Local Color

Dallas Friday

Dallas Friday is the world's No. 1 female wakeboarder, and a homegrown product who turned pro at age 13. Now, just a few months shy of her 19th birthday, the 5-foot 2-inch athlete's career is in full bloom and she's headed to Wakestock in Lakes Wales (the one in the United Kingdom, not Polk County), considered Europe's largest wakeboarding/music festival. How did Dallas get that headline-grabbing name that goes so well with the six-digit income she's been earning since the age of 15? The wakeboarding queen says that her dad named her after the small town in North Carolina where he grew up and that's close to his heart. That's just so Orlando.

— Lindy T. Shepherd

The Woodsman

Somebody must have thought the Orlando-area booking of the Kevin Bacon flick The Woodsman was a great idea. After all, what's the best way to market a ruminative indie drama that takes a convicted child molester as its protagonist? You secure it an exclusive engagement at AMC Pleasure Island 24, that bastion of art film that's of course never broached by families. Then, when the perversity begins to sink in – a mere two days before your announced opening date and one day after a four-star review of your flick has made it to print – you think better of it and pull the sucker. Local cinema connoisseurs never get to see a film they most likely would have appreciated, but they do get to harbor the resentment of thinking that somebody else did. We're all winners!

— Steve Schneider

Dave Plotkin

At many newspapers (not the Orlando Sentinel; see "Best Job in the World" category), the ombudsman serves as an in-house outsider, commenting on articles and pointing out areas that need improvement. For his tireless efforts to help us help ourselves, we nominate Cap'n Dave our official internal critic. This way, you won't have to bother to be offended, disappointed or bored by us – Plotkin will do it for you.

By e-mail, phone and even text message, the former Independent editor untiringly informs us of our shortcomings, always hoping the next issue will be better. "Who the fuck is reading the Weekly for a sports column?" he asked. (Actually, our mail indicated there were plenty of fans of the now-scrubbed Bad Sport column. Really.) "About the new website," he wrote us, "if you're a fan of orange, and I'm not, you'll love the new color scheme. But it's not an eighth as infuriating to navigate through as the old site was." Our sometimes … oh, say, uncomplicated cover designs often arouse his ire: "Why not a blank 'Paint Your Own Cover' issue?" he proposed. "That way, you'd produce 60,000 examples of better cover design." (That one got our award-winning art director a touch riled.)

Sometimes, though, he's a cheerleader, if a backhanded one: "'Our Dumb State' was such a good feature that I nearly had a coronary when I discovered it was written in-house. These kinds of fun, funny compendium pieces are usually imported from other alt-weeklies. Way to score, Billman!" "HappyTown™ is so tantalizingly close to being a feature that works." Tough love … keep it coming, Dave.

— Jessica Bryce Young

Ben Markeson

Some among us – right in this very office even – consider Orlando Direct Action organizer Ben Markeson an annoyance. I don't. I find him charming and engaging. And in this era when even the left is way too right for my tastes, a self-professed anarchist is a nice change of pace. I can never tell if he's serious about his libertarian rantings, or if his political philosophy is just a convenient way to justify his employment aversion. And it doesn't really matter, as long as he keeps raising hell. You go, Ben.

— Bob Whitby

Insanity Soup

Remember Doug Gallagher's campaign for the U.S. Senate last summer? Of course you don't. Gallagher is a Miami millionaire who wanted to fill Bob Graham's Senate seat. He got creamed in the primary and sent back to oblivion, but not before producing some of the coolest campaign crap I've ever seen, including a video called America: How Great Can We Make It!, which should have been a question, but wasn't. The best tchotchkes were the cans of "Insanity Soup" Gallagher was distributing. I never opened mine, so I can't attest to the flavor, or for that matter whether it causes the titular condition or is just insanely delicious. In any case, it was cool.

— Bob Whitby

Pine Hills and Silver Star roads

To the Danielle Bellinis (WESH-TV Channel 2) and Bob Baxas (WFTV Channel 9) of the world, Pine Hills and Silver Star is the pork chops and applesauce of morning television traffic reporting, popping up with a jarring frequency that suggests either faulty traffic engineering or an inside joke (i.e., "The helicopter pilot's got a hangover this morning; just list the usuals.") Undoubtedly, the lethal lane combination has the makings of both a great drinking game (every time, etc.) and a drink (Malibu and vodka, anyone?), which may be part of the problem.

— Billy Manes

Charley, Aug. 13, 2004

After years of stockpiling nonperishables and wood at the behest of sweaty, nervous news anchors, Orlando finally felt the punch of an actual hurricane Aug. 13. To be honest, I had a great time for the first few hours: peering out my window drunk and occasionally running out into the horizontal rush of water and branches to feel the beautiful power of nature. Then it just got hot, and my power was out for more than a week, so I hated everything.

— Billy Manes

Mike Thomas

This one's easy. Finding a columnist who's not afraid of real reporting at the Orlando Sentinel isn't easy, but Thomas is it. He knows of what he speaks, and he writes with a humbling authority that you don't get anywhere else in the daily, especially the parochial editorial pages. Smart, smart-assed, witty and totally unafraid of pissing off anyone, he comes across as the voice of reason in a paper nearly devoid of columnists who can string together a few sentences coherently (yes, we're referring to Kathleen Parker). Plus, he's more often than not dead-on in his predictions, so pay attention when he speaks.

— Jeffrey C. Billman

Buddy Dyer

Maybe it's the way it squeezes up over his starched collar in an imposing, almost poetic bulge, or maybe it's just the way that it doesn't seem to match the rest of his stocky-not-fat build, but ol' Buddy's chin-concealing neck section is certainly something to marvel at. Like a naturally occurring neck brace, or an ample pouch for acorns of democratic wisdom, his is a throat-holder that implies both authority and instability at the same time. Fitting, then.

— Billy Manes

Orlando Sentinel public editor

That would be Manning Pynn's gig as Sentinel ombudsman. I want his job. I'm underqualified, but I think I could crank out a column every few weeks politely criticizing the Sentinel and collect a huge paycheck for my trouble. And I'm pretty sure a third-grader could write his columns for him. Example: At the end of April, a story came out detailing how newspapers are bleeding circulation. He wrote a column saying the paper should make stories simpler, shorter and more relevant to readers. And then, I'm guessing here, Pynn spent the next week in the Caribbean, as his column regurgitated readers' suggestions on how to improve the paper – shorter stories (or longer ones with better writers), less bias (or more controversial reporting) and getting rid of the weather page. From there, Pynn wrote about how the Sentinel could deflect accusations of bias by more "positive" reporting. Then, the following week, an essay on the difference between hard and soft news. Then I fell asleep.

— Jeffrey C. Billman

Mike Synan 580 WDBO-AM

Bias alert: WDBO's Mike Synan has been a friend of mine for a few years. His wife used to work for this newspaper. But that doesn't mean he's not the best radio reporter this area has to offer. A libertarian at heart, Synan only agrees with about half of the right-wing bullshit that his station's programs (e.g. Sean Hannity, Michael Savage) spew, but that doesn't really matter, as Synan is one of the most straight-up, down-the-middle reporters I've met. He knows who deserves ridicule, but you'll never find it in his reports, which air weekdays. And for someone who has to turn in two 30-second reports a day, his stories are often insightful and investigative.

— Jeffrey C. Billman

Phil Diamond Orlando city commissioner

I've come to admire Phil Diamond over the last year. In fact, if I had to choose the one person on the Orlando City Council who I'd like to see become mayor, he'd be the guy, hands down. Smart and well-spoken, Diamond has become the voice of fiscal sanity on the council. Critics say he's too cautious, but under an administration that hands out taxpayer dollars to developers like candy, I don't think such a thing exists.

Diamond gets along with everyone, dodging the kind of personal feuds and petty name-calling that have sparked up between, say, Patty Sheehan and Vicki Vargo, or Daisy Lynum and Buddy Dyer. His name stayed out of the recent Dyer scandal, which had Dyer, Lynum and Betty Wyman the subject of all sorts of rumors and accusations – some private, some not.

Diamond's biggest problem is himself. He not ambitious enough. While a few members of the council are already planning their runs for mayor in 2008, Diamond hasn't given the slightest suggestion that he wants something more. Which is to his credit, and perhaps why he's so good at his job. On the other hand, this city needs people like Phil Diamond running it, so here's hoping that he sticks around a while.

— Jeffrey C. Billman


Best local celebrity
Carrot Top

Best local politician
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

Best local-TV newsman
Bob Opsahl

WFTV Channel 9

Best local-TV newswoman
Wendy Chioji

WESH-TV Channel 2

Best local-radio personality: Male
Jim Philips

Real Radio 104.1 FM

Best local-radio personality: Female

Real Radio 104.1 FM

Best radio station
Real Radio 104.1 FM

Best local writer
Steve Schneider

Orlando Weekly

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