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A wild chicken stalks the expressway …

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Can the Chicken Cross the Road?VMI's Si Bunting, Women's AdvocateBranding Project Has Long HistoryRichmond Could Host ESPN EventTheater's Soul Springs Anew

Can the Chicken Cross the Road?

This is a story of survival. Of renewed hope and unbridled optimism. This is the story of the Expressway Chicken.

It's late February when Pierce Young first sees it. She is taking her son to day care, zipping along the Downtown Expressway toward the city. She drives under the Sheppard Street overpass and suddenly sees something strange in the median. Is that what she thinks it is in the clearing past the brush?

Young passes it and thinks, "No way that was a chicken."

But that's exactly what it is. A white chicken. Pecking in the grass. Just steps away from a sure death: To its right and left, in both directions, are cars and trucks, tons of steel, flying faster than 55 mph.

On another day, in another car, Carrie O'Malley is driving to work at the downtown law firm Hirschler Fleischer, where she is an attorney. Like Young, she takes the Expressway. Like Young, she too sees the chicken.

"It must have fallen off the back of one of those chicken trucks," O'Malley recalls thinking. "It's got about 30 seconds. That thing's a goner."

Instead, it's stayed put. And as of last week — nearly a month after the women first saw it — the Expressway Chicken remains alive and pecking.

Young, who directs the student portfolio program at the University of Richmond's School of Business, looks for it constantly. She and her husband call each other on their cell phones when they spot it. There's a "joy" in seeing it, Young says: "It's just so unexpected."

Young and O'Malley have formed a chicken fan club of sorts. But there isn't much they can do, they admit. O'Malley has thought about pulling over her car and approaching the chicken, she says, but that might scare it into the road. Young's husband considered tossing some feed to it but realized that some might spill in front of a passing car.

So the two take pleasure in watching the Expressway Chicken from afar, though they admit it makes them nervous. "Every time I see roadkill I think, 'Oh, the chicken,'" O'Malley says. "But there are no feathers."

And Young crosses her fingers, too. "I've thought about telling people at the toll," she says, "but then I was worried that they'd catch him and do away with him." And the 20-degree nights of late had her especially concerned.

But Young takes comfort in the stamina and smarts the Expressway Chicken has displayed so far, she says: "He can endure anything."

Jason Roop

VMI's Si Bunting, Women's Advocate

This month, Maj. Gen. Josiah Bunting III is publishing his third novel, "All Loves Excelling."

Considering Bunting's manly history, the subject of his new book is a surprise, to say the least.

He is superintendent of VMI, which under a court order reluctantly admitted women in 1997. (Bunting handled the school's defeat gracefully when it happened). Before that he had been president of all-male Hampden-Sydney College.

But Bunting's story is — surprise! — about a vulnerable young girl who is taking a postgraduate year at a stylish prep school. She is there to satisfy her excessively ambitious mother who insists that if she will only try hard enough she will be admitted to Dartmouth.

Bunting gives such a sensitive and empathetic description of this teen-ager's plight that the inevitable question is: How did he happen to choose a subject that seems so unlikely? Isn't it a little … girly?

Si Bunting's book makes a lot more sense when you recall that before going to Hampden-Sydney he was president of Briarcliff College, a woman's school. He has also been head of a co-ed prep school and has two daughters.

He tells Style that his novel came from his experience as headmaster of 800-student Lawrenceville, a prep school in Princeton, N.J.

While there, he says, he found that while it is a wonderful school with a great faculty, many of its students had to live with competitive pressures and almost impossibly high expectations from their parents.

Bunting says, "I found our girls more likely to become … casualties [of competition] than the boys were, at least partly because they were better at hiding, masking their emotional turmoil and, often, accompanying physical illnesses — of which anorexia and other eating disorders were the most common.

"Many, also, were under emotional duress … [which] they and their parents treated with medication (not changes in "lifestyle") — drugs like Xanax."

"It is a tragic … tale for our times, and all for the silly accolade of getting into a college she would have hated anyway."

Bunting will sign his book at Barnes & Noble, Libbie Place on Thursday, April 26, at 7 p.m.

Rozanne G. Epps

Branding Project Has Long History

Talk about timing. Loudly and proudly, a group of nine civic, business and community organizations announced last week that they had hired David Martin — a veteran Richmond advertising expert and brand-maker — to come up with a unifying image for the city.

What an interesting idea. You'd never know it's been percolating for four years.

In the summer of 1997, Richmond Renaissance, an organization that promotes the revitalization of downtown, received a report from the consulting firm LDR International Inc. on the direction of the city.

Amid the report's 77 pages there was a shocking revelation. Sure, the Richmond region was overflowing with attractions and events. "But the area does not have recognition or a destination image to attract people," it said.

What was happening, local community leaders concluded at the time, was that each of the various regional boosters was running with their own ideas. In 1998, Martin asked, "When you mention the word Richmond, what does it say — what pops into your head?"

The author of the "City-Smart Guidebook to Richmond," Gail Doyle, agreed with Martin back then. "People are just getting different messages," she said. "There are so many little splinter groups and organizations that are just butting heads."

Last week, those groups — including the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Richmond Partnership, Richmond Renaissance and the Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau — gathered to announce that they had gotten their heads together

Maybe they can start their branding study with themselves. Someone pass this slogan idea to Martin: "We'll get around to it."

J.R.

Richmond Could Host ESPN Event

If Richmond Sports Backers gets its way, the River City will be the site of the 2002 and 2003 ESPN Great Outdoor Games.

And, so far, the prospects are good.

This week, they get even better.

Nearly a year ago the Richmond Sports Backers, an organization committed to promoting local, regional and national sporting events and tourism, threw Richmond's name in the hat along with those of 10 other cities angling for the title. Now Richmond is one of only four cities still in the running.

"We're proposing a combination of Shirley Plantation and Brown's Island," in which to host the events, says Jon Lugbill, executive director for Richmond Sports Backers. "We're obviously in the nuts and bolts stages."

This year's event is scheduled to take place again in Lake Placid, N.Y. from July 12 through 15. And the location for next year's event won't be announced until after the games this summer.

So what could it mean for Richmond?

Status as an outdoor sports center, says Lugbill.

In its inaugural year it poured the entire time, says Lugbill, and still it drew more than 18,000 spectators and 200 competitors from around the world. The Great Outdoor Games features competitions in fishing, timber events, target sports and sporting dogs.

Yes, sporting dogs.

The games could put Richmond on another kind of national map. As host, Richmond would be in the spotlight for 17 hours of national TV coverage. "There are 100,000 people that drive along 95 and that's our back door. But the riverfront is our front door," says Lugbill. "All of a sudden you're showing a lot of people what we have to offer."

Brandon Walters

Theater's Soul Springs Anew

On April 7, the lights will be on at the National Theatre at 702 E. Broad St.

It'll be the first time that's happened in more than 20 years. Moreover, it's been 50 years since a live performance in the theater.

But, it seems, even the decades the theater has spent alone haven't ruined the place. It's why organizers of the seventh annual James River Film Festival scouted out the site for the event's leading fund-raiser.

"It's a Richmond treasure," says Caryl Burtner, a volunteer publicist with the film festival. "What we would really love would be to buy the building and use it permanently. But that's not feasible right now."

The lush Italian Renaissance-style theater was built in 1922 and later it became the Towne Theatre, one of the first to show motion pictures here.

In 1996 the historic landmark was purchased by the Historic Richmond Foundation to stave off possible destruction. Today, the theater is earmarked for redevelopment and renovation as part of the expanding downtown theater complex.

But to Michael Jones, who teaches film history at Virginia Commonwealth University and Randolph-Macon College and helps coordinate the film festival, the theater simply needs an audience — the sooner the better.

So Richmond Moving Image Co-op partners, Jones and James Parrish, obtained a one-day certificate of occupancy from the city. Then, because the theater had been stripped, they had to arrange for seats and a screen to be put in. A fire marshal had to be secured. Finally came the green light for Saturday's performance with the Ululating Mummies.

The Mummies, says Jones, will play music to accompany three surrealist films including Orson Welles's first movie, "Hearts of Age," which he made when he was just 19.

The event begins at 3 p.m. and will last about an hour and a half. Tickets are $12 and are available at Plan 9 Records or at the door the day of the performance.

The event promises to be a cozy one. "It's a very intimate setting for a lucky 300 people," says Jones. The attention could spark renewed interest in the landmark. And Jones says that's precisely the point: "To walk into this theater after so many years is just great. That theater needs to be renovated."

B.W.

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