Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Crumbling WWII bunker to become Olive Garden

In the shadow of the Cape May light house at the southern most tip of New Jersey sits a symbol of our country's defense during World War II. The Cape May bunker (pictured above) was built in 1942 for the purpose of defending the Delaware Bay—and ultimately the port of Philadelphia—against a possible attack from German submarines or ships. Yesterday, it was announced that Darden Restaurants had purchased the landmark and will covert the relic into an Olive Garden, one of the company's most popular chains. "This is new territory for Olive Garden," said Fred Gionnini, CFO of Darden Restaurants. "I guarantee, however, that the 6-ft thick concrete walls won't affect our great tasting breadsticks." There is a similar bunker on the Delaware side of the bay. Darden also purchased this site and may open a Red Lobster or a LongHorn Steakhouse. The company outbid Pizza Hut, Cinnabon and Starbucks to acquire the sites, which are both part of state parks.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Delaware Bay swimmer first to cross by ferry

The body of water that separates the state of Delaware and New Jersey has been crossed numerous times by swimmers looking to conquer the unpredictable waters--rising and falling tides and strong, swirling currents. Next month the first swimmer ever to cross the seventeen-mile-wide mouth of the Delaware Bay will do so by ferry.

"I've been training for months and months," said Zack Meldin, 37, a resident of Vineland, NJ. "I have studied both ferry terminals and the whole fleet so I will be prepared for any surprises."

The journey, starting in Lewes, DE and ending in Cape May, NJ, is expected to take just about 80 minutes and cost a steep $43.25 peak season fare because Meldin will take along his new four-door Jeep Wrangler.

The athlete was unaware that each passenger taken in the car will be an additional $10.00. With his girlfriend, parents and brother all coming along to support his attempt at a record-setting crossing, the total cost comes to $83.25.

"It is a lot of money, but I really want the people I care about most to be with me during the crossing. They were there when I crossed the English Channel by train in 2007 and I want them here in August," said Meldin, his eyes welling.

Meldin's sponsors include Subway, Jeep and DelMarVa Power who will only contribute sandwiches, jeeps and electricity, not cash, towards the swimmer's bay crossing.

The Cape May-Lewes Ferry company, operated by the Delaware River and Bay Authority, has been very cooperative with Meldin and his family. The DRBA has organized meetings between the swimmer and the fleet's 12 ship captains, provided blueprints of the ships and terminals and will provide a $20 gift card good for on board food purchases (not valid at Subway). The DRBA has also arranged for Meldin's Jeep to be driven onto the ship by a crew member to help conserve the athlete's energy for the journey.

"He can't wait. He's been doing a lot of rowing and he even traveled to Massachusetts to take a 'practice ferry' to Nantucket. He's as ready as he'll ever be," said Harriet Meldin, Zack's mother.

Delaware's most famous resident Vice President Joe Biden will lead a send off from Lewes next month, while New Jersey governor Jon Corzine and Subway's Jared will welcome Zack to the Garden State.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Strahan gives in, will star in GAP commercials

Michael Strahan couldn't refuse the money any longer. The former New York Giants defensive end and single season sack record holder has agreed to appear in four GAP television commercials for the clothing company to be aired this coming fall. Specific numbers were not disclosed, but some reports are claiming the price was around $30 million. The former mvp has been wined and dined by the clothing company over the last ten years in hopes he would agree to star in the popular GAP advertisements. "I didn't want to endorse a product I didn't use," said Strahan. "But I began to see things from GAP's perspective. It's a great company." The current NFL analyst said that he would only smile twice during an ad and that only three closeups were permitted. The GAP marketing team says they know exactly how the ads will play out. "We've been planning the ads for ten years," said a GAP rep.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

City claims rust is mural; MAP says no, then yes

The city of Philadelphia is claiming that the rust on the side of a Schuylkill River overpass is a mural designed and painted by the world-renowned Mural Arts Program (MAP). Having just overhauled the JFK Blvd Bridge and currently replacing the South St Bridge, the city, not to mention the state, seem to have an endless list of infrastructure projects on the horizon with little or no funding.

Is the bridge safe or is the city creating reasons to postpone or avoid costly, needed repairs?

The rusted bridge, which sits near the iconic Art Museum and the historic Waterworks and its recently refurbished park, has been the center of a public outcry demanding its cleaning to better blend with its neighbors—a cleaning that would cost the financially strapped city over $5 million.

Some say that the steep cost to rehab the bridge has led the current administration to claim that the horrid rust is a mural titled, "The Rust."

"Look at it. It's one of the best murals going. It actually looks like rust," said city bridge inspector Grace Higgins. "I’ll be the first to admit that I, too, thought it was rust upon first inspection, then I did the math. The numbers don’t lie … it’s not rust.”

At first, the Mural Arts Program, which has created the largest collection of murals in the world and is copied nationally and internationally, denied the claim saying, "The rust is actual rust and we have never been involved with a project on the Martin Luther King Dr Bridge."

"Yesterday, I saw a group of tourists pour from a bus parked near the bridge. They walked down the path and began to take hundreds of photos of the bridge," said Tom Hildebrand, a citizen calling for the removal of the rust. "These tourists had to be hired by the city."

The administration called the accusation "nonsense and insulting" and said the bridge has been luring visitors for months since the mural was completed.

"We can't even plow our own streets in the winter," said a city representative. "How are we going to rent a luxury bus liner from Krapfs, or where ever the bus was from, and pay everyone on board to act like a tourist? This is comical."

Remove the Rust, a local group calling for the cleaning, say they have proof, through time-lapse photography, that the rust is not a mural. They are claiming the corrosion has been developing over the course of 15 to 20 years and they have never seen an artist near the bridge.

"The mural was started almost 20 years ago and it has been worked on little by little each year by the artist Franz Dorgle," said Ken Fitzgerald, a Streets Department official. "He’s a slow worker and he works late at night.”

One thing is clear, however, that somewhere along the way there was a breakdown in communication or a falling out between the Mural Arts Program and the city on how the rust controversy would be handled publicly.

There is speculation that MAP officials, possibly unsatisfied with the city's financial support, refused the request to claim the rust as part of the program by a city that felt it had consistently and sufficiently backed the nonprofit monetarily. Or possibly, MAP agreed to claim the rust for a small fee and the administration never came through with the promised "donation."

Yesterday, however, MAP abruptly changed its story and claimed the "The Rust" was, in fact, part of the program and that forgetting a mural has happened before and is not all that uncommon.

"Oh, it’s one of ours," said a grinning Sara Von Ruyen, a MAP board member. "We have tons and tons of paperwork here and things get lost or forgotten. For example, I completely forgot we did the Dr J mural a few years back. Someone had to literally sit me down and say, 'Sara, we did do the Dr J mural back in 19-whatever.' I was floored."

Later yesterday afternoon, the city issued this statement: "We thought it was a mural all along. We mean no disrespect to Mother Nature, but the oxidizing process caused by water and air could not possibly result in something so exquisite. This was created by a masterful brush on a structurally sound bridge."

Remove the Rust president David Werner said his organization was convinced and that his group was embarrassed and would cease its campaign to remove the ferric hydroxide and ferric oxide that is rust.

"Now our mission is to do whatever we can to help preserve ‘The Rust,’" said Werner.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sign confusion may lead to cast of What's Happening coming to Phila

Several weeks ago a sign (pictured above) was placed just off the Schuylkill Banks river trail about 100 yards before reaching Martin Luther King Blvd heading west (or north). The board, on the site of a future skate park, was meant to explain the recent construction and changes being made to one of the city's newest parks.

The notice, however, was not clear to the many who stopped to read it, or at least part of it. The misunderstanding caused by the sign has put the park in a very awkward position. The title at the top—What's Happening on Schuylkill Banks—led many, if not all, who passed to think actors from the hit 1970's TV show would be paying a visit to the Banks.

"I saw the sign and got really excited," said Barbara Miller, 37, of Fairmount. "I loved What's Happening growing up. I didn't even read the rest of the sign because I left to tell all of my friends."

Unfortunately for the park almost no one continued to read the remainder of the board beyond the title. Had they proceeded, recreationalists would have been briefed on the current upgrades the park was implementing for its throngs of users.

A few of the park's officials are somewhat confused at, well, the confusion over the sign. The park argues that the diagrams and question mark at the title's end should have immediately eliminated the TV sitcom meaning to passersby. Park users argue that the h in happening, however, was uppercase and gave the impression that it was a sitcom title.

"I think [Park users and the Banks] both messed up in this situation. Although, I will say that wouldn't we have included a picture of the cast on the sign if we meant the TV show?" said a Banks representative.

Other Schuylkill Banks officials feel horrible about the situation and have openly admitted that a Please Continue Reading note should have been included at the conclusion of the sign's title sentence.

The park's board voted yesterday and said it will make a valid attempt to bring the surviving cast members to the park: Ernest Lee Thomas (Roger), Haywood Nelson (Dwayne) and Danielle Spencer (Dee). Sadly, three cast members from the show have passed away including Fred Berry (Rerun) in 2003, Mabel King (Mama,Mabel) and Shirley Hemphill (Shirley) both in 1999.

The park plans to offer a generous appearance fee to bring the three actors to the Banks to sign autographs, pose for pictures, cheer on runners and joggers and help open the currently-under-construction gateway plaza. Also, as a joke, and obviously only if the cast attends, the three will read the entire sign to the public and not only the title. (The appearance fee would redirect funds from extending the trail and will delay its completion by two years.)

"Roger said he is definitely coming if the other two are coming. So now we're really negotiating with Dee and Dwayne," said Ralph Dwyer, a Banks representative.

"I have a new book out," said Haywood Nelson, who played Dwayne on the show. "So if they approve a large sign-and-buy book signing I will be in Philly."

Nelson, who has become an avid polo player since the show went off the air in 1979, co-authored Hay, Hay, Hay: Dieting your polo horse to the top, which was published in January 2009.

If the trio agrees to an appearance look for them in early to mid August along the mighty tidal Schuylkill.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fairmount's Bastille Day apologizes for beheading Twinkie the Kid

Fairmount, Philadelphia--Organizers of Fairmount's Bastille Day celebration apologized yesterday for last weekend's public beheading of Twinkie the Kid, the mascot for one of America's favorite snack cakes. Part of the celebration of the French holiday includes throwing some 2,000 Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets from the towers of Eastern State Penitentiary and into packed Fairmount Avenue below. Not long ago, the twinkie almost became the preferred cake tossed over the walls, as the local Bastille Day festival threatened to change snack cakes. Some feel Tastykake put pressure on the organizers to behead the cartoon-like character to show Hostess, maker of Twinkies, who the official snack cake of Bastille Day truly is. The beheading of Twinkie the Kid was meant to solidify the bond between the celebration and Philadelphia's Tasty Baking Company—maker of Tastykakes. If the gathered crowd was unsure of what made up the insides of the Kid, they quickly found out as most were covered in creamy filling as soon as the guillotine's shiny blade dropped. Cream was found as far away as the famous Art Museum steps. "It was pretty frightening for the children. The blade was very, very, very sharp and his arms were still trying to throw a lasso even though his head was in a basket," said one onlooker.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Phils, Jays end suspense: van, minibike exchanged

Roy Halladay will not be leaving Toronto this year, at least not for Philadelphia. The The Phillies and Blue Jays have been in trade talks for Toronto's all-star pitcher Roy Halladay for almost ten days now and today the rumors came to an end.

A trade was completed earlier today, but not the deal that was expected by the baseball world. In a no-player deal the Phillies sent an old, fur-covered van to the Blue Jays in exchange for a fuel efficient minibike.

The deal included no cash, draft picks or current players as the two modes of transport were dealt straight up.

"We stole this thing away from them," said a Phils representative who wanted to remain anonymous. "This will be a key component to our playoff drive."

"We stole this thing away from them," said a Blue Jays representative who wanted to remain anonymous. "This will be a key component to the future of our club."

Phillies fans at first appeared disappointed then rejoiced at the acquisition of such a great minibike for only a dog-decorated van.

"Wow, they did it again," said a fan. "The minibike could be used for the bullpen or something."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fox All-Star ad frightening children, players

The FOX advertisement for the 2009 St Louis MLB All-Star game began airing several weeks ago and has been criticized for scaring children and the players headed to the gateway to the west. The ad shows the famous St Louis Arch being used as an enormous magnet to attract All-Star players and fans from across the country and depositing them in Busch Stadium, site of the this year's mid-summer classic.

A large hand, possibly a giant, is shown lifting the arch from its base and moving it around the country gathering all it can. Towards the end of the commercial the "magnet" arrives in St Louis where the magnetic force is shut off, therefore dropping the hordes of people attached 50-60 ft down to the playing surface.

"My 9-year-old son is terrified that a giant metal arch is going to come out of the sky and carry him away," said Don Hafner, a Philadelphia Phillies fan. "He has refused to attend a game since the ads began."

As a single cloud passed in front of the sun over the weekend, casting a shadow on the first level seating at Citizens Bank Park, a minor panic ensued as several fans pushed towards the safety of the concourse yelling, "ARCH."

Although most traumatized by the promo have been children, players have also been affected by the advertisement.

"I have to admit that I often find myself looking up at the sky during games," said New York Yankees shortstop, Derek Jeter, a starter in this year's game. "It could really come from any direction."

Jeter's teammate Alex Rodriguez said he too watches for the Arch from the corner of his eye while in the field. The third baseman should relax as the arch only pulls in all-star players.

FOX issued a statement saying the ad would be changed so that the Arch lands on the field and players and fans will enter and exit the landmark through a small door at the base. The magnet theme will be nixed. Also, military helicopters, one being piloted by Cardinals all-star Albert Pujols, will replace the giant hand that violently tears the Arch from its base.

"We didn't think this through all the way," said a FOX Representative. "We never intended to upset young television viewers with the promo. I told them to use flying clydesdales instead, which would travel the country rounding up players and fans. Fans could feed the horses hay after landing in St Louis."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Altoona's MLB affiliate in town for weekend series

The Phillies are looking to end the first half of the season on a high note and continue a strong homestand when they begin a series tonight with the Altoona Curve's Major League affiliate the Pittsburgh Pirates. The all-the-sudden-home-game-winning Phillies hope playing Altoona's affiliate doesn't dampen the Bank's high energy atmosphere during the last series before the All-star break.

Altoona's affiliate is 38-47 this year with a firm hold on the National League Central division's last place. The team is headed for it's 16th consecutive losing season, which, incidentally, would tie a Phillies record from early in the 20th century.

Altoona, only a two-hour drive from Pittsburgh, has sent several players up to the Pirates for rehabilitation assignments so far this year. If a player sees three rivers he is either hurt or can't quite make it on the Curve.

"I hurt my knee early in May and I was on the DL," said Altoona's center fielder, Vince Bordon. "It was disappointing, but I was sent up to the Pirates for three games before I could return to the Curve. It was tough."

Being sent to the Curve's major league affiliate is not something that is easy for the team's manager to tell a young player. The attendance for home games is less than a quarter of what it is in Altoona and those that do show tend to sit in the stands and listen to CD's of this year's Super Bowl.

"It's not easy to call a kid into your office and tell him he's going up to the major league club ... even if it's for only one game," said Curve manager, Jim McShane.

"Once you make it to the show you want to stay at the show," said Pirates' first baseman, Adam LaRoche. "In Pittsburgh I can walk around the mall and not have to sign any autographs. I hear it's the opposite in Altoona."

LaRoche has been trying to make it down to the Curve since arriving in Pittsburgh three years ago. The California native realizes that hitting .256 with 12 home runs will not get a player down to the Curve.

"I have to perform better if I want to make it down to the Show," said LaRoche.

Monday, July 6, 2009

New bridge to give pedestrians easy access to 76

Schuylkill Banks has been making numerous improvements along its Center City river trail by adding decorative brick edges to portions of the paved walk, a lower, narrower riverside walk, access steps, bench areas and a gateway plaza near Martin Luther King Blvd.

The most costly addition to the Banks to date, however, a pedestrian bridge spanning the Schuylkill, is currently underway and will connect the trail to Interstate 76 on the west side of the river.

"At one time a bridge, we think an ancient railroad bridge, was standing in this spot," said Schuylkill Banks board member, Tara Worthern, standing on the east anchorage of the planned bridge, the only remaining part of the long ago span. "I'm committed to rehabbing lost structures."

The Banks' board of directors has made it clear that part of their mission to bring a park and greenway to Center City included restoring historic structures that once stood, or stand dilapidated, within the new park's boundaries.

Though the bridge will be constructed exactly like its "ancient" predecessor board members from other parks around the city are not sure the cost, $20 million, or its functionality make sense.

"Maybe I'm missing something, but I'm not sure why pedestrians would desire access to I-76. Pedestrians are prohibited from that roadway anyway," said Washington Square board member, Nancy Brucker.

"I hate to use the term Bridge to Nowhere, but ... that's what it seems like," said Fitler Square president and CEO, Dennis Morgan. "That money could be spent on helping the trail reach its intended terminus at Fort Mifflin down by the airport."

Many involved in the city's park politics felt Morgan would fully support the Banks' bridge project because of his Fitler Square observation tower plan in 2007. The nearly-passed plan (missed by one vote) called for a 50-ft, $3 million tower at the northeast corner of the park and an exhibit on Thomas G. Fitler at the top. (Fitler Square was named after former mayor Edwin H Fitler. The proposed exhibit confused the other board members.)

Schuylkill Banks has said that it's more about the structure than where it leads. The park realizes that joggers, walkers and bikers will not be welcomed on I-76 once reaching the west side of the river.

"Maybe they could just jog on the shoulder or something? I don't know. I'm just thinking out loud." said Worthern. "Is PennDot ... I ... forget what I was going to say. How about that brick edging we put in last week, huh?"

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fireworks show to consist of sparklers, dancing Sunoco employees

The troubled economy has claimed yet another victim. Although the Sunoco Welcome America celebration will not be completely eliminating its fireworks display, it will be markedly cut back.

There have been several changes to this year's layout of the stage and an increase in areas around the Philadelphia Museum of Art restricted to the public.

"We moved the stage forward this year to make room for about two hundred Sunoco employees on the Art Museum steps," said a smiling Kyle Johns, a representative from Sunoco. "We know oil, but we also know how to celebrate the Fourth. And, let's face it, we know oil."

The Sunoco employees (including the Refinery Nine a cappella group) positioned on the famous steps will each be given a sparkler towards the end of the Sheryl Crow concert (the headline act of the night) and, as the music concludes, will light the sparklers at a given signal making a great spectacle for the onlookers close by.

"The sparklers will be the fireworks show for this year," said a frowning Johns. "It was either have nothing or have a couple hundred sparklers. I think it will all work out. I'm ready for a great concert."

Johns went on the say that the show will be entirely choreographed to music and each sparkler will be five inches longer to extend the show by 15 seconds, bringing the total burning/show time to just over 45 seconds. Sunoco covered the bill for the extra-long sparklers and got permission from the state to use the extra-long, illegal sparklers.

The city did not publicly announce the plans for the massively scaled back display and hope residents gathering for the show that are not within view of the steps will not be too disappointed.

"We thought there would be a large negative response to the sparkler show," said a city official, who would only give his name as H. "We are hoping police will subtly guide spectators closer to the stage for a better view."

Also considered for a fireworks substitute was one single, giant sparkler (possibly 20 ft in length) placed on the roof of the Art Museum. This idea was scrapped when experts predicted a 25-45 minute lighting time for the "giant fancy candle."

"You know how long it takes to light a normal-sized sparkler, think about a 20-footer, 8-inch diameter sparkler," said H.

Sunoco is encouraging all those attending the festivities along the Parkway to drive and "fuel up at one of our many area stations."