Arlington, VA

Update at 10:25 p.m. on 4/24/11 — Most features of the new site are working, but it may take up to a week to get to the point where we can turn the forums on. Please excuse any snafus with the registration and login process, as well as any site slowness. Thank you for your patience.

Update at 4:15 a.m. on 4/23/11 — The forums are not operational yet. We expect them to be in place by Monday morning.

First, I want to thank all our loyal readers and commenters, who have made this site into a real community in just over 14 months. Our 3,100 Twitter followers, 2,400 email subscribers, 1,300 Facebook fans, and 200 Flickr poolers — as well as the 42,500 article comments we’ve received since launch — are all testaments to the passion many have for Arlington and its unique neighborhoods.

Several months ago, we decided to invest in a site redesign that will help enhance the community functions of the site, while at the same time making the site more visually-appealing. I’m pleased to report that, if all goes well, the new design will be in place by Monday. Here are some of the enhancements you can expect:

  • Cleaner page layout
  • Message board (forums) for community discussion of issues not covered in articles
  • User registration, custom profiles, custom avatars and (maybe) private messaging
  • A login will be required for the forums, but anonymous comments will still be permitted
  • Prominent positioning for latest articles, comments and forum posts
  • Current weather conditions visible on all pages

Early Saturday morning, the site will go offline so that that we can begin transitioning to the new site. Please excuse any technical problems that may ensue.

Although we’re not indulging in the Silicon Valley cliche of visually labeling the new site a “beta,” it will truly be a beta version for a few months. We expect fixes and changes to be a continuous process for a couple of months after launch. Feel free to use the comments section of this article to discuss the new design, report bugs and suggest changes.

Thank you again for your loyalty. Have a happy and relaxing Easter weekend and we’ll see you back here on Monday.

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This is the last day on the job for Rebecca A. Cooper, the Arlington community reporter for Rosslyn-based TBD.com.

Cooper joined TBD last July, a month before the site launched. She was formerly a contributor to DCist.com and a reporter for a Long Island newspaper. No word yet on her future plans.

TBD is in the midst of layoffs and will likely not replace Cooper or her Arlington coverage.

The layoffs are part of a reorganization that will shift TBD’s mission from being a primarily news-oriented site to exclusively arts and entertainment-oriented site.

TBD’s corporate sister, television station WJLA (ABC 7), will eventually relaunch WJLA.com as a separate, news-oriented web site. (WJLA.com was replaced by TBD after its launch.)

On a personal note, it was a pleasure working alongside Rebecca, who was a total pro and brought an unrivaled depth to her Arlington reporting. Whatever she does next, we hope she stays here in Imperfect Arlington.

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(Updated at 1:20 p.m.) Once upon a time, there was a dream of local news organization that would act less as a walled castle and more as a town square. Instead of competing, it would partner. Instead of talking at, it would talk with.

This news organization would act as a hub of a local news ecosystem, a gateway through which a regional audience could be introduced to the work of independent local journalists and community blogs.

On Feb. 23, 2011, the dream died.

Rosslyn-based TBD.com is planning to lay off most of its staff, according to the Washington Business Journal. All of the site’s sports and news reporters will be let go, according to We Love DC. Among the jobs expected to be eliminated is TBD’s Arlington community reporter position, held by Rebecca A. Cooper.

Instead of reporting news, TBD will now become a niche arts and entertainment site, according to the Washington City Paper.

Two weeks ago it was revealed that TBD, which had been in operation for about six months, was to be taken over by the management of its corporate sibling, WJLA-TV (ABC 7).  WJLA.com, which currently redirects to TBD, will eventually regain its status as an independently-run news web site. Some of TBD’s staff will get jobs running WJLA.com, according to the Washington Post.

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Last night I had my most horrid Comcast customer service experience to date, and that’s really saying something. I’ll spare the details, but suffice to say that it was an hour and a half of my all-too-rare free time that I’m not getting back.

It’s not so much that the Comcast customer service agents themselves are that bad, it’s just that the customer service system in which they operate seems to be designed with the sole purpose of minimizing cost at the expense of producing meaningful solutions to customers’ problems and complaints.

Comcast has a partial monopoly in Arlington. Sure, Verizon FiOS and satellite TV are available to single family homes and certain apartment buildings and condos. But for many apartment and condo-dwellers, Comcast is the only game in town. The only option for those folks in the event of an unresolved grievance is to either grin and bear it, cancel service and forgo cable and/or internet altogether, or complain to the county’s cable administration office and hope for the best.

Competition is a customer’s best friend — a point of leverage in disputes. With any luck, FiOS will continue making inroads and internet-based TV will continue evolving into a viable alternative. Until that time, however, Comcast will continue to exasperate and frustrate those for whom going without internet or cable television service is not an option.

Rate your Comcast experience below, and feel free to vent in the comments. Who knows, maybe someone in a regulatory position will be listening.


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Election Night Notes

A quick programming note: ARLnow.com will be up until the wee hours tonight bringing you live, on-location election coverage. We’ll be reporting from Democratic and Republican victory parties, bringing you the latest results, photos and quotes from local leaders.

With that said, I wanted to offer a quick apology for anybody who tried to access the site between noon and 4:00 this afternoon. An ARLnow.com story was linked to by the ever-popular Drudge Report this morning. The flood of web traffic from that one link caused the site to crash — multiple times.

After two server upgrades we were able to get the site back up, albeit running very slowly. After another upgrade things were pretty much back to normal.

Since we were busy with the server, the site went a while without any new posts. Rest assured that we’ll get to any planned non-election-related stories tomorrow.

Thanks for your patience.

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Advanced Towing is either a hated predatory towing company or a very effective solution for ridding parking lots of illegally-parked vehicles, depending on your perspective.

The company’s drivers will watch over restricted parking spaces and wait for some unfortunate schmo to park there and walk off the owner’s property, at which point they snatch the car and drive off. They do this at the Four Mile Run branch of the Virginia DMV, at the Westmont Shopping Center on Columbia Pike, and elsewhere around Arlington. Needless to say, it has not won them many friends.

They have earned themselves a steady stream of hate on Yelp. They have been the subject of a not-safe-for-work screed by a prominent local blogger. And they’re often involved in disputes that have to be settled by police.

The dispute that led to the photo above happened last week when a driver thought his car was damaged by an Advanced tow truck. Police concluded that it was preexisting damage.

One day later, a man contacted TBD and ARLnow.com after his car was towed from the same private lot adjacent to the DMV. He accused Advanced of using a “decoy” to attract people to the spaces, then threatening him when he tried to warn others. “Aggressive towing, intimidation at Arlington DMV parking lot,” TBD’s headline read.

This all brings up the inevitable question: Is Advanced unethical? Are they preying on unsuspecting drivers without regard to circumstance? Or are they delivering justice to people who ignore no parking signs?

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Earlier this week, I thanked our readers for sticking with us while our old server wheezed its way through last week’s heavy web traffic. Now I’d like to take the time to thank our local advertisers, who are helping to keep this site in business.

In no particular order:

The 2010 ABBIES — The annual Arlington business awards ceremony is looking for nominations. If there’s a local business that you think is doing a bang-up job, give them props by filling out a nomination form.

So What’s the Deal — You know Groupon? Yeah, WTD is basically Groupon. But it’s a homegrown, local company that has some pretty sweet deals you won’t find elsewhere. Today, they’re offering six games of Laser Tag at Ultrazone in Falls Church for 20 bucks.

Pathways 2 Independence — If you’re between 16 and 25 years old and you like money, this free financial fair will help you figure out how to keep more of it. There will also be prizes and the promise of a “surprise celebrity sighting.” Mark your calendar for the afternoon of Sunday, October 17.

Dudley Chapman — If you’re looking to buy or sell a home, give Dudley a call. He grew up in Arlington, knows the area like the back of his hand, and can help guide you through the particulars of the local real estate jungle.

Business owners: Click here to learn more about reaching the largest local audience in Arlington.

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Technical Difficulties

First of all, I want to thank all of you for sticking with us last week when we were experiencing some major server problems. The site struggled with capacity problems all week and went down multiple times.

Over the weekend we upgraded to a new server with a new host. Accessing the site should now be faster and more reliable. That’s the good news.

Unfortunately, our team was working out the kinks until late last night. A change our hosting company applied while we were sleeping went awry, and anyone who visited the site between 5:30 and 9:20 a.m. got an error message. If you tried to visit the home page during that time, and you still cannot see it, you need to clear your browser cache. See instructions on how to do so here.

Also, if you visited the site between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. on Friday, and saw something weird, please run a quick scan of your antivirus software. Our old hosting service was experiencing major problems across thousands of sites, and ours was affected briefly.

This site is largely a labor of love, and I love how it’s growing into a real community. I hope you can forgive our recent technical transgressions and continue reading and commenting and telling friends

(Also, a big thank you to our awesome, growing roster of advertisers, who are increasingly helping to fund this ‘labor of love.’)

Okay, back to real news.

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Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey has been waiting for tonight for months.

According to his blog, McCaffrey has been waiting six months to cover something that’s “likely to happen tonight.” But he’s not saying what it is, so as to not alert “what passes for the competition.”

Since we have some of the smartest readers in town — witness the corrections that go into the comments section the minute we get something wrong — I figured it would be a piece of cake to figure out what story Scotty has been salivating over.

McCaffrey posted an link to a Rod Stewart video to symbolize his infatuation with tonight’s could-be story-of-the-century. In a case of blatant one-upsmanship, we’re posting our own music link: this much more entertaining-with-the-sound-down (you’re at work, right?) Jennifer Lopez video.

So, dear readers, help us out. What’s happening tonight that Scotty doesn’t want us to know about?

Just don’t tell him we’re asking. It’s better if Scotty doesn’t know.

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To be honest, I thought Eric Patrick (@ericisfunny on Twitter) was not going to be very funny.

With the past music, photography and acting aspirations of Real World cast members in mind, I was preparing myself for pity laughter and polite applause when Eric took the mic as the last act of the night on Friday.

The stand-up comedians who preceded him on stage at the sold-out Arlington Drafthouse were actually quite funny — but it was Patrick’s name on the marquee out front. Would the former State Department employee live up to the billing?

In fact… he did.

His confident, energetic and engaging performance was surprising given that nothing on The Real World: New Orleans up to this point has really shown his funny or outgoing side. In an interview after the show, Eric readily admitted that his sole contribution to last week’s episode was carrying a drunk cast member from the sidewalk to her bedroom.

But that’s about to change. Eric says the last three episodes of the season will feature him and his comedy more prominently. And even though he’s “the normal one,” Eric says he wasn’t able to avoid drama with cast member Ryan in some upcoming episodes.

Despite the lack of screen time, Eric says he often gets recognized on the streets of Arlington. He was hoping that basic cable stardom would be a one-way ticket to getting more girls, but says it has instead been a magnet for older men and unattractive women.

“Here’s what I’ve noticed: the bigger the excitement to see me, the bigger the woman,” Eric quipped during his edgy 30-minute act.

In the end, Eric says he loved living in New Orleans, but the Real World experience wasn’t without its low points.

“The pros outweighed the cons, and it was mainly the city,” he said. “It was one of the best cities I’ve been to.”

Eric, 25, returned to Arlington after taping the show and is currently living in his grandparents’ house near Virginia Hospital Center. The grandparents, Roy and Peggy Jones, now live in Georgia and let Eric keep watch over the home, which has been in the family for at least four generations.

The Jonses were at the show Friday night. Mrs. Jones said they’re supportive of Eric — who they described as “quiet” — even when he’s making jokes about receiving oral sex in Roy’s rocking chair.

“That’s fine, it’s life,” Mrs. Jones said. “That’s the way we are, we always support our children… whatever they want to do we tell them to do it 150 percent.”

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Do you want to get your car towed to a spot 50 feet away and get fined $50 for the privilege? Then by all means park in front of this office building in Courthouse overnight tonight.

The reason for the towing may not be a surprise to patrons of Saturday morning’s Courthouse farmers market. But it is a surprise to many people who park in the far southwest corner of the large county parking lot Friday night, not looking for the special farmers market parking notice on either side of the seven otherwise unremarkable metered spaces.

Nothing on the meters indicates that marking is restricted on Saturday. In fact, the meter indicates that parking is enforced from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays, when it is in fact reserved for the farmers market from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Want to fight the ticket? Well, you can do that if you can get out of work for the better part of a weekday morning — and if you’re willing to pay $61 in court costs if you lose the appeal.

Do yourself a favor, avoid parking in front of 1400 North Uhle Street tonight.

Disclosure: Yes, this was written from first-hand experience. And yes, I’ve already paid the fine. This post was written in the hopes that others won’t make the same costly error. For the record, there were at least two other cars that suffered the same fate as mine on this particular weekend.


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