Street Talk

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NOISEMAKER SAY ANYTHING Christine Alexander and Rick Hughes report on their arts e-newsletter. Quick-witted amateur theater cohorts Rick Hughes, 46, and Christine Alexander, 34, turned their artistic passion to publicity last summer, creating anything arts, a biweekly e-newsletter promoting the local arts scene. With a steadily growing readership and just enough ad revenue to cover […]


NOISEMAKER

SAY ANYTHING
Christine Alexander and Rick Hughes report on their arts e-newsletter.

Quick-witted amateur theater cohorts Rick Hughes, 46, and Christine Alexander, 34, turned their artistic passion to publicity last summer, creating anything arts, a biweekly e-newsletter promoting the local arts scene. With a steadily growing readership and just enough ad revenue to cover Web costs, the veteran real estate agent (him) and photography studio COO (her) assemble anything arts entirely after hours-that is, when they’re not producing or performing for any number of local theatrical organizations. “We’re doing as many things as we can that don’t pay anything,” Hughes jokes.

What does anything arts cover? Rick: Anything. The Sarasota Film Society and Glenridge Performing Arts Center all the way down to the guy who does wood etchings at the farmers’ market. How much has readership grown? Christine: We started with 700 e-mail addresses-Rick’s friends and my friends. Now we have over 2,400 subscribers. I’ve even had someone call me saying, “I just had a friend in New York forward me your newsletter.” What’s your favorite thing you’ve covered so far? Rick: The SOURCE Teen Theatre’s The Day I Opened My Eyes, through Planned Parenthood, [which will be] culminating in a production for Congress in January 2007. What’s next? Christine: We have 200 people ready to receive e-mail from anythingfood.com. Rick: And soon friends of ours will be doing something similar to cater to the gay community-although “anything gay” was taken. -Hannah Wallace

Fat City

Dining off the beaten track with Bob Ardren.

There’s something almost mystical about smoky barbecued ribs on the Fourth of July. They’re so very, very American.

Now, everybody has heard the tales about the origins of barbecue-how the sauce covered up the flavor of old meats, much as it did in early French cuisine-and some still insist it takes an African-American to do ‘cue right. But that isn’t what we found in Sarasota. There are some fine smoky ribs to be had in our community, and they’re produced by both black and white cooks.

And, unfortunately, the opposite is true, too.

We know because we’re still licking our fingers from Sarasota’s annual and totally unofficial rib-off. We called up the clan of a dozen or so of our Thanksgiving regulars-nice guys, delightful women, all knowing good food-and told them it was time for a rib-off. Just bring a couple of rib dinners, we said (that way we’ll all have some good sides), from your favorite ribbery and gather at our friend Rob’s home, a beautiful spot right next door to the Sarasota Succulent Gardens.

We had ribs from as far away as Hickory Hollow in Ellenton and also from just about every rib outlet in Sarasota-no side-of-the-road stands allowed, though, only ones our readers could easily locate.

We commenced to eat those ribs, and we commenced to grade those ribs-and especially good sides were noted, too. Here’s what we found:

Different folks like different things.

For example, Timmy, who arrived with Jack’s 24-foot travel trailer behind his pickup truck (it’s a long story), was less than charmed to have to hunt up Hickory Hollow’s ribs en route from Tampa. But you should have heard him crow when he tasted them. Smokey’s was a close second, he announced, but with Hickory Hollow he’d definitely found a new rib place.

Rob, our host, completely agreed.

Jack, on the other hand, preferred the smaller and drier ribs from J&L, “strictly because of the wonderful mustard sauce,” he said. And Jeff, on the other hand, seemed to love the one he was with-he changed his rankings several times as he tasted new choices, finally settling on Smokey’s, followed by The Oaks.

Glenna also preferred the drier style from The Oaks but, interestingly, saved most of her praise for the side of fried okra from J&L. As good as she ever had, she said, as she went back for thirds.

Likewise, Cathy had to be reminded she was judging ribs, because she kept praising the black-eyed peas thick with smoky flavor from Hickory Hollow. The big rib winners for her were the Hickory Hollow ribs, followed by Northern/Southern Food Express and Jamaica Me Ribs.

Stan just ate and ate, building up a big pile of bones on his plate before declaring not only were the Jamaica Me Ribs the best of the bunch (followed by Smokey’s), but their sweet potatoes mashed with bananas and sprinkled with pecans was the side to remember.

That led to a general rush back into the house by everyone to sample this unique and, it turns out, extremely tasty recipe. It ended up winning “best of show” side dish by popular acclamation.

Adele, who’s been trying to move back to her native Toronto for years, admitted good Southern ribs were one of the things keeping her in Sarasota. And, she added, those from Hickory Hollow were her favorites. But to tell the truth, she even liked the ribs from Sonny’s-which were pretty dry and bland in most other people’s judgment.

The good beer and wine kept flowing.

Paul never sat down. He just kept circling the big table inside, sampling this rib and that side and refilling his wine glass for what seemed like hours. Maybe that’s because it was a couple of hours.

By the time the sun went down, it was agreed most of us preferred the moist, tender and full-of-flavor ribs from (in no real order): Smokey’s BBQ & Grill, 4015 N. Lockwood Ridge Road (rib dinner $10.95 with two sides); Jamaica Me Ribs, 2045 Bahia Vista in Midtown Plaza ($6.79 for two-rib dinner), and Hickory Hollow, 4705 U.S. 301 N., Ellenton ($12.95 for the large rib dinner-and worth the road trip. In fact, USA Today declared in May that Hickory Hollow was No. 3 on its Top 10 list of barbecue joints-in the whole country).

Second-tier ribs included The Oaks Open Pit Bar-B-Que, 6112 S. Tamiami Trail ($9.95 for a rib dinner); J&L Barbeque, 1512 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (rib dinner $10.95 and overall winner of best sauce for James West’s special mustard blend); Northern/Southern Food Express, 3430 N. Tamiami Trail; and Sonny’s Real Pit Bar-B-Q, 3925 S. Tamiami Trail.

So you’ve got plenty of choices for your ribs while celebrating this Fourth of July. And isn’t that what living in a democracy is all about?

Art Buzz

Inside the visual arts with Mark Ormond.

The Ringling Museum may have to increase the insurance value of its Frans Hals Portrait of Pieter Olycan, which hangs in the museum’s Dutch gallery. At the European Art Fair in Maastricht, Holland, Swiss dealer David Koetser sold a different Hals’ Portrait of Pieter Jacobsz Olycan, priced at $12.5 million. It had been bought by Koetser’s father as a Hals in 1967 for 52,500 pounds sterling (about $100,000) and disattributed in the 1970s, but now is recognized as an autograph work. The Ringling’s Hals portrait was always a personal favorite of John Ringling; he paid more than $100,000 for it in 1927 and kept it in his New York apartment for many years.

Some amazing jades from the collection of Dr. Helga Wall-Apelt (recently promised to the Ringling Museum) were placed on view in the Astor cream salon there recently. At the opening March 30, Wall-Apelt suggested that those present “leave gold coins in front of the Buddha” to help support the museum as she lauded its importance; the crowd laughed, but she was serious. It’s good that the new curator of collections at the Ringling, Stephen Borys, has reconnected with former colleague Charles Mason, now curator of Asian art at the Harn Museum in Gainesville, since Borys is responsible for finding a curator for the Asian collection donated by Wall-Apelt; stay tuned.

Gallery 12 at the Ringling Museum became Chevy Chase‘s VIP room at the Sarasota Film Festival opening night party. John Chamberlain’s relief sculpture acted as a huge party decoration over the champagne bar. Joseph Jacobs, curator of modern art at the Ringling in the late ’80s, wrote the modern section of the seventh edition of Janson’s History of Art, released in March… Annie Solomon hosted the Sarasota art crowd after son Mike’s opening at Greene Contemporary. Two guests in from New York were James Salomon, associate director of Mary Boone Gallery, and Ned Smyth, a sculptor represented by Holly Solomon for many years. Guest Christine Desiree said she’s been asked to submit a proposal for developer and art patron Jorge Perez’s Oasis in Fort Myers; Perez is choosing 30 west coast Florida artists for this residential project. Michael Velliquette, who grew up in Bradenton and now lives in San Antonio, where he makes film-based work and collage, is now represented by DCKT Gallery in New York; he was showing new work at the PULSE art fair in New York in March. April Budd Thurber was in Chicago in May with her mother, Corcaita Bowes, to see an exhibition of work by her father, David Budd, at McCormick Gallery. The catalogue essay was written by Roy Slade, retired president of Cranbrook in Michigan, who now lives in Clearwater.

HOT SEAT

Students were protesting the Vietnam War the first time Derek Bok became president of Harvard University. Now, with another war raging and Bok back in the president’s seat on an interim basis, he finds students and professors far less engaged, and not just in politics. Bok rails against apathy in education in his latest book, Our Underachieving Colleges. And now this 10-year Longboat Key snowbird finds himself in a position to put some of his theories to work.

After the controversial tenure of Larry Summers, who was forced to resign after commenting that women aren’t as scientifically minded as men, do you feel pressured to right the Harvard ship? People express condolences and regard me as some kind of martyr. I don’t look at it like that; it’s a real treat to come back and play a modest role to help Harvard regain its momentum and also to engage with issues I care about. The faculty is debating changes in the undergraduate program and the curriculum, and that’s a subject on which I’ve just written a book. It’s a nice coincidence.

Why are our colleges underachieving? At a time when we need to increase the quality of our education, colleges are falling significantly short in improving the basic skills and knowledge of students. Universities give lectures to passive audiences, the examinations don’t normally test for critical thinking, which means students don’t study for that, and the feedback is skimpy and late in coming. The methods are simply not well geared to the objective.

Florida schools have started requiring high school students to pick a major. Good idea? Real progress depends on how we teach the students, not what courses they take. I would not introduce majors except maybe in schools where it’s vocationally necessary. I’d concentrate more on challenging students to think and solve problems instead of absorbing large quantities of information which they go on to forget with frightening speed.

You were Harvard president during the Vietnam War, and now president during Iraq. What’s the difference in the collegiate atmosphere? The students were extremely angry and rebellious over the Vietnam War. There is nothing comparable with this war. The key difference is we do not have compulsory military service. If students today felt that they had a good chance of being drafted and sent to Iraq, you’d have the same tensions you had then.

What do you do when you’re in Sarasota? We enjoy Burns Court Cinema, walking up and down the beach, and the sculptures and exhibits. And we go to a few operas and classical concerts. -Kim Hackett

Street Talk

The New Sarasota

Wireless snarls, and the parking crisis gets personal.

By Kim Hackett

Wireless snarls and the parking crisis get personal.

Sarasota may be one of the top wireless cities in the country, but it’s not much use if people don’t know about it.

It’s been two years since the county installed the first wireless link at Selby Library and gradually expanded to a chunk of downtown and the bayfront. The link allows people with laptops, Blackberrys and certain types of phones to access the Internet.

Intel gave the city a nod last year by naming it the 91st most wireless city in the country. But if you’re from out of town or still browsing the Internet with a clunky laptop, the city’s wireless ring isn’t much use. There aren’t any signs promoting Sarasota Unplugged-the name of the free network-so you have to know it’s there. And it doesn’t penetrate walls, so you’re forced to use it outdoors, not always convenient in the hot Florida sun.

Limiting it to outdoor use was by design, says the county’s chief information officer, Bob Hanson. “We didn’t want to compete with private vendors. We wanted it to fill public spaces,” Hanson says.

Maybe it’s my laptop, or the construction downtown, but I found the Sarasota Unplugged service spotty. First of all, I wasn’t hungry enough to head for lunch at one of the outdoor cafés, which would have made it a bit more comfortable to browse, so I was forced to walk around with my laptop open on Main Street, hoping to snag a signal.

Computers with wireless modems search for a wireless network signal, similar to a cell phone, but logging on is not automatic. Your computer will give you a list of available networks from which to choose. Unless you know it’s called Sarasota Unplugged, there’s no way to tell which network belongs to the county. Downtown there are dozens of private networks people haven’t bothered to secure. It’s unethical to use someone else’s network, and it’s dangerous because you risk getting a computer virus or having your computer hacked.

The early afternoon glare made it impossible to see the screen clearly, so I retreated to my car.

Once you select Sarasota Unplugged, it’s easy to get on. Depending on your computer, you just click on the network, sign in and you’re home free.

Network officials say the service isn’t designed for people like me with outmoded communications such as a laptop.

“It’s not designed for today’s technology,” says Dan Miller, president of 82 Degrees Tech, a local organization aimed at promoting technology. “In the next generation, there are going to be Wi-Fi clips” built into all kinds of devices, “like a Dick Tracy watch.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait for a Dick Tracy watch; I wanted my e-mail now. But unlike the tourists, at least I knew about the network. Miller admits they need better marketing than word-of-mouth.

“No one is promoting it,” Miller says. “We’re working on a sponsorship of the network to promote its existence.”

A new tower will soon be installed on top of The Ritz-Carlton to provide better coverage, and within a year it will expand to cover Siesta Key Beach, Lido Beach and east of I-75. Eventually, the county would like to have service at all the libraries and the rest of the county.

“Our next challenge is, how do you get people who can’t afford a computer to have access?” Miller says. “We’re working on a business plan to solve that issue.”

TICKET TROUBLE

Unlike the number of spaces, there’s no shortage of opinions on the downtown parking situation. With the Palm Avenue/Main Street parking lot long gone, a city lot giving way to the Pineapple Square project, and the Hollywood 20 outdoor lot now costing $3 for non-patrons, visitors have to lap around Main Street to find a free two-hour space. It’s become a competitive sport for anyone who lives or frequents downtown.

“You’ve gotta know where to park and where they don’t cite you,” says Tom Coler, a real estate broker and Embassy resident since 1977. Coler declines to reveal his parking secrets for “competitive” reasons.

It’s not just the lack of parking spots, but the two-hour limit that discourages downtown shopping. If you’re having a business lunch, it’s not a problem, but if you want to shop and take your time, you’d better be ready to pony up $7.50 for a parking ticket.

City Manager Mike McNees says he’s received one complaint in six years about the city’s two-hour limit in some spots on Main Street. The parking policy is supposed to discourage downtown employees from taking all the visitor spots. “There’s a lot on Second Street where you can go if you want to park longer,” McNees says.

But how is a visitor (or a hapless columnist) to know that? Well, yes, McNees admits, we could do a better job directing people with signs.

I found this all out the hard way.

I was making the rounds downtown, doing research and supporting the local economy to boot. I spent $3.50 at Latitude for a chai, met my hubby for lunch at C’est La Vie, where we dropped about $30, then it was off to Lotus to meet owner Wendy Getchell. We chatted about parking, while I spied on the sexy new shoes in her shop.

“I wish people would stop talking about the problem of parking,” Getchell told me as I tried on a half-dozen stilettos and wedges (it’s not easy finding a size 10). “Sixty thousand people come here for an art festival on the weekends, and they manage to find a place to park.”

After I left her shop with a pair of $80 shoes, I got in my car and, with it running, decided to check my e-mail. Then my cell phone rang; it was a source I’d been trying to reach all day. With my laptop perched on my lap and my arms scrunched up so I could type, I looked in my rearview mirror to find that a meter dude was writing me a ticket.

According to his scribbles on my tire, I was about 10 minutes beyond the two-hour mark. That prompted a little research; I found I’m not alone, just whinier than the average ticket recipient. In 2004, the city police wrote 25,000 parking tickets citywide; in the first three months of this year, they wrote about 12,000, a pace that’s close to double.

“I’d say they’re up,” says Jay Frank, Sarasota police spokesman, who insists there’s no way to break it down month-by-month for an accurate comparison.

Even Tony Souza, the new executive director of the Downtown Partnership, got a ticket his first day on the job.

The problem, of course, is only going to get worse as the First United Methodist Church lot becomes a 13-story condo and the Hollywood 20 lot goes condo, too.

The message downtown is sending: Yes, we want you to come down here instead of the mall and spend your money, but don’t take too long doing it.

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