After three years at the Alexandria Times, editor Cody Mello-Klein is saying goodbye to the paper he’s helped steer through a pandemic and more.
Mello-Klein joined as a reporter at the end of 2018 and was a reporter for all of 2019 and 2020, then was promoted to managing editor at the end of 2020.
“It’s been a great experience,” Mello-Klein said. “As a general assignment reporter, you have to learn to be fluent in a little bit of everything. I’m a naturally curious person, so I liked the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of topics I had no clue about from people who are way more qualified than I am.”
Local politics was one of those fields Mello-Klein said he came into the city with little background in.
“There are seemingly jargony code and zoning requirements that really shape policy and shape people’s lives,” Mello-Klein said. “That’s become interesting to me. I remember groaning when I got my first assignment at the City Council, but then you show up and you’re like ‘oh this is actually kind of interesting.'”
The job at the Alexandria Times was ever-changing, Mello-Klein said, from remote work at the start of the pandemic to shifting into an editorial role.
“It was a series of transitions and rapid lessons; some hard-learned lessons,” Mello-Klein said. “The hardest stuff for me during the pandemic was [in-person interviews] are such a tool for us, being able to read someone across the table from you, especially for profiles where ticks and mannerisms become part of the story.”
While his passion is for the writing side of the field, Mello-Klein said parts of the editor job he came to love included working with interns and figuring out the weekly puzzle of putting the stories into the right layout for a print publication.
“Part of the editor job I didn’t expect liking that I did end up liking the most was actually interns,” Mello-Klein said. “We’ve been lucky — we’re getting back into intern season now — we’ve had people great people come through, like grad students from schools in D.C. who have since become editors themselves or students from local high schools. It’s been great to help foster the next group of local journalists. A lot of people are focused on writing for the Washington Post or writing for the New York Times, but we need good local reporters.”
Mello-Klein said the Alexandria Times was also unique in giving him and other reporters resources to pursue in-depth investigative pieces.
“I’ve really enjoyed our ability to go in-depth on stuff: that’s been the greatest gift at the Times,” Mello-Klein said. “Space and time is always a premium, but we do have a little bit more space and a little bit more time than some publications, especially for the investigative work that we do. I think that’s distinguished us locally; I know that’s the work that I really enjoy doing.”
Some of those stories come with pushback, which Mello-Klein says has seemingly gotten more intense over the last couple of years.
“Over the last two years, the city has become pretty divided on a lot of issues,” Mello-Klein said. “This may have been the case before I came here, but I don’t know if it was accelerated by the pandemic or how the Trump administration polarized national politics and that trickled down, but I try not to think about how my stories would be interpreted because I think if I did I would just crawl into a hole and not publish anything.” Read More
Like parades and being mad about development, a fixation on hyper-local politics is one of the classic, enduring features of Alexandria. It’s an environment that naturally fosters satire, and there’s one account that’s at the head of the pack.
Alexandria Shallot is a Twitter-based spin on The Onion for Alexandria, posting almost daily mock headlines about (mostly) real local issues.
Alexandria Shallot isn’t the first anonymous Alexandria blog or local news parody, but it’s been one of the most popular ones. The account started in September last year and now has 1,817 followers on Twitter. The account is regularly retweeted by local notables, including those being parodied.
Shallot’s anonymous writers spoke with ALXnow about the account, with answers shared below in full.
ALXnow: Are you an Alexandria resident/work in Alexandria?
Shallot: While it would truthfully be much funnier if the account was run by a jealous Fairfax resident petulantly roasting Alexandria day in and day out, come on, it goes without saying we live and work in Alexandria. These jokes come from a deep love for an often ridiculous place. But ridiculous in the best possible way- we would never want to live anywhere else.
ALXnow: Is it just one person that runs the account or a couple?
Shallot: It says right there in the pinned tweet that the account is run by drunks, plural.
ALXnow: When did you decide to launch Shallot? Was there a specific instance or idea that you had where you realized you needed an outlet for it?
Shallot: Look, it’s been a long couple years of discussing very heavy and consequential shit on a near daily basis. Between the pandemic and a wildly overwrought local election cycle, we wanted to help people step back and laugh a little. And hopefully, maybe, think a little too. The gloryhole was a metaphor is what we’re trying to say.
ALXnow: How long have you been following Alexandria news?
Shallot: Long enough to remember when the Patch was the local website people around here cared about. Wait, sorry, that came off meaner than intended. Meant to say RedBrickTown.
Editor’s note — Old Town Alexandria Patch is still an excellent local news site
ALXnow: It’s pretty clear you follow local news pretty closely. When you’re reading a story, does the parody usually come to mind immediately?
Shallot: If the implicit question here is: “Do you have an editorial process?” No, no we do not. We mostly just look for the part of a story that’s going unsaid and try to say it. Or we listen to what people are complaining about and try to find an angle that is both funny and maybe makes people second guess that complaint a little bit.
ALXnow: What is it about Alexandria that makes it so ripe for satire? Have there been any instances where things were just too absurd to craft a joke about?
Shallot: So, in a way, it’s probably because this is a city and a community that cares about stuff a lot. People actually pay attention, they actually try to be engaged. So that means over time there’s this shared body of knowledge and memory that you can reference, and yes, poke fun at. And, like any place, there is some amount of daylight between professed values and lived reality, and that’s a space where jokes can thrive.
There’s also a tremendous depth of characters in this city that makes this place feel less corporate and sterile than Arlington or Fairfax. The roster of locally notorious people runs very deep, our cup overfloweth in this regard. Like there’s a guy who reliably writes into the local paper every other week with galaxy brain takes about how actually, facism is good – and the paper prints them! I mean, how could you not try to parody this stuff. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that when you have a local election every three years you can really attract and maintain a strategic stockpile of loons in a way that’s really helpful to the local joke writing business.
As for things that happen that are too absurd for satire, surely you are also signed up to receive press releases from ACPS. Fully half of their shit is impossible to parody. The superintendent is preparing to give a fake State of the Union address. What the hell are we supposed to do with that, he’s done all the work for us already. The man is probably going to come on camera with pictures of Pelosi and Schumer taped to the wall behind him. Read More
Jones Point Park live-action roleplayers fight with foam swords, create community — “It is Sunday at Jones Point Park, and today is the day Marcus finds glory on the battlefield.” [Alexandria Times]
Yunnan by Potomac Noodle House honored on 2022 Yelp 100 list — “The Alexandria restaurant is one of the top 100 restaurants in the country, according to Yelp.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]
Penthouse unit with exposed brick lists for $1.4M in Alexandria — “Would you pay $1.4 million for this penthouse unit? This residence features industrial loft design and rooftop views of the Potomac.” [Patch]
Carr pitches redevelopment of entire block in Alexandria’s Old Town North — “Carr Companies is exploring a major redevelopment in Alexandria’s Old Town North.” [Washington Business Journal]
Rather than an end-of-week wrap-up like we usually do, we at ALXnow figured it might be more fitting to do a look back at all the stories from the last year — our second full year of publication.
Thanks for reading and see you next year!
Earlier this month, national retailers Banana Republic and Gap Outlet announced they’d be closing for good on Jan. 24, 2022. Douglas Development purchased the buildings and now owns three of the four buildings at the intersection of Washington and King streets. As one commenter noted, according to Monopoly rules, they’re one building short of being able to put a hotel on the site.
Alexandria and Fairfax County school districts investigated allegations that members of the James W Robinson, Jr. Secondary School’s junior varsity football team spat at Alexandria players and said racial slurs at a game on April 5. Fairfax County Public Schools had a “stand-down” meeting with the sports team after to address the behavior.
Alexandria Sheriff’s Deputy Sean Casey won the Democratic primary in June and was unopposed as he sailed into a election win in November. He will be replacing Dana Lawhorne, who is retiring after four consecutive terms as Sheriff.
In October, Diane Ruggiero, deputy director of recreation, parks and cultural activities, outlined plans for potential new additions to the Torpedo Factory, like a ground-floor cafe or humorously named glassblowing devices. The discussion was the start of the latest round in a long-running back-and-forth between the city and artists over what the future of the arts center should look like.
Alexandria City High School teacher Gregory Elliott has a second-life as local go-go star Sugar Bear for the D.C. band Experience Unlimited. That second life was thrust into the limelight earlier this year when his song “Da’ Butt” from the Spike Lee film School Daze was featured at the Oscars. The band also put out a new album called Free Yourself. It’s pretty good.
A barricade situation near Woods Place and Quaker Lane, a few blocks from Alexandria City High School, started a little after noon on Nov. 23. Almost 24 hours and a few shots-fired at police later, the situation was resolved peacefully and the suspect was arrested. John Thomas Bey, a 52-year old resident of Alexandria, was been hit with several charges connected to his alleged role in a barricade situation — including unlawful discharge of a firearm in a school zone, attempted felonious assault, and malicious shooting into an occupied police vehicle.
The body of what appears to be a woman was recovered from the Potomac River in late November. Foul play was not suspected.
Just after school started in August, there were a series of brawls in some of the schools, including one at Alexandria City High School. Police weren’t dispatched to this fight, but were called in for three other incidents. A month later, a juvenile was shot at a McDonalds near Alexandria City High School, a popular post-school hang-out spot. The arguments over violence in schools culminated with the City Council returning school resource officers to Alexandria schools — though earlier this month those same SROs were removed pending an investigation into allegations of sexually inappropriate conversations with a former student.
In just two days, a report about an investigation into drug distribution and possession at Episcopal High School became the second most-read story from the last year. Two students were “immediately withdrawn” after packages containing a cornucopia of illegal drugs were found in the private school’s mail room.
The top story from 2021, at more than double the next closest story, was a rattlesnake found in Old Town. A venomous timber rattlesnake was picked up in Old Town by the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria in June. The animal was found at 400 block of Gibbon Street and the snake was safely removed from the scene and transported to a wildlife center in Northern Virginia.
Alexandria political cartoonist shifts to radio — “Following a 30-year political cartooning career, Steve Artley has transitioned his satirical prowess to another form: radio.” [Artley Cartoons]
National Industries for the Blind awarded $8.9 million contract — “National Industries for the Blind, Alexandria, Virginia, has been awarded a maximum $8,898,968 modification exercising the third one-year option period of a one-year base contract with four one-year option periods for moisture wicking t-shirts.” [Defense Daily]
Alexandria Times reviews local cappuccinos — “That’s why, for this edition of the Alexandria Times’ Port City Flavor section, I thought I would embark on a caffeine-infused adventure to compare cappuccinos at three of Alexandria’s most beloved coffee shops. I chose to stick to cappuccinos because I have a soft spot for them and honestly, who doesn’t enjoy a good cappuccino?” [Alexandria Times]
National Society of Professional Engineers looking for advocacy manager — “Initiate and lead NSPE Advocacy programs, overseeing all federal, state, and PAC activities and supervise Policy Associate with final approval from Senior Director.” [Roll Call]
Last year, Jake Marshall thought his baseball career was over. The pandemic shut down the league he played with in California and he returned to Alexandria to set up a home construction business. But a chance connection has given him a second shot at that dream.
The 27-year-old Marshall lives in Arlington and runs his construction company out of ALX Community in Old Town, and recently signed to play with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs — a professional baseball team based out of Waldorf, Maryland. Marshall joined the team as second-string catcher, though he’s also been designated hitter more frequently than he expected.
While it started as overwhelming, Marshall said getting back into professional baseball has felt settling and comforting. From 2018 to 2020, Marshall played on a semi-professional team in Napa Valley in California, but the league shut down when the pandemic hit.
“When the pandemic hit, I thought my career was over,” Marshall said. “I thought it was fun, and great, but now it’s time to go build houses. That league shut down, along with basically every other independent league. I was like ‘you know what, this is a good time for a break.’ I played for two years and had fun. I was at peace with it being the end. Then when this opportunity came up I was like ‘wow, I can’t turn this down’ because it was a team I always wanted to play for.”
His return to baseball came as a result of a little networking and a lot of luck. In California he met Kent Blackstone, another player who is from the DC Metro area. Blackstone ended up becoming the second baseman for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in 2019.
“When this season rolled around, he was like, ‘You should come around to the stadium, catch a couple pitches and hang out,'” Marshall said. “It was about being in the right place at the right time.”
One of the coaches was there and Marshall ended up breaking camp with the rest of the team.
Marshall said he’s put his home remodeling business on hold because the team plays six days a week and he doesn’t want the rest of his construction team to be left waiting around for him.
The team is very competitive, with lots of former big leaguers who Marshall said he’s been learning a lot from.
“It’s the little things,” Marshall said. “You learn how to walk and talk and be a professional baseball player, but there’s nuanced details that each new higher level brings you that you didn’t think about before.”
Marshall said he’s learned a lot from Daryl Thompson, a former MLB player and star pitcher for the Blue Crabs.
“We have a pitcher, Daryl Thompson, who played for Reds in the big leagues,” Marshall said. “Pitchers usually have three-to-four different pitches. He said he had 30. I was like ‘what the hell are you talking about, that’s impossible?'”
Marshall said Thompson explained that he considers the different locations of where he’s pitching to as altogether different pitches, even if they’re the same “type” of pitch.
Marshall is now traveling with the team, and says he starting to feel more natural again.
“It’s been fantastic,” Marshall said. “It’s a great organization. We’ve been in the season two-and-a-half weeks for about 20 games.”
Jack Powers doesn’t just enjoy sunsets in Alexandria, he captures them.
For the last two years, the photographer has kept an eye out for beautiful sunsets from his 42-foot-long balcony, on the 11th floor of his condominium on South Reynolds Street in the West End.
“The first thing I do after I come back home from an event or shopping, or something, is look out the window. If see a sunset that’s visible, I make preparations,” Powers told ALXnow. “It soothes me, relaxes me. I feel like things can be good, or that I can experience hope in the midst of chaos. On a good day it tops it off, on a bad day it helps reverse my emotions and improve the comfort level of some mess that I just got out of. Most of the chaos, of course, is happening in Washington, D.C.”
Powers has since taken hundreds of photos of sunsets — all of them with his iPhone and not his professional Nikon equipment. He then uploads the photos to Facebook.
“Virtually everyone I meet on Facebook tells me how much they love my sunset photos,” Powers said. “People like it and I like doing it, and throughout the course of the year I will take several outstanding photographs.”
Powers, who retired in 2007 after 30 years as an administrator with the City of Alexandria’s Department of Human Services, has been taking photos since he was eight years old. He and his wife, Janet, lived in a single family home in the city for 34 years, and the sunsets were always obscured by trees. That was until he moved into Templeton Condominiums on South Reynolds Street.
“The photos help lift my spirits,” he said. “You’ll see variations of orange, bright orange, muted orange — all kinds of orange pictures that give me a view that most people in Alexandria have never seen. People will tell me all the time, ‘I was out all day and I never saw that.’ What they saw was a sunset in a distance blocked by trees, and it’s nice but its not the same.”
Powers said that the first batch of photos he took included his balcony, but that he later zoomed in for subsequent shots.
“As I developed doing this over time, I started focusing in within the sunset,” he said. “Our balcony faces west over Fairfax County and beyond, and I always try to get a building in Alexandria in the forefront to give it perspective. It’s just a different view of a sunset that most people have never seen here.”