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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.

Roanoke City Library Room To Be Named for John Kern

John Kern with his books.

Sometimes it takes forever for Roanoke City Council to act upon a good suggestion, but here’s one that took almost no time at all: Naming something appropriate after the recently departed John Kern, a noted state historian who served Roanoke quite well over the past number of years.

Here’s councilman John Garland’s note to me this morning, after acting on my suggestion to “name something important after John Kern”:

“I made the request at Council and see what resulted. Thank you for the suggestion. The community room in the Virginia Room at the Main Library will be named in honor of Dr. Kern in recognition to his contribution regarding the history of the area. A dedication of the room will be scheduled in the near future.”

I’m delighted at the recognition and the appropriateness of the site selection.

There’s another suggestion I made about four years ago that’s been simmering and seems on the way to becoming a reality, albeit not because the city is doing it. I’ll let you know what happens.

And thanks, John Garland, a councilman who has always responded in a timely fashion, in my experience.

A Different Hike, and a Friendly Snake

My new buddy the garter snake.

A young family, celebrating the youngest’s first birthday, takes in the Mill Mountain view.

A hint of green through the trees.

Got my head into scanning and editing photos for several hours today and that seemed to lead to the beginnings of (Oh God!) a cold, so I took a couple of Advil and headed out into the sun.

I landed on a hike around Mill Mountain (as opposed to UP Mill Mountain), using the Monument Trail, which in all these years I hadn’t done. It’s a brisk little hike and left me sweaty and feeling a lot less cold-ish. Let’s hope it lasts.

On the way around the mountain, I ran into a lovely little garter snake, sluggishly sunning himself (or herself). I tipped my cap, took a photo and was on my way.

I don’t get tired of taking this photo.

The old man of the mountain in natural non-color.

Tax March Today in Grandin Village

Frankly, I’m not certain marches and petitions from the left have any effect at all on our Republican representatives, but a woman I respect (Freeda Cathcart) asked that I share information on a tax march scheduled at 5:30 today in Grandin Village (Roanoke).

So, here it is (exactly as she wrote it):

Roanoke Tax March
Tuesday April 17
5:306:30
It’s tax time and President Trump still hasn’t released his taxes, #ShowUSYourTaxes! Instead he signed a #TrumpTaxScam to give tax huge tax breaks to the very rich while leaving US 1.5 trillion dollars in debt. Now Republicans are talking about cutting services, social security and medicare to make up the difference. We will gather to remind people about why November’s election matters. We must elect candidates who will vote to #RepealTheTrumpTax!
Please join us in the parking lot at the UUCR church where we will march across the street to the Raleigh Court Library garden courtyard where speakers from Tax March, Moms Demand Action and Represent US will inspire us.
You can use this Tax March Facebook event to help spread the word by inviting your friends and sharing it

Driveway Nearly Fixed–Finally

The finished driveway.

After more than three works of anticipation, irregular work, repeated damage and guys not showing up for work, it looks like–fingers crossed–I’m entering the final quarter of getting my driveway back. The foreman says I’ll have it tomorrow.

He has said that before. But I’ll try to trust him.

He’s promising the driveway. When the street gets repaved–after digging it out to fix a water main–is anybody’s guess. But at this point, I’ll settle for the driveway, so I can park my car and truck somewhere besides on the street. I live in Northwest Roanoke, which is ground zero for vandals damaging cars, almost all of which are parked on the street.

Concrete guys smoothing the surface.

I discovered from an observant neighbor that the initial problem and the one immediately following it occurred because another neighbor–one with a large pickup truck–ran into the fire hydrant twice, the first time causing a major leak, which the city seemed to have fixed (by moving the hydrant) until about three days later when a city crew showed up again and began another, larger, dig.

The fire hydrant had to be moved after being hit by a truck … twice.

This one lingered for a couple of weekdays and over a weekend, a time when I had to park on the street and worry all night about who might ram or egg or steal my vehicles.

As I mentioned earlier in a blog post last week, my car and truck–parked 30 yards apart–were egged over one night.

Anyhow the guys did a nice job today and the driveway looks a great deal better than it did to begin with. So, we can be grateful for small (very small) things.

Big concrete truck makes quick work of a small job.

 

Boat’s Out; Does That Make Spring Official?

Rental kayaks await paddlers.

I don’t know if this is officially the beginning of the kayak season, but it was my second time out this spring and the weather seems to be settling in with warm days–even though today was pretty breezy at Carvins Cove.

It looked like the kayak community agreed with me this morning when I drove out to the cove and had to maneuver pretty tightly to put the boat in, park and take it out. But it was a fine day to paddle.

All ready to paddle out to sea.

The boat waits on an island.

Paddle man in profile.

Blocked Driveway Equals Vandalism by Egg

The egg bounced off my truck and hit the ground.

Here’s the egg on the truck. It came off easily with vinegar and water.

It’s odd how one misfortune often leads to another. I mentioned a little over a week ago that there was a problem with the water line in front of my house and that the city fixed it–after about a week. But it broke again. And it was fixed again.

And it broke again and this time it hasn’t been fixed. Seems a neighbor of mine backed into the fire hydrant in front of my house–twice–causing a pretty good rupture. Right now, the repair is in mid activity, but the city’s fix-it guys aren’t anywhere to be found. They came in Thursday, dug holes, left them, came back for a few minutes Friday and put up some forms to pour concrete, then left again.

This is the entrance to my driveway. Dammit.

One of the guys told Margie it would be a week before they could fix it. No explanation why. Soooo. I had to park my car and my truck on the street because the driveway was blocked. I always park in the driveway because people tend not to vandalize cars that are in the driveway.

First damn night they sat in the driveway, they got egged. That’s not major property damage and it isn’t a calamity, but it’s annoying as hell, especially given that the city should have repaired the street by Friday.

Anyhow, all that led me to put in a camera outside the house, so if somebody else breaks into my car or eggs it, I can report it and get their asses to the hooscow.

Hollins’ “Chicago” Roanoke Heavy and Simply Spectacular

Anna Holland (left) and Emma Sala are Roxie and Velma in “Chicago.”

Ernie Zulia loves to tell this story:

Nine years ago, when the Hollins University Theatre department was mounting its first production of the hit Broadway musical “Chicago,” Roanoke actor Ed Sala took his young daughter, Emma, to see it. She was smitten, vowing to play the lead in the play one day.

She’s there now. And she’s simply dynamite, born to play the role of Velma, which she does with full-throated enthusiasm, athleticism and a kind of domination she must have imagined from the beginning. Emma is joined by a contingent of Roanokers in director Ernie Zulia’s re-boot of what is becoming a classic that had the full-house audience on its feet screaming last night.

The Roanokers include:

  • Anna Holland, the Hollins junior (Emma is a senior) who is a Roanoke theater veteran, is the daughter of Miriam Frazier, a principal at Off the Rails theatrical group. Anna, whom I’ve watched grow up in the theater, plays the trashy, flame-haired beauty Roxie Hart and simply nails the part. Ernie talked about Anna’s work ethic and professionalism and it shows on stage. She and Emma have been good friends for quite a while and their on-stage chemistry is undeniable. It’s fun watching them grow into parts.
  • Kendall Payne of Pulaski, whose Roanoke link is that he’s the nephew of Roanoke musician William Penn, is a convincing sleezy lawyer Billy Flynn. He is a professional actor, teacher and founder of Adaire Theatre in the New River Valley.
  • Stephen Glassbrenner is another Roanoke theater vet who plays the hapless Amos Hart (Roxie’s jilted husband) to perfection, nearly stealing the show with the heart-tugging “Mister Cellophane.”
  • Taylor Cobb, son of politician and minister Joe Cobb (he’s running for Roanoke City Council and must be considered an actor, given his professions), plays the nasty suitor whom Roxie kills as the play opens. Small part, big response.
  • The late John Sailer of Roanoke (husband of actor/teacher Rachel Sailer), who died three years ago, designed the set for “Chicago” at Hollins nine years ago and his design is brought back in order to honor the man who is certainly the best Roanoke scene and lighting designer in history.

Beyond the local interest, however, there is a spectacular production that is augmented by Caitlin McLeod’s costuming and a tight little band that presents Chicago in the 1920s superbly. Costuming, of course, is crucial to this work and Ms. McLeod’s work is spot-on. She is the founder of the Chicago-based costuming business Craftiga. Susanna Young, who is become something of a star backstage at Hollins, is the choreographer.

The show features the work of 50 Hollins students in every discipline, including a large group who are on stage.

Emma and Anna are, of course, the loud beating heart of this production of “Chicago,” playing their roles with such authority that they become Roxie and Velma before your very eyes: sexy, trashy, brash, loud, vulgar, ambitious and self-assured.

“Chicago” is simply a joy to watch and it features Ernie Zulia at his best (when is he otherwise?). This one is a must-see. It runs through this weekend and next weekend, April 18-21. Sunday’s show is a 2 p.m. matinee. The other shows are at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $10 (you’ll feel like you’re stealing) and can be bought here.

Orange Ave. Goodwill Gone? Not To Worry

The Roanoke Goodwill store on Orange Avenue near Bonsack will close at the end of June and already, there are cries of “the internet did it!” I don’t much think that’s the case.

This is a busy section of a divided highway that has seen struggling businesses for quite a while. The shopping center–Market Square East–is not a lot to write home about, either. It’s low-end, hard to get to and hard to get out of. Big truck traffic at peak hours is interstate insane, and frankly, dangerous.

A while back, a WalMart Neighborhood Market store (one of the smaller WalMarts) closed on the other side of U.S. 460 and a large Kroger closed nearby several years ago, moving east into Bonsack.

Right now, Goodwill has a large presence in Roanoke with six substantial stores/donation centers; two stores/donation centers in Salem and one  each in Vinton and Troutville; one donation center only and one car donation center in the Roanoke Valley. Bedford has one large center and Blacksburg/Christiansburg have two. It is a big business.

Goodwill, in my view, does not really face a threat from the ‘net. Shopping there–and at most thrift stores–is its own shopping experience. Bargain hunters like me will enter a Goodwill with absolutely no goal but to find something interesting and unanticipated at a bargain price. It is recreation. Two days ago, I bought a new, restaurant-quality panini grill (a $170 value) for $5. I didn’t need it, nor did I anticipate it being there.

I buy clothes at thrifts for a fraction of their retail cost, some of them slightly used, all of them well-made, fashionable and sturdy. I don’t need the clothes, but it’s fun finding the deals and bringing them home (even as I take others to the collection center at the thrift stores).

I’m not aware of any shopping experience on the internet that equates to the thrift store experience, and I shop for quite a few items on the ‘net (camera equipment, electronics, books [Kindle], prescriptions), but never clothes. I don’t and don’t expect to shop for groceries online. Again, it’s about bargains. I love to walk out of a grocery store, totaling in my head the money I saved by being careful.

Don’t blame the ‘net for this Goodwill closing and I wouldn’t think of it being a sign of things to come. This one’s a simple practical closing of a store that is not generating the kind of square foot revenue expected of the modern Goodwill stores, where you’ll often see more customers than in a Belk’s or Penney’s. My guess is that a donation center–if not a store–will pop up nearby pretty quickly. Oh, and Goodwill says the employees (about 15 of them) will still have jobs in other stores.

Appraising Goodies at Black Dog

Awaiting appraisal in a pleasant setting.

Julie Fuller and her dad’s musket.

Free Appraisal Day at Black Dog Salvage in Roanoke is winding up as I write this and I just got home from a visit to it. While I was there about 30 people had their treasures evaluated and seemed pleased with the results, most saying the evaluations “were about what I expected.” Several others were waiting to speak to the pros.

Black Dog is a huge warehouse of junk, antiques, collectibles, architectural pieces, heavy equipment and miscellaneous items. Appraisers were brought in from some of the region’s auction houses and antique shops to look at what people brought in.

Shirley Paine and her French art book.

Julie Fuller drive up from Mebane, N.C., and had an old muzzle-loading gun that was owned by her physician father and it was appraised at $300. Former journalist Shirley Pine came in from Pulaski to have the experts look at a fascinating French book featuring large-format watercolor landscape. It was a beautiful book.

Bob Miller (left) evaluates a map and book for John Reburn.

John Crunkilton showed up with a deed signed in 1829 by then-president Andrew Jackson, valued at between $500 and $700. John Reburn of Roanoke had a book of black and white landscape photos of famous homes in Michigan (Henry Ford’s, for example).

Larry Clevinger (top) studies John Crunkilton’s deed.

This is obviously a takeoff on the wildly popular PBS television show “Antiques Road Show,” which has a huge following. Black Dog’s version, held occasionally, has a distinct advantage in that it isn’t as well known and the crowds are not overwhelming. And the appraisers are just as good as anything Road Show has.

A small line awaits evaluations.

Looking over the goodies.