Remembering Kenny Rogers

I see where Kenny Rogers just died of natural causes at 81, and it saddens me.

I spent a little time with Rogers at the Roanoke Civic Center before a sold-out concert about 35 or so years ago when he was at the very height of his popularity. He was, quite simply, a courteous, interested, kind man who made time for a young reporter.

At the time, he was waiting to go on and Dottie West (whom I also interviewed and found to be delightful) was winding down her act. Dottie was killed in a car wreck a good while ago). I liked her.

One of the roadies came into the room where we were talking and said, “You got a couple of minutes, Kenny. Might want to come on up there.”

Rogers was completely unconcerned. “Let me finish here,” he said, then turned to me and added, “Oh, we have plenty of time. Those guys worry themselves and me to death.”

We took about 10 more minutes and I said, “You probably ought to go on out” and he smiled and came back and said, “It’s my show. I can go when I want to. Any more questions?”

I grinned and said, “Nah. That’ll do. Gotta talk to Dottie.”

“Oh, I see, he said.” And he did.

Roanoke Times Hit Again with Newsroom Loss

Matt Chittum

( NOTE: The blue type, double-underlined, denotes ads that are inserted into this copy without my permission. I don’t know how to erase them. My apologies.)

Roanoke’s daily newspaper is once again bubbling over with news about itself that it doesn’t seem to want to report.

First, the news department (news, editorial, photo, sports, etc.) decided it wanted to form a guild–which is what professionals have instead of a union–and got a bunch of veterans to sign on.

Dwayne Yancey, editor of the editorial page, was not asked to join. He says, “Technically, I suppose I am regarded as a manager, altho[ugh] I have no one to manage. Not sure whether that was a local decision or a guild-wide rule.”

Now, it seems long-time reporter Matt Chittum, one of the paper’s most reliable professionals, has decided he wants to join a lot of other journalists who are making good salaries and have excellent benefits by taking a job at Virginia Tech’s Fralin Biomedical Institute. Public relations at Carilion and Virginia Tech (which are often joined at the hip) has pulled a lot of professional journalists away from their jobs in the Roanoke Valley in the past few years because, well, the jobs are better in every way, especially in being appreciated.

Says Yancey, “The loss of Matt Chittum is a big loss. Lots of experience, deep local roots. You can’t buy that, even if your corporate masters want to.”

I wrote a piece for the Roanoker magazine recently detailing which journalist has gone where in the past few years and I found a lot of EX-journalists, though I’m certain I didn’t get them all.

I have thought of Chittum as a lifer for a lot of years. He has served in a number of capacities for The Times, always capably, and I’m sure he will do the same at Carilion.

The Timesland News Guild‘s online news statement goes like this: “For almost a decade, our larger parent company has been slashing our staff and the coverage that we provide. We must stand up to preserve local news and rebuild what we have lost to serve our readers and communities for the next 134 years.” People at The Times, from what I understand, have not received a pay increase in at least 10 years.

Chittum is one of 42 signatories to the guild’s initial attempt to form.

According to its press release, “The Timesland News Guild is asking Lee [which publishes the paper] to voluntarily recognize the guild and begin bargaining. If Lee does not, the guild will file for an election with the National Labor Relations Board. Elections typically take up to four weeks. The Timesland News Guild seeks to become a unit of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild Local 32035.”

The guild wants this:

  • Restore staff positions that have gone unfilled.

  • Fight for fair pay, cost-of-living increases and fair severance and buyout packages.

  • Negotiate affordable health insurance and equitable retirement benefits benefits.

  • Ensure that the diversity of our newsroom reflects our community.

Need Streaming TV Suggestions? Here Goes

Marta Dusseldorp is in three of my faves: A Place to Call Home, Janet King and Crownies.

My friend Getra Hanes asked for some television suggestions to help get through this self-imposed lockdown we’re enjoying these days and here’s what I came up with:

The best of the best is in the first group; “must-sees” in the second; and very good stuff in the third. I know this is a lot, but we’re in for a long siege.
Key: AP-Amazon Prime
MHz-MHz (Foreign movies and TV series)
A-Acorn (British series TV; great stuff)
G-Google for the network
A French Village (AP, MHz)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (AP)
Deadwood (AP) (Often called “the best series ever on TV”)
A Place to Call Home (AP, A)
Crownies (A)
Janet King (A)
Fleabag (AP)
To Catch a Thief (AP) (Yes, that one!)
Anne with an E (N)
Spring Tide (MHz)
Bosch (N)
Alias Grace (N)
Peaky Blinders (N) (Caution: very violent)
Jessica Jones (N)
The Crown (N)
Godless (N)
Good Girls Revolt (N, AP)
The Last Post (AP)
1922 (N)
Suits (N)
Mindhunter (AP)
Stranger Things (AP)
Manhunt: Unibomber (G)
The Keepers (G)
The New Nurses (MHz)
The Art of Crime (MHz)
Arne Dahl (MHz)
Irene Huss (MHz)
The Heavy Water War (MHz)
Mission Impossible: Fallout (AP)
Serenity (AP)
Lady Bird (AP)
Brittany Runs a Marathon (AP)
The Birdcage (AP)
Jack Ryan (AP)
The Night Manager (AP)
There is a lot–and I mean a LOT–that’s not on here, but as I’ve said before, this is the Golden Age of Television.

A Good Week with the Grands

I really like this shot of my son, Evan, and me playing “Big” on the floor piano.

Oz found this fishing lure at the lake behind the family home.

It’s been nearly a week since I got home from my visit with my son’s family in Waco, Texas, and it is difficult to digest all that has happened in the mean time. I escaped Waco on a plane last Saturday, just ahead of the sweep of the Coronavirus, hitting dang near everywhere, including the Roanoke Valley.

I’m probably going to have to savor the visit for quite some time, it appears. My son and I were planning on attending a Baylor football game next fall, but I don’t expect that to happen now for a bunch of reasons, including the potential postponement of the football season next fall.

We ate a lot of good food (Maddie eating here) and I lost six pounds.

But, as we always do, we made some memories and when I got home, I put a lot of them into a photo book that will serve as a Christmas present in December. I can mail that. I can’t mail me.

Here’s some of what it looked like last week. I’m mostly posting for posterity since these photos have already appeared on my Facebook page.

This old boy tried to get in my head.

Oz going snake hunting in the back yard.

Oz and I skipped rocks on Waco Lake.

One of several very good restaurants where we ate in Waco.

Oz had a meltdown, but Dad was there to help.

Pampa stuffs Oz into the Raptor’s mouth.

Raptors need a little love, too.

Kara at the Magnolia Silos in Waco (owned by the people who rehab houses on TV).

The Smith family at Magnolia-ville.

Ev is the barbecue king.

Evan and Kara doing their phone stuff.

Brother and sister at a calm moment.

I like this picture of my green-haired best girl on the eve of her 15th birthday.

I got some good shots of my favorite person.

Oz does his impression of an owl.

Oz and I have a chat.

Maddie, the buffalo and I at a museum. (Read my T-shirt.)

Maddie, Oz and Evan at a museum (forget which one).

Maddie and Kara play the waiting game.

Maddie in her room.

Oz found out what this building is for.

Oz, Kara and Ev get a break from museuming.

No bull! It’s oz.

Evan gives Oz a boost.

Maddie Rainbow Eyes.

Me as … well … whatever.

Food boys at the taco restaurant.

Maddie’s birthday shoes. She had quite a haul because she has so many grandparents.

Maddie pretends. Interesting look.

Another Drive and More News

The parking lot at Happy’s flea market is being torn up. Next? I don’t know. Do you?

The cherry tree in my back yard is always gorgeous.

It is interesting how much information one can accumulate with a simple drive around the city with a walking destination in mind.

This morning it was Hollins University, which has a wonderful circular road around the campus with hills, valleys, lots of flowers and a spectacular view of Tinker Mountain.

I found out during the walk that Hollins is building three more dorms atop the hill near the president’s house to go with the four it recently finished. There are two more planned, one of the workers told me. This area was quite a blight in the past with cheap faculty housing that bordered on being a campus slum. It will be quite lovely when finished.

Cherry buds backed by spectacular forsythia out back of the Smith ranch.

On the way home, I drove by the old Happy’s flea market, one of my favorite haunts on weekend mornings for years. It was closed a couple of years ago and has been sitting, rotting since. Today I saw a contractor tearing up the parking lot and will assume the building is going down next. I have no idea what’s going up in that spot, but it’s a good commercial lot and it’s huge.

There’s also a lot of beauty out there on the second day of spring and the flowers (below, mostly in my back yard) prove that.

Three more dorms are going up on the hill at Hollins. Four are at the left.

This is my gorgeous Japanese cherry tree (which is strictly ornamental).

Coronavirus: Stories from the Front Lines

As we sit here on the edge of a potential Coronavirus catastrophe I’m running into story after story of people I know being overwhelmed by the situation, on the one hand, and others finding creative ways to get through it.

An airline host friend was so distraught that she took to Facebook and posted this: “Y’all want to know how it feels to work for an airline during this Coronavirus pandemic? Remember when the Titanic was sinking and the band continued to play? Well, that’s us.” Since that post, nearly a week ago, it has become worse for her and she is, frankly, terrified, flying daily and wondering if it’s worth the risk.

I’m hearing story after story of people losing one, two, three jobs–all at once and facing bankruptcy. One is having great difficulty getting to the unemployment office because the subway is closed and when she did, the line was overwhelming. A friend who owns her own beauty shop is looking at the loss of not only her business–which has taken years to build into a success–but also her home.

My niece says she welcomes the $2,000 from the government because she wants to begin paying her father back for her $200,000 education. A Trump supporter, she says the payout is not socialism (I argued that it is), but just an emergency strategy.

The editorial department of The Roanoke Times has chosen right now to try to form a union, something that has been long, long, long overdue. When I was there in the 1970s, we got to the serious talking stage about establishing a news guild, but interest waned. That was before ownership got truly out of hand. The people there now haven’t had a pay raise in more than 10 years and their health insurance premiums keep increasing. But to start a union now? The timing could have been better.

One of my very best friends, one who conducts exercise classes for the elderly, was faced with potentially being without her nursing home job, came up with a modern way of continuing her classes using technology. She’s doing them by video and the old people love the classes and love her. If worse comes to worst, she might consider recording the classes and selling them to senior facilities. She has expanded the classes to staff members, doing individual classes live via technology. “It’s personal training at its best,” she laughs.

Then, there are the people in Chicago who are turning their Little Free Libraries into Little Free Food Pantries, helping their neighbors.

One of the remarkable facts of any challenging situation, I’ve found, is that people find a way. During the economic crash of 2008, I was editor of a business magazine and every issue–without conscious intention–we featured a story of a person who lost her job and was faced with the biggest challenge of her life: mid-career, successful, no job. She simply followed her long-time bliss and started practicing what she always wanted to do, since she had no choice. I have rarely seen happier people, even though their income was often severely reduced (in the short term for most), homes were lost and what normally would have been considered bad news heaped upon them became a source of joy. The person’s story was sunlit, life-changing and the coast was cleared.

Yesterday, as I shopped briefly to re-fill the larder, I ran into a young woman in hospital scrubs. “Are you a nurse?” I asked. She looked at me confused.

“No, sir,” she said, “just an X-Ray technician.”

“There’s no ‘just’ about it,” I said. “You’re on the front lines trying to protect the rest of us. Thank you. You’re a hero.” She blushed and told me that she is having to take care of her 93-year-old grandmother–a woman she treasures–and that her biggest fear is that she will carry the disease to “my granny.”

“I hate not spending time with her,” she said, “but if I get the virus, I’ll just be sick. If she gets it from me, she’ll die. I couldn’t take that.”

A lot of us are finding out that we can “take” a lot more than we thought. It’s still early in this challenge, but my bet is that we are like Londoners during the blitz. We’ll get through and we’ll be stronger for it.

Oh, and there’s this: I’m ditching all the carb-heavy foods in my house and, instead of throwing them into the garbage, I’m tossing them across my big back yard. Talk about bird heaven! The little darlings are especially enamored of Frosted Flakes, I’ve found.

(Note: The blue underlines in this story are ads and they are not my doing. Sorry.)

An AA Old-Timer Engraved My Life

My old friend Skip C died last night and I still can’t write his last name in public because of the exclusive club we belong(ed) to: Alcoholics Anonymous.

Skip gave me what I hope is the last white poker chip I’ll ever need 25 years ago. A white chip indicates a surrender to the disease of alcoholism (and drug abuse these days) and a commitment to become a better person, one who spends his days without the need to get high and destroy lives.

That last white chip was important, but it was one of a number I collected on the way, and Skip gave me several of them, always remaining patient and understanding that “it takes what it takes” to get sober. “Keep coming back” to AA meetings, he’d say. “It works if you work it.”

Skip was an AA fundamentalist of the type that is rare these days. He believed the Big Book, AA’s Bible, to be the truth and he practiced the 12 steps religiously. He had his own fiercely-held beliefs about getting sober, but I never heard him tell anybody that his was the only way. He seemed to know intuitively that human beings are filled with variables, often contradictory, and that finding the “right” way is never absolute.

Skip and his long-time partner, Becky, who died a few years ago, were the equivalent of AA’s mom and pop in the Roanoke Valley for the past 30 or so years. After Becky’s death, sometimes Skip looked slightly lost. But he never complained.

I’ve seen a lot of AA royalty come and go in my nearly 50 years in and around the program and there haven’t been any better than Skip. During that 23 years between my first white chip and what I hope is my last, Skip was always there. He only needed to be asked. He never preached and he was always a rock I could count on.

When I collected my 25-year chip nearly a year ago, Chip was sitting off to the side of a good crowd and as I began to express my appreciation for AA–without first saying, “I’m Dan, an alcoholic”–I heard Chip break the quiet with, “Tell us who you are, Dan.” Always a stickler for the AA way.

Thank you Skip. I hope you and Becky have a great eternity.

MMT Suspends Productions; Asks Donations

In an unusual move, Mill Mountain Theatre has suspended planned production of one of its three annual big shows, “Dreamgirls,” and requested that those who have bought tickets already consider making a donation of the cost of the tickets rather than cashing them in.

MMT is suspending all programming from March 16 (today) until at least April 13, according to Producing Artistic Director Ginger Poole. Dream Girls was to have run March 25-April 13.

Poole says that those wishing to exchange tickets for those of a future performance may do so beginning March 17. “We will exchange for other tickets or issue a gift certificate,” says Poole. There will be no cash refund.

Poole says, “The cancellation of “Dreamgirls” will result in a financial loss to Mill Mountain Theatre. For that reason, we humbly ask that, rather than exchanging your ticket, you consider the ticket purchase to be a donation to MMT. Theatre is a community that is built on the opportunity to come together to share stories and in this unprecedented circumstance, when coming together is not possible, we need your support more than ever.”

For more information, call 540-342-5740.



Not Much Activity at Women’s March

These women are listening to some good music and awaiting their sisters’ arrivals.

This young Girl Scout found the Women’s March a good place to sell her cookies.

Shortly after Donald Trump ascended (we won’t say “was elected”) to the top job in the country, Roanoke’s Women’s March drew about 3,500 rowdy people to Longwood Park to protest the treatment of women. That was a high point.

Since that first year, attendance has decreased annually for a lot of reasons and today at about 12:15-12:30, there were few people there, though organizers promised a bigger crowd at about 2 p.m. when those attending would march. A previous commitment kept me from hanging around.

Anyhow, here’s what I saw. I know the passion is still there for women and maybe they’re saving up for November. I certainly hope so.

Most of the crowd was visiting the vendors at the noon hour.

The venue was nearly empty while I visited, a far cry from the big, noisy crowd of the first year.

An Evening of Art and Music at the Taubman

That’s me on the only piece of furniture in one fascinating exhibition where we were allowed to sit, overseen by bunnies.

It was an interesting evening from a number of perspectives last night as my friend Susan and I visited the Taubman Museum of Art’s mini-blowout, featuring a wide variety of art, music, games and a visual feast of one kind and then another.

“Dream Girls” (left) entertaining a small crowd.

As we walked in the door a wonderful, rich, deep, powerful voice of a singer (whose name I didn’t get) filled the halls and she was followed by the trio of headliners who will entertain you at Mill Mountain Theatre later this month in its production of “Dream Girls.”

Upstairs, we toured several exhibits, including some of the museum’s impressive permanent collection and a Pop Art exhibit that was headlined by Andy Worhol. Susan was especially taken by the Virginia Tech Muralist Ray Kass. His works are huge and the pieces hung at the Taubman had never been assembled as single units before they went up at the Taubman. They are simply too big to haul around as a single piece, so they have to be carted in pieces. Even Kass had never seen them together, except in PhotoShop, he said.

Ray Kass’ mural and a piano for concerts behind him.

The pieces–made of paper and ash–were partly done with the help of a couple of interns, Tech students, who could actually get on the ground and crawl around to make the art. Kass says he’s had far too many joint replacements to be crawling around.

The artwork surrounded a set for piano performance, which accompanied it, something Kass endorsed enthusiastically.

My piece of pottery endorsing Trump.

Downstairs, we ran into a group asking us to endorse–from the bottom up–a presidential candidate by writing his name on a piece of broken pottery. The “winning” candidate would actually be the loser because the one with the most votes was not only thrown out of the election but forbidden to run again for 10 years. It is an ancient Greek method of voting (using broken pottery instead of paper because paper was too expensive) and the winner at the Taubman–by far–was Donald Trump, for whom I voted. Would that it were real. The young man conducting the election said Trump was an overwhelming choice.

Susan writing her candidate’s name on a piece of pottery.

Shortly thereafter, we ran into a yoga-teaching friend of Susan’s who decided a few months ago to enter 2020 by shaving her head and only wearing white top to bottom the entire year. It would be a cleansing, she said. Her hair had partially grown back and the white pinafore and Doc Martin boots she wore were simply striking. She is getting ready to open her own business and since she’s a potter, I’d assume the business will have something to do with that. I didn’t get her name. Nice young lady, though.