About admin

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.

Dog Poo for Fun and Profit

Mike Sinnott with his cleanup truck.

A few days ago, I spotted a sign on a truck that read “DogScapes.” Upon closer examination, I deduced that the business was one specializing in cleaning up dog poop. And I was right.

About 20 years Mike Sinnott saw a guy cleaning dog poop from his neighbors’ yards—professionally–and thought, “This guy is an idiot. In a Will Ferrell way.” Until recently, he had not thought about that man or his profession.

Mike Sinnott cleans a yard of dog poo.

But a day came when he needed a way to supplement his day job in law enforcement (he doesn’t want to be more specific than that) and picking up dog do-do didn’t seem quite so idiotic. In fact, it made sense: low overhead (bucket, rake, a few chemicals), light workload, outside job with dogs—which he likes. Not much of a downside.

So, he went looking and found out that DogScapes is a franchise that does just what he has in mind. That was less than a year ago and he’s slowly getting established in Roanoke.

He cleans individual yards and those for apartment complexes, charging a base $48 a month (four visits) for one dog and $9 for each additional dog. No cats yet. “Bigger dogs are easier,” he says, “because their waste is easier to find.” He searches the yard in a grid, but finding the poo is sometimes like “finding shell casings at a shooting range.”

It’s a job he can perform year-round and not interfere with his profession and it’s one the 50-year-old Kansas native likes.

You can reach him at 540-797-5792.

Bibs and Manhood and Grandgirls

My son and his favorite daughter, Madeline, ate crab legs today and Evan wore a bib. Maddie was mortified.

My grandgirl Madeline has a lot to learn about eating and boys. She went to a crab shack in Memphis with her family today and her dad (and little brother) wore bibs to eat–which makes a lot of sense. She did not.

Dad’s and Oz’s shirts went unstained.

When I talk to her again, I need to mention that her favorite Pampa uses a bib for every meal he eats at home. It saves shirts. Men, Maddie, are messy. Deal with it.

Looking for Something To Wear? Try My Niece’s New Line

Paula Smith

On my trip to Asheville this past weekend, I discovered to my utter delight that my young (27) niece–Paula Smith–who has one of those “what the hell you gonna do with that?” degrees (fashion design/merchandising) has come up with a business.

Paula’s Pink Pineapple takes her natural inclination toward color, her youth, her enthusiasm for fashion, her education, her expertise with all the sewing gear you can imagine and her creativity to produce her own line. Her dad, who is not given to excessive praise, says succinctly, “She’s good at what she does.”

Paula’s  is a striking line, one where simplicity, durability and color reign. The look is urbane and upbeat, appropriate for any setting.

Paula has been selling clothes online through Etsy for about a year, but she has made her own clothes since high school.

Her customers are people who favor Lilly Pulitzer’s youthful look and they range in age from newborn to women in their 60s (my Margie loves them). Paula buys the creative and colorful fabric, of course, and creates her own designs. “You are never too young or too old to wear bright, printed clothing,” says Paula.

Her prices are competitive: skirts starting at $45, shorts $65, dresses $90. The price depends on the print, some of which can be difficult to find. Every garment is custom made, using the customer’s measurements. She turns orders around in two to three weeks during season (warm weather). If you’re in a hurry and want to pay for speed, she turns a skirt around in 45 minutes.

Coming soon is expected to be a line of scrubs for nurses. I’ll have more on that later when she gets a few made, so you can see what they look like.

You can take a look at Paula’s offerings at her Etsy site here. She can be reached on Facebook here.

In the photos on this blog post, she’s serving as her own model.

Frankly, I’m impressed by the whole deal. I love it when college grads ditch the idea of working for somebody else and go out on their own with their skills.

Paula takes after her dad, Paul (my brother), in that respect. He’s been in business for himself since he was a teenager.

 

 

 

 

 

Good Friends, Good Breakfast

From left: Melissa, Pete, Margie and me at the Market Place in Asheville.

My brother, who has lived most of his life in Asheville and has seen the influx of people who live differently than he prefers warned me about breakfast downtown. “You can’t get a biscuit without something weird in it,” he said.

And I fear he is right. The biscuits at The Market Place, one of Asheville’s best restaurants downtown, have  jalapenos in them. The rest of the breakfast menu is radical-liberal, too, not in keeping with people who voted Trump (as my brother did).

So it is with some degree of hesitation that I announce that Margie and I–along with a couple of my best liberal friends, Melissa Boothe and Pete Krull–ate our little tree-hugging hearts out Sunday morning. The service was painfully slow–or would have been if we’d been in a hurry–but the food was lovely. The long delay played right into our intention of spending some time with a couple of fun, interesting, accomplished and wonderful people. I was happy about that.

But the jalapenos? Nah. Not for me. I prefer my biscuits plain.

Fashion Elegance That Matches the House

The colors, the details, the fabric, the incredible style and the heft of these garments is impressive.

This was my favorite dress.

And this, my favorite suit.

I have had a deep interest in late 19th and early 20th century style for years and recently movies and television have given rise to recreations that are riveting. The elegant Biltmore Estate in Asheville has–at this moment and through July–a display of some of the outfits from a number of recent productions set in the elegance of one of the nation’s biggest and most expensive homes.

It’s all in the details.

Even though extravagantly wealthy George Vanderbilt called this huge home a “summer cottage,” it is hardly that. The fashions on display rival the craftsmanship and creativity that went into the construction of the home at the turn of the 20th century.

Here is a little bit of what kept me (and Margie) fascinated for about two hours Saturday.

Elegance begets elegance.

This is dressing up.

Want some flash? Here’s some flash.

All feather, little hat.

Do you want a revolution?

This train’s on time.

Simple, elegant jewels.

Can you tie this tie?

Imagine wearing this–or any of the women’s fashions–in the summer.

Hand crafted. Every. Single. Stitch.

Color and style of a long ago age.

Finally, a Trip to the Biltmore Estate

This place is imposing, even at a distance. Maybe especially at a distance.

This skylight illuminates a garden in the atrium.

I was born in Asheville, N.C., went to college (briefly) there, began my career there and still have family in the mountain city. Asheville is a tourist mecca, built around the Biltmore House, which George Vanderbilt called his “summer cottage.” When you have his kind of money, nothing looks grand, I’m afraid.

Until Saturday, I had never been in the house. I had been on the grounds (climbing over the wall as a teenager) and to parties there held by Biltmore workers I knew. Saturday, Margie and I took the tour–primarily because there was a showcase of late 19th century fashion being held inside. I love the fashion of this period and wouldn’t have missed it. I was rewarded richly (as the previous post will tell you).

Want some gothic? Here you go.

This post, however, will give you a look at extravagance in architecture and construction beyond your imagination. I was deeply impressed at the construction and the artistry that makes up this mammoth house (which 360 rooms, 100 of them bedrooms; a bowling alley, swimming pool, wondrous kitchen in the basement, and furnishings from the best craftsmen in Europe). It is truly grand and with the fashion expo, there was a special personal feel to it over the weekend.

Here’s a look at the house.

This grand stairway goes from the second to the third floor.

The slanted windows follow the stairwell.

Copper dormers.

The windows encourage a constant breeze inside.

The craftsmanship is magnificent.

There are lots of frescoes with naked ancient men.

This noisy little guy found a gargoyle home.

Skylight at the main entrance illuminates a garden.

Yes, they’re pretty, but are they comfy?

George Vanderbilt was a reader: first editions, leather bound and, of course, worth a fortune.

Little cherub boys with pee-pees.

Second-floor view through the screen.

Pottie with pull string.

Tubbie time at the manse (and it’s DEEP).

Bowling alley in the basement.

The pool is deep, well-lit and empty.

My dream kitchen. Copper everywhere.

Iron stove, proper cookware.

Tourists on the roof.

Even the orchids are extra special here.

We had homemade ice cream (strawberry for me, mint-choco for Margie) in the courtyard.

View from the second floor.

The views are everywhere on this magnificent estate.

Cruisin’ at My Dad’s Work Place

Buck’s from Tunnel Road about 1964, when I would have been a young customer. The drive-in is at the back of the restaurant, right center.

Inside Buck’s, which I never saw. Reminiscent of the Roanoker. The waitress looks like a nurse.

When I was between 17 and about 19, just out of high school, my pals and I spent many evenings cruising Tunnel Road in Asheville, N.C., my hometown. One of the primary stops on the tour was Buck’s Restaurant, which had not only a great burger, but also a drive-in, the first on Tunnel Road.

Two more burger drive-ins would show up shortly, but Bucks was first and always the best. My father ran the inside restaurant, which I don’t recall ever seeing. I never saw Dad at work, either, since he didn’t work at night (he opened the restaurant in pre-dawn) and I don’t think he had much to do with the drive-in.

Buck’s bragged that it was “air conditioned” and had three dining rooms with a seating capacity of 168 people. The curb service had an individual radio for each car and the restaurant–all of it–was open 6 a.m.-midnight. My pals  and I often loitered in the parking lot until long after that, chatting up some girls we’d just met. I drove a mint green 1956 Ford station wagon I’d bought for $100 from my old friend Al Geremonte, my first mentor. Al used the car for hunting and fishing.

Buck’s was founded by Buck Buchanan in 1946, the year I was born. Buck bought the restaurant’s land for $6,125 when it was a forest and Tunnel Road was Black Mountain Highway. Tunnel Road, which still exists, gets its name from the tunnel running through Beaucatcher Mountain, which has long since been opened up for a highway, a cut that allowed the escape of the almost constant Champion Paper Company and the Enka Plant pollution. That pollution settled over Asheville in the summer. Asheville could truly smell to high holy hell at the time. We often referred to the Stinky Enky Plant.

Wink’s and Babe Malloy’s followed Buck’s as popular burger joints/drive-ins for the kids, but they were all gone by 1975. So was I. On to a sports writing gig at the local daily in Roanoke.

Margie and I are heading to Asheville today for a couple of days–to visit the Biltmore House for the first time. I used to live a hefty rock throw from the Estate, but never visited. We will drive by where Buck’s sat in the old days and say “hello” to my dad.

Donald Trump: Record-setting President?

William Henry Harrison: Trump can’t beat him.

Donald Trump just loves over-the-top superlatives: best, most, fastest, record-setting, unequaled, biggest, hottest, richest, bluest …

Nothing in his world having to do with Donald Trump is average. In reality, that’s true, no doubt, but not in the way he envisions.

In less than four months as president, he has a special prosecutor investigating whether he has committed treason or other high crimes and misdemeanors. That usually takes a little while. He has set a record.

The way he is looting the treasury and using the highest office in the land to enrich himself and his family is also unequaled (he’d probably call it the “best”) in the annals of the chief exec.

His increasingly failing efforts to rearrange what some call our “democracy” into his dictatorial-oligarchy rivals that of Richard Nixon and George Bush II–probably clobbering both.

His staff turnover has been awe-inspiring and, from all that I read, it is getting ready to set all-time White House records.

However: this boy is likely to leave office without the record for “shortest term.”  William Henry Harrison served 31 days and died of “natural causes,” and James Garfield, who was shot 3 months, 28 days after being sworn in and died 79 days later, served 199 days. Both are likely to beat Trump, barring some event many would celebrate. But he has his own records and I’m certain he has the real “news” about Garfield and Harrison.

 

Margie the Burger Girl

Big burger, small mouth, huge effort.

Margie and her biggie burger.

I don’t believe I’ve ever known anyone who liked burgers as much as Margie does.

Small or large, spare or loaded, overcooked or rare: all the same to her.

We all have preferences, but Margie’s are minor. She wants tomato, lettuce, pickle, mayo and a burger that is crispy on the outside, medium well inside. She likes sweet buns. But she can go with no bun at all.

In fact, when I ask her what she wants for dinner, my question most often is, “You want your burger with or without a bun tonight? And a baked potato, maybe?” She loves the baked potato (just butter, please, but about half a  stick of it), as well. Easy woman to please at dinner time.

As she often says, when I ask, “Do you like (pick your food)?” “Anything but liver. Anything at all.” But especially a burger.

An Evening with the Redbirds (and Cotton Candy)

Take me out to the ball game: (from left) Madeline, Oz, Evan, Kara.

Looking pretty, Ev and Maddie.

This is my son’s family last night, enjoying the AAA Memphis Redbirds baseball team in the big, comfy stadium. Oz and Evan, of course, set the record of making faces (and trying to stuff cotton candy into one of them.

As a side note, the professional baseball team in Salem was once known as the Redbirds, a St. Louis Cardinals farm club at the time. I covered that team as a sports writer for the local daily.

They do have a good time.

Rule No. 1, Oz: Don’t eat anything bigger than your head.