Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chug Off

Back in the BDTSS (before Downtown Silver Spring) "Golden Age", when a desolate Ellsworth Drive was anchored by typhoid-spreading McDonald's, one could not walk a block without being repeatedly hustled by a gauntlet of panhandlers.

Over the past 15-20 years, the complexion of Ellsworth Drive has changed significantly, but one thing remains the same: you still can't get very far without being approached by strangers for money. Sure, the hustlers smell better and are more organized, but while they used to be content with a one-time donation of spare change, now they want recurring monthly payments on your credit card. Instead of a paper cup, they come armed with a clipboard or a tablet PC. I am, of course, referring to the packs of charity muggers (or "chuggers") who position themselves in strategic choke points along the sidewalks of Downtown Silver Spring, preventing passerbys from avoiding their hard-sell tactics. They will approach you with an innocent line such as "may I have a moment of your time?" or with a guilt-inducing request like "do you have a minute for the environment?".

While on the surface these fundraisers may seem to be representatives of a charity, in fact they often employees of a for-profit fundraising company. In most cases, only a portion of your donation will ultimately make it to the charity being promoted.

The chugger scourge appears to have hit the UK hard, where a number of municipalities have established laws restricting the activities of these fundraisers. Why can't we get the same thing here? MoCo regulates everything else to death, but these guys appear to operate with limited to no restrictions. Why must pedestrians be subjected to repeated requests for money each time they walk through Downtown Silver Spring? It's bad enough you get harassed one time, but once you make it to the other end of the block, you get hustled again by their co-workers. (And twice again if you walk back.)

Here's my question: if these are employees of a for-profit company, why can they operate with impunity on the public/private streets of Downtown Silver spring? If the county isn't going to do anything to curb them, what about DTSS? Are they OK with their customers getting hit up for money every time they step onto Ellsworth? What if I were to set up a lemonade stand outside of DSW and vow to donate half my revenue to a worthy cause, say, UNICEF? The DTSS Whiteshirts would be on me faster than if I were a breastfeeding photographer.

To be fair, I understand that charities can't always support an army of full-time fundraisers on their payrolls, and that what money they do net after hiring these fundraising companies will ultimately go to a worthy cause. Furthermore, I can't begrudge the chuggers themselves - they gotta eat, and in today's economy you do what you can. I'm sure they don't love approaching strangers for money all day. With that being said, what about our right to go to the farmers market on a Saturday morning without being made to feel bad for not helping to save the whales (or whatever)? Just give at the office.

Of course, you can always deal with these people like Aziz Ansari... (NSFW language)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bring Out Your Dead: The 4th Annual Silver Spring Zombie Walk FAQ

We’re just weeks away from the 4th Annual Silver Spring Zombie Walk, and for those planning on participating here's all the information you need to know.

Silver Spring Zombie Walk 2009
Photo of the 2009 walk by Flickr user The Spider Hill

What is all this Zombie Walk nonsense?

From Wikipedia:
A zombie walk (also known as a zombie mob, zombie march, zombie horde, zombie lurch, zombie shamble, zombie shuffle or zombie pub crawl) is an organized public gathering of people who dress up in zombie costumes. Usually taking place in an urban centre, the participants make their way around the city streets and through shopping malls in a somewhat orderly fashion and often limping their way towards a local cemetery or other public space (a series of taverns in the case of a zombie pub crawl).

I am a grown-ass man/woman. Why the hell would I want to do something like this?

How often do you get to smear fake blood all over yourself, tear up your clothes, and act really stupid in public, and do so anonymously without fear of repercussions?

Where and when does the walk start?

This year's walk is scheduled for Saturday, October 22nd. Like last year, ground zero of the zombie outbreak will be located near Jackie’s Restaurant at the corner of Georgia and Sligo Avenues. The walk itself won't start until 8:45 or so, but zombies are encouraged to start gathering by 7:30 or earlier for the Zombie Walk pre-party.

Last year’s pre-walk was perhaps as much fun (if not more fun) than the walk itself, as it offered a great chance for everyone to view all the great costumes that had been prepared. There was also many battles staged last year, including one involving a lightsaber-armed zombie-slaying Jesus.

How does one prepare for a Zombie Walk?

Zombies come from all professions and all walks of life, so use your imagination. Just make sure your clothes are torn and there’s plenty of blood. Props such as dismembered limbs, brains, etc. can be a great enhancement to your look.

Here’s some websites with great tips on making zombie costumes:

- Expert Village - How to Make a Zombie Costume (Some great how-to videos here.)

- Zombie Maker - The Definitive Zombie Make Up and Costume Guide

- wikiHow - How to Look Like a Zombie. They also have a page dedicated to the essential art of making fake blood.

- 365 Halloween - How to make a zombie costume with makeup

Check out these photos of the last two years’ events to get a good perspective on what types of costumes people will be wearing: 2008, 2009, 2010

Should I RSVP?

It’s not necessary, but it would be helpful for us to get a rough idea on attendance. You can RSVP via the Facebook event page.

Where can I eat (brains) and drink (blood) before the walk?

There are plenty of bars and restaurants along the Zombie Walk route, including Fire Station 1, The Quarry House Tavern, Olazzo, Piratz Tavern and more. There are also countless places to eat and drink in central Downtown Silver Spring area and the surrounding blocks. (And no, it's not just Red Lobster.)

In addition,  we have invited a number of food trucks to set up shop in the staging area. We already have commitments from Sub Urban Bros, Corned Beef King, and Cravin Cookies & Sweets and expect to have more to report shortly.

Does it cost anything to participate?

There is no cost to participate in the Walk, though you will have to purchase movie tickets from AFI should you choose to attend the movie afterward. Organizers will also accept envelopes stuffed with cash, but that is purely optional.

Movie? What movie?

This year’s official Zombie Walk film will be Dead Snow (or Død Snø, for those who like funny letters), a zombie flick straight out of Norway. Here's a brief plot summary followed by the official trailer:

A ski vacation turns horrific for a group of medical students, as they find themselves confronted by an unimaginable menace: Nazi zombies.

This must have been the biggest Norwegian horror film of all time. For all I know, it is the only Norwegian film of all time. As fans of the Call of Duty series of video games can attest, you can't top Nazi zombies.

Where do I purchase tickets to Dead Snow?

Tickets can be purchased at the AFI Silver box office or online (with no booking charge). Oh, and it will sell out, so get your tickets ASAP. It is also highly recommended that you have your tickets in hand before the show if possible in order to avoid the inevitable line at the box office.

This year there is even a bonus movie, with a late show of Shaun of the Dead (which we screened at the 2nd Zombie Walk) following Dead Snow at 11:59. Tickets for this film can also be purchased online.

What is the route of the walk?

The Walk will start at the intersection of Sligo and Georgia Avenues (near Jackie’s) and will proceed down Georgia Avenue then through the Downtown Silver Spring Area, concluding at the AFI Silver Theatre on Colesville Road.

How can I get updates on the Zombie Walk?

- Check the official website.

- Join the Silver Spring Zombie Walk Facebook group.

- Subscribe to the Twitter Feed. This is the best way to get updates on the walk on the night of the event.

My kid wants to be a zombie, can he/she/it come too?

The Zombie Walk is open to all ages, and we have had plenty of youth zombies at past events. If they scare easily, it’s probably not the best idea to bring them along, though it will be more fun for the everyone else if you do.

Can I dress as a zombie hunter instead than a zombie?

Absolutely - we’ve had a number of zombie hunters each year, some of which were scarier than the zombies themselves. Even better: plan ahead with your zombie buds to simulate zombie vs. zombie hunter battles. Just don’t go around assaulting unsuspecting zombies with cricket bats, please.

Why isn’t the Zombie Walk on Halloween weekend? That seems like the obvious time to schedule it.

Many people are committed to other activities on Halloween night - parties, taking the kids trick-or-treating, etc. Holding the Walk on a different night allows the maximum number of people to participate.

Will there be Zombie Walk merchandise available?

This year, there will be a limited edition Silver Spring Zombie Walk poster available for sale. Designed by the award-winning El Jefe Design, it will be available online and at the AFI Theatre on the night of the event. More information will follow shortly.

Will the anonymity of my costume combined with the anarchic atmosphere of a zombie walk justify my wanton destruction of private property?

Please, please don't break anything. Provided it belongs to you, you can destroy any possession or body part you wish. Last year there was an incident where a few zombies got a little overzealous and took out a store window. Let’s try to avoid that happening again.

This window was an innocent victim of last year's walk...

What can I do to help promote the Zombie Walk?

Tell everyone. Also, on the night of the walk, you can share your Zombie Walk experience on Twitter using the hashtag #sszombiewalk.

I’m going to take a bunch of photos of the Zombie Walk. How can I share them?

You are encouraged to add any Zombie Walk photos to the 2011 Silver Spring Zombie Walk Pool on Flickr.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday News 'N Notes

- Chipotle is moving into the Video Outlet Subway space in the Woodmoor Shopping center, while the purveyor of five dollar foot longs is moving to another spot in the same complex*. The odd man out in this game of musical chairs is the China House restaurant. While I haven't eaten there in years, in my youth I consumed innumerable orders of Kung Pao chicken and egg drop soup from this establishment. (Eventually it was supplanted by Oriental East.) Longtime residents may remember that before they remodeled, China House used to have this dark, opium den-ish old school and featured an odd little booth in the corner where you placed your takeout order.

*With Santucci's just steps away, why would you ever bother going to Subway for sandwiches?

- Not sure if this is anything beyond a concept, but this firm's site has some images of a redesigned downtown Silver Spring Safeway in the imaginary neighborhood of Fenton Village.

- The Planning Department today installed temporary park space in a parking spot along Ellsworth Drive to promote public spaces in urban areas. That's nice and all, but here's an idea: close Ellsworth Drive to traffic permanently.

Photo by Flickr user trackwentynine
 - The Georgian Apartments, home of the rooftop sushi party, has been put up for sale, its owners having recently declared bankruptcy. By the way, these promotional videos from that party are fantastically awful. (Video 1, Video 2)

Finally, a couple Fillmore-related videos:

Somewhere, Pete Townshend is weeping:

And here's a Zapruder-quality video of Lewis Black's monologue at Tuesday's Fillmore VIP event.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Fillmore vs. 9:30 Club - A Comparison

I'm bummed I missed the Fillmore's open house on Monday, but having an infant at home makes attending such weekday evening events somewhat more challenging than it used to be. Fortunately, there has been plenty of coverage of the new venue by publications like the Post and Washingtonian.

Photo via Washingtonian's Fillmore Slideshow
It would appear that in addition to the aforementioned community open house, there was also some sort of much-more-interesting VIP launch event the following night hosted by Silver Spring native and future Fillmore performer Lewis Black. (Incidentally, I believe his show is the only scheduled performance at the Fillmore that has sold out thus far.) I hadn't heard about this event beforehand, but I just came across the invitation by googling it. Had I discovered this earlier, I would have just gone ahead and RSVP'd even without having received an invite. Oh well.

(An aside: in retrospect I was a total whore for Live Nation when they used me to drum up community support for their proposal, yet now that they are up and running I don't hear a peep from them. No invites to events, comp tickets, nothing.)

During the event, Black had this to say about Silver Spring:
"I was born and raised around here. This, where we are — this whole area was a shithole. You have to realize that 40 years ago there was nothing out there. So to return here now, and to see what they've done with this area, fucked me all. I don't think the children should have any of the advantages that I was deprived of."
I fully agree with the last statement. Kids should have to take the bus to Wheaton to see movies. Uphill both ways.

Anyway, on the eve of the Fillmore's first show and in light of all the constant back and forth in the comments on this blog and elsewhere about the relative merits of the Fillmore vs. a hypothetical IMP-run venue in Silver Spring, I decided it might be worthwhile to compile some actual data to compare the Fillmore with IMP's existing venue, the 9:30 Club.

My methodology, far from scientific, was to create a simple comparision of the respective venues' acts by analyzing the following:

- All remaining acts scheduled for September and October at each venue
- Each performer's primary musical genre (from Wikipedia)
- Performer's active date - what year they started (Wikipedia)
- For performances where multiple acts were billed equally ("Act 1 and Act 2"), I factored in each performer's active date separately, while maintaining a single entry under ticket price
- Did not consider opening acts. ("with")
- Factored in only lowest face value ticket price for each show, disregarding any additional fees.*

So without further ado, here are a few facts and figures for acts booked at the two music venues:

Average Ticket Price

Fillmore Silver Spring: $35.38
9:30 Club: $24.35

Median Ticket Price

Fillmore Silver Spring: $30.00
9:30 Club: $20.00

Clearly, tickets at the Fillmore are pricier on the whole, a fact which has already been noted ad infinitum. Of course, it could be that The Fillmore books more established acts who can command a higher appearance fee and must pass that down through the ticket prices, though I don't have any hard data to determine that either way. The Fillmore also has a greater capacity than does the 9:30, so a band's performing at the former could be an indication of greater demand.

Max Ticket Price

Fillmore Silver Spring: $89.50 (Mary J. Blige)
9:30 Club: $55.00 (Smashing Pumpkins**)

Mary J. Blige might be the biggest act performing at either venue during this period, so unsurprisingly her performance commands the highest price. As I believe hers is a special appearance scheduled expressly for the grand opening of the new venue, this high ticket price will likely remain an outlier.

Average Artist Active Date

Fillmore Silver Spring: 1990
9:30 Club: 1997

Median Artist Active Date

Fillmore Silver Spring: 1995
9:30 Club: 1999
I wanted to come up with some sort of metric, however imperfect, to address the complaint that the Fillmore caters to The Olds with a lineup of "nostalgia acts". Their slate of New Wave and classic rockers does lend some credence to those charges, but to be fair the 9:30 club does have Cindi Lauper and Loretta Lynn on the slate for October (not that there's anything wrong with that). It may not be the best metric to measure relevance, but I averaged the "active date" (the date they started performing) for all scheduled acts in order to have some comparison of the recency of the venues' respective performers. Obviously, this doesn't fully represent a performer's relevancy, but its the best I could do in a short timeframe.

With an average active date seven years later than that of the Fillmore, the 9:30 club does book a lot more recent acts, many of whom have only been around for a few years. While some of these lesser-known - and perhaps cheaper to book - acts may someday blossom into superstardom, many more will ultimately fade into obscurity. They'd probably be delighted if in 25 years people still want to pay to see them. Meanwhile, it would appear the Fillmore goes the safe route in booking the more established acts.

The following charts illustrate the mix of genres of performers on the schedule through the end of October. Clearly, the 9:30 club skews more toward the indie and alternative acts, and has a fair number of bands whose music falls under the "folk" umbrella. The Fillmore, meanwhile, has a greater percentage of conventional rock and "New Wave" bands as well as a number of Hip Hop and R&B acts. Of course, this is based on less than two months of shows, so take from it what you will.

One thing I would have liked to have factored in is some measure of a performer's popularity (album sales, etc.) that might justify a higher ticket price. A band might have indie cred, but there may be a reason they can only command $20 per ticket. It's not that they are simply trying to keep ticket prices low out of the goodness of their hearts. I'd also like to have included information on Birchmere acts as a comparison. But really, I don't care quite that much.

What it really comes down to is that if you think an IMP-run club would have been superior to what we got with the Fillmore or vice versa, you do so based on your own personal musical tastes. I do think we can all (ok, not all) agree that The Fillmore certainly beats out a long-abandoned department store.

* Of course, Live Nation/Ticketbastard is notorious for fees.

** Meaning Billy Corgan and some other people you haven't heard of. What's the difference between this band and Zwan? I guess it's that play old Smashing Pumpkins songs. Speaking of Smashing Pumpkins, I think they gave me permanent hearing damage in 1998 so I should really consider suing them.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Fillmore Community Preview this Monday

The Fillmore Silver Spring has announced that it will be hosting an open house, or "community night" this coming Monday. (For the small "c" community of course, not "The Community". Members of the latter group wouldn't be caught dead in the Fillmore.)

The event will feature live music and food, and tickets will be available at the Fillmore box office beginning Monday at noon. Of course, this timing makes obtaining tickets fairly difficult for members of the community like myself who don't happen to work in Silver Spring. Then again, maybe these days most people are unemployed and have nothing better to do.

In the meantime, here's a preview of the space courtesy of Channel 9 news:

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Swedish are Coming?

With the Downtown Silver Spring Borders in the final stage of its death throes, there's been the inevitable speculation as to what will ultimately replace it. As commenter Justafed has pointed out, the DTSS space is not on the list of formerly-Borders-owned leases up for sale, indicating that there might already be plans afoot with regard to the bookseller's replacement.

One rumor out there is that the large Borders space will be bisected, with one half being occupied by Swedish clothing retailer H&M and the other to be taken over by a retailer-to-be-named-later.

If H&M is indeed coming here, I think this qualifies as a decent pickup for DTSS, as they offer reasonably-priced and stylish clothing for both men & women (and kids at select stores). Will update you when and if I get confirmation on this one.

Thanks to JG for the tip on this one.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

"The One That Gives You Goosebumps"

OK, so a guy attacked someone with a downed power wire near Brewster Ave & Saginaw Street on Sunday. I'll let Pat Collins describe the action as only he can.

As with all stories, I'm sure there's a lot more to it. Perhaps he just wanted to give him a body massage.