Tuesday, June 30, 2015

An Inexpensive Alternative to an Auto Repair

(Update: My buddy Mark Dearing, a mechanic at Salem Imports, tells me the ordeal ain't over. Mark advised me to give the car about 150-200 miles and the light will come back on. He says the code p0330 is very specific and he will take a look at it when the light is on and he'll fix it. Not fixed yet. As I told Mark, maybe I should reconsider writing about things about which I have no knowledge.)

 Over the weekend, I ran into a car problem that could have cost upwards of $100 to solve, but wound up costing just a little over $5.

The "check engine" light glowed in my Punchbuggy beginning Saturday evening and I knew better than to keep driving, so I parked it and went looking for a garage that might help check the computer for come clue what was wrong. I found Firestone was open Sunday and took Daisy there first thing Sunday morning.

The clerk said the store could do the check--for $100 minimum--but the mechanic who did that would not be in until Monday. My friend Janeson suggested we try Advance Auto or Auto Zone, neither of which is far from my house.

We drove down to Auto Zone and the clerk came out with a little device, plugged it into my car and came up with a code (Po33) that told him basically that I was using the wrong grade of gasoline in the car. I bought a $5 can of gas treatment, poured it in and 10 minutes later the light was off.

The clerk explained that the service at Firestone would have been considerably more extensive, but the fact is that he solved the problem and I was not out $100--and probably a bit more for fixing the problem.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Supremes Emptying Out Prison Cells

State governments try to keep prisons full to capacity or face lawsuits.
"The lawmakers in many states are contractually required to fill up the beds in private prisons; so it’s not too hard to figure out why the ACCA is such a popular sentence enhancer. Private prisons have even been known to sue state governments if they aren’t filed to capacity- making taxpayers foot the bill for low crime rates. 

"It’s an absolute travesty and a key piece in the conservative war against minorities and the poor, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and destroying communities around the country. Today’s ruling means Congress will have to clarify the law and you can bet that private prison lobbyists are about to throw even more money at lawmakers, but hopefully it sounds a death knell for mass incarceration in our nation."

--Occupy Democrats (here)

This is a reference to the Supreme Court's ruling yesterday that "three strikes" laws that give long prison sentences for three-time losers is unconstitutional. The private prison industry has made its bread and butter by being able to count on inmates for long periods of time--without parole.

(Photo: www.cjnotebook.com)

What's an Evangelical Christian To Do?

Evangelizing: Should we listen to these people?
"The dramatic shift in public opinion, and now in the nation’s laws, has left evangelical Protestants, who make up about a quarter of the American population, in an uncomfortable position. Out of step with the broader society, and often derided as discriminatory or hateful, many are feeling under siege as they try to live out their understanding of biblical teachings, and worry that a changing legal landscape on gay rights will inevitably lead to constraints on religious freedom."

NYTimes this a.m. (story here)

Evangelical Christianity puts a lot of stock in the Biblical entreaty (Mark 16, 15-16, King James), "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."

That is evangelizing and it is, I think, one of the most destructive instructions in the Bible because it assumes that everybody but Evangelical Christians lack the ability to make decisions for themselves. It insults, by implication most often, decisions people have made about who they are and how they want to celebrate--or ignore--higher powers. They tell us that they know how to do this and we don't, that their way is the only way, and those who don't get with the program will ... well, you know. 

It has always seemed odd to me that in the same Biblical book, in an earlier chapter (Mark 6, 5-6), we are instructed thusly: "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. ... When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret ..."

I prefer the last part where god and I get to have this one-on-one thingy and we're not twisting anybody's arm to join us. Seems to work better for me.

'I Was Standing on the Corner in ...'


This is a true story; swear to god.

Some years ago, on one of my frequent "have you completely lost your mind?" excursions--this one across the whole USofA--I came upon an Interstate 40 sign that read, "Winslow Next Exit." This was in Arizona and I put two and two and two together and came up with the Eagles. I went looking for a properly-placed phone booth.

That was an easy enough find. I called my 13-or-so-year-old daughter, Jenniffer, and when her mom reluctantly got her to the phone, Jennie said, "What do you want?" I perked up. She was speaking to me.

"Well," said I, "I'm standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see ..."

"What's that got to do with me? I'm doing my hair. Bye."

Hmmmmm. Not so clever, I thought.


Confederate Flags: A Brief History

This is the controversial battle flag.
When the boys waving the Confederate battle flag (right) at you proclaim "heritage, not hate," you might want to walk over and chat with them about exactly where the flag came from and how it became prominent. It's not what they think.

No. 1: The Stars and Bars.
The battle flag is not, nor was it ever, the flag of the Confederacy. There were three of those, beginning with the Stars and Bars, which looked so much like the original American flag (and closely resembled the flags the Union Army was flying) that "Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard wanted something that looked distinctly different. So, politician William Porcher Miles came up with the design we know today -- the battle flag: a blue St. Andrew's Cross with white stars on a red field." The quote is from a good story on CNN, here.

No. 2: Briefly, easily confused with "surrender."
That was to differentiate armies at the first Battle of Manassas. The uniforms and flags were close. Beauregard didn't want his troops shooting each other.

The Confederate battle flag was flown occasionally by several Southern armies (all of which had their own flags), but after the Civil War ended, it was pretty much put away until South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond ran for president as a Dixiecrat in 1948 on a ticket that celebrated segregation. The flag came out of the attic and since that time, it has been used by right-wing groups to represent a wide variety of causes, many of them racial, most of them bad.

No. 3: "Dipped in Blood" flag.
Navy jack: The one you see on pickup trucks.

A Little Gardening for Maddie-Girl

Maddie searches for banana peppers.
I'm probably going overboard with all this family crap, but I do enjoy what's happening with my son's tribe being in Roanoke for a long summer visit. Here are a couple of shots of my favorite kid, Madeline, rooting out some banana peppers for her dad from my garden.

Ah, success.

Texas AG Counsels Gay Rights Massive Resistance

Gays need not apply in Texas.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Virginia instituted "massive resistance" in order to circumvent the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision integrating the nation's schools. Today, it looks like Texas, among others, is considering the same tactic in light of the court's ruling that gay marriage is legal in all 50 states.

(Read about Texas here.)

Texas' Republican (could it be any other party?) attorney general is telling court clerks they can refuse to issue marriage licenses if their religion differs with the right of those wanting to get married. One supposes that if a black man and a white woman want to marry, the clerks--under this pick and choose the laws you will obey manner of governing--can refuse. If a Baptist wants to marry a Catholic? If a journalist wants to marry a school teacher? If a train conductor wants to marry a cab driver? If a musician wants to marry an artist? If a redhead wants to marry a blonde? We can go on forever with this.

Massive resistance was wrong in 1960 and it is wrong in 2015. Regardless of how you feel about the court's ruling, it is the law of the land, a constitutional guarantee of equal rights for all citizens.

Attorney General Ken Paxton's smug, self-righteous proclamation reads: "Friday, the United States Supreme Court again ignored the text and spirit of the Constitution to manufacture a right that simply does not exist. In so doing, the court weakened itself and weakened the rule of law, but did nothing to weaken our resolve to protect religious liberty and return to democratic self-government in the face of judicial activists attempting to tell us how to live." Welcome to la-la land, Texas.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Oh! Those Summer Days!

My son, Evan, and me at the Salem ball park.
It was one of those pristine cool-to-hot, bright as blue neon summer days when being outside meant moving around fast--or at least watching somebody else move around quickly.

It was a day that began with a hike, soaked up a kayak paddle through the lunch hour and wound up at a late afternoon baseball game in Salem--and it was all family all the time.

And I enjoyed--treasured--every minute of it.

I got to take Madeline out in the kayak for the first time since last year and we have a routine now. I tie her boat to mine and do most of the paddling. Maddie is 10, so she doesn't have the strength to navigate her kayak in the choppy water we experienced today, with winds up to about 20-25 mph. And she loved the ride, paddling as well as she could nearly the entire way.

The baseball games are always good family time since my son, Evan, Madeline and I don't care all that much for the game, but love the time together in one of the prettiest stadiums in the country. Here's some of what the day looked like.

Maddie and I on an island at the cove.
Maddie and kayaking buddies Buffy Lyon and Janeson Keeley.
Maddie in her seat at the ball game.
Sipping root beer between paddle strokes.
Madeline on her tether behind me.
Pals.
Evan the waiter.
My son's in-laws: Garren and Judy Dickerson and his wife, Kara
Oz found a place in it all.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

An Evening at the Ballpark (Kinda)

That's moi in my mullet best.
Last night was Redneck Confederate Battle Flag Celebration Night on Williamson Road in Roanoke and tonight at the Salem baseball park, it was Mullet Night, honoring a subculture of the same group.

The Salem Red Sox--a branch of a team based in Boston--handed out mullets and mustaches (which I didn't need) to honor something or other, or to raise money. I didn't quite get what the deal was. But I took the mullet and got one for my grandgirl.

These lovelies kept their mullets dry.
It was also free used book night at the ball park--sponsored by the Craig County Library--and I picked up three books, one of them Jim Bouton's Ball Four, which was signed. I was right happy about that.

The invited guest that didn't show up at the ball park--at least while my pal and I were there--was a game. Rain delayed it to the point that we finally decided to go to a movie and saw "Spy" at the Salem Valley 8. We laughed our butts off for two hours. Funny movie. Don't take the kids.


This was like suspenders and a belt: overkill.
Fans stay dry, waiting for the game to begin.
The Salem Fair is setting up in the parking lot.



Fashion Frenzy at GWLtd.

Maddie and Janeson: Fashion-plus.
Maddie and her full shopping cart.
One of the favorite pastimes for my grandgirl, Maddie, is trucking over to Goodwill (GWLtd.) and trying on fancy dresses and high heels. That was the deal today, as we recovered from bee stings each of us got on a hike at Roaring Run. Nothing restores Maddie's spirits like fancy clothes.

We had my hiking pal Janeson Keely along and Janeson is nothing if not fashion conscious. They were a perfect pair, heading into the dressing room with a grocery cart full of dresses and shoes. And they tried on the same dresses. They fit both of them ... to a degree.

Maddie found a Halloween costume (top, as Cat Woman) if nothing else.

Here's what they looked like.


Janeson version.
1960s party.



Same outfit...

... for both

Maddie posing for pampa.

Today's Hike: Attack of the Killer Bees

The attack.
The pose.
What was to have been a day of paddling the kayaks turned out to a hike at Roaring Run, but it was more than that.

The weather dictated the change in plans: rain and possible lightning get me off the water quicker than a snake in the boat.

Felt like a good day for a hike with my grandgal Maddie, and so it was. Until the bee attack, which you see here.

Maddie and I stopped for a quick photo at one of the wooden bridges over Roaring Run (in Botetourt County) when a swam of bees suddenly and without warning hit us both. I'm reacting immediately on the right while Maddie (laughing) thinks I'm having fun with her. Moments later, she was running screaming down the trail and I was swatting her with my hat to get the bees off.

She took two bee stings in the wrist and the button on my cap scratched her face. I got three stings, fingers and face. We halted the hike there. I wasn't about to ask a 10-year-old who'd just had the bejesus scared out of her to backtrack over the bees.

So we went seeking fast food and comfort in each other. We found it in Daleville. Here's some of what the rest of the hike looked like.

Maddie and hiking bud Janeson exit the loo.
Buddies on the trail.
Maddie studies the swolen creek.
Mads reads about the kiln.
Flowers growing through the stone in the kiln.
The beauty of a muddy creek.
Maddy'll pose anywhere, any time.
Maddie and me.
Maddie and Janeson eating, like really healthy stuff at Wendy's.
Maddie's war wound (from my hat).

New Hollins Play Shows How Far We Still Have To Go Racially

The Harlem Hellfighters in action.
Taylor Gruenloh, the Hollins University master's student in playwrighting, has written yet another thought-provoking, challenging work, this one especially timely. It is "My Alexandria," the story of the Harlem Hellfighters, a black regiment of infantrymen who became attached to the French army in World War I because the American military would not allow the African-American soldiers to fight. Their role was as laborers.

Gruenloh's "An Initial Condition" gathered in raves when it was produced as part of the Hollins/Mill Mountain Theatre Festival of New Plays this past winter. He is from St. Louis.

The 369th Infantry Regiment was formed as part of the New York National Guard and eventually part of the Army. These soldiers endured the same kind of discrimination in the Army that they suffered as civilians, and several were killed while training. Gruenloh suggests others were casually lynched by white soldiers during their service. When these men were attached to the French army, they were given the blue metal French helmets to wear with their American uniforms.

They were outstanding soldiers, but it was left up to the French to honor their service, since the American Army wanted nothing to do with recognizing them as fighting men because, it was believed, such recognition would result in morale problems among the white soldiers.

One of the soldiers--and one Gruenloh concentrates on in his telling of the story--is one Henry Johnson, a former rail porter, who was recently awarded the Medal of Honor for his role in fighting off a 24-man German patrol, much of the fight taking place after he and Needham Roberts ran out of ammunition.

The staged--bare-bones--presentation at Hollins last night featured Sean Green and Jarris Williams (one black, one white) playing a variety of roles, quickly switching scenes, locations, characters and even swapping races upon occasion. It was a difficult, dialogue-heavy task for the actors and director Brittanie Gunn, but they handled the assignment with some authority.

The play--because of the way it was produced, I think--was occasionally confusing to me, but ultimately its message was clear and lasting. I would love to see a full production, with a sizable cast, costumes and sets.

It was an especially relevant production in light of the national mourning over the murders in Charleston, S.C., and the outcry against racism, heavily focused on the Confederate battle flag. In an irony, that battle flag was on prominent display all the way up Williamson Road--the road to Hollins--last night because of the annual Motor Magic celebration, where a lot of people took the opportunity to put battle flags in the back of their pickup trucks and parade them.

The play and the flags showed just how far we still have to go in race relations.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Williamson Road Cruzin': Confederates on Parade

There was very real irony present tonight as I drove out Williamson Road and watched the largest collection of Confederate battle flags I've seen assembled in one place since ... well, maybe ever.

They were part of the Motor Magic that's held annually along what was once Roanoke's major road, one that was cruise central during the 1960s. Kids then drove their cars and trucks--and some motorcycles--up and down Williamson Road, stopping at drive-ins and restaurant parking lots, socializing, drinking, raising hell.

Irony 1: About two years ago, I suggested to City Council members and the City Manager that Williamson Road be designated the International Corridor of Roanoke and that foreign-owned businesses be encouraged to fly the flag of their home countries and that they be given an International Corridor flag (designed by my business partner at the time, Tom Field). There was initial enthusiasm for the idea, but like so many good ideas, it finally died with no real effort to bring it to fruition.

Motor Magic is an effort by some of the Baby Boomers to recapture those days and by some of the younger people to live them first-hand. The flags were new to me in this event and were especially offensive in light of the national mourning over the Charleston murders and the symbol the Confederate battle flag has become--in such sharp focus.

The people flying the flag were not the type who gather in study groups at the library. Most that I saw were drinking. Some of the vehicles were racing in short spurts. A lot of the people were the stereotypes of those you'd expect to be flying that flag. None cared one whit that their behavior might be hurtful or offensive. It was their right as American citizens, by god, and if you don't like it screw you.

Irony No. 2 here is that I was on the way up and down Williamson Road to and from Taylor Gruenloh's marvelous play about the mistreatment of black American soldiers during World War I, "My Alexandria." It was at Hollins University, just at the end of the motor mile, so I got a solid dose of the bullshit.

This type of crude display never ceases to amaze me. It smears Williamson Road with hatred and racism rather than the inclusiveness it could easily adopt. It is all very sad.

(Photo: www.theatlantic.com)

Photos: A Quick Trip to the Market

Oz has just swiped my green watch.
Oz chomps bacon; I got the eggs.
Maddie looking grown up.
I met my son and his family on City Market a bit ago for lunch and it was like they hadn't ever left Roanoke.

Eighteen months ago, they moved all the way across the Atlantic to Spain and they get to visit here once a year. I am trying to get over there once a year, as well.

That's not much, but being together doesn't change, even though the kids are taller, more verbal and far more interesting with each passing day.

Oz, who has always been a smidge skeptical of me (he's 3) was in for a dollar this time, dropping the inhibitions and being playful. My pal Janeson and Oz hit it off like Laurel and Hardy: a sparring pair with a bunch of laughs.

Maddie, of course, was Maddie, the sweet little girl who is becoming a sweet young woman. And looking almost frighteningly the part.

We porked down at the City Market Building and the crowd joined me at the Fret Mill as I got my new banjo set up for taking lessons. (Ken Rattenberry, the owner, looked at me for a minute when I asked, "What kind of strings do I need, Ken." He paused and said, "Banjo strings." "Oh," I said.)

Oz and Janeson: Immediate buds.
The inseparable Maddie and Pampa.
My son and his kids.