Best Of 2002

Clean and wholesome without joining the ranks of the Mouseketeers, "Trapper Jack" Elliot and Robin Benzle jolt early risers out of bed for Cleveland's most popular morning radio show for women ages 25-54. A California native, Trapper Jack brought his relaxed conversational style to Cleveland's airwaves in 1987 at the old WLTF. Six years ago, he skipped down the dial and asked chef-turned-comedienne Benzle to spice up the show, her tongue-in-cheek wit woven into recipes for Peanut Butter & Banana French Toast, Green Slime Soup ("Don't tell the kids it's broccoli and almond"), and Chicken Fritatasomalisopotis. Today, the team goes together better than strawberries in vinegar (another Benzle creation).

So few practitioners truly live up to the honorable title of bartender. It's a profession lousy with bimbos, frat boys, and guys who couldn't see that your glass is empty if it was held by a naked lady with a suitcase full of twenties. But a few skilled practitioners remain, people quick with a beer, who understand that a drink should have some kick. And the best -- perhaps in the history of the world -- are Sherie Wagner and Debbie McConkey, the fair maidens of the first shift at McCarthy's Ale House in Lakewood. Not only are they accomplished artists -- makers of powerful drinks and shots that could double as small swimming pools -- but they're also omniscient, with a panther's quickness. A thirsty man waits not in their presence. Better yet, both possess smiles that could destroy a Panzer division at 600 paces.

What made us cynical about the Indians? The $19 bleacher seat? The Pepsi Home Run Porch? Mark Shapiros fondness for words like incentivized? Parts of Jacobs Field have all the spontaneity of a nursing-home lunch, which is why the untamed cries of vendor Leslie Flake, popping tops at the Jake since it opened in 1994, are to be cherished. His gnarly refrain -- Hey, beer guy. Cold beer here. The beer guuuuyyy -- sounds like hell burping or a Beastie Boys sample. Mix in a geriatric usher to chase fans from the box seats, and youd swear you were back at the old stadium. Pass one down the aisle!

Clevelands king of schlock cinema and skit comedy is now on Channel 55 at 1 a.m. Mondays, when only real vampires are awake. Which is too bad, because the Ghoul is still worth watching for a weekly dose of bathroom humor. He's graduated from blowing up Matchbox cars (though he still does that) to blowing up dishwashers, which is really something to see. He's one of the only B-movie hosts still on the air anywhere, and he's got a gift for finding hilarity in the mundane.
First off, empty seats have a way of guarding themselves. And there's little danger that the crowd will storm the court after a victory -- it's too busy stampeding for the exits after another 20-point defeat. So what if the wage stinks? You're getting paid to watch Jordan, Iverson, Shaq, and Kobe light up the Gund scoreboard. And since the beer is served in cups, not bottles, you don't face quite the occupational hazards of, say, security guards at Browns Stadium.

On March 1 of this year, The Washington Post hit the streets with a blockbuster front-page story. The U.S. government, the paper had learned, was operating a shadow government outside Washington, where employees and their families lived and worked 24 hours a day. Almost every major news organization soon followed The Post's lead. President Bush responded directly, saying that his administration "has an obligation to the American people to put measures in place that should somebody be successful in attacking Washington, there is an ongoing government." To folks at The Plain Dealer, however, it was old news. On October 17 -- almost five months before The Post got around to it -- PD Washington bureau reporter Sabrina Eaton revealed the existence of a "continuity of operations" plan, which included, yes, a shadow government operating outside the capital. Too bad for The PD that it took so long for anybody to care.
At daily newspapers, science guys are usually left to sit in the corner and dissect tree frogs. The big guns are usually investigative reporters or columnists, while the best writers are quietly shuffled off to the features department, where they can safely construct multiple-clause sentences without hurting anyone. Not so at "Ohio's biggest newspaper." In the last year alone, Mangels has been at the center of some of the paper's biggest stories: the problems at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant, the fight over including "Intelligent Design" in Ohio's school curriculum, the economic espionage case against former Cleveland Clinic researchers Takashi Okamoto and Hiroaki Serizawa. Not only does Mangels tell you everything you need to know, but he has the rare ability to tell complicated stories with clear and compelling writing. Amazingly, he keeps doing it again and again and again.
At daily newspapers, science guys are usually left to sit in the corner and dissect tree frogs. The big guns are usually investigative reporters or columnists, while the best writers are quietly shuffled off to the features department, where they can safely construct multiple-clause sentences without hurting anyone. Not so at "Ohio's biggest newspaper." In the last year alone, Mangels has been at the center of some of the paper's biggest stories: the problems at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant, the fight over including "Intelligent Design" in Ohio's school curriculum, the economic espionage case against former Cleveland Clinic researchers Takashi Okamoto and Hiroaki Serizawa. Not only does Mangels tell you everything you need to know, but he has the rare ability to tell complicated stories with clear and compelling writing. Amazingly, he keeps doing it again and again and again.
Man-on-the-street interviews are rightly the stuff of parody (Uh, Saddam who?), but The Plain Dealer's Fashion Flash gets it right. The weekly Arts & Life section feature that asks hip Clevelanders what they're wearing and why is practical and fun. Best of all, PD stylist Brenda Sue Junkin chooses real people -- legal secretaries, store clerks, copywriters -- who manage to look sharp despite limited budgets and non-runway bodies. "As far as I'm concerned," Junkin says, "if you put on a pair of pants in the morning, you're making a fashion statement." Now, if only she had buttonholed Traficant during his racketeering trial . . .
Man-on-the-street interviews are rightly the stuff of parody (Uh, Saddam who?), but The Plain Dealer's Fashion Flash gets it right. The weekly Arts & Life section feature that asks hip Clevelanders what they're wearing and why is practical and fun. Best of all, PD stylist Brenda Sue Junkin chooses real people -- legal secretaries, store clerks, copywriters -- who manage to look sharp despite limited budgets and non-runway bodies. "As far as I'm concerned," Junkin says, "if you put on a pair of pants in the morning, you're making a fashion statement." Now, if only she had buttonholed Traficant during his racketeering trial . . .