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Dan Smith is an award-winning journalist in Roanoke, Va., and a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame. He is an author, photographer, essayist, father and grandfather. Co-founder of Valley Business FRONT magazine and founder of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference.

The Bad Health Habits of Donald Trump

Small hands, tiny pee-pee.

As I’ve said several times before, Donald Trump appears to be living on a small amount of borrowed time–and it’s not because two thirds of America would like to see him floating off to the afterlife.

It’s because his personal habits are about as unhealthy as a 70-year-old, overweight, non-exercising man can get away with, even for a short time. Many people are expecting him to be fired, impeached or simply thrown into jail (I wanna see the perp walk), but I don’t think he’ll live long enough for any of that to happen. He may explode.

Here is a detailed look at just how unhealthy this awful man is.

Outside experts have talked about his breathlessness with the slightest exertion, his coloring, his excess weight (hidden to a degree by his tailors), his flaccid skin, his god-awful fast food diet, his love of high-cal/high sugar snacks and treats, his tendency to become enraged several times a day, his almost total lack of sleep.

There’s a heart attack or a stroke waiting for  the right moment in that abused body.

His lack of sleep is serious. “The National Sleep Foundation points to a study involving 3,000 adults over age 45, which found those who ‘slept fewer than six hours per night were about twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack as people who slept six to eight hours per night,'” reports the story. His lack of care is even more of a concern. But, hey, if it’s what he wants, I’m all for it.

(Photo: theodysseyonline.com)

Flip-Flop, Flop-Flip

My friend Susan keeps a camera with her for photos like this. She took it Sunday in a walk along the Roanoke River. Susan tends to pay attention to what is around her and sees details, then plays with the overall effect, using her little Sony camera to full effect. I like this one a lot. Tells a story with much detail.

A Railroad Book Worth Your Time and Money

Over this past weekend, I had the distinctly delightful opportunity to spend time with Charlotte and Aubrey Wiley in Lynchburg, gathering data for a magazine piece I was working on.

Charlotte is an artist with a delightfully whimsical bent and Aubrey is a well known, much celebrated retired photo journalist, teacher and active author (nine books and counting). In the course of our conversation, Aubrey asked if I would mind reviewing his self-published book Virginian Railway: Memories (A Comprehensive Handbook & Pictoral with Stories). I don’t normally review self-pubs because, frankly, most of them are a few bricks short of a load.

Charlotte and Aubrey in their back yard museum.

Aubrey’s two-year-old , 8.5X11-inch, glossy-page hardback is anything but that. This is an impressive history of a significant railway–one that covered  most of our area in Roanoke and Lynchburg, among other places. The old Virginian station in Roanoke, under the Franklin Road Bridge, has been a major restoration project and some of its trains are a mainstay at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke.

The book is an unusual collection of stories by train lovers and experts, Aubrey’s educated take (he’s been photographing, writing about and collecting railroad memorabilia for most of his life), all with a laser focus in 233 big, bright, black and white and color pages.

Aubrey loves detail, some of which would make the eyes of a guy like me glaze over, but which is invaluable to those who love and study  trains. This book for example, has page after page listing what trains carried; there are schematic designs of coal cars and train stations; close looks at the various engines used.

It is a wholly fascinating book available at the Railyard Hobby Shop in Roanoke or on amazon.com for $35 (I found one collectable copy for $772, so you might want to hurry and buy this one). Here‘s the Amazon connection.

An Odd Sighting on the Roanoke River

Unpacking the raft and a few kayaks (which fared better).

I’ve seen a lot of traffic on the Roanoke River in recent days–most of it walking beside a boat–but this is the first time I have ever seen a river raft on this shallow more-creek-than-river.

One of the leaders of the expedition told me it was a training exercise (he didn’t mention for whom) and admitted that they spent as much time walking as paddling. “If it were a foot deeper …,” he said, his voice trailing. I didn’t say, “If a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bust his ass every time he hopped.” But I wanted to.

Liberal vs. Liberal: A “Community Garden” Faceoff

Nicole Adkins (right) and Lauren Ellis acting out.

I keep waiting for the time to come when Hollins University’s Playwright Lab ceases to drop my jaw. Hasn’t happened yet and judging from last night’s presentation of writer Ben Jolivet’s “Community Garden,” it ain’t happenin’ soon.

“Community Garden” is one of 10 plays in the works that Hollins is presenting this weekend at its 2017 Playwrights Festival at Mill Mountain Theatre’s Trinkle Stage. The last four plays are today at 11 a.m., 2, 4 and 6 p.m.

A good friend of mine calls Jolivet a “genius” and I’m inclined to snuggle up to that suggestion. His “Cold” last year (which has gone on to considerable success nationally) was the first time I was aware of his writing and it knocked me over. “Community Garden,” an examination of warring liberals and their tendency to eat each other’s children in light of the 2016 election, is a brave topic that Ben tackles, leading with his head.

In a room full of liberals–as theater people tend to be–he is simply without mercy, thought the play is often funny (responding to Bernie Sanders being compared to Jesus, the lead character says, “The only thing they have in common is that they’re both 2,000-year-old Jews”).

A group of conservatives, one audience member predicted, would cheer this play. Ben spares no truth in this examination, including that of “white privilege,” which gets a thorough airing. The tone is accusatory, but so strongly fact-based that it is undeniable. He presents the usual give and take on Hillary Clinton’s competence, lies, ties with Wall Street, love of kids and on and on. He shows the pro and anti factions butting heads until blood spurts.

It is a good play that eventually–I suspect–will be a great play. It is slow and slightly puzzling for the first third of what began as a one-person production. Ben added a character, a playwright, to interview the do-gooder liberal woman (who began as a man) in an attempt to bring her story to the stage. Both those moves are inspired and when the kinks are worked out, Ben’s writing will be the star, as it should be.

In this iteration, Hollins picked the accomplished Maura Campbell (who, like Ben, is a Hollins MFA grad) to direct, Nicole Blair Adkins to play the protagonist and Lauren Brooke Ellis to play the playwright. It works beautifully. Adkins is a fine young actress who, in essence, plays about six different parts, seguing from one to another–sometimes changing genders–almost effortlessly. Ellis is the often clueless foil, who is quite effective. This production was script-in-hand because of limited time to rehearse, and Adkins employed her script and the metal stand she used to hold it as important props. It was a nice subtlety, a resourceful piece of theater.

I’m sorry you won’t get a chance to see “Community Garden” until it comes again because there is at least one very bright conservative friend of mine and one dogged Hillary Clinton supporter that I respect that I would love to sit between during a presentation of “Community Garden.”  I think both would see a lot of truth–something in short supply these days–in this piece of fiction.

Maddie and Margie Go Shopping

Maddie checks the goods at the candy store on City Market.


It’s too hot to do anything–including swimming–save for shopping in a cool, dry place, and so that’s what Madeline and Margie are doing at this moment, as I write.

A short lunch break at the Market Building. “Put that damn phone up, Maddie!”

They know an old man who is having a birthday in about 10 days and my guess is that they’re covertly buying him something he neither needs, nor wants all in the name of “the thought that counts.”

Here are a few shots of the gals as i dropped them off after having lunch in downtown Roanoke.

Pamps sneaks into the Maddie picture.


No Climate Change … No Climate Change … No Cli …

For those of you believing the bullshit the Trump  Administration is spewing forth about climate change being a myth, here’s some evidence it isn’t. Temps in the 90s and low 100s have become standard in Roanoke mid-summer and I read yesterday that we can expect this to be the norm in the future.

I grew up in the middle of South Carolina on the Georgia border and people used to drive to the mountains in July and August to get cool. I suspect they can’t do that any more.

The thermometer pictured here is in my kitchen window and it has recorded a high of 102 degrees today, a low of 72 and 82 just inside the kitchen window. I don’t like those temperatures. Well, I like the 72, but that was at 4 o’clock this morning.

A Way Out for the Pigg

For years my favorite church name was the Pigg River Primitive Baptist Church, an historic church in Franklin County. This one goes back to the 18th Century and Pigg River Road was basically an interstate highway for dudes like Thomas Jefferson.

Today, I found my new favorite: The Temple of the Way Out Church in North Roanoke. Love the name, Way Out Church. I read that a smidge differently than the parishioners might, I suspect, but it’s still cool. “Way Out” as in “Far Out.”

They seem to have a grand time at the Temple of the Way Out Church.

An Idea for Your Excess Tomatoes

These came out of the oven minutes ago. They’ll cool and be ready for a freezer bag.

If you’re wondering what in the world you’re going to do with all those tomatoes growing in your backyard garden, I have a suggestion: roast and freeze them.

Slice them in a way you prefer, cover them with a good olive oil and a nice spread of garlic (fresh, powder or bottled) and sprinkle on fresh basil, sea salt and pepper. Roast them for about 40 minutes at 350 degrees (depending on just how roasted you want them). Let  them cool; put them in a freezer bag and stash them at the back of the freezer for one of those cold winter evenings when a wonderful marinara sauce is required.