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I was all excited when I got an invite to the launch party for Regardie’s Power at Sam & Harry’s. Having missed out on Regardie’s 1.0 and 2.0—publisher Bill Regardie’s previous iterations of bizmags—and all of the profligacy and excess that went with them, I thought it would be nice to slink into a downtown steakhouse and finally dine on Regardie’s nickel. I RSVP’d straightaway.
But when I folded out the invite to plan a crash with a few more friends, I came upon a tidy little map showing the route to Sam & Harry’s in Tysons Corner. It’s a point of personal pride that I never know where I’m going in the Old Dominion, and I’m pretty sure that I could have made it through life without reconnoitering what was later described to me as a “social nexus of Northern Virginia’s tech community.”
It was the first of many disappointments: The food was skimpy, the bar was crowded, and instead of a horde of high-powered masters of the local universe, there was a roomful of schmucks like me, small players in it just for the groceries. Even among launch parties, which are notoriously vapid affairs unless a boat is being christened, the big doing was an especially desultory gathering. When Regardie and spouse and co-founder Renay Regardie stepped up to the mike, their too-hearty laughs were mixed with the steady drone of the doom machine, idling somewhere off in the future of this launch.
And that was before the unveiling. The little Satan that lives on the shoulder of all working journalists doubtlessly enjoyed the hell out of what ensued. There they were, Bill and Renay, standing next to the tripod that held the bedsheet-covered, blown-up copy of their first cover. And when the moment of truth arrived, the partners pulled back the sheet—and immediately began wrestling with the buckling tripod. It was pitiful, with each of them not knowing whether to drop their baby and prop up the tripod—and both of them trading looks of disbelief. Regardie’s Power was sinking upon launch. It was an awful spectacle, but most of the guests were too busy swilling Bill’s bourbon to notice the debacle.
There were other dark signs, as well. In spite of the mag’s stated mission to bridge the two continents of landed Washington gentry (a developer’s crowd Regardie successfully milked back in the ’80s and early ’90s) and the digirati from NoVa, I didn’t see a lot of ads from this bold new world. In between tackling waiters who occasionally drifted by with food, I skimmed the mag and noticed that a lot of the ads were taken up by pitches for upcoming Regardie’s Power theme issues. The lead story offered a very thin premise for getting T&A (what Salon’s James Poniewozik once called “visual comfort food”) on the cover. Turns out that the cybersquatter who owns the domain AmericaOnline.com runs a bikini-babe oil-wrassling outfit in Louisiana. Now, if you were one kind of editor, you might assign that hilarious little factoid for a short item that would offer an ironic parable of our technical age. If you were another kind of editor, one like Regardie’s Power’s Eric Felten, you might decide that the oil-wrassling king and his hardy troop o’ gals needed a big ol’ story and—hell, yes—a whopping batch of pictures to go with it. Felten, who didn’t look like much of a wrestling fan when I met him in his blue pinstripes at Sam & Harry’s, decided he was just the man for that greasy job. After all, what red-blooded, God-fearing bidness-mag reader could pass up a story full of the full treatment?
The wrestle over AOL’s domain name is actually the silliest story in a very, very good magazine. Regardie’s Power, which will come out every other month in its first year, will likely have legs. It’s inconsistent and breaks with convention—which is consistent with Regardie’s business philosophy. The mag itself is dowdy, its mission of interfacing two cultures who couldn’t care less about each other is preposterous, and the top note from Bill and Renay is vacuous enough to steal the Washington Post’s slogan about not getting it. That being the first thing I read in the mag’s enervated and retro format, I was prepared to hate everything that followed.
But I read story after story: pieces full of layers, characters, and yes, the whiff of power. Regardie may have a hell of a time preoccupying the conversations and computer tables of the wonky riche, but he’s got my attention. By finding good writers (a few of them from the Weekly Standard) and paying good word rates, he got good work—a really kooky formula when you think about it. With so many start-ups larding on the sizzle and the buzz, it’s nice to find something with some nutrition inside.
The inaugural issue included a tidy debunking of George Dubayew’s alleged mystica with Latino voters, a savage barside conversation overheard from the Ragin’ Cajun, the unhappy comeuppance of a bunch of Washington swells who got snookered by some Hawaiian politicians/gangsters, a wiring diagram of a raw power-play in NoVa’s gov/tech universe, a taxonomy of styles among Washington players that was actually readable, and a solidly reported profile of a brainy cop who finds bad guys long after their victims are forgotten. That’s one windy sentence I just wrote, necessitating a lot more words than any tick-tock of worthiness found within most magazines on the shelf in Washington.
“This is clearly Bill getting back to his old formula,” says Harry Jaffe, national editor at Washingtonian. “In-your-face writing, provocative subjects—and he is arming his reporters with the topics and budgets to get it done. He’s a bomb thrower, and it’s nice to see him throwing bombs again. Now, I don’t know if he can build a bridge between the bricks-and-mortar crowd and all those cyberspace guys—-that’s a big space to stretch across—but it’s a good start.”
So go ahead and laugh at Regardie’s effort to wriggle into the shorts of all the new money out in places I can’t tell you how to get to. He may be a go-go-’80s guy caught in the going-going ’90s, but he still knows a real story when he sees one.
Stadium of Woe The poor football fans whose parking safaris ended badly and who barely managed to witness the Washington Redskins prevent-defense away a massive lead last Sunday might not be happy to know that they were part of an old story.
“The Washington Redskins and Maryland Transportation officials said yesterday that an estimated 26,000 converged on Jack Kent Cooke Stadium for its traffic-snarling inaugural game—about 20 percent more than the team projected and provided spaces for in its parking spaces,” said a story in September 1997 when the stadium opened.
The story may be two years old, but only the names have changed. The same sad facts that doomed this heap are still there for all to see. When the cheesy, chain-linked edifice first opened, the Post, more than anyone, chanted about its wonders in order to keep cognitive dissonance at bay—and, knowingly or not, keep fans in the dark. Any putz in a burgundy shirt could tell you that it lacked a few elements that are critical to the “total sports experience”: things like ample road access, parking, a Metro station, and a wisp of architectural character.
Apart from successfully aping the design flourishes of the strip malls it was co-located with, Redskins Stadium—as it is temporarily being called until someone steps up with the naming cash—surpassed Gus Frerotte as this town’s over-hyped sports boondoggle. But stories are only now arching toward reality, mostly prompted by owner Daniel Snyder’s buyer’s remorse, hinting that this place was a very bad idea, poorly executed.
When the stadium opened in ’97, nothing in the reporting corresponded with reality:
“What has risen on the promontory of the old Wilson Farm in Prince George’s County is a physical embrace of Cooke’s vision of professional football: a sleek, functional bowl that puts nothing between the fans and the game they have come to watch,” wrote Karl Vick and Thomas Heath after a long drink from the Skins’ bucket of spiked Gatorade.
Nothing, that is, except a huge procession of similarly fuming fans who can’t get into the game, either. Last weekend, some of them were stuck in traffic 20 miles away on the Beltway, according to Monday’s Post. Riggo would have had better luck getting there with one of his patented slo-mo runs for daylight. Welcome to the NFL, Mr. Snyder.
“We knew from the beginning we have a lot of work to do making the game-day experience more enjoyable,” Snyder told the Post after he bought the team. With that, he proceeded to drop more than $15 million into a 2-year-old stadium. And after last Sunday’s fiasco, he announced that the team was prepared to spend $35 million on new parking lots next to the Pratfall in P.G. That’s bold talk from one of the most heavily leveraged owners in pro football.
None of those zeros and all of that talk won’t bring the Metro any closer—which is the only way out of the miasma. One of the more endearing components of the Redskins experience back in the glory days was the Metro ride from hell, where a win meant you would be elbowed methodically and rhythmically as the linebacker-sized fan next to you used an arm pump to signal his oneness with the victory he had just witnessed. Doesn’t sound charming to you? Maybe you’ve never spent a couple of hours inching toward Exit 16 on the Beltway, making your way to what used to be called Raljon. Of the 80,000 people who tried to attend last Sunday’s game, only a little more than 5,000 availed themselves of the Metro and subsequent shuttles to the game. With that kind of ratio, even Dr. Gridlock couldn’t figure out how to get those fans in and out of there in time to be back at work on Monday.
Yeah, sure, RFK lacked the proper accessories for the “total sports experience.” But the Pratfall in P.G. represents a giant step backward. That $50 million that Snyder is spending—all to find out that his nearly new stadium still doesn’t work—would buy a lot of upgrades and luxury boxes at the old RFK. The new stadium was born obsolescent, a prefab piece of crap that fans may eventually learn to endure, but never come to enjoy. Now those pre-inaugural sonnets in the Post like DeNeen Brown’s seem all the more cruel:
“Even as builders were finishing up Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, Washington Redskins fans began mapping out routes, surveying the parking, figuring where they would sit, staking out their real estate. This, they predicated, would soon become someplace special for them. Players might come and go, but fans would remain here for generations…”
Or at least a couple more hours until the traffic unclogs.
Taking It to the Street The Wall Street Journal has benefited most directly from the bull market—even those of us who aren’t in the game buy it for a peek—but the market run-up hasn’t done a lot of nice things for the rank-and-file who put the paper together. Their union, the Independent Association of Publisher’s Employees (IAPE), has been bargaining unsuccessfully with Dow Jones & Co. to prevent the company from retiring a substantial proportion of their retirement benefits. The company has been contributing 15 percent of employees’ salary to their retirement funds—a very generous amount. But five months ago, the company decided that it would prefer to contribute a third of that amount, or only 5 percent. It has since increased its offer to 7 percent, but the union is not biting.
According to Brill’s Content, 125 sheepish newsies set down their pens and picked up picket signs last week in front of the company’s Lower Manhattan headquarters. And even though they couldn’t be there, the women and men in the Washington bureau are totally down with their union brethren, according to one who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“The company is doing reasonably well. They’ve made some dumb business moves, but on the whole, they’re doing OK. You can say this with certainty: Because of [pension unallotment], many of the people in the Washington bureau will leave or seriously consider leaving,” the reporter told me.
He added that one of the union’s biggest weapons in the current fight has been the paper’s pension reporter: “Every time they come up with a new batch of goofy proposals, she has been able to tear it to shreds. She’s good at what she does.”
The Other Post Star Reporter Don Baker, the only newsperson I can think of who actually added to his credibility by appearing in front of a camera, is retiring. Baker had been covering Virginia politics for the Post and ended up with a star turn in 1994’s The Perfect Candidate, a doc that followed the Senate battle between Chuck Robb and Ollie North. Baker proved to be a very likable fellow in a movie full of despicable characters, and learned something about the limits of written journalism in the process.
“They did a hell of a job on that movie. We cannot say it the way that they show it. There is a dimension to film that we cannot touch,” says Baker, who provided much of the avuncular narrative that made the movie such a below-the-radar hit. The 66-year-old Baker will be finishing up a book about Virginia’s durable resistance to school integration. —David Carr
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