It all started, as most good stories do, a long time ago.  I was attending summer school at Longwood (don't ask).  At that time (1987 or so) Longwood was a fraction of the size photoit is now.  There was no off-campus housing to speak of and the physical condition of the college (not yet a university) was between faded glory and three newer buildings.  One of those newer buildings was the Lancer gym.  It had a built in pool, basketball courts and a great weight room.  It also had 4 or 5 outdoor tennis courts that were in great condition.  I was staying in the high-rise dorm right across the street.

That summer I was taking two classes.  An art history class that started at 7:30 in the morning (totally incongruent with our desired lifestyle) and a science class after that.  Every day was the same:

7:00 – wake up, shower and complain
7:25 – leave for class
11:30 – leave second class for lunch
12:30 – 2:00 – peak tanning hours!  layout on roof of dorm
2:00-4:30 – go to gym and lift weights
4:30-5:00 – shower and brag about how much we lifted
5:00-6:00 – go eat everything in the dining hall
7:00 – whenever – hangout, party or if there was some kind of crisis, study.

Yep, it was a tough life.  I really did enjoy learning to weight lift and it's an activity that I've returned to for long stretches of my life although currently it's been about 8 years.  My peak form came around 1993 (gawds that was forever ago) when I topped out my bench press at about 285.  I'll never forget that day (glory days indeed !!)  I was on the bench and, after running through a brief warmup session, plunked 285 pounds on the bar.  I had two spotters.  I got the weight up (easy part) and brought it down to my chest.  After a brief pause I started pushing…I remember two things from then on.  The first was that I thought the veins in my head and neck were going to explode.  The second was that I really didn't care because the bar was bending under the weight I was lifting!!  That's superstar territory right there.  Declare victory and leave.

I again got serious about weightlifting about 10 years ago.  I had a good routine where I would go to the gym, go home and takeover for Sarah and then drop my daughter off at daycare.  That program required that I get up at about 5:30 in the morning.  Not terrible unless it was winter time.  Even then, the problem isn't going in, it's coming out.  You're typically soaked in sweat which then instantly freezes to your hide when you leave the building.  Yeah, you can bring an extra shirt or whatever but you're already hauling too much crap to be bothered and it's 5 in the morning.  In any event, that stint lasted about 3 years at which point I transitioned to running.  My rotator cuff was giving me fits anyway and I needed to back off.

This time around is still early going.  Been to the gym about 4 times but I can feel the pull when I'm not there.  I want to lift.  However, it's different this time, I don't have a group of boys to hang with and I'm older.  Now, not only is my rotator cuff sensitive but I have to be careful with my back.  Yeah, my back talks to me on a regular basis.  The rotator cuff, not so much.  That'll be a use injury at some point.  While the physical limitations are starting to build, 90% of the game is half mental (go Yogi!).  It's a constant mental battle to throttle the effort.  You want to push just that little bit more or bang out another set – but you know…..oh yes…you know just how screwed you are if you go past that threshold.  And if a woman walks by while you're lifting?  Some things never change and Richard Pryor was right – "girls will get you killed, tryin' to be cool."  Even when you're 48 and should know better!  You've got at least appear not to shake while pushing….

So it's early going but I'm thinking it's going to stick for awhile.  The urge has hit at the right time of year – closer to fall when it starts to get cold – and I'll be transitioning from the bike to the gym anyway.  I haven't picked up any of the usual gear yet – gloves, etc as I'm holding off on that for a bit but it won't be too long before I make the pilgrimage to get the proper equipment.  I'm looking forward to it.  I guess the only part I'll really miss is the almost exclusive use of free weights.  I've always thought that free weight was a much better training medium than a bazillion machines but there are some things I just can't do with my back the way it is.  I guess it's a small price to pay.  Plus it's easier to look cool.

Posted in Andy's Stuff | 2 Comments

Politics are heating up!…and something unexpected.

I'm starting to see signs in yards!  Mostly they are for the US Senate & House races that will be decided this fall.  For the local races – by way of recap – we have 2 democrats – Ken Elston & Patricia Richie-Folks running for Council and 2 Republicans – Sheryl Bass and Marc Aveni also running for Council.  I have seen on the Manassas GOP facebook that they have done a few door knocking events and had a table or booth at one of the city events.  I'm not sure what the democrats are doing but I have seen a couple of their local volunteers door knocking.  The School Board folks are running unopposed.

This is shaping up to be a possible "change" election in Manassas.  I think both groups are working hard and the results could have significant impacts on city politics.  Mr. Aveni is a staunch social & fiscal conservative whereas Mrs. Bass is more along the center-right lines.  I chatted a bit with both of the democrats and my impression is that both are center-left-ish folks when it comes to City politics.  I don't think anyone is in for any surprises in terms of positions when it comes to these 4 but the 2 democrats will certainly bring a new viewpoint on City matters if they are elected.  We'll have at least one democrat in any event.  I also haven't seen any campaign websites or lit for any of the 4 so I'm not sure what they're leading

It's my view that the left leaning folk, after being dormant for many years, are beginning to throw off their stupor and get positively engaged.  The school leadership (left leaning or no) also seems to be united (or very nearly so) in purpose and they clearly are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and try to go get what they believe is best for the schools.  I think this a pretty positive development for 2 reasons:  the first is that the more people who vote, the better.  There will always be concerns about people voting on things they don't understand but there is little that can be done about that and I don't think it's changed at all in the past 50 years.  Certainly a local paper would help but only a fraction of the electorate ever read it anyway.  The second is that it's always good to see a group get organized and go after what they want.  The social conservatives have been doing this for years when it comes to the abortion clinic in Manassas.  They've been very successful in driving both electoral politics and city policy for a number of years now.  They may continue to be successful but who knows?  However, if these other groups decide it is time for a change, it could be tough sledding for the social groups as they both compete for finite resources and votes.  I hear from a lot of different folks and, from my perch, I'm glad I'm not running.  My observation 6 months ago that politics in Manassas are getting nasty seems to be spot on.  People are pulling out all the stops.  I'm considering sending all of the candidates a questionnaire and posting the results.  Don't know yet.

Now, here's something a bit unexpected: it is well known that Senator Colgan is not running for another term.  Once that announcement was made all of the machinations started.  This is a state level race so I don't know what the timing looks like but evidently first-term Councilman Ian Lovejoy has decided that he does and filed to run for the seat!  I'm a bit surprised by Ian's decision but it's a free country and he's entitled to give it a whirl!  However, this may be a tough seat for a tea-party republican to get elected in.  I don't recall what percent the district leans but the last few elections it has returned solidly Democrat results.  I haven't heard from anyone else on this seat yet although one hears a lot about Mr. Parrish and Mr. Miller on the republican side.  Don't know if any of the PWC guys are interested.  Got no idea about the democrats in this district either.  I'd guess that guy who ran against Marshall might be in this district and maybe Mr. Torian down in the other end of the county?  It'll be interesting to see what happens!


Posted in Information Only | 9 Comments

School News

The best piece of news about our local schools recently is that their SUP to build a new Baldwin school was approved on first reading last night.  Second reading is tonight.  The money for this school was approved on a very narrow vote but the SUP was approved unanimously last night.  This is a good step forward for our future!

The Bad news is that one of our Principals, a Mr. Toogood over at Dean, is alleged to have been working for the Schools under false pretenses.  It's alleged he actually has altered his qualifications.  He's worked for the schools for a number of years and nobody knew about it.  I (and many others) were understandably upset about this: to all appearances the sins of the past administration(s) seem to be like fish cooked too long on the stove –  it's a stink you'll never get out.  However I've got faith that the School Board has the fortitude to see this through.  I encourage them to keep making the tough decisions, the time to quit is not now.  Go find the problems and get it over with.

I have received the following communique from D-Mag, our illustrious Superintendent in an attempt to explain the situation:

On June 25, 2014, Manassas City Public Schools (MCPS) was contacted by Dr. Steven Staples, State Superintendent for the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), regarding information he had received alleging that Mr. Robin Toogood, then principal of Jennie Dean Elementary School, may have altered his academic credentials. An investigation was immediately commenced by MCPS staff, 
confirming that several of his credentials were indeed fictitious.

On Friday, June 27, 2014, Mr. Toogood was presented with the results of the investigation. He resigned from his position as principal and surrendered his Virginia license. The results of the division's investigation, Mr. Toogood's resignation, and his license were sent to the VDOE. Mr. Toogood's license was cancelled July 21, 2014.

As a result of this incident, the MCPS Human Resource Department will no longer rely solely on the Virginia Department of Education to validate transcripts for licensing purposes. As of July 1, 2014, MCPS began using a clearinghouse to verify the authenticity of the transcripts of all new employees regardless if they are licensed. This action will validate information that has been provided by employees to the Department of Education for licensing. Additionally, MCPS has also gone a step further and has begun the process of verifying the transcripts of all current licensed employees who have provided transcripts as part of their employment process. Ms. Billie Kay Wingfield, Director of Human Resources, who began working with MCPS on August 1, is leading the changes that have been put in place.

Mr. Toogood was hired under a previous administration, but records indicate that an application, resume, references and transcripts were collected and that references were also contacted by phone. He began his employment with MCPS July 1, 2009 after working with the District of Columbia Public Schools, public charter schools in the District of Columbia, and a school in Maryland from 2002 to 2009 as a teacher and administrator. Mr. Toogood received his Virginia license when he submitted his transcripts and his District of Columbia license to the Virginia Department of Education.

Currently, Dr. Zella Jones, who served as assistant principal at the school during the 2013-2014 school and is now serving as acting principal, has been leading the school and has worked to ensure that students have been assigned to classes and that everything will be in place for teachers and students when they return.


It's a pretty thorough explanation of the situation.  Sure, it's frustrating and I hope there's some re-examination of our policies and the records for our other deputies to ensure we have no other lingering issues but it doesn't change my thoughts on the schools.  I like D-Mag and think her a capable leader.  Keep to the course and make it happen Sista! 



Posted in Schools | 8 Comments

RIP Parking Districts

The Council had a work session the other night on parking districts.  Parking districts are kinda like trash cans or other public policy matters that directly touch people's lives: they tend to be controversial even in small doses.

photo  Crafting public policy that touches peoples lives on a broad scope is difficult.  If you change things at all you're likely to have a room full of angry people.  The city recently purchased and distributed new trash cans to all residents.  I received phone calls and emails from people who didn't like it.  I admit that it still surprises me what people will expend their energy on but it's a free country!  However, I see overflow parking from the townhouses in the single family zones as a real problem.  This evening there were 4 different proposals in front of the Council.  On a tie vote, with the mayor voting yes, the Council approved a parking district scheme where the city does nothing but send out letters to people telling them if they wanted a parking district they could petition the city.  In other words, we voted to do nothing.  A swing and a miss.  No action.  

Now, one might fairly ask: why are my panties are in such a bunch over parking districts?  The answer comes in three parts:

First: the growth in the number of cars registered in the city far outstrips the number of housing units added.  How can that be?  The answer is, of course, simple.  We have more people living in the same number of houses.  While maybe not legally "overcrowded" the planning (parking, schools, police, etc) involved in the original development is out the window.  The legal definition that the City uses for overcrowding is pretty much useless and the vigor of enforcement of those codes has faded over the years.  Overcrowding problems seem to be back in Manassas but nobody is talking about it much.  However, the single family districts around these developments are bearing the brunt of the adverse impacts and it shows.

Second: like it or not, there is an expectation amongst folks who buy a single family house in the suburbs that they'll live on a relatively quiet, uncluttered street and enjoy the use of the parking spots in front of their home if need be.  This is not the case in Manassas near Point of Woods and the Wellington Townhouses.  We've even had fist fights over parking.  If the city isn't prepared to take action on this problem, residents will find a different place to live….and they are.  Think they have to walk several blocks to their single family house in Gainesville?  Flight is still a very real problem in Manassas.  The Council has articulated several times that it's a problem we need solutions to but the Mayor and Council clearly lack the resolve to actually do anything about this or other difficult public policy problems.

Third: at some point, the city leadership is going to have to come to grips with the fact that this isn't the Andy Griffith show anymore.  Indeed, the Council and Mayor's actions are wholly incongruent with their stated goal of being a "prosperous and family friendly city with best in class schools and a thriving business community".  There are many tough policy decisions in between our current state and that goal.  Parking might have been the easiest of those decisions.  In addition, the schools are not some third party who can deliver "best in class schools" without the city's help.  They aren't a vendor of yams with whom we're unhappy.  Their stock in trade is people.  You cannot de-couple progress in the school system from public policy.  

This missed opportunity simply results in the continuing erosion in our competitive position with the surrounding jurisdictions.  It's a long term problem.  Manassas will continue to bounce along the bottom in terms of progress.  It isn't the end of the world.  The economy is doing ok and Old Town will see good things happen but long term it's a problem.  We're boiling the frog here….

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Bike Virginia – 2014 flavor

Time for the annual Bike Virginia post.  This was the first year that I have not signed up to do the entire 5-6 days.  The Fam isn't always down with 5 days in the middle of nowhere with not much for them to do – they don't ride – so I shortened it this year to the 3 day ride.  It's a shade ironic as this was the flattest Bike Virginia I've ever ridden and, being in Chesterfield area, kind of near my Mother in Law.  So, this year everyone was happy.

I did my first Bike Virginia 4 years ago.  I really had no idea what I was getting into.  See, it's a bike tour and many people camp out the entire time.  The organizers will bring in a "shower truck" or two and there are usually facilities available where we the event is held.  I've never understood the camping out aspect of the event so I've always had a hotel room.  I ain't riding 50 miles on a bike and then sleeping on the ground.  Forget it.  So you have a bunch of folks who camp, a bunch who stay in hotels but there's also another dynamic: the weekend riders and the folks who do the whole thing.

As I mentioned, this was the first year that I didn't do the whole thing and I must say the experience was mostly negative.  Bike Virginia as an organization doesn't really seem all that interested in the weekend riders.  Nothing is simple anymore as everything suddenly becomes a la carte.  I signed up early so I could get the event jersey and upon registering onsite I was told, no, I don't get the jersey, I get the T-shirt.  What cyclist wants the shirt and not the jersey?  I pulled the email from Bike Va and showed it to the nice lady – it clearly indicated I would receive a jersey.  She said it was a mistake.  Sorry.  I asked if I could buy a jersey.  She said "dunno, come back tomorrow".  ok…I put on my purple wrist-band and shuffled off.  The next day I was told my wrist band wasn't sufficient to get lunch, I had to have a ticket as well.  What?  How much crap do I have to carry around to work with these people?  I'm on a damn bike, not driving a shopping cart.

The route this year was also among the most uninteresting I've ridden.  The "Premium Rest Stop" with the culinary treat was a tomato sandwich.  It was a good sandwich but….Overall, there just wasn't much happiness in this years tour.  It's a different experience when you're only there for the weekend.  On the plus side, I did ride the "metric-century" distance of 65 miles for the first time.  Took me about 4 hours so I was rolling along pretty well.  It helps, of course, that tidewater Virginia is pancake flat.  It's a rural area so normally everything is pretty chill but the drivers were pretty unaccommodating.  Not anyone's fault in particular but Chesterfield doesn't seem particularly bike friendly.

I suppose that the take-away for me is that if you're going to do Bike Va either do the whole thing so that there aren't any chances for misunderstandings or treat the weekend ride more like a charity ride.  Take advantage of the marked route, SAG and pit stops but do your own thing for everything else.  Honestly, it just isn't worth the hassle.  Next year's destination is Abingdon.  Mountain climbing time.  I'm tempted to skip it but we'll see.

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