Fleet Feet Is Spelled S*E*R*V*I*C*E

Fleet Feet crew: they made a believer out of me.

I don’t normally go around raving about a retail store where I’ve just bought a pair of shoe laces, but I will make an exception for Fleet Feet on U.S. 220 South in Roanoke (in front of Lowe’s).

Margie wanted to go there today to get her some new tennis shoes for work (she’s a geriatric nurse and shoes get worn out fast). Fleet Feet had a good rating online, so she asked if I would take her.

I discovered immediately–even though I was not shopping for anything–just what service is when one of the young sales professionals (and she damn well was a professional in the best sense of the word) came over and gave me a short course in socks (I was standing near the socks). She knew I wasn’t shopping, but she gave her time as if I were buying a whole wall of shoes. She finished without pressuring and left me to browse. Very pleasant chat, I thought.

Then I found a set of shoe laces–the kind that doesn’t tie, but you simply secure by sliding a plastic do-hickey–and nearly flipped. I love those babies and had not found them commercially before.

A small, bright sales person (whose name I did not get; sorry) came over and gave me the ins and outs of the laces and offered to put them on my shoes (not an easy feat for my shoeless feet) after I said I wanted them. She was the very definition of customer service and while I was in the process of getting my new laces, a young woman who used to coach my grandgirl in swimming at Hunting Hills, Kylie Patrick, came over and joined the conversation, remembering Madeline well. It was all simply delightful.

Fleet Feet’s shoes are expensive (so are its shoe laces), but the service, the fit, the comfort and the overall experience were simply marvelous for both Margie and me. I mentioned to Margie on our way out that the training of these young people is exceptional and for that, I will give credit to the owners, Blaine and Robin Lewis.

Need some shoes or accessories? Support these lovely people. You’ll truly enjoy your experience.

(Let me mention that I am recommending Fleet Feet because I believe it is an exceptional store, not because anybody is paying anybody. No money has passed hands and payment has not been discussed, nor will it be. I just genuinely like these guys.)


No More Bugs from VW and I’m Sad

Daisy and me in the snow, March, 2013.

It was about five years ago that I first saw Daisy, sitting there under a dirty March snow, peeping out with that pretty yellow face. I was immediately smitten, driving into the car lot on Peter’s Creek Road in Roanoke, brushing off some more of the snow and getting a good look at her. There was no way I was leaving without her.

And I didn’t. I paid probably $2,000 more than the book said she was worth, but I didn’t care. I didn’t even need to drive her. A friend told me I was stupid, first to buy a Volkswagen bug, second not to have it inspected and then not to even drive her. But love knows no boundaries.

Since Daisy first entered my life, I’ve had a whole new vision of the importance of a “statement car.” Daisy says–no, yells–“I’m free and I’m happy! Come laugh with me.” I hear almost weekly, “I had no idea you drove a bug, let alone a yellow one.” And then the person says she sees me differently in this (yellow) light. So do I.

I climb into Daisy’s surprisingly roomy interior (this is a different car than it was in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s), look at the little pot of daisies on the dash and the small wooden VW cutout hanging from the mirror that my favorite ex-wife made me and I almost always smile. It sets a tone for the day.

Now, for the second time, Volkswagen has announced that it will stop producing the car that was originally inspired by Hitler in the 1930s (Volkswagen means “people’s car”). This is an icon, one that has meant a hippie revolution, freedom for poor students and poor young workers, affordability for young parents, a fun ride. It used to sound like a sewing machine and the engine could be overhauled in a few hours using a screwdriver and a pair of pliers. The engine was in the back, over the drive wheels, so it would go in the show when snow plows wouldn’t. It wasn’t comfortable. It got crazy gas mileage (at a time in the U.S. when gas cost 19 cents a gallon and mileage didn’t matter much).

I don’t imagine VW’s decision will affect me and Daisy (she has nearly 200,000 miles on her and still looks nearly new), but I do suspect that when somebody else driving a yellow VW approaches me, the wave I always get will be a smidge more enthusiastic. I hope so. I love that little car.




Jenniffer: The Image of Her Mother

I have often said that my first wife, Eva, was perhaps the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Amend that. The most beautiful human I’ve ever seen. Her daughter–and my daughter–Jenniffer, is her equal, I am certain, with absolutely no credit to me.

Jennie looks like Eva with the perfect skin, the Germanic features (Eva is from the Black Forest) and many things that–in my eyes–create beauty in woman. She’s 51 now and the beauty has not only failed to face, but may be as good as ever.

(Let me emphasize that my Margie is gorgeous and this has nothing to do with that.)

The photo above was taken yesterday in North Georgia and my friend (and Jennie’s) Jeri Layne of Vinton did a little work on it.

Jennie’s mom, Eva, and me. I was 20, she 19.

Close to Being Smashed, But Oh, That Story!

I just told this story to my friend Arnette Crocker and thought I’d share it with you, in light of the hurricane that is about to clobber us (according to all the weather I can find):

I grew up in “Hurricane Alley” in South Carolina and once, when I was about 10, I was trying to get home in the midst of Hurricane Connie from a baseball game. I probably weighed 80-90 pounds.

As I reached my back yard (we bordered the baseball field at my school), the wind was so strong that I had to lean into it, almost at a 45 degree angle to the ground, pushing my little legs as hard as I could.

My mother showed up at the back screen door, yelling and I couldn’t hear a word. She was freaking out and then I heard a loud “crack!” and knew the end was near. I was walking past a huge chinaberry tree and it was coming down on me, the wind actually working both for me and against me simultaneously.

I was making a tiny amount of progress and the tree was falling slowly against the wind. Suddenly, I felt something on my back and arms, pumped harder and fell flat on my face. The tree kept coming and was all around me. Mom was working her way toward me, the wind at her back, screaming. I was OK. The tree’s big limbs didn’t hit me–by a few feet.

Mom was out of her mind and I was lying there calmly, knowing that when I got back to school in the next few days, I’d have a hell of a story to tell.


Fighting Lyme Disease While Driving

The Tic Mobile fighting Lyme Disease.

I spotted this Tic Mobile on the back of a tractor-trailer car-hauling rig Saturday as Margie and I drove to Lexington. Its stated purpose (on a plate on its back) is to fight Lyme Disease, the favorite cause of my late friend Sarabeth Hammond.

Sarabeth had chronic Lyme Disease for the last few years of her short life and she battled it like a warrior. This has been an unusually friendly year for tics in this end of Virginia, so the little car (covered with faux–I guess–grass and big tics) could have an important impact when it gets to its new owner.


Smoothing Out the Bump on the Road to Lexington

Lexington has a distinct European feel.
Margie attacks her seafood salad at the Sheridan Livery Inn.

Margie and I drove up to Lexington yesterday to see Washington & Lee’s football team play Sewanee and to eat lunch at the Red Hen Restaurant, but there was a glitch. W&L was playing Sewanee in Tennessee and the Red Hen isn’t open for lunch.

So we improvised.

This is, of course, a perfect example of my skill at road-trip planning (I knew W&L was playing Sewanee and I knew the Red Hen–made popular when it asked presidential spokeswoman Sara Sanders to leave a couple of months ago–is a restaurant).

Ah, but the details.

One other detail I didn’t know was that the Red Hen is pretty expensive: appetizers for $9-$12 and entres from $22-$27 (shrimp and grits, for example, is $24).

While looking for an alternative restaurant, we ran into a couple of ladies outside the Thai restaurant in downtown (I love pad Thai), who said the Red Hen’s portions are so small that “you have to go home and eat dinner after eating there” and they suggested we try the Sheridan Livery Inn across the street. “It has

The Red Hen was closed for lunch. That’s Margie approaching.

a seafood salad to die for,” said one woman. “And the burgers … oooooh,” said the other.

In spite of the burger temptation (Margie is a burger addict), we both settled on the seafood salad and the woman was right. It was simply lovely and the lunch price was reasonable (about $9 each). We chatted with a young (25, looked 18) waitress who had just moved to Lexington because … well, because she wanted to. No school, no real plans. And she adores it. “I don’t know many people yet,” she said, “but I really love it here.”

It would be difficult not to be smitten by Lexington, I suspect. Margie and I actually took a wrong road out of town and drove around one of the most beautiful neighborhoods I’ve ever seen. The houses are Civil War era and perfectly manicured, like most of the downtown, which has a distinct European flavor.

Young clerk (a high school sophomore) wraps a gift for my daughter.

The shops and boutiques are always a lure for me. I wind up buying Christmas gifts at Artists in Cahoots nearly every year. It features arts and crafts from people who live in our mountains. Margie and I found a couple of gifts for her daughter and my daughter and grand daughter while dallying on the streets and I suspect there will be three happy gift recipients at Christmas.

Even with my planning screw-ups, this was a delightful excursion and I suspect Lexington could not be otherwise. It’s one of my favorite places.

Margie and I on the veranda of the Sheridan Livery Inn, which we both adore.



The Classic Football Photo: A ‘Life Moment’

Burt Reynolds captured in a perfectly awful college football photo. Mine are worse.
These two photos, taken my junior and senior years in high school, illustrate my point. One’s flat out of focus.

There was a time in my life when the annual posing for the football photo was all consuming. I–and many like me–would pose for hours in front of a mirror, or not in front of a mirror, trying to get that action pose down to perfection.

No matter how we put the edge on that pose, however, it was all up to the photographer how it came out. The photographer was all-too-often a local amateur whose family had given him a Nikon A1 for Christmas the previous year and he was still learning how to use it.

I played halfback (runningback now) and quarterback (tailback in a single wing) when I was a kid, which meant I could pose doing the Heisman Trophy lean or the Johnny Unitas passer. I did both. Each came out awfully, one not even in focus. But we got one shot at it and no matter how perfectly we executed the pose, we were dependent on the photographer to get it right.

This photo, safely without action, worked (even though the uniform was filthy).

I was reminded of all this when I saw that god-awful Burt Reynolds/Florida State pose this morning in a eulogy of him. Here’s a guy in a big-time program, doing his halfback cut and the photographer standing (or stooping) so far away that Reynolds’ image is less than 20 percent of the photo. The picture is taken at a time of day when a dark, steep shadow falls to the photographer’s right. It all looks ridiculous and amateurish for both Reynolds and the photographer.

But compare it to the photos of moi. They just look stupid and my mind’s legacy as football player (which has always been overblown) took and continues to take a shot in the gonads. The photos are embarrassing, so I feel the need to hide them.

The one exception for me is the photo the local newspaper in Avery County, N.C., took the morning after a game, when I’d done OK. Problem was, my uniform hadn’t been washed and I looked like a crew-cut 10-year-old fresh off a game of marbles.

For these reasons, although I am a pretty good photographer, I have always refused any offer (financial or otherwise)  to take team and individual sports photos that didn’t involve my family. Ain’t doin’ it. Ain’t traumatizing those kids.

I did take photos of my daughter and son playing soccer and lacrosse. I even made Evan look like an all-American lacrosse player because still photography allows that. But it doesn’t always happen, especially when the photographer has little idea what he’s doing.

You wonder what happened to Burt Reynolds? This damn photo happened to him.


Hey, Nike, Guess What I Just Bought!

All you Colin Kaepernick haters need to suck it up. My friend Kim Leigh Martin has a solution for your hatred: give your shoes to a homeless veteran instead of burning them. I like that.

For me, I just went out and bought a new pair. They replace a pair of wonderful Merrill trainers that the company doesn’t make any more and they make a political statement: I’m in favor of putting the brakes on police brutalizing our African-American population. And yes, I completely agree that it is a small fraction of the police force doing this, but if it is properly controlled, it will stop and people will be treated equally, as our Constitution demands.



Happy Birthday, Oz

Seven years ago today Oz entered our universe as a little boy with a slim chance of making it.

He had trouble with his lungs and the prognosis was pretty grim. But Oz has good parents–Kara and Evan–who refused to let him go.

They cared and worked and attended for several years and Oz finally blossomed–a little late, but a big, loud, robust bloom who today plays like the Front Four with a pole vaulter and a monster truck thrown in. He is a voracious reader, game player and athlete of some ability.

And he’s a good little boy, one who makes his Pampa proud.

Oz’s sister, Madeline, gets her first look at her little brother.
Seven years ago today.
Waiting for the school bus last week.
Oz and me a few weeks ago when he was in Roanoke.