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“Survival mode” at the Richmond Times-Dispatch: a union statement read to Media General Inc.'s shareholders at the company's annual meeting April 23.

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Back home at the Grace Street Theater, the Ground Zero Dance Company presents the Richmond premiere of Rob Petres' ambitious and athletic "Moment of Flight," paired with the company's "Rope," for two weekends: Feb. 10-11 and 17-18. Equally ambitious and wildly different, the Richmond Ballet presents a lavish new production of "The Sleeping Beauty," restaged by Artistic Associate Malcolm Burn and set to Tchaikovsky's magical score at the Landmark Theater Feb. 17-19. Rounding out the month, the University of Richmond Dancers present their 21st annual spring concert Feb. 23-26, with an eclectic program combining ballet, modern, jazz and tap. Moving into March, VCU Dance presents "Traffic@The Grace: Dancing in the Now," a hearty concert of student, faculty and guest artist works that highlight connections between four generations of artists, March 2-4 at the Grace Street Theater. Back at the Richmond Ballet, stop by Canal Street for Studio 3, featuring contemporary works by Val Caniparoli and Mauricio Wainrot March 21-26. Plan your time carefully that week, because "Movin' Out," the Broadway dance hit by Billy Joel and Twyla Tharp, stops at the Landmark Theater March 21-26 as well.You may be getting full by now, but save room for Latin Ballet of Virginia's "AmorAmerica," based on historical poems by Pablo Neruda, March 24-26 at the Cultural Arts Center of Glen Allen. Starr Foster Dance Project's 6th Annual Choreographers' Showcase, March 31 - April 1 at art6 Gallery, will be a tasty sampling of new and recent works by emerging and established choreographers.And finally, Virginia Opera, the Richmond Ballet and the Richmond Symphony team up for a first-ever collaboration to bring us "A Midsummer Night's Dream," April 29-30 at the Landmark Theater. The smorgasbord of the winter/spring dance seasons in Richmond, crammed with well-known imports and home-grown talent alike, promises one satisfying meal after another. Lea Marshall is a freelance dance writer for Style Weekly, C-ville Weekly and Dance Magazine. She is also executive director and co-founder of Ground Zero Dance Company, and producer at VCU Dance.

Opening

"Boleros for the Disenchanted" Barksdale Theatre launches its 2009-2010 season and Hispanic Theatre Project with a play by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Jose Rivera ("The Motorcycle Diaries"), following the story of a Puerto Rican couple pursuing the elusive American Dream. Featuring choreography by the Latin Ballet the play opens Sept. 18 and continues through Oct. 25. $35-$38. 1601 Willow Lawn Drive. 282-2620.

"The Mystery of Irma Vep" Swift Creek Mill Theatre opens its 2009-2010 season with Charles Ludlam's gothic satire featuring vampires, werewolves and mummies (all played by two actors) Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. and continuing production through Oct. 31. $35. 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway in Colonial Heights. 748-5203.

"Take a Chance on Love" The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen welcomes the Henrico Theatre Company as it presents this situation comedy about a newspaper editor and his attempt to convince his shareholding ex-wives to sell the publication. Opening Sept. 18, the play continues production through Oct. 4. $8-$10. 2880 Mountain Road. 501-5859.

Ongoing

"Boys' Life" The Firehouse Theatre opens its 2009-2010 season with a story following the misadventures of three former college mates as they pursue and refuse adulthood in the Roaring '20s. Written by Howard Korder, the production runs through Oct. 3. 1609 W. Broad St. 355-2001.

"Murder in the Court" The Mystery Dinner Playhouse performs a murder-mystery comedy featuring a courtroom backdrop, complete with judge, jury and executioner, at the Holiday Inn West End. Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. through Oct. 10. $42. 2000 Staples Mill Road. 649-2583.

"There's a mole in the furniture store." That's singer/songwriter/pianist Bruce Hornsby's response upon discovering that an anonymous caller has tipped us off that he's shopping at furniture store in Shockoe Bottom. The three-time Grammy winner, dressed in a large T-shirt and baseball cap, was browsingÿin search of furniture to put in his new Miami Beach home. There, he's been working steadily on an endowment programÿ-ÿÿthe Bruce Hornsby Creative American Music Programÿ-ÿthat he created for his alma mater, the University of Miami. "It'sÿa great program, and it just launched this year," he says. Hornsby also tells us about several other projects he's working on. Besides the Off-Broadway musical, "SCKBSTD," he's writingÿthe score for a Spike Lee film about basketball star Kobe Bryant. He also has a small part in a new Robin Williams movie, "World's Greatest Dad." "Robin Williams plays a huge Bruce Hornsby fan,"ÿhe says, grinning, "and I play myself." Hornsby's rise to stardom began when he formed the band Bruce Hornsby and the Range; it was with them that he had his firstÿ-ÿand greatest to dateÿ-ÿÿhit, "The Way It Is." In the late 1980s, he began playing with the Grateful Dead, and collaborated with the bandÿuntil it disbanded in 1992. He's mainly known for his improvisational style that includes rock, jazz, folk, bluegrass and Motown. But spend time in New Orleans these days and you learn that media coverage of the flood disaster is the tip of the iceberg. Pictures and words fail to convey the destruction and abandonment. This part of the world has changed forever; the storm six months ago sealed that deal. Drive out from the French Quarter or parts of Uptown, out to Lake Pontchartrain, out to the poor rural eastern communities, through the deserted rubble of the Lower Ninth Ward and down through Mid-City, and you'll find nothing but heartbreak. The town lies rotting, block after block, mile after mile. Gutted houses stand desolate and night brings an eerie darkness to much of the city.Now is the time positive citywide changes could be made, but there appears precious little financial help in the offing. Political leadership is a well-acknowledged joke. Time has stopped in this ravaged town — not in a merry way like it did in days past, but in desperate, overwhelming confusion. Jan Ramsey, publisher of New Orleans' OffBeat music magazine, is devastated as she describes the trauma: "It's really frustrating. Things are still very insecure here. You just can't get a clue until you actually see it. We really need help here." But amidst the sadness, there are signs people are pulling together. Some lucky enough to have homes are slowly returning to them. Restaurants are reopening, though most operate with shorter hours, clueless waiters and one-page menus. Clubs are open, and though many musicians were forced to leave town, those who remain have a curiously positive outlook. Musicians and club owners say they are starting the long haul to restore the magic the town has lost.Reggie Scanlan, bass player in tonight's house band and member of the long-running New Orleans party band The Radiators, is upbeat about the future. He's not soft-pedaling the horrors that engulf this city, but he roots for his beloved town. "Even people who have lost a lot of stuff, they want to come back," Scanlan says. "There's a lot of people who are very positive. … It's going to take a lot of work. Nobody's kidding themselves about that."Scanlan also explains that younger players who had a tough time breaking into the club circuit pre-Katrina are now working. He also says crowds may be smaller, but the hard-core locals who show are ready to party."The scene is picking up," he says. "Obviously, it's not like it used to be, [but] they're ready to dance and they want to have music. It's like anything that's healing. It's a slow process."On the flip side, Scanlan acknowledges that club gigs don't pay well, and the lack of conventions and society parties means a musician's take is slim. With landlords doubling their rents, long-term housing for musicians — or, for that matter, the waiters, cooks and hotel housekeepers this city traditionally depends on — is a huge problem. But club owners and players say they're hoping Mardi Gras and the Jazz and Heritage Festival in April and May will be economic and spiritual turning points. These traditional events will give the world a chance to see that this city by the Gulf is not finished.Over in Mid-City, in a flood-ravaged area, businessman John Blancher is one of those who predict a "huge" Jazz Fest. For 16 years, Blancher has booked zydeco and rhythm-and-blues shows at his Rock 'n' Bowl bowling alley/music club. He's confident that the Fest will help fill the empty French Quarter streets and give the town a boost. "By springtime, there's going to be a curiosity factor," Blancher says. "I know there's so much love and respect [for Louisiana music] from people around the world. If they think they can come and lend a hand they will."Blancher says he's seen positive signs at his venue since its November reopening. For one, there's a better racial mix at his zydeco dances because the Ninth Ward neighborhood clubs were unfortunately destroyed. He also says there are signs that a stronger New Orleans brass band tradition is taking root with young blacks now that "the urban [gangsta] culture that was engulfing New Orleans tradition is gone." But he says hard decisions remain: "I think they're making strides, [but] politics is going to determine if we can pull out. This is a freakin' mess. Drastic things need to be done, [and] people need to let go emotionally. You can't just keep holdin' on. Honestly, [Katrina] accelerated by 50 years what was going to happen."Like Blancher, Jason Patterson, longtime booking manager for Snug Harbor, a venerable neighborhood jazz club near the Quarter, thinks Jazz Fest will work. He agrees that critical housing issues "will be with us for a while," and there is no quick fix to this mess. But Patterson believes tourists are ready to return even if hotels and eateries are struggling with the basics."I think people want to come down … and be supportive, and a lot of others are just curious," he says. "I think accommodations will be maxed out [for Jazz Fest]."OffBeat's Ramsey remains hopeful as well despite her frustrations. She recalls a recent awards show sponsored by her magazine that brought musicians back to town to celebrate and describes it as a memorable night that reunited old friends."I think people are hopeful," she says. "But I live in a kind of strange world. I live in a music world."Later this Wednesday night, across town at the d.b.a. bar near the Quarter, Walter "Wolfman" Washington, a local music scene staple since the '70s, ends another gig. Washington knows well that strange musical world Ramsey speaks of, and he too believes that somehow the power of community and music will help New Orleans forge a new day. He's on the same page as many in his world."It's gonna be fine," the guitarist says quietly. "Cats come back and do what they supposed to do: Just to let you know there are nice people here in New Orleans. It's like a new beginning in New Orleans. A new beginning." S

The perfumed essence of another Valentine's Day is fast fading, but the heady musk of love is likely to remain in the air — at least through March — along a short stretch of state Route 54 on the country end of Ashland's western town limits.

Locals know this half-mile or so of rancid roadway, between town limits and Blanton Road, as Skunk Alley: a grueling gauntlet of hair-curling, eye-watering highway that flares the nostrils and tests the fortitude of even the most olfactory impaired.

But to the seeming hordes of skunks that come in search of romance, this is Lover's Lane.

February through March is the skunk's natural mating season. Many of these tales of musky romance end aromatically under passing truck tires, adding to the amorous effluence of the area.

Lamentably, what smells like love to one, smells to another a lot like ... well, a lot like the bad business end of a rotten herd of Mephitis mephitidae (The poor little striped suckers' Latin name literally translates to “stench stench.”).

Robert Gentry recalls “50 years' worth” of Eau de PepAc le Pew wafting through every window, crack and door in the shoebox-sized bungalow he grew up in. “Every time you'd come out of the house you'd smell skunk,” he says. “You'd get used to it — after 10 years or so.”

Gentry's family has occupied one of a half-dozen or so cottages clustered aside this shady stretch of rural roadway for more than 50 years. On this Sunday afternoon — Valentine's Day — the air is clear of skunk, a rarity that Gentry chalks up to the unseasonable cold. 

But they'll be back, wagers Cathy Howk, Robert's sister. Both now live far, far away from Skunk Alley — he in Gloucester and she downwind but at a safe distance on Ashcake Road in Atlee. Both have a strong theory as to why their backyard was such a popular place for skunky first dates.

“I think we liked to feed them,” Howk says, recalling that her mother “used to take food and just throw it out back,” making the area into a veritable stationary safari of deer, fox, stray dogs — and lots of skunks.

“This is a good place for skunk — always has been,” she says, ruminating over the female skunk's natural defense against unwanted Valentine's Day suitors, a quick shot of stink that trumps the old “I've got a headache” standby any day. “Too bad we can't do that,” she says, humming a few bars of the 1980 J. Geils Band hit, “Love Stinks.”

This is a bean pie. [Holds up a 6-inch pie in an aluminum-foil shell, which he waves at oncoming cars.] It's made with navy beans, sugar, eggs, milk and butter. People who eat bean pies know what's in them. I also sell lotion and incense. Sometimes I bring my hot-dog cart and work that, too.I grew up right here in Fairfield. So I'm not amongst strangers. As a child I used to carry groceries in a little red wagon. Usually I'm here at Mechanicsville Turnpike and Whitcomb Street about this time every day. I would say it's a good corner.I'm not inclined to give you an in-depth interview right now. I'm out here doing business, trying to make my way. And I try to look my best. Like the minister says, I don't want to be like a dull and dirty glass. If someone put a dirty glass and a clean glass in front of you, which one would you rather choose? Likewise, if you own one suit: Keep it clean. This is the latest edition of Final Call. You can find the papers each week down on Brookland Park Boulevard. We're always talking about love. How can we have love when we don't have patience for the next individual? That's what the minister says. Anyway, I said a minute ago that I think I've said too much. Yes sir, How can I help you? [Customer reaches for a paper and some incense.] Whatever you can donate will do. You're helping us in that call to fight crack cocaine in our communities. Can you help us in that call today? — As told to Brandon Walters; photographed by Scott Elmquist.Is good bread hard to find? Once upon a time, Jean-Jacques Bakery in Carytown was one of the few places in town that baked a European-style loaf, and its baguettes are still used all over town, from sandwich shops to higher-end restaurants.There's plenty of competition now, however, and that fragrant, yeasty smell of freshly baked bread wafts thickly through Carytown. There, not one, but four bakeries, plus two grocery stores carrying loaves from bakeries without a storefront, vie for a spot in today's carb-shy market. Bread that once starred in its very own biblical miracle and provided the backbone of Western civilization's daily diet must be content these days with the occasional special appearance at dinnertime and a semirecurring role to support sandwiches at lunch.And yet the insidious scent of freshly baked bread is difficult to resist no matter how much carbs scare you.Unfortunately, Jean-Jacques' fine-grained crusty loaves seem a bit bland in comparison to some of the newcomers jostling for attention. Its neighbor, Can Can Brasserie, manages a full-scale baking operation in the back of its restaurant, while turning out bistro classics as well. Profoundly satisfying baguettes with a rich, wheaty tang and snappy crust are for sale along with an even better pear-and-hazelnut loaf (the exact composition of fruit and nuts varies with the season). Both are best served with a slather of butter, although a smear of triple-cream brie on the fruit-and-nut loaf turns a simple snack into a light and lovely meal. Up the street, Baker's Crust also divides its energy between serving meals and baking shiny, darkly golden loaves with dramatic slashes across the top. Although its fruit-and-nut loaf can't quite compare to Can Can's, its smaller, tangy baguette is formidable competition, and the slightly thicker crust provides a better staging area for cheeses.Across the street at the Metro Bakery, if you can get past the cookies and pastries without falling prey to a sugar attack, the bakery's big loaf of peasant bread, rightly beloved by caterers everywhere, provides another perspective on the art of bread-making with a chewy, hole-filled open crumb perfect for butter and surreptitious plate-cleaning.Thick-crusted Billy Bread is delivered daily to Ukrop's and is also available at Ellwood Thompson's Natural Market. It's a rougher bread — a dark, dusty brown on the outside, full of holes and rich flavor inside, best suited for sauces, long-simmered stews and big, bold red wines. Somewhere in the middle falls the Flour Garden's excellent herb-laced loaf that is twanging with fresh flavor and chewy satisfaction. It is also found at Ellwood Thompson'sNot everyone circles Carytown endlessly like a rat on a track; some of us even venture as far as Shockoe Bottom, where the Cobblestone Bakery Café, when not serving sandwiches or alluring slices of cake, turns out a soft, floury ciabatta with a medium grain and a slight sourdough punch.Bread for the People delivers residentially (you've seen that little car, haven't you?) in the off-season and sells at the Farmers' Market from April to October. Its Italian loaf is more of a peasant bread and has a higher proportion of whole wheat to unbleached white flour than most. But the real star is the rosemary bread, dense and deliciously redolent of the fragrant, piney herb, perfect with a sharp Manchego while sipping a pinot grigio or crisp sauvignon blanc.The air in Sammy's Bakery on the North Side is almost too thick with the smell of sugar and yeast to breathe without instantly craving one of its decadent offerings, but save some room for one of the best baguettes in town, with a sturdy, crisp crust and firm crumb. And if you're lucky, a fistful of buttery bread sticks will tide you over in the car until you get home to slice up that loaf of well-balanced pleasure and serve it with anything from butter to pasta and marinara. It's almost too easy to find good bread in Richmond these days, so stop your carb-deprived whining and get out the butter. It's time to eat again. SLocating the LoavesBaker's Crust 3553 W. Cary St.213-080011800 W. Broad St.377-9060Billy Bread Bakery1 S. Allen Ave.17th Street Farmers' Market (April to October)100 N. 17th St.342-9111 Bread for the PeopleFulton Hill's Neighborhood Resource Center 1519 Williamsburg Road17th Street Farmers' Market (April to October)100 N. 17th St.306-8316Can Can Brasserie3120 W. Cary St.358-7274Cobblestone Bakery Café1810 E. Main St.545-9148Flour Garden Bakery8437 Glazebrook Ave.17th Street Farmers Market (April to October)100 N. 17th St.261-5757Jean-Jacques Bakery3138 W. Cary St.355-0666Metro Bakery3544 W. Cary St.257-7918Sammy's Bakery4019 MacArthur Ave.264-2063Click here for more Food & Drink"Air Bud Spikes Back"If your kids liked the "Air Bud" series, you'll want to be on the lookout for "Air Bud Spikes Back," being released on DVD and VHS on June 24, from Walt Disney Home Entertainment.In the film, school's out for the summer and Andrea Framm's best friend Tammy is moving out of town. To make new friends, she and Buddy join the local volleyball team. Meanwhile, mysterious crimes have been occurring in their hometown and all the paw prints seem to point to Buddy. The question is can Buddy lead the authorities to the real perpetrator and will Andrea find companionship with her volleyball team? The comedy is packed with messages about teamwork and friendship."Air Bud Spikes Back" is available for $29.99 on Disney DVD and $19.00 on VHS. JTHermie: A Common Caterpillar"Positive reinforcement is a message we all want to pass along to our children. In an age of increasing peer pressure, children often compare themselves to other children and they can easily lose their self-esteem.In "Hermie: A Common Caterpillar," Hermie and his insect friends teach children that it's ok to be ordinary. Children learn that we are all special in our own way and that God has a special plan for each of us. The animated film tells the tale of an ordinary caterpillar who, after observing more exciting creatures like the snail, ladybug, butterfly and ant, longs to be different. Hermie tries and fails miserably in his attempts to become something he is not. Each time this happens, he asks God, "What makes me special?" And, each time, God reminds him, "I love you, and I'm not finished with you yet."The film focuses on children ages 2 to 6 and their families and features the voices of comedic legends Tim Conway and Don Knotts. The story is available in English and Spanish on DVD and video, as well as books. Prices: VHS — $14.99; DVD — $17.99; Board Book — $6.99; Picture Book — $15.99. JTThere's no doubt Richmond suffers from a killing problem. But will it ever shake its reputation as one of the deadliest places to live in the nation, as the homicide capital of Virginia, as Murder City?It's a difficult prospect. Even when Richmond's total homicide rate dipped to 70 in 2001, the lowest in recent memory, it was ninth on the top 10 list of America's deadliest cities with a population of 100,000 or more, according to Morgan Quitno Press, a publisher of annual state and city rankings. In 2004, Richmond ranked fifth on the list.Across the country, homicide rates have remained fairly steady during the four-year span from 2001 to 2004, based on FBI crime data. (There was a slight increase in 2003 and a slight decrease in 2004.)During that same four-year span, however, Richmond's yearly homicide rate spiked from 70 to 95, an increase of 35.7 percent.There were 13 homicides in Henrico County last year; Chesterfield County had eight. Richmond had 84 in 2005, an 11.6 percent drop in its murder rate from 2004.But that trend may be short-lived. The city is averaging seven murders a month this year. If that rate were to continue, there would be another 50 or so homicides by year's end, bringing the total to around 86. And that's assuming no summer spike. Nelson says police don't recognize any month as being more or less pockmarked with homicides. "You just don't know with murders. Who would have [thought] January of this year would have started the way it did," she says, referring to the Harvey, Baskerville and Casper slayings.Memorial Day is right around the bend, the kickoff to summer. Hot days, long nights. What are your chances of staying safe?According to FBI crime data, the city of Richmond has a homicide rate of 46.5 per 100,000 people. The city has about 200,000 people. SClick here for more News and Features

Dear shareholders:

Good morning. I am Michael Paul Williams, first vice president of the Richmond Newspapers Professional Association. We represent 101 news professionals at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which is the flagship and founding property of Media General. We, too, are shareholders in The Times-Dispatch and Media General. We represent a special class of investor — a group who has gone beyond capital contributions to give sweat, tears and years on behalf of this newspaper and its readers. Less than three years ago, we represented almost 180 people, but our ranks have been thinned by attrition, reassignment of editors, and most recently layoffs. On April 2, 22 of our members were laid off — about 18 percent of our staff. We also lost five deputy editors, all but one of them former union members at the lowest rung of management. No upper level managers lost their jobs. Included in this round of cuts were some of the newspaper's most seasoned reporters, editors, artists and photographers representing hundreds of years of collective experience and institutional memory. Their value is incalculable; they can never be replaced. Every day, our newsroom feels the loss of valued colleagues, friends, and yes, even spouses.

We were told that secret planning for the layoffs began a month earlier, or about one week after we agreed to 10 mandatory furlough days to save money and jobs. The layoffs were sprung on us the same day we sat down voluntarily with the company to talk about its request for wage concessions to save jobs. Our colleagues learned their fate by e-mail the evening before the layoffs, even as some were going about the task of performing critical duties to put out the next day's paper. Our editors have told us the layoff of nearly one-fifth of our staff was necessary because the company is in “survival mode.” As journalists for Media General's Richmond Times-Dispatch, we are committed to accurate, truthful reporting.

But Media General is not being transparent with its shareholders, who aren't being told, as we are by top management, that the Times-Dispatch is in “survival mode.” They aren't being told that Media General is demanding cuts in the newspaper that undermine the viability of a flagship product that management acknowledges is profitable. They aren't being told that top executives aren't willing to take pay cuts in exorbitant salaries, beyond sharing in furloughs and forgoing their lucrative bonuses. We have asked them to take additional pay cuts, and we believe they have been asked internally to take additional pay cuts, but they refuse. And yet they are threatening to lay off more of our people to save less than $200,000, which could be accounted for easily by modest cuts in executive pay or trimming of the newspaper's bloated senior management staff. We are concerned that the company's strategy appears to be to sell a smaller product in an increasingly competitive market at a higher price, and do not believe that this strategy has been clearly enough elucidated for stockholders. Are Times-Dispatch managers accurate in describing the condition of the company as “in survival mode?” And at what point does Media General believe that these continuing cuts will compromise the Times-Dispatch and its ability to satisfy readers, attract advertisers, and serve its community?  Michael Paul WilliamsColumnist, reporterRichmond Times-Dispatch

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