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I’ve lived almost 15,000 days and here’s what I’ve learned

Posted on 29 July 2015 by admin

all the things

There are plenty of lists out there which humorously lament the accumulation of decades under our belts, most of which certainly include riffs about how we try all the diets in our 30s and miss all the parties because everyone else seems to be married with children.

This isn’t that list.

1. Try often to take the scenic route even if it adds time. Bottom line, enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

2. Question authority, but equally, know when to respect authority.

3. Emotion has its place. Don’t be controlled by emotions, but don’t let apathy rule either. Sometimes I need to be angry, or dizzy with joy and consumed with ecstasy. Don’t hold back when it comes time. I found a quote in high school that is my mantra: The deeper sorrow carves into our hearts, the more joy it can contain.

4. Trust my instincts. I had to spend some time focusing on the built-in navigation system, but it rarely fails. 

5. Have beliefs and stand up for those beliefs.

6. I wasn’t allowed much sugar, junk food or television as a kid. I hated it then, but appreciate it now. I enjoy being outdoors and don’t eat a lot of junk food. Thanks, Mom.

7. The heartbreak of a friend who turns out to be fake is worse than many a breakup, and the pain will last longer.

8. I need a moral compass to get me through various scenarios, to point me in the right direction. I don’t want to get stuck holding an unwieldy anchor of beliefs. Don’t be too polarizing, and don’t be too blind.

9. The idea that we often work more than we get to spend time with our families and friends is insane.

10. Speaking of work, in my 25 years of working, I have found most people don’t deserve a management role. I heard it called the Peter Principle; the idea that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Therefore a lot of people get to the top because it seemed like the next step, but wasn’t necessarily the best step. That means we get a lot of people clinging to the top, knowing inside they don’t deserve their position. When their drama manifests, we can’t let those people keep us down.

11. Don’t create extra drama, but don’t avoid confrontation if it is in the interest of appropriately sticking up for myself, or someone who can’t defend themselves. 

12. Avoid people creating unnecessary tension between other people. More often than not, this comes from a place of insecurity.

13. I sit around a lot more hoping a party will happen and that no one will think I’m weird for wanting to have a party and dance at midnight and have excited, tangential conversations.

14. People are way more obsessed with age than they are accomplishments, or free thinking, or any number of things. Don’t listen to these people.The most important “age appropriate” thing I need to do is to make financial investment decisions.

15. Stay friends with ex-lovers. Or at least date people you will miss if you can’t be friends. We should really, genuinely like someone with whom we chose to share that level of intimacy. 

16. The things that bring passion and excitement into our lives often bring us our greatest trials.

17. Keep promises. Follow through shows respect and makes people feel good.

18. Have regrets. First of all, it’s unhealthy to repress thoughts. I’m trying to tell myself something if I feel a regret, and I can likely learn from it down the road.

19. Let go of people who don’t like me, instead of trying to change their mind.

20. Listen to myself. If I tell myself, for example, that I’m too fat – then either I need to lose weight, or learn to accept myself more. Or tell myself “I’m going to be healthy,” – something to strive towards and practice daily.

21. Make relationships with parents. Forgive them. Take it easy on myself when I realize I’ve become them – or some parts of me have at least.

22. We don’t have the metabolism that forgave junk food when we hit our mid-30s. It is far easier to stay in shape and be healthy all along than to try and catch up later.

23. A majority of how we’ve learned to eat, and take care of ourselves is based on ideas passed down to us, or ideas that are myopic and reflect trends, not actual science or true health. At some point, or multiple points, it’s best to scrutinize everything we’ve learned along the way, and eliminate the things that no longer resonate.

24. It’s ok to have a really good meltdown; when it’s all said and done, it showed me who mattered based on who was still there. And it showed me things about myself that I can improve.

25. Peace is something we are responsible for creating and fostering. It’s one of the most subjective words in our modern vocabulary – and quite possibly therefore one of the hardest things to implement. Yet, ironically it’s just become a symbol that you see everywhere.

26. As you get older, things take on a more dire feeling, yet most of what you do is half as dangerous as what you did when you were younger. “Am I getting text neck,” versus “How did I drive home while puking out the window?” or “How can I hitchhike cross country?”

27. You start caring about sunscreen and moisturizer and things your girlfriends have been using for decades.

28. Try new food. Are you scared of mushrooms? Are you scared of tofu? But you don’t mind eating a candy bar that has 52 ingredients? Are you kidding me?

29. To try and describe things without using adjectives that define their race, class, color or gender. As open-minded as I think I may be, I have my own ways of perpetuating the institutionalized system of which I am a part.

30. Care about things that matter. Not what someone wore, but what did they read, what have they seen in life, what music do they love, how is their family, what are their accomplishments?

31. Seek people based on the friendships they have and how they value them, and based on how deeply a person is willing to share.

32. I still believe most of the things I talked about in my 20s, but I would express those thoughts in completely different ways now.

33. Ask people better questions, and actually care about their responses.

34. We can spend a lot of time on social media not feeling like we’ve even made a drop in the bucket, and then one day we may feel like our words were a tsunami. I have learned to me more mindful of what I say on social media. Think of it as “Would I want 200,000 people to read and discuss that?” or “Will 200,000 people get my original point?”

35. Travel more. People will say they don’t have money to travel, and then go to Target and drop $100 on meaningless crap. 

36. Periodically explore my town like I was a tourist.

37. There is a whole series of stuff I could attribute to the “Dead Lessons.” For example, in 1993 I bought a van for $60 in food stamps and later sold it in cash to a guy who went by the name “Elijah Monkey Plant.” On the way to the Las Vegas Grateful Dead shows, he wouldn’t let me eat cream cheese in my own van – or drive it either. Firstly, don’t be so righteous that you push your food beliefs on people. Secondly, don’t name yourself Elijah Monkey Plant. Thirdly, have a story like this to share down the road.

38. Another Dead lesson. A lot of people sold beer at Dead shows. I sold beer too — $5 Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stouts. I was the only one that stood on the cooler, balanced on a leg, with the beer bottle on my head. Stand out from the crowd.

39. I dropped out of college after meeting some guys at a party in 1993. I left on spring tour with them that year. We have to make time for adventures in this short lifetime. I went on to later get a master’s degree, but Jerry Garcia died two years after my 1993 decision. Had I waited, I never would have had the same chances.

40. The world is a very interconnected place. Don’t burn bridges with people, because their sister will wind up being your boss.

41. We have to learn how to push ourselves as we get older, in ways other than professionally. When we were young we pushed ourselves by trying new things, meeting new people, going to new places, and being uncomfortable. When we get older, it is really easy to insulate ourselves. We spend more time at work, go out less, meet less new people, spend more time with only the family and have more established comforts. That insulation could be keeping us from growing. 

42. There are people that are so much more interesting than me. I will never stop looking for them. It will make me that much more interesting too, to have such experiences.

43. We can let our hearts break over and over again to discover how much capacity we have to feel.

44. Learn to live for the nights when I find myself staying up late having a conversation, or just staring at the moon and feeling inspired. Even if it means I’m a little tired the next day, I will spend more of my life “awake” for just trying to live life.

45. Be humble. Realize there are people who probably know way more than us and try to learn from them. We won’t always learn the most by listening. Sometimes we learn by refusing to listen.

But in this case, thanks for listening.

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Windshield tour drives home the problems of a community

Posted on 31 May 2011 by admin

In Richmond’s East End, six housing projects huddle around the Peter Paul Development Center. Then, I-64 wraps around the entire area, successfully positioned as a moat, or wall, which isolates the concentrated urban poverty from the resources of greater Richmond.

In this bleak city island,  poor means an average income of $8,900, says Rev. Lynne Washington, executive director of the Peter Paul Development Center (PPDC).

Rev. Washington is our guide on the Windshield Tour, which safely carries us into areas of town many will never visit; to witness landscapes many of us would never forget were we to see them.

The Windshield Tour is about a 90 minute event. Aboard the bus, participants learn interesting and shocking facts about the neighborhoods served by the PPDC.

For example, no new schools have been built in this neighborhood–even though there are 4,000 children in Churchill–since the 1950’s, says Rev. Washington.

Or that “ Newsweek” magazine considers Armstrong High one of the nation’s worst “drop-out factories.”

For complete article, click on over to Pergula, a community news portal.

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Tattoos in the RVA Workplace

Posted on 23 May 2011 by admin

Face it Richmond. You’re surrounded. By art.

It flatters the walls of numerous galleries, ornaments our streets and buildings and also adorns the skin of many locals.

They don’t all work in downtown restaurants and bars either, although tattooed culinarians and mixologists might be seen more often. No, tattooed folk don’t all band together like a heathen zombie army.

Actually they’re everywhere, just not always visibly. They also teach children, save lives, prepare fancy pumpkin spice lattes, labor at state agencies, report the gritty city news, fashion your hair, hawk real estate, mark Richmond criminals and ink grants. Many have infiltrated well-known, Fortune 500 corporations.

Please follow the link to read the rest of this article and view a great slideshow on Richmonddotcom! Thanks!

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20/20 Visions of Alternative Transportation

Posted on 12 May 2011 by admin

The visions of 13 people—what you missed and how you can be involved in the city’s new transit plan.

Richmond Connects, a City of Richmond project, staged its kick-off event Tuesday night at the Byrd Theater. Participants were asked to present alternative visions of transportation in an alternative format: 20 slides, 20 seconds a slide.

This trendy and effective method known as “Pecha Kucha” is loved by the Japanese and seems to abate long-winded, awkward presentations.

The format itself was a breath of fresh air, as were many of the ideas presented.

Richmond Connects is the abbreviated moniker for The Richmond Strategic Multimodal Transportation Plan, a yearlong planning study to “update, revise and re-invent the transportation plan,” for Richmond.

The evening moved along like a well-oiled machine, hopefully one with a small carbon footprint, but whether or not the talks are just a bunch of hot-air remains to be seen.

The City of Richmond, with its recent creation of a Bicycle and Pedestrian Trail Commission, as well as proposed funding in the 2012 budget for a Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, appears committed to reducing the number of vehicles on the road. Money has been pledged to develop the plan, but more than that half a million will be needed to complete any infrastructure (Portland, Oregon spent an estimated 52 million).

At the very least, Tuesday nights’ presenters made it clear that the city ought to take transportation reform very seriously.


Some clambered on stage to speak their 6:40 (20×20) as concerned residents, bringing out-of-state experiences to the envisioning process.


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The ABC’s of Social Media and Happy Hour

Posted on 16 February 2011 by admin

Numerous restaurants in Richmond are violating, some without knowing, some simply disregarding, what many see as an invasive prohibition on social media promotion.

Gone are the days of Speakeasies, Prohibition-era liquor establishments, where liquor discreetly flowed for those whose tongues were agile with the correct password for entry. Even though billions of dollars now steadily pour into the coffers of alcohol manufacturers, in Virginia restaurants dare not speak easy about happy hour pricing.

Not too long ago restaurants were completely prohibited from promoting happy hour outside of the storefront. In late 2009, the ABC board approved the posting of a 17″ by 22″ sign in the window of a restaurant. This action symbolized forward movement from an organization often thought of as conservative.

When but not What

The momentous change spawned signage in windows, announcing, yes the business has a happy hour–a fact probably already known by 10 of 10 adults. In an urban setting, the sign might make a difference, but in a suburban setting, most restaurants receive specific destination traffic.

What really matters to those seeking the heaviest drinks for recession-light wallets are the prices, the choices, and the times. Times are actually allowed on the posted sign, but no specific mention of available selections, or the special prices is permitted.

“What the customer is deprived of is the information about what kind of specials are being offered,” said Thomas Lisk, an attorney at Eckert Seamans who previously served as chairman of the Industry Advisory Panel to the Virginia ABC Board during its regulatory review process.

…Finish reading the article, find out what promotions are legal and illegal, and take the poll at

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Medicine helps snuff out smoking habit

Posted on 10 February 2011 by admin

Back when I was a fiscally struggling undergrad (my, how things don’t change), I took a series of lab-rat gigs at VCU. The money wasn’t great, but it paid out right away and I didn’t have to donate anything other than my time, patience and a little blood. The studies were only for tobacco research and required that I be a smoker. This is a preface to the bigger story, the current one of my becoming a non-smoker.

One of the gigs required that I stay overnight, go without coffee two days prior and no cigarettes were allowed 12 hours prior to check-in at MCV hospital.

Once settled in, I was given a series of hourly tests that involved my cognitive reflexes and memory retention. I found it rather interesting that they wanted to know how my brain worked without tobacco.

I interrogated the doctors and researchers about tobacco and the brain to learn just why nicotine is so addictive. Here’s what I’ve learned and why it is so hard for many of us to just quit cold turkey.

Simple science behind addiction

There is a perception out there that tobacco is merely a physical addiction. See, the tricky thing is that your brain is a tangible, physical part of you, but there are also many complex, mysterious things happening inside it that we can’t see. Science has made huge leaps in explaining some of it. Point being, they’re connected—mind and body. Withdrawal isn’t simply about nicotine decreasing in the bloodstream (physical), it is also about the way your neurotransmitters are firing messages (mind).

A smoker is going through nicotine withdrawal the minute they put out a cigarette. Let’s be science-like and call it pain conditioning. Pain conditioning (and pleasure conditioning) involves neurotransmitters that reinforce the neural pathways which develop with newly learned behaviors.

Think of a neurotransmitter as “an automobile wearing ruts in a gravel road.”

This applies to all types of behavior and learning—from avoiding touching a hot iron to associating an “A” on a test with a reward. I could go on with the examples but, basically, that “deep neural rut” in your neural pathway is what makes a reaction become automatic.

For smokers, the reactions are provoked by times, meals, activities and emotions.

To learn more about the science of addiction and the success rate of Chantix, please jump over to to finish reading!

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Touring Virginia Wine Country

Posted on 19 January 2011 by admin

Touring the Monticello Wine Trail: Jefferson Vineyards from Alix Bryan on Vimeo.

Okay Richmond, quit whining about the cold weather. This frigid season might not be a barrel of laughs, but there are plenty of ways we can fight seasonal affective disorder and avoid hibernation. One of those sure fire ways just might be drinking, or rather, tasting. Vineyards located nearby on the Monticello Wine Trail offer the promise of an adventure blended with interesting history lessons, beautiful panoramas, and of course, award-winning wine.

Sure, Richmond boasts a list of events equal in length to our Canal Walk. But what about the open road? What about a low-cost, action-packed excursion that can easily deliver you home by the end of the day? With just enough time left over, well, to drink some of the wine you bought?

One more word of encouragement: local. Apply the popular “Buy Local” movement to your wine consumption. Here are some tips to help you become an oenophile, educated by some of the best vintners in America.

We have tourists visit the state just for our wine. We are considered the “Birthplace of American Wine,” thanks to Thomas Jefferson, yet it took about 200 years for our wineries to really figure out the tricky climate and produce quality wines. We are now the 5th largest producer of wine in the United States.

Virginia wine has been applauded at the international level, proven by the 20 awards received, out of 10,983 global wines entered, at the 2010 Decanter World Wine awards.

We have a native grape, the Norton, and even a crown jewel, the Viogner (vee-on-yay). The Viogner helped put Virginia on the map, thanks to the research and brave gambles of Dennis Horton, of Horton Vineyards. This is some of the priceless stuff you get to learn about at the tastings.

Read more about exploring Virginia Wine Country at

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Richmond food deserts produce urban farm trend

Posted on 19 July 2010 by admin

Next week, on July 29, Short Pump will add another Kroger to its already abundant stock of grocers that have flocked to the West End. This new Kroger, at 91,000 square feet, will become the eighth store in the area.  Short Pump will now host just two grocery stores more than the entire Richmond metro area. The opening places Henrico county in the lead over Chesterfield, and other local counties, for access to grocery stores, despite Chesterfield county having twice the amount of square mileage as Henrico. One zip code, 23233, contains almost as many grocery stores as the city of Richmond, regardless of the vast gap in population served.  Based on census data, Short Pump has 50,000 residents, compared to Richmond’s total population of 200,000. Now, that’s just one zip code.  For every 10,000 residents in all of Henrico County, there are 1.5 grocery stores, whereas in Richmond City the availability is drastically lower, at .5 stores for every 10,000. The zip codes in Richmond that are absent of grocers peddling cheaper, nutritious food tend to be the areas where income is on average 20 percent below poverty; Highland Park, Barton Heights, Jackson Ward and Monroe Ward.

Churchill has one market, but many in the northern part of the district feel it is not very easily accessed.  This is an area where 53 percent live below poverty level, and only have expensive corner stores as grocery store alternatives. Those Churchill residents with personal transportation tend to shop outside the city. Other residents without personal transportation and dwelling on the North end of Churchill, near Nine Mile road, are left with no options other than corner stores, or a bus ride that includes a transfer–just to get two miles down the road.

“Many residents here shop outside the city and that’s too bad. I would like to see our tax dollars kept here,” said John Murden, long time Churchill resident, teacher and blogger.

“You go out to a suburban grocery store and you see what you can get in the way of fresh produce, or organics,” Murden added.

Churchill, with its diverse population and income levels, is an under-served community and Murden said that all the residents are asking for better grocery options.

National Agenda spearheads changes
The need for better food options in underserved communities was recognized by President Obama, who in his FY2011 budget proposal earmarked $400 million to help bring new markets to areas like Richmond’s Highland Park or Churchill.

More than half of this money, split between three agencies, will include tax credits designed to stimulate private investments.  This national program hopes to create better options for the 23 million citizens nationally who live without access to grocery stores.

The barriers of investment in underserved communities are something that the Food Trust, with its nation-wide programs, understands well.  Since 1992 the Food Trust has worked at creating better markets in Philadelphia. Their success has become a model for many states, and they are now partnering with the White House.

Obstacles that create food deserts
“Well, parcels of land [in a city] are scare and they are expensive, comparably,” said Brian Lang, director of the Food Trust’s Supermarket Campaign, in response to barriers in urban development.

“Additionally, in a dense city, a developer has to assemble from various lots of parcels and the remediation costs make it more expensive than just bulldozing a suburban greenfield,” added Lang.

At a recent charette, Churchill residents vocalized the need for a grocery store to 7th District Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille.  Samuel Patterson, liaison for the councilwoman, confirmed that residents believe the lot at 25th and Nine Mile road, owned by the RRHA, is the perfect spot.

“A grocery store there has been on the table for a while,” said Patterson.

While the suggestion gathers dust, local residents have gathered their gardening tools and found an alternative supply for fresh, healthy food.

Residents create new solutions
Churchill resident Lisa Taranto decided to start growing her own food and help Richmond residents do the same. The first garden, Jefferson Avenue Community Garden, in Churchill, was launched 8 years ago.  Now in its eighth season, that first garden has grown an organization that has expanded into four Community Gardens, three Learning Gardens, a green house, and now an urban farm.

“We believed community gardens and the simple act of growing food were the fastest ways to improve the health of the community–both for the residents and the environment,” said Taranto.

The urban farm, Richmond’s first, is located at 9th and Bainbridge, and spans a half acre. The urban farm is a year round food operation yielding enough food to open a farm stand twice a week–on Tuesday and Thursday. The location is in a low-income neighborhood, 26 percent below poverty, that has no easy commercial access to fresh, healthy food.

No surprise, sales are doing great.

“We anticipate around $10,000 in sales, and hope to double that next year,” said Taranto.

Tricycle Gardens has introduced Richmond to the complete cycle of food production; seeding, gardening, harvesting, canning, cooking and sustainable ecological practices.

The work hasn’t gone unnoticed. The organization’s willingness to advocate at city and state levels for sound agricultural and ecological policy and the use of food as a way to improve shared civic spaces fits nicely with Mayor Dwight Jones sustainability goals for the city of Richmond.

Taranto now sits on a city advisory committee that plans to turn vacant, city-owned properties into community gardens.

City gets involved in urban farming

“They see it as a good thing for the city,” said Taranto, when asked why the city has initiated such a project.

“Study after study shows that it (community gardens) decreases crime, increases biodiversity, increases community leadership and ownership,” she added.

Alicia Zatcoff, recently appointed Sustainability Manager of the City of Richmond, said one of the many goals of this program is to foster community.

“This program is part of Mayor Jones sustainiability goals for the city; to improve the quality of life for residents, improve our environment, enhance economic conditions and help provide a food source within the city” said Zatcoff.

There will be about 100 plots, spread throughout the city, that will likely be made available towards the end of the year, after City Council passes the ordinance that approves the permits process.

The city will work directly with groups, like neighborhood associations, who will in turn parcel out the individual plots. There will be a fee.

Mayor Jones is also creating a Blue Ribbon Health Commission to examine health issues within urban communities. The mayor is on board with the national trend that associates health issues with lower-income neighborhoods and their lack of access to quality food.

“Of course providing healthy foods will help address health issues like obesity and diabetes,’ said Zatcoff.

All of these initiatives, working in tandem, just might accomplish more for the community than a grocery store ever could.

But a reasonable proportion of grocery stores per capita and per square mile should stay on the table.


A helpful map of local zip codes.

This data was compiled through several steps.

  • Scraping the Internet Super Pages. This involved calling many grocery stores to see if they were really grocery stores, or still open. Corner stores are NOT counted. Although that would be a useful map for comparison, and something I hope to get around to doing. Feel free to do it yourself!
  • That data was cleaned up and pasted into an excel file, then cleaned up some more.
  • I used Microsoft Access to match zip codes and store volume with Census data: household income, per capita, percent below poverty line…
    *I decided NOT to include store names. Those can be viewed on this excel sheet.
  • Then I did an extensive search on zip codes and counties, using this website and the above map. I added that info to each individual zip, plus I added in square mileage and overall county statistics based on census data, 2009.
  • This info is compiled into this final spread sheet. I also realized it was important to include the zip codes WITHOUT grocery stores, so I added that info in. You will not see complete statistics for those zips. I didn’t have them in the census profile database that I used.
  • Using that spread sheet I ran my analysis
  • Then I went to ManyEyes to create my graphics, and used Mapalist to produce the map of areas without grocery stores

Richmond Grocery Stores, by County, zip, and ranking

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A seedy neighborhood transformed into an economic corridor

Posted on 14 April 2010 by admin

The exorcism and transformation of one tiny neighborhood in Richmond.

While Richmond is home to many historic neighborhoods, not all can claim such infamous tales, nor independent revitalization, as the Devil’s Triangle.  Concentrated efforts in the past six years have transformed this once rough neighborhood  into an economic corridor and designation for locals and visitors alike.  Overall, it was a slow, gradual change lasting more than 20 years, but one that the city just recently recognized.

Conversion of the Richmond area known as the Devil’s Triangle has involved many factors, people, and investors. The area’s time-line extends far back, before it was even known by such a moniker.

Trolley’s came through in the 1920s. The streets bustled and hosted a hospital, butcher, pharmacy, barber, newsstand, cigarette shop and even briefly, the city’s second Ukrops.
In the late ‘70s through the early ‘90s, a darker side of history cast a long shadow in which many seedy activities took place. Drugs. Prostitution. Alcoholism. Bar brawls. Gunfights. Robberies.

The Devil’s Triangle spans less than a mile, and is bundled into an urban area that Richmond locals refer to as the Upper Fan, which developed much later than the rest of the Fan, a general term for the part of the city that boasts VCU and historic homes.

The boundaries of the Devil’s Triangle run from Monument Ave. on the north to Kensington Ave. on the south, from the Boulevard on the east to Belmont Ave. to the west.

An aura of ill repute once enshrouded this tiny neighborhood area with a big reputation. There was a lot of crime, and a rougher clientele made the bars too foreboding for most Fan residents.

“If there was any corner of Richmond that was notorious, it was this corner,” said Rich Holden, former owner of the bar Felix, and current partner in Bandazian & Holden, the investors who have contributed substantially towards the area’s transformation.

For three decades The Devil’s Triangle has been Holden’s beat.  He has been involved with these streets since the early ‘80s; as a proprietor, resident, and now, major real estate investor.  Holden owned and operated Felix seven days a week, one of the three bars which formed the original Devil’s Triangle; Felix, The Ritz, and Cafe 21.

“It was very Southern blue collar, lower income, lots of people on welfare,” said Holden, as he explained the common denominators among residents.

There were also Vietnam vets with psychological problems, biker gangs, and criminals. When the police were out looking for someone, their first stop was The Ritz, and odds were good the suspect would be apprehended.

“One reason the police sort of tolerated The Ritz, and didn’t put more pressure on them was because their suspects would gravitate towards the bar and it made them easy to find,” said Holden.
“It was a place where you would see a lot of drunken fights and could find drugs, even prostitution,” said Sean McClain, the owner of Banditos Burrito Lounge, now in its 13th year of operations.


Holden purchased Babe’s restaurant in anticipation of Fan renovations moving over the Boulevard, a former boundary that divided the more desirable city area from the less. The renovations didn’t really begin to happen until the later ‘90s, almost 20 years after Holden had opened Felix.

The local oasis for sundries and octane, a 7-11, opened in the late ‘80s. It brought floodlights and 24 hour activity to a dark corner once inhabited by an auto-body shop that doubled as a drug trafficking hotspot.

“It was one of the worst things we could have had. At night there was no lighting and it provided opportunity for all sorts of questionable characters and activities, especially drugs and drug dealing,” said Holden, who watched cars steadily come and go in the evening.

At that time, drug customers were the only destination traffic that the area received, no outsiders or families visited the bars. Clientele for the bars came only from within the small neighborhood. By the time Holden closed his doors, there were 250 people banned from the bar. His wasn’t the roughest location either, of these Wild West saloon-like bars, where people were sometimes asked to check weapons when entering.

The tales are numerous, as Holden attests, and for years, he had a front row seat.

Bodies would fly out the Ritz. Someone checked a hand grenade. Gunfights. A dent in the door frame at Cafe Diem, formerly Cafe 21, is claimed to have come from a ricocheting bullet.

Mark Holmberg, former reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, once arrived on the scene of a gunshot call to find the victim still chugging beer at the bar, as blood oozed from his wounds.
Listen to reporter Mark Holmberg’s account of a gunfight in the Devil’s Triangle.


Richard Arthur, owner of Cafe Diem, was actually born in this neighborhood, at the former Johnston Willis hospital. He purchased Cafe 21 nine years ago, when the original owner died.

Arthur explained that the bar’s design was with intention to minimize causalities. He recalled the tire irons that hung from each end of the bar when he took over it. The bar’s brick construction was built four deep, with intention to halt a 357 magnum bullet in its path.

His first year in business, Arthur held a fundraiser to replace the old bar stools.

“The bar stools were clunky and heavy, designed so that a rowdy patron would topple over if they tried to wield one above their head,” said Arthur.

Those days are gone.

Street lights, brightly colored paint, and hefty financial investment are a few ways to cast out the devil.

Eventually, the Fan spilled over the Boulevard. The integration and extension of the Fan, and a keen focus on redevelopment finally prompted the long awaited, and necessary, exorcism.
Old rooming houses were converted. Buildings were gutted and restored. The demographics began to change. The median income jumped from $25,000 to $75,000 and crime dropped. No one knows where all the former residents went, but the Fan migration took away the rowdy clientele.

“I sometimes am amazed. It’s a totally different place. I look up and down these streets and can’t believe the change since the ‘80s,” said Holden, who rarely, if ever, sees anyone who used to frequent the area.

“It’s a historic neighborhood that offers all modern conveniences,” said Ray Bonis, a Devil’s Triangle resident for 10 years.

Bonis, who lives in the apartments located in the converted Johnston Willis hospital, never anticipated staying this long. An avid historian employed by the VCU collections department, Bonis not only benefits from the neighborhood’s accommodations, he also blogs about the area.
Ray Bonis, a local resident for ten years, describes the appeal of the Devil’s Triangle.


Holden mentioned that a lot of hands were involved in the revitalization of the neighborhood, and doesn’t think that Bandazian & Holden can take complete credit. Bandito’s relocated here in 2003, and had prior success changing the gateway to Oregon Hill, their former location.

Bandazian & Holden purchased all the commercial properties along the notorious two blocks, and also have numerous residential holdings in the area. Inspired by a district in Charleston, S.C., renovations included adding more street lights for safety, coating the buildings in fresh paint of vibrant colors, and removing several awnings to make the storefronts more inviting.
Three bars still inhabit the original corners, but now they attract families and are considered destination spots from other neighborhoods.
Take a look into the Devil’s Triangle


The city has acknowledged the efforts made by the real estate company. Recently they met with Mayor Dwight C. Jones and his Deputy Chief Peter Chapman, to discuss future plans that include getting the power and phone lines underground and making other aesthetic upgrades.

Holden claimed that the city is considering giving them a special designation, similar to Carytown.

“The city really likes what we’ve done here, because it took a problem away from them. The police attention took man hours. Now it is an area that they can point to with pride,” said Holden.

While the city funds might be coming in soon, everything that happened previously was private investment. Business owners saw an opportunity to cast out the devil, to change the neighborhood’s reputation and existence.

Holden doesn’t seem to keen on the lasting nickname. Having worn many hats, from a bar owner deep in the trenches to an investor calling the shots, might make Holden leery to associate the infamous reputation with the burgeoning business district. And after all, those who refer to it as The Devil’s Triangle were not likely to have ever visited in its heyday.

Arthur likes the moniker, as does McClain.

“Now it seems to be one of those places that lives in the lore of the old days,” said Sean McClain, who noted the nickname is just a catchy way to describe a business district, much like Hell’s Kitchen, N.Y.
McClain shook his head thoughtfully and offered an observation that perhaps the devil really has nothing to do with this thriving business district.

“I don’t think the devil lives here. I have to say, I don’t think he lives in this triangle,” emphasized McClain.


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