A Touching Goodbye for the Garbage Man

Ricky Akers struggling while being honored by the county.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve attended a government meeting in an official capacity–as a reporter, as it were. This afternoon, backgrounding a story I’m writing for a magazine, I had to attend the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors meeting and I found myself fascinated with a couple of developments.

Honoring Anne Marie Green was more traditional.

First, there was Ricky Akers, a guy who looks like a Civil War Veteran, wearing overalls (not buttoned on the side vent, showing a bit of pudge)  accepting a resolution of appreciation from the county board for his work collecting trash for the past 37 years.

Rob Light, his supervisor, said some good things about Ricky, which seemed to move him. Rob asked if Ricky would like to speak and the old boy nodded. “I dedicated my life to my job,” he said, his voice breaking. He tried to continue, but his head went down, the tears came and the hearts of a room full of people were with him.

Ricky’s having trouble these days with gout and probably a simple case of wearing out because he’s been throwing around people’s trash for nearly four decades. Good for you, Ricky, and thank you, sir.

(Anne Marie Green, the county’s HR director retired after 30 years, but hers was more predictable with laudatory statements, thank-yous and general admiration that executives give each other.)

Reporters and their devices. Those beside me had laptops. I had a pen and paper.

On another matter, I noted–so to speak–that I was the only reporter in the room with a pen and a piece of paper, taking notes, writing on the agenda and in my notebook, as I always have. The young reporters were all collecting info with electronic devices. At one point, during a crucial presentation by the planning department, the electronics stopped working and I thought to myself, “If he had some poster-sized pictures, he wouldn’t be having this problem right now.” I felt vindicated.

‘Carrying Independence” to Williamson Road

Karen with some of her favorite dudes.

My old pal Karen Chase, a former Roanoke graphic designer, will talk about her popular new book, Carrying Independence, Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the newly-renovated Williamson Road Library in Roanoke, one of the first events to be held there.

A Canadian by birth, Chase lives in Richmond now, but is frequently in Roanoke for a variety of reasons, among them talking about her books. She became a writer shortly after leaving the Star City with a charming memoir about turning 40 in France titled Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log (40 years. 40 days. 40 seconds. (Available here)

Chase, whose new work is a novel focusing on the signing of the Declaration of Independence, says, “My presentation will be some of the history and background behind the story of ‘carrying independence.’ I’ll talk about how I found the story, verifying that, indeed, not all the signers were in the same room on the same day, and then some of the lesser known facts of history that I learned along the way. Part of that time at the library will also include a Q&A to answer questions about writing, history, publishing, etc.”

 The talk is part of the Roanoke Reads summer program.

Chase’s talks about Carrying Independence (here) have been popular among history buffs and clubs like the Daughters of the American Revolution, revealing as it does a lot of the detail surrounding getting all the signatures that appear on the final document, an exciting and sometimes dangerous undertaking.

The New Norm: 100 Degrees in Roanoke

The Roanoke River was hot yesterday, but it was quite lovely.

The simple fact is that I grew up in west-central South Carolina (on the Savannah River) and the heat we are experiencing in Roanoke, VA, right now should not affect me with such devastating surprise. It was the norm in North Augusta. In August, I went to football practice at the high school at 9 a.m. with a temperature of 95 degrees and humidity hovering around 98 percent. We had no fat football players.

Dressed for heat, not for hottie.

Yesterday on my back porch, the temperature reached 103 degrees and the humidity was 78 percent a little after 3 p.m. I did a kayak trip down the Roanoke River from 9-11 a.m., then ran a few errands (didn’t turn on the AC in my truck, for reasons known only to me), getting back home about 1. It was 94 degrees when I pulled into the driveway.

At about

A circle of trees on Tinker Creek, heading toward the Roanoke River.

3, I took some trash outside and felt like I was in a foundry. That feeling was not conjecture. I spent time in foundries twice, taking photos for stories and it was hot. I was amazed that the workers doing 12-hour shifts, wearing heavy canvas jumpsuits and rarely complaining about the heat. I lasted about 20 minutes in each case. The heat was searing, much as it was yesterday, much as it was when I was a kid.

Today, we are in line to hit 100 again before the intensity of summer lets up for a while. The fact is, though, that this is no longer unheard of. It’s not even unusual. The thermometer hit 100 four times on my back porch last year and it hovered over 90 on a number of occasions. I don’t know if there’s any getting used to it, adjusting to it at my age and I am 100 percent certain climate change is the reality behind it. As a nation, we have refused to do anything about that change and we are enduring the consequences at this point.

Not a gator; a limb.

Tree roots create their own art in the intense sun.

A railroad trestle in the sun: reflections in a golden eye.

Rocks in the Roanoke River and the greenway reflected in the Roanoke River. Quite a sight for the casual kayaker.

This guy was serious about fishing and protecting his head and face from the sun.

A turn in the greenway bridge against an azure sky.

More wooden crocodiles.

I was captivated by this spooky root reflection. Turn it any one of four ways and you get a different photo. Striking.

Something New at Overnight Sensations

Amanda Mansfield (from left), Gwenyth Strope, Taylor Cobb and Mikayla Cohen in Sarah Smith’s “All’s Fair in Love and Libraries”

Overnight Sensations, the Mill Mountain Theatre/Hollins University summer collaboration, has been pretty stagnant for its 13 years, though that does not imply it has been uninteresting. That changed last night.The group of six 10-minute play-ettes, written, rehearsed and presented in 24 hours, took a turn toward sophistication.

My date and me ready for a night of theatre.

The first change I noticed was that the orchestra pit was open for the spare staging of these works. That hadn’t been done before. There was music. Writers wrote in more props, which have always been at a very minimum. And there was simply a lot more going on in general.

It made for a delightful evening, one stolen–as usual–by writers Ben Williams and Dwayne Yancey, who were strongly challenged for the best play by David Beach, Amy Lytle, Becky Becker and Sarah K. Smith.

The nearly-filled auditorium was alive with laughter, often loud and prolonged.

The premise here is to give the writers prompts, say “children’s theater set in a boarding house” and a line that must be used during the course of the play (“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child,” for example).

I normally spend some of my Overnight Sensations evening on stage, but my grandgirl is in town for a visit, so we went as spectators. Maddie, who is 14, spent the night all but rolling in the aisles. She’s a big fan of this night. And so am I.

And a Baseball Game Was Played, Too

The crowd was big, colorful and enthusiastic in Lynchburg.

The Hillcats’ uniforms (modeled here by a couple of employees, were delightful.

My grandgirl Madeline, friend Susan and I went over to Lynchburg last night for a 4th of July baseball game/celebration and despite thunderstorms swirling around the area, wound up having a bang-up time.

The Lynchburg Hillcats of the Carolina League dolled themselves up in red-white-blue uniforms that featured a copy of the Declaration of Independence. Lynchburg always has great uniforms (except when they wear those god-awful military camos), but these were more than appropriate for the occasion and fit in with the crowd’s jubilant mood and color scheme. The team itself lost 6-0, but nobody seemed to notice. They were all impatiently awaiting the brief fireworks show that followed the game, which started late (with a rain delay) and ended later.

Fireworks followed.

It’s a good little park, though, less than half the size of the Salem Red Sox park where we usually go. Salem’s game was rained out, but it was scheduled at 3 p.m., hardly an inviting time on July 4.

Here is some of what we saw in Lynchburg.

Plenty of autographs were given out.

This young guy was more enthusiastic than he seemed.

This little sweetie was celebrating her second birthday.

Musical chairs got rowdy.


The field was decked out for the 4th.

Legal Hemp Among Best New Laws in Va.

Lilyhemp in Vinton grows its own hemp.

As of July 1 (yesterday) we are living under some new laws in Virginia. When the General Assembly takes new actions, they most often apply in the summer following the session when they were passed.

Among the most important–to my way of seeing things–is a new attitude toward hemp, an agricultural product of immense value that has been directly and unfairly linked with recreational marijuana for many years. The value of hemp has been demonstrated over and over, but legislatures have been hesitant to legalize it because of its association with pot.

The Virginia Mercury reports, “The financial implications are huge, especially for southern Virginia farmers already cultivating tobacco, which requires much of the same infrastructure (curing barns, anyone?) and soil conditions as hemp.” Donald Trump’s tariff threats are giving Virginia tobacco farmers uncertainty and hemp can help solve that dilemma and get some tobacco off the market. Says the Mercury: hemp “can net anywhere from $4,000 to $20,000 per acre, compared to $800 to $1,000 from tobacco.”

Here is the Mercury’s more complete report.

Otherwise, there’s plenty to consider. Below is Del. Adam Eban’s synopsis.

  • Drivers’ licenses will no longer be suspended solely for nonpayment of court fines and fees. The licenses of 627,000 Virginians that are currently suspended for nonpayment will be restored.
  • You will not be allowed to talk on your cell phone in road work zones.
  • Courts can now dismiss a summons issued for an expired vehicle registration if a defendant can provide proof of compliance prior to their court date.
  • Localities are now authorized to regulate the operation of electric scooters.
  • Local school systems are now allowed to start school up to two weeks prior to Labor Day.
  • There is a new education grant program has been established that should help generate 25,000 graduates in technology.
  • The legal age has risen from 18 to 21 (except for military personnel, who apparently don’t find smoking unhealthy).
Sexual Assault
  • Employers will no longer be allowed to require employees to sign nondisclosure agreements that forbid the worker from sharing details of sexual assault claims.
  • Starting in the 2020 general election, voters may cast their ballot up to 10 days before election day without any excuse.

You can get a more detailed look at Virginia’s new laws here.

The Bonnie Nobody Knew

This was my young friend Bonnie Pivacek about 20 or so years ago.

Bonnie, who’d be about 40 now, was a baker at my pal Steve Hartman’s On the Rise Bakery on Roanoke City Market and was looked upon as something of a wafish ragamuffin.

After these photos, people tended to see her differently with the classic East European profile and elegant neck. A real beauty. And an excellent photographer in her own right, as well (she took the shot of me for the cover of one of my books).

These were taken in an old junk yard–one with four steam engines–across the street from where Virginia Tech Carilion now sits. They are part of an album I rediscovered last weekend.

Plan B: A Photo Walk Along the River

I don’t like to fish, but I love photographing it, especially fly fishermen, as this guy is.

The idea today was to troop down to the River’s Edge Greenway in Roanoke and take some photos of the big rubber duckie festival (wherein thousands of duckies are dumped into the Roanoke River and boaters retrieve them), but guess what? Must have been yesterday.

My favorite ex-wife once called me “the most calendar-challenged man I’ve ever known.” It’s still working.

I had to punt the duckies and make the best of the situation, so I went walking (wound up with 10,000 steps) and photoing. Got some interesting shots that you get to see here.

This Presbyterian church youth group seemed to be having a good time.

These Hispanic kids play soccer every day in Riverside Park. They have a pretty good following and they can damn well play the game.

This is a father-daughter duo, discussing running as they passed me.

Mimosa is one of my favorite flowering trees, but I can never get it to grow.

Shells–mussel, I think–along the bank of the Roanoke River.

Pink and blue, boy and girl flowers.

One more of the fisherman, this one with another sharp reflection.

Happy Father’s Day to My Boy

Evan, Oz and me about seven years ago.

Ev loved the snow as a little boy.

I went searching for photos of my son yesterday, so I could post a Happy Father’s Day card this morning and I came up with some pretty good ones.

Here you go and Happy Father’s Day to the best Dad I know: my son Evan.

Ev getting one of his first haircuts. He had curly ringlettes that disappeared.

Ev with his mom, Chris, and sister, Jenniffer.

Ev did some theatrical stuff pre-middle school.

Evan has always liked to cook.

What is it with little boys and tractors?

Evan adored his sister, Jenniffer, as a little boy.

Ev, Emmitt Smith (the boxer, named after Emmitt Kelly, the clown, not the football player Emmitt Smith) and me at McAfee’s Knob. He was about 14.

Evan, Emmitt and me out in the woods.

I have no words.

The Baseball Draft: Dashing Dreams

The Salem Red Sox of the Class A Carolina League play in an often idyllic setting, but how many of its players go on to baseball fame and fortune? Not many. (I shot this photo about 10 years ago.)

Writer Jim Collins’ 2004 book The Last Best League is a look at low minor league baseball that opened my eyes to what I believe to be feeding false hopes among amateur baseball players, often teenagers.

Just last week, major league baseball teams drafted more than 1,000 amateur baseball players to fill the rosters of all their levels, from Rookie Leagues to AAA. Some players–a very few–get huge bonuses in the multi-million dollar range. Most of those players will sign for very little money, will earn less than enough to live on as their summer jobs and will see their dreams of big money and fame wither as they age beyond their teen or early 20s years.

There are 30 big league teams and they carry 25 players each until Sept. 1 of each year. That’s 750 players. After Sept. 1, as the playoffs approach, rosters expend to 40 players, 1,200 total. Some of those additional players are brought up from the minor leagues, mostly players who have been there for a while and are having good seasons.

There are 6,500 minor league players spread among 244 clubs (including teams in Salem, Lynchburg and Pulaski in this area). That’s a lot of hope and most of it will be dashed eventually. (The Pulaski rookie league team plays in a 1930s-era atmospheric stadium, Calfee Park, which is a delight to visit, by the way.)

Collins’ book is about a quasi-amateur collegiate rookie league on Cape Cod and he looks closely at the recent college players banking on getting a break. The league features teams from small towns in a remote location.

Time was when baseball teams from small towns–playing in leagues that went all the way from A to D–were popular representatives of the towns, playing in rivalry games against neighbors. Playing in the low minors was something kids happily did. Now it’s all about stepping stones in a sport where a 25-year-old in the low minors is done.

It is the very definition of false hope, given to youngsters in their formative when they could be concentrating on their educations and their careers afterward. Just how many of these kids are dispatched to lives of unrealized potential is not known. But I’d bet it’s a bunch.