Friday, January 30, 2009

How Facebook Is Changing The World!

Apologies in advance for fixating on Facebook (which I am), but for those of you non-believers (including my wife), I feel the need to try to explain to you how Facebook really is changing the way the world communicates - or to better describe it - does NOT communicate.

This is Sam Epstein. He is my first cousin, once removed, and he was born at 4:36 yesterday afternoon in Atlanta, Georgia. Within an hour and fifteen minutes, his father - my first cousin, Mike - had posted the news on his Facebook page, and within an hour of that, there were pictures posted of the baby and more than 20 "mazel tov" greetings on Mike's Facebook page. (There have been dozens more posted since then, along with more photos.)

Big deal, you say? E-mail has made all of that possible for years, you say? Yes, that is correct. But the beautiful thing about this happy experience is that it was shared simultaneously with friends and family, all connected from across the country, and all celebrating TOGETHER on one page on Facebook. A shared digital experience - one that no one needed directions to find.

What makes this even more special is that I was able to experience the moment with both of my sisters in Maryland, my aunt in Virginia, and three of my other first cousins (from three separate parents) in Florida, Chicago and South Carolina all at the same time. And these cousins (and aunt) are people who I usually see one day a year, on Thanksgiving - and that's assuming everyone shows up!

In the past couple of months, I have gradually added all of these relatives - and others - to my Facebook family, and I have suddenly discovered that I am getting to know them all much better than by merely seeing them one day a year. We have conversations on line. I am learning what they like and dislike - what they do in their spare time - what frustrates them at work - and what their real life goals and dreams are.

After I posted my latest "Random List" on Facebook, my cousin Sarah, who is about 18 years younger than me, wrote this response:

"John Matthews... it makes me sad that we weren't same generation cousins.... I guess we'll just have to make up for it now that we're both adults!"

Facebook is actually turning my "one day a year" family into an "everyday" family, without all of the accompanied dysfunctional crap that usually goes along with spending too much time with your relatives. (All of you relatives reading this - you know I mean it only in the most loving way!) I even have one relative who totally wigs out at speaking to other family members - who is now having chats with other family members!

If this is happening with my family - with people ranging in age from 25 to 60 - it is certainly happening everywhere else, too. And no matter how cynical you are (and few are more cynical than me!), how can it be a bad thing to get to know and love your loved ones a little more?

Mazel tov to Mike and Mom, Lenea... and to Grandma Susie and Grandad David! I'm happy to know I won't have to wait until next Thanksgiving to see how little "Sam-I-Am" is growing, because I - or I should say, the Matthews family - have Facebook to keep us up to date together!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

25 More Random Things - Another List!

Last week, I posted a list of 25 Random Things About Me. It's been the hottest time-waster du jour over at Facebook - so hot, in fact, that I have since produced a sequel! Enjoy!

1. I once interviewed Ben Affleck on the deck of an aircraft carrier in Hawaii, at the World Premiere of "Pearl Harbor", but my career highlight was covering Hurricane Floyd in 1999. I reported through the storm in Wilmington, NC, which was an adrenaline high, but then got caught while driving home, when high water closed I-95 - and I was stranded for three days!

2. I love my car - a 1997 Honda Civic that I bought new. It has 110,000 miles on it, and I aim to put another 100,000 on it, or perhaps give it to my son, who turns 16 in another year. The car has been paid off for 8 years and gets nearly 30 miles to the gallon. The only downside - no CD player - cassette only. Am I the only person left making mix tapes???

3. I plan to have my ashes scattered in the Seven Seas Lagoon at Walt Disney World. My wife meant it as a joke when she suggested it about 15 years ago, but I took her seriously. Now it's the plan. You're all invited!

4. I have really enjoyed reconnecting with so many people on Facebook. I've especially enjoyed trading daily banter with people who I largely knew only by name or by face back in high school, but whom I was not particularly friends with. I now regret not knowing you "back in the day". You know who you are!

5. Facebook, for me, is turning into "Six Degrees of Sue Raider-Kobren". Since joining Facebook, I have learned that Sue - who I went to Jr. high and high school with - worked as a teenager with a woman who I later hired at WMAL (Joan Doniger) and who has since become one of my closest friends. Sue and I have also learned - through Facebook - that our sons not only go to the same camp, but that they also were in "West Side Story" together at camp last summer!

6. My oldest friend (the oldest friend who I never fell out of contact with) is someone I met in my freshman year of college at Syracuse. We sang in choir together, and he introduced me to my future wife, who was his childhood friend. Jon was in our wedding, and is the Godfather of our oldest son. He also has a VERY cool life today. He's co-executive producer of "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit", and he's living the "life" in L.A.

7. You might have noticed by now - My brand of sarcastic humor sometimes crosses the obnoxious line. I regret when this happens.

8. As a result of number 7, I tend to care too much about pleasing people to compensate for being obnoxious - which, I suppose, is - in itself - obnoxious. Well - at least you've been warned!

9. There are a few people whose Facebook friendship requests I have ignored that I now regret ignoring, and I may just have to go back and "friend" them myself.

10. I love to vacation with my wife and kids, but I have been to Las Vegas alone several times and had a perfectly wonderful time all by myself!

11. With the exception of about 2 months in 1996, I have never worked a "9 to 5" schedule in my entire career, and the reason I stopped that "9 to 5" schedule in '96 was because I couldn't stand the traffic! For the most part, I've worked approximately 5 am - 2 pm, and I've loved it! No traffic, and the stores are empty when I get off work!

12. My relationship with my father is classic Harry Chapin. Just read the lyrics to "Cat and the Cradle", and you'll see what I mean. And I don't know how to fix it.

13. I was stopped once by a cop for speeding on the Big Island of Hawaii. When he looked at my license, he asked me what high school I went to, and I told him "Springbrook". He told me he went to "Richard Montgomery". Turns out Alex the Big Island cop was from Rockville. I did not get a ticket. LOVE that aloha spirit!

14. I enjoy planning vacations more than I enjoy going on them. I can be pretty obsessive. Last summer, before the missus and I went to Las Vegas, I managed to cut the cost of our rental car in half, simply by re-booking it 7 times in the last month before the trip. (There's a tip for future reference - always check on rental car prices, even after you've booked - they often fall!)

15. I used to take public education for granted until my wife became a school teacher. She works harder than anyone I know - and she spends hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars a year on her classroom for materials that neither the county nor the parents are paying for. You want to make your kids' teacher happy? Give her a Staples gift card!

16. I love Broadway musicals - and I'll go anywhere to see them! I saw a high school version of "Les Miz" last spring that knocked my socks off!

17. I don't consider myself to be particularly "green" or an environmentalist. I'm certainly NOT a vegan or vegetarian, and all of my shoes are leather. But I am, for some strange reason, anti-fur, much to my wife's occasional consternation. I just don't see, in this day and age with a big range of other attractive and warm materials available, the need to raise animals just so their fur can be harvested.

18. I spent about a year in high school being what was then commonly known as a "Jesus freak". I made new born-again friends, went to prayer meetings before school, went to Young Life meetings at night and tried to toe the line for Jesus. Ultimately, it didn't take, BUT it did do two vitally important things. First - it helped me cope with my mother's death. And second - it gave me a spiritual awareness and education that has stayed with me my entire life.

19. My "desert island" food is Ledo Pizza. My "desert island" movie is "Blazing Saddles". My desert island book is "The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook". I'm a pragmatist at heart.

20. Time to brag on my son, Brad. He is smart to a fault. He can get straight A's in school without trying, and that's his biggest downfall. The kid doesn't think he has to try, and he'll turn a slam dunk A into an almost-B because he'll ace the final exam, but forget to turn in half of his homework.

21. My Monopoly rules include keeping 500 bucks in the middle of the game board, to be won whenever someone lands on free parking.

22. Earlier this year, I discovered that the one cassette tape of music I owned from my college choir days had dissolved to mud. So I hunted down about 35 of my former college choirmates, launched a website for them, and invited them to send me their music. Now I have copies of every song I ever sang in college - and thanks to the website (, so do all of my choir friends!

23. I haven't really done it in several years, but one of my favorite summer pastimes is finding a spot on a boardwalk bench in Ocean City or Rehoboth, and watch people walk by. There's million stories on the boardwalk - most of them seemingly wrapped around teenage lust.

24. When I was in high school, I worked as an usher at the Roth Silver Spring theatre in downtown Silver Spring. It was the perfect high school job... Free movies, all the popcorn and soda you could down, and time between the shows to do homework! I also got about 15 of my friends jobs there - including at least a couple of my Facebook friends!

25. I've worked construction, I've covered hurricanes, and I've swept popcorn and soda off of rugs. But the hardest job I ever had was working at Hecht's in the domestics department. Standing on your feet and folding towels for hours on end is painful and tedious. And the after Thanksgiving sales? Fuggedaboudit!

This concludes this tour of the inside of my navel. My time is up. I thank you for yours!

This Just In! People Refuse To Pay Five Bucks For Coffee!

As I have mentioned previously, I have never understood the consumer's allure for Starbucks coffee. I like the taste of the stuff, and if my wife is buying, I will gladly enjoy a venti house coffee. But paying upwards of five dollars to turn a cup of coffee into what amounts to be a milk shake just simply never made any reasonable sense.

Now with the economy on the toilet. Starbucks is hitting on hard times... It closed hundreds of stores last year, and is now realizing that people have even less money for such foolishness now than they did before the holidays. So Starbucks is really pulling out the stops. From the Financial Times:

Starbucks is to close more stores, sell a newly delivered $45m corporate jet and cut headquarters staff and worker benefits as it battles a slump in sales that has tracked the broader collapse in global discretionary spending.

The coffee retailer said on Wednesday that it would shut 300 more “underperforming” locations – 100 of them outside the US – after a 9 per cent fall in comparable sales in the last three months of 2008. It announced a first wave of 600 US store closures last summer.

The move will result in about 6,000 job losses, while an additional 700 corporate and support jobs will also be cut – half of them at its Seattle headquarters.

Howard Schultz, chief executive, said that since early December the company had seen a far more rapidly deteriorating global economy than it had expected before the holidays.

“The data shows that by virtually all statistical measures the pace of weakening in the business environment and global economy we were anticipating has been accelerating,” he said.

Mr Schultz has asked for his salary to be cut to less than $10,000 – from more than $1.2m previously – and the company is selling two of its three corporate jets, including a Gulfstream 500 delivered in December.

US comparable stores sales fell 10 per cent during the quarter, as fewer customers spent less on their visits.

International comparable sales also turned negative for the first time, with the biggest slowdowns seen in the UK and Canada, its two largest international markets. Starbucks has about 670 company-owned stores in Britain, and around 7,000 in the US.

The company said that it was also further reducing its planned new store openings in 2009, with 140 new US stores, down from its previous target of 200, and 170 new international stores, down from a previous target of 270. It is also cutting back on plans for new licensed stores.

I wonder if we'll look back a few years from now and look at the days of gas guzzling SUVs and premium coffee shops and the other examples of our high-spending, high risk economy as the "good times", or as times of wretched excesses. Either way - just as our grandparents exercised thrift as survivors of the Great Depression, I think we will all think twice before we return to our spending habits of old.

(By the way, by belittling Starbucks, I do not ignore the human toll this is taking. I have a nephew who is a barista at Starbucks. I hope he survives the cuts!)

My Surprise School Reunion!

Note to "Life On The Beach" regulars - Today's entry is a bit of a departure from my normal fare. Instead of bitching about how the arrival of President Obama has done nothing so far to promote bipartisanship (it hasn't), or discussing the Postal Service's desire to go to five-day-a week delivery (a good idea), today I present an essay. It's part of a newly-launched writing project I'm doing with my high school friends on Facebook. Enjoy!

The date was September 8, 1993. I was at a pretty good place in life. I was the morning drive news reporter at WMAL and living in Silver Spring with my wife of three years, Robin. Robin and I had been living in our brand-new townhouse behind Leisure World for just under a year, and we were looking forward to the birth of our first child, who was due sometime around Thanksgiving. We were scheduled, in fact, to start Lamaze classes the following week.

Robin had a pretty rough day at work - not so much because of her job, per se, but because she just didn't feel good. Pregnancy did not agree with my wife. She never did quite get rid of her morning sickness, and she had been diagnosed with pregancy-onset diabetes, which meant she had to test her blood several times a day. Mama wasn't a happy mama! When Robin got home, she complained of feeling like she had to go to the bathroom, but that wasn't it. A call to the obstatrician confirmed that my seven-month-pregnant wife was likely in labor.

We took a drive over to Shady Grove Adventist Hospital to get Robin checked out, under the assumption that they would stop the labor and send her back home. But by the time we got to Shady Grove, it was too late to stop the baby. He or she was coming!

My brave wife allowed herself about 30 seconds of grief before she set her mind to the next task at hand - undergoing natural childbirth without a minute of training for it, We were taken to a private delivery room to await the unknown.

A couple of minutes later, a nurse came in, and introduced herself - "Hello, my name is Sue". I took one look at her, and smiled. "Susan Berenter! It's been a long time!" I had gone to school with Sue Berenter all the way from Kindergarten at Cresthaven through graduation at Springbrook. We had never been close friends, but you don't share schools with someone for 13 years without having at least some sort of bond.

As Sue and I quickly caught up on old times - what I was doing for a living, how long she'd been a nurse, etc., we heard a groan. Oh yes... Robin.

I introduced Sue to my wife, and Sue snapped instantly into professional mode. She did a great job of calming mother and father down, and giving us the five-cent Lamase "pant, pant, blow" course in about ten minutes. Then she went about doing what nurses do before a woman gives birth... Setting up warming trays and machines that go "BING" and all of that other good stuff - all the while encouraging Robin and keeping her calm.

I don't know if every childbirth goes like this, but it did for both of our kids. The nurse does everything until it's time for the Mom to push. Then - and only then - the doctor comes in and basically catches the baby. It was great having Sue as our delivery nurse, even if the reunion was in front of my wife's gaping ... uh, well... you know. It was comforting to me to have a familiar face in the room to help us in a situation we had not expected. And it was comforting to Robin to have someone who was so good at what she did. Sue was a real pro!

Bradley Philip Matthews was born at 1:49am on September 9, 1993 - two months premature, but at 4 pounds, 9 ounces and 18 inches in length, still quite big for his gestational age. Brad was in the hospital for two weeks and had to wear a breathing monitor for six months, but beyond that, he was a real trooper! And we have Susan Berenter to thank for that!

Thanks, Sue - Wherever you are!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ultimate Buzz Kill

For the first time ever, we have a guest blogger on "Life On The Beach". My WMAL protege, Jen Richer, who launched me into the blogosphere, wrote this entry for her excellent blog, Wahine Report, and I'm stealing it because I endorse its sentiment completely! Enjoy!

Will someone explain decaf to me? No's hard for an addict to understand why you would waste a perfectly good what's the point?

Apparently you no-caffers are going to throw a temper tantrum with this new development from the Coffee Kings and I can't imagine what level of rioting to expect, but I can't imagine it to be a very energetic one.

Starbucks Ditches Decaf

(Seattle, WA) -- Starbucks is ditching decaf in an effort to save money. The cash-strapped company brews fresh pots of coffee every 30 minutes and was apparently pouring a lot of decaf down the drain. As of noon today, customers who want to have "coffee without coffee" will have to special order their custom cup of java and it'll be fresh brewed just for them. Bloomberg news says Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is trying to save 400-million-dollars by September in labor and product expenses. Part of that plan includes brewing smaller pots of coffee so there's less waste.

About a month ago, Linds and I bought the Costco size bag of Dunkin' Donuts coffee grounds and I have to say I have been completely spoiled. The coffee is amazing and as a caffeine addict I know my beans.

In an effort to save money, I bought over the weekend the Costco size Maxwell House and let me tell you, it was anything but 'good to the last drop.'

Regardless, I downed it so I could function at 5 this morning at the station to help with the weather closings, but that baby is headed right back to be exchanged for the yummie stuff.

So I have to ask, why would anyone drink decaf? It's not for the taste or connoisseurship. Decaffeinated beans are regular coffee beans that have been processed and stripped of their caffeine, but with it go some of the chemicals that contribute to aroma and flavor.

Wikipedia: The process is usually performed on unroasted (green) beans, and starts with steaming of the beans. They are then rinsed in solvent that contains as much of the chemical composition of coffee as possible without also containing the caffeine in a soluble form. The process is repeated anywhere from 8 to 12 times until it meets either the international standard of having removed 97% of the caffeine in the beans or the EU standard of having the beans 99.9% caffeine free by mass. Coffee contains over 400 chemicals important to the taste and aroma of the final drink; this effectively means that no physical process or chemical reaction will remove only caffeine while leaving the other chemicals at their original concentrations.

And, you obviously aren't drinking it for the side effect of a nice energy jolt. Is it for it's temperature or texture? If so, why wouldn't you opt for a tasty bev like cocoa?

Not like this affects me personally, but since you're reading this, you are going to get my opinion anyway: I think it may time to grow up and grab a real cup o' joe folks.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Obama Goes MAD!

Take a gander at the latest cover of MAD Magazine... I'd say they captured the climate pretty well!

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Childhood Memory...

Did you ever have a favorite movie or tv show that you watched as a family when you were growing up? Perhaps there was a record or a comedy sketch that tickled your family's collective funny bone in such a way that it became a family favorite- one that might not reverberate outside of your own house.

I ran across something on the internet today that was just such a family treasure in my youth... A song from an old 1966 comedy album of my mother's called "When You're In Love, The Whole World Is Jewish". Now, this album had an ensemble cast of mostly Jewish comics, including Phil Leeds, Lou Jacobi and a very young Valerie Harper - better known as TV's "Rhoda". It was largely a collection of skits featuring Jewish jokes.

How my parents came to own this album is beyond me, because my Dad was a hillbilly from Ohio and my Mom was from God-forsaken Indiana, and I'm pretty sure neither of them had ever met a Jew before they moved to the DC area in 1962... but I digress.

The biggest hit on this album was a song by Frank Gallop called "The Ballad of Irving". Irving was a Jewish gunslinger - "the 142nd fastest gun in the west" - and this song tells his tale. Please indulge me and listen to the song. Pay no attention at all to the video - it's lousy and will only distract you.

The song itself is full of Jewish stereotypes and would not come close to passing the political correctness sniff test in 2009. However, it still packs a few good chuckles, and, for me, brings back memories of childhood... Laughing my arse off with my hip Mom over jokes that I would not fully get until I was an adult married to a Jewish princess of my own!

And So It Begins...

I really don't want my blog to become a political wasteland, but the news of the day dictates that I respond to President Obama's lashing out against Rush Limbaugh. From the New York Post:

President Obama warned Republicans on Capitol Hill today that they need to quit listening to radio king Rush Limbaugh if they want to get along with Democrats and the new administration.

"You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done," he told top GOP leaders, whom he had invited to the White House to discuss his nearly $1 trillion stimulus package.

One White House official confirmed the comment but said he was simply trying to make a larger point about bipartisan efforts.

"There are big things that unify Republicans and Democrats," the official said. "We shouldn't let partisan politics derail what are very important things that need to get done."

President Obama is correct in his sentiments, but I hope he did not just make a giant political blunder. When I was a kid getting picked on on the school playground, the best advice I ever received from my parents and teachers was to ignore my enemies - because they only thing they were interested in was getting me to react to their taunts. Well, now that Obama has reacted to Rush, he's given Limbaugh enough material to last until April Fools Day!

Instead of encouraging bipartisan spirit, I fear the President may have inadverently damaged it. Remember - Rush Limbaugh (and other talk hosts, including liberals) has no interest in playing nice with the President and Congress. Divisiveness is the coin of the realm in talk radio. Here's the take from radio industry analyst Tom Taylor in his column at

Barack Obama’s already challenging Rush Limbaugh by name.

A tricky game – and one that Rush probably can’t lose at. He’s getting that “made you look!” kind of attention that he and his base dearly love. While new President Obama will have to do this very delicately, to make it clear to most Americans that he’s talking about Limbaugh’s old-style partisanship and its receding relevance. Otherwise – Obama could get mired in the same-old “vast right-wing conspiracy” riff that made Hillary Clinton an object of hilarity among movement conservatives. But Obama’s clearly thought about it and on his third full day in office he advised Republicans that they “can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done” with the new administration. Of course Rush doesn’t want to “get along” – he wants to throw rocks at the White House.

Of course, I discussed all of this last week, before the President made his remarks... Hey, somebody ought hire that guy!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The List

I have been a big fan of Facebook since I first signed onto it last spring. It is an incredible social media tool that honestly, I don't think anyone could have fathomed even 6 or 7 years ago... By signing up and using the Facebook search engine, you can find virtually every person you've ever known - as long as they've signed up as well.

I would imagine Facebook has different uses and meanings for different ages. My son and his friends mostly use their FB pages to complain about school or to share stupid pictures they've taken on their cell phones. For my generation - or at least my own social circle, it has become an almost never-ending elementary school-through-college reunion... and the party never stops because new "old friends" are constantly finding the party and signing up! Suffice it to say that if you want to forget your past, DON'T sign up for Facebook!

The hottest latest thing on Facebook that is spreading like wildfire is what is known as the "25 Random Things About Me" list. Users are encouraged - by their own friends - to come up with a list of 25 random things about themselves and to post it to Facebook for all the world to see. Interestingly, you might be surprised how reflectful and honest people are about their own lives.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that my life is a relatively open book, so I'm going to post my list here. Enjoy!

1. I dated my wife off and on (mostly off) for 8 years before she finally took me seriously. I had previously been guilty of not being Jewish, but when Robin got burned badly by a Jewish boyfriend, my future mother-in-law told her she'd rather see her happy with me than unhappy with someone Jewish. 19 years of marriage later, the rest is history.

2. I almost always have a song bouncing around in my head.

3. My favorite part-time job of all time - department store Santa! Syracuse, New York - Xmas, 1981

4. I always split Aces and Eights. Always.

5. Both of my sons have a mild form of autism, called Aspergers Syndrome. That only makes them more interesting people - the older one is a brainiac, and the younger one takes after Dad... He's a ham!

6. I have three Tivos - Excessive? Yes. But it also makes for a peaceful home.

7. My job was eliminated last March, after 25 years with one company.

8. If I had not lost my job, I never would have started a blog, which is one of the most cathartic things I've ever done. I never would have learned how to build my own website. (I now have two of them), and I would never have taken the time to join Facebook.

9. I have been to Walt Disney World 52 times, and to Disneyland at least 20 times.

10. I would like to find a choir to join.

11. I wish I had the attention span I had 20 years ago.

12. I tend to ignore problems and hope they go away, but they never do, dammit!

13. I wish people didn't get so angry at each other - or judge each other - over politics.

14. I have the hots for Kate Winslet. And my wife says she's OK with that. And that makes me love my wife even more.

15. In a similar vein, I have always maintained that if Robert Redford wanted to bed my wife and give us two million dollars like he did to Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson in "Indecent Proposal", I'd happily oblige - and so would she!

16. I wish I was smarter about investing money.

17. I know "Gopher" from "The Love Boat" on a first-name basis. Now THAT'S random!

18. I once accepted a news award on a nationally-televised broadcast.

19. I share a birthday (August 9) with Richard Nixon's resignation, the atom bomb drop on Nagasaki and the second set of Manson murders!

20. My mother died when I was a junior in high school. If I knew then what I know now, I would have gone to see a shrink.

21. I fear that the radio industry, which is the only industry I've ever worked in and ever WANTED to work in, is dead.

22. My first on-air "radio" job was hosting "On Key", a show that Walter Gottlieb and I did over the P.A. system in 9th grade at Key Jr. High School.

23. My boyhood heroes were Elliot and Woodside, the morning team on WPGC. By the time I made it to WMAL, they were working at Q107, and they were among the very first people I met!

24. I am world renowned for my chili recipe... Or at least renowned among my friends.

25. For a guy my size, I can't hold my liquor worth a damn. Two beers, and I'm toast.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

LOST And The Art Of DVR Etiquette!

Season five of LOST (the best show on TV) debuted last night on ABC, and I devoured it eagerly! It was virtually the first new thing on my TiVo since the middle of December when the first half of the TV season dried up for the holidays.

The season premiere was a 2-hour event packed full of new twists and turns, and I would love to tell you all about it, but I have already been waved off by some of my Facebook friends who have yet to watch it. Here's how the exchange went, starting with my status update:

John is still trying to wrap his head around last night's episode of LOST! 7:07am

Claire Meyerhoff at 7:28am January 22
Do not say another word! It's on my DVR and I haven't seen it yet!

John Matthews at 7:32am January 22
Claire - I'm not doing any spoilers this morning, but if you want to avoid them, I'd log off NOW. This place is rife with LOST fans!

Ann Wog at 7:32am January 22
SAME HERE!!!!!!!!!

John Matthews at 7:32am January 22
Is it a spoiler to say it was GREAT, by the way?

Claire Meyerhoff at 7:36am January 22
I'm going to watch it with my coffee instead of watching Morning Joe!

Don't worry, folks - I am not going to spoil anyone's day just yet, but it kind of makes me chuckle over how the fast-changing digital world we live in today has really changed the way things are done.

Back in the day, TV shows were the top watercooler topic at school and in the office... People couldn't wait to get to work to share thoughts about what happened on their favorite shows the night before. Now, it's the exact opposite... Someone will want to strike up a conversation about LOST or "American Idol", and they'll be stopped dead in their tracks by someone who has the show waiting for them on their DVR at home!

So now, there is apparently an embargo on discussing anything on television... I know this has been a point of contention in talk radio, where the hosts need to be current and timely - especially in morning drive. How can these hosts wait an extra day to discuss what was on TV the night before? The thing is - they can't! So if you missed last night's TV show, you need to miss this morning's radio program and stick to the ipod. Bad business for radio!

So how long is the appropriate chat ban on a popular TV program? I would think that it's certainly no longer than 24 hours, though your mileage may vary.

Ironically, just as we're building this "24-hour" delay into the social fabric, our world of social media has completely erased the concept of waiting to strike up a conversation with friends. Why wait until the next morning when you can text your reaction to a friend tonight, or get on Facebook and post your reaction on your wall?

Because you'll get messages from your time-shifting TV watching friends telling you to shut up, that's why!

So I won't chat what happened on LOST last night, but I will play a cool clip from the episode. Click on it at your peril! And buy a TiVo - the greatest invention EVER!

An Obam-ulligan!

President Obama took a mulligan and re-did the oath with Chief Justice John Roberts. Oddly enough, he was not the first president to do this for flubbing a line! Read on:

WASHINGTON – After the flub heard around the world, President Barack Obama has taken the oath of office. Again. Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the oath to Obama on Wednesday night at the White House — a rare do-over. The surprise moment came in response to Tuesday's much-noticed stumble, when Roberts got the words of the oath a little off, which prompted Obama to do so, too.

Don't worry, the White House says: Obama has still been president since noon on Inauguration Day.

Nevertheless, Obama and Roberts went through the drill again out of what White House counsel Greg Craig called "an abundance of caution."

This time, the scene was the White House Map Room in front of a small group of reporters, not the Capitol platform before the whole watching world.

"We decided that because it was so much fun ...," Obama joked to reporters who followed press secretary Robert Gibbs into the room. No TV camera crews or news photographers were allowed in. A few of Obama's closest aides were there, along with a White House photographer.
Roberts put on his black robe.

"Are you ready to take the oath?" he said.

"Yes, I am," Obama said. "And we're going to do it very slowly."

Roberts then led Obama through the oath without any missteps.

The president said he did not have his Bible with him, but that the oath was binding anyway.
The original, bungled version on Tuesday caught observers by surprise and then got replayed on cable news shows.

The Constitution is clear about the exact wording of the oath and as a result, some constitutional experts have said that a do-over probably wasn't necessary but also couldn't hurt. Two other previous presidents have repeated the oath because of similar issues, Calvin Coolidge and Chester A. Arthur.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

...And One More Thing!

Following up on my previous post in which I chided the Democrats who mocked President Bush as he took his seat at the Inauguration...

It was no less disgraceful that Rush Limbaugh mocked the incoming President as he made sarcastic comments while speaking over the inauguration ceremony yesterday, an action that was, in itself, an insult. I think Limbaugh has been an important part of the American political landscape, but I also firmly believe that this nation has come to a point where we need collegiality, not divisiveness, to move forward.

It would be difficult (and counter-productive) to point the finger of blame at any one group or industry for bringing the talk radio/TV business to where it is today, but I am really starting to think it is harming us as a nation. Corporations are making a lot of money by asking Americans to essentially choose sides - to ask the question "Are you for us, or against us?" at a time when we really all need to be in this mess together.

You can blame Rush, but he's not alone, and conservatives are not alone to blame. Chris Matthews and Bill Press and Al Franken and Keith Olbermann are just as divisive as Sean Hannity and Michael Savage and any other conservative talker you can name.

As I write this, we are less than 24 hours into a new administration, and I have already seen and heard more than enough gloating and griping to last for the next four years!

This is no doubt the most idealistic thing that this cynic will ever write, but for once, I wish we could all choose to follow the lead of our friends in Howard County, Maryland, who are becoming well known for posting this sticker on their bumpers:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day Madness Update!

Just to follow up on my previous post... I spent Inauguration Day in a news-editing bubble at the ABC News bureau in downtown DC- far isolated from the huge, freezing maddening crowds, but at the same time, hearing intimately from people who traveled far and wide to get to Washington - all for the opportunity to stand for several hours with strangers in the bitter cold and to see an African American man become president. I recorded, and then edited these peoples' stories into soundbites. And the stories I heard changed my perspective - a bit.

I am pretty cynical by nature - I voted for Obama, but never felt the glow that many others apparently did. And while I am still wary of him as I am with any politician, I could not help but be touched by the stories I heard from people who felt the need to be there.

I edited the story of a 70-year-old Louisiana woman who used to drink from a colored-only water fountain... a young woman from North Carolina whose father was the second black player ever to play football at the University of Oklahoma... and another woman who received her education in segregated schools in Huntsville, Alabama. These are people who have seen a world of change in their own life times - like going from the Wright Brothers to landing on the Moon - but at a much faster clip!

I heard from a woman who was watching CNN in her home in Columbus, Ohio last night when she decided she HAD to be in Washington for the inauguration. So she and two friends hopped in the car at 9:45 pm, and drove all night to make it to the Mall. I edited people who flew in from California and Las Vegas - and from a family who crammed 12 people into an RV to make the pilgrimage from Florida. Their dedication to being a part of history was touching and admirable.

As for me - I drove away from Inauguration day with a far better commute than I had any right to expect. After facing unexpected detours in the morning, I flew out of town in the afternoon. We had been warned to avoid driving, and to take Metro, but I made it home - from 17th and K to Olney - in 50 minutes. If I had taken the subway, I might still be on the train!

I am thankful to be done now with the Inaugural hoopla - and I suspect the rest of Washington is as well. Thank goodness this day only comes once every four years!

I do have one small rant to close with. For a world that has supposedly changed - one that strives to embrace brotherhood and a new commitment of acceptance - I think we still have to work on growing up a bit. The way President Bush was treated by the crowd at the Capitol upon his introduction was shameful and immature. The crowd of invited guests - the well-monied, well-respected folks - booed and taunted Mr. Bush with choruses of "Na Na, Hey Hey Goodbye". That disrespects not only Mr. Bush, but also the office he held - the same office President Obama holds today.

If Mr. Obama is to be successful, he will have to find a way to rid the nation of its polarized ways. This little display certainly sent a message that there is still quite a lot of work to do.

And now... onto the hard part! Good luck, President Obama!

Inauguration Day Madness!

"Life On The Beach" comes to you on this Inauguration Day from the ABC News bureau in NW Washington... just a few blocks north of the White House. I'm writing this post at 5 am, and I only have time to write because I got to work an hour and a half early today - that's how paranoid I was about getting here.

I chose to drive to work because I loathe Metro even on a good day - and it appears that was a good decision because even at 5 am, the reports coming in are that folks are packed in like sardines on the trains!

My drive down Connecticut Avenue was uneventful for the most part, although the traffic volume was probably 10 times the normal load for 4 in the morning. On a day like this, though, you have to be ready for anything, and in fact, I got to within a half-mile of work, and the road suddenly closed. Now, I had been studying maps and websites and the Washington Post for weeks in preparation for today, and there was no mention of this road closing... Fortunately - and for no discernable reason - I was able to divert around through Dupont Circle and get back onto Connecticut Avenue - which kinda defeats the purpose of closing it in the first place!

As I got down to the area near ABC - just at the northern edge of the security "green zone", the energy was palpable... First of all, the sidewalks were full of people - Some were heading towards the Mall, but more of them were in evening clothes - still heading home after a late night of pre-inauguration partying! It was manna from heaven for cab drivers, who were zigzagging across the street to pick up fares, cutting off any traffic that got in their way... Add cop cars firing their sirens and lights every few seconds, and it got to be quite jarring for those of us trying to detour our way to the office before the SH** really hit the fan!

I realize as I write this that I've really written very little of substance on this inauguration day... but it helps to burn off some of the adrenaline that got me out of bed early and down here before the maddening crowds... Let's hope the rest of the day goes smoothly!

Friday, January 16, 2009

In The Tank For Obama

President Obama is going to have a lot of sh** on his plate as he assumes the Presidency... wars on two fronts, a huge political payback expected from his own party, and worst of all, of course, a crippled economy. But one big advantage Mr. Obama will have, at least at the start, is the comfort of knowing he will have the news media fawning over his every move.

You think this is easy for me to write? I spent 20 years taking calls from angry WMAL listeners accusing us of being biased - usually to the left. I always thought the notion was absurd - that the media was more more interested in throwing light on a story than caring which political party was exposed by that light. But times - at least from my current viewpoint - have changed.

Perhaps it's just the pretense of objectivity that has been dumped. Fox News has been accused of being a conservative think tank for years, but I think it took MSNBC's glaring and deliberate lack of objectivity during the 2008 presidential campaign to really show where the media has gone. Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann not only showed their political stripes - they essentially dared anyone to challenge their right to do so. MSNBC at one point stopped using the pair as "anchors", and relabeled them as "commentators", but that pretense was dropped by last night, when Olbermann was back in the anchor chair for the President's speech.

But cable TV news is one thing... Now the Washington Post has basically thrown in the towel. Yes - it's making an effort to feign neutrality in the "A" section... But just take a stroll back to the Style section, where they are giddy with both the arrival of Obama, and the departure of Bush. TV critic Tom Shales could barely contain his glee at the President's farewell speech:

A President's Parting Words: Convincing, at Least, to Himself
By Tom Shales

Friday, January 16, 2009; C01

Only his remaining ardent supporters would probably classify last night's TV appearance by President Bush as reality television. On the other hand, detractors -- a sizable group, judging by popularity polls -- would likely say George W. Bush's farewell to the nation, delivered from the East Room of the White House, had the aura of delusion and denial.

You can read Shales' entire column here. You'll see him give credence to Mssrs. Olbermann and Matthews, and make the argument that the speech may have been Mr. Bush's best, if only because it was his last.

Lest you think this was an isolated case - just take a look at what happened when President-elect Obama paid a visit to the Post yesterday for an interview with the paper's editorial staff - Here's the pool account by NY Times reporter Helene Cooper:

After three and a half hours at his transition office, PEOTUS obama took another 6 minute ride through washington, arriving at 157 pm at the nondescript soviet-style building at 15th and L street that houses the washington post.

Around 100 people--Post reporters perhaps?--awaited PEOTUS's arrival, cheering and bobbing their coffee cups.

Pool is holding in a van outside, while Mr obama does his washington post interview, and will exercise enormous restraint by ending report before saying what really thinks about this turn of events.

Staffers at the Post were defensive about that description of Mr. Obama's visit, but they didn't really try to deny their revelry, either.

Look - call me idealistic if you wish, but I earned my journalistic chops in an environment where it was pounded into me that a reporter does not take sides in a story.... They instead report the story, and leave it to the reader/listener/viewer to interpret the news. The line has been getting more blurred as the years have gone by, and I fear it has simply melted away at this point.

At one time - even within the span of my career - money was largely a non-issue within a newsroom. Reporters and editors had the freedom to hone their craft without the pressure of having to worry about where the revenue was coming from. There was a tall wall between the accounting and news departments. That wall has long since come tumbling down, and now I fear news organizations are feeling the pressure to give the audience what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear, lest they take their business elsewhere.

I have no reason to believe President Obama will be anything less than an excellent Commander-in-chief. But when and if the sh** hits the fan in the administration, how do we know we'll get the real story from a news media that can't objectively cover the President? Who's going to be the first reporter to break away from the pack? And what will he/she do when his/her membership card in the "Cool Kids Club" is revoked?

I used to swear that this kind of "Mainstream media" bias did not exist.

Now I worry that the fourth estate has gone to foreclosure.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thanks, Mr. Rourke!

Ricardo Montalban is dead at the age of 88. Sure, his legacy role as an actor was as the keeper of "Fantasy Island", but I prefer to recall two other significant parts played by the hunky hispanic... The man could sure sell a car!

And has there ever been ham-to-ham combat seen on the silver screen to match Montalban vs. Shatner in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"? (Apologies - I couldn't find a better clip of this signature scene on youtube!)

Adios y gracias, Sr. Montalban!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sharpen Your Arrows...

...because I'm about to say something nice about President Bush. That's not an easy thing to do in most circles these days. Mr. Bush has been the designated blamee for everything that's gone wrong in this country - especially in the past three years or so. There is a certain level of peer expectation - even among some conservatives - that President Bush is to be summarily dismissed as a Chief Executive.

While his policies are indeed responsible for some of our pain, they certainly are not responsible for all of it - especially on the economic front, despite my mother-in-law's assertions to the contrary.

In the end, history will decide how Dubya did in the White House, but I do want to give him kudos for one thing. George W. Bush managed to hold his head high and bring a certain level of decorum - and maturity - to his Presidency by refusing to respond to the myriad of potshots thrown his way... something his predecessor struggled with a lot. Mr. Bush discussed his philosophy on name-calling with Larry King.

If President Obama takes nothing else as a lesson from President Bush, he would do well to follow this example.

Pizza You Can Believe In!

The inauguration week craziness continues! I showed you a few days ago that local supermarkets are working it hard to get folks to party on for the inauguration... Now, local pizza places are working it, too! I received this e-mail from Ledo this morning!

For those of you who are not in the DC area, the inauguration may not be a big honking deal - at least in terms of being a holiday. But around the DC area, more than 400,000 federal workers have the day off, along with most private businesses in downtown DC and virtually every school district in the area. So local businesses are saying "Yes We Can" to every opportunity to make a buck!

Shoutouts From The Beach!

You never know who's reading your stuff online, and it's surprising to find out on occasion that some of your readers are complete strangers!

Our friends, the Wykoffs, were over at our house the other night, and the better half, Wendy, told me within the course of one sentence, that she hates blogs (Thanks, Wendy!), and that her friend, Lisa, is a "Life On The Beach" regular! This is pretty interesting, because Wendy's husband, Scott, is a daily blogger at WBAL Radio. Wendy says she never reads his blog... and I guess it's a marital thing because my wife never reads my blog, either!

In any case... Lisa - thanks for reading! You probably know more about me than any stranger on Earth!

I also receive comments from time to time on my blog entries from readers who I may or may not know... These are people who use aliases, and I have no idea how they found my blog! So, "ecrunner", "myronblock", "Daffernia" and "James", among others, thanks for taking the time for reading my blather from the beach!

Some of you people may enjoy what you read - others may think I'm full of sh**. Don't worry about offending me, because no one knows better than me how full of sh** I am!

Becoming a blogger has been, by far, the best byproduct of losing my job last year. It has given me a reason to keep my nose in the news and to get up in the morning... and as someone whose career has been devoted to keeping an audience, it's been nice to develop an audience of my own.

I know other bloggers who write purely for themselves, and I can understand that catharsis... But I have an ego to be fed and rants to be made! And I appreciate the fact that you lend me your ears - or rather, your EYES - on a semi-regular basis! Thank you!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'm Still California Dreamin'!

The Associated Press is running an article offering the premise that the shine has worn off of California. Here's an excerpt:

The number of people leaving California for another state outstripped the number moving in from another state during the year ending on July 1, 2008. California lost a net total of 144,000 people during that period — more than any other state, according to census estimates. That is about equal to the population of Syracuse, N.Y.

The state with the next-highest net loss through migration between states was New York, which lost just over 126,000 residents.

California's loss is extremely small in a state of 38 million. And, in fact, the state's population continues to increase overall because of births and immigration, legal and illegal. But it is the fourth consecutive year that more residents decamped from California for other states than arrived here from within the U.S.

A losing streak that long hasn't happened in California since the recession of the early 1990s, when departures outstripped arrivals from other states by 362,000 in 1994 alone.

In part because of the boom in population in other Western states, California could lose a congressional seat for the first time in its history.

Why are so many looking for an exit?

Among other things: California's unemployment rate hit 8.4 percent in November, the third-highest in the nation, and it is expected to get worse. A record 236,000 foreclosures are projected for 2008, more than the prior nine years combined, according to research firm MDA DataQuick. Personal income was about flat last year.

With state government facing a $41.6 billion budget hole over 18 months, residents are bracing for higher taxes, cuts in education and postponed tax rebates. A multibillion-dollar plan to remake downtown Los Angeles has stalled, and office vacancy rates there and in San Diego and San Jose surpass the 10.2 percent national average.

Median housing prices have nose-dived one-third from a 2006 peak, but many homes are still out of reach for middle-class families. Some small towns are on the brink of bankruptcy. Normally recession-proof Hollywood has been hit by layoffs.

All of this bad news only puts California more out of reach for me, which really just makes California more of a dream. We visit California as often as possible - one of my best friends lives there, just north of Los Angeles. We have been out to visit probably a half-dozen times in the summer, when the weather is 50 percent drier and 10 degrees cooler than it is in the Mid-Atlantic.

We love that there is so much to do within an hour's drive... That Disneyland and Mexico and San Diego and even Las Vegas are nearby. San Francisco is a day-long drive, but the drive back down the coast is incredible, and you get Hearst Castle as a bonus. Monterey. Carmel. The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obsipo is the funkiest motel in the world. Every room has a different design, and the men's room has a waterfall for a urinal! You can go to the grocery store there and see a TV show being filmed in the parking lot! And perhaps most alluring of all... California is halfway to Hawaii, making an expensive and difficult trip less expensive and less difficult!

Yes, I suppose these are all things that are not essential to enjoying a quality life, and I suppose California has crushing problems that I choose to ignore, including that it's the only place in America where traffic is worse than it is where I live now. Schools are bad. Immigration, illegal and otherwise, creates an unbelievable burden on public resources. There are earthquakes and mudslides and wildfires and droughts.

I also personally know people who have been chewed up and spit out by California. My friend, Jen, loves her hometown of San Diego, but is now proud to call herself a Washingtonian(Admittedly- part of the reason Jen loves DC is that she left her family on that other coast!). I once lost an employee to California, but when I offered her her old job back a year later, she took it gladly. Even my good friend Jon, who is literally living the Hollywood dream life - swimming pools and movie stars - says he misses the fact that all of his friends and family live 3,000 miles away.

But thank goodness for the hardships that make California a difficult place to live. If it was easy to make a go of it there, then no one would want to go. For me, the sounds of the Mamas and Papas and the Beach Boys will continue to drum around in the back of my head... and I'll continue my California Dreamin'!

Monday, January 12, 2009

(Kate Winslet's) Golden Globes!

Awards season is upon us, and normally I don't really care all that much because I rarely get out to the movies, but as previously mentioned, I am now getting advance copies of most of the awards contenders, and I've noticed these awards show are actually much more interesting when I know what's going on!

Just a couple of things to mention here from last night's Golden Globes...

    A big hurray for Kate Winslet winning both Best Actress for "Revolutionary Road" and Best Supporting Actress for "The Reader". Winslet is this generation's Meryl Streep - simply the best actress working today, bar none. Plus, I've had a giant crush on/obsession with her since "Titanic". "The Reader" was an excellent film, and I highly recommend it... I still have not seen "Revolutionary Road", but with Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, how can it go wrong?

    It's clear that "Slumdog Millionaire" is the can't-go-wrong choice for 2009... It swept all four categories it was nominated for, including Best Drama. I did enjoy "Slumdog", but I have to tell you - it reminded me a lot of "Sideways", which was the hot film during its own awards cycle a few years back. "Sideways" was a nice light comedy - a good rental, but otherwise a formulaic movie that really did nothing to advance the art of filmmaking. In other words, it was way overrated. So is "Slumdog Millionaire", in my opinion. This rags-to-riches tale of an Indian street rat winning the grand prize on the Mumbai version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" was fun, but completely predictable.

"30 Rock", "Mad Men" and "John Adams" won the big TV awards - No surprise there - all three are fabulous in their own right.

Did I mention Kate Winslet and her twin globes?

Obama's Already Helping The Economy!

Ever since Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday became a national holiday, I've been waiting for Mattress Discounters to hold an "I Have A Dream" sale, featuring bed frames that are "Free at last" with every mattress purchase... Tacky? Yes, but it seems like a natural fit.... a better one at least than tying King's birthday to one of those department store "white sales" that are normally held in January.

Well, while I guess we can be thankful that there is still some sensitivity and decorum when it comes to recognizing the late civil rights leader, I can now report that there is no such sensitivity when it comes to the inauguration of our first African-American president!

This is the top half of a full page ad that was in Sunday's Washington Post. Giant Food helpfully points out that the "West Wing Platter" is also known as "Wings of Plenty". And don't forget to use your Giant Bonus Card to get back even more "Change you can believe in"!

Oh - and because it's not a party without inauguration swag - well, Giant has you covered there, too!

I wonder whether, in this spirit of cooperation, Giant Food could help me find a way to work on Inauguration day. ABC News has called, and I am expected downtown at 6 am! Metro will be jammed, and the roads will be closed! Maybe if I just sent them a "West Wing" platter, I could stay home and call it a day!

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Note From A "Nattering Nabob" About Spiro Agnew

Before the election, I posted an entry that discussed my childhood memories of Spiro T. Agnew, the former Vice President and Maryland Governor who resigned about a year before Richard Nixon in a bribery scandal. Agnew was basically a small-time crook who for some unknown reason (no doubt involving bribes) was able to ascend to a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Anyway - at the time I posted my Agnew story, I did not have a photograph of him with my parents... But thanks to my sister Jill, who never throws anything away, here are my parents, Jack and Linda Matthews, with Spiro T. ("call me Ted") Agnew and his wife Judy.

How cool is this? My Dad has been involved in real estate his entire career, and he's told me stories (though none specifically about Agnew) that basically, back in the day, builders would routinely include bribes in their construction budgets. You'd have a line for lumber, one for concrete, one for nails, and one for bribes for the building inspectors and politicians who made sure you received the zoning exception that you needed.

I guess this was just regular business for ol' Ted Agnew... Guess my Dad knows what Rod Blagojevich's constituents are going through, huh?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Thanks, Fred (The Other Fred)!

I guess this is the week for actors-turned-politicians named Fred to appear with me on the beach! Earlier, we visited Fred Grandy. Today, we hear from Fred Thompson. The former Tennessee Republican Senator was not much of a Presidential candidate... Frankly, I don't think he was really all that interested in being President.

Still, when you mix Thompson's camera presence, political knowledge and southern drawl, he has a great way of explaining what a stinking mess our economy is in... This video is a little long, but give it a spin anyway... We have no one to blame but ourselves... Thanks, Fred!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Thanks, Fred!

I'd like to thank former Gopher and former Member of Congress - WMAL morning host Fred Grandy - for coming down with the flu! Thanks to Fred's kindness (and germ sensitivity), I have been hired to work the rest of the week as a fill-in writer/news anchor. Such is the life of a freelance radio guy in this economy! We get to eat when others start barfing!

As such, with this new unexpected early morning workload, you can expect my blog to be a little leaner than usual this week, filled with useless fluff like this - A 2001 clip of largely-unknown Illinois State Senator Barack Obama giving his personal review of a restaurant on Public Access TV!

Oh - and for anyone interested, you can hear me anchoring the rest of this week at 9:02, 10:02 and 11:02 am on 630 WMAL!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Want Obama To Succeed? Don't Idolize Him!

Barack Obama will not be sworn in for another 15 days, but the Obamapalooza is already in full swing here in Washington, where the soon-to-be first family arrived in town over the weekend. For the next 10 days, they will be living at the Hay-Adams hotel, just across Lafayette Park from the White House, and tourists have been lining up in hopes (mostly vain hopes, as it turns out) they will catch a glimpse of the Obamas.

Just read this rather breathless account from the Washington Post:

Just off the lobby at the Hay-Adams, where a lavish $65-a-plate Sunday brunch was underway, almost none of the well-dressed diners mentioned Obama or his family already ensconced in a suite upstairs.

Don't let the cool demeanors fool you, though, said one diner. "That's what everyone's thinking about even if they don't say it," Terrance Mason said later, a safe distance from the elegant dining room. "Just to be in the same building, to be breathing the same air. It's amazing."

Since moving to the District in 1999, Mason has run into the country's three most recent presidents. So with his 40th birthday coming up yesterday, Mason made reservations at the hotel's restaurant. What better way to celebrate than to go four for four?

Even before Obama's arrival, Mason noted, the 44th president had already made his mark on the city, or at least in the dining room of the Hay-Adams.
"I come here every couple months," Mason said. "I've never seen so many fellow African Americans up there before. He's already shaking things up, you know what I mean?"

A few tables away, one local family said they were so desperate for a glimpse of the future first family that the father had reserved a table for the brunch. So, decked out in their Sunday best, Jabreel Hampton and his wife and children slowly sipped their drinks, snapped photos and prayed that Michelle Obama or one of her daughters would somehow see their table and join in their mid-morning meal.

"I was thinking, 'They got to eat,' " said Hampton, of Damascus.

But instead, his family spent most of brunch nervously working out -- in vain, it turns out -- what they would say to the famous family.

"We love you," his wife suggested.

"We're glad that you're the president," his 8-year-old daughter offered.

It's not clear how close the Hamptons and other supporters will get to the Obama family in coming days and weeks, nor how much the Obamas will see of their newly adopted city.

By last night, when Obama's black limo pulled up to the hotel about 7:30 p.m., his new home had been transformed into a secured fortress. Steel barricades lined the sidewalks. Dual layers of concrete barriers cut off all paths to the hotel. All weekend, the hotel wouldn't even confirm that the Obamas would be guests. The most a spokesman would say was that its suites offered "an especially good view in the wintertime of the White House."

When the motorcade finally passed by, some in the crowd claimed that they spotted the president-elect, clad in a navy suit and blue tie, through the limo's windows. Others, including protesters busy demanding a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, missed it entirely.

Regardless of what they saw, many said they would be telling their children and grandchildren for years to come of this day, when the man who became president spent his first night with his family in the city they would now call home.

Folks - Barack Obama does not walk on water. He is a man. A man who is about to become President during the worst economy since the Great Depression. He cannot possibly live up to the hopes and expectations of his most devoted followers if they expect him to deliver miracles. He will be lucky if he can get to ANY of his major campaign initiatives in his first term, so he'll be campaigning for a second term from day one. And you won't be helping him at all with your lofty expectations.

To put this all in perspective, take a second look at this video that I posted during the campaign:

Good luck, Mr. Obama. You're going to need it.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Pave It Over!

Watch out, folks... I feel a "soapbox" rant coming on!

A battle is brewing in Orange County, Virginia, where Wal-Mart is proposing to build a 135,000 square-foot store near the so-called "Wilderness battlefield", part of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

The Battle of the Wilderness involved more than 100,000 Union troops and 61,000 Confederates, when it was fought on May 4, 1864. The fighting, according to National Park Service estimates, left more than 4,000 dead and 20,000 wounded.

The parcel of land that Walmart proposes to build on was not part of the actual battlefield, but it is believed to have been a staging area, where Union troops waited around to go into battle, and civil war preservationists say it's an important piece of history.

The land has been zoned for commercial retail use for decades, but lawmakers are split over whether to give Walmart the permit it needs. Some say they'd welcome the business Walmart would bring to Orange County, not to mention the $500,000 annual tax revenue that would flow into the local coffers. Other lawmakers say Walmart would detract from the historic nature of the area and damage tourism.

This is a very familiar argument to me. Back in 1994, I was front and center in covering the controversy when Disney wanted to build a theme park five miles west of the Manassas battlefield. Opponents (who were well-funded by the wealthy residents of Middleburg, Virginia) were able to win the P.R. battle and eventually get Disney to throw up the white flag, even though Disney had won all of the political battles up to that point, including support in the state leguslature.

Disney CEO Michael Eisner told me in a 1996 interview that Disney had pulled out of Virginia because it did not want to continue to fight its battles on the front page of the Washington Post, nor in the courtroom, where opponents were promising to throw legal challenges which would have delayed construction for several years.

Now here's where the soapbox comes in.

Wars happen. We're lucky they haven't happened in the United States in a long time, but they DO happen around the world, and you don't see other countries preserving their battlefields the way we try to preserve them in the U.S.! What parts of Europe are NOT built on top of battlefields? How much more land do preservationists want to preserve? And why should this land, which was nothing more than a waiting room, be preserved?

I get steamed about this because the whole Disney saga was an exercise in hypocrisy. The land opponents were fighting over was not a battlefield - it was farmland located five miles away from Manassas. Opponents complained that Disney would bring strip malls and tacky t-shirt shops to the region, even though the very road that runs adjacent to the Manassas battlefield already had strip malls, convenience stores, and ironically, a huge Walmart less than a mile away.

"Disney's America" would have provided Prince William County with an industry and a tax base. Instead, Prince William largely continues its role as a bedroom community - a place where people go to sleep, but go to work some place else. As a result, with little industry to support the local economy, homeowners largely carry the tax burden there alone. In the current economy, this leaves the local government broke and has created a housing glut as prices have plummeted.

We have thousands of acres of land from Georgia to Pennsylvania preserved to teach our children about the Civil War, as well we should. There are many lessons to be learned from these important properties. But why is every square foot of land ever trod upon by a U.S. soldier worthy of being saved? One lesson that must also be taught is that after the war is over, life goes on. The airport on Long Island that Charles Lindbergh took off from on his flight across the Atlantic is now a shopping mall. At least they named the mall - Roosevelt Field - after the airstrip! Yankee Stadium is about to become a parking lot. Even Ground Zero in New York is being redeveloped into skyscrapers.

Is it really worth denying taxpayers a revenue source to protect a piece of land that is merely near a battlefield? I think my friend, John Butler, has the right idea about preserving land. He suggests, (in jest, I think) that environmentally sensitive land be paved over, in order to preserve it.

Sounds like a plan to me!

Friday, January 2, 2009

My, How Time Flies!

Many of you woke up yesterday no doubt wondering what happened to 2008! Well, just check out this video! This guy in Norway condensed an entire year to 40 seconds! He probably should have just left out the last quarter and skipped the whole Wall Street collapse thing, but I digress... Enjoy!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's By Marriott

See that little pink blob in the upper right corner of this Pepco map? That is zip code 20833, home of the "Life On The Beach" world headquarters and souvenir shop. Unfortunately, the 60-mile an hour winds yesterday took a toll on our HQ, leaving us without power - which was OK with me because I was at work! However, as day descended into dusk, a frozen Mrs. Matthews called me at ABC News, and together, we assembled an evacuation plan.

Checking the trusty Marriott points account, I discovered we had enough in our account to get a room at the Courtyard by Marriott in Rockville, so off we went to spend New Year's with the book of Mormon!

We had planned a quiet family games night at home... Robin would have cooked a bunch of naughty food, and we had planned to sit at the kitchen table and enjoy it with a game of Scrabble and Dick Clark's stroke. But when God handed us lemons, we made an evening of it, and enjoyed a nice meal at the Macaroni grill, followed by Scrabble by the fireplace in the hotel lobby.

We were so focused on our game, that we missed the ball drop altogether - Robin was in the middle of playing the word "Resize" with the "z" on a triple letter score at the stroke of midnight... But we were decidedly warmer than those nuts in Times Square...

By the way - we could have gone home earlier in the evening - I called home at around 10:30 and heard my answering machine - a sure sign that power was back - but by then we had committed to our evening - So, except for the two boys wrestling for control of the bedsheets in the bed that they shared, a pleasant time was had by all!

We found the power outage to be a fitting end to a 2008 that was difficult to say the least for our family... Here's to hoping that our lights stay on in 2009 - or that if they do go out, it will be due to a storm, and not because we couldn't pay our bill!

Happy New Year!