The Views are Quite Smart on This Trail

Susan looks inside the old cabin on the Smart View trail.

The smartest view actually is a little further along.

It’s slowly moving toward hiking season and my friend Susan and I drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to experience Smart View, a sweet, un-challenging loop trail near Floyd with a payoff of a view of the mountains leading into the piedmont.

Susan is from Martinsville originally and she was especially intrigued of the view toward the two large bodies of water outside her hometown and the skyline, which looked straight toward–if not into–North Carolina.

The hike is dotted with cabins, picnic tables, a few steep grades and the winter starkness that March brings. At one point, we were walking a fairly flat path when Susan stopped and said, “Listen! That doesn’t sound good.” We looked slightly ahead and saw a tree, split by the wind, making noises like it wanted to fall. I charged ahead. Susan was a smidge more deliberate. The tree didn’t fall.

This view towards Martinsville and North Carolina is the best one on this trail.

A sign that this used to be a farm.

Me, as part of the smart view.

Susan on the trail.

Big trees grew up on the former farm land.

This makeshift bridge …

… made Susan a little nervous, but it was stable.

That’s me comfortably on the bridge.

Some of the trail is pretty steep, but not overwhelming.

This pristine old cabin has the chinking removed, so it’s easy to see inside.

This dad got a little sun with his son.

This home-schooled little girl and her younger brother were on a family/school field trip.

Of all the smart views, I think this was Susan’s fave.

This homemade bridge is rock solid, as you might imagine.

The split tree at the left was making creaking noises, giving Susan pause.

St. Maddie’s Day Parade in Roanoke (and Beyond)

The sound of the bagpipe breaks my ears, but the look is great.

Maddie and her pal Connor at the Memphis St. Maddie’s Day Parade today.

At the Roanoke Valley St. Maddie’s Day Parade yesterday, the only thing missing was my grandgirl, for whom all the celebration is intended. Every year, near her birthday on the Actual St. Maddie’s Day (it has been occasionally referred to as St. Patrick’s Day), March 17, there is a parade in Roanoke and at other environs in honor of Maddie’s birthday.

It’s Maddie’s 14th birthday this year. Maddie celebrated today in Memphis, where she lives, with a St. Maddie’s Parade downtown there.

I am happy to say that for the first time in my memory, I did not see a Confederate flag among all the paramilitary marchers. Yaaaaaaay!

I just love Irish dancers.

There was plenty of action in Roanoke, though, with leprechauns, pirates, vikings and all manner of green things. Herewith a look at some of it.

More Irish dancing.

Parades are for clowns … and their sidekicks in sidecars.

Disorganized Democrats being themselves.

Dog and family.

Adam Garland walking tall.

Beth Deel ready to fly.

Tall ladies in the crowd.

As we all know, I dig red hair.

Irish Star Warriors.

I don’t think this was meant to be a Gay Pride float, but it worked out that way.

Guy swears the hair’s natural.

The Irish flag is so heavy, it takes a gang to carry it.

My old buddy Robin Reed, Channel 7 news anchor, mugs for the camera.

More red hair attracts my camera.


Miss Roanoke Valley teen (left) and Miss RV older.

Little Miss Roanoke Valleys of all sorts practicing The Wave.

Vikings come in all sorts, including this beauty.

A more fearsome Viking.

He’s with the Vikings, but is he a Viking or a king’s guard soldier?

My old buddy Jeff, King of the Vikings.

Vikings get smoke breaks, too.

The last Viking (for today).


Sweet little Miss Mushroom, 2019.

Come blow your horn, brother.

Or, you can blow your bagpipe.

It’s St. Maddie’s, boys and girls, play on!

How Is the College Scandal Different from Athletic Scholarships?

OK, Division I college football/basketball fans, I need your opinion. Tell me, please how the college admissions scandal playing out right now–50 rich people have been charged with paying to get their kids into upper-crust schools–is different from hiring a 300-pound, non-reading tackle to attend college at, say, the University of Alabama.

A lot of these over-sized kids are only interested in gaining professional sports contracts–few do–and are often placed in remedial classes when they are in class at all. A large number are simply not in college to learn or to get a degree. They are great for college revenues and good sports teams help increase applications. Paying them with scholarships (and other goodies that aren’t legal) is standard and accepted.

The people involved in the scheme that the FBI busted want their kids–who most often don’t meet the admission requirements–to attend the Ivy League or Stanford or other good schools, the same way George Bush and Donald Trump did. Bush and Trump were hardly Rhoads Scholars, but their dads had money and stature and they not only got in, but also graduated.

The latest scandal involves payments of a heck of a lot of money to coaches and administrators in order to get these rich kids into college, some ostensibly to be on sports teams for which they are not qualified … at all. Sounds a hell of a lot like Southeast Conference football or ACC basketball to me: give something of significant value to the university and you get to go to school there.


A Winter Walk and a Delightful Meal

My new buddy and me on the Wolf Creek greenway trail.

Wolf Creek in winter.

Yesterday presented a surprise everywhere I turned. Susan and I planned a hike, but the temperature was so cool and damp Sunday morning that it didn’t look like that would happen. The weather took a sudden warming turn, however, and we went out to discover the Wolf Creek Greenway in Vinton.

It was a completely delightful discovery, a two-mile walk, basically through a beautiful farm wiith horses, cats, dogs, donkeys and heaven knows what else. It was a busy thoroughfare and though not as rural as I like, quite enjoyable. Wolf Creek was babbling rapidly and the neighborhoods surrounding the greenway seemed to be taking full advantage of its proximity.

After the hike a hungry Susan asked if we should see what Vinton has to offer in the way of Sunday afternoon. I suggested the “blue plate special” at the old and revered Dogwood Restaurant, which turned out to be closed. In the days when I was editor of the newspaper in Vinton, I ate at the Dogwood nearly every Friday, availing myself of some great fried chicken.

Spring rolls were fresh and tasty.

So, we kept looking, wandering over to Farmguesa, the Mexican hamburger spot which occupies the former Angelo’s, across from the library. It smelled full, rich and beefy, which didn’t attract Susan, who doesn’t eat red meat. We wound up at the Asia Gourmet, a little restaurant two doors up from the former Vinton Messenger, where I worked.

Pho soup toppings.

We ordered pho soup (pronounced “fu soup”) and it was as good as any I’ve ever eaten, full of fresh vegetables and a rich vegetable broth, completed with rice noodles. Dede, who with her husband owns and runs the restaurant, told us that they grow some of the vegetables and they pride themselves on freshness. The spring rolls we had tasted like they’d just been picked in the garden and the Vietnamese basil was as unusual as any basil I’ve had. A simply lovely experience.

While we were in Vinton, we also ran into a business featuring hemp that I’m writing about for a magazine. Magic stuff that hemp and it has nothing to do with getting high. It’s more about being healthy and getting well. Look for the story.

The pho soup was to die for.

I am suddenly a fan of Asia Gourmet.

A pretty spot on Wolf Creek.

Susan grew up with horses and is a big fan.

They’re becoming friends.

I’m not much of a horsie dude, but I did OK with this guy.

Susan is studying a sign that told us which animals to look for.

I could find myself becoming fond of this little dude.

Susan surrounded by big ears.

Winter doesn’t dull the beauty of this farm.

Winter Weekend in D.C. a Treat

Margie and me atop the Newseum with Congress behind us.

Me looking at Pulitzer-winning photos.

It was one of those late winter weekends when staying in would have meant allowing everything that is bad about the season to win, so Margie and I packed up and headed to D.C. There’s really no bad time to visit our capital because what we want to see is always there, always featured and usually fascinating.

Margie at the Hirshorn Museum’s dry fountain.

I didn’t know it until we got there, but the Newseum (the museum of the news media, of which I am a proud member) is featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning photography and it is quite a spectacular display. The Newseum, ifself, is worth the effort and the cost ($25 a head except for the young and old) because it reminds us in WAR TYPE just how important our First Amendment is and that the Trump Administration has declared all-out war on it and on us.

We were met with seasonal snow and rain all the way up to D.C. and all the way back, but it didn’t matter. What we wanted to see and do–get away, eat well, stretch out, see stuff-was all indoors.

Here’s a brief look at what we took in.

A long line of food trucks on the mall were ready with all kinds of goodies.

I wanted to ride the carousel. Margie wouldn’t let me. Said I’d break it.

Homeless couple naps at an air vent in the park, where it was warm.

Out with the little one for a bike ride.

Studying inside the Smithsonian Institute’s castle, where there isn’t much else of interest.

Inside the Newseum, where a movie was being shown of the winners, while the photos hung on the wall outside.

Margie found a robot that provided her some soft ice cream and she loved it.

This piece of one of the Twin Towers drew a crowd in the Newseum.

Margie heading into the bowels of the Metro. I love the Metro, but learning how to use its ticket machines is a real challenge.

My best shot of the Capital. Wish I could do some shooting inside.

Margie and me at the White House. The current occupant was not home.

The salmon with lemon cream sauce–and “seasonal veggies,” usually mundane–were spectacular.

High-water pants seem to be the new fashion with Congressional pages.

The Newseum is homely outside, lovely inside.

Margie adds a little class to the Capital.

How Wet Is It? This Wet

Carvins Creek out of its banks at Hollins.

The walkway to Dana Science building.

On days like today–and most of this week–it’s difficult to find a place outside that’s dry enough for a walk of an hour or two, but I gave it a shot at Hollins University’s loop a little while ago anyway.

What I found was a lot of water, though not on the roadway surrounding the campus. Carvins Creek was far above its banks and just about every grassy area was ankle-deep soggy. Water stood on walkways and anywhere else where there was a recession.

The creek nearly hit the two bridges it passes. I’ve been to Hollins many times over the years and never saw that before. Here are some photos of what it looked like around noon today.

The foot bridge over tinker had yellow tape just in case the water overwhelmed it.

This is more of an optical illusion than a true photo of a tree. The foliage is mostly a vine.

Daffodils are breaking through the wet ground even as snow hangs around.

Hollins Production Challenges, Entertains

Co-director, Ernie Zulia, head of the Hollins Theatre Department, gives a precise assessment of “Fun Home,” which is on the stage through Sunday: The story “challenges us to see the complexities of the human condition.”

Hollins often does that with its forceful, student-led productions and “Fun Home” is but another feather in that particular theatrical cap, the one worn by a group that often sets the high standards for this particular art form in the Roanoke Valley.

The play’s title is not indicative of a comedy in progress. “Fun Home” is short for “funeral home,” which the father in the story operates (along with being a high school teacher).

Like so much popular culture these days, “Fun Home” has its genesis in the graphic novel, this one a semi-autobiographical tale from Alison Bechdel, which has been honored in just about every way it can be, especially with multiple Tony Awards. It is the riveting story of a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality even as her family falls apart and her father’s gay tendencies lead to his suicide (I’m not giving away anything here; you learn all this in the opening minutes).

Zulia and co-director Rachel Nelson, a Hollins theater professor who has focused her work on LGBTQ and marginalized identities, make this a universal story of family dynamics, personal struggles and the value of truth. This is an area where live theater is at its best whether overtly or subtly bringing controversial issues to the fore and treating them with the respect they deserve.

As is most often the case, the Hollins talent bin runneth over, this time with students who can act, sing and dance–like Nick McCord as Bruce Bechdel, Alison’s father, and a trio of actresses playing Alison at different ages (Anna Holland, a Roanoker and Hollins senior, Deirdre Price and Anna Johnson). Lindsay Bronston, a Hollins junior studying theater and music, becomes a scene thief (as Alison’s mother) with her lovely voice.

This is a powerful production, mixing important themes with occasional humor and a few tears. The lone problem I had with the production was that I often could not understand what was being sung or spoken. I’m not sure if it was a function of the sound board, too many people talking or singing (different lyrics) simultaneous or just what, but there were moments when I was left clueless as to what was being spoken or sung.

As always, Hollins fully understands the importance of theater and isn’t shy about bringing us the best of it.

The Tale of the Magic 442 Olds

My Olds 442 looked a lot like this.

I overheard a piece of a conversation Friday in Rocky Mount as I was pursuing a magazine story. A couple of white bearded old boys in overalls and ball caps were talking at Dairy Queen about their 1960s-era super cars. One had an Oldsmobile 442, which did a ca-ching on my brain.

I had a 1964 Olds 442 and I’ll bet it was faster than yours, I almost said aloud. Here I was 22 again and trying to set up a drag race along Tunnel Road in Asheville, my hometown and the city of my youthful extravagance. That 442 and I spent quite a number of late evenings in the cool summer air cruising Tunnel Road, sitting at Buck’s drive-in restaurant ogling the young women, and roaring between stop lights. As often as not, booze was involved.

The Pontiac looked a lot like this, without the woman.

I was not a good driver, but that didn’t deter my efforts toward speed demon-ship, something the 442 offered. This was the Oldsmobile version of the GTO, the supercar every kid wanted, but few could afford. I don’t recall how I came to own the 442, but it was a honey: black with a white leather interior, 4-in-the-floor and a big rumbling engine that won a lot of drag races before the light turned green. The other guys just assumed I’d kick their asses–whether or not this bad driver could do that.

This was what Herman looked like. Loved that little freaky car.

The 442 was something of an anomaly for a kid who owned quite a few cars as a teen-ager. I started driving late–at 18–but made up for it by buying cars. I’d own as many as two or three $100 rattle-traps at a time, knowing their time on this green earth was short and I needed backups. I once drove my 1956 Pontiac up to Banner Elk, about 80 miles, to take a friend back to college after a weekend and the car broke down just outside the entry to Lees McRae College. We went on up to the dorm, slept the rest of the night and in the morning called a junk yard. The owner offered me $25 for the Pontiac and I gratefully accepted, then thumbed back to Asheville where my little 1956 Nash Metropolitan awaited me, parked behind the house.

My green 1955 Chevy Bel Air would do a wheelie, but not for me.

The Metro was “Herman,” an ugly little devil if you ever saw one, but a fun car. It was a faded red and white, smaller than a VW bug and the front seats flopped back into a bed, which would have been handy if I’d ever had a need for a bed in a car. My love life was not what it might have been, however.

Around that same time, I owned a 1955 (or ’56, I forget which) Chevrolet Bel Air hot rod whose engine had been bored to 302 cu. in. and stroked (no, I had no idea what that meant, except that it was made to be a lot faster than normal), featured a Hurst 4-speed shifter, had really great wheels and a flake green paint job that glistened. This baby would do a wheelie in the right hands, which were not my hands. But, I got the looks. Lots of looks, especially when I gunned the engine at stop lights or just sat looking cool at Buck’s. But, not, I couldn’t drive it worth a crap, either, and wound up ruining the car and selling it for a couple hundred bucks.

I finally got married, had a kid, stabilized my sports writing job and turned up in a little compact Oldsmobile, kind of a puky beige. At that point, all that was left of my car fetish was the memory, and it remains.




Good Art, Good Company at WVTF

Miki Overcast-Kallan and Anna Wentworth in front of their works.

Anna’s Italy presentation.

You can pretty tell it’s mid-February when a packed house shows up for an art show on a gloomy winter’s night and celebrates like it’s July 4.

That’s what it was last night at WVTF Public Radio’s opening for Anna Wentworth and Miki Overcast-Kallan last night.

I didn’t know Miki before last night, but found her to be a delight whose artwork reflects that huge smile. I’ve known Anna since Jesus’ bar mitzvah, but I haven’t known her artwork to be as good as it has become.

Anna’s landscapes from Italy–and elsewhere–are simply lovely and I’ve always appreciated her presentation (often in panels). Anna has always been one who’s appreciated international travel (often with her sister) and she comes home with treasures–her paintings–she didn’t have to buy.

The show will be up for a while if you want to see it on the walls at WVTF. But you probably won’t get the food, wine and conversation that was available last night.

And Terry Aldhizer likely won’t be there to shoot your photo. Nor will I.

Packed in tight at the art opening. (No boys in sight.)

Photographers Susan Kraughto and Terry Aldhizer pointing out another photographer.

Miki Overcast-Kallan and her interrogation lamp smile.

Anna Wentworth: Venice in two panels.

WVTF General Manager Roger Fowler and his wife Stefanie chat.

The Lady in Pink is entertained by Terry Aldhizer photographing Miki.