Friday, July 31, 2009

Seems to Me I've Heard That Song Before

That's today's Nation & World section on the left, Tuesday's Extra section on the right

This a.m., we are greeted on Page 7 of The Roanoke Times (Nation & World) with the same story that ran on Page 6 of the Extra (features) section Tuesday, the one about the North Carolina woman in her 80s who is a pioneer at yoga.

The headline and deck head (that little explanation before the story opens) are different--indicating that different editors handled the stories--but the story and photo are the same. Communication seems to be lacking in this communications company.

If this sounds familiar, please see this blog 10 days ago. The Times' repetition virus is affecting me, too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Birthday Party for Anne's Handshake 2.0

Handshake2.0's Anne Clelland (left) chats with some friends, including Cory Donovan of NCTC at tonight's birthday party in Blacksburg^

A year ago today Anne Clelland set out to face the world on her terms with Handshake2.0, a social media business that has grown by leaps and possibly even bounds in 2009.

Anne is an infectious, invigorating woman who deals in the possible and is one of the reasons I'm sitting here writing a blog tonight when I could be finishing that Jason Bourne novel sitting over there on my new sofa. It was she who said, no, Dan, you're not too old to learn it; yes, Dan, you will like it; and yes, Dan, you should be good at it.

I don't know about the last prediction, but she sure hit the first two and I'm not the only so-affected soul. Anne has brought along an entire community--especially in Blacksburg at VTKnowledgeWorks--to her communications revolution.

In addition to Handshake2.0, Anne, a former journalist (among many other things) writes a fine column for Valley Business FRONT and this month (July) she was named the Contributor of the Issue. When you consider the writers who contribute to our publication, that's quite an accomplishment.

So, tonight, we raise a glass to Anne and all her successes. May you have many more, ma'am.

The Queen of the Computer Geek Heroes

All Alecia Nash needs is a white horse. She has everything else that makes heroes. At least, as far as I'm concerned she does.

Alecia just rescued me from the fire-breathing dragon of Internet baddies, determined to subvert my entire computer system with evil cunning. I was but a fair maiden held in the clutches of the scaled one until Alecia showed up, bag of dragon-killing lancers, swords and computer tools in tow.

"How does this keep happening to you?" she asked, more rhetorically than as a scold.

"Because I use it," I said. "I use it a lot."

"Are you running your defensive programs, as I instructed."

"Yes, ma'am. Just ran them today. But these screaming red things kept popping up and when I'd hit the little dealie telling me to repair the problem, I got this order form to buy protection for what looked like pretty high prices."

"They are high prices," she said. "They're wipe-out-your-bank-account prices because the minute these imposters get your credit card number, they go phishing on your dollar. It all looks legitimate, even the Microsoft logos, but the minute you see one of these you need to turn off your computer and call me."

You have no idea how soothing that last part is to a guy whose computer expertise ends at the on/off switch. Alecia has a one-person consultancy called Renaissance Computers (540-793-2233) and I don't remember how I ran into her (though I think it might have been through my old pal Cabel Brand), but I give thanks occasionally--when my computer's acting up, especially--that I did. She has some nice corporate accounts, but she hasn't gotten so big that she won't make house calls. She even helps set up old people and make Internet addicts out of them. I don't think she does that because the money's so good.

She does it, I suspect, because she's a hero.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Why People Don't Read the Paper, Part 3,497

Sometimes it goes beyond the point of simple, head-scratching exasperation and this morning was one of them. While veteran reporter Duncan Adams' excellent piece on the effects of rising electricity rates on business graced the front page of The Roanoke Times, its Extra (features) section hovered in its normal place in Irrelevant Land. Thirty minutes of a reporter's time would have sent Extra into the Land of Substance, so I'm wondering who's in charge ... if anybody is.

The top story in Extra was made for The Times' editorial goal of appealing primarily to young mothers: a story about how "materinity wards have come a long way in 50 years with hospitals adding more frills for new moms," titled "Oh, baby." The story is based in Minnesota. We're in Virginia. We have hospitals here and some of them are doing innovative things in maternity care. That is not mentioned.

A good editor would have taken this McClatchy-Tribune wire piece and written across the top: "What are Carilion, HCA and Centra doing in this area?" and placed it in a reporter's in-box. That reporter would have called PR managers Eric Earnhart at Carilion (540-224-4966), Susan Brandt at Centra (434-200-4731) and Nancy May at HCA Lewis-Gale (540-776-4754) and asked the simple question: "What are you doing in maternity care that is innovative?" The reporter would have been flooded with information that is relevant to the readers of The Times.

News reporters at The Times are in a constant state of frustration because of a small local news hole (much like the TV reporters, who stay on the verge of tears because of time constraints) when sports and Extra sections are given much more than they can honestly use on a daily basis. This morning's front is a perfect example of space that was simply wasted (the bottom story on the Extra front this a.m. has an Orlando dateline and is about a woman finding her mother ... hardly unusual and certainly not something that would trump a good local story).

This one, I'm afraid, is either about laziness or about cluelessness. Neither fits well into grandma's brag book and what we're left with is yet another reason we are fleeing daily newspapers.

The Attack of the College Professors ... Pffffffft!

Carter Turner (above) and the lovely Morgan Griffith in a kindly pose (left)<

It strikes me as sad that the 8th District version of Virginia’s Democratic Party simply cannot come up with a substantial candidate to oppose Morgan Griffith for his seat in the Virginia General Assembly. Over and over the Dems put up one good person/bad candidate after another without ever realizing what they must do if they are to defeat one of Virginia’s most entrenched politicians.

The Democrats over in the 5th U.S. Congressional District understood fully what they had to do to defeat Virgil Goode in the last election and did it. Goode was every bit as dug in as Griffith—and every bit as awful a representative, though he appeared untouchable in a district that leans so far right that it almost falls over. It took three cycles to beat him, but beat him, the Dems did.

Radford University nursing teacher Ginny Weisz was the first sheep-to-Griffith-slaughter for this year’s election, but she finally pulled out, saying she wanted to work on her doctorate degree. My guess is she saw the futility of the situation. Now, we seem to be getting yet another Radford assistant professor (if bloggers are right), a party activist named Carter Turner. The Dems will tell us all who it is today at noon and the campaign will begin. (I would say begin again, except that Ms. Weitz’s campaign didn’t seem to get started. I never saw an ad, a mailer, a press conference, anything. She was all but anonymous.)

If Griffith is to be ousted—and it won’t happen this round—the loyal opposition has to plan and quickly dispose of the notion that logic, good sense and the noble argument are good enough. This Democratic candidate has to come out throwing hard truths—not quite mud, not quite debate society. The Dems must—must—go after Griffith’s record, something that very rarely gets any kind of examination. A minute, vote-by-vote account, release of the names of supporters with dollar amounts (and the legislation or government investment that resulted), accounting of public statements and any miscellaneous negatives that can be piled on (Griffith is a drunk driving lawyer, for example).

The attacks have to continue unabated for the next two years with breathless, end-of-the-world press conferences, dire position predictions and a microscopic investigation of everything Griffith does.

Selecting two college professors—from the same university or not—in one election cycle is suicide. As candidates, college professors rank somewhere between gay rights activists and steel-eyed feminists for wide acceptance in a district where “liberal” and “professor” are not only synonymous, but also spell “ineligible for office.”

I still believe that, like Goode, Griffith is vulnerable because he is so extreme, so unwise, so rigid and so thoroughly arrogant. But you’re not going to beat him with an assistant professor. Or a team of them.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Oh, Yeah, Sometimes I Feel Just Like That, Too ...

And here we have Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telling us just what she thinks of her unsuccessful run for the Obama Chair in the White House.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

All the Elements in Place in "Food Inc."

It appears that the best documentaries these days contain some of the same basic ingredients: terror, disgust, mortification, anger and touch of hope. Throw in a crooked and impotent government; soulless, money-grubbing multi-national corporations; innocent and clueless citizens; and at least one champion and voila! you have an Oscar contender. If Michael Moore or Al Gore has anything to do with it, you'll win win the Oscar and your mud-spattered name will become a cause celeb on the radio talk shows.

So, here sits "Food, Inc.," the latest of that genre, sans Moore and Gore, though there's lower-case more of the lower-case gore than most of us want as part of our regular diet (couldn't resist that). Robert Kenner's "Food Inc." (armed with a 97 percent approval rating) comes from two books: Fast Food Nation by Eric Scholsser and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and the writers of those scary little volumes take front and center in sharing some of the narration of the film version, whose musical score (yup, a documentary with real music) adds to the nervous tension throughout.

Let me note here before going any further, that "Food Inc." appears to have been filmed by professional cinematographers and is not thin, grainy and shaky except when tiny camera-equipped factory workers take their little cameras inside slaughterhouses to show us what goes on. We don't much want clarity in that case, anyway.

A good documentary has the passion of belief and does not rely on neutrality. Frankly, given the subject matter here, it would be difficult to come up neutral when the the enemy consists of Monsanto Corporation (a company with a patent on soy bean seeds and is closing out farming to any little farmer who opposes it), Smithfield Corp. of Virginia (these boys have a rap sheet so long that we won't even bother going into it), Big Beef (which has your First Amendment rights of free speech in its pocket and won't let go; say "I hate hamburgers" in a public place some day and watch the lawyers skulk out of the woodwork armed with subpoenas) and an array of other multi-national giants you'll love to hate. On the side of good are a sprinkling of tiny, organic farmers and ... uh ... how do I say this? Wal-Mart. Yep, that Wal-Mart, the one that just got clocked by the courts for making people work off the, well, clock.

Wally's part in all this--though unintentionally noble in the end--is motivated by the same little saddle bur that motivated making its people work for slave wages, then for free as slaves: profit. As the boys from W-M say, "The customers demanded it" and Wal-Mart responded by buying up as much good food--at as low a price--as it possibly could. Even the good guys sold out, rationalizing that if you sell that much stuff, it's good for the game.

When Christina and I left "Food Inc." (which is showing on the big screen at the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke because it is outdrawing "Harry Potter") last night, I was hungry, but reluctant to eat. When we got home, I made a salad comprised of my own tomatoes from Ft. Tomato (read earlier blog entry) and some other greenery from the farmer's markets nearby. It was good. But I craved some cornchips. This movie, if nothing else, serves as a diet. You'll think hard before eating again.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

And What Is It in Texas?

My pal Diana Christopulos showed off her chilled "redeye" last night at the Salem Red Sox-Frederick Keys Carolina League baseball game. Diana explained that the Virginia redeye is the Nebraska Bloody Mary of the Midwest. "Good either way," she swears.

Me 'n' Jay and Those Duplicate Papers

A guy named Jay (no last name) left a couple of messages on Tuesday's post about The Roanoke Times printing a portion of Monday's sports section twice. He seemed pretty annoyed by the post and said he'd rather read The Times twice in a row than our Valley Business FRONT once. I wished him well with his newspaper.

Then came this:

"Just came here looking for your updated news for today. Unfortunately I did not find any. Looks like it is not so easy to put out a full newspaper every single day."

I replied thusly:

"Jay: Did you check News there. [Today] I wrote a cover story for the FRONT, edited seven stories, had two photo assignments and a press conference, ate lunch with one of our writers who is working on a story and needed some guidance, had a phone meeting with my partner on the November cover story, recruited two more teachers for our Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, talked to yet another writer about teaching a class for the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge's writers workshop, exercised for an hour and went to a baseball game in Salem with two good friends. I also cooked dinner for my wife. I hope your day was full, too.

"Dang, nearly forgot. I'm also working on a book (shaping up as a novel) and a long-ish magazine piece for another publication. Time-consuming, they are." I didn't even mention all the correspondence I answered.

The primary point in this is that The Roanoke Times has 400-500 people to put out a newspaper and our organization is a good bit smaller than that (6 full time, one in editorial). We do not have the goal to put out a newspaper daily. I do two blogs a day (this one and for the magazine) and most days each has at least one full-length post on it. Morefront had a substantial story on Carilion yesterday (that Jay might find interesting). I'm heading out to a press conference this a.m. and the result of that will be posted quickly.

The second point is that I have been a journalist for more than four decades, 17 of those in daily newspapers and, yes, I know what goes into putting out a paper. I'm not quite sure what goes into producing the same section twice in a row, however, and The Times' explanation that it was a "printing error" doesn't quite tell me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hey, Melissa, Pete Ate a Hot Dog; Two of Them

My good pals Keith Ferrell (right) and Pete Krull (center) joined me at a Salem Red Sox baseball game tonight and Pete was celebrating temporary freedom by downing a couple of 'dogs--katsup and onion. He looked down at the last bite of the second one and a tear came to his eye. "Last one 'til next year," he said.

Pete lives--in an unmistakably healthy and environmentally-friendly fashion--on Sappelo Island, Ga., with his pretty, red-haired (and equally healthy) wife Melissa Booth and comes up here several times a hear to take care of people whose investments he oversees. He also writes a column on investing with a clear conscience (not supporting slavery, tobacco, pollution or a bunch of other undesirable outcomes) for Valley Business FRONT.

Keith is one of America's best writers and was once the editor of Omni magazine, the legendary science magazine owned by Bob Guccione (Penthouse). He lives on a farm in Franklin County these days and his output of words remains impressive.

The conversation was politics, sports and, well, that young woman with the tat on her ... uh ... breast. No country for old men.

Good friends, good food (but not for me) and the baseball team came from a 4-0 first-inning deficit to win 8-5 and hang on to first place in its division of the Carolina League.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

At The Times, It's Deja Vu All Over Again

That's Monday on the left and Tuesday on the right ... or maybe Monday on the right and ...

If you've glanced at The Roanoke Times sports section this morning, you've already had your deja vu moment for the day. The first two pages of our Tuesday section are the same as Monday's. There were a few differences on Page 3 and Page 4 was new, so at least you got some fresh scores (as fresh as newspaper scores can be, anyway) in the Scoreboard.

I won't even try to 'splain this one, Lucy. explained it this way: "Due to a printing error, some readers of The Roanoke Times will see parts of Monday's sports and classified section in today's printed paper. For updates on the latest sports news, go to We apologize for the inconvenience." Not exactly full disclosure. We'll let Executive Editor Carole Tarrant do that, if she'd like. Ms. Tarrant, the "comment" box is at your disposal.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Virginian Who Sounds Like a Virginian

Gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds (left) and his favorite editor at this a.m.'s press conference^

It hadn't occurred to me until this morning while he was talking about his proposed programs, but Creigh Deeds has something we haven't heard in a while among candidates for governor: a Virginia accent. Soft, easy, distinct.

Former Gov. George Allen seemed to have one, but you have to remember that he grew up in California--born in Whittier, Richard Nixon's hometown--and my guess is he made it up (like George Bush's "ranch").

Mark Warner's from Northern Virginia (born in Indianapolis and grew up in Connecticut) and has no discernible accent. Tim Kaine could be from anywhere, but he's from St. Paul, Minnesota and he went to the University of Missouri and Harvard.

Kaine's father-in-law, Gov. Linwood Holton, had a Virginia accent that you could nail down to the street he lived on in the far southwestern corner of the state. Few others of recent vintage have had that. Certainly not Gerald Baliles, an urbane lawyer, who was born in Stuart, but who'da thunk it?

My wife's all-time favorite, Jim Gilmore, a Richmond native, sounds like a movie version of a Southern politician, which is mostly fake--though I think he really does talk that way, even at home. (And if you believe Christina loves JG, let me interest you in a slightly used 1989 Alfa Romeo convertible with very low mileage ...)

Creigh Deeds' opponent, Bob McDonnell, is a military guy and sounds like it (he was born in Philly). Many influences, none dominant. Our congressmen from this area, Bob Goodlatte and Rick Boucher, don't sound like us (well, you; I'm from North Carolina), either. Bob's from Connecticut and Boucher, though from Abingdon, sounds like a 1940s radio show.

Sen. Jim Webb is from St. Joseph, Mo. (and has family from far Southwest Virginia), but he was a military guy who became a writer and his accent tells you nothing.

All this gets to the crucial point of the election: If you're gonna vote at all, vote for a Virginian. Or don't. Whatever.

(Note: The late--in office--but not very lamented Virgil Goode is missing from this list for one very, very good reason: who in the hell would ever suggest that his exaggerated, rube-like accent is typical of Virginia? That'd get you shot in most mixed company.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dancing to the Memory at Cranberry High

Former Cranberry High square dance team members ...

... swing their partners ...

... in the rescued Cranberry High School gym^

We had just about given up on Teresa Shadoin showing up with her boom box and her square dance exhibition when she stormed through the door of the old Cranberry High School gym with a big smile and a brisk "let's get to it!"

Teresa has been a square dance coach for years in Avery County and has won a national championship and a number of state titles. She's part of a legacy that started with the legendary Kay Wilkins (about whom I am putting together a magazine piece) and we were going to get to see her work her magic. Only she didn't have any dancers with her. All we had was a crowd of about 100 geezers at the All-Class Reunion of Cranberry High School, which closed in 1968--so you know there are no kids in the crowd.

Teresa faced the assembled and bellowed, "Who danced for Miss Kay? Stand up." Miss Kay, of course is Kay Wilkins. About 15 people stood up, some uneasily. "Come on down here," she said, "you're dancing." And they did, like cattle to the call.

When the music started and Avery County Fire Marshall David "Moose" Vance--dressed in his uniform--shuffled out (left foot starting on a bass note) and formed a circle, they were underway. The smooth-style square dance (there's also clog style practiced by Teresa's teams) looked like it had been practiced for weeks. The dancers were in marvelous harmony and responded quickly, almost reflexively to Moose's calls. It was a thing of beauty, especially if you were me and were working on both an article and a book about this very thing.

These dancers were almost all in their 60s and 70s. Teresa was the youngest and she's in her late 40s. But they were simply marvelous. There's a story awaiting the telling on these people, their times and their coach and I aim to tell it shortly. Can't wait.


The old gym, by the way, is part of a rehabilitation package put together by a group of old grads and nickels using dimes from the 44 classes the high school produced. Cranberry opened in 1924 and my grandfather helped build it. My mother and brother attended there and I have several cousins who graduated at Cranberry.

It was a tiny school (78 graduates in my class) and when I was there Avery County was one of the poorest localities in the country. I often tell people that we were so poor at Cranberry that we only had one school color (green). The school became a lumber yard for years, its ancient--and well built--halls filled with drying lumber and even, at one point, drying tobacco.

My pal Gaylard Andrews (see below entry) was among those who thought it worth saving. Thanks Gaylard. There were a lot of very good memories still alive for me yesterday and today as I walked its halls and watched these lovely people dance this morning.

Of Old Men and a Few Moments Remembered

That's Gaylard in the middle and Jerry on the right with me at our class reunion^

As my old friend Jerry Turbyfill trudged across the parking lot toward Gaylard Andrews and me, leaning up against a 1956 Dodge, I had to look again to find him beneath the old man I saw. Still tall. Still straight. Still painfully handsome. But gray. And that handlebar mustache made him look like a retiring gunfighter on the last roundup of outlaws.

I leaned over to Gaylard and said, "I'll bet it takes him five minutes to get my whole name--all eight letters--out of his mouth." Jerry's the guy who gave northerners the notion that those of us from these parts are slow talkers. I wasn't disappointed. "Hellooooooooo, Da-nnnnnnnnny," he said, one of the few people remaining alive who can get away with that god-awful reduction of my name.

I was seeing these two old football teammates and friends--Jerry taught me to smoke; Gaylard taught me to drink--for the first time since graduation from Cranberry High School in Avery County, N.C., in 1964. And this very moment at this very spot, outside the science building and just down the hill from the old barn-like gym I lovingly called the "coliseum," brought so much back that my head was swimming, drowning in recollection of faces, searing moments of nearly half a century ago.

The conversation seemed to pick up from yesterday, as if we'd not fought wars and marriages (Jerry's still married to Doris, whom he married in 1964), jobs and homes, disappointment, heartache, the birth of children and the death of sibblings and friends. Forty-five years is a long time to disappear in a minute.

I have to give a talk at the reunion this morning and I knew from the minute I was asked to speak that there was no sense in preparing anything. Gaylard drug out a couple of old annuals and the talk started forming at that very moment. "You know," I will begin, "when I was here, Cranberry High School was so poor that we only had one school color. But, hell, I always liked green."

My memoir, Burning the Furniture, has more than one full chapter dealing with this school, these guys, Ella Richardson showing up at school without a bra, Jackie Buchanan trying to crush my bad knee, Joyce Watson being the unreachable girl of my dreams, teachers named Hop, Rock and Miss Kay and on and on ... this single year of my 62 years. It seems disporportionate in a life that has been so completely filled with tales, but this was an important time, one where I found family and warmth at a time when I needed it desperately. And here it all stood in the form of two old men who still cared who I am.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cara Modisett Talks--You Listen!

My piano-playin', writin', editin' buddy Cara Modisett is going to tell you how to get into magazines, if you're a writer. Come join us next week at the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge's monthly writers workshop. Fascinating stuff.

July 21, 7-8:30 p.m.
Cara Modisett - "What Magazine Editors Want from You"
Admission: FREE
For more information or to register for these free workshops please contact: Rhonda Hale or 540.224.1205

Pulitzer Nominee Joins Roanoke Times

Rex Bowman, the former western Virginia bureau reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, has joined The Roanoke Times as a news reporter. Rex was named the T-D's reporter of the year for 2008, just a week or so before his job was eliminated.

Good hire for the R-T, which has been bleeding solid veterans for some time now. I hope Rex's hire is the reversal of a trend and I hope he's encouraged to do what he does as well as anyone I've ever known.

Rex is a native of these mountains (Botetourt County) and loves everything about them. He is also a good guy. Watch for his by-line. You'll like his writing. His latest book, Blue Ridge Chronicles, is a dandy, featuring stories he wrote about these mountains for the Times-Dispatch.

Looks Like Doug's Not Retiring, Either

(Update: In a response to this post, Executive Editor Carole Tarrant of The Roanoke Times makes a flat denial, which is a good thing, and tells you what a bunch of crap this blog is, which is certainly true from her perspective. Hope Doug's around a long time. He's a dandy.)

In an ad promoting his online show in today's Roanoke Times, there's a hint that sports writer Doug Doughty is planning to announce his retirement this week. At least that's what I take from "at the end of the show, watch for a surprising conclusion regarding Mr. Doughty's tenure at The Roanoke Times." The big surprise would be if he didn't retire, I'll admit. Could be he'll be the new sports editor, an administration position with no writing duties ... which would fit Doug like a dress.

In retirement, Doug (who's been at The Times for more than 35 years) would join a long list of solid veterans who've been lost during the last three years under publisher Debbie Meade as The Times cut expenses to try to remain viable. I worked with him for some years at The Times and always found him to be a professional, caring guy.

He still keeps up with former sports writers like they're family and is constantly sending out e-mails about births, deaths, illness, babies, children's accomplishments and the like. Good guy. Good newsman.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lake Movie Comes Up Short ... For Now

Sara Elizabeth Timmins came up a smidge short on her goal of $500,000 by July 15 in order to make her movie at Smith Mountain Lake this fall (see earlier post), but this little whirlwind is hardly discouraged.

Simple truth: "It's a good thing and it's the way it was supposed to happen. I feel good about it. We hope that in the next month or two to secure [the remainder of the money]" and produce "Lake Effect" in 2010. The cards are in place for that to happen sooner rather than later."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Trains Leaving and So's My Photo Backdrop

A group of institutions and individuals, including the venerable Virginia Museum of Transportation is preparing to move those rusting old steam locomotives and, frankly, I have mixed feelings about it. You can see the complete story on my sister blog moreFRONT here. That'll give you the who, what, when, where. I'm more concerned about me.

I've used these old train castoffs for years as backdrops for some of the best portraits I've ever taken. Take an alabaster-skinned young woman, park her in a 1930s outfit (complete with beret and suitcase covered with destination stickers) on the sideboard of one of these old rustbuckets and Voila! art.

My favorite model was a young woman named Bonnie Pivacek, who worked as a baker at my friend Steve Hartman's On the Rise Bakery on Roanoke City Market. Bonnie was a pretty good photographer (I used her photo of me for two of my books), but a better model. She was not a classic beauty, but she had a long neck, great skin and strikingly defined features in face. Her face and that train were made for each other. The photos looked like 1930s studio stills for a great movie star.

There were others, too (Sybill Barrett, who owns a coffee shop in Roanoke; Sara Honer, a dancer and writer from here; Emily Paine Brady Carter, who has spent a lifetime collecting other people's names and played a sort of Blanche DuBois for me), and none had to take off her clothes to make a strong sensual statement. The trains themselves talked of raw power, undulation, stimulation, beauty and ... well, you get it.

Whereveer the trains wind up, they will no longer be available as they have been--I never asked permission and I suspect the railroad people would kill me if they knew; they're pretty touchy about anybody getting next to their damn tracks--and I'll miss that the next time somebody comes along who looks like a great model. Monica Novicki Frick, a lovely young woman who's writing for us over at the FRONT would have been great in front of the trains. But she won't get there. Too bad.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Boxley Building Plans Proceeding; Will Not Be Torn Down

The red-hot rumor of the moment—that the venerable Boxley Building on South Jefferson Street in Roanoke will be torn down to make room for a modern hotel—is absolute fabrication from whole cloth, according to one of the developers.

Robert Arigo, who is helping to plan the future of the building, sold recently to Roanoker Worth Boone and others, says the rumor is far from being true. “The Boxley Building is one of the most significant buildings on the Roanoke landscape and keeping its historic value is absolute with us. There are no plans to tear it down.”

Quite the contrary. Though Arigo says details of future plans will not be ready until late August, there are plans that include “a boutique hotel and residential project,” the hotel occupying the first five or so floors and condominiums on the upper floors.

Arigo calls the Boxley “one of the best-built buildings I’ve ever seen. You simply couldn’t tear it down.” The Boxley was built 87 years ago and has 39,000 square. Boone’s Fairlawn at Jefferson LLC purchased the building some months ago for $1.7 million. Boone, who is out of town and did not return a phone call, was the developer of the updated Davidson’s building next door.

Hey, Grandpa, What's for Supper? (Part Deux)

In a fit of shameless self-promotion World Famous Editor and Left Sox (yep, marked with a big "L" on the back) celebrate the good life in the Salem Red Sox skybox, where hotdogs are the food of the gods.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Art Studies at Hollins University

If you're wondering what the kids on campus (Hollins in this case) are doing during the summer, I found out this morning. They're spray-painting rocks.

Happy's Sunday: Adventures in Food

Dragonfruit (above and below) is beautiful, appetizing and about as bland as fruit gets. Slice it, peel it and eat bite sizes. Then wait for taste that doesn't come.

Cactus leaves and fruit are here for the adventurous Gringo.

This young fellow (above) was selling rambutan, a melon, jackfruit (small below) and something else I couldn't identify. He was busy, so I didn't interrupt to ask.

Halifax cantaloupes sold out quickly. These were left. Not bad.^

This old boy drove to South Carolina Friday, picked up these fresh-picked watermelons and wound up at Happy's Sunday.

I've been buying mid-summer produce at Happy's Flea Market for several years because it's fresh, inexpensive and almost always better than what I can buy elsewhere. Some of the vendors tell me they sell to Roanoke City Market vendors before making their way with what's left to Happy's. I buy their goods for what the City Market vendors pay.

It's finally melon season at Happy's and I brought in a big, gorgeous cantaloupe this a.m., but had to bypass some truly special watermelons because I was on my scooter and couldn't carry something that is basically the size of a small trunk.

I am especially fond of trying foods I don't recognize. This morning it was dragonfruit and jackfruit. I bypassed the rambutan because of its size, but I'm told it's a sweet melon. I considered cactus fruit and cactus (which I tried and liked--grilled--a few weeks ago), but just didn't. My favorite of this a.m.'s haul was the jackfruit, which looks and tastes like a grape (bred with a pear) when you peel it and eat around a sizeable seed.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bad Dog Owners Take Charge in Albemarle

Albemarle County barking dog owners scored a resounding victory over those with a love of peace and quiet the other night. The Board of Supervisors said "no" to an ordinance that would have warned owners of dogs barking for more than 30 minutes at a time, then taken their dog away after that.

It was an ordinance of enormous good sense, attempting to regulate a selfish, arrogant, thoughtless, irresponsible type of dog owner who has no more business owning a dog than I have owning a cape buffalo.

Their argument is that dogs bark, that they all live in the country and that if you choose to live in the country you have to accept anything they throw at you. Damn civilization. Damn simple courtesy. Damn you if you complain.

People in this country have the same rights, regardless of where they live and that includes the right to be free of this kind of incessant noise, almost always caused by dogs that need attention from owners who are absent, ignorant, careless, stupid or simply boorish. Dogs are social animals and if they are left alone, they bark. If they are tied up, they bark. If they are ignored by their owners, they bark.

One of those opposed to the Albemarle County ordinance brought up the fact that her dogs were bought to protect goats that had been killed by roaming dogs. Sheep dogs are totally unacceptable if they bark. Barking is bred out of them. If they bark as puppies, their breeders put them to sleep. Barking scares sheep. And it annoys the hell out of people like me.

Responsible owners' dogs don't bark for 30 minutes at a time (or all day, as the dog of a neighbor of mine did until I sicced the cops on him) unless there is a very real and present threat to life and property. Guard dogs are trained to do that. Just sticking a dog outside and saying he is a "guard dog" is a simple case of piled high bullshit. Guard are trained to bite, not to piss off the neighborhood.

I like dogs. I especially like dogs that are trained, that behave and that act domesticated. Anybody who has a dog that is none of those, needs not to have the dog. At the least, we need to be protected from these people and their out of control animals.

Going ... going ... going ...

The three structures in the center are part of Roanoke City Mills and are coming down^

Work progressed rapidly today tearing down the silos and grain elevators at Roanoke City Mills, across the street from the Carilion Biomedical complex. The huge, old grain storage facilities are coming down over the next few weeks to make way for an expansion of Carilion's campus.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fair Well to the Fair ... Well ...

I got this shot of the Salem Fair from the top of the stands at Salem Red Sox stadium tonight. Pretty site it was, as the fair runs down for another year ... finally giving us our damn parking spaces back for the ball game. (Double-click the photo. The bigger it is, the pretter.)

2 Plus 2 Equals Home?

WDBJ7 has a teaser it's tossing around about "reporting next week" on a new home for the old steam engines sitting behind the Roanoke City Mills, which is being torn down. The trains have been sitting there--mostly rusting--for nearly 60 years. Meanwhile, the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke has called a news conference for early next week.

Do we suppose there is a connection?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Killing You Softly With Thier Nitrites

Hotdog Boy prepares his feast (sans bun, an homage to his wellness program) in a skybox at a Salem Red Sox game^

If you’re absolutely hooked on hot dogs, burgers and beer, bacon and cheese and a host of other processed foods, a new study will give you pause. The study from researchers at Rhode Island Hospital “have found a substantial link between increased levels of nitrates in our environment and food with increased deaths from diseases, including Alzheimer's, diabetes mellitus and Parkinson's.”

The report is in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease (read the report here) found “strong parallels between age adjusted increases in death rate from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes and the progressive increases in human exposure to nitrates, nitrites and nitrosamines through processed and preserved foods as well as fertilizers."

Dr. Suzanne De la Monte, who led the research team, says, "We have moved to a diet that is rich in amines and nitrates, which lead to increased nitrosamine production. We receive increased exposure through the abundant use of nitrate-containing fertilizers for agriculture … Not only do we consume them in processed foods, but they get into our food supply by leeching from the soil and contaminating water supplies used for crop irrigation, food processing and drinking."

The report says, “Nitrites and nitrates have been determined to be carcinogenic in various organs. They are found in many food products, including [ground beef], fried bacon, cured meats and cheese products as well as beer and water. Exposure also occurs through manufacturing and processing of rubber and latex products, as well as fertilizers, pesticides and cosmetics.”

Nitrosamines are “generated under strong acid conditions, such as in the stomach, or at high temperatures associated with frying or flame broiling. Reducing sodium nitrite content reduces nitrosamine formation in foods.”

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bob Terrell: A Remembrance of a Beginning

That old Underwood typewriter in the foreground of the above photo is similar to the one I was presented as a rookie sports writer--and the youngest person in the newsroom, meaning I got the oldest typewriter--in 1964. In the photo below, Bob sits in the press box at McCormick Field, home of the Asheville Tourists. Oh, could I tell you some stories ...

About two weeks ago, in the middle of June, the man who gave me my first job in the newspaper business died at 80 after nearly 60 years of writing every day. Bob Terrell was a beloved columnist of a type that rarely exists any longer: he was of the people, his people, the people of the mountains of Western North Carolina.

I never really thought of Bob as a hero or as anything above the crowd, though I always respected him as a storyteller and as a man who produced. He not only wrote his column nearly forever, but he produced about 70 books (many of them column collections, but many not). He was a good guy, a man with a terrific sense of humor and a man who understood those around him about as well as anybody could. He was not complicated and he saw right and wrong in vivid color. When Muhammad Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay and refused to enter the U.S. Army ("I ain't got nothing against no Viet Congs"), Bob was livid and banned the boxer's name--in any form--from the pages of the Asheville Citizen-Times sports section. This was at the height of Ali's career.

He was always for the government, against those who opposed it, for God and against behavior that he considered anti-Christian. Very clear on every point, always. I didn't always agree with Bob--I didn't generally agree with Bob, in fact--in many things, but I always liked and respected him and thought he was held in proper esteem for a guy who made a mark.

Following is a piece of a chapter of my book, Burning the Furniture, dealing with meeting Bob for the first time and getting my first job at a newspaper. He didn't have to hire me. He did, though. I remain grateful 45 years later.


Anybody who has ever worked in a newsroom, especially a newspaperroom, understands why people who have been called “ink-stained wretches” generally considered other work beneath them.

The first time I walked into a newsroom—a late August afternoon in 1964—I couldn’t see enough of it in my view shed. I turned around, and looked at people and machines; listened to clattering, urgent noises; smelled cigarette smoke and coffee and paste and an asphalt- and oil-tinged breeze off the parking lot, As it wafted through open metal-framed windows. I wanted to touch something, and knew instinctively that a final level of stimulation would complete this sensual feast.

As I sat in front of Bob Terrell’s editor’s chair in the sports department as he interviewed me for a “copy boy” job, my head continued to roam. His office had walls only rib high and above that I could see the activity at the city desk; I could watch reporters type and argue on telephones simultaneously; I saw the AP wire editor as he tore copy or watched AP Photos as they rolled out of their machine in magical fashion, making a screeching noise. At one point, I heard Bob say, “Dan, are you listening?” and I realized I’d strayed from the interview. I said, “This looks like so much fun. I want to do it.” I think the depth of sincerity of that innocent pronouncement from an 18-year-old who’d barely ever held a job got me a desk, a chair and a typewriter that I didn’t know how to use, starting that day, that minute.

The pay was $5 a day no matter how many hours were in that work day, and Bob wanted me to work every day until I could type well enough to write. Every day, no matter how many it took. He wanted me in the office at 4 and out at midnight. I was to type the whole time that I wasn’t carrying somebody else’s copy to the composing room—I was, after all, a copy boy—and he didn’t care what I typed. As soon as I had a feel for the keyboard, regardless of how fast or accurately I typed, I would begin with briefs, then headlines, then captions. I would learn layout and be responsible for putting the paper out. All this before I could cover a game, conduct an interview, write a news or feature story.

Bob put the old warrior and outdoor editor Al Geremonte on me as my personal coach. Al, a Boston native and former platoon sergeant who’d fought at Guadalcanal, carried a blue editing pen and wore it out on me. He called me “Kid” in a thick Massachusetts-Italian accent and told me newspaper stories when he wasn’t teaching me newspaper skills. I learned later that the stories are—in the long run—as valuable as writing, editing, layout and all the other things I had to learn to do. He gave me structure and purpose, a framework for a career.

Every day I came in, for the longest time, I passed through the door with the same wonder at being here, the sensual overload, the feeling that I was supposed to be in this place at this time, and that something good was in store for me.

It seemed only minutes before I could type well enough to get other assignments, slowly at first, then almost nightly for a while. I hadn’t been at the Asheville Citizen for more than three months before I put out a paper by myself for the first time. I drew sports pages on layout dummies, read AP and local copy and corrected it, typed headlines, captions and all the rest, in a slow, careful, halting manner as I looked for the right keys. Al and Bob and Richard Morris and the one or two others who worked in the department up and left one night, saying, “It’s yours. Do it right.” And I did. Al had taught me how. I wasn’t even nervous about it.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Battle of Ft. Tomato: It's Total War!

Me 'n' Maddy down by the Fort-yard^

Fully understanding the addictive nature of my personality and that no matter what I do, I'll never beat the groundhogs, I constructed Fort Tomato in the back yard, while my wife rolled in the grass laughing.

It is a noble construction: wood, wire, rope, nails, big rocks and the coup de gras, olive oil and cayenne pepper. It should stop not only this little six-groundhog family, but the Seventh Groundhog Army. And so far the results have been ... uh ... mixed.

I simply can't imagine a little wooley animal taking a large bite out of a tomato leaf (and they don't seem to be interested in the tomatoes, themselves) and living for very long afterwards. The cayenne wouldn't directly kill them, I suspect, but suicide is a distinct option. The olive oil makes the pepper adhere to both the tomato leaf and to the groundhog tongue ... in theory. So why do they keep coming back, climbing the screens, tearing them down to a level where they can use them as ladders, burrowing under the whole mess? Must be damn good tomato leaves; a little Mexican treat, as it were, given the spices.

If this isn't enough, we have birds dive bombing the tomatoes and squirrels taking a bite out of anything I deem valuable and throwing it away. Damn squirrels. The birds--mockingbirds, bluejays, cardinals and those god-awful grackels when they're moving through the area on the way to their summer home in hell--eat the tomatoes. They're the only real animal to do that.

Bugs love the tomatoes, but that's easily controlled with a little white dust. Birds? Nope. Not even the cats can control them. I caught Moochie cowering under a chair on the front porch the other day while a mocking bird sat on the porch rail screaming at him: "Come out you little bastard and fight like a man!" That same mockingbird ran off a whole squadron of bluejays a little later. I had not thought of a mockingbird as a public menace before that.

So, now, I'm on the way to the backyard to check the crops. Pray for me.

(Minutes after finishing this piece, I go out to the backyard to have Christina take a photo of my pal Madeline and me at Fort Tomato and what do I find: two large groundhogs camping at the foot of the fort. They scurry off--I detect a middle finger in the air from the lead varmint--only to come back out from under the utility building moments later during the middle of the photo shoot. Looks like they want to negotiate until I pull a George Bush and scream, "You're either with us or you're against us!" They take off again.)

Somewhere in the Blackness of the City a Dog Yelled ...

OK, so I send this photo of the 1989 Alpha Romeo convertible (that my daughter is passing along to her dad*) to my partner in Valley Business FRONT, and he sends back the following missive. This is why I love working with this guy:<

debonair–[adjective] Dan Smith in an Alpha Romeo

Example: The white convertible pulled into the lot. Flat and cracked asphalt. A stark contrast and more accepting of the rusted LTD sedan and occasional police cruiser.

Another Saturday night. Another murder.

The debonair city editor, steps out purposefully, grabbing his fedora from the seat beside him in robotic fashion, as if he’d done this a million times. Snatching his memo pad he flips it open while striding up to Lieutenant Fletcher, nearly snapping the yellow police tape.

“Victim of circumstance or stupidity?,” he blurts out, ignoring the television news crew blasting its large spotlight on one lovely Michelle Sartonni, the metro’s favorite news anchor (among males 15 to 65). The editor already knew the crumpled body was either the clerk or the robber. Innocent bystanders seemed to disappear at this hour.

“Get in line, Smitty,” the cop replies, adjusting his uniform as the television light cut a path toward the crime scene.

Fletcher and Editor Smith both knew the reply was a public announcement, in front of the gathering crowd. Like the gleaming white Alpha Romeo among the more utilitarian vehicles at the liquor store lot, Smith was not the usual news hack. He would get the exclusive. He knew it. Lieutenant Fletcher knew it.

The next morning, metro citizens would read about another murder at a liquor store. But not on Smith’s blog. Smith’s readers would feel the impact of the hot lead, sinking into a young man’s chest. Fired from a cold blue steel 38. They would see the angle of death and splattered trajectory of senselessness.

Exactly forty-seven minutes later, a door shuts. A hat gets placed methodically in the passenger’s seat. And a topless, nearly silent, sleek white car leaves the scene of the crime. And the launching pad of yet another story. Of life. Of death.

Fletcher watched the car disappear down 14th Avenue, the white fading out as a neon donut shop sign took over. He looked over and saw the lovely Michelle getting into the front seat of the van as the On-the-Spot News 8 team packed up equipment. “That dame has legs that never end,” he thought.

Noticing a camera still on the ground, Fletcher regretted it wasn’t far enough away from the van to “accidentally” run his cruiser over it. The TV news never got this story right. If the camera broke, he mused, people could read about tonight on Smitty’s blog.

(* I will mention that Editor Smitty has no intention of driving this little beauty. He intends to upgrade it to 2009 standards, sell it and purchase a suitable automobile for his son with the proceeds. Editor Smitty explains that he has already gone through his second, third and fourth childhoods and that the 10-year-old pickup he drives "is just fine, thank you. We ain't tryin' to impress nobody.")

Friday, July 3, 2009

SALE! Washington Post's Soul; Gently Used

The Washington Post has apparently become the first large daily newspaper to plublicly sell its soul to D.C. lobbyists.

In Today's Huffington Post, Jason Linkins writes: "For $25,000 to $250,000, The Washington Post is offering lobbyists and association executives off the record, non-confrontational access to "those powerful few"--Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and the paper's own reporters and editors."

Incidentally (and ironically), the story was initially broken by Politico, an Internet news organization started by two former WaPo reporters.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

BR Business Journal Going Monthly?

A knowledgeable source told me today that the Blue Ridge Business Journal, whose revenues have been falling steadily for some time--if the number of ads and their size has anything to do with revenue--will become a monthly publication again. The Journal was a monthly for nine years until it was purchased by The Roanoke Times about 12 years ago.

(Update: The Blue Ridge Business Journal's editor, Elizabeth Parsons, says she's unaware of any plan to change the publication day and "I think I would have heard about it before an ad rep," the alleged source of the information.)

When The Times asked us if we thought our staff could handle publishing twice monthly (I was editor at the time), I said, "Yes, want to start with the next issue?" The Times guy laughed and said, "We were thinking six months. Can you do that?" I said, "Yes, we can also do next issue." We converted the next issue and it has run that way since.

The Journal is apparently scheduled to move into the Roanoke Times building when its lease in what we called Business Journal Towers on the corner of 2nd St. and Campbell Avenue is up in August, making its absorption by The Roanoke Times complete.

(I will also note that the BRBJ--after months of a Web site that was laughable at best--has updated its site ... by copying ours. Note the page turning device. Direct rip-off. They know where the good stuff is. Gotta give 'em that.)

Making a Movie at Smith Mountain Lake: In This Economy? You Bet!

Sara Elizabeth Timmins: Opportunity time^

At that very moment, Sara Elizabeth Timmins was looking at the prospect of raising $500,000 in about three weeks. You’d have thought she had a surplus.

If sheer force of will has anything at all to do with the making of the new Smith Mountain Lake-based movie “Lake Effect,” it’ll be on time, under budget and a box office smash.

This small, pretty, 33-year-old actress/producer from L.A. via Ohio and now The Lake, where her parents have retired, has a resume that includes 12 productions of various kinds, so it’s not as if she was a rookie. But, the conventional wisdom asks, what about the worst economy in the memory of most of us? Huh! Opportunity: “It’s more exciting this way,” she says, leaning forward and emphasizing each word. “Millionaires are made and people do great things during recessions.”

Advantages? Yep: “There are fewer movies being made and therefore more talent available and it’s cheaper.” Raising that 500 Large was the problem of the moment and Sara Elizabeth Timmins was in the middle of her whirlwind tour, meeting, cajoling, convincing, charming. She had already secured roughly $1.3 million in donations, loaned materials, volunteer work. It is a wide variety of necessities from boats to homes to all that which is required to put together a movie and support its crew.

The goal is to begin shooting in October, when the leaves are at peak, but, says Sara Elizabeth, “If we don’t meet the goal, then we go to spring or next fall. The movie will be made.”

She has been something of a roiling storm from the beginning. She went to Xavier University in Cincinnati to study theater and discovered there was no major when she got there. She put together a coalition of students, demanding one and voila! It was deemed so.

Her first producing project came when the producer of a movie on which she was working as a volunteer left to do “Seabiscuit.” She had so impressed the powers that be that they slotted her into the producer’s chair for “Tattered Angel,” an award-winner.

She’s been in the business eight years (and yes, she admits she still looks like a teenager) and has 12 production credits. She’s also an actor, but it’s the business side that fascinates her most. Will she act in “Lake Effect”? “Probably,” she says, unimpressed.

She’s been a Los Angeles resident for the past six years, but has never really taken to it. “I was disheartened by what I found,” she says. “It is not in line with the way I work. There’s a lot of dishonesty there.”

The Lake, though, is another matter. She loves the Lake. “I was here one winter,” she says, “and went for a walk. I was suddenly calm and, click, there was clarity. The film, based here, came to me.”

So, she hired a writer (Scott Winter of Providence, R.I.) who produced a script and she was right smack in the middle of “taking my own advice. I do motivational speaking and I always tell people to follow their dreams.”

The idea is to tell a good story (it’s about coming home), showcase the Lake and create community around the movie. Her company, Life Out Loud Films, “can be a catalyst for possible change,” she says.

“When I started, I asked myself how I could do this differently or better. I felt like we had to give some of the profits to lake cleanup. “My dad started getting the word out and I was getting calls from people offering lodging, medical care, a plane, boats, things we could use.”

Bart Wilner of Entre Computer in Roanoke became the first cash investor and Sara Elizabeth is working the room for more, maybe 10 total at about $50K each. “When I started pitching,” she says, “it ceased to be my project and became the community’s project. It all began to click that way. We’re hoping to create a positive economic impact with this film. We’re using the name of the lake, businesses at the lake and we’re using Virginia products everywhere we can. We’ll use as much as we can without losing the integrity of the project.”

It’s a project “we couldn’t do in L.A.,” she says, emphasizing that “I have no money. It’s more exciting this way.”