Saturday, January 31, 2009

spring forward

Late night expert Bill Carter literally wrote the book on David Letterman and Jay Leno. In the years since the publication of "The Late Shift," Carter has written many, many articles for the New York Times about Letterman and Leno. This past week Carter deviated from the norm to write about Jimmy Kimmel, which he's done at least once before as Jimmy prepared for his first show six years ago.

The good news for Jimmy is that Carter's sources say ABC is considering moving "Jimmy Kimmel Live" from 12:05 a.m. to 11:35 p.m. They see an opportunity to compete head-to-head with NBC when Conan O'Brien takes over "The Tonight Show."

If such a move happened, it could mean the end of "Nightline." Or the news program could be moved to 12:35 a.m. One TV Squad commenter suggested that ABC move "Nightline" to 10:00 p.m. where it can continue to go head-to-head with Jay Leno.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

downtown revitalization

Former New Yorkers like myself never stop looking for a pizza that replicates their memories of what they had back home. Tonight my wife and I had dinner at Dazzo's Italian Castle Pizzeria on Gay Street, between the Bijou Theatre and the Tennessee Theatre. It's actually sandwiched between the offices of two law firms.

Dazzo's got some publicity from WBIR last month, shortly after they opened. We went there between shows at the Bijou Jubilee and were lucky to get the last two seats in the place. From the chatter around us, it sounded like some of the other customers were planning to see Henry Cho at the Bijou while others were headed to a movie at the Regal Riviera.

The back of the menu says that the owner grew up in Ozone Park in the 1960s and that he started working for the best pizzerias on Long Island in the mid '70s. Like a true New York pizza joint, they offer it by the slice for $2.75. Except at night. The waitress told us we would have to order a minimum of four slices, which is half a pie. It was more cost-effective to buy a whole pie for $15.95 and take home the leftovers. We ordered a plain Neapolitan, which is the best way to truly judge a new pizza.

Dazzo's crust is the way I like it, very very thin. In addition to salt and pepper, our table had shakers of garlic, chili pepper flakes and oregano,
my favorite pizza topping. As my wife paid the cashier, I watched the pizza chef smother somebody else's pie with sausage, pepperoni and bacon. Next time we go, we might try one of their specialty pizzas called "Grandma's Pizza." It's a thin crust pan pizza. Or we might stick with what we know we like.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

as in minus everything interesting

What is it like to watch Quincy in a post-CSI world? Earlier this week I did my annual interview with Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass, which will air Sunday morning. I got home that day and was inspired to watch an old episode of "Quincy, M.E." that was about to start on WMAK.

The episode starts as a dead priest is discovered in a call girl's apartment. We only see a glimpse of the body's feet beyond the bedroom door. While the camera stays on the police lieutenant questioning the lady of the evening in the living room, Quincy goes into the bedroom and shuts the door! Really? I thought the show was called "Quincy, M.E." not "Monahan, P.D."

Lt. Monahan quickly suspects that the good padre has been framed. He needs Quincy to provide an explanation. Our view of the corpse is obscured by a light fixture in the autopsy room. Quincy and Sam discover a possibility that the body was moved after death. As they are telling Monahan about it, Sam says that it has to do with lividity. Proving how far we've come since then, Quincy replies, "Oh c'mon Sam, let's not bore him with the details now." Go ahead Sam, bore me!

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

clap on

The promise of free cake brought a crowd to Gay Street this evening. The city closed off a block to accommodate all the people. The cake came from MagPies Cakes, which has sent a competitor to a Food Network Challenge in the past. A chewy white fondant covered two layers of chocolate cake. The best part was the chocolate stuff between the cake layers. The cake itself was a bit too dry, like most wedding cakes.

While we were all there, the Bijou Theatre board threw the switch to illuminate their new marquee and vertical blade sign. Fans can buy a bulb and get their name on a plaque in the theatre as part of the "Light Up the Bijou" campaign. Einstein Simplified bought two bulbs to commemorate our performance at the Bijou on Friday at 5:00 p.m.

To me, it looked like all three television stations sent their own cameras to the press event. WBIR's story is already online. State Senator Tim Burchett and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam both read from proclamations honoring the Bijou's 100th anniversary. Burchett chose to fist bump everyone rather than shake hands while joking that he had originated the move. Haslam got a big laugh when he mentioned that throughout its history, the Bijou's building had housed movies, parked cars and ladies of the evening.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

not exactly deep throat

News organizations are known for protecting their confidential sources. In that spirit, I will never reveal how I ended up with a copy of an internal memo from WVLT-TV. It reveals that they will start sharing video with WBIR-TV on certain types of stories like news conferences or announcements by the mayor or governor. They will coordinate schedules so that only one of the stations will send a camera, instead of two. The new policy doesn't apply to "enterprise acts of journalism." According to the memo, WATE-TV declined to participate in the video sharing program.

On the surface, it looks like another cost-cutting move, such as the switch to "one-man band" news gathering in which the reporter has to be their own cameraperson and editor. However, if you look at it from the point of view of a community event or a charitable organization trying to get some news coverage, it could mean that they get seen on two channels instead of one. For example, if this policy had been in effect a couple of weeks ago, there would have been fewer cameras at the new bishop's press conference. And the footage of the cantata at All Saints Church that was on WBIR could have been on WVLT too. More coverage could have meant more people at our second performance and therefore more money in the collection basket for Catholic Charities.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

that would have me as a member

Over the holidays, the rest of my family climbed aboard the Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce bandwagon that I have been riding since last April. My wife poured some over cream cheese and served it to us with crackers. My daughter liked it so much that she asked if she could take one of the two 40-ounce bottles I had in the pantry. I was happy to give it to her, since I could just pick up a replacement bottle at Sam's Club, right? Wrong.

As usual, the cashier at Sam's asked "did you find everything okay?" I had to honestly respond, "no." I couldn't find the sauce that they had gotten me hooked on, then taken away, then brought back. Now it was gone again. The cashier said I wasn't the only one who had been asking about it. She said that a married couple had been buying the sauce regularly to serve in their restaurant. Apparently they had built a menu item around the magical condiment.

In mid-February, my wife has to bring an appetizer to a pot luck luncheon at her job. She plans to serve Raspberry Chipotle Sauce over cream cheese. She might want to try it with Ginger Snaps instead of crackers. I have been conserving whatever sauce is left in my bottle so she will have enough. Otherwise I can suggest that she try using the bottle of Pomegranate & Mango Chipotle Sauce or the bottle of Granny's Peach 'n' Pepper Pourin' Sauce that I have in the pantry. Granny says it's the easiest snack ever.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

jewel case

The Bijou Theatre's 100 Year Jubilee kicks off Wednesday evening and runs through Saturday night. The News Sentinel's weekend section had an pull-out section with interesting articles, pictures and trivia about the venue. The Jubilee schedule includes a comedy improv performance by Einstein Simplified on Friday at 5:00 p.m. The money from ticket sales benefits the Bijou while we get to keep any proceeds from merchandise sold, assuming we can find something to sell.

Jubilee chairman Larsen Jay was my guest on the public affairs radio show that aired this morning. I've known Larsen since shortly after I moved to Knoxville. I've written before about the toilet he put in my house for a TV show. I remember when he met his wife Adrian, who was a reporter for WATE at the time. My wife and I went to their apartment-warming party at the Sterchi Lofts. Larsen and Adrian now own Doublejay Creative, which is headquartered downtown.

Larsen is a good talker and made the time go by easily, especially since I was fighting a cold. He has plenty of stories about the Bijou's past and renovation. He also said that the Jubilee will be an annual event. Feel free to right click and download the podcast. Or try clicking the play button below.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

entice you with some bacon

Film director John Hudgens is a panelist at Chattacon this weekend. I assume he's at the sci-fi convention to promote the February 17th DVD release of his "American Scary." Or maybe he would have gone there anyway just for kicks. I wrote about John's movie prior to its Hollywood Film Festival debut in 2006.

John sent me a message last night after he had sampled some Elvis-themed, sushi-looking snack cakes at the convention. Imagine peanut butter, bananas and marshmallow creme wrapped in white bread and topped with bacon. Picture Twinkies sliced like California rolls and decorated with breakfast cereal. And it was all served by an Elvis impersonator dressed as a Japanese chef.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

the backwards robe

This hasn't been the best week for me. I've been fighting a cold, which started with a sore throat the night before the second performance of the cantata at All Saints Church. Plus I was saddened by the anniversary of my father's death on Wednesday and by the news today that a co-worker died after a long illness. There were a couple of other things too. On the plus side, I was asked to sponsor a candidate in the RCIA at Sacred Heart Cathedral and I got to go to the circus.

Late Tuesday night, my wife and I went to Walgreens to buy me some more decongestant. While the pharmacist was checking our driver's licenses, I was looking at the "As Seen On TV" shelf. I decided to buy the item my wife has been wanting since she first saw the commercial. And although it's hers, she let me try on her brand new Snuggie.

It reminds me of a choir robe, a hospital gown and an airline blanket. It's fairly thin, which became obvious when I held it up to a light. Apparently there is also a product called the Slanket, which claims to be thicker and is considerably more expensive than the $14.95 we paid for the Snuggie at Walgreens. Unlike the TV commercial, we only had to buy one Snuggie and didn't have to pay an extra $7.95 each for shipping and handling. We still got the bonus book light, as promised on the box.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

it's a one-ring circus in there

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus returned to Knoxville tonight, less than eleven months after their last visit. The show was almost the same as the one I saw in March. They upped the number of elephants from two to three, which is good news for a pachyderm fan like me. As one of the animals did what comes naturally and the roustabouts cleaned up after it, the band was playing a cheesy cover version of "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap."

The smaller version of the circus is called the Boom A Ring tour. The white tiger act and the dachshund act were unchanged. As the six big cats went through their paces, I wondered if the tigers took turns doing the last stunt atop a disco ball or if it's always the same one, night after night. I also wondered what kind of exercise the tigers get besides their performances. The crew set up the cage for the tigers during intermission, which is when I snapped this picture of a tiger waiting for showtime.

As the tiger cage was being dismantled, a magician did some tricks with doves and then with a lovely assistant. I don't recall ever seeing a magic act at the circus before. It made a good fit. I thought they could eventually do bigger Vegas-style illusions with animals, like Siegfried & Roy. Maybe not the best example.

I was given the opportunity to greet the crowd at the end of the All Access Pre-Show. Then as everyone was being sent to their seats, one family plopped their baby down in the middle of the ring for a photo.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

making a splash

Sometimes a news story speaks directly to you, as if you've been waiting for it. That happened tonight when I heard that US Airways is dropping their fares at McGhee Tyson Airport. I had been thinking about going to visit my grandmother while she is in Florida for the winter. Rather than drive, I can now find a flight for as low as $99 each way. The perfect week to go would be while my son is on Spring break from college. He can join me for party time with the senior citizens. I will try to arrange it so that we both change planes in Charlotte and take the same flight to the Sunshine State. Wouldn't it be great if our pilot was Hudson River hero Sully Sullenberger? We would certainly be in good hands.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

the best medicine

The Christmas gift that my friend Bean gave me is the companion book to the PBS miniseries "Make 'Em Laugh." The first two segments aired last Wednesday but I didn't get to them until the other day. Make sure you set your DVR to catch the rest of the episodes.

The series runs for six hours. There's another half hour available online, appropriately titled "Teh Internets." They also link to five classic viral videos. If you haven't already seen all five, you should have your Internet access revoked.

Last week on TV, they did an hour on "Nerds, Jerks & Oddballs" followed by an hour of "Breadwinners and Homemakers." This week's topics are "The Knockabouts" and "The Groundbreakers," which are about slapstick and freedom of speech respectively. The TV episodes are arranged in a different order than the chapters of the book. Some excerpts from the book can be found online, including most of the section on early radio comedy.

For someone like me, the show is fun piece of nostalgia. As a kid, I watched a lot of famous comedians from well before my time, so I was already familiar with Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and the like. "Make 'Em Laugh" shows clips that remind me of the movies and shows I've seen throughout my life. I'm not sure that I would be as entertained if I didn't know the source material. I find it interesting when they dissect the humor, but like frogs, the jokes get killed in the process.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

serious name dropping

The History Channel has been running presidential-themed programming all day. Earlier I watched a segment about James Madison on a show called "The Presidents." Tonight I was completely drawn in by a show called "Secret Access: Air Force One." As nice as the plane is, the couch that converts into the president's bed made me think that the customized 747 is actually the world's fanciest R.V.

Air Force One delayed my flight in April, 2005. President Bush was supposed to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park for Earth Day. Bad weather kept him at McGhee Tyson Airport instead. While he was here, I was waiting to go to the Washington, D.C. area via the late great Independence Air, which I still miss.

In all the years I lived in the D.C. suburbs, I only had two presidential encounters. Jimmy Carter waved at the box office staff when I worked at Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts. I later met Mr. Carter a couple of times when I booked him as a guest on KLOS. He came in at least twice to promote books he had written.

I've already written about the time my friend Bean and I broadcast from the White House lawn for a Redskins victory celebration. We saw Ronald Reagan throw a pass to Ricky Sanders. Yes kids, there was a time when the Redskins were that good.

I shook hands with George H.W. Bush, but not while he was president and not while in D.C. He made a campaign stop at Villanova University. I foolishly spent two semesters there as a math major and soon realized that I fit in better at the student newspaper and student radio station. Mr. Bush had a luncheon with student leaders in the Connelly Center as many of us looked on from an upper level. He made some remarks and acknowledged the people he was with, including Villanovan editor Marianne Lavelle. I started a chant of "Marianne, Marianne," which prompted Mr. Bush to call her to his side for a hug. Cameras flashed and a big picture of the two of them was splashed above the fold on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer the next day. That's when Marianne told me that her family members were leaders in the local Democratic party and that she now had a lot of explaining to do.

Bill Clinton came to Los Angeles after his term to speak at the Radio & Records convention. I was working at the convention for my friend Pam Baker. She assigned me to be the liaison for "Access Hollywood" anchors Nancy O'Dell and Pat O'Brien. I had known Pat for years from his frequent guest appearances on KROQ. He felt comfortable telling me that he really wanted to be introduced to Mr. Clinton, which wasn't on the official agenda. I was aware of the path that the former president would take through the kitchen to the ballroom so I positioned Pat and Nancy in the corridor until the time was right. As Mr. Clinton was chatting with some people in his entourage, I saw my opening and took it. "Mr. Clinton, I'd like you to meet Nancy O'Dell and Pat O'Brien," I said. He quickly turned to greet them, as I thought he would, especially since Nancy is gorgeous.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent

One of the perks of interviewing Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass about their Body Farm books is that the publisher sends me an advance copy. The past few times I got an uncorrected galley proof, so that I had even more time to read it before the interview. I didn't need much at all. Last weekend, I read half of "Bones of Betrayal" in the car on the way to Missouri and finished it the next day on the way home to Tennessee.

I told Jon on Wednesday night that I liked the new book better than the last one. He said he liked it better too. "The Devil's Bones" had three parallel story lines that didn't connect in as satisfying a manor as the story lines in "Bones of Betrayal." The new novel has deaths in present day Oak Ridge that are linked to a previously unknown murder during the Manhattan Project days. There couldn't be a better nickname for the scene of the crimes than The Secret City.

The action in "Bones of Betrayal" takes place in mid-January 2009. Somehow the authors predicted our current cold snap when they were writing last year. One of my favorite things about all the Jefferson Bass books is the way they describe East Tennessee in such detail. No Oak Ridge story would be complete without a visit to Big Ed's Pizza. They put you right at their table as they write about the tiny paper plates and flimsy plastic forks at Big Ed's.

In another section of the book, the fictional Dr. Bill Brockton goes to the real Thompson Photo in Knoxville. He's a regular there whereas my wife and I made our first visit to the place before Christmas. Jere found an old photo at her late Aunt Dee's apartment in St. Louis. It was badly yellowed but was otherwise in good condition. She thought that copies of it would make great Christmas gifts for her mother and siblings. Jere arrived at Thompson's store in West Knoxville only to find out it had been shuttered (pardon the pun) the day before. At our next earliest opportunity, we took the photo to Thompson's main location in the Mechanicsville area, where Dr. Brockton takes some film that turns up as evidence.

The folks at Thompson did a good job of making copies that restored the image to glorious black and white. The picture is a portrait of Aunt Dee and her siblings as children. The other three are my mother-in-law, Fr. George and Uncle Barney. The original is from Schweig Studio, which closed in 2002. The Schweigs exhibited the work of local artists at a gallery in the basement of their studio.

Our best guess is that this great photo was taken in 1932 or thereabouts.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

dance the hoochie coochie

One or two clicks on the Internet has got me craving a cupcake and counting the months (four) until my next trip through St. Louis. Now I need to figure out how I got to this point.

It started with a short message from my friend Susan Olsen. She wrote "marshmallowy goodness to you." I knew she would appreciate it when I wrote back something about toasting her with a glass full of Marshmallow Fluff. She then sent me a photo of a Fluff coffee mug topped with the stuff. She's been placing jars of Fluff in famous paintings and album covers and wrote, "I would welcome any ideas from you. I think you have a deeper understanding of the marshmallow."

Thinking about sweet treats prompted me to look at Cupcakes Take the Cake, which had an incredible shot of a s'mores cupcake from New York. I kept scrolling through their older posts and found one about the writer's recent trip to St. Louis. She visited a place called Jilly's Cupcake Bar, which instantly earned a spot on my to-do list with its photo of a cream-filled S'murtle cupcake. Half s'more, half turtle, total perfection.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

promises fulfilled

Bishop-elect Richard Stika was in East Tennessee most of this week. He was introduced at a press conference on Monday. Lori Tucker interviewed him on Tuesday morning for a piece that aired on WATE Thursday night

While he was in town, Stika traveled around the diocese to get acquainted. He went to Catholic Charities to meet their less fortunate clients, including two elderly men who asked him, "Why did the Pope cross the road?" I'm not exactly sure what their punchline was, but it might have been "because he crosses everything."

Bishop-elect Stika returned to St. Louis today. He'll pack up his belongings and his dog Rosie and get back in time for his installation as Bishop on March 19 at the Knoxville Convention Center. I found out the other day that the ordination Mass will start at 2:30 p.m. and last for at least three hours. Plans are being made to webcast the ceremony. I think I would rather be there in person, especially since there will be a reception afterward. The Bishop-elect hopes that all the local Catholic school children will attend too.

If his visit to Tennessee had lasted a day longer, the Bishop-elect could have come to hear the "Journey of Promises" cantata at All Saints Church tonight. Someone from the chancery did check to see if there might have been a rehearsal that he could have attended last night but there wasn't. However they have been practicing for months.

The performance went well and got mentioned on WBIR's late newscast. My friend Kathy had emailed all the TV stations to request that they consider sending a camera, since they would likely have crews right next door to cover the Webb at Catholic basketball game. The publicity will help fill the seat's for Sunday's performance. Admission is free but they do take up a collection for Catholic Charities.

The All Saints choir was joined by members of the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra and a few adult parishioners who can play instruments. I read one of the three spoken word parts. Look closely and you can see Fr. Ragan Schriver and me at the podium in the background of the photo below. We'll play it again on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. I hope to see you there.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

well behaved bloggers

Usually the musicians are already on stage when a performance of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra begins. Tonight the show opened Mariachi style. Eleven people walked out from the wings, the bass players, cellists and harpsichordist sat down but the violinists remained standing as they played Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major.

Maestro Lucas Richman made his first appearance of the night after the front part of the stage with the harpsichord was lowered and then raised again with a grand piano on it. Richman thanked the sponsors and welcomed those of us in the audience for the KSO's second blogger night. I suspect that most of the senior citizens in the audience heard "blah blahs, for those who don't know, are people who blah on the Internet."

Soloist Navah Perlman played Mozart's Concerto No. 24 in C Minor with the full symphony. I especially enjoyed the way the violins blended with her performance on the piano on the softer notes. As I listened, I wondered how she could play for 31 minutes without sheet music. Fortunately it was blogger night, so I could just ask her at the post-concert reception. She uses muscle memory and also remembers thoughts and smells that she encountered while learning the piece. She specifically mentioned remembering the smell of a chocolate cake baking while she practiced. Mmm.. cake.

The most accessible opus on the program, and therefore probably my favorite, was Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 in A Major. The first movement of the so-called "Italian Symphony" is very familiar. If I was flipping stations and happened to come across it on WUOT, I would turn up the volume and stay in my car until the end of the movement, even if I had reached my destination. During the performance Maestro Richman conducted the orchestra with his whole body. He bounced on his toes with a boyish enthusiasm that reminded me of my own childhood when I would pretend to conduct whatever symphony was coming from my father's record player. I like my classical music loud and fast. At the reception, the maestro told me that he was using his body to express the energy level he wanted from the musicians. He said that famous conductor Kurt Masur uses a lot of energy when rehearsing that piece but barely moves at all during performances of it.

My neighbor is a KSO musician. He was at the reception and we talked about firewood and how I saw him using his chainsaw the other day to cut logs. Another musician said I would be surprised how much stuff they do that is dangerous to their hands. This other guy once cut his finger pretty badly but was happy it happened to his bow hand. A female musician chimed in that she had cut off the tip of a finger but proudly showed how it was successfully reattached.

Navah Perlman was fighting a cold tonight. During our conversation we talked about ordinary stuff too. She could name a couple of grocery stores in each region of the country where she travels like Kroger and Piggly Wiggly in the south and Vons and Ralphs out west. A particular favorite of hers is Fred Meyer in the Northwest. The talk of travel turned to talk of her four kids. The last two are twins. She said if they had come first, she might have stopped right there. Navah's runny nose will not interfere with your enjoyment if you should go to Friday night's performance at the beautiful Tennessee Theatre.

It was a pleasure to chat with several fellow bloggers at the reception as well. Look for links to their reviews to be posted on the spiffy KSO blog soon. We should all try to put our own review links in each others' comment sections too.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

unto dust thou shalt return

A recent post on a UT football message board suggested that instead of naming more streets after players and coaches, the University should honor famed forensic anthropologist Dr. William Bass. As I drove onto the campus tonight, it might have been easier for me to find my way if I could have just followed Bill Bass Boulevard to where I needed to go. I turned right one street too soon and then couldn't get into the parking garage without going back out to Cumberland Avenue.

I was part of a huge crowd that showed up to hear Dr. Bass speak at a Lifelong Learning event. Two ladies who rode up in the elevator with me kept looking at me like they knew me. I turned to them and said "you didn't think I would miss this, did you?" At that point, one of them said she sent me an email about the lecture. Several people had, for which I am thankful. I was early enough to get a seat inside the University Center Auditorium. Once that room filled, people were sent to an overflow room, where they could watch on closed-circuit television.

The topic of tonight's talk and slide show was cremation, which played into the plot of last year's Jefferson Bass novel, "The Devil's Bones." Most people don't realize that a recognizable skeleton remains after cremation. After any metallic parts (i.e. artificial knees or hips) are removed from the pile, the bones must be pulverized to create the "ashes."

When Dr. Bass finished his presentation, Jon Jefferson briefly took the podium to preview their next book, "Bones of Betrayal." As mentioned previously, the story is set in Oak Ridge and deals with radiation and murder most foul. Afterward the authors signed copies of their books for a long line of fans.

Jefferson and Bass will launch "Bones of Betrayal" at a fundraising benefit for the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association. Tickets are $25 and are available from Knox Heritage, even though Oak Ridge is in Anderson County. After that, they will sign books at several stores in the region. Be sure to get a copy. I've already read a galley proof and it's fantastic. More about that in the days ahead.

Instead of heading straight home, I made plans to grab some dinner with Jon at the Downtown Grill and Brewery. I almost didn't make it because of the incredibly long time it took to get out of the University Center parking garage. Once I got to Gay Street, I found Jon and several of the bar's regulars. They refer to their weekly gathering as "Wednesday Night Prayer Service."

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

crusty cur

The flags were at half-staff at a rest stop in Illinois on Saturday. While the real reason was to honor a deceased retired judge, I thought that Governor Blagojevich might have ordered the flags lowered in mourning over his career. He had been impeached the day before.

Inside the rest stop I saw some funny tourism posters for Illinois attractions. The sign for White Squirrel Town says they have nothing to fear but stubborn grass stains. They sell t-shirts and other items with the same design.

The poster that amused me (and others) the most was for the Cozy Dog Drive In. It shows a nurse feeding a bottle to a corn dog with the caption "Visit the Birthplace of the Corn Dog." There's no need to wait until National Corn Dog Month to get yourself a t-shirt with the poster on it.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

rich it is

As rumored yesterday, the next Bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville was introduced at a press conference this morning. Bishop-elect Richard Stika is moving to Tennessee from a parish in St. Louis where one of his parishioners is Stan "The Man" Musial.

Three local television stations covered the event. WBIR and WVLT each sent a cameraman. WATE also sent reporter Kristyn Caddell who remembered me from our recent encounter with the Christmas penguin.

I also saw reporters from the News Sentinel and the Farragut Press. After breaking the news at 6 o'clock this morning, the Catholic blog Whispers in the Loggia linked to a profile of the Bishop-elect from the St. Louis Beacon.

The best photos of the press conference will probably be the ones taken by Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey. He also had the best position for his video camera. I hope to see his work on either the Diocese website or his own site. I couldn't find any of his pictures tonight.

Many of the priests of the Diocese were in attendance as well as the Bishops of Nashville and Memphis. Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz was warmly received by his former staff. It was his first time back to the chancery since his elevation to Archbishop.

I introduced myself to Fr. John Dowling of St. John Neumann parish and asked him the question I had about his new building and the Bishop's cathedra. Fr. Dowling said that yes, the Bishop could theoretically choose to move his chair to another building, thereby making it the new cathedral. However, Fr. Dowling is not pushing for that. He agreed that the Bishop would probably want to leave the cathedral right where it is, next door to the chancery, which has seen some improvements since Archbishop Kurtz left for Louisville. I also asked Fr. Dowling about the mosaic Stations of the Cross in his new church. He bought those from a clearing house in Atlanta that sells fixtures from closed churches in other parts of the country. Because he had those first, he was able to design the width of the windows so that the Stations would fit perfectly underneath them.

I found it interesting that the Bishop-elect has had to keep the news of his appointment a secret since December 16. And that he is allowed say Mass in Aramaic when celebrating with the Maronite Church.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

isn't it rich?

Phone calls and text messages started flying around the Diocese of Knoxville this afternoon. Somebody spread the word that the name of our new bishop could be announced as early as tomorrow. Of all the current U.S. vacancies, Knoxville has been waiting the longest for a bishop. Upon hearing the rumor, one of the priests I know immediately used the web browser on his Palm Treo to see if anything was posted on the blog Whispers in the Loggia. There wasn't then, there is now. My priest friend was surprised that the name being bandied about is someone he knows. It doesn't always work out that way. Over the past several months of waiting, I have gotten in the habit of checking Whispers in the Loggia daily and searching the site for the word Knoxville. I'll have to begin checking two or three times a day until the official news comes out.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

guaranteed gasoline fail

"Have you seen the Censored Count?" asked my kids. Over their Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations I truly enjoyed talking with them about their current favorite websites. We watched the great "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" and scrolled through okay sites like I Can Has Cheezburger and better sites such as Totally Looks Like. After getting Rickrolled by the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, we got a chuckle from the Barackroll.

We were passing laptops back and forth in a flurry of Internet activity as each of us brought up various viral videos and other content to share. The site that kept coming back into our conversations was the very funny Fail Blog. For example, as the family was decorating Christmas cookies, Frank Jr. cracked us up by making the Gingerbread Man Fail that you might have noticed in my December 25th post. While we were in St. Louis, I spotted a real-life example that could have been on Fail Blog. I snapped these pictures at a QuikTrip and added the text myself.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

straight from the heart worms

Woodpeckers are a problem in my neighborhood. My next-door neighbor once told me a funny story about how he bought some rubber snakes in the gift shop at the Knoxville Zoo and placed them on his roof in an effort to scare away the birds. He ended up scaring some workmen he had hired to clean the chimney. I have a couple of rubber snakes wrapped around two of the bird-damaged wooden posts on my front porch. I could use several more.

On New Year's Eve, my son was with me for Einstein Simplified's appearance on "Live at Five at Four." As we left the television station, he looked up and noticed that WBIR is using the same method to discourage some birds from nesting in their logo, but with limited success.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

final answer

There was a time when the Regal Downtown West Cinema had lines wrapped around the building for movies like "Jurassic Park." Our friend Jennifer told us about those days when my son wondered why Regal Cinemas would have two properties as close as Downtown West and West Town Mall. Downtown West survived by screening smaller, independent films that are rarely seen in other markets our size. Its very existence serves as a reminder that the country's largest movie theater chain is headquartered not in Hollywood, but in Knoxville. Coincidentally, Regal CEO Mike Campbell was interviewed tonight by Lori Tucker on WATE. And Byron Chesney shared a link to a new interview with Campbell on the BusinessTN site.

My wife and son and I met our friend at Downtown West tonight to see "Slumdog Millionaire." I realize that most people can't drop everything and rush out to a movie on a Thursday night but I would have liked to have seen a bigger crowd there tonight. "Slumdog" deserves to have lines wrapped around the block.

Jamal, the lead character, works in a call center for a cell phone company, but not as a customer service representative. He's the chaiwalla, the guy who brings tea to the operators. The authorities suspect him of cheating on the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Flashbacks to his childhood illustrate how he learned the answer to each of the game's questions. They also tell the heart wrenching story of Jamal's life in poverty. He is covered in filth, both literally and figuratively. It is both a feelgood movie and a shocking look at slums, orphanages and crime. On top of all that, Jamal is searching for his childhood love, the beautiful Latika. As someone who always stays for the closing credits, I was rewarded with an unexpected yet very entertaining Bollywood-like dance number. I hope the movie is rewarded with some trophies at the various award shows in the weeks ahead.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

returning the favor

Several other bloggers have mentioned me on their sites recently. That Chick Over There was especially kind in her remarks. She says I remind her of her husband. That Chick and MDA are the most recent to say that they are coming to blogger night at the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. Earlier RSVPers included Rich Hailey, Barry Wallace, Rob Huddleston, Doug McCaughan and Byron Chesney.

More recently, Byron wrote that he was impressed with the amount of traffic that flows from my site to his entertaining Knoxville Trivia Blog. It makes sense to me. He writes about local news anchors more than I do.

Speaking of anchors, Stacy McCloud got a kick out of my post about her clown interview yesterday. But mostly out of the photo.

Cassie Kiestler was happy that I found something interesting about digital TVs in her blog. She was just as happy when I was amused by a clever comment she left on one of my posts. I hope she doesn't feel obligated to write about me mentioning her again.

Leeann Samples and her husband Don came to see Einstein Simplified at First Night Knoxville. They didn't tell me they were bloggers. My Google Alert did.

A former Knoxville deejay nicknamed The Greek writes a blog called Knoxville Radio History 101. He took my picture last week while he was in the building to be on a WKTI show called "The Voice."

In a sort of the same but different vein, my friend Rodney Lee Conover informed me that I'm briefly visible on his YouTube channel. The clip is actually one of the DVD extras for his movie "BachelorMan." The disc just came out in November and the film will turn up on HDNet Movies. I visited the set one day back in 2001. Look carefully and you can see me seated behind the director John Putch, who happens to be the son of Jean Stapleton.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

sabre dance

Sometimes it's just so easy to find a daily blog topic, especially when it involves someone who already turns up in my search results all the time. Stacy McCloud interviewed a couple of performers from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus today. They are bringing back the same show we got last March and calling it an "encore." They got Stacy involved in the act but it never occurred to them to play the right music or call her "Stacy McClown."

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Monday, January 05, 2009

twelfth night

Depending on the culture, the twelve days of Christmas end tonight or tomorrow. Some start counting on Christmas Day, others on Boxing Day. Either way, happy Epiphany Eve, even though my church celebrated the feast yesterday. Or maybe I should say merry Armenian Christmas Eve.

On New Year's Eve, my wife and son and I arrived downtown early for First Night Knoxville. The cold air was making my wife's nose a little runny. I thought that we could probably get a pack of tissues at J's Mega Mart, the combination wig shop and convenience store where I got the unusual Santa Claus figurine that I sent to my friend Bean. I was also curious to see if anyone had purchased the other dusty Santa that was still on the shelf when I did my shopping on December 10.

We walked into the store, peeled off our hats and gloves and started looking for tissues when, what to my wondering eyes should appear but three miniature Santas and possibly six more in boxes behind them. They all appeared to be brand new which means that the store must have had a supply of them somewhere. Since they're going out of business, I doubt that they ordered more just because I bought one. Each had a slightly different pose. Do they intend for someone to collect the whole set? There are many more black Santas available online. The one on the left in my photo has an open hymn book glued to his chest. His hand is in the wrong position to be holding it.

On another shelf, I saw lots of Little Debbie products, including the S'mores that I wanted to try last May. I probably should have spent the 46 cents but I was put off by the fact that they were not labeled for retail sale.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

on an open fire!

Even Michael Phelps would have trouble burning off all the calories in my Christmas stocking and under our tree. I have been schlepping to the indoor pool at the fitness center at least three days a week all through the holiday season to help assuage the guilt.

Just in time for the holiday eating season, I found a blog called Back to the Fridge by Charlie Hills. I thought about adding it to the blogroll on the right of my page, but the BTTF design doesn't lend itself to easy scrolling and browsing. Instead I view his posts via Google Reader. On Friday, Charlie wrote: "Although the new year is now officially underway, let’s face it: our diets don’t start until Monday." My thoughts exactly! Charlie's tastes agree with mine in two other important areas: TV women and Chex Mix. A lot of guys wisely choose Mary Ann over Ginger but not everyone picks Bailey over Jennifer.

I always get some sweet treats for Christmas. This year I seemed to be especially blessed. I've already mentioned the marshmallows I got from friends and alluded to the gingerbread cookies my kids made. Perhaps my professed affection for See's Candies inspired some family members to load me up with gourmet chocolates.

Today we tried to slice and share some truffles from Joseph Schmidt, Master Chocolatier. One of the truffles in the package of three was supposed to be pomegranate flavor. The others were "all dark" and "extra dark." We couldn't tell by looking at them. The outer shells were a bit hard and broke when we tried to cut them in half. The excellent taste was not affected. Unfortunately the French truffles from Bissinger's were not quite as good. My wife chose the espresso and mint flavors. I took the raspberry. We split the double chocolate and the hazelnut. They were okay, just not as delicious as I had hoped.

The Chocolate Filled Candy Canes we got from Elegant Gourmet didn't do it for me either. After tasting a piece of my wife's, I gave mine away. There was too much candy cane and not enough chocolate for my taste.

On the other hand, a small box of assorted Krause's Chocolates was a very nice surprise for our family to share. They were chosen for us by our daughter's boyfriend who had visited the shop in Saugerties, New York. The chocolates came with a page that identified the flavors by the color of the paper cup and the shape of the candy. For example, the raisin cluster was in a red cup and had a bumpy surface. The butter cream comes in a white cup with a smooth top. Another candy-related gift I received from the same benefactor was a "Star Trek" set of Pez dispensers. As you can see, they're all straight but Sulu.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

leapin' lizards

Like the guy in the Verizon commercial, Christmas isn't over for me yet. Today is only the tenth day of Christmas. I found a film blog that is also celebrating the tenth day today. Each of the related entries are fun, especially the eighth day.

Since we still have a little time left, let's take a look at three of the newsletters that were enclosed with Christmas cards we received this year. Like last year, the names have been redacted to protect the indulgent innocent.

These first excerpts are from some married friends of mine from college who like to travel. A lot. There are a few of their trips I'm leaving out, including their annual Thanksgiving cruise to the Caribbean.
While we didn't have gymnastics this year for S., we were indoctrinated into the world of competitive cheerleading. In January we traveled to Indianapolis and in February we were in Atlanta where S. was one of 22,000 cheerleaders competing in the Georgia World Convention Center. There was lots of glitter! S. is also back on the pageant circuit and in May she was crowned as Miss Junior National Teenager [from our state].

Spring break arrived in March and we actually thought about not going anywhere. At the last minute however, we decided to book a trip to St. John and had a fabulous time on this very beautiful island. Next, in April, we were off for a quick weekend to New York to see "Wicked," a great Broadway show. This little excursion included a stop in Philadelphia for dinner at a really cool Italian restaurant in South Philly; yes, we're nuts.

In May we went on a 12-day Mediterranean cruise. It was a fabulous vacation and we visited ten amazing ports. In Florence we spent the day touring the medieval villages of Sienna and San Gimignano. We loved the Tuscan countryside (although unlike last year, not by bike). The next day brought us to Rome where we had arranged a tour of the Vatican. Even though we had been there just a year before, there was still so much to see. This was the best vacation ever and we saw so many wonderful sights and had a truly amazing time.

Within a week of our return from Europe and barely over the jet lag, we were off to South Carolina for K.'s orientation at [her new college]. Not long after that we were all back in South Carolina for our annual vacation in Hilton Head Island, this time with four additional friends and the dog! Tiki loved her first trip to the beach. This Hilton Head vacation turned out to be quite memorable as we took advantage of the attractive real estate market and ended up buying a house. For now it will be a vacation home but we plan on moving there permanently when S. graduates from high school.
This next excerpt is from one of my wife's friends:
J. has now passed the 24 year mark at IBM. As his responsibilities have grown, he keeps thinking more and more about hanging up his cleats and moving to Hawaii... but then he wakes up from his dream and realizes we only have 7 more straight years of paying for the kids' colleges.

Our rental rates are very reasonable for those of you interested in coming to DC in late January. Desperate times mean desperate measures - we've got to do something to make up for the 401Ks.
And this last short paragraph is my favorite. It comes from a relative:
December highlight was a visit to the Governor's Mansion at the invitation of the First Lady, who is also an AXO. It is a restored 1871 Victorian mansion. The lunch was elegant and served by incarcerated workers dressed in tuxes and white gloves. An occasion to remember, for sure.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

party quirks

More often than not, my wife and I stay home on New Year's Eve. One year we went over to the next door neighbor's house. Another year we went to the home of some church friends. We had three memorable New Year's Eves in California.

We rang out 1999 at a spectacular black-tie party for the film "Fantasia 2000." So many people were afraid of Y2K, that we got invited to fill out a table that had been purchased by a corporate sponsor. After a screening of the movie, there was live music by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Chicago. Maybe you've heard of them.

Another year we got tickets to see the Brian Setzer Orchestra at the House of Blues. Because the tickets had come from Setzer's management, we found ourselves seated at the same table as Brian's wife. I've already written about the New Year's Eve we spent in Pasadena, getting within smelling distance of the Rose Parade floats.

I had a great time saying farewell to 2008 on Wednesday night. I got to play improv games with my Einstein Simplified pals as part of the First Night Knoxville festival. The evening started early with an appearance on "Live at Five at Four" to promote our performances. Then we had dinner at The Tomato Head, which was packed with people. Despite the huge crowd, the staff found a way to seat our party of 16. I amused myself by ordering the vegetarian chef salad and then having them add free-range chicken to it. The words bacon and salad on the menu got me wondering if there is such a thing as bacon salad. It would have mayo and celery like tuna salad but with bacon instead of fish.

I was a little anxious about whether or not we would draw an audience. Our performance space was in a conference room in an office building across the street from Market Square. I said that I hoped ventriloquist Gene Cordova could draw a crowd. He had shows at 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. in the same room we would use at 9:00. When we got to the TVA West Tower, Gene Cordova had a standing-room only crowd that spilled out into the lobby area. Another conference room across from ours had musical performances by Bantry and Tennessee Schmaltz. They had a decent sized audience too, not Gene Cordova numbers, but decent. Most of the audience who filled the room for our two shows had never seen us before. I was surprised when a former WAVA listener in the crowd re-introduced himself to me. It was Don Samples, cousin of the late Junior Samples. Our shows went very well and I think more than a few of the people will come see us at Patrick Sullivan's in the future.

We ended our second show around 11:30 p.m. and went outside to see the "ball" drop. It was more like a balloon on a tether and not that impressive. Next year they should drop an orange construction barrel, as suggested by reader Cassie. A live band on the Market Square stage made the event feel like Sundown in the City, except for the bitter cold. Like the popular summer event, there were way too many cigarette smokers blowing their exhaust on others. We found a spot that was relatively smoke-free and watched the countdown to midnight. It was 25 seconds slow but who's counting?

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

the world is a stage

Why does the Tournament of Roses bother having a parade theme each year? Or why don't they do a better job of enforcing the use of the theme in all the floats? This year's theme was "Hats Off to Entertainment," apparently chosen because the current tournament president owns a restaurant called The Hat. There were some great floats that made use of the theme but there were others that made no sense to me. Knoxville native Jack Hanna rode on a float with realistic representations of wild animals. I didn't see anything about entertainment there. Hanna even kept his hat on. I also wonder why they still have so many equestrian units in the parade. I like parades with floats, bands and balloons. I don't need to see people riding horses unless they're doing something special, like the group that does rope tricks.

I thought there was a meeting each year for all the float sponsors to present their sketches to the committee. If any were too similar, changes would be made. The City of Burbank's self-built float represented a 3D sci-fi movie. A professionally built float for Trader Joe's also had movie monsters and 3D glasses. I have a feeling that this has happened to Burbank before but I can't remember exactly when. They might also want to make sure no two bands play the same song, like "That's Entertainment!" for example.

The City of Roseville had a float that looked like an old steam locomotive, spouting clouds of steam. It was funny that the float giving off the most steam exhaust won the trophy for best depiction of life in California. Jack in the Box entered the parade for the first time with two other firsts. According to the announcers, it was the first float with a disco theme and the first float with its own bathroom on board. The highly-touted, overrated Honda entry took forever to do its little trick and shoot confetti out of a hat. I think the rest of the parade had to pick up the pace to make up for the extra time Honda took.

I am curious to know how Stephanie Edwards got her old gig back as co-host of the Rose Parade coverage on KTLA. The station must have done some callout research. Bob Eubanks and Stephanie could also be seen nationwide on the Travel Channel. I could not find a high definition feed of KTLA's coverage like I did last year. Unfortunately the Travel Channel is still not in HD on DirecTV. The picture was blurry and unwatchable. On top of that, they ran an annoying crawl across the bottom third of the screen with text messages from viewers. In Los Angeles, the KTLA broadcast used to be commercial-free. The Travel Channel stuck advertisements for the Snuggie, the Twin Draft Guard and Mighty Mendit into the live broadcast, which made it feel like we missed seeing some parade entries. They should have timed the commercials to coincide with the equestrian units. KTLA has posted video of the entire parade on their website.

While the Travel Channel was unwatchable, the NBC coverage looked great but was unlistenable. Al Roker would not shut up. When some shirtless Hawaiians were on screen, he declared the new parade theme to be "pants off to entertainment." When the Penn State Blue Band performed, Roker said that it would take a long time for the band to "clear our cameras." When I flipped past, I almost always heard Roker talking over a band's performance. An interesting article in the Los Angeles Times says the Tournament of Roses gave NBC better camera positions to keep them from dropping their coverage.

Meanwhile on ABC, the parade hosts let the pictures do the talking. They let the bands be seen and heard. In the past, I have felt that ABC's coverage was lacking, that they only broadcast the parade as part of their obligation to get the rights to air the Rose Bowl. This year's telecast had a different feel. The hosts, Hannah Storm and Josh Elliott of ESPN seemed happy to be there, they did a good job of describing the floats and bands without getting in the way, they had good camera angles and interesting pre-taped features by John Naber about the building of the floats. It's as if the network stepped up and made their coverage the "official" broadcast of the parade. They had microphones on Cynthia Nixon and Cloris Leachman with the intention of interviewing both ladies as they rode past. Nixon's interview about breast cancer went well. Leachman's mic worked fine but she seemed clueless that Storm and Elliott were talking to her. Hannah Storm handled the mishap well. Because I was flipping channels, it took me a while to even realize that I was watching Hannah Storm. A couple of years ago I was critical of the terrible job she did on CBS' coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I've realized since her departure from CBS that it wasn't her fault. Her replacement made all the same mistakes, which indicates that the problems are with the writers, researchers and directors of the CBS coverage. CBS has stopped covering the Rose Parade. They should drop the Thanksgiving parade too.

Another possible reason for my not immediately recognizing Hannah Storm could be her new look. She may have had some kind of fashion makeover. Whatever she did, it worked. Toward the beginning of the broadcast, Josh Elliott sat there staring at her while she was talking. He looked enamored. About 40 minutes into the broadcast, WATE came back from a local commercial and forgot to switch from SD to HD. I had just complained about this same thing during the public affairs show I did this past week. Naturally, I called WATE to inform them. The guy who answered the phone put me on hold and called master control. As he got back to me, the problem was fixed. I noticed that they were right on time with all of their other switches after local commercials.

At the same time I was flipping between ABC, NBC and the Travel Channel, I was recording the commercial-free HD broadcast on HGTV. If I could only watch one version of the parade, this would be it. The audio was excellent, the video was excellent and the hosts did a solid job. Jann Carl and Robb Weller did both say "toin coss" instead of "coin toss." But if it was the only channel I watched, I would have nothing to write about today except their inadvertent spoonerism.

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