An open letter to my Chicago (and other northern) friends

So much for dinner on the patio.

Dear Chicago (and other northern) family and friends,

I write this letter through my love and concern for y’all, so please don’t take this the wrong way.

After spending a weekend in the city — enduring subfreezing temperatures — and leaving just before the wind chill was expected to hit -40 degrees, I wanted to let you in on a little secret: YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIVE THIS WAY. I have found land 800 miles south where “below zero” only refers to the chances of finding a snow plow at a hardware store. I live in a place called Georgia, but there are many other iterations, places called Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.

There are many cool things about the South — like they put sugar in their iced tea — but one of them isn’t the temperature. Sometimes it may dip into the 30s, but on the rare occasion it gets colder than that you don’t have to go outside because everything shuts down. And a snow flurry? If there’s even a speck of a flake, everything shuts down.

I tell you this because I’m worried for y’all. I know — and even understand — your affection for Chicago. I spent the first 23 years of my life there. Hands down, it’s the best city in the world! That’s why I visit it a few times a year, usually in the summer. But as I discovered on my most recent trip there, winter has gotten so bad there that as someone who cares for you, I’m declaring it unhealthy.

It’s just not right to walk outside and have a gust of wind slap your face so hard you start crying, only to have the tears freeze to your face and followed up with another slap of subzero Lake Michigan wind. It’s not normal for your skin to crack because you dared to venture outside. Every day, I hear tales of loved ones hurting backs, arms and legs — not to mention suffering frostbite and mini-icicles on facial hair– after plowing driveways and shoveling sidewalks. It’s wrong that you’re forced to start your car 15 minutes before even driving, that is if you can pry your door open from being frozen shut.

I’ve discovered this land where none of that happens! It’s not so far south where the only seasons are “unbearably hot summer” and “comfortably hot summer.” We have four seasons, only our winters consist of a few weeks of “somewhat cold” — heavy coat optional. And if somehow your cold air or even a flurry sneaks it way down South for a day — nothing will be expected of you! Your work will be cancelled, the police will declare the roads unsafe and you’ll be stuck at home watching 24/7 weather coverage.

I urge you to check out this land. Get on your snow boots, ski mask, leather gloves and heavy coat. Plow your driveway, wipe the icicles off your face, pry your car door open and heat it up for 30 minutes. After generously applying hand lotion and lip balm for the last time, begin making the 13-hour trek down south.

I’ll be waiting for you on my front porch, sweet tea in hand.



It’s the students, stupid.

Originally published on on Aug. 18, 2012.

Every once in awhile, people involved in higher education have to be reminded exactly why they’re here. It’s easy to get consumed by necessary academic elements like research, budgets, policies and administration. But at the center of every academic institution are students.

Last week’s series of events at The Red & Black, the independent student newspaper of the University of Georgia, could’ve been completely avoided if the students were kept in the center. However, in working to maintain a quality newspaper while making the money necessary to keep the nonprofit publication afloat, the newspaper’s board of directors — comprised mainly of Red & Black veterans from decades past — strayed away from the core of its institution.

Significant decisions were made about the student newspaper’s staff, its editorial philosophy and the direction of the product without input from the students. When the student editors returned from their summer break, they found a very different newspaper from the one that they were hired last semester to run.

It’s hard to believe that the powers-that-be at The Red & Black didn’t expect a negative reaction from the students. They likely thought most would be mad, and some would even quit, but in the end they would be left with a core group of competent students who would ultimately succumb to the changes.

What they underestimated is the courage of editor-in-chief Polina Marinova, managing editor Julia Carpenter, news editor Adina Solomon, variety editor Tiffany Stevens, sports editor Nicolas Fouriezos, multimedia editor Lindsey Cook, photo editor Cory Schmelter and chief photographer Cody Schmelter. These eight students would stand up for their principles, unite for their cause and launch their own product. And they certainly didn’t anticipate the nearly unanimous support the students would receive after walking out on The Red & Black.

Calling themselves “The Red & Dead” and launching their own website, Twitter feed and Facebook page, within hours the renegade editors found themselves with thousands of supporters from the campus community, alumni and the journalism field itself. But outside of a few official statements, they displayed incredible maturity, mostly keeping quiet in the hopes of finding a compromise with The Red & Black.

Less than 24 hours after the walkout, the students were invited to meet with newspaper administrators to discuss the situation. It appeared the administrators at The Red & Black were finally willing to admit their mistake and once again put students at the center of their publication. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case. After the board refused to budge, the editors held firm and walked out, again. But this time, they went public with their story with one simple tweet: “We are taking all requests for interviews …” While The Red & Black board continued to isolate the student editors, hours later journalism outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News and The Huffington Post were putting them at the center of the story.

The support became overwhelming, and the stats prove it. They gained more than 4,500 Twitter followers in just two days (compared to the nearly 15,000 followers The Red & Black amassed over several years). The “likes” on their Facebook page matched the number of “likes” on the Red & Black’s page. And they started publishing original news and feature stories on their website, which surpassed more than 100,000 hits.

Alumni offered to help finance a new campus newspaper. Advertisers said they would pull ads from The Red & Black. Journalism professors said they would encourage students to write for this new forum. No longer could the students be put off to the side. Either The Red & Black put these students back in control of their paper, or they compete against them for readers and advertisers. And if the first two days of competition offered any foresight, the century-old newspaper didn’t stand a chance.

In a Friday meeting, with more than 100 supporters cramming the lobby and entrance of The Red & Black, the board gave the students everything they wanted. With the overwhelming public support, the editors would’ve likely had any demand met. But they held firm, as they did all along. All they wanted was editorial control, student representation on the Red & Black board and the person responsible for the chaos gone. Essentially, they wanted to wrestle back control of their student newspaper. And the board succumbed, finally putting students back at the center of the paper, as they should’ve been all along.

Rock of Ages: A Good Time, and Nothing Else

Originally published July 1, 2012 on IMDB.

As a child of the ’80s and as a teenager who wanted to hit the Sunset Strip and become a rock star (but my parents wouldn’t let me), I eagerly anticipated the release of Rock of Ages. I saw the Tony Award nominated musical on Broadway, and was impressed with the seamless way classic rock anthems were worked into a true hair metal storyline as traditional stage rules were forsaken (for instance, breaking the fourth wall) for comedic purposes.

After reading several critic and user reviews mostly bashing the movie, recognizing that musicals transformed on screen are typically disappointing, and watching box offices tallies certify Rock of Ages as a bomb, I had low expectations going into the movie. Perhaps it’s because of these low expectations that I actually enjoyed Rock of Ages.

You will know if you will enjoy Rock of Ages at the opening sequence as Dancing With The Stars alum Julianna Hough — playing Sherrie Christian, an aspiring singer from Oklahoma who hits Hollywood seeking fame — breaks out into Sister Christian on the bus ride to Los Angeles as fellow passengers sing backup. Just like the music and style from the era, this scene is pure cheese, as is the rest of the movie. If the first five minutes are too cheesy to you, then you will not enjoy the rest of the movie. However, if you can accept the garish nature of the scene and find yourself internally singing along, then you’ll likely enjoy the flick.

The story follows Christian and fellow aspiring singer Drew Boley (played by newcomer Diego Boneta) as they chase their rock and roll dreams while working at the fictionally legendary Bourbon Room club on the famed Sunset Strip. Meanwhile, the club, owned by Dennis Dupree and managed by Lonny (comic relief roles played by Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, respectively), is under attack by the mayor and his wife (played by Bryan Cranston and and Catherine Zeta-Jones) in an attempt to clean up the strip and save children from the evils of rock music. At the center of their spite is mega-rock star diva Stacey Jaxx, played flawlessly by Tom Cruise.

The movie takes some liberties with the musical’s storyline, but for the most part is a fair representation. The introduction of Zeta-Jones’ character as the mayor’s wife was the biggest deviation from the musical, rendering Cranston’s mayoral character useless in the movie. For the most part, the star-studded cast pulls off solid and humorous performances, especially Tom Cruise as the bigger-than-life rock god. Baldwin and Brand form a humorous team in their ridiculous outfits. And Paul Giametti and Mary J. Blige play their roles as a sleazy rock manager and strip club owner surprisingly well. The major disappointment was Zeta-Jones, who is ridiculously over-the-top even in a movie where everything is big.

The music is phenomenal — but only if you enjoy songs from the hair metal/arena rock era. It was surprising to see the actors, mostly not known for their singing, pull off strong performances of 80s rock anthems, particularly Cruise’s rendition of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” and Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” Baldwin and Brand’s humorous duet of REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling,” and the many duets by Boneta and Hough, such as a heartfelt mash-up of Extreme’s “More Than Words” and Warrant’s “Heaven.” And the most of the cast joins in on performances of Poison’s “Nothing But A Good Time” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

The Bourbon Room is introduced in an ensemble performance of Poison’s “Nothing But A Good Time.” Featuring big rock, big hair and a big cast, for those who are fans of this era of excess, Rock of Ages is indeed a good time, but nothing else.