Friday, August 31, 2007

Just Yesterday

Just Yesterday

It was just yesterday; I swear it.

Just yesterday, I stood with my wife before a make-shift memorial and cried.

Just yesterday, a horror movie came to life.

Just yesterday, it was Spring in Blacksburg.

Just yesterday, I stood outside the Chick-fil-A Dome anticipating the football team capturing glory only to have the plug pulled on my bowl euphoria.

Just yesterday, Marcus Vick owned the world.

Just yesterday, Bryan Randall grew in esteem before our eyes as he willed our team along a most satisfying path.

Just yesterday, Michael Vick darted down the sideline to set up a shot heard around Morgantown.

Just yesterday, Vick flipped.

Just yesterday, Alabama faithful left a wet, frigid Nashville stadium early in the third quarter with their boastful pride tucked in their plaid flasks.

Just yesterday, Druck to Holmes with Banks evading a stray foot.

Just yesterday, VT celebrated an Independence day in Shreveport.

Just yesterday, a kick sailed through the uprights to right a wrong in Atlanta.

Just yesterday, Pedro Phillips said, “We going to da Peach Bowl, Baby!”

Just yesterday, my sousaphone had a 2 liter “Sprite” mute.

Just yesterday, I wandered alone for miles and miles across campus and off-day after day- searching for my place; trying to shake the pain and sadness of growing up.

Just yesterday, Don Strock wore that silly map of Virginia helmet

Just yesterday, Lane Stadium was built.

Rock solid.

Memories etched in Hokie stone.

It was just yesterday. I swear it.

I can barely wait for it to come around again today.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Wall of Water Bay of St. Louis. This photo is believed to be a record of the initial onslaught of the direct impact of the hurricane.


Hurricane Katrina was the costliest and one of the deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. It was the sixth-strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded and the third-strongest hurricane on record that made landfall in the United States. Katrina formed on August 23 during the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season and caused devastation along much of the north-central Gulf Coast. The most severe loss of life and property damage occurred in New Orleans, Louisiana, which flooded as the levee system catastrophically failed, in many cases hours after the storm had moved inland.[1] The hurricane caused severe destruction across the entire Mississippi coast and into Alabama, as far as 100 miles (160 km) from the storm's center. Katrina was the eleventh tropical storm, fifth hurricane, third major hurricane, and second Category 5 hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic season.

Bridge to Biloxi, MS

It was two years ago today that the world crashed in on the residents of the Gulf Coast as Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore on the Mississippi/Louisiana border. For many, their lives were irrevocably altered and scarred.

America loves its instant news but easily forgets that which no longer fits into its lens easily. Even the down-trodden are forgotten. At first, the media hovered over them as they struggled to survive in shelters that had no climate control, no food, no water, and no hope. The government eventually came and hovered for a bit, but only at desperate urging. Then like snakes from the flood, they all left, leaving behind the helpless to pick up what they could.

One story that was rarely told in the media was the plight of the residents of the Mississippi coast. More than likely two years ago, you saw the destruction of Biloxi and Gulfport, but you never saw the destruction all along the rest of the Gulf coast. My brother-in-law, Adam, and his family found themselves caught in the bulls-eye of Katrina. While the center of the storm passed to their west, they found themselves staring at a direct assault by the dangerous northeast quadrant of the storm. Their lives were forever changed.

Adam, his wife Pam, and their three boys fled at the last minute before the storm struck to the safety of Pensacola, Florida. They took all they could cram in their van and car and were forced to leave behind most of what they owned and their pets at their Gautier, Mississippi home. They found refuge with a relative there and were forced to sit out the furry of the storm in a crammed house with no electricity, telephone, or air conditioning.

As they bided their time, they could only worry about what they’d find when they returned. Adam was able to borrow a cell phone but there was no one back home to call. He ended up calling me at my house in Roanoke, Virginia and gave me the task of gathering news and information for him.

For the past fifteen years or so that the Internet has been around, I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of trying to monitor emergency communications. Back in the early days of the Internet, you could tap in to emergency text discussion between local authorities and the weather service in places like the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I remember one time tapping in to a conversation where the sheriff of Avon, NC ominously reported that “the Sound had retreated” in advance of a hurricane. That lone, stark message sent shivers down my spine because I knew that meant that the retreating Sound water had to be somewhere to the north of Avon, and that it was currently flooding those areas. I knew it would have to return to Avon and south with a vengeance when the storm passed to the north. A wall of water would no doubt pass from north to south and flood all of the coastal area along the Outer Banks that bordered the sound. Whole villages were sure to be swamped. That’s what happened that day, but you probably never heard any more about it, because the roving media eye couldn’t place that type of destruction to such a small population in its focus.

I found myself in a similar position on April 16 of 2007 when the Virginia Tech Shooter, Cho, went on his rampage. I heard of the event first from my son in a series of cryptic emails exchanged between us.

Norris Hall the following weekend



Mom and Dad,

Just to let you all know, I'm sure you will hear about it, but there have been shootings all over the place this morning. I didn't know anything about these until I was walking back from Robertson's class at about 9:42 this morning and I heard about 15 shots in quick succession from a handgun (a small one since there were 15 rounds) coming from the area around the back of Burruss/McBryde. Anyway, I was beside McBryde, still on upper quad watching. No one reacted at first and then I started to hear sirens. Periodically there were 1 or 2 shots and then the police started flying up. We are talking SWAT vans and unmarked cars doing 50-60 mph around the drillfield and up the sidewalks. It was intense. They all got down behind their doors and stuff like in the movies. It was insane. I just got back to the room and found all of these messages in my inbox, one of which said this at 9:50 am (While I was watching the shooting):

"A gunman is loose on campus. Stay in buildings until further notice. Stay away from all windows"

Good stuff... the year starts off with a shooting and ends with one. What started the whole thing apparently was a shooting in AJ this morning. Anyway, I'll call you all tonight to fill you in on FEX and all of that. I am fine though, just a little excitement.



Stay put. Here's a link to the NRV Police Scanner.


An Update from you would be appropriate about now...


12:35 am

According to the CNN Press release 22 are dead including the gunman. I can't believe it. The campus is closed all day, classes still cancelled tomorrow. I just can't believe it... the police response time was under 30 seconds, and I saw them get there that fast. They did everything right, it just shows what one determined person can do with a gun. The campus is secure right now and there was only one gunman. I have tried getting through to you all on the phones but I can't get service (the phones are clogged with traffic) and can't check my voicemail. I'll try calling mom since I know where she is. In any case, I am fine and everyone I know is also okay (although Alyson lives in West AJ but is in Seattle right now and Ben, the guy Callan worked with, lives in AJ). I'll be in touch


As I listened to my direct Internet with the NRV emergency scanner, the details of the horror began to unfold. Policemen were crying, medics were bravely asking for more and more ambulances. Soon they started to refer to numbers of “black tags” at the Norris Hall site. It was all so horrid and surreal.

Katrina in time

That’s what happened that day as I searched for information about Katrina. Upon receiving Adam’s call for information, I began my search of all the scanners and public reporting agencies I could find on the net, and I began to piece together a picture of absolute destruction. All Adam wanted to know was if he could get back to his home in Gautier. Unfortunately, all I could do was tell him about bridges between Alabama and Mississippi that had collapsed (within a few miles of their home) and of interior flooding that closed roads, and the downed power lines. In the end, all I could do was tell Adam that he couldn’t go home yet. He had to sweat it out some more.

A day later, Adam made his way back by a circuitous route and found that he was one of the lucky ones in his neighborhood beside the Pascagoula River. He still had the shell of his home. He had nothing salvageable inside it, but he had a foundation. Many of his neighbors had their homes simply blasted away by the wind driven water surging from the Gulf and up the mouth of the river. The water blew through his home taking out a side of his house and all of the doors and windows. The furniture and belongings were heaped in soggy piles and immediately began molding. A film of disease laden silt covered everything. His garage/workshop was virtually destroyed along with his cars, boat, RV camper, and truck. Miraculously, their dog managed to float through the forceful onrush of water and climb to safety in the boat.

Gautier, Ms Beach

What faced Adam, Pam and the boys was a journey that would last almost all of these past two years as they fought for their right to rebuild on their property. Immediately that day when he returned, Adam called me again and enlisted my Internet services once again to place his application with FEMA for cash and a trailer. That avenue was not an immediate relief. It took many months for that first wave of government help to arrive.

In the meantime, Pam and the boys returned and bands of volunteer helpers roamed the destroyed landscape. Some helped them clean out all of their soggy belongings into a rubbish pile. Others helped them repair their roof. Later others came and assisted with more permanent fixes. Along the way, a church in Colorado donated money to them to help them get started rebuilding. The main trouble was that there was a critical shortage of people who could do that kind of work.

In addition to the stress of rebuilding, they discovered that their insurance, which specifically had a hurricane rider and wind damage rider, would not cover their loss. They said that the damage was caused by a flood, not a hurricane. So Adam spent the better part of the past two years wrangling with them over that decision. Eventually, he won a substantial settlement but only after he was able to document the actual wind damage to their satisfaction and provide an expert in the field to testify on their behalf.

Now, two years later, their lives have returned somewhat to normal. Their house has been completed with a repaired roof, new drywall and paint on the interior, new floors, new plumbing, new bathrooms, new kitchen, and new furniture.

Yet despite their success, there are many who have never recovered. Debris from houses abandoned are still piled around their neighborhood. Concrete foundational slabs, like tombs of almost forgotten lives, litter the coastline.

I remember the story Adam told one day during the clean-up within a few months after the tragedy. He said that there was a man who had lost his home to the storm and had only escaped the devastation by leaving his home and traveling in his old Mercedes sedan. When the man returned, all he had left was a concrete slab. That was it. All of his belongings had been claimed by the earth and sea. For months that man refused to leave his concrete slab as the clean-up progressed. He slept at night in his car and went about by day trying to restore a life. He dreamed everyday of rebuilding on his slab.

Then one day, the town’s clean-up crew finally made it to his street. A huge truck was brought in to haul debris from his devastated neighborhood along with bulldozers and loaders. The man watched as the machinery scooped up debris and hauled it away. He was parked next to his slab when the machinery made it to his neighbor’s piles. They filled a load in the truck and it backed up to turn around. As it did so, the laden truck rolled onto the man’s concrete slab, crushing it and making it useless. Besides his life and his car, it was the only thing he had left. He would often point to that slab as his future, the foundation of the life he planned to rebuild. When the slab was crushed, that man’s only hopeful dream was shattered.

As this two year anniversary passes, those of us only impacted by high gas prices will think briefly of that time, and we will move on. Many who lived and overcame the most obstacles will think of the time in ways that we can’t possibly fathom. Others, I fear, won’t remember today as anything special because for them, all of their dreams have been shattered and hope is still far away.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Surrounded by Sound

(Click on Photo to enlarge it)

It's getting closer and closer. Only six days until the first football game of the season for Virginia Tech. I stumbled upon this very interesting panoramic view of the Marching Virginians. You must click this link to this pleasing and unique media.

Surrounded by Sound

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dear Janet Jackson

Richard Thompson is my favorite musician. I appreciate his guitar talent and his wry, dry wit. Inspired by her famous Super Bowl "Wardrobe malfunction," Richard penned this song to her.

(Warning, this material may be too sensitive for young listeners, but it's relatively safe for work since Thompson has such a heavy British accent that it difficult for Americans to immediately translate.)


Monday, August 20, 2007

Jib Jab

Star in Your Own JibJab! It's Free!Goofy as it may seem, this is a hoot to create.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Let's Make a Deal

Let’s Make a Deal

Last week, my wife and I went to a local car dealer to see about getting a used automobile. We’d already scouted one out and knew a lot of information about it from online resources like Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, and Consumer Reports. We went to the dealer armed with information and ready to negotiate a fair price.

One piece of information that was the most illuminating came from the Carfax report. According to Carfax records we purchased, the car had received front-end damage in an accident and had been taken to a collision repair facility in Pennsylvania.

At the dealer’s showroom, we asked the salesman about the car and requested a copy of the Carfax report. He disappeared inside the manager’s office for a long time. When he emerged, he was smiling and apologizing for being gone so long. Then he handed us a Carfax report that showed the car had a clear title and had no issues. It also said that there were 18 other records, but those records weren’t included in the print out. He said we didn’t need to worry about them. Upon closer examination, we noticed that the three page print out was numbered “page 1,” “page 2,” and “page 5.” So we told the dealer about the accident record and shared our disappointment in him for not sharing the information about the accident with us.

Saturday, the dealer called us and told us that the car had been sold to someone else. I wonder if that buyer discovered the car had been in a wreck or did they make their purchase in ignorance.

PS See a companion piece on the blog. Oh yeah BTW... We bought another car from another dealer on Saturday. '99 Honda Civic. We like Honda's.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Horns and Thorns

Please forgive me for not writing her for over a week. I know better than many that the best way to kill a blog is to ignore it, to starve it of new content. I've been quite busy of late. Many facets of my life have suddenly converged and laid grips on my creative time. During this dry spell, I've had smatterings of ideas for writings, but no resolve. I think this piece today may in some manner help explain that further.

Horns and Thorns

A devilish wind has raped the land. Harsh and surprisingly powerful, the furnace blast breeze is inexorable and demoralizing. The shade umbrella that usually guards my deck was stolen by the evil, cognizant wind and tossed irreverently in my neighbor’s yard. Just the umbrella, nothing else was moved an inch. No rain has freshened the unwanted guest away.

All around my home, obvious signs of capitulation abound. With triple-digit heat riding Satan’s joyful exhale, the grass has stopped growing, opting to be wildfire fuel instead. Thanks to the rigid brittleness of the dead grasses and weeds, walking barefoot, one of summer’s pleasures, becomes as painful as traipsing barefoot over cactus thorns.

The trees have thrown in the towel. All around they’ve launched smaller parts into the blast furnace in a panicked effort to keep the main trunk alive. Their skeletal twigs and brown, curled leaves litter my lawn like hair fallen from the head of a radiation patient. This cancer seems endless and incurable.

The tomato vines have withered. The cucumbers and squash are bones in the garden. The baby grapevine will never bear fruit. The hot peppers have given up; their wrinkled fruit, still attached to the exhausted stems, now may only be good for chili powder.

I’m exhausted by it. Stepping into the face of the tempest is like walking through the gates of Hell. It saps all energy and steals all resolve. Yet today, I’m buoyed by a respite in temperature. Today and for the next few days, we may actually be normally hot. This is like feeling good about paying $2.50 for gasoline after paying $3.29 a gallon. It’s a relative respite. Deep down, we know it won’t last.

Satan has his grip on the horizon. His breath is immoral, unrelenting, and unforgiving. He’s not leaving us alone for long.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Monsters All Around Me

Click on the Title to Listen to the Blog

Monsters All Around Me

Scary movies scare me. It’s always been that way. For whatever reason, I’ve never been able to watch any intense thriller or scary movie. The other day, I began trying to figure out why I’m so scared, and I really don’t haven’t a clue, but I did manage to dredge up scary things from my youth. I think in order to exorcize them; I need to write about them.

I was the youngest male child in my family. I have two older brothers and one older sister as well as one younger sister. Back in those days, we lived in a Cape Cod-styled house on Garstland Drive in Roanoke, Virginia. Our house looked a lot like the houses that all kids draw. Door in the middle. Windows to the left and right of the door. Same window configuration for the second floor. The bedroom I shared with my two brothers was in the upper left part of the house as you look at it from the street.

To get to my bedroom, all you had to do was walk in the front door, traipse up the thirteen creaky wooden stairs, and turn left. On the left in the upstairs hall was a linen closet and on the right was a tiny mystery door with no handle (bathtub pipe access) in the wall. Back when I was a kid, that little fake door scared me. I wondered what was behind it. Was that where the creepy small people who lived in the walls entered and exited the big spaces on their nighttime missions to leech blood from the members of my family? I was sure that those people would steal into my bedroom when I was asleep and claw my eyes out.

The door leading to my bedroom was a solid old-fashioned wooden door with one of those old peer-through key holes. Sometimes at night when the door was closed, I saw a big white, blood-shot eyeball looking though right at me. That eyeball seemed to be leering at me. Sometimes I know that whatever it was would gently turn the squeaky knob and try to push the door open silently. The door would always betray it, and my screams would usually make it flee.

I was great at screaming. It was shrill and piercing. Well-practiced and tuned. It could shoo away almost the toughest demon and monster. My kicks were solid weapons. I practiced all the time for the dark night when I’d have to defend myself to save my life. I’d ball up and lay on my back with my legs cocked in the air. Then I’d spring my hard, bony heels onto the intruder, pelting it repeatedly with forceful foot blows.

My bed was my safe haven. It was a twin bed that butted against the front outside facing wall. At first sign of trouble, I could simply pull the covers over my head, and I’d be invisible- sort of like Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility.

My bed also protected me physically from the monsters that lived in the attic. The head of my bed firmly blocked one of the evil monsters doors to our home. Just behind my bed was a short four feet tall door with a little pull knob handle that was sealed with a butterfly latch. I knew that my bed must never move. It and that butterfly latch were all that protected me from those monsters in the attic.

I remember one day, I braved an expedition into that walk-in attic. With uncharacteristic boldness that day, I carefully moved my bed and twisted the butterfly latch. Pulling the knob allowed the door to creak open. Inside it was dusty and dark, just the kind of place that monsters must live. Beyond the dusty haze, however, were treasures beyond my wildest imagination. Old lamps and ceiling light fixtures, a crib that was probably used to secretly raise the child my parents never told me about, a WWII bomber jacket, a fur coat, lots of moth balls, and locked trunks most likely filled with all kinds of secret papers. It was a surreal world, hotter than Hades. Monster treasures. Monster world. I didn’t stay there long. I was convinced they’d return at any moment. I was really pushing my luck even peeking in there.

Snakes lived under my bed. Poisonous snakes. Lots of them! Cobras, rattlesnakes, and copperheads. I was always afraid to get up in the night because I knew that as soon as I stepped foot onto the floor beside my bed, they’d attack me and deliver fatal bites. My bed was my safe island.

There was one closet in my room. It was located on the exact opposite wall from my bed, so when I lay in bed, my eyes gazed upon that creepy door. It had a full length mirror hanging on the front of the door. A shoe bag filled with all kinds of shoes was strapped to the back of the door. Inside the closet, there were two racks of hanged clothes, one on the left and one on the right. The clothes rack on the right hid a secret attic, a really secret attic. I don’t think my parents knew this attic existed. If they did, they would have sealed the fake wall panel that blocked it in order to protect me. But I didn’t altogether trust my parents. I kept this idea to myself, but I thought that maybe just maybe, their bodies were inhabited by the demons I feared. I knew though for a fact that this secret attic was home to the most scary monster in the house, the Boogyman.

My brother, Greg, told me about him, and I knew he wouldn’t lie to me about something so important. This creature, Greg said, was very tall and his body surfaces oozed puss and snot. He had two huge red-streaked eyes and sharp teeth hidden by slobbery gums. Only my invisibility cloak saved me from him. Screaming did no good and kicking was ineffective. I’d see him sometimes as I stood guard after my parents sent me to bed for the dark night. He’d creep out from the closet and steal across the floor toward my bed…his fangs drooling foaming spittle over his floppy gums, and I would dive under my covers to become invisible. The next morning, I’d be safe.

I defeated the demons of my youth. They never got to me. I’ve learned to be ever vigilant. One day, I know, I’ll grow tired and slip up. That’s when they’ll get me. That’s when they’ll realize their morbid fantasies.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A Conversation with the Doctor’s Receptionist

Click on the Title to Listen to the Blog

A Conversation with the Doctor’s Receptionist

I think there must be some standard required qualifications for a person to become a receptionist in a doctor’s office. I know that more often than not. I have encounters like the one below.

I just had to call a doctor’s office to have them send a prescription to a local pharmacy for my big deal...simple...easy...something that could be accomplished with a pleasant conversation...

The office supposedly opened at 8am. The phone was finally being picked up at 8:20. Her voice struck me as surly and combative from her first utterance. I explained the situation and she was impassive on the other side of the line...uncomfortable silence...

"What's the number (sour voice)?"

"For what?” I questioned. I wasn't sure what number she wanted...RX number...prescription number...some kind of phone number...

"For the pharmacy," she growled.

"You know...I don't have it right here...[pause- Usually this is where someone would say, "No problem we can look that up." With the pause growing and no offer to help I continued] ...let me look it up for you..."

Then she proceeded to grill me with questions regarding the history of the patient, delivered with a droning monotone with an angry edge in rapid succession. It seemed that if my answers weren't responded to correctly within milliseconds, machine gun fire would erupt and erase me from the Earth. " of birth?..."...allergic to medications?..." "...what does she weigh?..." “…chewable or pill?...”

Then after fumbling my way through those answers while simultaneously rifling the phone book for the pharmacy number, I finally stumbled across it and waited for her to return to the phone. She had seemed to leave the phone line (I suspect she walked away) and I assumed she was busily typing some important note to the nurse so that they could cheerfully phone in the prescription (okay...I knew better than that)...I waited for maybe four minutes in silence figuring she'd pop back on...

Finally, out of the phone static, I hear..."Got that number?" The way she delivered that last question suggested to me (I'm very good at deciphering intent behind vocal tones) that she was growing exasperated with me, weary of having to interact with me, upset that she had to interrupt her routine to deal with me.

"Oh...were you waiting on me?"


"Well I was waiting on's the number. XXX-XXXX)

"I'll give this to the nurses."

Now as soon as she said this I had the feeling that she wasn't going to give it to the nurses. She sounded like a person who was about to get off the phone with me, ball up any evidence that she may have written something that in any way documented her "conversation" with me, and toss it into the nearest trash can.

So I decided to go a little bit on the offensive. "Do you think the nurse will be able to call it in today?"

"I don't see why not." She grumbled.

"Okay. Thanks."

Click. The line was dead with me still hanging in the air.

No... "Good-bye."

No... "Have a nice day."

Just... Click.

Now let me replay how the conversation could have gone differently.

Hello, my name is ____, and my daughter is a patient of Dr. ____. Could you have the nurse phone in a prescription for us to the _____ Pharmacy?

"Sure, no problem. Let me pull up her records. This will take just a moment....okay got it. Which medication did you want refilled?"

"The __________."

"Sounds fine. We'll get that right in."

"Thanks very much!"

"Okay, have a great day!"

You see how easy that was? People don't have to be mean.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Amazing Comeback

Every now and again, I stumble across fascinating stuff. This video of an amazing football comeback is classic Americana. The commentary is especially entertaining. Enjoy!