Saturday, February 28, 2009

Where to Buy Wine on the Outer Banks

Through Google inquiries, I have seen several queries by visitors on where to purchase certain items here, including wine.

Obviously, the world of wine has changed dramatically in the past six years. Grocery store chains, including Food Lion and Harris-Teeter, have significantly improved and enlarged their wine sections. If you've bothered to read this far, you obviously know the offerings typical of grocery chains, so I assume you are more interested specialty wine stores.

In my opinion, the best of the best on the northern beaches is Chip's Wine and Beer at the Milepost 6 strip center on the west side of the Bypass. Chip's mantra is to make his store a "snob-free zone" and that's exactly what you get. The selections are diverse; the experienced wine drinker can find high-end offerings, a smattering of boutique wines, especially from the west coast, numerous imports and many unusual varietals.

For the wine novice, this is one store where Chip, his wife, and the rest of the staff will help you choose a wine without fear of embarrassment. As long as I've been drinking wine, I still don't know 75% of what I should. Chip is always eager to help, and through him, I've been able to find, for example, consistently good Pinot Grigio, a challenge in that varietal. He did this by having me focus on certain regions in Italy that typically produce good Pinot Grigio. I would have no problem recommending their sales staff to even the shiest individual making their first-ever wine purchase. As you progress in wine knowledge, Chip will help you narrow your choices to certain regions or producers that mirror the wines you prefer. And, price point is absolutely not an issue at Chip's. If your budget only allows a $10 bottle, Chip will find the best wine at that price for your needs.

Pricing at Chip's is well in line with other specialty shops, including those in Tidewater. On average, his prices are within a whisker of the suggested retail price quoted in most wine magazines. There are numerous red and white wines at price points below $15, and even below $10. Last but not least, Chip's has an awesome selection of American microbrews and imported beer, all of which can purchased by the six-pack, individually, or mixed and matched.

A second wine store is located just north of the Wright Memorial bridge in Currituck County. Native Vine/Big City Wine Warehouse offers similar selections to Chip's, but typically from different producers and wineries. They also devote a large section to local wines from North Carolina and Virginia. Many of these are made from the sweeter, native American species or hybrids, but more and more are from the noble vinifera varietals of Europe. The staff is also helpful and friendly, but its a little bit of a trip unless you stop on your way into Dare County.

There are a few wine/gourmet stores on Hatteras Island, but my favorite is Island Spice and Wine in Avon. Nice selection of budget priced wines, organics, and high end bottles. The last time I was there they also featured an excellent selection of French wines, including some very expensive bottles from Bordeaux and Burgundy. The selection is not as expansive as Chip's, but the quality of what is there is excellent. The Village Grocery in Avon, an independent grocer also sports a nice selection of wine, again including some very high end offerings.

We do not have any large retailers on the beach, such as Total Wine or Trader Vic's. And, liquor stores are state controlled, so you can't buy liquor in a wine store or wine in a liquor store.

Unless you have an absolute favorite wine you are bringing from home on your vacation, there is no reason to bring bottles with you. Any of the four stores above should fill the needs of all but the most pretentious of wine drinkers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Short-Term Fixes for the Outer Banks Economy--Please Weigh In

A group of forward-thinking businessmen and women have banded together to share ideas on how to improve the local economy. Several smaller, break-out groups have been formed to deal with specific topics.

I was asked by the Chair of one such group to join in a discussion on "How Can We Improve the Outer Banks Economy in the Short Term". By "short term", we are looking at a 6-18 month time frame.

Some of the concerns and ideas bandied about include the following:

  • Some reports indicate summer reservations may be down by at least 20%. Is there anything we can do to insure a fully-booked summer?
  • The OBX Marathon in November has demonstrated that large-scale events can bring an economic shot-in-the-arm to our region during the shoulder seasons. Can anyone come up with other events that could be implemented in 2009 or 2010 during the shoulder seasons. These would be large-scale in nature and designed to attract visitors staying three or more days. Some thoughts have been: A Renaissance Fair, a region wide Arts show or festival, a week-long series of music concerts, or street-type festivals such as smaller-scale versions of Harbor Fest (Norfolk) or the Neptune Festival (Va. Beach).
  • An initiative, through tax incentives, waiving of municipal permitting fees, etc, to encourage new and re-modeled construction that complies with some sort of "Green" standard; such as solar heating, wind generated power, improved energy consumption in houses, recycling or reuse of rainwater or diversion of storm water runoff.
  • Encouraging technical professionals who are not dependent upon location of their "office" to move to the Outer Banks in order to enjoy the lifestyle unique to this area.
  • Coordination within our non-profit community on projects or services that could attract visitors, grant money, or studies that would be useful to the area and provide jobs and income for those working on such projects. Other events, such as "Wings Over Water" could be improved or expanded upon, perhaps in concert with conservation groups.
I am sure there are literally dozens of other ideas that our local citizens can share. I'd love to see some input here on those ideas, or perhaps a discussion thread on sites like the Outer Banks Connection that could facilitate discussion.

The Outer Banks community is home to some of the brightest, and certainly most creative folks in the entire country. I think the time is long overdue for this area to begin to wean itself from so much reliance on real estate sales and construction driven solely by the tourism industry and reliant upon the boom and bust cycles of the real estate industry.

I look forward to your comments; and I am also interested in long term ideas, for example, a home grown resurgence in surfboard design and manufacturing, boating and maritime industries compatible with our environment, and even boutique or cottage industries working with anglers, kayakers, and other hobby pursuits.

Comments on this Blog

I am going to open comments to all readers, including those without a Blogger account and posters who wish to remain anonymous. We support the "Responsible Commenting" group, as evidenced by their logo in our sidebar.

All submitted comments will still have to be approved by me; however, I don't like to spend a lot of time policing them. If we receive comments from flamers, spammers, or folks who just want to be mean, we will revert to the Blogger members only format.

Remember, restricting speech on a private blog is not a violation of your free speech rights. The concept of free speech applies to government censorship of the free flow of ideas. Any individual or private, non-government entity has the right to censor anything that appears in their publications, this blog included.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Workin' Out on the Outer Banks

OBSC--The New "Hotness"...

There are several facets to the problem of deciding why, and where to work out on the Outer Banks. The first decision is to choose a suitable venue. In Nags Head, there are two options. The Outer Banks Sports Club represents the "new hotness", attracting the glitterati of our fair city, including some of its more famous bloggers. The other choice is the YMCA, of which I am a member, and apparently is now considered "old and busted". Old and busted or new hotness? Given that I am not working, this really shouldn't be a consideration for me, but nonetheless, one does need to ponder their social standing.

The OBSC has really cool workout clothes that I could presumably purchase one day when I am employed. They also tout a "smoothie bar", which is waaay cooler than the vending machines at "old and busted". The "Y" has lockers, while the OBSC does not. That probably explains why I see folks rifling car doors in their parking lot as this is where their members are forced to leave their valuables. Lacking lockers, I am also fearful of ruining my iPod in the shower at OBSC. I don't think its waterproof. On the other hand, the "Y" doesn't sell any cool logo gear. You have to earn things like T-shirts and sweats by actually accomplishing goals, such as running 26 miles on the treadmill in four hours. I'll let my readers know of my ultimate decision in short order.

One must also decide the purpose of the workout. Are we losing weight or building cardio health? In my case, it is a little of both. I was thrust into this position by my doctor. It appears every male under his care has developed some form of metabolic disorder that leads to high cholesterol. As a result, most men in Nags Head are sucking down statins, niacin, special vitamins, and copious amounts of fish oil. In fact, I take so much fish oil I felt the urge to swim upstream and spawn last spring.

This matter is further complicated by the fact that my physician has a direct line to two of my friends who tell him everything I am eating, drinking, and smoking. To protect their real identities, for the purpose of this post, we'll call them "Willo" and "Maxine". Not only do they squeal to my doctor so much that he feels compelled to call me on my cell, at dinner (at La Fogota no less, so you can see I take this stuff very seriously), Willo has also become convinced that anything made with flax seed will save the lives of the men she knows. Last year she gifted me a bag of flax seed flour and some flaxseed muffins. The muffins tasted like cardboard, only worse. Suspicious of the flour, I made some muffins from the recipe on the bag and offered them to the neighborhood raccoons, for the purpose of further study. I have a major raccoon problem; they raid the bird feeders and gather on the deck in large groups any time I grill steaks. Sometimes they bring their own plates and cutlery. After two weeks of offering them flax seed muffins, I no longer had a raccoon problem. They have departed for greener pastures, choosing to eat raw pine cones and tree bark instead.

My doctor decided I needed to set some goals. The first was a target number for lower cholesterol. Given my food preferences, propensity to exercise, and a very real fear that I might live long enough to become senile, I chose 220 as my goal. After all, anyone can lower their cholesterol by healthier eating choices and dedicated exercise, but it takes a real man to stare down cardiovascular disease. That didn't fly with him, and saddled with Maxine and Willo's flagrant disregard for the concept of medical privacy, I settled upon 160 as my maximum cholesterol level.

Old Sawbones then wanted to know what my workout plan would be. Prior to our meeting, I had a fairly simple routine. I ran on the treadmill for a set period of time each day, finishing my run at the exact point I felt a crushing pain in the center of my chest and numbness running down my left arm. I always chose a treadmill close to those wall-mounted electro-shock paddles that are thoughtfully distributed throughout the "Y". I try to get my heart rate up to 150. I found that if I got stuck at a lower rate, say 140 or so, I could toss a Nicorette gum into my mouth and immediately raise my rate ten or more points. Problem solved.

I also have a herniated disc, so he wants me to work out on the machines. Free weights are restricted due to my back, so I work on resistance machines. I find they suit my purpose, for I am able to resist them quite readily. After watching several folks work these machines for about 30 minutes, I grab a Coke from the vending machine (to replace the calories the treadmill stole from me), and go home and grill some hot dogs. The next day, I repeat the process, changing only the machines I watch people use in order to avoid overworking any one part of my body.

I certainly hope this post will encourage everyone to work out, and will aid you in not only choosing a gym, but also a proper workout routine.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Facebook is one Big Chick-Flick...

I have commented before about my new experiences with Facebook. Now that I've been at it a few weeks, I've begun to notice a disturbing trend. Women of the female persuasion are gunking up the machinery of Facebook with touchy-feely requests to know more about you and I.

For example, I was recently tagged with this request from a female in-law:

Leave one memory that you and I had together. Its doesn't matter if you knew me a little or a lot, anything you remember.

Yuk. And then there was the "25 Random Things About Me", instructions below, again upon the urging of a female relative:
Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.
I got suckered into that one until another female relative found it necessary to disclose to the rest of us that she was disgusted by feet--not just other people's, but even her own. Yowsa! I won't be inviting her to the beach ever again lest she have a complete nervous breakdown.

A new one out is a combination of two sets of questions; the first is supplying "Yes/No" answers to things you have or haven't done. Again, the invite came from a woman, and a sample of the questions are:

Kissed anyone of your Facebook friends?
Been arrested?
Kissed someone you didn't like?
Slept in until 5 PM?
Fallen asleep at work/school?
Held a snake?
Ran a red light?
As a married man, I wouldn't touch the first question with a 1000 ft. pole. There is no safe way to answer "yes" to that one without a grilling from your spouse that would make water boarding seem positively benign.

The other is a checklist of activities that are supposed to be on your "Bucket List".

( )Caught a snowflake on your tongue
( ) Built a snowman
( ) Danced in the rain-naked
( ) Written a letter to Santa Claus
( ) Been kissed under the mistletoe
( ) Watched the sunrise with someone

From a male perspective, if catching a snowflake on your tongue is on your To Do list before you die, no one is going to ever read your autobiography. And yes, I suspect most men have watched the sunrise with someone; in a deer stand, or a duck blind, on a fishing boat, or standing in line all night for tickets to a Who concert. But you girls who wrote that question had something else in mind, didn't you? And, I know all of the women on my wife's side of the family. If they answered "yes" its a lie; the only way those girls would ever see a sunrise is if the house caught on fire at 4:30 AM.

These viral invitations demonstrate clearly that men and women are still entirely different animals, the lessons of the 1960's Feminist Movement notwithstanding. It is notable that not one guy has invited me to participate in such a survey. And, as an experiment, I sent the "25 Random Things" invite to two of my male friends--and both ignored the request.
In fact, I think one removed me from his "Friends" list. I even sent it to a female friend and she was smart enough to take a pass.

The truth is, men don't want to know emotional things about their male friends; and truth be told, we don't want to know that about women either. We prefer to be surprised, it keeps us on our toes. After all, we no longer have to outwit man-eating lions in the course of gathering food; the only way we can keep our survival skills honed to a fine edge is to be ever vigilant for emotional surprise attacks from our significant others.

If guys did construct such a list, it is a certainty it would violate all of the rules of Political Correctness and polite conversation in a civil society. Much of it would be X rated. For example, we don't want to know if you've ever kissed someone under a mistletoe, unless it was your best friend's girlfriend. Extra points would be awarded if it was your girlfriend's best friend. We might want to know if you've ever been arrested for Drunk and Disorderly conduct. Or if your fraternity was placed on double-secret probation.

But we wouldn't put it on Facebook for everyone to see. That's what locker rooms are for.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Nags Head Keeps 4th of July Fireworks

Times are tough, and all government is forced to cut back. But Nags Head did a good thing in deciding to keep the July 4th fireworks show. Thanks guys!

Two OBX Blogs

I've recently discovered two new OBX-based blogs and wanted to share them with you. In both cases, the blogs are written by local residents, but are not necessarily concerned with the Outer Banks. The first one is Harris' Hawk Blog, written by a local teacher who hunts via the ancient art of falconry. Its an amazing blog with beautiful pictures of his hawks as well as his local hunting grounds. Thanks to Ronnie Roach for ferreting out this blog and featuring it on Outer Banks Real Estate.

The second blog is all about cooking. Strangely, I found out about this blog from my high school friend Kathy, who publishes Reinventing a Boomer. Under the "Degrees of Separation" theories, I find a blog based a few miles from my home, via a person living in Tidewater! We really are all connected these days. The blog is entitled "Kitchens Are Monkey Business" and is penned by Rosie Hawthorne. We both reviewed the same restaurant, although Rosie's review is more in keeping with what one would expect from a review by a real food professional. In contrast, my review uses words like "awesome" and such without getting into the nitty-gritty of the food, the service, or its presentation. In fact, upon reflection, my review kind of sucks! Not only are her reviews better than mine, most of her blog is dedicated to creating dishes, which is different than merely cooking. She has a witty writing style, detailed descriptions of her creations, and numerous pictures to aid the food-impaired. Well worth your time. I find I visit there almost everyday.

If I ever return to the workforce, I have no idea how I will keep up with all the new stuff I'm finding online once I lose those nine hours during the daytime.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Switching OFF

It all started when I had lunch with Bob Muller. Actually, it began a little before that event; when the bank laid me off in December. I just didn't realize it had started at that time.

And what is the "it" that started? The realization, or epiphany if you will, that in the prior seven years I had been perpetually switched to the ON position. During the real estate heyday, all of us involved in that industry were in constant motion. Included in that group were commercial lenders, mortgage lenders, appraisers, closing attorneys, insurance agents, and of course, the Realtors. In banking, deals were coming in all day. Loan information had to be gathered, credit managers battled, appraisers harassed, competitors fought off, and loans closed. Every day had several deadlines, all of them deemed critical by those involved.

As the money flowed, the demands from our bosses increased. In banking, it was increasing quotas and production demands. As those goals were met, we were asked for more. That is the way of the business world.

Slowly, but surely, this type of lifestyle changes you. One Thursday, just for "fun" I logged my messages. There were 25 business calls on my cell phone, 75 business related emails on my terminal, and 30 more phone calls on my office line. Who had time for friends?

But hey, that's work and as we all know, work isn't supposed to be easy or fun. So, where does lunch with Bob Muller enter the picture? I met with Bob to discuss blogging. I had just launched this blog, and he had been doing this a long time. I wanted to know the ins and outs--how did he handle controversy, how often did he feel compelled to write--the usual questions. But then we talked about non-profits, his photography, local government, affordable housing, music and a lot more. That's when it hit me. I could not remember the last time I had lunch with a "friend" versus a client, or worse, a target client. Don't get me wrong, I liked almost all of my clients. But its hard to make friends when business is always on the table. People connect on a personal level, that's how we make friends. A lunch where one is making a pitch, or being "pitched to" isn't a respite from the work day, nor will that lunch companion necessarily become a buddy.

I thought about this some more. In the last five years, had I ever gone out for an after dinner drink with someone not related to generating loan business? What did people want to talk to me about at the "Y"? My workout routine or were they pitching me a loan opportunity. What did I talk about at parties? Was I having fun or gathering intelligence for the next deal?

Who were my friends? Did folks ask me out to dinner because we were pals, or because I was a source of funding? I soon found out once I was laid off--my real friends first called to see how I was, and kept calling. My real friends, including ones I had never done any business with, asked me to go to lunch or grab a beer after work. Which is exactly what I did!

I moved here to enjoy the beach. We chose a small town to escape all the things we hated about big cities, knowing that we would miss much of the good things metro areas have to offer. And, I wanted to be close to my neighbors--something that doesn't occur often in Atlanta or Va. Beach or D.C.

For the first time in 30 years, I'm switched OFF. And enjoying it. People I know are now people I know--not simply clients. Drinks for no other purpose than camaraderie are more valuable than targeted business opportunities. And friends are what life is all about--not making money and closing deals.

I know I will give back some of this new found joy when I return to the work force. Some bad habits will likely return. But, realizing what is expected in certain career paths has caused me to try to avoid those type of careers next time around. And maybe, for the next 15 years I'll learn to enjoy the Outer Banks in a way I missed the first 15 years. And that includes, I hope, strengthening old friendships and making new friends--not business associates.

The Beach Nourishment Question

As soon as I started this blog, friends began to ask me--"When are you going to write about beach nourishment?". My heart rate speeds up, and I begin to sweat each time the subject is raised. Not general politics, religion, sports rivalries, or the battle of the sexes comes close to the passion and, at times, bitterness that is associated with discussions of beach nourishment. So, I did what any red-blooded American blogger who wants people to keep reading his blog should do--I wrote about wine, restaurants, the joys of unemployment, and anything else that would make people feel good. But not beach nourishment. Writing about that is guaranteed to make 50% of your readers angry.

Then my sister up Maryland-way began sending her friends links to my blog. Many of her friends are long-time OBX visitors. One of them wrote her back and she forwarded his comments to me. Short version--he liked the blog but wanted to know when I was going to talk about erosion and beach nourishment. Damn.

So here goes. Anyone who knows me, and knows me well, is aware that I favor some form of beach nourishment. I believe our beaches are our #1 resource. I understand the concept that the "beach" exist in some fashion, no matter how much it erodes, or moves north, south, east or west. However, we've sorta made our economic bed, and its based on what we call the "Beach Road", except in South Nags Head, where we call it something else. While I am not sure we can save all of the ocean front development here, and as I have come to agree with folks that much of our ocean front development in the past ten years has been ill-advised, I think we have to draw the line at preserving the Beach Road. And by default, that includes most of the ocean front development already in place.

That said, I have absolutely no idea how we will accomplish this feat, what it might, or even should, cost, who should pay for it. And most importantly, if any such project will work as advertised.

Here is where some of my friends will be surprised. At heart, I've always been a conservative, even a libertarian. From that starting point, its obvious I am not too fond of government programs in general, nor the idea of paying more taxes. Yet, I've always had a softer spot in my heart for government investment in infrastructure, especially if those improvements will generate economic returns to both the government and the private sector in the long run. I include in that exception useful highway construction, repairing bridges, building schools, and direct handouts to unemployed bankers. (Why not? As Charlie Brown's little sister, Sally, informed him in A Charlie Brown Christmas, after she dictated a massive letter to Santa, "All I want is my fair share!").

That said, my one concern about nourishment is will it work? We are talking about a huge investment of someones money--it doesn't matter if its funded by the Feds, the State of North Carolina, or local government--in the end its really our money. And its a big sum. While I am a huge fan of the private sector, I am no less suspicious of a company selling me on the merits of their engineering prowess in building beaches than I trust the car salesman who tells me I just got a good deal. Remember, I used to sell banking and on Monday I was telling my clients Bank A was the best, and the next day I might be working at Bank B telling them the same thing.

We are possessed of a funky coast--it is unlike any coastline on the eastern seaboard. It is a dynamic beach, which is a sophisticated way of saying our shoreline takes one hell of a beating. And to be perfectly honest, not one private company or the Army Corps has convinced me (and apparently, the voting public) that they can insure with a high potential for success the money we'll spend will buy us the beach they promise.

I believe in science, and unlike others, I do believe science can mitigate Mother Nature. But there is a cost-benefit ratio. And, given the enormous cost and environmental risks, I want to feel about 90% sure any nourishment plan we enact will work.

I will continue to support the concept that we need to stop the erosion on our beaches. Even more aggressive environmental groups such as the national offices of the Surfrider's Foundation endorse beach nourishment as the only viable method to fix an eroding beach (although, in general, they prefer no action be taken). But our critics have raised valid points each time the issue has been put before the voters, and if I am totally honest, I must admit the Army Corps and the private firms who want to be paid for the projects haven't provided the kind of guarantee I would be willing to sign off on, if, for example, I were a loan officer funding the project. Until they do, voters will continue to reject the concept.

So, my vote is that we keep the dialog going, we explore every avenue, and we make damned sure that if we go through with this, the chances of success are better than the chances of the Kansas City Royals winning the World Series this year. Once convinced, we next have to figure out how to convince the voters who fund the project. And if we "win", we better be damned sure we were right.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bill Holt is FRUSTRATED about Insurance

And he should be. Rather than repeat his entire blog, its linked here. There is more to this blog than just the ridiculous insurance rates coastal residents are being forced to pay under the "Beach Plan". From Bill's blog post you can get a sense of the frustration I've been writing about here as it relates to the local economy. The Outer Banks entered recession a full three years before the national economy. We not only have suffered longer with reduced incomes, unemployment, and a severe real estate crisis; the emergence of the national recession was like a second tsunami hitting these islands, and one that is sure to prolong our agony.

For those media types that think "special interest" groups like the Outer Banks Homebuilders Association and the Outer Banks Board of Realtors do more harm than good, I say, "phooey". To my knowledge, they are the only groups working 24/7 to represent all of our interests, and Willo Kelly and "Duke from Starco" are working tirelessly on this issue. They deserve a round of applause.

Blue Moon Beach Grill-Surfside Plaza-Nags head-MP 13

Is it proper to write a restaurant review based on one sandwich and a casual perusal of the menu? Since its my blog and I can do whatever the hell I want with it, the answer is an unqualified "yes".

I was invited to lunch there by a new Rotarian buddy, Bobby Gentry, who does financial advising for folks. He moved here from Norfolk and relocated his business also, so he qualifies for a shameless plug via this link. Its the least I can do since he paid for lunch. But wait, this is supposed to be a restaurant review!

The new eatery is nestled in the corner of Surfside Plaza, one of the original shopping centers in Nags Head and a property that is dear to my heart. At one time, it was filled with local tourist shops selling tacky beach gifts and featuring daily Hermit Crab races. There are still some good stores there, but nothing like the old days.

This corner has housed at least three restaurants in recent years; Wiley's Cafe, Cobia Jim's, and now the Blue Moon Beach Grill. My first gourmet experience was the Caribbean Pulled Pork Sandwich. Pure delight! Awesome! Hell, I let the menu speak for itself:

Caribbean Pulled Pork Sandwich: "Ya man ... dis pork is jerk rubbed and Jamaican rum braised, pulled, and sauced for de best eatin ya can have. Dis great sandwich is served with a Mojo BBQ sauce and a zesty cilantro cream." Translation....all thumbs up! Served over black beans and rice $8

How can you miss? The black beans and rice were super, accented with copious amounts of my favorite herb--cilantro. My friend had the Mahi Mahi BLT, thus explained:

Mahi Mahi BLT: This is not your mother's BLT! Fresh Mahi Mahi, pepper dusted, seared, and served on a toasted roll with local Currituck tomatoes (when available), crisp lettuce and Applewood smoked bacon. Served with our signature jalapeno remoulade.

Looked delicious. The dinner menu is equally intriguing. Local fish tacos, beer battered Mahi fish & chips, Marinated Flank Steak, and Voodoo Pasta with Cajun rubbed Pork Loin.

The Caribbean theme is one that works well here, and many of my favorite restaurants, including Rundown, Mama Kwan's, Chili Peppers, and Goombay's follow a Caribbean theme oft times combined with Asian fusion.

For added pleasure, there is small but well-stocked Tiki bar for quick after work drink or for a pre-dinner drink. The place filled up by 1PM, so the locals have apparently given their endorsement. I even saw two local restauranteers grabbing lunch at the bar. What better advertisement is there? You owe yourself a visit to Scott & Melissa Shield's new establishment.

Monday, February 16, 2009

All Car & Truck Repair-Roanoke Island

One of the hardest things for me to get used to when I moved here was the transition from the "always open" economy of the big cities to the mostly 5-day-a-week schedule of the Outer Banks. I've learned to get my hair cut during the day, and to pick up my dry cleaning during the week or before noon on Saturday! When it comes to car trouble, the business week ends at noon, Saturday.

On a referral from Kevin at Coastal Fast Lube, I took my car to All Car & Truck Repair, on the north end of Roanoke Island for an alignment. As often happens in the small world of the OBX, I knew one of the owners from my former employer. In any event, this family run business is open 7 days a week, from 7AM to 9PM, Monday-Saturday, and 7AM to "whenever" on Sunday. I don't know how long they'll be able to keep up that pace, but its nice to find a business that recognizes the fact their customers are tied up on week days. To be able to bring your car in at night as well as on the weekend is a great example of customer service.

I found the pricing to be more than fair, and the work quality good. Give them a try!

And no, this is not a paid advertisement.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Boxed Wine Adventures-Part 2- Hardys 2007 Stamp Series Shiraz

I really can't say enough good things about my first foray into the boxed wine category, Black Box. Can lightning strike twice? In this case, no.

This box o' wine was purchased locally at Harris-Teeter. You can't complain about the price; 3 liters for $18. I've always loved Aussie Shiraz, they make amazing wine with this varietal and the finished product nearly always bests American Syrah. In terms of value, Aussie wine provides more bang for the buck than the Rhone Syrah from France. The Aussies are also becoming adept at producing the Rhone blended style wines of Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvedre.

But somewhere along the road to balancing taste and value, Hardys took a wrong turn. The first impression as I filled the glass was the nose...this wine has a huge nose, filling the entire room like the smell of Polo overpowered discos in the 70's. You get a strong sense of spice, oak, and some kind of fruit. I wouldn't go as far as to use the term "vegetal", but it comes eerily close.

On the palate, you can't miss the oak. In my opinion, its out of balance with the rest of wine. The fruit that is so prominent on the nose is even more noticeable on entry. It took a few minutes for my wife and I to decide on a flavor, but eventually we settled on prunes. If you really like the taste of prunes in your wine, you can't beat the value option here. Otherwise, even at the equivalent of $4.50 a standard bottle, I'd take a pass.

To me, this poor "bottling" is a shame. The concept of boxed wines makes sense on so many levels. Environmentally, boxed wine is lighter per ounce to ship, and much easier to package on palates, reducing its carbon footprint. While the bladder is probably not recyclable, the box is. The wine keeps for 4-6 weeks, which solves a major problem for folks like me who drink a glass or two at most sittings. I hate trying to save unused bottles and have yet to discover a method that makes me completely happy. And finally, packaging in bulk makes the wine cheaper to produce and translates into a lower retail price. The Aussies and the Kiwi's lead the way in screw tops, and in-country they produce many good wines by the box. They don't export much of it, and its a shame this vintage of Hardy's was among the first.

Overall, I'd rate it an 81. And yes, I will finish the box. To throw it away would, er, be a form of alcohol abuse.

Valentine's Day Post

My friend Kathy always made me laugh with her sardonic sense of humor. Her post yesterday was equal parts of recipe, and, well, a different view of Valentine's Day. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friends of Jockey's Ridge to the Rescue

I first mentioned this in an earlier post. Today was action day! Chris Toolan, one of my favorite OBXers (and a person who should have his own blog given his keen writing skills and diverse talents) came to our Rotary Club on behalf of the Friends of Jockey's Ridge. Years ago, I served on their Board, as Treasurer, which is a spot bankers always get elected to in any organization they join.

Our oyster population is in severe decline. In North Carolina, they populate the sounds between the barrier islands and the mainland. The same problem is occurring in Chesapeake Bay. I've consumed oysters all over the world, but nothing beats the mid-Atlantic salty, briny variety. Speculation on their demise varies, but we all seem to agree that pollution along our rivers, which run to the coasts and into our estuaries, is the primary culprit. This includes industrial contaminants as well as stuff that runs out of yards, like chemical fertilizers and finds it way to our waters.

Many environmental groups think coastal development is the major problem, but I disagree. I think most of the pollutants arrive in our sounds from far upstream--river and stream housing developments as far inland as Raleigh, Richmond, and even Roanoke Rapids. And, as the oyster numbers have declined, a particular disease that affects oysters threatens to devastate the remaining crop.

We try to recycle used oyster shells here. We're not as efficient as we could be, restaurants use tons of oysters that never get recycled because there is no place to store them, especially in the summer, and one can imagine the smell! Sadly, these shells end up in dumpsters and then landfills.

But individuals and group picnics can recycle oysters. Various groups here will supply garbage cans, pick them up, and cart them to Jockey's Ridge parking lot. Oysters will form beds on any hardened structure, but for some reason, they prefer to attach to their own kind. Thus, these bagged shells will be placed in the sound to form a new reef, and seeded with oysters. We all hope this works for several reasons; oyster harvesting is a way of life and a contributor to our economy, thry are natural filters and cleaners of our water resources, and they are good to eat. A movement taking place in Virginia, to import disease resistant oysters from Asia is opposed by many of us who fear the cure is worst than the disease.

In these photos you'll see some of my current and former Rotary friends; Peggy Birkemeier, Brant Murray, and others. Former ex-Mayor Bob Muller was also there, as well as my Masonic buddy Pete East.

Pictures can be enlarged, there's a lot of them. As you will see, the assembly was quite clever. Mesh bags was cut from huge rolls, and fit over large PVC pipes. You picked up your container at one station. The oysters were shoveled into the PVC tubes. Then, you pulled the tubes out of the mesh, and the oysters fell through the open bottom of the tube into the bag. The bag was then taken to a table where they where the tops were cinched and knotted, then placed in a truck. I shoveled. And had a blast! This one is my favorite, two young girls, too small to use shovels found their own methods. In other pictures you'll see kids helping to bag.

The goal was 2oo bags for the day. We did 600, filling up 3 trucks. Outer Bankers are a great people, the most generous with their time of any people I have lived with, anywhere. But, no surprise to me, a lot of folks that helped were out of town visitors visiting Jockey's Ridge. After they were done, they jumped into this project, and then shared oysters. I actually met two young girls who knew my brother-in-law, a police officer in James City County, VA who works in their school as the Resource Officer. Small world. And a wonderful world on days like today.

Also, thanks to the DJ whose tunes kept us going. I estimate there are 1000+ bags left in the pile, so come out for the next event. You won't regret it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Non-Working Men of the Outer Banks--UNITE!

The world is a different place these days. For some reason, with almost every couple I know, this recession has made the males of the family either unemployed, or severely underemployed. To wit: Me. I was a banker. My better half is a CPA. She's still working, I'm not. My friend "R" is a Realtor. Hasn't sold a house in over 18 months. His wife is also a CPA. And up to her eyeballs in work. Another friend, "Q", was laid off by a law firm. His significant other, "M", owns her own business and appears to be doing just fine. The list goes on and on.

Trying to sell a house, close a real estate loan at an attorney's office, or sign on as a commercial lender in a market where there are more foreclosures than new loan opportunities seems like a colossal waste of time. But, as Devo used to say, "Are we not men?" And being a man implies taking action. But, using the argument my divorce attorney friends formerly proffered regarding jilted women, aren't we entitled to be kept in the lifestyle to which we've become accustomed? After all, this is the 21st century.

I submit the answer is "yes". We are entitled. We all know medical statistics prove that one of the reasons women outlive men is that men work too damned hard, shaving years off our lives. And, no less than the alpha male of these here United States, President Barak Obama, reminds us almost daily that the economy is so much worse than Pres. Bush led him to believe, thus, his "Change" and "Hope" promises will fall well short of remedying our piteous state. In fact, he informs us daily things will become progressively worse. We all know the pursuit of futile goals is another coffin nail for the male species.

So why bother to look for a job? Our wives are already working.

The obvious answer is that the men of Dare County need to unite into one common network. We have plenty of contacts and mutual acquaintances left over from the days when we were gainfully employed. Surely these old contacts are in need of the exact services our wives can offer through their jobs and businesses. Why re-invent the wheel or waste time starting our own business? Let's just refer those contacts to those already employed.

I propose we meet at 7AM each morning at one of the Front Porch Coffee shops. We then exchange contacts--who do we know that needs a new accountant, insurance agent, flower arrangement, or interior decorator? By 9AM, we should adjourn and contact those needing services and refer them to our wives and girlfriends. I submit that by summer, all of our women folk will have doubled their income, more than enough to offset the bucks we men used to earn. This means that by noon we could be fishing, surfing, drinking, or watching Gunsmoke reruns. And, to the joy of our wives and girlfriends, the lessened stress will add years back to our lives so we can share with them the retirement funds, and those Golden years where we can continue to fish, drink, watch young girls surf, and enjoy Gunsmoke reruns.

In fact, if we are wildly successful (which will happen if we only set goals, as we all learned in numerous Power Point presentations), our women can earn enough money to hire people to grocery shop, walk the dog, and do repairs around the house. How? Some men, heretofore known as the "uninformed", are without wives and girlfriends and therefore, forced to work.

Are you with me? Let's meet at 7AM at the Nags Head Front Porch.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Some Changes for 2009

For our out-of-town visitors, here are some new businesses that should be ready for 2009. Tidewater residents may recognize the motif at left. It's Captain George's, the gigantic buffet chock full of non-local frozen seafood. I have no idea how these guys expect to make money 12 months a year, but I've been wrong before. This is directly across the street from the Western Sizzlin' in Kill Devil Hills.

Also across the street from the new Capt. Georges, and just north of the Sizzlin is a new shopping center that opened late last summer. It's fully leased now and will bring several new eateries to the area. Slice Pizza is already open and serves a pizza worthy of the Big Apple. Quizonos Subs opens their first location on the main beach. Duck Donuts closed their store in Southern Shores, but popped up here to give Dunkin' some local competition. Try My Nuts is a locally-based chain with existing stores in Corolla and Duck. They closed the Avon store last year, but are now on the main beach. Try their "White Trash Chocolate" Chex type mix, their Shock & Awe peanuts, and the Butt Rub nuts. They also sport the largest selection of hot sauces I've seen on the OBX. Last, but not least, Rita's Italian Ice. I love the original lemon, much better than a Slurpee.

South Beach Plaza, around MP 10 in Nags Head already sports a Dunkin' Donuts. But get ready for a huge Laser Tag facility in the office buildings behind Dunkin'. Visitors often tell us there isn't as much for kids to do at night here as they might like. Here's another option to add to our putt-putt, go-cart, and bumper boat facilities.

Last but not least, this empty lot is the start of a new shopping center in Nags Head, directly across from the aforementioned Laser Tag facility. The new shopping center will offer a Food Lion, an OBX Bank branch, as well as a State Employees Credit Union branch. Hopefully the strip center will be rounded out by some new shops, stores, and restaurants for visitors and locals alike to enjoy.

For the NY Yankees Hater in Your Family

Every American should own one. Buy it here.

Do Something Good this Saturday

No Southern coastal boy worth his salt can turn his back on that supreme delicacy--oysters. I love 'em raw or lightly steamed, the saltier the better. In my opinion, the best oysters in the world come from either North Carolina estuarine waters, or Chesapeake Bay. As a result of rampant development, especially upstream along the inland rivers in NC and VA, our local oysters are in serious danger. Not only are we losing a great food source, but a way of life. For years successive generations of families made their living harvesting oysters. They have their own vocabulary, their working boats are unique and slowly disappearing, and, at least in the mid-Atlantic region, many have retained a hint of a British Isle's accent found nowhere else in the United States.

The local Nature Conservancy has been at the forefront of re-establishing our reefs by recycling oyster shells gathered from restaurants, oyster fests and other activities. This Saturday, we're all invited by the Friends of Jockey's Ridge to bring our gloves and help fill out mesh bags that will be placed in the local sounds as oyster bed reefs. The event takes place in the Jockey's Ridge State Park parking lot from 10AM to 2PM. Cooked oysters provided, as well as shovels!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Commemorative Antacid? What Will They Think of Next?

Click on this image, which will reveal a larger picture.

There are all manner of celebrity endorsements floating around these days, especially from professional athletes. So, I suppose it was no surprise to see the face of Brett Favre adorning a box of antacids.

But where in the world did the makers of Prilosec come up with the concept of a Brett Favre Commemorative Pack? What exactly is one supposed to do with a Commemorative Pack of antacids? Do we leave the box intact, sealed in a plastic bag for future sale at collectors events? Do we cut the box up and paste the panel with Brett's countenance in a scrapbook? Thirty years from now, will the pack be worth more if its unopened and still contains its original contents, or will an empty box do as well? I wonder if the cheeseheads in Green Bay scarfed these things off the shelves of drug stores on the day they went on sale?

So, please gentle readers, send in your suggestions on how I should care for this special box. I'm thinking of placing it on the mantle next to my Obama Hope/Change coins --direct from the Franklin Mint. But I'm open to other ideas.

Blogs We've Added as Links

Today will be a busy day for posts, so stay tuned and I hope I don't overwhelm you. Some days I feel like blogging, others not so much.

I've added a few links to my sidebar.

Nags Head Blog is provided by Village Realty and overseen by Bob Oakes, although many on his staff contribute. Bob is one of the most common- sense elected officials I have known, and I also consider him a friend. Bob takes some pretty cool beach pictures, so check it out.

Reinventing A Boomer is a blog by my high school friend, Kathy. I went to high school in Virginia Beach, attending Kellam High, class of '74. In those days, Va. Beach had yet to expand their school system, and Kellam was home to something like 2,000 students, split between rural Va Beach and the area known as Princess Anne Plaza/Windsor Woods. Our territory covered Mt. Trashmore east to Lynhaven Mall, and all of southern Va. Beach. There was no junior high in the rural areas back then, so we had 8-12 grades for the "country" kids.

In a school that large and geographically diverse, it was hard to make a lot of friends, and you certainly couldn't know everyone. Our Senior class started out with 700, and graduated 600+ pupils. In those days, students with "good" grades were segregated into a tract now known as "Academic". We walked a fine line between trying to fit in with everyone else whilst being singled out for special classes. Kathy has a unique sense of humor and writing style, and her blog reveals the same Kathy I knew 35 years ago.

Realtor Bill Holt is a Rotary buddy and his blog (OBX Neighborhood) covers the real estate market as well as general OBX life. Bill is a good writer, but he hasn't posted much of late (hint, hint). Bill studies real estate in-depth, and is a student of trends as well as the "why" of our recent real estate travails. Give his blog a look.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Facebook Envy

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I admit it. The entire concept of "Facebook" seems silly. Facile even. And certainly there's some ego involved. Do we think so much of ourselves that we believe people really care what we are doing every waking moment of the day? Apparently so. And, at the urging of my nephew, and some invites from my wife's side of the family, I entered the world of Facebook.

For the uninitiated, Facebook (and its rival, My Space), allows one to set up a personal page about yourself. You fill out a profile providing as much personal detail as you desire. You can choose to make your profile totally public (very stupid, but many do this), or restrict viewing your page to only your "friends", people you invite and approve to visit your site. Each person has what is known as a "Wall" on their Facebook page. The Wall is where you post your status. Your status is whatever the hell you are doing at the time you decide to post it. Facebook makes this very easy by providing a box on your Facebook homepage that starts out "Russ is...". You fill out the rest, hit send, and it posts on your Wall. Facebook now has mobile applications so one can easily update their status from almost any mobile phone. You can also upload pictures. Your friends can write on your wall, or make pithy comments on your status updates. And, to keep track of all of this, Facebook provides a "Newsfeed" on everyone's personal site--the Newsfeed updates all of your friends status updates, comments on those updates and picture uploads. The Newsfeed even alerts you to the fact your friends have made other friends...i.e., they have lives not centered on you!

Here are some examples of status updates:

M is planning for the day.
J is up to his neck in bridal messages for the upcoming season.
W is enjoying 85 degree weather in St Lucia
C is getting ready for bed.

Intriguing stuff. But I find that I am drawn to the Newsfeed and the various updates like a moth to a bug zapper. Its voyeurism without the pornographic element. I enjoyed it immensely. At least, at first.

Then I realized I was infected with a virus--Facebook envy.

For example, many of my friends are younger than me. Much younger. And single. Their status updates infuriate me. "Joe" is the worst. He's under 35 years old, single, and moves about like a frat boy on Permanent Vacation (apologies to Aerosmith). My status updates look like this:

Russ is drinking a glass of wine.
Russ is watching "Monk". (Really, as I type this).
Russ opened a jar of peanut butter.
Russ is cleaning up cat barf.

His updates are far more interesting...

Joe is on his way to Tampa.
Joe is at a Tampa Bay Lightening (NHL) game.
Joe is trying to score Super Bowl tickets.
Joe is going to Three Doors Down.
Joe is having drinks with Rita, Jennifer, and Raquel.
Joe might go to Mons Venus (a world renowned Tampa area gentleman's club)

And then there is the question of "Friends". Facebook mocks you by posting the number of "Friends" you have acquired. In my case, the number is 26. I thought that was pretty good. At 52 years old, most of my friends are not computer savvy, and of course, many are dead. My niece, Gayle, about 47 years old, also has about 26 friends. But then there's Bob Muller, the ex-Mayor of Nags Head. When I came to town, I was informed that Bob was the devil incarnate, a radical lefty who somehow wrested control of local government and was trying to convert the private sector to some subspecies of the Wobblies. Turns out that wasn't the case, but we all know politicians have more enemies than friends. So how is it that Muller has 176 friends? And he's waaaay older than your humble scribe. I mean, at least a decade older. And what gives with Ronnie Roach, the fool who convinced me to start this blog? He joined Facebook about 16 minutes ago. He already has 186 friends. And Joe, the guy I live vicariously through? 263 friends, and at least 100 of them of young, blond females under the age of 30.

I hate Facebook. And yet, its time for a status update.

"Russ is posting to his blog while listening to his Siamese cat hork up a hairball."

And let's check the Newsfeed.....

"Joe is at Kelly's with three fine Russian girls, none of whom know the word "nyet". Calling in sick tomorrow!"


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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Some Thoughts on the Visitor's Bureau

One of the more talked-about stories circulating Dare County at present concerns various issues related to our Visitors Bureau. These have been reported in certain media outlets and circulated by word of mouth. I thought it might be time to address some of those issues here.

First, let me state that I generally approve of the media in their role as a watchdog. However, in this case, given what has been revealed thus far, I think the media may have gone beyond the pale.

Some of the talking points, are in my opinion, non-starters. While some might have issues with the salary of the Director, that was something she negotiated in good faith with the Board. If one feels her salary is too high, their issue should be with the Board itself, not the person receiving the salary. Likewise, I have no problem with the Director being friends with any of the Board members. While it is true the Director works for the Board, it is not unusual in the public or private sector for "employees" to become friends with their "supervisors". I've seen no real evidence of these friendships clouding the judgment or the supervisory role of the Board in the stories released to date.

The other issues making the rounds; trips to France, upgrades on plane tickets, and certain perks seem to me to be typical of many organizations. While the media appears to have uncovered some ambiguous policy guidelines, my experience has demonstrated this is exactly how policies evolve. Over time, in the public or private sector, lack of clarity and outright disagreement over "expense report" items and the boundaries of authority are commonplace, and typically result in new policies and guidelines. In my thirty years of private sector experience, I've watched policies evolve over time, typically in same fashion as has occurred with the Tourism Bureau-- usually with the powers-that- be circumscribing authority and expenses as issues come to light.

Recent reports in various media outlets have highligted significant shortfalls in tourism related reservations. The Virginian-Pilot recently reported rental home, hotel, and camping reservations to be 15-30% behind last year's numbers. While I have heard that reservations may have picked up this past week, it is highly likely Dare County will witness in 2009 its first actual decline in visitors in a very long time.

With that in mind, I think its important that the Tourism Bureau, its employees, its Director, and the Board focus on the upcoming tourist season. I believe the issues discussed above have been addressed, or are in the process of being addressed by the Board. I have not seen any evidence of malfeasance or wrong doing, certainly nothing that would rise to the level of inviting State auditors to the party. There are competent local, private sector firms capable of auditing government agencies; such audits should be an annual requirement for any agency that directly receives its funds from taxes. The county attorney can review any issues relative to the employment contract that are ambiguous or not well-documented, and re-work those areas with the Board and the Director.

Dare County has experienced many successive years of growth in the tourist industry, both in-season and during the shoulder months. The growth in visitors in turn led to a real estate and construction boon that kept our citizens well-employed. My belief is that if tourism had declined in the years when the national economy was expanding, Director McCormick would have been held accountable and the media would be asking for her resignation. Since the opposite situation has occurred, it is only fair to credit her and the Bureau with those successes over the years. Further distractions, including having to deal with auditors and more media oversight will only hinder the Bureau this season, and can only serve to bring down the morale of the employees and the Board. Let's put this issue to bed, now, and allow the Bureau to do its job.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Why Your Bank Won't Loan Money

As one who recently exited the banking field after 30 years, I am following the media closely as it relates to our financial crisis. One of the issues receiving prominent coverage is that of bank lending. More specifically, there seems to be significant belief among the experts that banks must lend more money before the economy can begin to recover. Much of the dismay surrounding the TARP fund/bank bailout has been on this very subject; apparently financial institutions "banked" their TARP funds instead of shoveling it out the door, as Congress and the media expected.

First, let me go on record as saying that I disliked the way TARP was handled, especially in late 2008. I thought the funds would have been put to better use in purchasing bad loans versus direct investment into the recipient banks. Restrictions should have been placed on the use of funds, especially if those funds were used to fund acquisition of competitors. And, senior executives in situations where their banks were in dire need of capital infusions should not be entitled to any bonuses or excessive salaries in any form.

All of that said, I still have massive reservations in expecting banks to suddenly open the floodgates by making loans. In fact, I believe it is a "chicken and egg" scenario; banks will resume lending when demand returns, and will do so under more conservative policies than exercised previously.

Imagine, if you will, that you are a credit manager for a mortgage lender. For the last year, the media, Congress, and the new President have chastised the industry for making risky loans to unqualified customers. In fact, it is safe to postulate that the entire housing boom, and therefore, the growth in the U.S. economy over the 2000-2007 time period was propped up by one single fact--a housing boom created a construction boom, which in turned fueled the entire economy, and all of it was based upon the fact that millions of Americans were able to buy houses they shouldn't have been able to purchase!

With all of the criticism directed at lenders for making "poor" loans, why would any credit manager want to jump back into that particular fire? The media, as is often its wont, has no idea what its talking about. On the one hand, they've run hundreds of articles on risky lending practices. On the other, they are now running stories about businesses unable to obtain loans, and lenders sitting on their TARP money instead of making loans in the midst of one of the most serious recessions this country has experienced.

Now that the mortgage market has self-destructed, those left standing have done what the critics have been suggesting; instituting tighter lending standards. These tighter standards have reduced demand, since not as many borrowers qualify. Once the meltdown spread to the general economy, demand has dropped further, as people delay large financial commitments while they feel their jobs are at risk. In short, tighter standards and home buyer reluctance are the primary reasons banks are not lending mortgage funds; the demand simply isn't there.

Once we all realized that real estate and construction were propping up the entire U.S. economy, its failure in turn triggered a national recession that has now spread to all economic sectors. Then, demand for other types of loans, such as commercial loans, decreased as businesses have hunkered down. In addition, it makes sense that during a recession, banks would look at new commercial loan requests carefully, even if they are from long-term clients. With virtually all businesses experiencing declines in revenues, almost any loan is fraught with risk. Historical performance does not guarantee future success when recession is in play. Given that your corner bank is loaning your money, one might hope that bankers take a more cautious approach for the time being.

The final reason your bank is loaning less money is their uncertainty over the state of their current loan portfolio.

Unsound mortgage lending practices triggered the current crisis. It also propped up what has turned out to be unreliable demand for housing. But major projects take one or more years to get off the ground. As a result, many banks lent builders speculative loans for everything from single houses to entire subdivisions. When those loans were approved, business was brisk, demand was high, and pre-sales of homes and lots in proposed projects were in place. By the time the projects were approved by local authorities, road and infrastructure built, lots cleared, and model homes erected, the economy had tanked. Right now, many banks and other lenders are stuck with stalled projects. Until their current loan "inventory" corrects itself, they are going to be unwilling to lend new funds on large projects. In fact, they may need to shepherd funds in case their current loans fail, and the bank is forced to sell their collateral at a loss. With property values dropping 20-40% nationally, very few lenders are comfortable with the value of real estate supporting their loan portfolio.

The housing industry collapsed in 2007 (much earlier locally, around mid-2005). By mid-2008 the entire economy was in decline. Look around your own neighborhood. Are as many people eating out in restaurants? Are the jewelry or clothing stores packed? Real estate has a domino effect on the economy. The logger in Washington state, the carpet maker in Dalton, GA, the guy driving the trucks full of Maytag washers and dryers; all of them are significantly reliant upon the housing industry. Those who believe that developers and mortgage lenders were the only beneficiaries of the housing boom are way off base. And, any stimulus package or bank bailout that does not address the demand for housing is likely to fail.

The bottom line is that your local bank is likely being affected even if they never got involved in real estate lending. Insurance companies, typical lenders for big projects such as shopping malls and office buildings are now seeing vacancies at record levels in their projects, and potential defaults. A small loan made to a business for a vehicle, inventory, or equipment may be in danger as the recession deepens and spreads to the general economy. In fact, a bank that was already being conservative is likely to be moreso today, given the uncertainty surrounding the depth and duration of the current recession.

If one excludes the crazy mortgage loans that were offered during the real estate bubble, the rest of the problems banks are now wrestling with were largely unforeseen. Forcing banks to loan money now, especially making it a quid pro quo of any bailout program is likely to make things worse. The vast majority of banks are well-run and aware of their communities. They may not have foreseen the tsunami that was caused by the mortgage industry, but they are keenly aware of their local circumstances right now. They are in the business to make money, and the only way they can do that is to loan money. When the time is right, they will.

Until that time comes, the government would be better served by finding a way to return demand in the mortgage industry. As we know "easy" mortgage loans are not the proper course, the government should look at other incentives; tax breaks for new home purchases, tax breaks for green builders and buyers, buying toxic assets from banks that could benefit. But don't pick on your local lender for being conservative in the present environment. It is possible they are merely being prudent.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Bowl 2009-Outer Banks Style

Click images for larger pictures.

When it comes to the Super Bowl, I suspect Outer Banker's watch the game in the same venues as the rest of the country. There are lots of parties at people's homes, including the massive rental homes along the ocean. Many of these have huge media/theater rooms, and the owners often come down for Super Bowl weekend. Of course, we have bars--Hooter's, Sunburn's, Barefoot Bernie's, and my personal favorite, Kelly's in Nags Head. Kelly's sports plenty of TV's, both widescreen and smaller ones strategically placed in the spacious bar. The food there is always good, whether from the bar menu or in the dining room before the game .

And then there are those experiences that are unique to a beach community. Enter my friend Jay and his backyard indoor Tiki bar called "Vern's Place".
From the outside, it looks like any other backyard man cave! The barn doors can open wide in the summer, and can be closed when the weather turns cold.

The bar itself is big enough for 6-8 people, with a small portable TV above. All four walls are painted in the traditional Tiki bar style. Between the bar and the far wall where the surfboard resides is a hot tub. In this picture we see an essential ingredient of any OBX Super Bowl party; oysters. This year they were heated on the grill or served raw if you wanted to shuck your own. Jay hit a home run with the 2009 batch, salty with those little crabs inside to add an extra touch of flavor.

In this corner is the big TV, a fireplace, and a seating area with a sofa and chairs. Directly opposite this is a dining area with a six-person table and a fridge full of beer. An exhaust fan in the front right corner allows the grill to be brought indoors if its too cold outside.

Jay has satellite TV with seperate tuners, and surround sound speakers inside the bar. Outdoor speakers allow one to listen to the game while grabbing a smoke or enjoying the night air.

The bar comfortably held 16, with folks moving in and outside to the grill where another table was set up to shuck those raw oysters. Since the weather was mild, most of us spent equal time in and out of doors.

Having a good time is seldom about spending a lot of money; but it always includes a good group of friends in a casual atmosphere. "Vern's Place" is the perfect beach getaway to cure those wintertime blues and enjoy one helluva a good football game.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Revisiting Flock

A few posts back, I mentioned the Flock browser in passing. At the time, I hadn't really played with it much since I use Firefox almost exclusively. This past weekend, I decided to load up Flock and give it a whirl.

Of all the non-IE browsers out there, Flock is the only one I've seen that is positioning itself as something completely different. It incorporates all the cool browser features the other non-IE browsers innovated, such as tabbed browsing, toolbars that hold the web icons known as "favicons", and the ability to import both favicons and bookmarks from other programs.

What Flock does differently is to build in tools that make using popular social networking sites easy to access. For example, you can open a sidebar on the browser, sign into Facebook, and all your friends will show up there, with their most current comments or status updates. Much easier to monitor than constantly visiting Facebook and reading your news feed.

If you blog, you can set Flock up with all of your blog sites and passwords. In fact, it will import most of the information once you sign into your blog page. With one click on the toolbar, a blog post editing box opens. You can drag images directly into the box from the web or your own computer. When you are done, click "Publish", choose the correct blog from the menu, and you're done.

If you use webmail, such as Gmail, AOL Mail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc, Flock will let you set up all of your accounts, and by clicking the webmail icon on the toolbar, provide a status of all your webmail accounts in the sidebar (new mail, unread mail, etc). You can do the same for RSS feeds you might subscribe to.

Along the top of the browser, you can activate a media bar. When you come to web site with media, Flock will load the media into the bar in thumbnail sized icons, where you can preview them without leaving the web page. The media bar is also set up to search all of the popular media sharing sites; You Tube, Flickr, and others. You can bookmark your favorites, or preview from a media search without leaving the web page you are currently browsing.

This browser is a tad "busy", and can overwhelm you with all of the various features. You definitely need to put a little time into learning your way around. But if you are a person who is engaged in multiple social networking and sharing sites, if you maintain multiple webmail accounts, or if you often upload blog posts, Facebook status updates, and pictures/video on a regular basis, I can't see why you wouldn't want to try Flock out. I think it will streamline your multi-tasking tremendously.

Blogged with the Flock Browser