches of ceiling above your head….either way you have a job to do!

WFY: A confession — since my wife and I had a son in 2008, I’ve only been to one home game this year (Akron), and none last year; what routines did I miss? Did you get up to four fire batons?

PJ: I’ve had some pretty fun performances. This year my favorite was our “Picture show” which included a batman routine with capes and eye covers from the majorettes, a Rocky impression from me, Star wars light saber fighting from the silks, and a superman skit from the Lion. It was just so fun to do…. we all loved hearing the crowd cheer as the band made pictures through formations of batman, and boxers, and the superman logo alone with others. We also did a Michael Jackson tribute that was pretty cool. The entire band did the Thriller dance :)

WFY: This spring is the first Blue Sapphire Classic. Please share with us what the event is going to be and how involved you are in it.

PJ: The Blue Sapphire Classic was an idea I had at the beginning of my junior year. I wanted to host a baton twirling competition here at Penn State. I may be biased, but I feel like Penn State fans take so much more pride in their twirlers than other schools do. As a result, I am always being asked about baton twirling, how I got involved, where I competed, what a competition is like, etc. Well between that and the fact that Rec Hall is SO HIGH and perfect for baton twirling, I thought of the idea to have twirlers from all over the U.S. come here to compete. Alongside that, the money that we raise will go into the David and Lori Uhazie Feature Twirler Scholarship fund that is an endowment. It currently pays for about a 4th of fall tuition and is only given in the fall. My goal is to raise enough money through this competition each year that eventually there is enough money to pay for the Feature Twirlers fall tuition through this one scholarship. The event should be pretty neat. We have great judges coming and we expect about 150-200 contestants. My goal is to bring an awareness of competitive baton twirling to students and the fans of Nittany Nation and to bring younger twirlers into a school like Penn State where we take such pride in twirling.

WFY: Penn State is known as Linebacker U, but given the national and world championships you and you predecessor Bobbie Jo Solomon won, maybe we should call it Twirler U as well. Does that sound good?

PJ: I’d be honored. :) It’s pretty awesome that we were both able to set goals and achieve them during our Penn State career. Being proud of my school, my band, and my fellow majorettes definitely provided me with the motivation to go out, win, and be able to bring it back here!

WFY: Will you have any influence on the who is the next Blue Sapphire? Or, do you already know it is somebody named something like JoJo Solomaier?

PJ: Funny! I’m not sure yet -I know that I don’t have influence on who makes it, but whether I will be allowed to be at try-outs is still up in the air.

WFY: What is the most rewarding part of being the Blue Sapphire? What is the biggest challenge?

PJ: Just this morning I was working on preparing for an event I’m hosting tomorrow night for THON and I walked out of a meeting and ran into 6 people in a row who said “Hi PJ” and knew me by name. Honestly, at a school where you have 44,000 peers that is the most rewarding and humbling feeling. To think that that many people respect you enough as a person/baton twirler to want to know your name. I can do nothing but smile. I’m the happiest girl. Penn State has provided me with endless opportunities and my involvement with the Blue Band has made me see that if you can dream it, you can become it. There are too many rewarding parts of Penn State to name one. From the people, to the opportunities, to the enthusiasm of it’s community, Penn State is the best.

As far as challenges… I don’t sleep much, I drink wayyy to much Blueberry Coffee from Dunkin’ donuts (they are beginning to know me when I walk in the door as Blueberry coffee girl), I sometimes miss important family/friends/boyfriend’s stuff because of commitments here and sometimes my e-mail box gets a little clogged, but all in all – it’s not a challenge…it’s an opportunity of a lifetime and I’ve tried to live it up!

Lightning Round!

WFY: How many batons do you go through a season?

PJ: — ehhh 10?

WFY: How many about slippers do you go through a season?

PJ: — yuck they get gross. 3 pairs? My Mom is the best and she gets them cleaned for me.

WFY: What is your favorite College of Communications course?

PJ: Favorite Comm course was Ron Smith’s creative class… we did a lot of designing of ads and photoshop/illustrator work. I loved the challege of being unique and creative.

WFY: What is your favorite Creamery ice cream flavor?

PJ: I really like their strawberry or their Coconut Chip!

HWFY: ave you hiked up Mt. Nittany?

PJ: Yes sir… you start hiking and begin thinking…maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. THEN – you get to the top and your jaw just drops to the ground. The view is amazing. It’s a wonderful reminder of how special our Valley is AND how beautiful!

WFY: What is your favorite gem?

PJ: Is this even a legit question? Blue Sapphires clearlyyyy!

WFY: What are you planning to do after graduation?

PJ: This summer I’ll spend a lot of time teaching baton/job searching. In July I’ll attend the National Baton Twirling championship and give away my title as the 2009 Miss Majorette of America…then who knows. I’m up for an adventure! Pittsburgh? Philly? New York? Not sure… just know that I’m gonna make the most of wherever I go.

WFY: No mere mortal can twirl that many batons at once — you are actually a Jedi, right?

PJ: Shhhhhh!!

WFY: One last question — your two predecessors were both proposed to on the field, one on her Senior Day, the other at Homecoming one year. Good idea or bad idea?

PJ: Hahah well… I think it takes a pretty tough guy to get down on his knee in front of that many people!! It’s not about where..it’s who. :)

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Q&A: Jacqueline Dupree

Five years ago, Capitol Hill resident Jacqueline Dupree began chronicling the changes in Near Southeast on her Web site, jdland.com. In September 2004, the future of Near SE was dramatically changed when it was announced that the District of Columbia would fund a new ballpark for what would become the Washington Nationals. Since that time, “Near Southeast DC Redevelopment” has been the best source for ballpark construction news.

WFY: Opening Night is less than a week away. Will the ballpark be ready?

JD: There’s no doubt that baseball will be played and Cracker Jack, hot dogs, and beer will be consumed on Opening Night. Every scintilla of the park won’t be finished, but the showiest parts of the stadium–the field, the seating, and the exterior–appear to be ready to go. I’m sure Stan Kasten would want me to add, “there will be hiccups, but the team says it will be working hard to address them.”

WFY: What about Metro?

JD: If you’re asking whether the west entrance of the Navy Yard Metro station will be ready, the Magic 8 ball answer is that “signs point to yes.” Whether the Metro system and the Green line are prepared to handle the coming onslaught, I’ll be happy to answer that question on Monday morning.

WFY: Are you surprised that Nationals Park will open on time?

JD: Back when the lease agreement was approved in 2006, I thought there was no way it would open on time. But for the past year or so, what I’ve seen and heard gave me a fair amount of confidence that it would be ready.

WFY: In your view, has the media overreacted to the parking situation?

JD: Traffic stories = ratings. On the one hand, you’ve got people talking about the coming traffic catastrophe because so many people will be driving, and on the other other people talking about the coming Metro catastrophe because so many people will be taking the subway.

I have no doubt that the first month will see some horror stories on the parking, traffic, and transit fronts, and there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Just like at FedEx field when it opened, and at RFK when baseball came back in 2005. And then people will start figuring out their special ways of getting to the ballpark, like parking at a Metro station, or parking downtown and catching a cab, or walking, or biking. (And, coming in 2009, water taxis!) I think it might actually end up being kind of cool that there are so many different ways to get there, rather than everyone piling in their cars and driving to huge parking lots.

WFY: What features of Nationals Park do you think will be most popular with fans?

JD: I can’t speak to the baseball-related aspects of it (whether it’s a hitters park, etc. etc.). But I’ll tell you what bowled me over the most the first time I experienced them–the views from the tops of the ramp at South Capitol on the northwest side of the ballpark and the one at Potomac Avenue on the southeast. If you want your views of the Capitol, or the Washington Monument, or the Cathedral, or National Airport, or Poplar Point, or the Navy Yard, or the Anacostia River, or Southwest, you’ve got ‘em. There’s been so much yakking about how every seat in the ballpark doesn’t have a pristine view of the Capitol Dome that people I think don’t realize how many fabulous views there are from the ballpark’s upper decks. And even the views directly to the north of the ballpark, as the buildings get finished, will have a “city lights” view that might even get a few people to stop bitching about the garages.

In a more mundane vein, I think the wide variety of food options will be a big hit. As will be the Strike Zone for kids. And the cupholders!

WFY: On the other hand, what will disappoint fans the most?

JD: That’s hard for me to say, I think different people will have different expectations. The garages will be a sore point, I’m sure, though the team is trying hard to gussy them up. And yet, as people are complaining about them, I hope they’ll stop to think what it might have been like to have two 12-story condo buildings right on the edge of the outfield like almost got approved, obscuring *all* views from the seats. Sure, you’d probably get to see people sitting on their sofas watching TV, but…..

WFY: Is Near SE essentially a construction zone with a new ballpark in the middle of it?

JD: Indeed. But I think there’s something to be said for people coming to the neighborhood for the first time and seeing that there’s a ton of work underway versus having a gleaming new ballpark with nothing else happening. It doesn’t take as much of a leap of faith to imagine that within the next year or two, things will be different. But yes, you might get dusty! A sidewalk might be closed! Prepare accordingly!

WFY: Will any of the upcoming neighborhood amenities (bars and restaurants, etc.) open during the 2008 season?

JD: Unless some bar or restaurant is going to go in the first floor of 20 M Street (the office building at Half and M completed last year), I doubt it. I suppose it could be possible that something could go in the ground floor of 100 M, the office building at First and M that’s supposed to be completed in late summer, but it probably wouldn’t be open before the season ends. But there’s been no announcements that I’ve heard.

WFY: How cooperative have the Nationals been during the construction? What about developers? The District government?

JD: I’ve received pretty much all the cooperation I’ve asked for from all three of those groups, as well as from residents and other groups–though I try not to ask for very much so as not to be thought of as a pain in the ass. Certainly they see JDLand as a (cheap!) way to get their messages out. I think the only time I really stomped my feet and asked for something above-and-beyond was last fall, when the ballpark security perimeter took away access to First Street and Potomac Avenue and I asked to be allowed to continue to update my exterior photos every so often. But I pouted for about six weeks first.

I’m not a big fan of the “Look at all the big-shot contacts I have and all the names I can drop!” brand of blogging, so maybe my sticking to information aggregation along with a small amount of this-is-what-I’ve-seen-with-my-own-eyes has kept me in good stead. Plus, I think some of the folks in charge actually like looking at the before-and-after pictures and getting updates on other projects, too.

WFY: What has been most enjoyable and frustrating about chronicling the ballpark progress?

JD: I have to admit that the praise the site gets, and the reactions I get when I meet people who are familiar with the site, have been experiences I never would have expected. The story of this neighborhood seems to have captured a lot of interest, and I get to enjoy being the conduit. To be standing on a street corner and have people you’ve never met roll down their windows to say hi and complement what you do is the sort of experience everyone should be lucky enough to have in their life. Even when I get tired and cranky (which is often), I have a tremendous amount of pride and satisfaction with what this has all grown to.

On the flip side, there’s little things that bug me–it’s frustrating for me to watch a lot of the media reports in these last few weeks, with lots of errors or lots of skimming the surface of stuff that I’ve been covering so deeply for these past few years. And things like when columnists write “OMG! The Metro station isn’t open!!!!” three weeks before Opening Day, as if that guarantees it won’t be open in time. A lot of hyperbole and not a strong command of the facts. And the lack of patience amazes me–some people have grown to adulthood thinking that if something brand new has something wrong with it, that’s just the way it’s always going to be.

Then there’s the people wanting to know happened to the baseball on top of the outfield restaurant. I can stop getting asked that question any time now.

WFY: Will the ballpark’s completion be sort of like a tragedy of dreams come true for you?

JD: It’s like how you discover some really cool underground band, and you spend years telling people about them, and then suddenly they’re playing stadium shows and you get all whiny about how you knew about them first.

But, to be serious, without planning on it I stumbled into a pretty amazing project, and it’s been a blast. To know there’s a lot of people looking at my work and appreciating it, especially since it just kind of grew without any sort of grand plan, has been immensely satisfying. JDLand isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, of course, but there will never be the interest in the rest of the neighborhood that there’s been in the ballpark, so the wackiest part of the ride is about over.

WFY: What question do you get asked about the most?

JD: Beyond “are you the one who does that web site?” that I get when people see me taking pictures? Probably just asking me how I manage to keep the site running. These days, the answer is “barely.” But it’ll be back to normal soon.

WFY: What question do you wish people would ask?

JD: “How do you want me to cite JDLand.com in this news story I’m putting together for my major media corporation, since I used your site extensively to research the piece and I of course want to give you full credit for that?”

This is the one thing that makes me cranky above all else. In the blogosphere (for the most part), etiquette demands that if you get something from someone else, you hat tip. But I know for a fact that reporters in this town (and elsewhere) make heavy use of my site (and sometimes even tell me so in person), but you never know it from their work. If I started plagiarizing from news stories, you can be damn sure that I’d be hearing about it. But since I’m “just a blogger”, they seem to feel that my site is free for the taking without any sort of acknowledgment. Recently one of my photos was published without credit or permission on the front page of an unnamed neighborhood newspaper, because the editor thought “it was in the public domain.” I consider myself a journalist as much as any other journalist in this town, and I work as hard (probably harder) for my content as they work for theirs, but they don’t always treat my work with the same level of respect they expect for their own. Because I’m “just a blogger.”

WFY: Last year (correct me if I am wrong) you started writing a weekly Ballpark & Beyond column about the ballpark for The Post. Was that your idea or their idea? Will it continue after the ballpark is opened?

JD: The Post approached me in May 2007 with the idea of adapting my blog in the District Extra–since I work in the Newsroom Information Technology department, they probably felt more comfortable with “going bloggy” via my site than if I had been an outsider. I’m expecting the column to continue for a bit longer, though I think it will probably run less often. Which I’m fine with, because in some ways the column is a far more stressful part of my life than I expected it to be.

WFY: For the “techies” out there, what do you use for content management of the Near SE Redevelopment? What kind of camera and imaging software do you use?

JD: The easy answer first–the official JDLand camera since January 2006 has been a Canon Digital Rebel XT. I use Paint Shop Pro to handle the photos, though I don’t do much with them other than resizing and some cropping and straightening when the camera gets too heavy and I end up holding it crooked.

As for the CMS, it’s a complete home brew, all in Cold Fusion, and in some ways I’m as proud of the site’s technology as I am of the content. The blog entries are in a database that I wrote both the front end and the RSS generator for. There’s another table with information on each photo, which allows for the random photo display at the top of the home page and the Photo Archive application. The project pages are hybrid static and dynamic pages, with most of the “afters” generated by calls to the database. That way, I can upload photos to the site and auto-add records to the database, and the project pages immediately will show the new shots. The pages need some hands-on TLC every so often, but I don’t have to open them and edit them everytime I upload a photo.

The complete batch of photos on my hard drive (of which there are *thousands* beyond what you see on the site) are also handled in a home-brew app. When I come home from taking photos, I pull up a page and start categorizing every shot, which I’ve sped up a lot lately thanks a big pile of javascript. I mark which intersection the photo shows, where I was standing, and what direction the photo was taken, and the code parses it into the database along with the timestamp from each photo’s EXIF info. Then I can browse the photos by filling out a search form–i.e., show me all 2006 photos of the southwest corner First and N Street taken from the northeast corner. I then have some other scripts and shortcuts I’ve come up with to choose which photos I want to upload to the site, and then I run a batch process in Paint Shop Pro to resize them and save copies that I then FTP up to the site. Then I update the site database with the new images.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that there’s no way a site like this could be done by hand. It still pretty much takes me 4-6 hours to go take a big batch of photos, categorize and add them to the main database, choose which ones I want to post, and then upload them and update the site database. Though some of that, of course, is because there’s so many dang projects to be taking pictures of right now. In time this will return to something less taxing.

WFY: What has been the most popular subject on Near SE Redevelopment based on site traffic?

JD: The easy answer, of course, is all the ballpark stuff. My traffic has doubled in the past month as the buildup to Opening Night has intensified. And yet, really, any time I post new photos of the neighborhood that people can compare to the “befores” on my site, I see a small spike in traffic. I have no doubt, though, that my statistics will return to more realistic levels after April.

WFY: Have you been able to recoup the cost the site via advertising?

JD: Yes, but please note that I’m not blogging from a beachside cabana on the Riviera. It’s not very much at all, especially in comparison to what my hourly rate as a web application developer would be.

WFY: Do you have a ticket to Opening Night? Do you have an extra for me?

JD: Only if you want to split what I paid on StubHub, and then tell my husband he can’t go.

WFY: I’m thinking about it. :)

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Q&A: P.J. Maierhofer

Now in her third season as Blue Sapphire, the featured twirler of the Touch of Blue, Pamela Jo Maierhofer continues the proud legacy of twirling at Penn State. Recently, PJ took the time to answer a few questions, sent during three-a-days, for William World News.

WFY: When did you realize that you wanted to be the Blue Sapphire?

PJ: I was in 4th grade and a friend of ours was a Penn State Majorette and so we came to see her at a game… and I remember looking out there and going, “Mom! Mom! Who is THAT??” And I remember her explaining to me that that was the Blue Sapphire. I looked at her and told my Mom that that was going to be me someday (and she laughed) …BUT here I am :)

WFY: Is your routine integrated are your routines with the rest of Touch of Blue?

PJ: The Jettes and I have separate routines obviously, considering there are 12 of them and 1 of me. They synchronize all that they do which is a totally different and impressive skill that was never my forte. I was definitely a much stronger twirler twirling individually… I would have a really hard time doing what they do. From time to time we will twirl together and I really enjoy that.

WFY: How scary is it to twirl burning batons? (nota bene: sadly, the audio is NSFW)

PJ: Fire baton? Ha – It’s awesome… it just adds another element to the crazy adrenaline rush I already get. It’s not scary, when I was young, my Mom made me try it and as a result I never developed a fear that a first time older athlete would more than likely have. I rather like the challenge it brings.

WFY: What is your favorite part of a football Saturday?

PJ: EVERYTHING! Ha Ha, I think if I had to pick I would say my favorite part of Saturday game day is walking towards the stadium after we perform in BJC at Tail great. As a band we “march” over and sing the Singing Lion…. And as we get closer to the stadium, people up above that are already in the stadium start leaning out over the edges and cheering… and everyone starts coming towards Beaver Stadium…it makes me feel like at Penn State, you don’t just go to college and get an education and graduate, you become a Penn Stater and Beaver Stadium is where all the past and present Penn Staters unite….it’s kinda like home.

WFY: Is there a rule that Blue Sapphires have to have the middle name “Jo”?

PJ: Very Funny, I actually read your blog on this topic. It is strictly coincidence. My Mom’s name is Pam and my Dad’s name is Joe…so I was born Pamela Jo…. And the day I left the hospital I became a PJ :)

WFY: Do you know your predecessor, Bobbie Jo Solomon well?

PJ: Bobbie is an amazing girl. I’ve known her for a long long long long time and she was someone that I will someday owe a great deal of gratitude to because I spent the majority of my twirling career looking up to her. She is an awesome athlete. She twirled on a team with my older sister when I was little and so that’s how I met her… and have admired her ever since.

WFY: Why does the Blue Sapphire always wear a white uniform?

PJ: It’s just a way for her to stand out a little bit from the rest of the band and auxiliary. This year, my new costume has a little more blue than my last did, but it is still mainly white.

WFY: How do you and the other members of Touch of Blue keep from getting hypothermia during the latter part of the season?

PJ: Hahaha…. The band actually has these awesome cloak kind of coats that we wrap around us until we get ready for halftime and they keep us super warm. Plus, when you love Penn State and twirling as much as we do… you know that you have a job to go do and nothing is going to stop you. We wear lots of layers and when it is show time…we go :)

WFY: Football players often grumble about two-a-days during fall practice. How many times do you practice during the run up to the season?

PJ: We actually just finished our band camp which consisted of three, 3 hour sessions each day for 4 days straight. However, I twirl competitively so I train on average at least 2 hours a day during competition season. Right now, we have practice as a band 2 hours every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and 2½ hours on Tuesday

WFY: The video “Meet the New Blue Sapphire” has been viewed nearly 3,900 times on YouTube. Other than performing, how involved were you in the production of the video?

PJ: Well, Matt Fallabel the videographer for the Blue Band produced that video as part of our end of the year DVD. My transition from 11th grade to college and also my journey to create my own version of Blue Sapphire took some hard work. Matt and I became friends via band practice and he got to know me pretty well. Although a few of the things he targeted in the video were things we talked about, he did all of that on his own… trying to express to people who I was, so needless to say it was pretty effective.

WFY: Does the first song (“Brazil” by Django Reinhardt) in that video get stuck in your head like it does mine?

PJ: Haha I honestly don’t watch it that much – that’d be kinda weird.. lol

WFY: Can we look forward to more videos like that in the future?

PJ: Hopefully :)

WFY: Over the years there has been a great deal said about teams playing on artificial turf but I never hear about what the half time performers think. What are your feelings on artificial turf?

PJ: My high school in Altoona had Astro and it was just different. Personally, twirling in Beaver Stadium is like twirling in Heaven and I find it perfect, but a good performer can adjust to any situation.

WFY: Which was a better bowl trip, Miami or Tampa Bay?

PJ: While Miami was really neat, I loved Tampa. We, the Blue Band, were so much more a part of the whole bowl production at the Outback bowl than we were at the Orange…and it just really made for an amazing trip, despite the rain!

WFY: What are the best and worst away games you have been too so far? Do you go to all the road games?

PJ: Michigan in 2005 nearly broke my heart…. Not gonna lie!

WFY: What halftime show was your favorite thus far?

PJ: Last year we did a show from the Broadway show The Wiz… and it was super cool. I got to wear baton shoes that we painted red and glittered to be like Dorothy’s red slippers… I was loving it ;)

WFY: In 2005, you and the Blue Band were the toast of the fashion world, but in 2006, there were no appearances at fashion shows or in the glossy magazines. What are you doing to bounce back after a season that included no performances during New York Fashion Week?

PJ: They told us right off the bat that that was a rare occasion… and probably one of the most amazing experiences of my life as well. We took tons of pictures and made lots of memories.

WFY: Please finish this song lyric “When we stood at childhood’s gate…”

PJ: I know I know…Shapeless in the hands of fate – not funnnnnyy! :)

WFY: Which Penn State song is your favorite?

PJ: Definitely the singing lion and Lion Special

WFY: Do “Touch of Blue” alumni give you a hard time, “back in my day, we had to practice out in the snow (barefoot) from August through November,” for having it so easy now that there is a Blue Band building?

PJ: No they are really cool, I mean, I think I would be jealous, too if I came back and saw what we have now, but they are really nice.

WFY: The Nittany Lion mascot is also a student in the college of communications; do you have any classes with him?

PJ: He is actually a year above me, but he and I are good friends.

WFY: In 2006, you endorsed a ticket for the USG election, but I don’t recall you repeating that last year. Did the dissolution of USG have anything to do with your silence?

PJ: I was actually at practice that night and a friend of mine who was helping Nick and Pat’s campaign asked if I would be willing to do an endorsement….it was kind of awkward, but I’d do anything to help a friend.

WFY: Which part of your major are you focusing on more, advertising or public relations?

PJ: Definitely PR – with a minor in Business. I love love love people….and so PR is basically communicating to people and reading situations and thinking quick…and so far I love my major.

WFY: One of the most popular searches on William World News is “Les Halles pronunciation.” How do you pronounce the name of this popular Washington D.C. restaurant?

PJ: Seriously?

WFY: In my experience, people who choose to use initials for their name are generally mischievous. Would that be an accurate assessment of you?

PJ: I’ve honestly never heard that connection before, but no I am definitely not really mischievous. I ended with a 3.93 GPA last semester, received an academic scholarship, I take school almost as serious as my twirling.

WFY: Okay, one final question — what will Penn State’s record be this season?

PJ: Well, Michigan should be a very big turning point in our season. Depending on how that goes should have a large influence on the outcome of the rest of the season… I don’t like to jinx things – I just say my prayers the night before the game…and remember why the sky is Blue and White. :)

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Weingarten interview: Liz Kelly responds

One of the more controversial parts of my recent interview with Gene Weingarten was the following exchange:

WFY: Speaking of Liz, how is she holding up now that she does not have to moderate the weekly discussion? Is she relieved, or will we be seeing a column called “Why washingtonpost.com doesn’t need Weingarten” any day now?

GW: Lizzie and I were talking just yesterday. It it sad what has happened to the woman in my absence. Turns out, I was really the poor kid’s life. Chivalry does not permit me to be specific, but think fishnet stockings, MD 20/20, and 14th Street.

I mentioned then that if Ms. Kelly cared to respond to Mr. Weingarten’s statements, I would provide the forum for her to do so. Here are her remarks:

Gene’s answer is indicative of his delusional belief that the world revolves around him. As many of Gene’s readers know, I write a daily blog for washingtonpost.com (www.washingtonpost.com/celebritology) which vies with our politics blog The Fix as the top blog on the site. I also do daily radio hits with Post radio about celebrity gossip and, this Thursday, will start my own weekly live discussion: Celebritology Live. When I’m not busy doing all of the above, though, I do in fact spend my time worshipping at a crude basement altar to Gene. I have some of his fingernail clippings and it’s made all the difference.

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Q&A: Gene Weingarten

Last November the popular washingtonpost.com live discussion Chatological Humor* went dark. The decision by host Gene Weingarten was controversial even though he said he would return in April. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Weingarten some questions about his sabbatical.

WFY: You said you were simply too busy to keep doing the chat. Specifically, you said:

I have arrayed before me five months of deadlines that are squeezing me like a F-cup breast (work safe) in one of those mammogram machines. I’m writing a book. Writing a movie with Dave Barry. Writing a new, dreadful, immovable cover story on deadline. A comic strip, with my son. Something had to give. I’ve already given up vacations, weekends, sleep, and sex, but I draw the line at food, particularly sushi and Tiramisu.

However, those are not the real reasons, are they? You just want to look like a big man and take a sabbatical like Gary Larson, Bill Waterson, Gary Trudeau, and Dave Barry. Oh and you wanted to hurt us too, right?

Gene Weingarten: I’m too busy to answer this one.

WFY: How are those “projects” going?

GW: Think F-Cups in mammograms, but don’t think about it too long.

WFY: In order, please list which features of the chat you miss the most

a) discussions of lavatory etiquette
b) talking about short skirts, boots, VPL
c) the bully pulpit for your political beliefs
d) gushing about dogs
e) confronting your unrequited love for your Chatological Humor’s producer, Liz Kelly
e) virtual panties being thrown at you by hotties

GW: It’s probably the panties. Which permits me to disclose something here, possibly for the first time. I have on occasion received actual, corporeal underpants in the mail. I believe four times, total. One was from a man. One was so large I really, really want to think it was a joke. In fact, if the lady who sent them to me is within the reach of this phosphorus, could you please confirm to my man Yurasko here that it was a joke?

WFY: Speaking of Liz, how is she holding up now that she does not have to moderate the weekly discussion? Is she relieved, or will we be seeing a column called “Why washingtonpost.com doesn’t need Weingarten” any day now?

GW: Lizzie and I were talking just yesterday. It it sad what has happened to the woman in my absence. Turns out, I was really the poor kid’s life. Chivalry does not permit me to be specific, but think fishnet stockings, MD 20/20, and 14th Street. (WFY: Ms. Kelly’s side of the story is here.)

WFY: What about The Rib? Have you made dinner table conversations insufferable for her since no longer have an unedited, weekly forum? What about your puppy? Pat the Perfect?

GW: Fishnet stockings, MD 20/20 and 14th Street for the lot of them.

WFY: Q: Has your credulity as the sole arbiter of humor been questioned since you stopped the chat?

GW: You mean credibility, I think. I also miss the grammar/language authoritarianism.

WFY: I do mean credibility, this was a spell checking error that I caught immediately after the message was sent. Apparently, my attempt to recall the message was fruitless. Let’s try it again:

WFY: Has your credibility as the sole arbiter of humor been questioned since you stopped the chat?

GW: No, my license has been renewed, by God, through the spring of 2009.

WFY: A popular search on my blog is the pronunciation of the restaurant Les Halles. How do you pronounce it?

GW: Rhymes with Lay Doll, no?

WFY: How many games will the Nationals win this year?

GW: 58.

WFY: You are coming back, right?

GW: Yes.

WFY: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, slacker.

GW: Expletive deleted you, too.

WFY: Shouldn’t that be “F you!”

* Formerly known as “Funny? You Should Ask.”

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Q&A: Ted Leonsis

Leonsis_112x140.jpg

On Wednesday, September 27, I interviewed Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis about the upcoming Capitals season for Metroblogging DC. We discussed the CBA, the new Ballston practice facility, the challenges of the D.C. sports marketplace, the Southeast division and of course Alex Ovechkin.

Ted Leonsis bought the Washington Capitals hockey team in 1999 and immediately brought a new perspective to professional sports ownership. The AOL executive made himself accessible to his fanbase by answering personal emails from fans and writing the “Owner’s Corner” column on washingtoncaps.com. Recently, he began blogging as well.

Recently, Mr. Leonsis took the time to answer some questions for Metroblogging DC. The Caps begin their season tonight, in New York against the Rangers. Their home opener is this Saturday with the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes coming to town.


WFY: We are coming into year 2 of the post-CBA era and the Alex Ovechkin era, both of which must be very exciting to you. Why don’t you talk about how the new CBA helps the Capitals in Year 2.

Ted Leonsis: I think we shouldn’t focus on Collective Bargaining Agreements. I think that the league went through a very tough gut check into trying to make for a business model that could be fairer to all 30 teams and would also inject more competitiveness into the league. I think we are rapidly getting to that point where like the NFL and the NBA — no one really knows what their team is spending but feel comfortable that each team has a shot to make the playoffs and win a championship. You do not have that in baseball. In baseball you still have teams that spend 200 million and teams that spend 20 million and in the NFL, the NBA, and the NHL you have more parity, if you will, regardless of market size of if a team owns their own TV network. That is what we were desperate for in our league and we have that and on top of that we have new rules. I think last night was very instructive — the Caps played the Flyers and in the old days the Flyers were bigger tougher and had a higher payroll. And now the payrolls are pretty much comparable…maybe $10 million difference, but the emphasis is on speed, the emphasis is young legs and skill and you want a league where the stars are allowed to shine and where people want to see great offensive skills allowed to prosper and I think that is what we are starting to see. The new CBA, the new rules are making for a more exciting NHL and I think we have built and organization and a team that was designed for the new rules and the new model and I am very optimistic about where we are headed as a franchise.

WFY: One of the contributors to the new exciting NHL is Washington’s very own Alex Ovechkin who won the Calder Cup, which is the rookie of the year in hockey last season, with over 100 points last season. How much has Alex meant to the franchise in the short term; and in the long term, how much is he going to mean to the franchise?

Leonsis: We’re blessed in that we appear to have a once in a generation kind of player, he is a phenomenally gifted athlete and hockey player. The season that he had last year really was the best entry of a rookie probably in the last 25 years, but certainly one of the top 3 first seasons of any player in the NHL in 80+ years history. He is only going to get better as he matures and gets stronger and also learns how the league paces itself. it is a very long season and hopefully playoff games and his engine runs at a very high RPM and he is going to have to learn to pick his spots a little bit more. We’re most blessed that he is really a terrific young man. I remember once having lunch with Red Auerbach, who told me that your best player also has to be your best person, and as you look back at his history in the NBA winning so many world championships that his best player be, it a Bill Russell or John Havlicek or Larry Bird, they were not only phenomenal athletes, but they were phenomenal leaders and they were humble and took great joy, not in personal success, but in the team’s success; and we really do have that with Alex.

Leonsis: This off season he was quoted as saying, “If I scored 20 goals and we made the playoffs, I’d be much happier than scoring 60 goals and not making the playoffs.” That is what you want form your foundational player and we have built a team that has a lot of great young talent and the are all in their early 20s and my goal is to build a generationally-good team. I don’t just want to make the playoffs just one year, I want us to make the playoffs on a consistent basis and win a bunch of Cups along the way and I think the way you do that is that you have a team that at its core are all growing and peaking together. We’re in the second year of this rebuild and I think we are a little ahead of schedule.

WFY: Where are you in terms of the schedule with getting fans in the seats? There are some people who don’t believe that Washington is a hockey town. Recently on your blog you are making the argument that it is becoming a hockey town. How are you doing with marketing the team, especially now that you have this incredible talent in an Alex Ovechkin?

Leonsis: You could argue that Washington overall is a Redskins town, but you look and the Nationals are struggling at the gate right now, their honeymoon lasted one year and the Caps always struggled at the gate, and frankly the Wizards don’t have an easy time, too. It is all of our challenge to try and connect with our community and be more successful at the gate. What I decided to do is to structure the team in the economic model for the market that we see, and there is nothing wrong with what we see. There is nothing wrong with averaging 15-16 per game which is what I think we can do this year. I would love to have a situation where we sell out, but I think we’re struggling to do that; and right now we are at about 85% renewal of our season tickets and plans, which is a very positive sign for us. We have to sell more season tickets and more groups so we can get to what I would think be a fair amount of attendance which is about 80%. The arena seats like 18,500 we can get 16,000 this year, I’d be very happy.

WFY: As part of that, you are focusing on the season ticket holders. Are you doing a lot of outreach to the former season ticket holders who may not have been happy with the direction the franchise went?

Leonsis: Yes, they mostly came back last year; and this year, I would say the core of the fan base has returned and that is what is so positive for the NHL. Of all the leagues we had the most success post-lockout. Our challenge is crossing that chasm and reaching a more casual fan; and when you look at what our challenge is, we need 1,000 new season ticket holders that buy 2 to 3 tickets per game. That is the difference for us between a modicum of success and a grand slam success, 3,000 more people per game. It’s another 1,000 accounts. That is what our focus is on, trying to tap into the Maryland/Washington D.C./Northern Virginia area to find that 1,000 new accounts.

WFY: What about single game tickets? How are you going to be marketing towards you more casual sports fan or the Redskins fan?

Leonsis: There is no ROI on marketing individual games. The average ticket price is $30 and the most you’ll sell on a walkup basis is 300 tickets, so it looks like $100,000 worth the business and you could spend $100,000 on television or print advertising pretty easily and so that is why you want to build the Washington Capitals brand. You really want to have the online tools through the blogosphere, online marketing, search terms, having an interactive ticketing engine, to make it very convenient for people to buy tickets. It is also why season tickets and plans are the lifeblood of your team, and I’ll be sincere when I say we can sell out Friday/Saturday night games when we play the Rangers, Philadelphia, or Pittsburgh; those are easy sells for us. It is the Monday night game against Calgary, and when you sell season tickets you get that revenue, so that is why season ticket sales are so important to NHL franchises.

WFY: One of the other things that you are doing that I imagine was built with building up the fan base. You are building a new practice facility in Ballston. How did you decide to put it in Ballston, as opposed to further out where land might be cheaper?

Leonsis: The first thing was that we were sub-optimized in the space we had at Piney Orchard. The Piney Orchard camp and practice facility was created when we played at the old USAir Arena and it meant that the nexus of living space for the players and the staff were out near Baltimore or Annapolis. When we moved into the MCI Center, now Verizon Center, it didn’t make sense anymore. The majority of the fan base changed; it had moved from deep in Maryland to be in Bethesda, Washington, DC and Northern Virginia. In fact, Northern Virginia is where 62% of our season ticket base now comes from, so we felt it was in our best interest to relocate the office and the practice facility, and then where the players and staff live to be in the heart of the fan base. So we ended up doing a great deal with the city of Ballston where they donated the land, they owned the parking lot that was adjacent to the mall in Ballston and we built a new office building and two sheets of ice and a big training and practice area for the Caps that we should be moving in November.

WFY: You mentioned blogosphere earlier and on washingtoncaps.com you have a link to several Web sites you call “hockey-friendly blogs?”

Leonsis: The traditional media is not helping us enough. I’ll say it as straight forwardly as possible and I’ll give you a very graphic example — last night the Caps played Philadelphia. When the game ended, in Philadelphia there were highlights of the game on all the Philadelphia news stations and their local cable channel was having a sports show talking about the Flyers-Caps game and here in the D.C. There was nothing on television and our local sports channel was talking about the Navy football game on Saturday. We have to find alternative means to promote our team and our players and I have great faith in people who blog. If they are blogging they are not doing it for a living, they are doing it out of passion and love and we are going to be the most blog friendly team and I hope the NHL becomes the most blog friendly league because it is a way to pay back these people on their passions and it also a way to get the good word out. That I am doing this interview with you is a good example. You blog, you care, so you deserve time and respect.

WFY: And it is certainly appreciated. In particular on one blog that sticks out — that you have certainly appeared on and the Capitals have gotten a lot of mention on is Off Wing Opinion. You have even worked with Eric McErlain to work on some standards and practices for allowing bloggers into the press box. Could you elaborate on that a little?

Leonsis: I think that we have to start looking at the bloggers as part of the landscape and there will come a time when you have to invite the bloggers to come into your press area and come into your locker room. I felt we should be leaders in working with some of the leading bloggers with a fair set of rules of the road and we have been working on that and we have published it and let other bloggers bang away at the rules and I feel very comfortable that it can be self policed well and no one will take advantage of what we are trying to create.

WFY: What’s going on with the uniforms? It seems every year we have people scratching their heads wondering if you’ll be going back to red, white, and blue uniforms.

Leonsis: We will eventually go back to red, white, and blue. For every person who sends me an email that wants the color change or new uniform, I get as many mails, mostly from mothers, saying “please don’t change the uniform because then I have to buy the new jersey for my children and they are very expensive.” I am very cognizant of that and when we’re changing the uniform I don’t want it to look like we are doing it to generate money. To be honest, that is not even how it works. We’re not the recipient of individual, additional jersey sales. That is a misconception. The NHL overall is looking at changing the style, the weight and making the uniforms more contemporary. So, I think we’ll just wait and see when the NHL goes to a new design and style and new color scheme and logos ready and that would be the time to do it.

WFY: I imagine there will be a lot of effort put into that when the time comes, so there is not a repeat of the Buffaslug disaster.

Leonsis: *laughs* Yes, we will make sure we have total fan buy-in before do anything.

WFY: Getting back to the ticketing, how does the Southeast division impacted you ability to sell tickets?

Leonsis: The realignment was not good for us. We didn’t have long-term rivalries with Tampa Bay or Florida or with Carolina. Ironically, the last two Stanley Cup winners have been Southeast division teams. We used to hear about how weak the division was, both Tampa Bay and Carolina won the Cup. Atlanta looks like it could the next great young team and I think we won’t far behind. It probably emerged as the strongest division in hockey and yet because we have not had long playoff competition history with Pittsburgh or the Flyers or the Rangers, the fan base doesn’t turn out in droves and secondly there is not the built in local fan base of the opposing teams. When we play the Flyers, or Detroit, or Boston or Chicago or Pittsburgh, we probably get 2,00 to 3,000 who grew up fans of that team that come. When we play Tampa, if you see five opposing fans in the arena wearing Tampa bay jerseys I’d be surprised. If I had my way we’d play Pittsburgh, and the Flyers and Detroit and Boston on a Friday or Saturday and sell out every game. That’s not the cards that were dealt to us and now we are in a very tough division playing teams 8 times a year that don’t draw that well. That has been one of our biggest challenges.

WFY: I have a question about Pittsburgh. There are a lot of displaced Penguins in this area. If the Penguins are to leave Pittsburgh will you make any effort to grab some of disenfranchised Penguins fans who now live in this area?

Leonsis: I have no idea what is going to happen. It would be in our best interest that if Pittsburgh moves that the Caps take their place and move into that division. There has never been a single conversation, e-mail, anything on it, so I have not spent five seconds thinking about it.

WFY: I recall when Hurricane Katrina happened all of the local teams got together for charity purposes. There were donations at RFK during Nats and United games. Is that something we can expect to see in the future? The local major league teams working together on charities.

Leonsis: Lots of things…Ovechkin is throwing our the opening pitch at the Nats game tonight and we’ll have a bunch of our players there. The Nats are promoting the Caps and the Mystics. The Caps and Mystics are going to be promoting the Nats. The Lerner family owns a small piece of the Mystics and Caps and we’re going to try to be good cooperative co-marketing partners. Our belief is that if the tide rises maybe boats will rise with it. it is in our best interest to be mutually supportive of each other.

WFY: Another issue that comes up regularly is why hasn’t there been an All-Star game or NHL Draft in the District yet. Is this something that we can expect to happen or that you are lobbying to have happen?

Leonsis: I have not actively lobbied, mostly because I don’t own the building. We have had our hands full in trying to build our franchise. I know there are some discussions here right now about getting the WNBA all-star game to D.C. I am sure at some point we’ll have the NHL All-Star game.

WFY: What are Alex Ovechkin and now Alex Semin going to mean to this team and the city? Are you going to market both of them a little more?

Leonsis: I think we have to market the team and let the breakout players stand on their own. I do believe we will have some young, gifted players who will grow up together. We will have four of the top young forwards in the NHL for a long time to come. Ovechkin, Semin, Nicklas Backstrom when he comes and plays… hopefully next year and Eric Fehr — will be four young, great forwards that will play together for a long, long time. Defensively, Mike Green and Jeff Schultz and Steve Eminger, and Shaone Morrisonn are four young top #1 picks that will grow up together. That is a very very strong core nucleus of #1 draft choices who are all in their early 20s that are getting lots of playing time. they have had success in the AHL — our AHL team won the Calder Cup last year. We hope we create a culture of winning with higher and higher expectations year after year.

WFY: You mentioned the culture of winning, your AHL affiliate is now the Hershey Bears which is probably the most distinguished minor league hockey team — they’ve been for a 100 years or so. How is teaming up with Hershey working out?

Leonsis: It worked out spectacularly well for us. They have a great system, we have a great working relationship. Very close — when we want to call up a player they drive 100 miles and their hear and they don’t have to fly and try to get in and out of a place like Portland, Maine where the is not a direct flights. The system worked so well last year we won the championship. A lot of those players will have the opportunity to make our team this year and that is exactly what we wanted. We felt that doing Hershey, that building a new practice facility, continuing to draft well, managing our cap well so that when people’s contracts expire we can keep them and that all of this would culminate into a very, very valuable franchise that is on the incline. That is what we want, we wanted to build an identify. We wanted to basically create a team.. I call it NHL 2.0, it’s Washington Capitals 2.0. Be ready for a new league economics, be ready for the new rules, the new NHL and try to anticipate and understand what that will all mean and build a team that takes advantage of what the new rules would be.

WFY: Olie Kolzig means a lot to the Capitals. He’s been there for about 10 years.

Leonsis: I think Olie has been in the system for about 15 years almost half our lifetime. He’s a remarkable leader, a great athlete and a great person. He and Alex are really the bedrocks of our team right now. He is very loyal to us and we are very loyal to him. My sincerest goal is to build a team he can a cup from.

WFY: He’s certainly one of the most popular Capitals ever. What about some of the most popular Capitals ever? Will we be seeing more of the Dale Hunters, Rod Langways around?

Leonsis: Rod, we have totally embraced…Rod has carte blanche with us. Dale we love, but Dale is fully engaged in is hometown. He owns a junior team and the arena, he is very happy up there but, he is still a member of the court here and he brings great tradition and great history and great learning’s when we are around him. He is personally one of my favorite people.

WFY: Recently in your blog you noted that every regular season game is televised. Was that not the case when you came on board?

Leonsis: That was one of the deliverables that I promised. We are trying to meet our commitment. The glass is being replaced with brand new glass at the Verizon. Not a big deal, a very nice thing for Washington Sports and Abe Pollin to do for us. It cost a lot of money, but it’ll make the viewing experience that much better. Working with television to get every game on was important. Last night, we tried to broadcast our game in broadband, we had some difficulties. You were only able to listen to the game through internet radio. We are tying to do lots of little things to make the whole Capitals experience more pleasant for our fans.

WFY: Speaking of little things, will you be putting up any banners downtown?

Leonsis: We’re not allowed to do it. The city has to do it fro you. You can hardly do any outdoor advertising. A couple of walls they’ll allow you to do it. I do think the city needs to help us. It needs to help promote baseball and hockey. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, Verizon Center is one of the catalysts for the turnaround of downtown D.C. The City is going to put up $600 million or so, they need to continue to help make these franchises successful.

WFY: Are there any parting notes you would like to say to the fans who are excited about Caps hockey or interested in learning about it?

Leonsis: I think we’re trying to do right now is explain to people there has never been a better time to invest. I like to explain to people that the Chicago Bulls when they drafted Michael Jordan still had tickets available and then they started to make the playoffs and win championships and you couldn’t get near the place. Now is the time to buy in. This is like a young stock — great company about to IPO and there has never been a better time and it’ll never be easier or cheaper to get tickets and get involved and I do think the team is on the upswing and we will build a really good team for a long time.

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Q&A: Heavy Metal Parking Lot 20th Anniversary

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Today is the anniversary of the 1986 Judas Priest Capital Centre concert that was immortalized in the documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot. John Heyn and Jeff Krulik’s 16 minute video of Judas Priest fans tailgating perfectly captured the heavy metal zeitgeist of the mid 80s. The documentary made the rounds at local film festivals before bootlegs made it a cult classic.

Heyn and Krulick’s idea of filming teenagers tailgating before a rock concert became the PARKING LOT ODYSSEY, taking them to Harry Potter book signings, a Neil Diamond concert and even a short-lived cable series. But it all started with a two guys from PG County with some video equipment in Capital Centre parking lot. Recently, I interviewed Krulik, now a freelance/independent tv/video producer, about Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Heyn also contributed to a few answers and provided the images in this article.

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Q: What was the inspiration for Heavy Metal Parking Lot? Were you guys Judas Priest fans?

A: No. Not in the least. We were into punk rock and the like. But we were never dismissive of the music, and luckily we blindly plicked the Judas Priest concert. Their music really holds up. It’s classic and timeless.

Q: What parking lot were you guys in? Was it Stars and Stripes, Liberty Bell, etc.?

A: John and I have absolutely no recollection of the parking lot we started in. That’s pretty cool you remember the names of those lots. They all had patriotic themes. I remember it was particularly sad to see all that was left of the Cap Centre after demolition were many of those giant poles with the parking lot names on them.

Q: How many times was Heavy Metal Parking Lot shown in public?

A: If I remember correctly, John arranged a screening at DC Space in the Fall of ’86. Later that Spring I showed it at the Vinyl Event Record Convention in Silver Spring at my booth (I was a part-time record dealer) and then there were a few more showings, culminating in our opening slot at the AFI Theater at Kennedy Center in 1988 before the Chuck Berry documentary ‘Hail Hail Rock and Roll.’

Q: How long did it take to put the original documentary together?

A: I think we spent about two hours, 2 1/2 hours on site at the Capital Centre. That was it. Stumbling around the parking lot. Then John took the footage and months later really came back with the goods. He’s the genius architect behind it. My contribution was the equipment and the title.

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Q: To the best of your knowledge, when did bootlegging really get going? Was there a point when you realized, “Hey, we were onto something?”

A: You bet. It was 1994. We had stopped showing it around these parts in 1990, again at the AFI Theater as part of our own self-curated program called the ‘Don’t Quit Your Day Job Film and Video Festival.’ It was a gas. But we realized we couldn’t force our friends to watch it anymore, and that was it. Finito. But then out of the blue John got a call from Sophia Coppola and he’ll tell you what that was like…

John Heyn adds: Yeah, Sofia Coppola called me in ’94 to inquire about using clips from HMPL in her TV pilot for Comedy Central called High Octane. She was a fledgling producer at the time (most knew her from her role in dad’s Godfather III) She had tracked me down in Silver Spring thru the phone directory (there wasn’t any internet back then).

She said she was a big fan of HMPL. She had rented it at a cult-video store in L.A. called Mondo Video. Mondo Video had been renting it and promoting it (as a bootleg) for some time; through them it was reaching an audience of L.A. scensters such as Belinda Carlisle (the Go-Gos) and Hollywood actor/director Paul Mazursky. This admonition was the first inkling that we had a west coast word-of-mouth following, including film & music cognoscenti. Through the seven degrees of separation, Sofia Coppola turned her cousin Nicholas Cage and filmmaker-husband Spike Jonze onto it. We’ve susequently sent them “official” copies.

Recently Sofia wrote me to request the newly-released DVD. I sent her a copy in Paris, where she’s directing her latest film. She’s remained a (fanatical?) fan all these years.

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Not Sofia Coppola

Q: Did the success of Heavy Metal Parking Lot influence your career decisions?

A: It just re-inforced my decision that I love verite man on the street true life self-referential filmmaking. Sadly, it was almost 15 years too early for reality television, not to mention it was before the era of videos being submitted to ‘film festivals.’ It was doomed to cult obscurity early on.

Q: Initially, what stuck out about the Judas Priest fans? Have your views of them changed over time?

A: I loved those guys then. And I love them even more now. Those people feel like family to me. I’m most grateful that they never showed any aggression or hostility to us when we shoved our camera and microphone in their faces.

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Zebraman

Q: Was there one fan or part of the evening that stuck out more than all the others?

A: I remember absolutely nothing from the day we taped. All my memories are from the video. Everyone loves the one they call Zebraman.

Q: Your Web site notes that Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford loves Heavy Metal Parking Lot? What kind of feedback have you gotten from Judas Priest fans over the years?

A: Truthfully, most hardcore Judas Priest fans and/or devoted metal fans never even heard of the video. Maybe that’s different now, but for the longest time it was held close to the bosom of alternative rockers.

Q: When did Heavy Metal Parking Lot first appear in a film festival? How many has it been exhibited in?

A: I arranged a screening at the New York Underground Film Festival in 1997. Since then, I’ve lost count. But they’re mostly regional fests and alternative microcinema type spaces.

Q: What was your favorite description of Heavy Metal Parking Lot?

A: Alona Wartofsky once wrote in a generally positive review in the Washington City Paper that ‘the filmmakers don’t reveal themselves to be much brighter than the subjects on screen’ and I’ve always loved that line.

Q: Heavy Metal Parking Lot is now available on DVD (from Filmbaby). Had it been available for sale previously, or had it always been available only through bootlegs?

A: We had it on vhs for at least five years. Before that, it was the domain of the bootleggers and tape traders. Finally, John Heyn and the brilliant Todd Rohal (http://www.ghandshake.com) created the magnum opus DVD that we’re currently self distributing.

Q: Twelve years after Heavy Metal Parking Lot, you returned to the Capital Centre/US Airways Arena/whatever for one last time to film Neil Diamond Parking Lot? Was the magic back? Do you feel you captured the zeitgeist like you did with Judas Priest?

A: We were happily surprised to see that the metal fans and Neil Diamond fans shared some sort of common gene: passionate devotion. They were a lot closer than the 180degree arc that I thought first existed.

Q: You even did a Harry Potter Parking Lot and a “parking lot” series on TRIO. Did any of them give you the same satisfaction as Heavy Metal Parking Lot?

A: I’D say the whole PARKING LOT ODYSSEY has been gratifying. Each excursion has its own thang going. I remember when I went to shoot Harry Potter Parking Lot I was thinking ‘ugh’ here we go again as I lugged my camera out of my car, but then an hour later the results seem to satisfy. The TRIO tv series would have been more satisfying if it was on a network that people could get.

Q: Please tell us about any of your other films.

A: I’m getting THE LEGEND OF MERV CONN ready for the Maryland Film Festival. There’s a short trailer on my website. It’s part of THE MARYLAND TRILOGY which also ran at the New York Underground Film Festival. I hope to screen that at the AFI if they’ll have me back. There’s really a pile of short documentaries I’ve cranked out over the years, most available on my website http://www.planetkrulik.com, although I got lazy after 2003, and there seems to be some recent web meltdowns so forgive if some of this stuff doesn’t play at the moment. I’ve only been able to accomplish this output by the affordability and accessibilty of video. But it still requires a great deal of sweat equity.

Q: The first line of your obituary may contain, “…who created the cult film Heavy Metal Parking Lot.” Do you think that this will be your lasting legacy? How do you feel about that?

A: I’ve always joked that my tombstone will say ‘He Made a Lot of Films, But He Was Only Known for Heavy Metal Parking Lot.’ This is a bittersweet thing. I guess you could call it our 20-year albatross, but hey, it’s better to be known for something than nothing at all.

Q: Okay, probably the most asked question you get — will you ever produce “Return to Heavy Metal Parking Lot.” They are back together you know…

A: WE’d love to produce ‘Return to Heavy Metal Parking Lot. We’ve pitched this thing over and over and over. We got close at VH1 but then they went all Celebreality and that’s that. Can’t say I blame them.

Q: Thank you for you time, any parting words?

A: I’VE said too much already. I’m a blabbermouth. I love the sound of my voice. I love the clickety clack of my typing.

John Heyn and Jeff Krulik

John Heyn and Jeff Krulik

The story of Heavy Metal Parking Lot ends here…for now. We can only hope that Heavy Metal Parking: 20th Anniversary Reunion finds the backing it deserves. While we wait for that to happen, check out these sites below:

Official Site
Planet Krulik’s Heavy Metal Parking Lot site
Planet Krulik
Judas Priest
Rob Halford
Buy Heavy Metal Parking Lot from Filmbaby

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Q & A: The Great Society Subway

The Great Society Subway:  A History of the Washington Metro

Last month Metroblogging DC mentioned that a new book by George Mason University professor, Zachary Schrag, The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro (Johns Hopkins University Press) was scheduled to go on sale in March. Recently, Dr. Schrag answered some questions for Metroblogging DC about the book and Metro.

William F. Yurasko. What led to your interest in mass transit? Are you a regular Metro rider?

Dr. Zachary M. Schrag. I arrived in Washington at age seven in 1977, when Metro was just getting started, and its growth was one of the big events of my youth. I rode regularly in high school, while working various office jobs during and after college, and while researching the book. These days I drive to work, but my wife commutes by Metro.

WFY. Please elaborate on why Metro is “The Great Society Subway?”

ZMS. I chose the title to remind readers that any human creation is the product of a specific time in history. In this case, Metro emerged from the 1960s, a moment when Americans trusted their government and expected great things from it.

WFY. How has Metro met its “Great Society” goals? How hasn’t it? How does Metro’s legacy measure up to other Great Society goals?

ZMS. Metro, like Medicare, is a universalistic program; it serves rich and poor alike. Such programs are politically robust, and they help foster a sense of community. The Great Society goal that Metro has not achieved is more residential integration across racial and class lines.

WFY. Overall, would you say that Metro is a success or failure?

ZMS. Metro achieved many of the goals of its creators, who hoped to preserve Washington as a city with a vigorous yet pedestrian-friendly center. Critics have argued that transportation systems should be judged only by the ratio of dollars to rides, but that is not the way I would judge success nor the way most Washingtonians thought at the time they made key decisions.

- If a success, when did it become that way?

ZMS. Metro ran its first train in 1976, and by 1978, it was performing real service. After a long period of decline, total transit ridership (bus plus rail) started to climb. And investors began returning to the District’s “old downtown,” east of 15th street, that they had abandoned years before.

- If a failure, why?

ZMS. Critics would say the project failed in November 1974, when financial planners were forced to admit that fare-box revenues would never cover operating costs, much less pay off construction bonds. Metro was not in good financial shape before that, but it has been in obviously poor financial shape ever since.

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A 1963 Metro Station design

Click on the image for a larger image and description from Schrag’s Building the Washington Metro Web site.

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WFY. President Lyndon Johnson wrote a letter about the aesthetics of Metro. How did this help or hurt Metro’s mission?

ZMS. Johnson *signed* a letter (this will open in a new browser window) that was drafted for him by the federal agency then planning the system. More generally, I find it hard to imagine what Metro would be like had planners gone through with the utilitarian station designs first proposed. Not only would ugly stations fail to capture the imagination, but I wonder how they would
affect ridership.

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A 1965 Metro system map

Click on the image for a larger image and description from Schrag’s Building the Washington Metro Web site.

This will open in a new window.

WFY. How crucial was the Freeway Revolt to Metro’s future? Were it not for the Freeway Revolt, could the Metro have been completed?

ZMS. The National Capital Planning Commission proposed a rapid transit system before the freeway revolt got going in 1959, but it called for only two lines, totaling 33 miles. Had a system like this been built alongside the planned freeways, Washington would look a lot more like Atlanta, where transit is generally used by people who have no other choices, and much of downtown is devoted to parking rather than to people.

WFY. Is Metro held to a higher standard by the communities it serves than mass transit in New York, Boston, Chicago, etc.?

ZMS. That’s an excellent question, which is how a professor says, “I don’t know.” New Yorkers do spend a lot of time thinking and talking about their subway.

WFY. The lack of a third track is sometimes criticized. How likely would it have been to get the whole system built with the additional cost of a third or fourth track?

ZMS. Planners rejected third or fourth tracks in favor of more two-track routes. In particular, rather than have one tunnel with four tracks running from Farragut Square to Capitol Hill, they planned two, two-track tunnels: the Red Line to Union Station and the Blue/Orange to Capitol South. I think most Washingtonians today would consider additional routes, such as the proposed extension to Dulles, more valuable than express service on existing routes.

WFY. The tunnel between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom has become a major choke point in the system. WMATA is trying to alleviate that by running eight car Orange line trains instead of six car trains more frequently, during rush hour. Can stopgap solutions like this one work and if so, for how long? Is a new tunnel or bridge across the Potomac vital to the system’s health?

The proposed Dulles corridor extension has been fighting an uphill battle for a number of years. Some are concerned that it would lead to even more gridlock in the Rosslyn tunnel. Other critics advocating building more lanes on the Dulles Toll Road or Bus Rapid Transit instead. Can either of these alternatives provide the level of service that a new Metro line would?

ZMS. I think that all of these questions are really about the future of employment, especially at Tysons Corner. According to Council of Government statistics (PDF), in the year 2000, downtown Washington (which has 14 stations) employed 356,000 people, compared to 89,000 in Tysons Corner (which has no stations). To me this suggests that rail to Tysons is one of the great opportunities for new transit. Many commuters to Tysons already live in Virginia, so the expansion would not necessarily bust the Potomac tunnel. But rail could shape new development, especially in Loudoun County, far more than adding lanes to the Dulles Toll Road.

Bus rapid transit does have a great deal of potential, but I think it makes more sense for cities that are starting rapid transit from scratch than for a city that already has an established, popular rail system.

WFY. Will another American city ever undertake a subway as ambitious as Metro again? Los Angeles started to build one, but stopped before completing the system, though there are discussions about restarting the program (USA Today).

ZMS. In 1982, Boris Pushkarev, Jeffrey Zupan, and Robert Cumella identified Los Angeles, Seattle, Honolulu, Houston, and possibly Dallas-Ft. Worth and San Juan, as the only “serious candidates” for new rapid transit. As far as I know, that analysis stands, and only San Juan is actively building. Many more cities are investing in
light rail. which generally runs on the surface and must cross surface streets.

WFY. Recently, the momentum for a dedicated funding source for Metro has picked up steam. How crucial is this for the future of Metro? Do you think dedicated funding sources can be achieved in the near future?

ZMS. I am not convinced that a dedicated funding source is a panacea. You would need to guess just how much money Metro will need in future years, then try to guess how much revenue a given tax would provide. If you guess wrong and the revenue stream is too high, the board will be tempted to let fares lag behind inflation, which strikes me as a potentially unjust subsidy to riders. More likely, the revenue stream will be too low, in which case WMATA will have to face critics who complain that it is not living within its means.

WFY. What is currently the most pressing need for Metro? In 5-10 years? In the distant future?

ZMS. Money, money, and money.

WFY. Is Metro getting dirtier?

ZMS. The worst I saw it was in the months after September 11, 2001, when most trash cans were removed for security reasons. Now that people can dump their trash in bomb-proof cans, I think it’s a bit nicer.

WFY. Of the major North American subway systems, where does Metro compare in overall service to the region?

ZMS. In terms of trips and miles, Metro provides far more service than any other American rail system except for the New York City subway. I do not have handy figures on Canada and Mexico, but the American Public Transit Association has a great page of U.S. statistics at http://www.apta.com/research/stats/rail/index.cfm.

WFY. Dick White was recently ousted as the WMATA head. How does his tenure measure up to his predecessors? White’s interim replacement is Dan Tangherlini; how likely is it that he will become permanent? If so, how successful do you think he can be with improving the system?

ZMS. All I can say is that the job of general manager of a transit system must be one of the toughest jobs out there, combining the largest challenges of government service and private enterprise. No one expects the Navy to finance most of its operating costs, while the chief of an airline can cut unprofitable routes. A transit chief has to provide service like a government official while trying to raise revenue like a businessman.

zms_metro.jpg
Dr. Schrag

WFY. How cooperative was WMATA with your research for the book?

ZMS. WMATA provided many wonderful photographs, including the magnificent cover shot by photographer Larry Levine. The Authority does not employ an archivist, so it was not able to meet most of my requests for documents. Fortunately, other institutions, especially George Washington University, hold significant archival collections related to Metro.

WFY. How long did it take you to research and write your book?

ZMS. I did my first interview in the fall of 1998. I completed most of the research between the summer of 1999 and the summer of 2002, though I have worked hard to update the final chapters to reflect recent events.

WFY. Do you have any book readings/signings scheduled?

ZMS. I will be speaking and signing books on Sunday, March 12, at 5 pm at Politics and Prose. As other events are confirmed, I will announce them at http://www.schrag.info/

WFY. Any closing thoughts?

ZMS. The questions you ask, and the questions I get from other Washingtonians, are much the same as the ones that launched me on the project. I had the luxury of devoting several years to satisfying my curiosity, but I hope that my book offers readers quicker answers to their questions.

All images appear courtesy of Zachary M. Schrag

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