There’s More Color Than You Think Outside

I’m partial to this single, backlit leaf that has tried to fall to earth, but hasn’t yet made it there.

No, this is not the classic mountain fall, where leaves are a glorious, almost fluorescent red, yellow, burgundy, orange. It is much more subdued this year because of the unusual warmth and lack of rain. But there’s color there for those who look for it. My friend Susan  and I found some today.

Hiked the Hollins greenway trail over the foot of Tinker Mountain and down to Carvins Cove’s parking lot, stopping to take in the beauty Mother  Nature is providing with her extraordinary light and color. Here’s a bit of the show we saw.

Low water levels means few kayakers at Carvins Cove.
This paddler found a lot of color and reflection.
These “stink tree” leaves don’t smell bad and they’re gorgeous.
Susan zeroes in on a shot with her phone. She forgot a disk for her Canon DSLR.
This log in the water made quite a scene.
Susan photographing that log.
Leaves are covering the hiking trail.
Susan loves climbing on stuff.
No color? Huh. It’s in the eye of the beholder.

“Dracula” Delivers as a Ballet

Dracula’s brides were terrific.

I was, quite frankly, delightfully surprised by the high entertainment value of Roanoke Ballet Theatre’s production of “Dracula” last night at the Jefferson Center. I expected the ballet to be fun, but the quality of the dancing among the principals was quite good, the music dark, moody and fully realized, and the backgrounds compelling.

Costuming was exceptional and even the ushers were appropriately dressed in all black. It was a truly fun evening. The ballet was directed by Sandra Meythaler, and Rolando Sarabia was the ballet master. Lighting and the special fog effects were spot-on.

Poland native Norbert Nirewicz was quite good as the title character, but I was transfixed by LeeAnn  Elder as Lucy, Sara Kosuth, Christa Rockney and Caitlin Smith as his brides, Jessie Allen as Igor and a whole slew of wolves and “dark creatures,” who rolled and crawled their way to the stage through the audience.

This was quite a departure from the kind of ballet that normally draws me (taking my grandgirl to “The Nutcracker,” for example) and though I am not a balletomane, I will suggest “Dracula” is not the normal fare for RBT. But it is the kind of performance that can get those of us off the ballet grid  through the doors. And, man was it fun!




Wait ’til Next Week for the Folklife Festival (Dang!)

The Blue Ridge Institute is home for the festival. It was nearly deserted at noon today.

I drove out to Ferrum–40 miles south of Roanoke–this morning to catch the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival at the college and guess what? It’s next week.

Found this wrecker at a car lot in Rocky Mount.

So, in an effort not to waste a trip, I cranked up my camera and came away with these photos.

The lovely woman is my friend Chris Ward, whom I stopped to see before leaving town. She was running a friend’s tea stall on Roanoke City Market. The rest of the photos are pretty much random, including the shot of the Dairy Queen, where I ate lunch. I did a story on Franklin County’s DQs some years ago after discovering that the county had the largest number of the restaurants per capita in the U.S. All that and moonshine, too.

Housing outside Rocky Mount. A little tilted.
This farm will be full of hounds, mules and tractors at the festival next week.
This antiques-junk store outside Ferrum was closed, but was a good photo opportunity.
A closer look at the store.
Dairy Queen, of which Franklin County is the King.
My friend, Christine, serving a tea customer on City Market.

Just Park Wherever You Want To, Dude

Hey, creep, park much?

The grotesque old man who drove this … uh … car into the  middle of four parking spaces in the lot at Aldi the other day set me off. The lot was not full, so his arrogant ignorance was not as bad as it could have been, but when unthinking people simply disregard the reasonable rules of civilization (one car, one parking space), it pisses me off.

He came back to his car as I was leaving, 350 sloppy pounds leaning on a grocery basket, barely able to move, apparently in desperate need of a bath and a shave and huffing/puffing as if he were looking at the Three Little Pigs’ house.

I just shook my head and left. It could have gotten ugly and I didn’t want that. He might have had a heart attack from exertion.


Leah Weiss’ Book Selling Briskly

Leah Weiss’ book, If the Creek don’t Rise, is doing exactly what I told you it would months ago: selling like beer at a baseball game. Leah, who lives in Lynchburg and has been a close friend for nearly five years, says Creek has sold thousands of copies in two months and “it’s in its 3rd printing.”

The book, she says, “is going gangbusters.” Indeed. This is the Appalachian story of a struggling community, living under a dark cloud. It began as a series of short stories and evolved into a full blown novel with some of the best writing I’ve ever encountered. I have compared it to To Kill a Mockingbird, though I think the writing may be slightly better.

This is Leah’s first commercially-published book and she’s nearly 70. One of her best friends is the Lynchburg-based novelist Kathleen Grissom, who didn’t publish her monster hit, The Kitchen House, until she was 65, several years ago. She had already spent a working lifetime in marketing by then and she used her skills to help market the book, which the publisher grossly underestimated. It has sold more than a million copies to date, mostly based on Kathy’s efforts.

Leah Weiss: Great news all around.

Leah is like Kathy in that respect. She works. I never saw anybody go after a project the way she attacked Creek. She wrote and asked questions and consulted and read and attended conferences and put everything else in the background, doing all she needed to develop her natural ear for language and stories.I have always admired her dogged tenacity.

On top of her great news comes a note of very real joy. She and the man she has been involved with for the past year are getting married in mid-November.

The book, she says, “debuted in Target nationwide [yesterday]. It’s  in all the major airports in America. [Her fiance spotted it in] Sam’s a few weeks back, sitting meekly between Stephen King and James Patterson. I had no idea so much could happen so quickly but that is the effort of an energetic publishing house fully behind me.”

I am simply delighted for her.




The Death of a Valley Hero

Ed Murphy with his successor Nancy Agee.

As heroes go, Ed Murphy was probably never obvious. But there he sits today, a man whose obituary tells you just what a  hero he was.

Ed died Sunday of cancer at just 61, six years after resigning as the CEO of Carilion Clinic, which he helped form, and a man whose imprint will be permanent on the medical and educational organization. Ed and former Virginia Tech president Charles Steger stepped out of the box a few years ago and formed the Virginia Tech/Carilion Medical College and Research Institute–something many said couldn’t be done.

Today, VTC has 4,000 applications for its 43 annual spots and has embarked on an ambitious–state-funded–building program that will wind up giving it 500-1,000 students, 25 new research teams and millions of dollars of investment in Roanoke.

Ed was a PhD and  an M.D. who took chances, sometimes at a big  personal cost, as in when he created Carilion Clinic, a physician services company focused on care. Many physicians rebelled at the dramatic change, but it stuck because Ed was a bulldog with a bone.

He was in health care consulting in the northeast upon his death as executive chairman of Management Health Solutions, but his major contribution during his career was right here and it will live a very long time.

Ed was generally thought to be a serious man with only brief incursions into humor, but when we asked him to appear on the cover of FRONT magazine as Santa Claus during our first year of operation, he did not hesitate, even when his marketing people nearly had a baby. He was great in the part and it was a popular cover of an edition where he was named the Business Person of the Year.

I wrote a history of Carilion last year and in researching it, I was amazed at just how perfectly suited each of the organization’s CEO/presidents had been from Ham Flannagan, the promoter/builder; to Tom Robertson, the business executive; to Ed the visionary; and finally to Ed’s  protege Nancy Agee, who is wildly popular and perfectly suited for her time as a manager, an iconic woman and a spot-on professional.

I liked Ed, but more than that, I believe him to be one of the most important business professionals in Roanoke’s history.



Go(havefun)Fest: I like it

The festival is spread over a large area.
Got balance?

Today represented my first GoFest and I was, quite frankly, a little more surprised with how big and inclusive this event is. I don’t really know what I expected, but I didn’t expect so MUCH.

This was a giant mall for vendors of outdoor goodies, a wonderful opportunity to try out gear and a networking event for outdoor aficionados. I had a pretty good time, truth be told.

My pal Thomas Becker picked up a paddleboard at the mall … uh, festival. It was one that folds and fits into a backpack. He was thrilled. I was impressed.

Racers came in all sizes.

There was a climbing wall, several tightropes for walking, something called “goat yoga” (with real goats; I swear), several bike courses and stunt courses, a swimming pool for dogs, a big pool for paddleboarding, a food court, a couple of local beer vendors and bunches of small businesses selling outdoor gear. My friends Dina and Reggie Bennett were there to talk about Mountain Shepherd Survival School, which I highly recommend, especially its GEMS camps for teen and pre-teen girls.

It’s a fun festival and a lot of people–including me, now–know about it.

This little sweetie was sizing bike tires.
Paddleboarding is a popular sport.
Look, Mom!
Look at me, too!
You woke me up!
You can rent tee-pees for Explore Park camping.


Pro bikers captivated the crowd.
Course for young bikers.


Potties had a place (right) to wash your hands.
Events drew their own crowds.
Artists had their own spots.
Super heroes got to race, too.
Spinning wheel, got to go ’round.
The kayak on the right is for old men …
… with its lounge chair …
… which fits my big butt nicely.
Kids loved the ropes course.
Goat yoga, I swear. To god.
My grandgirl’s hero–and one of mine–Dina Bennett.

An Enemy of Mine

Baltimore Ravens protest police brutality, not the flag or the military.

I was surprised to read the results of a HuffPostYouGov poll this morning (here) whose conclusion was that the majority of Americans understand why NFL players are kneeling during the national anthem.

If you listen to sports talk radio (and god forgive me, I do), among other media, you will get the constant drumbeat of players kneeling “to protest the flag,” or “to protest the military,” neither of which has anything to do with the reason for the kneeling.

The players are, of course, protesting police violence against black people. Seventy percent of NFL players are African-American and you would expect them to be sensitive to the plight of those being hammered by out-of-control, sociopathic police officers.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans seem to understand the reasons for the protests, up nine percent in less than a month. But the hammering sound of “anti-Trump,” “anti-military,” “anti-flag” continues and it’s not all coming from the hard right. It’s mostly from people who conflate support of our country with militarism, wrapping themselves in the flag, singing the national anthem loud and off key, making a big display of what they consider “patriotism.” Being a war monger is not patriotic.

Patriotism is loving our country and our community and doing what we can to make all people feel welcome and secure here. That’s the America I fell in love with as a kid–even though it didn’t exist. It was what I was told existed and I believed it until I didn’t. Then I wanted it to become a reality.

Kneeling NFL players want equal rights for all people. If you oppose them, you oppose that goal. If you oppose that goal, you are an enemy of mine and of my country.



A Little Retro for the Evening

My buddy Anne Sampson and I went to dinner (Alfredo’s) and Off the Rails’ production of “Valparaiso” last night, but first, we did a retro photo shoot for a story I’m working on.

Anne dressed in appropriate late 1950s attire for the shoot (great shirt-waist dress) and I liked it so much that she kept it on for the evening.

You can’t really see it (my fault), but she’s holding one of those little flat-ish, boxy purses and even offered to don a pillbox hat. Anne knows this stuff and can pull it off with pizzaz. Check out the necklace and the faux-leopard shoes. Wish she’d had some cats-eye glasses.


“Valparaiso” Difficult To Watch, High Impact

Leave it to Off the Rails Theatre to send you home scratching your head, wondering if you should boo or cheer. Don DeLillo’s “Valparaiso,” playing at Community High School’s June McBroom Theatre through Sunday, is the current case in point.

“Valparaiso” is a statement–written nearly 20 years ago, with a couple of Trump-inspired updates–about the American noise machine and how it distorts and inflates the news. There is also the element of creating a news cycle sensation where none exists, that new/old phenomenon of “fake news.”

“Valparaiso” is a slow-starting, fast-finishing, sometimes confusing, often exhausting story about a woman who booked a trip to Valparaiso, Ind., and wound up in a South American Valparaiso. There’s a bit more to the story than that, but not much more of importance. Still, her misadventure becomes the red-hot media event of the day and it finishes on a Springer-style talk show with the woman in dire straits.

This is a difficult piece, but Miriam Frazier’s direction–as always–is crisp, certain and full-throated. She is working with seven actors–all women–who know exactly what they’re doing and are, at times, compelling in their roles. Some of the actors are new to me–Zayne Swain, Mallori Shaver, Betsy Quillen–and others–Chelsea DeTorres, Selena Sullivan and Aisha Mitchell–amplify the good opinion I already had of them. Linsee Lewis, one of Roanoke’s best actors, is superb in what I would call a minor role.

Joey Neighbors’ set design is simple, clean and quite theatrical, almost a player, itself.

This is the type of play that has made OTR’s front-edge reputation. It is not for everybody and you won’t exit singing. In fact, you may be torn among tears, jeers and pealing laughter.

The play is about  us and what we’ve become. It is often hard to watch. It is never pretty.