Thursday, December 18, 2008

Big UGA News

Okay, since the AJC and the Atlanta Business Chronicle have posted it.... but it hasn't made waves locally yet .... big kudos go out to UGA's Research Foundation today for getting a five-year, $18.7 million grant from one of the world's most prestigious charitable foundations, the Gates Foundation, which is largely funded and controlled by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet.

This is strong validation for the state's continued focus on becoming a center for global health (think CDC, UGA, Emory and other health-related efforts) and UGA's efforts to become a national research leader.

Full disclosure -- The Georgia Research Alliance supports many of the state's research efforts, and is a client of Jackson Spalding. But the bottom line is that these kinds of investments tend to not only support local research jobs, but also provide significant help for children and others in Africa affected by a terrible disease. Good news all around.

Official press release is here; details on researcher Dan Colley are here.

Photo Courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation / Ralph Alswang

Monday, November 24, 2008

One Need Not Be the Loneliest Number

At times, being single and almost-30 sort of feels like second grade when the teacher tells you to pair up and after the urgent whispers and frantic eye contact, you're the leftover. I found this especially true after making the first move of my life that didn't involve school, a.k.a. the built-in friend network. Suddenly, I wondered, how do you meet people? Where do you go? And what do you say, "Hi, I'm Ashley. Be my friend."? (No, wait, that's Facebook.)

As I thought about where to go and meet others of my kind, I considered volunteering. The question of which one of the many worthy causes to support and thoughts of my potentially awkward entrance into a regularly scheduled meeting put a temporary damper on my volunteerism. The more I thought about it, the more I wished there was a way to sample the area organizations and figure out which one is a fit for me. And even better would be if I didn't have to go by myself.

A good friend put me in touch with Hands on Northeast Georgia, a program of Community Connection that helps individuals, groups, families and corporations find flexible volunteer opportunities in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties. Hands On NEGA had everything I needed - an existing volunteer base, relationships with nonprofit organizations, and an infrastructure in place to help me establish the group.

Enter SingleServe, a volunteer opportunity for parties of one. Each month, we'll be arranging a volunteer opportunity for singles at an area nonprofit. It will be a way to help the community, try out different opportunities, and make friends. The first meeting is Tuesday, December 2 at 5:30 at the Community Connection offices at the corner of King Avenue and Old West Broad Street. We'll be talking about what SingleServe is and how those interested can get involved.

Join us! It's hard to be single, so remember, there's safety in numbers.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Oh Sarah....

Sarah Palin desperately needs a decent PR person to let her know that a charming interview about Thanksgiving is always ruined when birds are being slaughtered in the background... if you're impatient skip ahead to about 43 seconds in.

Climbing the Walls

Despite all the recent bad economic news in Athens and nationally, apparently some entrepreneurs aren't scared. Based on this website, it looks like Athens is set to get a pretty sweet indoor climbing and recreation facility (including bouldering, climbing, wifi and even birthday parties!). According to planning commission documents, the facility is at 665 Barber Street (not sure what building this is).

Come explore and have fun on spectacular freestanding boulders up to 18 feet high, with textures and forms that is going to blow you away, terrain you'll find just at super pro comps. Novice and beginners are always welcome, come and get inspired by our "regular" climbers! The facilities also feature a 20-feet tall roped wall (lead and top rope), a 60 feet long roof traverse (up to 160 feet round-trip! from one side to the other). Exercise and training equipment, air filtration and conditioning, a nice padding with lots of crush pads, more than enough to cure you from being afraid of falling!

These types of facilities have been really popular in Atlanta and elsewhere and having one in Athens will be pretty neat. For those of you on Facebook, there is a group there where you can plug in as well. Have you heard about any other businesses opening in town despite the recession? Any other neat recreational offerings on the way?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Giving Thanks and Ducks

Only weeks after Election Day, Thanksgiving reminds us what we can all agree on: food and gratitude. The whole Athens office crew and our beloveds are having Thanksgiving dinner at the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, where our own Bryan Harris serves as a board member. We’re bringing honeyed hams, squash casserole, a couple other vegetarian dishes, homemade sourdough bread, arroz con leche for dessert, among other dishes TBD. We’re also bringing a metaphorical cornucopia of hostess gifts from the shelter’s wish list, and we’d like to invite the whole community to contribute as well. Drop them off at the Athens Area Homeless Shelter is at 620 Barber Street, which you can call at (706) 354-0423.

Here’s the Athens Area Homeless Shelter Wish List:

AAHS Current and Ongoing Needs
**Items with a "*" are in greatest need**

**Sippy cups**
**Baby Bottles**
Snack Foods (individually wrapped)
Granola Bars
Fruit Juice boxes, Capri Sun, etc.
Paper or Styrofoam plates, cups
Plastic forks and spoons
**Large Sized Tupperware, Food-Safe Storage Containers**

Disinfectant Spray
Disinfectant cleaning wipes
Kitchen and Bathroom Cleaner
***Laundry detergent***
“Free and Clear” laundry detergent for infant clothing
Fabric Softener
Paper Towels
Toilet Paper
Hand Soap and Hand Sanitizer
New or Gently Used Comforters, Blankets (twin size)
Plastic Mattress Covers (twin size)
Large Bath Towels
***Trash bags***
***Diapers (especially Size 4&5)***

African American women’s Hair Care Products
Children's Toothpaste
Feminine Products (especially maxi pads)
Deodorant (especially women’s)
Women and Children’s hair bows

Copy Paper
3-ring binders
3-prong portfolios
Markers, Colored Pencils
Plastic sign holders

Alarm Clocks
Storage Containers in various sizes (under the bed storage, etc)
Planners, calendars
Expandable file folders for storage of important documents
***Gift certificates (for school clothes, etc.)***
Disposable cameras
Movie or athletic event tickets for family outings
Family Friendly DVD’s
Socks and underwear (call for specific sizes)

Black Bow Ties
New or gently used Khaki and Black Pants (various adult sizes)
New or gently used White Button Up Shirts (various adult sizes)

Gently Used, Working Computer
Baby Carrier/Sling
Child Safety Harness
Aluminum Soda Tabs!
New or Gently Used Furniture (call ahead for drop off location and time)
Monetary donations are always needed and welcomed

*Note: Due to lack of storage space, we are unable to accept donations of used toys or clothing (except what is noted above) at this time. PLEASE DO NOT BRING SAMPLE SIZED SOAPS AND ITEMS.

Also, next Wednesday at Fook’s Foods is Fresh Roast Duck Day, just in time for Thanksgiving. If you’d like one, just e-mail Karen, the store owner, at ASAP letting her know your order and then pick up on Duck Day until 7 pm. Whole ducks are $16 and halves are $8.75. Also, she’s got fresh Georgia shrimp and fresh fish from Florida today.

Gobble, quack, gracias, cam ơn, gratzie, danke, merci, kőzsőnőm, teşekular, xse xse, thanks – for everything! -Ivy

Monday, November 17, 2008

Confessions of a Facebook Holdout

Despite the admonitions of multiple interns that Facebook is what all the cool kids are doing, I obstinately refused to give in and get on the social media freight train. Instead, I declared myself "anti-social media" and shunned Twitter and MySpace with equal disdain, puttering along in my antiquated Yahoo e-mail haven. I might as well have been using smoke signals according to Generation Online. E-mail? Totally outmoded.

I insisted that I didn't want people to find me and friend me. I argued that Facebook represents the breakdown of real communication - a dot-com bubble between people and real conversations. The fundamental goal of collecting "friends" felt disingenuous to me.

But then, the office kept buzzing with the social media revolution. The interns kept pressing. And lo and behold, my boss was on it already. I knew that I'd been beat and promptly waved the white flag of surrender and followed it with the blue flag of Facebook.

Since my debut on the social networking site, I've been proven unequivocably wrong. In one short week, it has allowed me to do the following:

* Reconnect with a long-lost friend of many years. We're having dinner tonight.
* Join up with fellow thespians from the Berry College Theater Department
* Begin planning a reunion for the OCHS Lady Warriors Basketball Alumni

The best part is that - when used well - Facebook isn't about disconnectedness at all. Facebook can foster connections you'd given up on. Create little fiefdoms of common interests and common histories - from where you graduated from high school to where you went to parties in college. For me, Facebook has built a great big picture of my life so far, pulling in friends from growing up, from various schools, from work, from the places I've lived. Sure, some of those connections will be tangential and brief. But they're there. And they not only connect me with those people, they connect me with that part of myself and give me someone else who remembers when from each era of my life.

So...are you on Facebook?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Taqueria del Awesome

Taqueria del Sol opened today. For those of you who haven't been, this is a much beloved Fresh-Mex dining destination formerly confined to intown Atlanta.

While I don't have time for a long entry and I'm not a restaurant reviewer, I will say this -- Taqueria is going to be a great addition to Prince and could change the dining dynamic on this side of town. The food was incredible and delivered quickly. The service was super friendly. The design of the building is clean and unique architecturally. The vibe was great -- a mix of families, hipsters, students, and business types. It is accommodating to all.

My guest and I ordered the fish taco and cheeseburger tacos, and enjoyed the chips and three varieties of dip they provided. We liked the fish tacos so much, we ordered seconds (we were at the bar).

All in all, the restaurant -- on its first day -- exceeded my expectations. Be sure you get there, and soon! More than likely you will see one of the JS crew on your visit.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Government Communications Needs a Bailout

Most communications professionals agree that the government's efforts to communicate the economic stabilization/recovery/bailout plan were terrible from the start, and likely were at least partially to blame for the wave of public opposition that derailed the first bill and created considerable angst for many members of Congress. The messages were too long, not clear, and inconsistent. It was positioned as a bailout by opponents, who took the initiative and controlled the process.

In short, failed communication not only jeopardized the bill, but it certainly put a few more House and Senate seats in play. Given all that, one would expect that in the time since the bailout passed, what passes for communicators in goverment would be feverishly working to better explain this effort to taxpayers. Apparently not.

The Department of Treasury has a terrible website for the program (you would think something like this might merit its own government microsite) that looks like the investor relations page of a Fortune 5000 company -- no Q&A, no basic information, etc. A google search on most common terms does not yield this website near the top of the list -- just negative press for the government.

And to top it all, today I got the e-mail below from our local Chamber of Commerce that forwards a message from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. This letter is a perfect example of taking a good tactic -- activating chambers of commerce, business leaders and economic development officials -- and executing it poorly. Who has time to read something this long? I dare you to try to read it. In other words, give us the high points, and then link to an informative, easy to access website so we can choose what to dive into.

You would think that with all that is at stake, someone in Washington would be focused on communicating this plan to the American people. I guess they're all too busy watching the election instead.

From: []
Sent: Friday, October 10, 2008 1:51 PM
To: Brian Brodrick
Subject: Emergency Economic Stabilization Act

In an effort to keep our membership updated on the latest happenings with the Financial Markets, I wanted to send you this statement from Secretary Paulson on the efforts his office is making, what affects the legislation is having and what the global economy is doing in the days after the passage of H.R. 1424 or the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 that passed the House last Friday. Towards the end of the article is a brief summary of what Secretary Paulson’s forecast is for the weeks ahead.

As we receive updated information on this issue we’ll send it your way.

As always, please let us know if you have any questions or if there is anything that we can do for you.

Statement by Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr. on Financial Markets Update

Washington , DC--Good afternoon. Last Friday Congress finalized and President Bush signed into law the bipartisan Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. The EESA provides the Treasury, the Federal Reserve and the FDIC with important new authorities to complement existing ones. We will continue to coordinate with other federal regulators to use these tools to implement our strategy to address the four key challenges in our financial markets today - confidence, capital, systemic risk and liquidity. Although we are facing particularly difficult circumstances, I remain confident that we will work through this challenge, as we have always successfully worked through every economic challenge in the history of the United States. We are a strong and wealthy nation, with the resources to address the needs we face. I am confident that, with the right public policy response, time and effort, we will conquer these challenges as well.

U.S.and global financial markets continue to be severely strained. A chain of events caused by the ongoing housing correction has reverberated through U.S. banks and financial institutions, and has seriously impacted the underlying economy, reaching American households and businesses. A root cause of this situation is the housing correction and a lack of confidence in mortgage assets, as well as a lack of confidence in many of the financial institutions that hold these assets. Because of this widespread uncertainty, investors are hesitant to commit capital to financial institutions. Investor confidence is critical to restore liquidity and enhance the stability of our financial system.

This financial market turmoil is now directly affecting more families and businesses. When banks can not finance at reasonable levels, and can not or are not willing to lend, everyone in our economy who depends on credit suffers. The capital markets are the pipes through which money flows to finance student loans, car loans, home loans and small businesses' payroll and inventory. And uncertainty and a lack of confidence have clogged our basic financial plumbing. While our actions have been aimed at restoring financial markets and institutions, our purpose is to prevent financial market difficulties from further impacting businesses and families across the country.

New Authorities Needed to Address Challenges

Over the last six months, the U.S. Government has addressed a number of significant problems on a case by case basis. In my judgment, these actions, a number of which were quite significant, were necessary but not sufficient. By September, uncertainty had led to a credit market freeze and it became clear that we needed to take a systemic approach on a significant scale, to get at the underlying cause of much of this turmoil.

We went to Congress and asked for broad new authorities to address the current troubles affecting our financial markets, including the root cause of the financial system freeze --- the illiquid mortgage assets weighing on bank balance sheets. And Congress met the very difficult challenge of providing these authorities by passing the EESA.

Specifically, the EESA empowers Treasury to use up to $700 billion to inject capital into financial institutions, to purchase or insure mortgage assets, and to purchase any other troubled assets that the Treasury and the Federal Reserve deem necessary to promote financial market stability. The new law also gives the Federal Reserve the authority to pay interest on reserves, and temporarily increases FDIC and NCUA deposit insurance from $100,000 up to $250,000.

Two days ago the members of the President's Working Group on Financial Markets, the PWG, made clear that we will coordinate the use of our existing and new authorities to restore market confidence by strengthening financial institutions, preventing systemic impact from bank failures, increasing liquidity to financial markets and keeping mortgage credit available and affordable.

Strengthening Financial Institutions

The Treasury Department is moving rapidly to implement the EESA to help strengthen financial institutions while also protecting taxpayer interests. As I have said before, the ultimate taxpayer protection will be a stable financial system that supports normal economic activity.

Towards that goal, the EESA adds broad, flexible authorities for Treasury to buy or insure troubled assets, provide guarantees, and inject capital. We will use all of the tools we've been given to maximum effectiveness, including strengthening the capitalization of financial institutions of every size. We will design programs that encourage healthy institutions to participate. Much attention has focused on the use of auctions to purchase troubled assets from financial institutions. We are moving as quickly as possible to organize and implement the most effective process possible. We expect it will be several weeks before our first purchase.

Consistent with EESA, I have appointed an interim Assistant Secretary to manage the program and begin its rapid implementation. I am currently working with the President to identify a leader to submit for confirmation, as called for in the legislation, to manage the program and help ensure its long-term success. I will also consult with congressional leaders and Senator McCain and Senator Obama during this process. It is our intent to have an appointee confirmed by the Senate as soon as possible, and I look forward to working with the Senate when they return in November, to ensure we maintain strong leadership and continuity for this unprecedented effort.

We have also identified and retained other very experienced interim leaders for the office, including an interim Chief Financial Officer. We have published guidelines on our procurement and conflict management processes. We have already sent out several essential Requests for Proposals that require 48 hour turnaround so we can contract with private sector experts --- some even as early as later this week --- who will bring complementary skills and expertise to the Treasury team.

We have several policy teams designing detailed programs to purchase mortgage-backed securities, whole loans, and equity-related instruments. In addition, we have begun work on compliance, executive compensation guidelines, foreclosure mitigation, and oversight. Our teams have already been working with Treasury's Inspector General and are scheduled to meet with the General Accounting Office. Yesterday, we held our first meeting of the program's Oversight Board and we are committed to transparency in all aspects of the program.

We will implement our new authorities with one simple goal – to restore capital flows to the consumers and businesses that form the core of our economy.

Prevent Systemic Impact from Bank Failures

One thing we must recognize – even with the new Treasury authorities, some financial institutions will fail. The EESA doesn't exist to save every financial institution for its own sake.

Therefore, a second prong in our strategy is designed to mitigate financial market disruption when a bank fails. In addition to insuring deposits up to the new, temporary level of $250,000, the FDIC has the ability to use its insurance fund and its substantial lines of credit with the Treasury to address systemic financial risk that may be posed by a bank failure.

It is the policy of our federal government to use all resources at its disposal to make our financial system stronger. In light of current conditions, the FDIC, with the full support of the Fed and the Treasury, will use its authority and resources, as appropriate to mitigate systemic risk, by, as appropriate, protecting depositors, protecting unsecured claims, guaranteeing liabilities and adopting other measures to support the banking system.

Increasing Liquidity to Financial Markets

As we address issues of capital and financial strength in our banks, we must also address the liquidity of our markets. The Federal Reserve has introduced innovative facilities and policies to enhance the liquidity that is vital to market stability, and has frequently done so in coordination with the European Central Bank. Today's announcement of a coordinated rate cut, including Europe, China and other large economies, is a welcome sign that central banks around the world are prepared to take the necessary steps to support the global economy during this difficult time. The EESA granted the Fed permanent authority to pay interest on depository institutions' required and excess reserve balances held at the Federal Reserve. This will allow the Fed to expand its balance sheet to support financial stability while maintaining its monetary policy priorities.

In recent weeks, the commercial paper market has suffered severe stress and illiquidity. Businesses ranging from financial institutions to industrial companies rely on the commercial paper market every day to fund their business activities. In particular, financial institutions sell commercial paper, and use the funds to lend to millions of consumers and businesses across the nation. In the wake of the uncertainty surrounding financial institution balance sheets, many investors are reluctant to buy commercial paper from financial institutions – in essence, unwilling to hold this unsecured debt for any significant length of time, even when the particular institution is healthy, because of the fear of not having access to liquid markets.

Yesterday, the Federal Reserve announced a new facility to provide a liquidity backstop to U.S. issuers of commercial paper. Through a special purpose vehicle the Fed will purchase three-month unsecured and asset-backed commercial paper directly from eligible issuers. I expect this initiative to significantly improve the availability of funding for financial institutions and corporations that depend on the commercial paper market. Until those that depend on commercial paper can issue it again in significant maturities, funding pressures will continue to ripple through our economy, dramatically shrinking the availability of credit to support families and businesses.

Mortgage Credit Availability and Affordability

As I have long said, the housing correction is the root cause of the current financial market turmoil. We must continue to keep mortgage credit available and support the housing market, so that we can more quickly turn the corner on the housing correction.

To provide critical additional funding to our mortgage markets, FHFA has directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to increase their purchases of agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Supporting the availability of mortgage finance is the mission of the GSEs. There is headroom of over $150 billion between the current GSE portfolios and their regulatory limit. FHFA will supervise the growth in these portfolios, under its expanded authorities to monitor GSE risk-management. We also expect Fannie and Freddie to increase direct support to the mortgage market through their ongoing securitization activities.

To further support the availability of mortgage credit, Treasury also has established a program to purchase agency MBS directly. The program began in September. This will complement the capital provided by the GSEs and help facilitate mortgage availability and affordability.

Stabilizing Fannie and Freddie to support mortgage availability has been constructive. As the rest of our markets experienced increased turmoil the interest rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage has come down from its peak of 6.6 percent earlier this year to as low as 5.9 percent this week – a decrease that helps American households reduce monthly mortgage payments and increases the potential for more homeowners to refinance mortgages at lower rates. As Treasury and the GSEs increase their purchases, mortgage affordability should improve for Americans. If we were not actively engaged at the GSEs, we would have expected that rate to increase and further slow the progress of the housing correction.

International Coordination

We see evidence every day that world economies and financial markets are more connected and interdependent than at any time in history. Economic momentum has slowed substantially across the industrialized countries as a consequence of the ongoing financial turmoil, the acute stresses facing our financial institutions, continuing housing markets adjustments in the United States and other countries, and volatile – albeit moderating – commodity prices. Emerging markets are also beginning to show signs of slowing. We see evidence that the freezing of credit markets is having a tangible impact on the everyday lives of citizens all around the world.

Addressing these challenges requires the dramatic steps we are taking here in the United States and it requires strong international partnerships. Governments have and must continue to take individual and collective actions to provide much-needed liquidity, strengthen financial institutions through the provision of capital and the disposition of troubled assets, prevent markets abuse, and protect the savings of our citizens.

We must also take care to ensure that our actions are closely coordinated and communicated so that the action of one country does not come at the expense of others or the stability of the system as a whole.

Over the past twelve months President Bush and I have been in regular contact with our international counterparts, and we have collaborated in a variety of ways. This weekend I will be meeting with my G-7 colleagues to discuss the steps that each of us are taking to confront this crisis and ways to further enhance our collective efforts. In addition, in consultation with Brazil, the G-20 President, I am calling for a special meeting of the G20 that will include senior finance officials, central bankers, and regulators from key emerging economies to discuss how we might coordinate to lessen the effects of global market turmoil and the economic slowdown on all of our countries.

Although the tasks are not easy, I am regularly heartened as I work with my international colleagues who are also committed to securing stability and growth in their domestic economies, and to promoting the orderly functioning of the international financial system.

The Road Ahead

While most Americans understand that economic cycles occur, we are experiencing some extraordinary and difficult challenges at home and abroad – challenges that make it clear Congress was correct to take swift and bold action, and that we have no time to waste implementing the new law. We also know that getting it right is as important as getting it done quickly. We can and will do both. The Presidents Working Group on Financial Markets and all financial regulators are working together to achieve our necessary goal of restoring stability and orderliness to our financial markets. Every effort will require careful analysis, deliberation and transparency, and some measure of patience from the American people as we create the most effective process possible.

We have already taken a number of extraordinary bold actions on the liquidity front that I am convinced have been exactly the right policy steps, including the emergency action to provide a guarantee to our money market funds, actions to stabilize the GSEs and drive down mortgage rates, and the Fed's new program to provide 90-day liquidity to commercial paper issuers.

It is the policy of the federal government to use all resources at its disposal to make our financial system stronger, to safeguard depositors and savers, to help ensure an adequate flow of credit, and to minimize systemic risk. The Congress has recently provided the Treasury with broad powers to acquire financial assets, to make capital available, and to strengthen the balance sheets of individual institutions. The Federal Reserve has also been given new authority to ensure that the system has sufficient liquidity. The FDIC has the authority and the access to resources necessary to protect the banking system. The Treasury, the Federal Reserve and the FDIC will use all their authorities to promote the process of repair and recovery and to contain risks to the financial system that might arise from problems at individual institutions.

But patience is also needed because the turmoil will not end quickly and significant challenges remain ahead. Neither passage of this new law nor the implementation of these initiatives will bring an immediate end to current difficulties. It will take time and bipartisan leadership, cooperation and collaboration, as well as well-conceived and executed policies to overcome the challenges our nation is facing. And we will overcome them. Despite our problems, the U.S. economy is the largest and wealthiest in the world. We will, as we have in the past, emerge stronger and better able to provide new opportunities for our workers and increased prosperity for our families. Thank you.

Monday, September 29, 2008

From Between the Hedges to Under the Lights

Atlanta's Theater of the Stars just concluded a two-weekend run of the smash-hit Schönberg/MacKintosh/Boubil musical Les Miserables - affectionately known to its die-hard fans as "Les Mis."

Handling the lead role of the noble parole-jumpingthief and the play's hero, Jean Valjean, was Rob Evan. And here's the kicker - the Broadway sensation was a walk-on player for the UGA Bulldogs in 1986 as a kicker alongside contemporaries John Kasay and Steve Crumley. Evan even sang "Thanks for the Memories" at Vince Dooley's 1989 farewell gala.

Since then, his star has steadily risen among the Broadway elite, and he's tackled some of The Great White Way's most challenging roles. He performed the incredibly difficult lead in Jekyll & Hyde for more than 1,000 shows, portraying the extreme vocal range of the good doctor and his evil twin.

Evan's performance at the Saturday matinee was outstanding. He was tapped to play Valjean two years ago in a Broadway revival, and he definitely brought Broadway chops to the Fabulous Fox. His football physique came in handy as he played the character whose size and strength gives him away to his relentless pursuer, Inspector Javert. And his carefully controlled falsetto was spot-on during Valjean's signature song "Bring Him Home."

The former Dawg brought down the house, and there was no doubt when the crowd came to their feet at the end of the performance that for this kicker, it was good.

Monday, September 22, 2008

From Jennings Mill to Valhalla…

The eyes of the golfing world were on Louisville, Ky. this weekend as the U.S. team pulled off their first Ryder Cup victory since 1999. While the victory was great, Boo Weekly was worth the price of admission. The most unique player in golf was not only the MVP of the U.S. team, but he kept the world entertained with his antics, like his ride down the first fairway:

What those locally may not remember is that Boo was riding his driver down the first fairway at Jennings Mill just two years ago as he finished tied for 42nd at the inaugural Athens Regional Foundation Classic (ARFC). While the $2,030 check may not have set the bank account on fire, it did put him on pace to return to the PGA TOUR.

One of my most enjoyable moments in the three-years of the tournament is sitting in the men’s lounge at Jennings Mill on the Monday of the event’s second year. The finale of the PGA tournament in Hilton Head was delayed until Monday. Boo chipped in on the 18th hole to win the event and the room went wild. He was living the dream of each guy in that room, it was awesome. (Also in the inaugural ARFC field was the PGA TOUR’s 2007 Rookie of the Year and the man that stole the show at the Masters, Brandt Snedeker.)

Recently, the PGA TOUR announced the dated for the 2009 event – April 13-19. This will be the fourth annual event and the crowds and excitement have grown each year. So has the involvement of the Athens business community.

While there is no guarantee that there will be a future Ryder Cup star in the field, you can be assured that there will be some incredible golf played by some great guys. Case in point – Brendon Todd. Todd was a star on the UGA golf team from 2004-07 and he received a sponsor’s exemption into this year’s event. Each sponsor has the right to invite four players who are otherwise not in the field to participate. Todd took advantage of his invitation and led this year’s ARFC after three rounds. It was heartbreaking to see his collapse on the final day, but his resilience showed as he parlayed that experience into a string of top-25 finishes, culminating with a victory at the Utah Championship. The victory puts him in “The 25,” setting him up to spend next season on the big tour. did a great feature on Todd chronicling his week in Athens that led to victory.

The ARFC is one of the highlights of the Athens sports calendar. Not only is it a great event, but all proceeds from the Classic will benefit the Athens Regional Foundation. The Foundation’s goals of community service and education are accomplished by providing the financial means to establish projects and programs to reach out and serve the long-term healthcare needs of area citizens.

So mark your calendars for next April, you never know who might be riding down the fairway…

Lend a Hand, Athens!

This Friday, September 26, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. a monumental event will occur at The Classic Center.

The Athens Volunteer Service Expo is going to be the place to be on Friday, so you better make plans to be there.

I can hear the questions now. "What is the Volunteer Service Expo? I've never heard of it before."

It's OK! In fact, this is the first time Athens has ever had something like this.

Over 40 nonprofits in the Athens/Oconee area have registered to set up a booth in the Athena ballroom in hopes they'll find some awesome volunteers to help serve in different capacities.

What does this mean for you?

The Athens Volunteer Service Expo is presenting the perfect opportunity for you to find an organization that fits your personality, your passions, your skills and your strengths the best. Let's face it, not everyone wants to volunteer for the same organization. This is YOUR CHANCE to find your perfect service niche!

The idea behind the Expo came from local philanthropist and former Mrs. Georgia, Sherri Goggin. After bringing on the support from Community Connection (aka HandsOn Northeast Georgia), things really started moving! Art Ordoqui-Payton of Community Connection helped recruit the attending nonprofits.

The bottom line is this: take 30 minutes out of your day, whether it's during lunch, after picking up the kids, after going to the gym, before your 2 o'clock meeting, or before you start happy hour before the Bama game, to stop by and support Athens and Oconee nonprofits.

Encourage your friends to come, too! It's more fun to tour around when you have a buddy.

Lend a Hand, y'all! I have a great feeling that Friday is going to be an awesome day.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Athens at Center of Palin E-mail Controversy?

Here at The Inbox, we try to avoid politics.

But AP is reporting that a Classic City technology business may be at the center of the controversy surrounding the hacking of Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin's e-mail. According to those reports, a local resident's internet anonymity service may have been used to protect the identity of the hacker. It is important to note that the business owner has not been implicated or accused of any wrongdoing, and plans to cooperate with authorities.

While local economic development leaders often talk about wanting high-tech businesses to come to Athens, I'm not sure if this is the kind of business or attention they expected!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Throwers Staying "Put" in Athens

Athens' own Reese Hoffa was the favorite for the 2008 Olympic Gold medal in the shot put. He won the world championship last year. His winning throw at the U.S. Olympic Trials was good enough to win Olympic gold in past games.

But as several of us from Jackson Spalding learned today, the Olympics are anything but just another track meet. Winning the Olympics means dealing with the natural adversity that comes with overseas travel (for Hoffa, this meant four days of travel while compressing his 315 lb frame into coach seats), dealing with unusual food, having hundreds of spectators attending his practice, and more. In the end, Hoffa settled for 7th place at the 2008 games. Not bad by most people's standards, but not what he wanted either.

But what is amazing is that Hoffa -- world champion, Olympic favorite, etc. -- lives right here among us in Athens in anonymity, despite a winning personality and a compelling story.

He is a part of the Athens Throwing Group, which seems to be an informal group of athletes who compete in the hammer throw, discus, or shotput on the international track and field circuit. These athletes often graduate from UGA and remain here. Others relocate to Athens to train under renowned UGA coach throws coach Don Babbitt. Beyond the occassional burst of publicity that may accompany an Olympic year or world championship, the group trains quietly in town.

They are quietly supported by local businessmen and athletic contributors who call themselves the Champions Club, which is headed by the legendary Billy Henderson (who entertained us with some lunch time stories about Clarke Central football and our own gridiron warrior).

In addition to Hoffa, the group has included from time to time the somewhat controversial Breaux Greer, who you may have seen on the new American Gladiators (photo and video below), Adam Nelson, the 2004 Olympic Silver medalist who once tried to auction his services to a sponsor on Ebay, and others you wouldn't recognize who are among the best in the world.

Today Babbitt (pictured above left with Hoffa) related the Olympic experience to a small group at a local club's monthly Tuesday Topics program. Since a few of us at JS got extremely passionate about the games, we decided to attend, and Babbitt didn't disappoint as he expounded upon on a number of issues, including:
  • the strengths and weaknesses of the American track and field's Olympic qualifying system (which forced Hoffa, the reigning world champion, to "earn" his way onto the team when his international competitors can focus on peaking jsut for the games);
  • Decrying the fact that the Olympic trials were a mere six weeks before the Olympics themselves, leaving little time for recovery and preparation among athletes;
  • The massive resources that UGA offers to its student athletes compared to the meager offerings of USA Track and Field, the national governing body for track; and
  • Outlining the massive investment China made in the Olympics, describing parks "three times as large as Central Park" and venues more than 400 meters away from each other. At one point, Babbit said he had to walk two miles to find a post office. Seems that everything about the China Olympics was supersized!
As a friend told me a few weeks ago when we ran into Olympic swimming coach Jack Bauerle at Big City Bread, Athens always seems to have a surprise up its sleeve. You never know where you'll find it, whether on the road, in the pool, at the track or somewhere totally different.

Reese Hoffa making the world's longest throw

Breaux Greer's American Record

Thursday, September 11, 2008

......A Good Day at the Office

If you have a business in Athens, you're going to get asked to play in charity golf tournaments. If you have a decent golfer in your office, you'll find that you start getting asked to play about every week, especially in the Fall. We happen to have a two handicapper at our office, so of course, everyone in town suddenly wants your office (or more specifically, your ringer) to join their team for a fund raiser.

While there is some truth to the old adage that "a bad day on the golf course beats a good day at the office every time," I will add this axiom: A business day on the golf course makes for long nights and early mornings for those in the client service business. And whether you're in the office or not, you might wind up spending what should be a relaxing day on the course on your cell phone instead dealing with pressing issues.

So when I got an e-mail today announcing the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce's "Non-Tournament" Tournament fund raiser, I had to laugh. It's a great idea -- get the sponsors, have the party, do the socializing, but let everyone get some work done that day anyway. Here's what Chamber President Doc Eldridge had to say:

"A funny thing developed as people began to respond. The majority of you said they they were happy to do a tee sponsorship for $100, but PLEASE, don't ask me or my staff to take another day off from work and play in yet another golf tournament. There are at least 8 other tournaments within the next few weeks, and you like the rest of us have gotten worn out on spring and fall golf tournaments."

Kudos to Doc Eldridge for some creative thinking. Perhaps we could have a Golden Tee Machine brought in for the party and have have some Wii Golf for a mini-tournament anyway (video below). Chamber Press Release follows.

This year golfers and businesses participating in the Chamber’s final fund raising event of the year won’t have to worry about Tee-times. Businesses won’t spend time figuring out who will be manning the store and who will be representing the company on the golf course. Players won’t be scrambling at the last minute to arrange a fourth, and nobody will be up all night finagling how to fit one more event-- and another golf tournament-- into an already typical and event filled season known as Fall in Athens.

There are even more benefits of the tournament this year: No worry about the weather. No worry about missed work. Even no worry about fudging on a handicap. In fact, no tournament. Just a celebratory scoring party for a job well done.

This year’s 4th Annual Paul Miller Classic Golf Tournament will be a NON Tournament.

The day promises to have all the trappings of a major tournament, complete with tee sponsors, which keep coming in, says Chamber President and CEO Doc Eldridge. Members can end a productive day at work with a Scoring Party held in the Chamber’s comfortable and all-weather board room with drinks and hors d’œuvres to celebrate a productive day.

The event was started four years ago as a tribute to Paul Miller, the Chamber’s economic development director for some 20 years. “Paul brought business people together to plan how to make Athens a better place to live,” says Eldridge. “The tournament was begun to bring people together for a time of sport, fellowship and dreams for the future of the Athens area. We are continuing that tradition on Tuesday, October 7 with the Paul Miller Classic Golf Non Tournament. Instead of a day on the golf course, we’ll have the opportunity after work, traditionally the time when those manning the office joined the golfers.” All sponsors, says Eldridge, will be included in the scoring party.

There are other benefits as well. “With the virtual golf tournament, tee sponsors multiply exposure potentials. “Typically, the tee signs only reach the players, roughly 70 to 80,” says Eldridge, who adds that the players often are more interested in their game than the signs that decorate the course. “By having a non tournament tournament, we are increasing exposure to nearly 160,000 by combining the circulation of the Sunday page and e-mails to our many members in the coming weeks,” says Eldridge.

Businesses or individuals interested in sponsoring a tee may contact the Chamber at 706-549-6800, or simply email Doc at

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Athens Multi-Modal Station up for Big Award

Athens' own multi-modal station -- which serves as a bus transfer station and downtown hub while it waits on the eventual arrival of the Brain Train -- is up for one of Atlanta's most prestigious real estate awards.

On September 18 local leaders will find out if the station earns the Urban Land Institute's Development of Excellence award for the southern region. Interestingly, another past finalist for the award from Athens is the restored Hodgson Oil Building, which now houses UGA's communications and police departments. The Hodgson Oil Building is just a stone's throw from the multi-modal station.

See the video here....

Prince Happenings

At Jackson Spalding, we're proud to be a part of the Bottleworks community on Prince Avenue. Our location offers a lot of benefits -- we're in a great old mixed-use complex, it's in a beautiful and historic neighborhood, we can walk downtown relatively easily, sidewalks abound, the neighbors are great, parking is easy and we have a lot of wonderful dining choices (Big City Bread, The Grit, 237 Prince, and Siri Thai to name a few).

However, some positive changes are afoot on the Prince Avenue corridor that will make it an even better area. Since Athens loves to talk about Prince, we thought we would post an update here.

First of all, McChesney Capital, the company that owns the Foundry Park Inn and is involved with several other local real estate projects, recently acquired most of the Bottleworks (several homes and offices are individually owned). Several changes are already underway or complete, including a new website, newly landscaped and renovated internal courtyard (pictured above) and improved landscaping. Plans were also recently approved by Athens Historic Preservation Commission that will allow the owners to install dramatic new signage, lighting, and landscaping throughout. Parking will also be improved, traffic flow adjusted and better directional signage installed.

According to the building's new managers, the goal is to make the Bottleworks a destination in Athens and to raise its profile. Potential new tenants being targeted include a 75+ seat upscale American restaurant concept, a new coffee shop facing Prince, a pub with outdoor dining in the new courtyard, and a variety of retail and office space users.

Across the street, Taqueria del Sol is rehabbing an old service station into one of its wonderful fast casual Mexican offerings (see picture). For all of us Atlanta ex-pats, this is exciting news. Taqueria is well known for the food-that-makes-waiting-in-a-line-out-the-door-worth-it at its three Atlanta locations, where it offers a mix of fresh mex and wonderful cuisine. While this has been reported minimally locally, in the Inbox's opinion, this could significantly alter the dining dynamic of Prince and bring more young professionals, families and students onto Prince for their evening meals, which is a good thing.

At any rate, that's the latest from 237 Prince Avenue -- anything else going on that we should know about?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A New Perspective on Dirt

If you're staying in town for this Labor Day weekend, be sure to check out Perspectives, the 6th annual pottery exhibit and sale hosted by Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation. Fifty potters will be displaying and selling their work, starting with the opening gala Friday night. Admission for the gala is $5, but starting Saturday, the sale and exhibit are free and open to the public. The whole affair takes place at the OCAF complex in downtown Watkinsville off School Street - with the exception of some of the studio tours.

If you're going out of town this weekend, you'll still have an opportunity to get the dirt. I collect pottery, so I'll probably make multiple visits to the show over its three-week span from August 29-September 7 when it's open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. I'm especially looking forward to seeing work from Kelly King (shown here) again - her pottery caught my eye at last year's show. I remember her exhibition piece being particularly spectacular, and I'm planning to add more of her art to my collection.

With more than 4,500 pieces on display or for sale, it's the state's largest pottery extravaganza. The exhibit includes 140 pieces, one from each participating potter plus collections from seven Georgia potters entitled "Another View: Pots and Sculpture."

Each year, it seems like the potters raise the bar, getting more and more inventive with forms, colors, glazes, etchings and interpretations. Trust me - this perspective is worth seeing.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Taking the Plunge in Beijing

As I write this, I'm thinking fondly of a soft couch where I could take a nap. The Beijing Olympics - rolling on through Day 7 - has me up well past a reasonable bedtime to keep up with the action. What can you do when they keep putting Michael Phelps in the pool around 11:30?

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to pull for the hometown hero early in the primetime broadcast. UGA diver Chris Colwill and diving partner Jevon Tarintino performed in last night's synchronized 3m diving competition. The synchro event involves six rounds of dives. Athletes receive two sets of scores, the first based on technical execution of the dives and the second on the pair's synchronization.

And when they say synchronization, they mean it. Pairs are judged on every hand movement, maintaining the same height coming off the board, folding into tucks and twists at the same time, and rotating through the air at the same rate. If you've watched, you also know - as commentator Cynthia Potter points out every chance she gets - that participants must enter the water at the same time and with the same trajectory. This is no bellyflop contest, either. Splashing is highly frowned upon.

Colwill and Tarantino had a disastrous fourth round dive, ending up perpendicular to each other as they twisted. (Colwill is on the far side in this photo.) They recovered with a solid dive in the fifth round, and held the third spot going into the final round behind the dominating Chinese team and the German pair. Hopes for a bronze medal for the U.S. team were high. Colwill and Tarantino looked good in the air, but one over rotated and the angles of entry ended up messy - and splashes erupted in opposite direction. The error resulted in disappointing execution scores and opened the door for the Ukrainian team to scoop up the third metal position. Though I'm no expert, I thought the Ukrainians had equal problems on their entry and that Colwill and Tarantino executed the dive more precisely - especially in terms of synchro. But maybe that's just my Bulldog bias.

Colwill, who is hearing-impaired, put in a marvelous performance, and the fourth place finish, though disappointing, is still a noteworthy accomplishment when you consider the field of play. Colwill will start preliminary qualifications for the individual 3m springboard on Monday. Tune in and prepare to be amazed. Splashing not welcome.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Surveying The Athens Landscape

Athens is a perfect place if you enjoy well-landscaped environments. The University of Georgia boasts its own marked arboretum, the president's garden and test gardens full of specimen trees, shrubs and flowers on the main campus. Or visit the State Botanical Gardens, where you can easily get your fill of gorgeous landscaped environments full of unusual plants and trees.

For the more inspired searcher (like myself), one can also find some of the nation's best wholesale and retail nurseries in the region. Some of my favorite retailers are Goodness Grows (Lexington), Thyme after Thyme (Winterville), Cofer's (Athens), Outdoor Specialty (Watkinsville), Land Arts (Monroe), Pinebush Nursery (Ila), and Thomas' Orchard (Watkinsville). These nurseries feature everything from new cultivars of plants that have emerged from research at UGA by legendary professors like Dr. Michael Dirr and Dr. Allan Armitage to old favorites found on the side of the road released to the world by Athens entrepreneurs. Without these nurseries and their operators, the communities of Northeast Georgia would not be nearly as green.

Indeed, when the local watering bans came down last year, I was one of a few locals who decried the impact they had on the landscape industry, which deserve better treatment by our local governments given the jobs and economic benefits they create, never mind the aesthetic impact and strong use of rural land in our "greenbelts."

But perhaps the most spectacular gardens in Athens and surrounding can be found in a variety of private homes. One of the most impressive is featured in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This is the garden of UGA's legendary Coach Vince Dooley, who now officially qualifies as Athens' most famous gardener.

Coach Dooley's gardens feature a range of rare plants, old favorites, and new introductions in what looks like an amazing setting. Be sure to click on the link and check out the photos, story and video. As an amateur plantsman, I'm excited to hear that Coach Dooley and Dr. Dirr are also planning to include a number of rare plants at the new plaza that will honor Coach Dooley that is being installed near the track on Lumpkin.

Coach -- any chance a reporter from the Inbox can get a preview? Let us know!

Photo credits: AJC

Update: UGA and the Georgia Research Alliance have also announced the recruitment of an eminent scholar who happens to be a tree expert to UGA. Good news for trees and gardeners. The Research Alliance is a Jackson Spalding client.

Monday, August 4, 2008

What Nt 2 Do

Back in April, Brian posted some tips for job seekers on the how to get employers' attention with your follow-up thank yous after an interview. The Wall Street Journal recently wrote an article about the new phenomenon of texting your thanks after an interview. The article, cleverly entitled "Thanks for the IView. I Wud 'Heart' to Work 4 U!" also chronicles how some interviewees are seeking out potential interviewers on social networking sites and trying to make "friends" prior to meeting.

I feel like the underlying message in some articles like this (although this one doesn't convey it overly much) is that the texting/Twittering/Facebooking masses are "the way things are" and anyone who gives the New Media Revolution any push-back is old and dated.

And while the means of the message are debatable - I, like Brian, still prefer a handwritten note that shows some thought and consideration - the message is not up for debate. Candidates genuinely interested in a job opportunity should say so in a manner and via a medium that indicates their professionalism. A misspelled ill-conceived text sent on the fly does not say "detail-oriented." I still stand by the notion that how you deliver your message has as much meaning as the message itself. While I'm growing to respect e-mail messages, too, I think it'll be a long time before "Thx 4 ur time" impresses me much.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

5 Ways to Stay Fit in Athens

Tired of the treadmill? In an exercise rut? The key to success is to find a challenging but enjoyable exercise, so why not mix up your routine and try one of the unique activities Athens has to offer?

1. Play "frolf" at the Herman C. Michael Park Frisbee golf course. It's played much like traditional golf, minus the clubs and golf balls. Players tee off and try to get a disc/Frisbee into chain baskets. The best part: the 18-hole course is free!

2. Sweat out your impurities at a hot yoga class. Athens Power Yoga offers almost daily Power Vinyasa Yoga at its Chase Street studio. Moving quickly through the yoga poses in an 80 degree room gets intense but provides an internal and external work out. First timers can try the "Basics" class, offered Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 9 a.m.

3. Prepare for next year's Twilight Criterium with a spin class at Georgia Cycle Sport. A long-time spin fan, I have yet to try its daily, 1-hour classes. Try it out, and let me know what you think. If you get addicted, consider buying a pair of Specialized shoes to clip into the bike to enhance the work out.

4. Punch out frustrations at The Omni Club's very own fight club. Taught by an Olympic trial track and field athlete and a once ultimate fighter, the 1-hour "fight club" work out requires a lot of equipment -- heavy bags, tower bags, speed bags, stationary bikes -- and even more muscle. While this is not a work out for the faint of heart, the loud music and group environment will motivate you through.

5. And for a change of pace, try belly dancing! Offered in multiple locations, consider yourself warned that this Middle Eastern dance may result in the impulse buying of scarves, ankle bells and transparent clothing.

Of course, these are just five of the many unique fitness "adventures" in Athens. There are always ballroom dance classes, UGA's rock climbing wall and kayaking down the Broad.

What do you do to stay in shape in Athens?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Spies Like Us

If you have lived in Athens for any significant period of time between 1998 and today, chances are you’ve seen at least one of the transmogrified yellow, blue and red vehicles roving the city streets. These curious creations are the products of the Imagineering and welding acumen of long-time Athens musician, sculptor, cult hero and bartender Brian Smith.

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Smith at Las Conchitas to talk more about the history of the “Spy Car” phenomenon in Athens. Like any good spy, he only told me what I needed to know. Here is what I uncovered:

A Subversive Beginning

Spy cars are the natural extension of one of Smith’s previous ventures, the “art car.” In 1991, Brian decided to “beautify” a dilapidated Buick station wagon. He painted the entire car black, including the windows, and added signs that read “radiation” and “pirate vehicle.” According to Smith, “there was nothing legal about this car.” Smith would later amplify his disregard for traffic laws in the form of a Volvo he converted into a “police vehicle.” Surprisingly, the vehicle, complete with working siren and fake dome light, never landed Smith in jail.

Enter the Yellow Submarine

Years after creating the police vehicle, while watching the famous Beatles movie Yellow Submarine, Brian was struck by a vision. The bright, primary colors featured throughout the movie provided the inspiration for a new type of alternative vehicle—one that would inspire and offend, challenge the status quo and, in some social circles, become it. In 1998, the spy car was born.

“I had wanted a Volkswagen bus since I was 13,” recalls Smith. “On Christmas Day when I was 17, my dad told me that my wish had come true—that there was a Volkswagen bus waiting for me in the driveway. I ran outside, more excited than I had ever been, but didn’t see anything in the driveway. I looked more closely and realized that my dad had in fact bought me the bus. The downside was that it was made by Hot Wheels.”

After several years of mourning, Brian recovered from his father’s prank and purchased a full-sized “goat puke green” Volkswagen bus from a mechanic friend for $600. The bus would become Smith’s canvas for the first ever “spy car.” He painted the vehicle bright red, blue and yellow and attached “weapons” like a “rocket launcher” on the roof of the bus (this addition would prove handy when the desire for shooting bottle rockets from a moving vehicle struck). At the time, Smith had no idea that his project would spark a mini-revolution in Athens.

A New Subculture Emerges

“Make mine like yours.” Hearing those words from friend Greg Baker, Brian realized that he had created something special. It was the first request for a spy car and Smith was happy to oblige. He added floor tiles to the roof of Baker’s old Toyota and welded the requisite fake weaponry to the vehicle. Now there were two spies in town. Over the next few years, Smith would build 30 spy cars in total—transforming everything from a large truck to a BMW 2002, which was totaled only one month after being converted.

The spy car phenomenon caught fire in Athens’ art community and reached critical mass in 2001 in the form of an official, police-escorted Spy Car Parade through downtown Athens. The parade marked one of the few occasions that the law was on Brian’s side. There were other, slightly less official (read: completely illegal) parades, such as the one that invaded the University of Georgia campus and made the front page of the Athens Banner-Herald.

In 2002, an Athens resident donated a vehicle to the Lyndon House Arts Center to be decorated by Athens guidance. A longtime supporter of the youth of America, Smith described the conversion project as “so awkward.” “Building spy cars is a very solitary, meditative act,” said Smith. “If you have to involve other people, it is best to do it ‘Juicy Fruit commercial style’—with a few close friends who are all your own age.”

The spy car conversion process was always a labor of love for Smith. The most he was ever paid for a conversion was $100 to cover supplies. “I did it for the kicks,” said Smith. Spy car owners were thankful to have their old beaters transformed into weird pieces of art, and Smith took pride in contributing to the landscape of Athens with his strange and wonderful creations.

While spy cars had become an everyday part of Athens’ scenery, not every Georgia town was so welcoming. Smith recalls a friend telling him about an incident at a McDonald’s in Madison, where a nervous patron called the police after seeing a spy car in the parking lot. The woman reported that the car had “dynamite all over it” and that there was a German Shepherd trapped inside. There was a German Shepherd inside the car, but he was just waiting patiently for his owner to return from a Chicken McNugget lunch. Nonetheless, the police arrived on the scene, bomb squad and robot claw in tow.

Vehicles with roof hatches and fake missile launchers naturally lend themselves to a certain amount of criminal mischief. One spy car was used in the kidnapping of 8-Track Gorilla, the local Athens karaoke cover song artist. The kidnappers coordinated the stunt with the 40 Watt Club’s management and drove a converted Volkswagen Jetta into the venue during an 8-Track Gorilla performance. They captured the gorilla, drove out of the club and onto the sidewalk on Washington St. Passing by the 40 Watt Club entrance, one can still see the spot where the car removed a chunk of the wall during the heist.

In another incident that went unreported, a spy car owner once drove his vehicle into an ex-girlfriend’s mailbox…on purpose. While Brian doesn’t blame the spy car for its owner’s destructive behavior, he admits that “the car probably gave him that extra fantasy element he needed in that moment.”

The Culture Submerged

Spy car owners weren’t the only ones causing trouble. The cars “were the victims of rampant vandalism,” said Smith. Spy car owners were frequently heckled by passersby who didn’t appreciate the vehicles as art. Smith attributes such hostility to an unconscious negative reaction triggered by the “subversion of a nationally historic symbol—the automobile.” Another possibility is that many people simply weren’t ready for such odd inventions. Brian recalls one befuddled onlooker genuinely posing the question “Is that one of them ‘Accu-Weather’ cars?”

While the exact reasoning behind the taunting is unclear, it became such a large issue that several owners actually “re-converted” their spy cars into regular, street legal vehicles. Other spy cars were destroyed in accidents, acquired by local governments or simply broke down over the years, but not before dispersing across the United States. From New England to Portland, Ore., one can find the remnants of a more innocent, charmingly inspired time in Athens’ history.

Athens’ Army of Spy Cars may have disbanded, but Brian Smith has not stopped creating. In addition to recording and playing in nearly every Athens band formed since 1995, Brian continues undertaking new welding projects and is always on the lookout for potential beauty in the unbeautiful. Smith’s most recent work is a collection of giant alien bug sculptures composed of scrap metal and other jetsam. While the bugs may not invade the town in the same way that the spy cars once did or allow angry ex-boyfriends to destroy ex-girlfriends’ mailboxes, they are quite a sight to see—and yet another oddity that makes Athens the unique, quirky community that it is.

For more information on Brian Smith or to contact him about purchasing an oversized alien lawn bug, visit his MySpace page.