Thursday, December 08, 2016

Make It Stop Blinking!

Make it Stop Blinking!

Forced into a one day exile from substituting, I found myself with a whole day to fill.  In case you don’t know, I retired a year and a half ago.  As part of a special retirement deal that purges “The Big Salary People” from the school system payroll, I promised to work one fifth of a school year for five years as a substitute teacher with one year of pay thus apportioned.  One caveat is that no retiree substitute shall work more than four days in any one week or the county feels that I shall be regarded as a full time employee and, thus, eligible for benefits like insurance and a full time job.

So I awoke today on my mandatory day of exile with only the barest sketch of a plan on how to fill my time. First up. Read the newspaper. Check.  Have a pepperoni and cheese bagel, Check. Read my email. Check. Respond to email. Check. Find some silly You Tube videos to send to friends (Trolololo Song). Check.

At this point, I realized that it was time to get busy.  I knew that I wanted to pick lettuce from my raised beds before the Siberian Express descended on our fair city tonight.  I also knew that I wanted to begin decorating the house for Christmas and that meant that I needed batteries for my fake window candles.  In fact, I was even contemplating buying some more candles to put in more than just the front facing windows. 

My trip to Heritage Family Market in Fincastle was reflexive and relaxing.  Cruise down I-81 to Daleville and get onto that road that goes there. Only the blind mergers and oblivious trucks kept me from truly experiencing requiescence.


There are jewels inside yourself. Precious, profound and ready to be discovered.


Heritage was hopping today, but I lucked out by getting there when Dwayne (I’m on a first-name basis with all the clerks) had a break in slicing deli meats and cheeses. So I put in my usual order for sharp yellow cheddar, pepper-jack, havarti, and beef bologna-a half pound of each all sliced on setting one. Dwayne knows that part, and I never have to tell him.  Sometimes I get low-sodium turkey breast, pepperoni, or hard salami just to mix things up a bit.


I hustled off to shop while Dwayne filled my order.  I picked up my bag of corn chips and two tubs of assorted flavor gummy bears. Heritage has been open for a couple of years now.  Its owners and workers are members of a Pennsylvania Dutch community from Mission Home, VA near Charlottesville.  They sell all sorts of food essentials, especially baking goods and candy.  Their place in Fincastle is quaint and draws a rich collection of professional and common folk. Today, a little boy and his hunting overall-attired father were checking out when the boy pleaded with his father to let him give the money to Tim at the register.  It was so sweet that I found myself smiling with a tear as did the old German Baptist lady in front of me in line. Requiescence attained.


I wished Matt, the checker, a good day and headed off to Roanoke to visit Big Lots for my batteries and fake candles.  Traffic was pretty intense, but I couldn’t be shaken from my sense of peace.  Honestly, I swear this is true. Very few people work these days. Seriously.  They may be “working”: but they aren’t working. They’re out driving around.  Today’s not the first time I’ve noticed this phenomenon.  I’m sure that my teacher friends can’t possibly understand how this would be possible.


After dodging blind mergers and oblivious trucks and very nearly dying at the Peters Creek Road (my normal) exit when I was nearly rear-ended by a merger and a truck, I made it to my Big Lots at the old Hill’s department store on Hershberger Road.  It’s a dingy place, but often filled with surprises and treasures.  Today, I got a little of both.


I took my basket by the friendly Salvation Army bell ringer and entered the store. I scoped out the batteries and found that I could get 30 Ray-O-Vac Al Kaline [sic] batteries for $12 (40 cents a battery) or 24 Ray-O-Vac Al Kaline [sic] batteries for $10 (41.6 cents). I opted for the 30-pack.  Then I made my way to the Christmas candles.


My path, however, was blocked by an older mother and her adult daughter who were loudly screaming at each other in normal conversation about what decorations to buy to “GO OUTSIDE THE HOUSE!”


“MAMA. THESE LIGHT WOULD GO GOOD OUTSIDE THE HOUSE.  DON’T YOU LIKE THESE LIGHTS?  HOW ABOUT THESE LIGHTS?  WE COULD USE SOME OF THESE LIGHTS AND THEM LIGHTS, etc.”  Still in my state of requiescence, I decided to leave them to the space and go shop elsewhere until they finished their task. 


I strolled over to the foreign canned foods.  Big Lots always has cool foreign canned goods.  I found some unusual pouches of Indian cuisine.  Just heat up the pouch, toss the bag in water for a minute then pour over rice.  As I was reading labels all alone in MY aisle, a young man with a red vest, dark glasses, and neatly trimmed beard and goatee turned down the aisle and stopped right behind me.  Right behind me-Within an inch of touching my shoulders and rear end.  He marked my move every time I stepped to the side to increase my personal space bubble.   My creep meter was on red alert.  I felt like he was staring at me in some sort of seductive way.  So I rather quickly moved on to the tea aisle before doubling back to the Christmas decorations.


The two ladies were still going at it on the lights aisle, but they had at least moved away from the fake single candles.  I found that I had two choices for single LED plastic candles with base: a three pack of GE candles for $12 or a single pack of no-name candles for $4 a piece. No difference in price and no difference in looks.  Both seemingly matched the candles I already have.  So decided on the GE candles.


Earlier while I was futilely waiting for the two loud ladies to exit the area, I pulled up a Big Lots coupon on my phone: $5 off a $15 purchase or $15 off a $50 purchase.  I loaded it onto my phone for the checkout.  So as I stood there by the candles I decided to get three 3-packs of GE lights at $12 a pack in addition to the pack of 30 batteries also for $12.  12x4 =$48.  To take me over the top, I settled on a cheap stocking stuffer for my wife.  It didn’t have a price, but I figured that it would certainly take me over the top. 


I beat the two loud ladies and the strange man to the checker and proceeded to watch my stuff ring up.  Then I handed my phone to the clerk, and she entered my coupon.  My total: $47.38 cents.  My $15 dollar discount?  Where was it I asked politely.  She didn’t know, but the coupon didn’t seem to register.   I asked her to try again. Same result.  By now the line of strange people was stacking up and they were all glaring at me.  I was THAT guy who was slowing down the process and making them late for missing more work while driving around on roads.  I wasn’t mad.  How could I be?  I was still retired, still in exile for a day, and still immersed in my requiescence.


But the $15 gnawed at me.  Instead of exiting the store, I hung out by the service desk reading the fine print on my phone coupon.  I couldn’t find anything that would preclude me in using it for the booty that I bought. So I interrupted the checker and the glaring customers and asked her if I could talk to her manager.


Mindy came right away.  She’s a great manager.  When she took over the store a couple of years ago, she set to redesigning the lay-out, clearing out the junk and improving the customer service.  She’s the best.  I explained my issue calmly in my most relaxed cadence.  She checked my ticket, added all the stuff up, and immediately figured out the problem.  My total before taxes was $49.97.  It seems that the stocking stuffer had cost exactly $1.97 bringing me three cents away from qualifying for the $15 discount.  The register had, indeed, given me a $5 discount which brought my total to $47.38 after taxes. So I asked Mindy if I could just go back and get something else to bring me to the magic level, and she agreed. So I got another 30-pack of batteries and got my $15 discount.  So I ended up paying just over $49.


While all of this was happening, another guy came up to the customer service register with some batteries and was waiting patiently for me to finish.  We began some general chit-chat he made some quip about how he’d never worked so hard at being retired.  When I asked him what he retired from, he proudly told me that he was the very first African American who ever served in the Roanoke County Sheriff’s Department. That absolutely made my day.  I felt honored to meet him.


When I made it home a little later, it was already almost 1:00 and my day of big plans was slipping away from me.  So I went out and picked my lettuce and came back in to load my new candles up with batteries.  Job completed, I put the candles in their widows and left to process the lettuce.


Darkness descended.  Life was still chill for me.  Then I saw my new candles…they were blinking.  I don’t like blinking lights.  Somehow, I’d chosen blinking candles.  Candles that sit in my windows and blink all night like a lighthouse beacon.  They won’t settle down.  They just blink a orange-ish fire.  Incessantly.  No discernible pattern.  BLINK-BLINK. BLINK. BLINK-BLINK-BLINK-BLINK. BLINK-BLINK…  I just wish the damn things would STOP BLINKING!




These jewels are just like flowers.
Some are taking root.  They are in the process of being fertilized and getting ready to sprout.
Others are growing and budding, preparing to flower.
There are also beautiful blooms inside, brimming with fragrance and lively vitality.
Others are in stages of decline, getting ready to retreat, recycle themselves,
and naturally cycle back to the beginning.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Battle at Bristol

Battle at Bristol
September 10, 2016

On September 10, 2016, Virginia Tech and Tennessee matched up in a football game in a modified stock car race track in Bristol, Virginia.  156,990 fans attended the game which was a new record for American football game attendance.  Such a number of fans at a NASCAR event is nothing new.  Charlotte, Talladega, Daytona, LeMans, Indianapolis, and Bristol have all hosted larger parties for auto racing.  International soccer (football) and horse racing have venues that hold anywhere from 150,000 to near 300,000.  Some estimate that over 300,000 have attended the Indianapolis 500 in the olden days, but since the venue allowed people to hang out in the infield, it’s hard to know for sure.  Back in the early 1927, an estimated 123,000 saw Notre Dame crush USC 7-6 at Chicago’s Soldier Field. However, only 99,000 or so paid.  The following year, an estimated 123,000 watched Notre Dame beat Army at the same venue.  Again however, only 105,000 or so paid.  In 2013, Notre Dame played Michigan at “The Big House” in front of 115,000 or so people officially making it the largest crowd to watch an American football game live until the Tennessee and Virginia Tech game in 2016.

The Trip
Getting to the remote coliseum was quite the challenge that required a year of preparation for my family and me.  My extended family and I pooled resources and bought blocks of tickets and charter bus passes. Tickets in hand, we loaded our Rally bus at Gateway Plaza in Christiansburg and embarked on a party roll to Bristol at 2:15 pm.
Traffic was light.  In fact, we cruised to the state line in about two hours.  Then we crawled inside our bus for another hour and a half as we inched toward the epicenter of the football world.

Orange Crush
Our Rally bus arrived and parked in the tour bus parking area only about ½ mile from the gate at about 6:30.  All around us were blaze orange Tennessee fans.  Thousands upon thousands of them. A little maroon sprinkled in.

We grabbed a sandwich and a water and began our trek to the gate.  Our late arrival meant that there wasn’t time for proper tailgating.  We followed the stream of sojourners, eventually crossing the red bridge security perimeter.  The crowd thickness intensified.  Our stature as individuals morphed into the collective like maroon pimples on an orange body.  At one point, we found ourselves in a crush of parking lot humanity as the crowd ahead was given a choice of splitting off, left or right, on a narrow path to ascend to the gates.  We wanted to go right.  This meant positioning our bodies in such a way that we could make a 180 degree turn onto the switchback. 

As we considered our position, turmoil broke out immediately behind us as some jungle beaters pushed forward from behind to try to clear a path for a small bus to move through the throng of humanity.  “Move out of the way!  Clear the way! Got to get this bus through”  Slowly, the sea parted, but only a little.  I ended up stalled with the bus, my ear to its side-view mirror, uncomfortably, for longer than time existed. Fumes. Sweat. Smokers. Germs. Drunks. Secret flatulent gassers. Bodies pressed against anonymous bodies. 

We moved slowly in unison, floating along some invisible treadmill. The point of decision came upon us suddenly.  I had managed to stay beside my sister, who was dealing with a painful knee and moving slowly, but I lost contact with my wife and son. I made the turn onto the narrow switchback and a helpful Volunteer assisted my sister up over the curb onto the proper track. We ascended at a more steady pace up and beyond the insanity. Within a few minutes we were at our gate and passed through efficiently without any fuss.


As I’ve recently grown older, I've begun to run further and further away from alcohol.  I’ve always known from the first time I got drunk at age 13, that alcohol was a dangerous genie for me.  I felt under her spell for most of my life, in the end becoming trapped in her cage.  While I wanted to escape from the bottle, I was firmly in the genie’s grip.  Only complete embarrassment saved me from destruction and allowed me to free myself from her chains.

I’m not writing this to preach. Rather, I just want to point out how sad I find it to see so many ensnared by her spell.  As we entered the Gate 2, a young man was just ahead of us who was having difficulty navigating in a forward direction.  He asked my son where he was and stumbled forward to the metal detector.  The attendants were patient with him.  They made him empty his pockets and told him that he would either have to take his back-pack back to his vehicle OR throw it away.  He chose to throw it away.  I’m guessing that his wallet and mobile phone were in there.  After he went through, the attendant had to chase him down to return his pocket contents.

Just prior to kick-off, a young man and his friend made their way down the stairs from the portal above us.  The man in front was fighting gravity to remain erect.  He was leaning heavily and sliding down the rail as he descended in a warped wobble.  At one point a few rows below me, he stopped and his body began listing dangerously downhill. He clutched the rail harder in a vain attempt to stem the massive downward force.  In slow motion he began launching himself down and into turn1.  Just in time, his buddy grabbed him by the collar and arrested his demise.  They both navigated the remaining steps and disappeared deep into their section.  My thoughts went to the poor souls who drew the $131.60 short straw of sitting next to them.

As I’ve grown up and escaped my own shackles,  I feel sorry for those who feel that getting sloshed at a football game is something for which to aspire.

The Last Great Coliseum

Bristol Motor Speedway is a massive structure tucked in a tidy valley just outside of Bristol, Tennessee.  There’s no obvious reason for its being in that place.  It’s rather an aberration; something unexpected in the landscape.  Like a castle, it sits atop a small knoll with a moat of cars and pavement surrounding it.  Across the street is Thunder Valley Drag Strip, which, true to its name, stretches through a small, narrow valley.

The speedway is surrounded by a massive metal stand structure, or rather, a collection of patchwork stands seemingly assembled like a child’s erector set creation. Inside, tiny human ants moved around the ½ mile oval and spectator ants milled about. I felt remarkably, comfortably small inside.

The field, situated in the track’s infield was green with lines on it.  From our seats low in Turn 1 (Pearson),  the field looked like some artistic perspective study.  Far from us, the lines all merged into a blob.  Closer to us, their separation was apparent.

Going into the game, we were aware of how our view would be compromised by distance and were counting on watching much of the game through the giant video screen named “Colossus”.


Without a doubt, Colossus is huge.  It’s a four-sided video cube suspended above the fifty yard-line. That being said, one can really only see one side at a time. So in essence, it was simply a really big television.

As a television, however, Colossus was a failure for me.  Considering the distance from the action for most fans, especially fans at the corners and apex of the turns, one might have thought that more consideration would have been given to the Colossus program production. Many of us needed Colossus to follow the game, but we were disappointed.  The production couldn’t settle on a consistent camera view.  Sometimes we’d have extreme close-ups of one player or another and miss the snap.  Other times the camera would be at extreme distance like an old high school football video.  Rarely, they would allow us a true television angle, set tight to the line of scrimmage showing the lines and all but the deepest backs on defense.  It would have been best to stay with this one consistent view instead of toggling between the three. In the end, I gave up on Colossus and did my best managing the game view for myself based on limited visual input,  crowd reactions, and the screaming  field announcer.

Sound Wave

WHAT?  Without a doubt, BMS was the loudest place I’ve ever been.  Apparently, the BMS game producers felt the need to entertain us with blaring mindless fan entertainment during stoppages.  The volume levels, however, were set to an extreme sound level which must have been designed to pierce the cacophony of speedway cars.  The bones inside of my ears still hurt.  My wife had to escape to the concourse to get out of the direct line of sound.


I loved the National Anthem tribute. I was holding a blue card under a star to the right of the "A" in USA. The rendition of the anthem was not over-done, and I especially enjoyed singing with the crowd. The only quibble I had was that I wasn't able to place my hand over my heart because I was holding a sign. My son, the Marine, was with us and pointed out that he will not render a salute when he's not in uniform, despite the popularity of the practice at stadium venues.

In contrast to the opening, the halftime show was patriotic pandering at its worst, in my opinion. The VT MV's performed a solid, shortened show which was followed by a most over-produced "love- the-military" piece that bizarrely and tragically morphed into a Food City commercial. They were reaching for tears and true to form, I saw the lady Volunteer in front of me wiping tears after seeing the young uniformed soldier greet his wrinkled, uniformed soldier grandfather in front of the long front walk of their rustic country farm-mansion after a long deployment protecting our freedom. I just rolled my eyes. Romanticizing war. Shrouding the sacrifice in the flag of blind patriotic nationalism. The tear-jerking scene faded to the president of Food City who, inexplicably, began talking about Food City's support for our troops and low prices, which brought us to trotting out Lee Greenwood for, perhaps, the worst rendition of his hit song, “Proud to be an American”.  Lee was the victim of a horrific sound situation. He was amplified to NASCAR race levels while the accompanying “Pride of The Southland Band”, which had previously been amplified in their first few numbers on the field, was turned off. Thus, Greenwood was all alone, seemingly, singing what to me has become a trite, empty, commercialized song; one that sticks in my craw for featuring the word "ain't" so prominently. I simply can't stand that song. Hearing it so poorly done was even more cringe-worthy. Give me "God Bless America" or "America the Beautiful" any day.

The Game

For the first fifteen minutes of the game, we were treated to a Virginia Tech team of our dreams. The good guys were flying around the field doing laps around hapless Volunteers. 

Then there was the rest of the game. 

I am a compassionate person by nature, and I believe in charity;  helping others whenever possible.  But the VT team to that concept to the extreme Saturday night.  Our extreme charity bolstered and then handed Tennessee a victory.  I have no crystal ball and don’t know how the game might have turned out if we were more protective of what was ours, but I sure would have liked to have watched that game instead of the three generous quarters in which we were treated.

“Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight.” ~Marcus Aurelius

Odds and Ends

I always love observing people at events like this.  My absolute favorite was a bit understated.  I was minding my own business and just staring out at the expanse of humanity before kick-off when a young man dressed as Waldo  (Where’s Waldo?) walked up the stairs beside me.  It caught me off guard and I just couldn’t help but snicker.  He never came back. I wonder where he went. 


I’m generally not around smoking much these days.  I’m not sure if that’s because I simply don’t associate with people who smoke or if fewer people are actually taking up the filthy habit. Regardless, I’ve never seen more people smoking in one place at one time.  I couldn’t escape the stench.  It wafted into the coliseum from the concourse and encased me.  When I went to seek a bathroom, it followed me.  When I went to get a breath or air or to escape the screaming PA system, it was my companion.  It was like I was a chain-smoker.  I used to smoke back when I was in college, but I’m so glad I escaped its chains.

Blue Lizards

The production team’s mindless time-out mini productions were hard to watch.  In addition to their piercing volume, they were accompanied by piercing stupidity.  The weirdest and most stupid was the “Blue Lizard Sunscreen Dance”.  A cluster of people were gathered together to dance to some music with a giant, Barney-like blue lizard and one lucky participant would win…a bottle of sunscreen.

Tennessee Fans

As is usual for all fan-bases, I encountered jerks.  But by far most of the people I encountered were well-mannered and simply happy to be there.  There were so many Tennessee fans all around.  I was miffed that so many had gotten tickets in the Hokie sections.  As a group though,  Tennessee fans weren’t especially loud.  Despite out-numbering Hokies at least 60-40, they didn’t seem  to get overly engaged in their team’s success.  It’s more like they were expecting to be entertained by their team.  VT fans, however, have the ingrained notion that we personally affect the game.


I love Frank Beamer.  During one of the first time-outs, they brought Frank onto the field and allowed for us to recognize him and show our love. It was the most pure emotional moment of the game for me.  By the way, Frank looks great.  He looks rested and golf-tanned.  I’m very happy for him.

The Return

We were better at navigating our way to our bus thanks to our pregame experience and made the trek quickly.  Our driver was bold and experienced.  He knew the deal and positioned our coach for the first possible escape.  We ended up in the wake of the team bus cavalcade which was flanked by a state trooper escort.

Soon we were sliding down the road without interruption; our driver dodging drunks on the road with aplomb.

My bus-mates settled down for the journey.  My brother, sitting directly behind me, talked in a low tone the whole way while most quietly dozed.  Random thoughts filled his head and he spoke out, “Are you going to get a cat?”

“Are you talking to me?” my niece responded.

“I’m just talking to anyone who wants to listen.”

The young bearded teen in front of me spent the trip coming down from his drunken close encounter with a cop in the concourse when he tried to steal the Bud-Light table near the end of the game. 

Cop: “Are you stealing that table?”

Bearded Teen:  “No sir, I was just putting it back.”

Then he ran.

The guy diagonally across from me spent his return trip checking TSL, crinkling beer cans, and honking his nose.

Everyone was coming down. Coming back to the status quo of life.  Coming back from a most glorious and somewhat unsatisfying or maybe somewhat glorious and most satisfying experience.  Within five minutes of our arrival in Christiansburg at 4:30 am, the cars and buses had returned the strip mall to the lonely night.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016



She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-On-Facebook (SWSNBNOF) told me an interesting tale of RAGE today.

About two years ago, she was returning home from school along Starkey Road in Roanoke after an ordinary day teaching the children at her school everything there is to know. She came to the intersection of Starkey and Rt.419 and waited for a break in traffic in order to make a right turn on the red to get onto the highway heading toward Tanglewood Mall. 

Traffic is always a little tricky at this intersection, especially with cars streaming down Starkey from across the highway on their green left turn arrow.  SWSNBNOF was willing to be patient, however.  She’d seen too many close calls there.

Coming down the hill by K-92FM was a silver Mercedes, but it was well beyond the danger zone.  So she pulled out onto Rt. 419.  The next thing she knew, the Mercedes was on her tail and the driver was blaring his horn and shaking his fist at her.

The only thing SWSNBNOF could figure was that the gentleman was speeding down the hill and bum-rushed the light.  She was sure that she had executed a normally safe entry to the highway.

The Mercedes pulled alongside her car and the tiny, bespeckled, geriatric driver looked over as he covered her with all sorts of curses and fist shakes.  As he sped off to get stopped at the first of several lights around Tanglewood, SWSNBNOF caught his license plate number: Virginia plates.  B68.  He was still furiously shaking his fist and cursing when the next light turned green and he sped off to the next light.  Then he was gone.

That was two years ago.

Today, SWSNBNOF was coming home after an ordinary day teaching the children at her school everything there is to know when she approached the very same intersection as two years ago where she first met B68.

As she waited for her opportunity to make the right onto Rt.419, she heard a commotion at the Country Store light behind her.  Someone was repeatedly blaring their horn and some driver back there.  The honking broke through the Terry Gross interview on NPR, but she was more concerned about finding the safe gap to enter the road.

The cars from across the highway got their left turn arrow and they began to roll out and onto Rt 419 in front of her.  She was immersed in her hunt for a safe gap when, suddenly, the driver behind her began laying onto his horn.  B-E-E-P  B-E-E-P; B-E-E-P  B-E-E-P;  
B-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-P  B-E-E-P; B-E-E-P  B-E-E-P!

It was none other than B68!  The diminutive, wispy-haired bulbous-nosed old maniac pressed forward against the safety harness of his silver Mercedes; his face purple with rage; his shaking fist practically breaking his windshield as he spewed cursed words louder than Terry Gross on the radio.

In a queer twist of plot, he apparently thought that SWSNBNOF should have pulled out in front of one of the cars turning left onto the highway-the exact same situation in reverse as two years before when he was in a speeding car turning left.

SWSNBNOF said that she began laughing at him once she realized who was behind her, which seemed to fuel his rage even more.   After she made her entry onto Rt. 419, B68 blitzed onto the road and sped past her raging and shaking his tiny fist.  Heading at an unbridled pace…to the next stoplight.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Gravity Effect

During my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to study under Sir Robert Brill in his Advanced Grammar and Composition class.  Sir Robert was Northside’s version of Prof. Charles Kingsfield Jr. (John Houseman), that hard-nosed law professor from TV’s The Paper Chase.

Brill’s class was split between learning the nuances of transformational grammar the first semester and seeking the perfect paragraph in the second.  For Brill, the perfect paragraph was exactly forty-nine words in length.  Should a student use any fewer words, he would be subjected to the wrath of the red pen and the letter “F”.  Should he over-shoot the magical mark, he would be bludgeoned with “Wordy, Wordy, WORDY!!!”  (65 words…WORDY WORDY WORDY!)

One of Sir Robert’s assignments  that second semester was for us to map a room in our house using only words.  After reading our forty-nine word composition, he had to be able to understand exactly where each piece of furniture or room feature was in relation to the other pieces.  Failure on any point meant a failure on the overall task.  Needless to say, many “A” students sweated each carefully chosen word in their compositions.  Brill’s pen was demanding and nondiscriminatory. 

I mention Sir Robert as I reflect on my journey to Brosville, Virginia and the “Gravity Road”.  Supposedly, a stopped car at the intersection of Berry Hill and Oak Hill Roads will seemingly roll uphill when parked unbraked in neutral at the junction.

Beth Wellford of the website  shared the supposed phenomenon on February 21.  Wellford’s  description, however, would not have satisfied Sir Robert Brill.   After reading it, I had no clear idea of exactly where I was supposed to stop prior to observing the anti-gravity effect.  Should I stop on Rt 311 (Berry Hill Rd) prior to turning right onto Oak Hill or should I stop at the Oak Hill stop sign before turning left onto Berry Hill Rd?  Unsure, I decided to approach the intersection from the one-lane Oak Hill road.  I figured that it wouldn’t be especially safe to stop in the middle of a major two-lane artery.

I approached the stop sign carefully, fully stopped, and popped my truck into neutral.  Within a second, my truck began rolling slowly backwards away from Berry Hill Rd.  I approached the sign again and observed EXACTLY THE SAME RESULTS.

I asked myself if my results were unexpected or unusual. To which I answered, “No.”  My truck approached the stop sign along a straightaway, progressing along a gradual incline.  Predictably, the truck began rolling backwards after the stop.  Unfortunately, I have no scientific instrument to prove the gentle backward declination, but the movement of the truck in reverse met my optical prediction.

So I sped away from the intersection debating four possible conclusions.  There is no “Gravity Hill Effect”.  The “Gravity Hill Effect” should have been measured while turning onto Oak Hill Road from Berry Hill Road, in opposition to what I did.  Wellford needs to take an advanced composition course. The good people of Berry Hill and Brosville enjoy snickering at people with cameras in trucks rolling backwards at the Oak Hill Rd. stop sign.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

A Little 'ol Thing Called Charter Schoolz

By Bob Stuart of The Charlottesville Daily Progress
With Embedded Commentary by Thomas Ryder of Facebook

The Virginia General Assembly is debating and about to vote on SJ1 and HJ1, bills to give the state board of education the authority to establish locally funded charter schools anywhere in Virginia.  If the measures pass the assembly, they will be put forth to the citizens in the form of ballot questions in the general election this fall.

Sen. Mark Obenshain has heard the arguments against a constitutional amendment to expand the approval authority of public charter schools to the state Board of Education.

I do not personally know Senator Obenshain, but I do know that I frequently find myself disagreeing with his views on public school education in our state. I believe that there is a distinct difference between hearing something and understanding it. 

Now under Virginia law, only local school boards can approve charter schools and there are only nine operating in the commonwealth.

As it should be.  Localities in Virginia control their own school boards in compliance with basic standards of quality set by the state. 

Virginia’s public education system ranks well above the national average, bested only by a few union states in the north and well ahead of all of our neighboring states to the south and west on EdWeek’s composite.

The real question should be, is Virginia funding its public schools exceptionally, adequately, or frugally? Take a look at and understand the data to make your own determination.  Hint: EdWeek gives Virginia a D+ grade in funding K-12 education.

"This is an opportunity for parents and kids in failing school divisions to offer a public school alternative that has worked in Republican and Democratic states,'' said Obenshain, the Senate sponsor of the charter school legislation.

The TRUTH isn’t as simple as Senator Obenshain decrees.  While it is true that SOME charter schools in other states have proven successful, the latest research into charter school effectiveness is dubious, at best.  According to CREDO based at Stanford University,

“Across the charter schools in the 26 states studied, 25 percent have significantly stronger learning gains in reading than their traditional school counterparts, while 56 percent showed no significant difference and 19 percent of charter schools have significantly weaker learning gains. In mathematics, 29 percent of charter schools showed student learning gains that were significantly stronger than their traditional public school peers’, while 40 percent were not significantly different and 31 percent were significantly weaker.”

And while charter schools would offer a more flexible format for educating Virginia students, there also would be funding issues. Funding would have to come from the locality and perhaps the state and federal government. Currently in Virginia, charter schools are funded locally, said Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave.

There’s the kernel of truth hidden in the weeds.  The funding for these schools would fall upon the localities, despite the affected localities having NO say in whether or not to fund these schools. That’s what makes this constitutional amendment such a dangerous proposition.

Obenshain thinks offering charter schools across Virginia can provide a more level playing field for students who are in failing school districts. The Republican senator from Harrisonburg said education in the commonwealth "should not be by zip code."

He’s exactly correct, but again, he’s having a difficult time making the cognitive leap from hearing to understanding.  Education quality shouldn’t be negatively impacted simply by where one chooses to live in the state.  But that problem is best addressed by reforming the out-dated and unfair SOQ funding formulas.

Resolutions for the amendment still require final approval this General Assembly session in both the Virginia House and Senate, and both chambers would need to authorize a referendum for the amendment on the November ballot. Ultimately, Virginia voters would need to approve the amendment expanding the creation of charter schools to include the state Board of Education.

Charter schools if run right, could provide innovation in curriculum and teaching without "the constraints of the Standards of Learning and No Child Left Behind,'' Obenshain said.

Here’s what RUBS ME THE WRONG WAY.  If Senator Obenshain feels so strongly about the SOL’s and NCLB, then why doesn’t he advocate vacating those programs?  If they are as limiting as he seems to believe, why does he insist that those children not fortunate enough to attend one of his state charter schools be condemned to schools chained by these ineffective bureaucratic constraints?

Landes, the chairman of the House Education Committee, said it is possible a regional charter school could be set up to include multiple jurisdictions. "This is an added option for those who feel the system is not working for their child,'' he said.

It sounds so innocuous…simply another option. You know like if you’re going to choose where to eat out.  You could go to Olive Garden, Appleby’s, or Outback Steakhouse.  But wait, you could have other choices as well. What if you could add Steak ‘n Shake to your choices?  Simple, right?  More CHOICES means more places you can eat!  But in the serious matter of education in this state of finite resources, more choices means more dilution of those finite resources.

The amendment's opponents, which include the Virginia School Boards Association, a number of Virginia school districts and the Virginia Education Association, say no amendment is necessary. They say Virginia's current charter school law invests the authority in local school boards, the most knowledgeable local elected officials about what is right for students.


Meg Gruber, the president of the Virginia Education Association, said local school boards are the best judge of whether a charter school is needed.

"We want our students in Virginia to learn,'' she said. "But it's another thing to understand the nuances of what goes on in a local community to meet those goals."
Gruber said she is not hearing "a clamoring'' from VEA members across the commonwealth for charter schools. "We have a top notch school system across the state. There is always room for improvement,'' said Gruber, who said Virginia ranks 41st nationally in its support of public K-12 education.

More Truth. Meg’s right.

School boards in Augusta County, Staunton and Waynesboro have passed resolutions in opposition to the charter schools constitutional amendment.

Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Jeff Cassell said the Virginia Constitution is clear in vesting the authority for charter schools to local school boards. "There is no reason to deviate from local control. If a locality has an interest, there is a process for that (a charter school) to occur,'' Cassell said.

Cassell said the fact that so few charter schools exist in Virginia "shows there is not a great demand."
Staunton Schools Superintendent Linda Reviea said research "does not bear that charter schools are the silver bullet."

See the CREDO study.

Augusta County Schools Superintendent Eric Bond said the outcomes are mixed regarding charter schools. "We outperform them in some areas,'' said Bond of traditional public schools. The Augusta County schools administrator said the school district would certainly listen to any proposal for a charter school before making a decision. "We would follow the proper protocol and procedure,'' he said.

I would go further in stating that in MOST cases, charter schools perform the same or WORSE than traditional public schools.

During Thursday night's Augusta County School Board meeting, members said they want to keep the current protocol for charter schools. North River District School Board member Nick Collins said "as long as it's been within our authoirty [sic], that's been good."

Reviea believes it is important for school districts to work with families and be flexible in meeting student needs. And she said there is much more flexibility in 2016 in Virginia schools working with students who have special circumstances.

But for proponents of expanded access, Virginia is lagging in providing charter schools.

Nina Rees, the president/CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), said Virginia has not reaped the benefits of its charter school law, which is 20 years old. She said the commonwealth only has nine charter schools, and says the odds of creating new ones through local school boards are not good.

Rees said charter schools can succeed with the choice of a "no excuses'' leader, who believes children of all backgrounds can learn.

Readers beware of wolves in sheep clothing.  Rees organization is at the heart of a moneyed movement all across the United States in partnership with a shady organization called, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  Essentially, ALEC is a collection of businessmen, lawyers, and legislators.  They meet in secret and develop model legislation in which they push out to legislative members in the 50 states.  NAPCS works in cooperation with ALEC in promoting ALEC’s privatizing agenda. ALEC’s members, arguably, view public schools as profit centers and cash cows.  Recent charter stories from Ohio, Florida, Louisana, and Wisconsin bear this out.

"Give the leader the authority to hire the best teachers,'' said Rees, who said that leader could also expand the school day and year, offer a creative curriculum and commit to results. And if the school did not succeed, the governing board could shut the charter school down.

The reality of what’s actually happening where these schemes are playing out is that a for-profit entity petitions a state board for a charter in a locality, absorbs state financial support, and cashes out after the results don’t live up to expectations or corruption is uncovered. The children, the employees, and the community are effectively robbed.

Obenshain and Landes say many details would have to be worked out if the amendment passes the legislature and the November referendum.

Why should we get bogged down by silly things like details?

Federal funding would have to be explored. Obenshain said the Obama Administration's "Race To The Top" program provides funding for charter schools Virginia is not now eligible for He said the funding could be accessed with a greater charter school program.

I love his sentiment.  Obenshain laments the fact that Virginia does not qualify for federal funding to help these unfortunate students, and all we have to do to tap this free federal financial funding resource is to make charter schools more accessible. 

I wonder how he feels about tapping the free federal financial funding source to expand Medicaid in Virginia.  Well, I found these comments attributed to him.

 “I want to expand health-care access, but not through Medicaid expansion. Expansion requires additional state spending that accelerates over time. Medicaid spending is already crowding out other priorities like education and transportation. Since 2005, Virginia’s spending on Medicaid increased by 79 percent, growing 50 percent faster than total general fund spending. Instead of a proportionate decrease in uncovered Virginians the problem has just gotten worse. Whenever government programs fail to eradicate their targeted problems, liberals say if only we’d spend more it would get the job done. It never does. States that have expanded have found it more expensive than advertised.

“Medicaid should focus on better serving needy and vulnerable enrollees, not able-bodied working adults this proposed expansion targets. We need free market solutions to provide affordable insurance coverage and that encourage patients to be “smart shoppers” with incentives to spend their health-care dollars wisely. We need expanded access to innovative models like health savings accounts. Health insurance purchased by individuals should be tax deductible, just like coverage purchased through employers. We need incentives for wellness and to remove restrictions on interstate insurance competition, allowing a state’s residents to buy insurance from a provider regulated by another state.”

So my concern here if you take his Medicaid reasoning is that he does not view public schools as a wise way to spend education dollars.  He believes in a free-market approach to public school education. I wonder how that would jibe with article VIII, section 1 of the state constitution.

 Article VIII, Section 1. Public schools of high quality to be maintained
The General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth, and shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.

And both legislators say it would be vital for local school boards to stay involved. "If we can identify high quality charter school applicants, local boards will want to make the decision,'' Obenshain said.

How does that work?  What does that mean?  The whole point of the amendment is to usurp the power of local school boards.

Obenshain has made passage of the charter school constitutional amendment his top priority during the current General Assembly. He believes the change could be one of monumental importance for Virginia children.

I agree 100%, but I suspect not in the same way he does.

"This has the most capacity to affect more lives than anything I'll ever work on in the legislature,'' he said. "I believe it with all my heart."

Without a doubt, this constitutional amendment will affect more lives in a negative way than any other legislative action since Massive Resistance in 1956.