Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mitt's 5-Point Plan

I was sitting around getting sicker and sicker of political ads tonight, so I thought I'd take what I've learned over the past six months about Mitt Romney, and apply that knowledge to his plan to save our American soul.

Mitt’s 5-point plan is as follows:

1. Become energy independent by 2020.
2. Boost trade by opening new markets.
3. Make our schools better
4. Cut the deficit
5. Become the Small Business champion

How will he accomplish these lofty goals? 

Well he has lots of ideas, because, after all, he is a successful businessman who also happened to save the Olympic movement. He will work across the aisles and seek sage wisdom from his beautiful wife and delightful children. He will bring a dog to the White House.

He will open up all of America for drilling, baby, and build new pipelines across America’s bread-basket. He will rid our country of silly regulations that keep coal companies from easily extracting their livelihood from mountaintops.

He will give every student a great teacher and quality school by hiring the best and brightest from all over the world. He’ll train the poors to do the low-wage service jobs of the new age. He’ll snap his fingers and make higher education more affordable and effective.

He’s going to put a stop to China’s unfair trading and open new markets all over the world for our stuff, especially in Latin America. Those people love our stuff.

He’s going with Greece-lite by cutting 5% right off the top of our discretionary spending and cap all federal spending 20% below that of which the entire new economy all over the world grows to boost our small businesses and create new jobs. He’ll bust those nasty money-hoarding unions and get rid of the ridiculous 5 day/40 hour work week.

He will put a chicken in every small business owner’s pot and get rid of Obama’s care plan.

His plan is all about faith.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I'm still here.  I have been working a lot,  but not walking very much. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Walking Log July 6- 12

Friday, July 6, 20124.0 Miles:  Northside to North lakes neighborhood.

Saturday, July 7, 20126.7 Miles:  Roanoke River Greenway to Vinton.

Sunday, July 8, 2012:  Rest Day

Monday, July 9, 2012: 6.8 Miles:  Hanging Rock Battlefield trail to Polar Lane to Thompson Memorial to Craig Ave to North Mill to Kessler Mill Rd.  Quite a hilly walk with multiple pulls.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012: Rest Day

Wednesday, July 11, 2012: 4 miles: NHS, Woohaven, North Lakes loop

Thursday, July 12, 201210.2 miles: NHS, Peters Creek Rd,, Norwood, Montclair, North lakes

31.7 Miles

Friday, July 06, 2012

Walking Log June 29_July 5

Friday, June 29, 2012: 5.7 miles:  Salem Rotary Park Greenway:  Record heat this morning.  The low was 84 degrees-the highest low in Roanoke's recorded weather history.  Then the temperature got up to 104 degrees...until the Derecho blasted through with 80-90mph winds.  Massive destruction.  We were lucky; only a small portion of our fence was damaged.  We lost power for a day.

Saturday, June 30, 2012: Sweltering day.  Temps hovered near 100.  No power.  Too pooped to walk.

Sunday, July 1, 2012:  Day of rest.  Power restored.

Monday, July 2, 2012: 8.7 miles: Took car to Plaza Auto by Burlington Elementary.  Walked home by going through Waldron Park and Olsen Road to Peter's Creek and then through Northside.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012: 8.1 miles:  Jackie and I walked Lick Run Greenway from Valley View to the city and back

Wednesday, July 4, 2012: Day of rest.

Thursday, July 5, 20127.7 miles:  Jackie and I walked through Countryside and then over in the Fairhope/Harvest Rd area.

30.2 Miles

Friday, June 29, 2012

Walking Log June 22-29, 2012

Friday June 22, 20124.0 miles:  AT South from Rt 311

Saturday, June 23, 20127.4 miles:  Countryside to Cove Rd Neighborhoods:  Spent the rest of the day doing extensive yard work at home.

Sunday, June 24,  2012: Rest day:  Worked at Smith Mountain Lake

Monday, June 25, 2012: 6.6 miles:  All around Countryside and Northside High School.  I saw a four point buck on the Countryside property right beside I-581.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012: 8.1 Miles:  Tinker Cliffs.  Jackie went with me and had great difficulty with her knee on the return trip.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012:  Rest Day/Lazy day

Thursday, June 28, 20128.4 miles: Roanoke River Greenway

34.5 Miles

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Walking Log June 15-22

Friday June  15, 20129.0 miles: McAfee's Knob:  Saw a huge bear right beside Rt 311 on the fire road.  Saw a turtle and a cool blue bird (perhaps a scarlet tanager or a mountain bluebird).  The Knob was populated by a troop a Rastafarian's who were trying to "catch the sun".   They were very creepy.

Saturday June 16, 20126.5 miles:  Peters Creek to Peachtree, Norwood to Montclair to Glen Cove and back through North lakes Twilight Wipeldale Caun.:  Nice walk with Jackie.

Sunday June 17, 2012: None. Colonoscopy Prep

Monday June 18, 2012: None: Colonoscopy

Tuesday June 19, 2012: 5.5 miles:  Tinker Creek Greenway.  We went on the new addition.  They've built a most amazing pedestrian bridge over the Roanoke River right where Tinker Creek and the Sewage Treatment Plant converge.

Wednesday June 20 20127.2 miles : Lick Run Greenway:  Nice walk.  Saw the same homeless man as yesterday and the same work crew.

Thursday June 21, 20127.1 miles: Rotary Park /Salem Greenway:  Started by Pizza Pasta Pit and walked past Moyer Sports Complex and then along a gravel river path to Riverside Drive.  Then back and into Salem proper.  Then we walked back.

Total Miles35.3 Miles

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Grind It, Baby

So I was parked listening to Terry Gross interview Joan Rivers on a recent edition of Fresh Air. Target and my prescription pick-up would have to wait.  Joan was killing it.  She was a riot.  I had the windows of my Honda Accord down, and my laughs were quieting the recorded predatory bird sounds that play to scare away nesting grackles.

I had left a parking space between my tiny car and the massive alien SUV boat parked adjacent to me.  As I was mid-laugh, a 4-door sedan pulls into the space between us.  Inside this car were five thumping teens.  The two girls up front were rocking and gyrating to the pulsing , indecipherable rhythmic musical noise.  It was like  SNL's "Night at the Roxbury" skit.

Then from the back seat out piled a group of people two guys and a girl.  One of the guys went to the front of the sedan, right next to my car, and began gyrating as if he was making love to the grill of the car.  The girls in the front seat went crazy and began screaming.  Remember,  I'm parked right next to them.  Then the guy went around behind the car and began gyrating again as if he was ...well... performing anal sex. with the tailpipe of the car.  The other guy joined in as did the other girl.  It was an amazing scene.  Hard to explain,  but I think you get the point.  

As they all reached to light up cigarettes, I made my move.  Afraid that they would begin making love to my car,  I "pulled out" of the space and found a spot in the parking lot far away from them.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Yellow Jacket War

So, I'm battling a yellow jacket nest right beside my garden hose reel. Sunday, I was switching hoses and stood for about three minutes on top of the nest. Thankfully, I was blocking their exit. So now, I'm in a spraying and poking war. I spray wasp/hornet killer then I sneak up and poke a broom handle down their hole a few times before I flee. Then I spray then I poke spray...poke...spray...poke. Time for a poke. :
 It's quite thrilling!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Colonoscopy, the Main Event

I'm the proud owner of a healthy colon!
What a fantastic experience!

I'm the worrying sort. I tend to stress myself out. Luckily, I think my new Sertraline prescription is really helping me put things in perspective.

So the way a colonoscopy works, in case you don't know and are curious, is that you have a day of prep to clean your bowel out. My prep day was yesterday, Father's day-which made for a rather bland celebration. You aren't allowed to eat starting at midnight on prep day. Then at noon, you have to take two women's laxatives. These begin your bathroom journeys as they start the emptying process. Once you are emptied, you then have to drink a half gallon of lemon-lime flavored sea water in 8 oz increments over the course of an hour or so to cleanse the whole track. Next, as Dave Barry explains, the nuclear detonation begins. It's like your rear end becomes a garden hose turned to the jet spray setting. This lasts for about two hours or until the sea water is eliminated. Surprisingly, I found the nuclear detonation rather exhilarating and the seawater not so bad. I'm glad I chose lemon-lime instead of orange or cherry flavorings.

Last night, after the explosions calmed, I slept like a baby. No worries. I woke up fresh, rested, and a-rearing to go.

The procedure prep was normal. IV lines, BP check. Embarrassing gown donned. Then I was wheeled into the room. I told the male nurse to "...be gentle with me."

He replied, "Because this is your first time, right?"

"I guess you've heard that one before."

"Yup. I've heard just about everything in my career. One guy even wrote on his butt with a Sharpie, 'Do Not Enter!'"

Once in the room, the female nurse introduced herself to me, and I introduced myself using the name "Jim Swanson." She looked at me strangely, and I said, "Just pulling your leg...my name is really ______." She chuckled shallowly, and I noticed that she made a point to check my wrist ID tag to be sure. Then the sleep lady gave me something, and I began dreaming of bears.

An hour later I awoke. The nurse asked me to pass a lot of gas, and I unabashedly obliged. I was amazed at how loud I was. I've always been a champion gas-passer, winning many contests at Boy Scout summer camp back in my youth. I was also amazed how quickly the sleep tonic wore off. In fact, as I staggered out of the place ten minutes later, I assured my wife that I could drive. She just laughed.

The meeting with the doctor went well. Only one polyp, which he felt was benign and thus burned into polyp oblivion. The rest of my colon looked grate!

So here I sit at home, one hour removed from waking up, with my writing creative juices flowing, and food about to go in my body for the first time since 6pm Saturday. Life is good.

Remember June is Men's Health Month. If you are over 50, sign up for one of the screenings. It's fun!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Preparing for a Colonoscopy

It's not really fun.  

My last  food was at 6:30 the day before the prep.  So hunger is an issue.  No food.  Only clear liquids.  Then at noon, I swallowed two women's laxatives.  These set off a bomb in my colon.

Finally,  the trips to the bathroom subsided somewhat.

Then came the half gallon of salty "lemon-lime flavored" solution that I had to chug in 8 oz doses. 

It's really not fun.

I'm not looking forward to the anal numbing shot.  But perhaps the sedatives will be nice.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse

My morning walks are becoming epic tales.  This morning, I started up the trail to McAfee's Knob at 6:13 am.  At 6:13:30,  I heard a rustling on the ridge above my fire road trail.  There, silhouetted like the evil in Disney's Fantasia against the morning sky, was the largest black bear I've ever seen.  Over the past few years,  I've seen quite a few black bears on my hikes.  Last year, I almost stepped on one.  But this was far different.  This bear was massive.  he was only about 50 feet away from me and very close to Rt 311.  He didn't ever hear me thanks to a truck struggling to gain the top of Catawba Mountain. and he didn't smell me thanks to a favorable wind.  So I just stood there and watched him amble along the ridge for a few minutes.  Amazing sight!  

My hike went along, and I made it to the top by 7:45.  I THOUGHT I was all alone...but as I wandered from the Catawba side of the rocks to the Roanoke side,  I heard voices.  It was a group of very wild looking people. One of the dudes stood up with his Lion King locked mane  and said, after a tremendous belch, "Hey man...beautiful day, right?"  We exchanged a few words while I noted that two or three others were just sitting on the rocks staring into the foggy oblivion.  I said that it looked like they were heading somewhere.  He said, "No doubt, man.  We came up here early this morning to catch the sunrise.  Now I think we might be heading out to Tinker Cliffs."   I bid them farewell in their quest to catch the sun.  As fate would have it,  I had to pass by them again a few minutes later as I worked back to the trail. 

 "Going down already?" 

"Yup," I said,  "That's what I do."  

So I went on down the trail a bit and took the side trail that leads immediately to the power line.  From there I hiked back up to the ridge where I found my giant white rock.  This is a strange rock that sits squarely in the power line cut and is visible from I-581 by the airport if you look up at McAfee's Knob.  So I sat there and brought out my penny whistle, playing a soulful tune for the trees.  Then, from higher up the mountain, but nearby,  I heard, "Dude,  I think it was coming from down there...is there a trail..."  So I stopped playing and listened, my mind racing toward the Zombie Apocalypse.  I decided to slink away, leaving my mountain in possession of those monsters.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Walk Log June 8-June 14

Thursday June 14, 2012: 6.2 miles:  Roanoke River Greenway from Riverside park to Bridge Street and back

Wednesday June 13, 2012:  6.0 Miles:  Northside loop.  lewiston to Wm Fleming to Harvest lane to Angus to Lynhope to Portland to lewiston to Northside Rd.

Tuesday June 12, 2012: 3.5 miles: Northside Loop: Lewiston...transported to Tully Lane by peter's creek Church of brethren to Green Ridge to Twilight to Wipledale to Craun

Monday June 11, 2012: Rest  Garden work Dr. Appt.

Sunday June 10, 20122.0 Miles AT South at Rt 311. All day Garden work

Saturday June 9, 20123.5 Miles : Northside Loop Kingstown Woodhaven Taney North Spring North lake.  All Day garden work

Friday June 8, 2012: 3.5 Miles:  Northside Loop Kingstown Woodhaven Taney North Spring North lake

Total Mileage for the week:  24.7 miles

Friday, June 08, 2012

My Novel's First Line

"I kinda started liking you after I had a dream."  

That's what I found scribbled on a folded note on the floor of my classroom a couple of weeks ago.  I don't know exactly which of my third graders wrote it,  but I have a pretty good idea.

Upon reading the note,  I immediately decided that this would be a fantastic opening for a novel.  I really have no idea what the novel will be about or who the main characters will be nor what these characters will conflict in.  

I do know, that I will use that line to open the book.  It will be a big novel about something really cool.  It will be good.  Really good.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Howard Beale

Howard Beale in the movie "Network" in 1976 is credited with uttering one of the most famous phases ever captured on film.  What you may not remember is the rest of the monologue.  Here it is...

I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"

Folks, things in public schools these days are ridiculous.  In Virginia, the state Math test has been made "more rigorous."  Why?  I suspect it's because children were mastering the old tests and the 100% Doom-Line was only two years away  (you know..the date when 100% of all students needed to pass 100% of all tests).  How would it look if the Doom-Line came and no one met doom?  Last week I had one of my third graders take six hours to finish the blasted thing.  Most children were taking between three and four hours.  What kind of child abuse is that?  If a parent had locked a child away in a room for six hours without a break, a meal, or fresh air...I suspect that they'd be charged with child abuse.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Regarding Memorial Day

Carmel Beach  Photo by Sam Ryder
I've been trying to avoid thinking about this day. Memorial Day is an oft misunderstood holiday. Many believe that it's a time to thank a vet or a current service member, but, while that's never a bad thing to do, it's not really a day designed for that sort of celebration. Instead, Memorial Day (Decoration Day) was instituted to honor those who have fallen in service of their country.

Today, I affixed a Marine Corps flag to the side of my house. I hadn't done this previously because I was trying to bury the thought that my son is out there serving in the most dangerous of zones doing the most dangerous of things. It's hard to explain, but my pride and emotion got the better of me today. I had approached his deployment by buckling down and trying not to think about what he's doing. It seems to me that the best way to make it through this period is to become numb to it. But today, I allowed the emotion to get to me. I am so very proud of him for choosing a life that he could have easily avoided and shunted. He could have done anything with his VT college degree, but he chose early on that his country is worth personally defending. On this day, I lift my head and publicly ask God to protect him. All other days, I bow my head in quiet silence and pray that God deliver him safely home before Christmas.

I'm so very proud of my daughter-in-law for her service in the Army. She's already safely returned from her first deployment with another in her sights. I can only imagine how hard these deployments are on their young marriage. 

These wars are painful. They aren't easy. They aren't simple black and white. The brave soldiers who have given their lives deserve remembrance at the very least. Each of them believed in service before self. Each of them had hopes, desires, and plans. Each of them gave everything they had. Memorial Day, to me, is a unique day. I'll be glad when it goes away so I can lower my head and plow through the next 7 months.


Sunday, May 06, 2012

Tomato and Pepper Catalog 2012

It's that time of year again.  I've started way too many tomato and pepper plants for my personal use, so I'm selling the rest.  This year,  I suspect due to advanced aging, I forgot to plant my hot peppers.  I discovered this error shortly after I tried to murder about a third of my tomato plants by burning them with chicken poop fertilizer.  But, I saved many and replanted others.  The replanted tomatoes are coming along and will be ready in about three weeks.  The hot peppers have germinated and are trying to get bigger.  They'll be ready late in the month as well.

You can view the full, expansive and entertaining catalog from my dropbox.


Friday, May 04, 2012

Kentucky Derby 2012

Well, it's almost Derby Day 2012.   I thought I'd drop in long enough to share the ARFTCHC analysis by The Annoyed Handicapper.

Visit my Dropbox Links below


Part 1

Part 2

May the horse be with you.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Scotland Encounters


I’m always watching people.  On our recent trip to Scotland, I had occasion to observe people from a whole different culture and society.  What follows is a brief description of those unique souls who caught my eye.

Waiter at Bella Italia

On our first night in Glasgow, Jackie and I were tired, but we were also so very hungry.  We had arrived in the city around 3:30.  Immediately, we went out and tour George Square.  By 7:30, we were ready for a meal, so we took off in search of a restaurant.  Eventually, after much walking and thinking and looking, we settled on Bella Italia.  This is a chain restaurant that has a cozy atmosphere and solid food.
We were greeted by a friendly young gentleman who took a keen interest in us.  Then again, he seemed to be striking up conversations with all of the diners. While we didn’t catch his name, the waiter was a young, stocky man with a neatly trimmed beard. He looked the part of waiter and acted with an air of authority.  On one of his rounds, he stopped and pointed at my VT sweatshirt and asked me what my “pro team” is.  I honestly wasn’t sure what he was talking about.

He continued that he wanted to know which NFL football team I rooted for since I was a Virginia Tech person.  You don’t find many Scots who like the NFL, but this guy was for real.  He knew everything about every team.  When I told him that most people in our area like the Redskins or Panthers, he was quiet.  Then he told me that his team is the NY Giants.

I explained that they were one of my favorites as well.  We got deeper into conversation.  He knew everything about the Giants and was a huge Eli Manning fan.  At some point I dropped the family NY Giants story on him…the one about my Uncle Pete’s brother, Ed Danowski.  Ed was the starting QB for the Giants back in the 1930’s and early 40’s.  I told the Scot about “The Tennis Shoe Game in 1934” and was shocked that he knew the story of that game.  This guy was amazing.  He was a walking encyclopedia of NFL knowledge.  Something you just don’t expect in Glasgow, Scotland.

Dennis at Bosville

Dennis greeted us at the Bosville Hotel in Portree.  Portree is located on Isle of Skye and is a lovely small village.  Charm drips from every building in town and the buildings seem to melt into the stunning landscape.

Dennis, a short, powerfully built man with a square jaw and outgoing personality, was very kind to us and helped solve a small booking issue. Basically, the hotel thought that just two of us were coming.  When Dennis saw me drag in three suitcases, he panicked for a moment, and then he went on a hunt and secured “the family suite” for us.  It was a lovely room, freshly remodeled.  Dennis hoisted a 50 pound suitcase upon his shoulders and lugged it up the three flights of narrow stairs to the room.  He smiled and made small talk with us as we settled in, then left us alone.

Later that day, I bopped into the hotel bar after our walk around the village and surrounding countryside.  Dennis was there behind bar serving drinks to local patrons.  We chatted for a bit about our walk, and he was genuinely interested.

That evening, Dennis was filling drink orders in the hotel restaurant.  He was moving fast and furiously trying to keep up with everyone’s orders.

I left Portree and Bosville Hotel impressed with Dennis.  A hard-working man, Dennis seemed grounded and truly interested in the people he encountered.  This is a great quality for a hotel host.

The CIA Agent

Dinner at the Bosville Hotel was quite delicious for me.  I had a beef pie which was something akin to beef stew…but much, much better.  The beef was so tender.  Callan had a lemon chicken dish that was okay.  Jackie had a horrid penne pasta dish with “vegetables.”  Both of the vegetables were excellent, but the pasta was sterile and the sauce was bland.

While we sat and dutifully ate our meal, our own conversation quieted as we became more involved in listening to the conversation going on at the table next to ours.  I’m sure everyone’s done this before.  The people at the next table were engrossed in a major conversation, oblivious to how loud they were.  So we just listened in.

There were two couples at the table.  One of them was an American couple with the lady a native of Scotland who had married her dream-boat American CIA AGENT.  He was an older gentleman with gray John Duffey hair (Duffey- was the front man and mandolin player for The Seldom Scene) complete with long, fat sideburns. This ex-CIA Agent was hilarious.  He and his wife kept bringing up their life in America while he was serving in the CIA.  He har-har-harred about restaurants, parts of Virginia, and office SNAFU’s.  He sounded like some cowboy telling stories about the taming of the West. They mentioned the Langley site, a stone’s throw from where my wife grew up, and were telling stories about times back then.  All I could think was that if he kept secrets back then like he talked now, then every cover he was under would have been blown.

Justin Bieber

Actually, there was more than one.  Apparently, it’s normal for rich English school children to travel by train by themselves for months at a time. 
We boarded a Scotrail train in Kyle of Lochalsh.  Also in Kyle of Lochalsh is a popular Teen Hostel.  We found our reserved seats on the train and were soon joined by a hoard of young people all about 14 years old, both girls and boys.  They plopped down in a group of seats immediately adjacent to our seats and began a loud and boisterous card party. 

One boy, the smallest of the lot who looked a little like a cocky, tiny Justin Bieber, seemed to need to be louder than the rest, perhaps to ensure that he wasn’t left out by the more pubescent teens.  He was a short skinny kid with mop hair and devilish smirk.  He was LOUD and RUDE.  He’d shout, spit, make farting sounds, loudly eat “sammiches”, taunt the girls, litter, and generally annoy everyone on the train.  Every now and then, one of the girls would tell him to stop, but he would persist, and they sort of seemed to like his antics.

About an hour out of Inverness, Justin and his friends were forced to move far away from us when the rightful owners of the seats claimed them at one of the remote train stops along the way.  The rest of our journey on that leg was peaceful…

Bad Asses

…then came the “Bad Asses.”  These four boys were Mother Fuckers.  They’d likely tell you that themselves.

We had to switch trains at Perth to catch the Edinburgh train, our last of three train legs.  We rushed to make it and hopped on the nearest train car, much to our misfortune. After stowing our suitcases, we plopped into the first four-person seating area we could find.  This happened to be right across the aisle from the four bad asses. 

Over the next hour, we learned all about them.  They were teens who had traveled to Dundee on a Perth ticket, effectively screwing Scotrail out of extra fare.  They were well-pleased by their successful deception.  They were also well-pleased with their own homosexual tendencies.

Over the hour, they spat at each other, smelled each others’ arm-pits, cursed, talked about knocking girls up and abortions, wiped shit-covered fingers on each other, told foul jokes, and leered at us.  They reminded me more than a little of Alex and his gang of “Droogs” in A Clockwork Orange.

In short, we could see nothing redeeming about their existence on Earth.  In fact, I felt as though I could take all four of them on and beat them to a pulp.  My wife, however, held me back.  But when one of them attempted to wipe snot on his seat-mate, his seat-mate bolted from his seat and crashed into my wife.  She immediately glared at them and said loudly, “REALLY??”  There were other words, but the boys just laughed. 
Her glare must have had some effect, however.  A few minutes later, the gang got up and moved to the exit area.  There they awaited the next stop.  It was there that we over-heard their pimply leader say, (akin to Beavis from “Beavis and Butthead”) “We’re just a bunch of bad asses.” [heh, heh]. 

When the train pulled into the station, they hopped off with their bicycles and pedaled away.


Edinburgh is a city of spirits.  Bertie is the purveyor of such delights.  We had spent a whole day wandering the ancient, haunted city of Edinburgh when we came upon the whisky shoppe.  Bertie was inside and welcomed us into the tight aisles of fine whiskies.  At her table, she was serving up tastes of The Ben Raich12, a moderately priced whisky from Scotland.    I engaged her in a conversation, and she proved as smooth a salesperson as her whisky was smooth.

Bertie was a short, stocky lady of an age somewhat older than young and younger than old.  Her hair was short-cropped and her face was rounded with smiling eyes.

After her initial courting, we ambled out and along.  Later, after great reflection, we came back to the store and found Bertie.  She was pleased we had come back and immediately sold us a bottle of Ben Raich.  Then she helped my wife assemble a sampler of fine whiskies for her friends.  As I checked out, I mentioned to the cashier that Bertie was awesome, and he said, “We treasure Bertie.”

Pushy Lady and Her Daughter

Just below The Castle in Edinburgh is a lovely textile mill.  In it, you can watch craftsmen make tartan blankets, scarves, and kilts from scratch.  The mill is quite an exciting place and filled with excellent buys.
As we were shopping inside the mill, Jackie and Callan happened upon a rack of woolen blankets.  So they stopped and began looking through the various designs. Without warning, their shopping bliss was interrupted by a Spanish speaking lady dressed in her too tight pants with stylish boots and with her pancake make-up disguising her witch-like face along with her teen-aged daughter in tow.  They busted right in and shoved Jackie and Callan out of the way without so much as an “excuse me” or begging a pardon.  All we could do was simply stare, dumbfounded, at the two bold ladies.  It was quite obvious that the son (I assume he was the lady’s son) was highly embarrassed by his mother and sister.

We grumbled a bit, but then moved on with our life.  After all, we had much more city to explore.
About an hour later, we had moved several blocks away and were standing in line to order lunch at the famous Elephant House.  This restaurant is the home of J.K. Rowling.  It’s where she wrote the Harry Potter series.  She was a struggling writer who couldn’t afford heat in her apartments, so she would come to The Elephant House, buy a pot of tea and sit all day writing her masterpiece.

These days, The Elephant House is a Potter destination, plus they serve excellent baked potatoes dishes.

So there we were in line for about ten minutes when who should appear at the door?  Yup, the rude Spanish lady, her daughter and son.  Immediately, the two ladies busted in line right in front of us-no kidding!   We were amazed at their audacity and our misfortune of having to meet these weird people again in such a large city.

After a couple of minutes of enduring our icy glares, the son got the hint and ushered his sister and mother in line behind us.

It took another ten minutes to wade through the line to the front to place our order and the whole time the pushy broad kept banging and poking Callan and me.  Callan eventually had enough and went to our table to sit with Jackie.  I manned the space and fought off the lady’s physical assaults.  At one point, she speared me in the ribs with her finger.  I quickly turned and said, “Yes?”  in a strong voice.  She stammered an apology and backed off a bit after that.

Lucky for us, they placed their order and moved to a different part of the restaurant, and we never saw them again.


She made her appearance in our lives at the bus station in Edinburgh.  A 6’2” transsexual in heels, bobby socks, and delicate pastel knee-length skirt with a small white shawl. Her speckled gray, stringy, and unkept hair ran down to her shoulders and needed to be whipped away from her hooked nose and stubble-covered face.  She strode up and down the bus station corridors, moving here and there with singular purpose, one that wasn’t readily apparent to the casual observer.  Little did we suspect that she would share our bus and sit right behind us.

As was usual, I was ceding to my more obsessive side and was watching the departure clock very carefully every ten seconds or so.  Like other passengers, we were awaiting the signal from the bus driver to board the bus.  It appeared that she wasn’t quite ready, so we were like patient sheep and waited.  That’s when the transsexual in heels came striding to our gate and pranced purposefully right up to the bus and boarded it.  A decisive and bold move.  One that made everyone’s jaws drop.  Surely, the bus driver would deny her admission for such a breach of queue etiquette.  Once she got on, we all got up and headed for the bus.  Our long-striding leader had shown us the way.

I sat by myself in the row in front of the strange lady when my wife, daughter, and I got on the bus.  The lady sat alone as well.  Since we were traveling at rush hour back to Glasgow, the bus began to fill up stop after stop.  Soon a person sat beside me and all the other seats filled up except the one next to the transsexual.  No one wanted to sit there.  It was too risky, too scary, too weird.

Finally, a passenger joined the bus just outside of Edinburgh, and she had no seat left except beside HER.  I could see her look of discomfort when she realized her lot.  But to her credit, she troopered on and plopped herself down in the only seat available.

I immediately learned that the transsexual’s name was Leia when she introduced herself to her seat-mate.  Her seat-mate politely introduced herself as Jackie.  That was the beginning of an hour-long conversation between the two of them about everything.

At first, Jackie was reluctant to talk.  But Leia persisted.  She talked about the weather at first.  The she asked some questions about Jackie, and listened carefully to her quiet answers.  Jackie was a single mother whose husband had left her with a child.  Leia was compassionate and caring and soon Jackie opened up some more and began asking Leia questions.

I learned that Leia was so very fond of her mother and tried to emulate her.  Her mother had passed away three years ago and Leia was still heart-broken.  Several times, she brought up her mother.  Leia told about her addictions and how she beat drugs and alcohol, how she came to realize who she needed to be, and how she bolstered the courage to just do it-to just accept that she was a she and not a he.

She said that many people made fun of her, but Leia was undeterred.  She realized that humor could overcome any adversity.  She lived by one rule, to try to invest herself in every minute of every day.  She believed in living each moment to its fullest, even on a bus.  That’s why, she said, that she enjoyed “…getting to know complete strangers like you, Jackie. Because after you get to know someone, they’re no longer a stranger, and they are your friend forever.” 

Leia’s take on life was refreshing.  She talked about her mother and her supportive brother.  She talked of moments in time and places she had visited, including the USA.  She had strong opinions, but had honed a very successful personal philosophy, one that emboldened her and allowed her to succeed in a skeptical world. 

“Jackie, let me tell you something if I may… Jackie, I’ve discovered that you have to be able to laugh in life.  My Mum taught me that, and I know she’s looking down on me now and smiling.”
“I’m sure your mother is proud of you, Leia,” said Jackie. 

An hour before, they were strangers.  When they left that bus, they were friends for life.  I feel fortunate that I was able to listen in and experience something very special on that bus ride.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Bid for Governor of Virginia

As I consider joining the Virginia Gubernatorial race with the 2014 election fast-approaching. I sat down and keyed in my basic platform. I'll need to drop a few pounds. People don't like to vote for people who are a little pudgy. One thing going for me is that I comb my hair to the side in true Virginia fashion. Of course the fact that I'm a despicable Virginia public school teacher is a hurdle to overcome.

My Platform

I would be a job creator Governor by forcing legislators to Fully fund the minimum state share of the SOQ's and then add 45% more...just like localities are doing. Jobs are created when people are highly educated. Education creates jobs in Virginia.

I'd make gas taxes subject to inflation at the wholesale level (John Edward's idea) and tie this tax into transportation. I'd seek out a statewide health insurance program for all state and local workers, thereby creating a larger health insurance pool and reducing premiums. I'd raise taxes on anyone who is rich or associated with the tea party by 666%. I'd put a stop to the whacko right social agenda.

There’s money floating around out there that can be recovered without raising taxes on the middle class. I'd seek new revenue by extending the land preservation tax credit reform, scaling back the domestic production deduction, enacting mandatory reporting of earned income by business, adopting a minimum corporate income tax, eliminating the coal tax credits. I'd sunset all tax breaks and demand a review of all existing tax credits and breaks to determine if they are meeting expectations. Over 1.5 billion dollars annually is there to be mined.*

Speaking of that, I'd fire the current Department of Education and hire people who understand that our public schools are great schools and shouldn't be destroyed by ridiculous voucher, virtual school, testing, and evaluation schemes. I'd demand that teachers be the 7th highest paid teachers in the country since we are the 7th wealthiest state. I’d push to restore continuing contract rights as well as collective bargaining rights for state workers and teachers. I'd make sure that teacher/pupil ratios are REALLY lowered. I'd make sure that every teacher has the opportunity to earn a FULL, DEFINED pension. I'd make lottery proceeds be the supplement to education funding as they were originally slated to be rather than a funding source that allows for General Fund money to be bled away from education in favor of the problem de jour.

I’d restore corporal punishment, but only for mean-spirited lawmakers.

*My thanks go to the Better Choices for Virginia coalition for the really good revenue recovery ideas.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Visit To Roanoke

Oh well...so much for formatting...looks like everything's clipped. Maybe I'll work on it.

This is a project I undertook for my niece. She's getting married in September in nearby Boone's Mill, and she wanted to know what to do in Roanoke.

I might go back and add in my pictures at some point.

A Visit to Roanoke

Nestled in the bosom of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke, Virginia and the surrounding area offer the visitor a wide-range of lodging, dining, recreational, artistic, and eclectic activities.


· The Hotel Roanoke

She’s the grand hotel in Roanoke. Dating back to Roanoke’s frontier days in the 1880’s. She’s withstood destruction by fire and destruction by economy. She has arisen from the ashes and returned to her former glory.

· Holiday Inn Tanglewood

A solid hotel on Roanoke’s desirable Southwest side. As an added bonus, The Elephant Walk is contained within the structure and Carlos’ Brazilian restaurant is only a short drive away.

· Cambria Suites

Located beside the smoldering remains of Roanoke Victory Stadium, Roanoke’s newest hotel shines like a beacon. One of its special amenities is that it’s only a few hundred yards away from Roanoke’s impressive medical center and complex.

· Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center

The Sheraton is located at the intersection of Hershberger and I-581. It’s an impressive hotel with a really nice lobby fireplace.


· Alejandros Mexican Grill

The restaurant is truly a growing enterprise. The flagship is located in Roanoke’s downtown market area. Another satellite is located in Northwest Roanoke. People rave about their fish tacos.

· Carlos Brazilian International Cuisine

Probably Roanoke’s finest and most celebrated restaurant. The food is impeccable and the view of the valley from the western facing tables is unparalleled.

· Corned Beef and Company

Probably Roanoke’s bawdiest restaurant. Pool tables. Working fare. A jumping joint.

· Grace’s Pizza

People from around town know of Grace’s. It’s an unpretentious restaurant with excellent pizza and calzones for which to die.

· Isaacs

It’s hard to believe that Roanoke would have a fine Mediterranean restaurant, but Isaacs is that place. The food is excellent.

· Roanoke Weiner Stand

A locally famous place. They specialize in hot dogs. They are good.

· Mac and Bob’s

Salem’s flagship restaurant and meeting place. They serve Americans American food.

· Texas Tavern

Since The depression, the TT has served thousands of customers ten at a time. They don’t cash checks or play with bumblebees. They serve some of the most interesting chili you’ll ever fully experience from intake to outflow.

· Tazza

The Radjou family from India runs this lovely Indian restaurant. They care about their food and their customers.

· The Elephant Walk

Comes highly regarded and part of the Holiday Inn Tanglewood package.

· The Home Place

Ah well, what can you say. The Home Place is an old-fashioned family-style restaurant. People are seated and fed. The food is really good and greasy and fattening. They use butter. Located in downtown Catawba, population 12, this IS the finest place in the area to eat, or so many gloat.


· Froth

It’s new and it serves coffee and people like it.

· Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea

A very successful coffee house. Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea has grown to offer several locations around the valley. The coffee is great and the ambiance is laid-back.


· On the Rise Bakery

Located on the City Market Square, this bakery serves up a wide variety of tasty and finely crafted breads and pastries.

· Bread Craft

Alex’s dream was to create a true French-styled bakery. With Bread Craft, he has succeeded beyond all imagination. His sourdough creations are amazing. Hint, try to olive loaf.

· The Euro Bakery

Bari and Elizabeta Sinani, refugees from Bosnia create the most delicious breads and pastries in Roanoke. Most incredible are their bureks which are light pastry-like pies filled with spinach and cheese or beef and onions. Such delights are a rare treat on Earth. Recently they expanded to a spot at the Roanoke City Market.


· Taubman Museum

Considered by some to be Roanoke’s albatross while others view it as our great flying train, The Taubman Museum , designed by Randall Stout, is the home of a fantastic Thomas Eakin collection as well as all sorts of other art sorta stuff. One exhibit, a life-sized sculpture of King Kong, is currently plastered onto the side of the structure, complete with a biplane in his mitts.

· O.Winston Link Museum

Once upon a time, steam engines ruled the rails. Then they didn’t. But before they went away, there was O. Winston Link. This photo artist captured the era of steam and juxtaposed it against the coming storm of progress. Link’s photo’s were almost taken from Roanoke by his greedy second wife. Twice she was imprisoned for stealing his works. Yet her greatest crime, imprisoning a frail old man went unpunished.

· Vriginia Museum of Transportation

Lots and lots of locomotives. The 611-J, the most advanced steam locomotive, is the resident master of the house along with the Class A 1218. Technical talk to be sure, but the collection also has a few planes, a quirky model train Barnum and Bailey Circus lay-out, and inexplicably, a Jupiter rocket, you know, the same kind of rocket that in May 1959 was home to space monkeys, Able and Baker, as they vaulted into space and returned alive to tell the tale. They were the first space monkeys to survive a trip to space. Sadly, Able died a couple of months later from an infected brain electrode, but Miss Baker lived 27 years and is buried at the NASA complex in Huntsville, Alabama. Able’s body was preserved and you can see him any day you want at the National Air and Space Museum. You really can’t make this stuff up.


· Kirk Avenue Music Hall

Roanoke’s premiere eclectic live music venue. Out of the pavement of a cold, hard city depression, Kirk Avenue Music Hall rescued Roanoke’s music scene. Now, this fledgling musical arts center is attracting some incredible underground talent like Shawn Mullins.

· The Jefferson Center

Jefferson High School was the home of The Magicians. Then the school closed. Its shell sat abandoned for many years; water finding its way inside. Then it was rescued and turned into an incredible musical arts center. Many of today’s greatest performers have played there, including BB King and Richard Thompson.

· Roanoke Civic Center

With all the charm of a Chernobyl-style nuclear reactor, The Roanoke Civic Center from time to time has some interesting shows, from Broadway traveling circuses to Elton John.

· 202 Market

Uniquely famous after local megla-media star, River Laker, performed a striptease at a fund-raiser causing the 202 to lose its ABC license, It’s still a destination on the city market.

· Martin’s Downtown

This is where the local music scene makes its presence felt. Local bands cut their musical chops there.


· Roanoke City Market

Roanoke is blessed with a classic market square. Over the past few years, the city’s done its best to destroy it. Yet somehow, out of the ashes of discontent, irresponsibility, and corporate greed, the square has survived and has been reborn. As long as the city doesn’t renege on its lease of ten feet of public sidewalk for silent monthly Plowshares anti-war protests, peace and prosperity will reign.

· Mill Mountain Star

Without a doubt, The Mill Mountain Star is Roanoke’s claim to fame. The huge man-made star, originally lit in 1949 by a forward-thinking Chamber of Commerce has shown brightly over the Valley ever since. Back in the day, the star used to shine red whenever someone in the valley died in a traffic accident. Later, the colors were switched to red, white, and blue to honor our nation’s 200th birthday. These days, the star shines white in honor of the fallen in the 9/11 attacks.

· Mill Mountain Zoo

Mill Mountain Zoo sits atop Mill Mountain and guards our valley. Snow Leopards, red wolves and prairie dogs abound. A trip on “The Zoo Choo” is strongly recommended.

· Dr. Pepper and H&C Coffee Signs

Only in Roanoke would one of the star attractions be two neon signs from the 1940’s. Yet, there you go. Residents are mesmerized and comforted by the electronic coffee pouring from the electric pot to the glowing cup. Dr. Pepper’s 10-2-4 sign reminds us always to drink our Dr. Peppers at 10am, 2pm, and 4pm; doctor’s orders. Roanokers take such prescriptions to heart as Roanoke leads the nation in consumption of Dr. Pepper per capita.

· Mini Graceland

It’s hard to explain and even harder to understand. Over the years, Elvis’ miniature home had fallen into disrepair. In fact, it may not be there anymore. That would be a true loss.

· The Coffee Pot

All across America in the 1930’s, Coffee Pot restaurants ruled the roadsides along with giant balls of yard, giant corkscrews, giant reptile sculptures, and corn mazes. This icon is still here.

· Texas Tavern

A bowl with and a Cheesy Western. Roanoke’s Millionaire Club.

· Roanoke Weiner Stand

Hot dog! People travel from all over the world to eat these slippery dogs. One man actually flies his own Cessna in from Northern Virginia just to get a tasty dog.

· St. Andrews’ Catholic Church

Completed in 1902, St. Andrews Catholic Church lords over Roanoke City. It’s a true gothic-styled gem of a church complete with imported, stunning German stained glass windows.

· D-Day Memorial

About twenty miles from Roanoke is the sleepy city of Bedford. Bedford, VA lost more people per capita than any other place in the country on D-Day. A grand memorial has been built to honor all the fallen. The Overlord Arch is something to behold.


· Peaks of Otter

Nestled north of Roanoke along the Blue Ridge Parkway, two mountains share a space, Sharp Top and Flat Top. Sharp Top is the rock star of the two. You can take the shuttle to the top or brave the strenuous hike. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with a 360 degree view of the area from Roanoke to deep into the piedmont of Virginia. At the base of the mountains you can lodge, picnic, or dine in a pristine environment.

· Mabry Mill

Situated about an hour south along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mabry Mill is a picturesque mill from the mountain days. You can eat some incredible pancakes at the restaurant onsite.

· Blue Ridge Parkway

This famous Depression era project rolls through The Roanoke Valley. Scenic drives can be made to the north or south.

· The Cascades

The Cascades are located near the town of Pembroke in Giles County or about 45 minutes from Roanoke along I-81 south/Rt 460West. An easy half hour hike along a bubbling stream leads to a beautiful waterfall.

· Mountain Lake

Marketed as “The Home of Dirty Dancing,” this beautiful mountaintop resort in Giles County is stunning. Yes, Patrick Swayze did some of his greatest acting there. The resort is dimmed a little since the natural lake inexplicably drained a few years ago.

· Virginia Tech

Home of the Fightin’ Gobblers, Virginia tech is one of Virginia’s largest universities. Located in Blacksburg, just 30 minutes from Roanoke along I-81 South, VT is a beautiful rural campus with stunning limestone (Hokiestone) buildings.

· The New River

Oddly, the New River is the oldest river in the world next to the Nile. Around these parts, people like to toss an inner tube in, hop on it and float the day away through Montgomery and Giles Counties.

· McAfee’s Knob

The hike that people talk about. McAfee’s Knob can be reached via the Rt 311 parking lot atop Catawba Mountain. The hike is about 4 miles each way and is quite strenuous for the last mile up to the summit. The view, however, is beyond worth the pain. You can see ridge after ridge out to the west into West Virginia. To the north and east you can see to and beyond The Peaks of Otter. To the East and South you can see the entire Roanoke Valley and beyond. McAfee’s Knob is truly a destination.

· Read Mountain

A unique and short suburban hike up a mountain. The hike is a moderate climb up an ordinary small mountain. At the top, the cliff view of the Roanoke Valley is breath-taking as you look down on the Roanoke Regional Airport.

· Dragon’s Tooth

This is a strenuous hike that begins at the Dragon’s Tooth parking area along Rt 311 just west of Catawba. The hike is about 4 miles each way and summits at a strange tooth-like formation of massive rocks. The vista on a clear day offers looks into the Roanoke Valley and beyond as well as Blacksburg to the south.

· Roanoke Valley Greenway

o Roanoke River Greenway-Roanoke City

By parking at River’s edge park in downtown Roanoke, you can either head a few miles to the east into Vinton or a few miles to the west deeper into Roanoke City. Whichever way you go, the river will be your friend.

o Roanoke River Greenway-Salem

The Roanoke River is normally gentle meanders through an industrial base. This stretch is relaxed and uniquely beautiful.

o Hanging Rock Greenway

A strange little three mile round trip. Along a cinder trail, you cover an old train route through Roanoke’s rail history. Also, you get a solid dose of Civil War history, by learning of the epic Battle of Hanging Rock.

o Lick Run Greenway

Stroll a paved path from Valley View Mall in front of the Target store all the way into the heart of downtown Roanoke. The trail offers solitude and babbling streams as well as cityscape vistas.

o Wolf Creek Greenway-Vinton

A unique hike through suburbia. The highlight is crouching and easing your way through a make-shift pedestrian tunnel under a major highway eventually ending at the Blue Ridge Parkway.