Today Marks my 55th Year in Journalism

I was 18 and two months out of high school when I began writing for money.

Fifty-five years ago today at 10 o’clock in the morning I walked into the tiny sports department at the Asheville Citizen-Times, spotted sports editor Bob Terrell’s desk in the back corner. There were five desks in a room that couldn’t have been more than 15X15. I briskly walked toward him, my right hand extended to shake his.

I had no appointment, but I wanted a job. This was the only way I knew to ask. My background was not imposing: I was 18, a recent high school graduate and I couldn’t type. My previous jobs were in a paint warehouse and a fast-food restaurant. I had been a high school athlete and a good English student. I liked to write.

Bob listened patiently as I told him all that and ended with, “I’d love to work here with you.”

My mother suggested I give Terrell a visit, asking, “What do you have to lose?” I had no answer. “Besides,” she said, “this Bob Terrell seems like a nice man. I’ve read his columns.” He was a nice man. He hired me on the spot and I worked that night at a salary of $5 a night as a copy boy, a position that no longer exists and hasn’t for many years.

My first assignment was to practice typing and take hard copy (that’s stories type-written on paper) to the composing room every 30 minutes or so, in order for the stories to be set into type on lead slugs. Bob assigned Al Geremonte, the paper’s outdoor editor and an old World War II platoon sergeant who fought at Guadalcanal, to watch over me and teach me the ropes.

This is me in about 1981 as editor of a weekly paper.

I took to the routine quickly, loved the always-excited atmospheres of the adjacent news and sports rooms, learned to type by typing and started writing small stories initiated by people calling the department. Al had a blue pencil that he used on my two and three-paragraph pieces, tearing them apart, often leaving me crushed, but determined. He said, “Listen, kid, [he always called me “kid”], just write the way you talk and make sure you speak English and you’ll be OK.” I later learned that Al’s advice gave me permission to write in my own “voice,” something I have taught young writers for years now.

It was October before I earned my first by-line, a small piece, maybe six paragraphs, on high school football. I had never before–or since–been so proud. Mom showed the clipping to everybody she knew.

That’s the significantly-ripened me in front of the Citizen-Times building in downtown Asheville.

I have always felt something more than blessed that Mom suggested I go see Bob Terrell, that I did and that he hired me. Some years ago, I wrote a story about a job counselor who suggested that most of us land in our careers by sheer happenstance, like the theater major a friend of mine hired to be a financial advisor (she’s great at it, he says). I loved to write, even as a kid and entertained notions of teaching history at one point. But that wasn’t happening.

Listening to Mom wasn’t something I always did. This time, though, it was the right thing to do.


Kelani Lawrence Shines in Pan Am Games

Kelani Bailey Lawrence kisses her two bronze Pan American Games medals.

Kelani Lawrence with doubles partner Rhonda Rajsich and their Pan Am medals

It’s been quite the warm season for Roanoker Kelani Bailey Lawrence, who began with a national championship in racquetball in May and followed that with two bronze medals at the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru, July 26-Aug. 11.

As reported here earlier, the young Salem YMCA membership coordinator, won a national singles title at the USA Racquetball Championships at Highlands Ranch, Colorado, in the spring. She shared the USA Racquetball title in 2018. (My Roanoker magazine story here.)

At the Pan Am games she won bronze medals in doubles with partner Rhonda Rajsich (40-year-old veteran player and former national champ from Phoneix) and with the USA team. She lost in the quarterfinals of the singles competitions. The lack of a title was not discouraging, she says. “I continued to improve throughout the tournament,” she says. “The South American teams rock it in racquetball. It is the No. 2 sport in Bolivia and has government support in several countries.”

Kelani relaxes on the Pan Am logo.

The team had little time to explore the coastal city of Lima (which was an hour and a half away from the Pan Am venue). “We would wake up, eat, go to the competition, play, go back, eat and sleep. We did find the food amazing. Peru is known for its food, especially the fish, which I loved.”

The tournament took place during the Peruvian winter and “it was in the 50s and 60s most days and overcast most of the time we were there.”

She gets back to work in September, returning to her home area of Chesapeake for a pro tournament run by her mother, Malia Kamahoahoa Bailey. Kelani says her mom will play in the tournament, but it is unlikely the two will face each other.

(Photos courtesy Kelani Lawrence.)


A Delayed Birthday to a Lovely City

This bridge leads to Percival Island in downtown Lynchburg.

That’s Uday and me.

Celebrating a birthday on the birthday is pretty much a settled argument, except for when it isn’t. Yesterday, my friend Susan helped me celebrate my July 31 birthday by taking me to Lynchburg for a hike on the inner-city trail to Percival Island and lunch at the Hill City’s lovely city market.

The market area of Lynchburg once trailed Roanoke’s version, but no more. Not by a mile. Lynchburg has more farmers, more vendors, better-prepared food and a heck of a lot more to do downtown when you get there than does Roanoke. Lynchburg’s version of Roanoke’s greenway runs right along the James River, which is about three blocks away from its market area, which is teeming with people, smiling, telling stories, buying veggies, crafts (they love the phrase “Made in Virginia”), window shopping and being surprised at just how much entertainment can be packed into a small area.

Noting my birthday on the chalkboard at H&C Cafe.

My friend and I ate lunch at the well-regarded (just look at the awards on the wall) “Italian-Mediterranean Fusion” restaurant Hot & Cold Cafe, straight across the street from the city market building and its farmers. The cafe’s owner is Uday Mukherjee, one of the most engaging and enthusiastic chef/owners I’ve ever met. You see, hear and feel the love in his preparations as he flits around the room offering suggestions. Eating at H&C Cafe is a delight.

Susan and I in silhouette during lunch.

I bought beets, tomatoes and a lovely Asian pear at the market.

My old artist pal Paul Clement made Lynchburg’s “Love” sign on the banks of the James River.

We posed in the “O.”

These locks for bicycles made for an interesting graphic over the James River.

The James River, downtown Lynchburg.

The Style of Madeline Smith

A touch of the 1950s

My shirt adds a touch.

My daughter-in-law, Kara, explained the photos this way: “This is Madeline’s first week of school fashion… I really love that she is finding her own style and experimenting.”

Maddie’s mom has always had a nice sense of stylish flair and my grandgirl has been the beneficiary. Add to that the two years they lived in Spain and the notion that elegance is cool, and you get Maddie at 14, a young woman who has developed her own look and is comfortable with it.

Lose the backpack, Mads.

USO dance, 1944.

She has combined Goodwill (the outdoor shirt I bought for her) with the yellow lounging outfit, long sweaters, 1940s frocks, combat boots, Goth darkness, a haircut that looks like an accident and those ever-present and alluring dimples to become Madeline, Viking Warrior, which she has been since she was about 8. Now she has the clothes for it.

Here’s Madeline’s fashion as she enters high school in Memphis. She will take it with her to stir up Texas when the family moves to Waco at the end of September.

One tip: Straighten the shoulders, sweetie.

Maddie wore this on a theatre date with me (minus the jacket) when she was here this summer.

The Value of People Who Want To Live Here

Coochanelli wants only those with money.

The Trump Administration, with former Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken “Cooch” Coochanelli at the point, wants to rewrite the inscription on the Statue of Liberty so that America becomes a welcoming country only for well-to-do white people only.

The plaque was attached to the statue after it was constructed, but its intent has always been a part of our country’s reason for being: We want those looking for an opportunity, regardless of their culture, their circumstances, their religion.

Here are a few people we have welcomed, that were poor when they got here, but aren’t any longer. A lot of Americans benefitted from that largesse.

In 2016 “42 slots on The Forbes 400 belong to naturalized citizens who immigrated to America. That’s 10.5% of the list, a huge overperformance considering that naturalized citizens make up only 6% of the U.S. population,” according to Forges.

Here are a few success stories (not necessarily on the Forbes list) that the Trumpsters may want to consider before banning people because of the color of their skin or their religion.

  • Yahoo founder Jerry Yang (Taiwan)
  • Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi (India)
  • Andrew Ly Sugar Bowl Bakery (Vietnam)
  • Vinod Dham CEO of Silicon Spice (India)
  • Rijat Gupta ex-managing director McKinsey & Co. (India)
  • Elie Weisel author and Jewish activist (Transylvania)
  • Mel Martinez former U.S. Senator, chairman Chase Bank of Florida (Cuba)
  • Andy Grove co-founder Intel (Hungary)
  • Lowell Hawthorne founder Golden Crust Caribbean Bakery & Grill (Jamaica)
  • Gene Simmons (Chaim Witz) musician with KISS (Hungary)
  • Ahmad Meradji Booklogix CEO (Iran)
  • Felix Sanchez de la Vega Guzman Puebla Foods founder (Mexico)
  • Sergey Brin co-founder Google (Russia)
  • Shahid Khan Jacksonville Jaguars owner (Pakistan)

I’m writing a story for early next year that will feature some of our more successful immigrants and you will know some of them. Imagine what we’d be without them.




Subtle Changes Mark the Seasons

Celebrate good times, come on!

Virginia creeper showing its red.

Sometimes, the outside is so glorious I can’t contain myself and this past weekend presented two days’ worth of that glory. I was outside, hiking, paddling and thoroughly enjoying the sun, the breeze, the clarity of the air, the smells and the soaking of all five senses at the same time.

The colors in the woods are beginning to ease toward fall, giving hints with the subtle changes of color in poison ivy, the Virginia creeper and a wide variety of other flora and fauna. It is a time to take notice.

Faux muscle boy.

A flower all his own.

I’m not sure what this is, but it’s lovely.

This says “fall” in a loud voice.

I think these are poison sumac berries.

Not sure what spun this web, but it’s striking and a little spooky.


Renewing a Good Friendship on the Cove

Pam paddles toward me as fog clings to the mountain in the distance. The fog was lovely.

Pam has that great up-from-the-feet, full-throated laugh, even as Pampa tries to shoot a selfie.

It’s always odd to me how when I don’t see a good friend for a while, little gets lost in the intervening time. My pal Pam Golden and I have been promising to put the boats in the water for nearly two years and did it today, breaking away from schedules that sometimes confine us.

We hadn’t missed a beat, chattering about all manner of important and unimportant matters for a good while as we paddled the bumpy waters of Carvin’s Cove. It was a perfect day and the company could not have been better. Pam, who owns Glazed Bisque-It and helps people make some special ceramics, was full of good stories and great humor. So good to see her again.

Pam took this shot of Pampa, heading for her, wearing his hemp hat.

Only in the Family …

Becky, Paul, me and Paula’s damn dog, Bubby. Talk about the Energizer Bunny.

I spent the weekend in Asheville visiting family and telling stories only we would enjoy and fully appreciate. We grew up poor and about as disjointed as a family can be, often hungry, sometimes hurt, always laughing out loud.

We seemed to remember that last part best when Becky, Paul and I got together with my Margie and Paul’s daughter, Paula. I think Paula was probably taken aback by the blunt honesty of some of the revelations and I was, frankly, surprised at how much new information can come out when siblings–all well over 60–get together and start swapping stories.

Some of the revelations were dubious, some enlightening, a couple shocking, but all fully entertaining, giving us something to chew on when we got back to our normal lives. I had a hell of a time.

My brother and I swap political barbs frequently online (Paul’s a long-time Republican who does not try to defend Trump’s behavior, though he agrees with some of his policies and I am of the view that the devil has taken second place in the awfulness sweepstakes), but we keep it civilized and nobody gets mad. I guess that’s family. I wish it was everybody’s family. Becky, by the way, proved to be the absolute queen of gossip, especially family gossip. I had to say, several times, “Oh, you’re not real!” She insists she was.

A Side Trip to Mayberry

Pampa with Andy and Opie Taylor in front of the Andy Griffith Museum.

Margie got to pose, too.

Margie and I hadn’t planned on making a stop on the way home from Asheville today, but she mentioned that Mt. Airy, N.C., which I’ve always knows was the basis for Mayberry of the Andy Griffith Show had a whole street dedicated to the show.

So we went. And we found the real Mayberry. Cool as a summer watermelon, it was. Here’s a bit of what we found, including Snappy’s cafe where the atmosphere was reminiscent and the food probably authentic, given the fact that it left a lot to be desired.

We had a good time in Mayberry.

Margie found Snappy Lunch and we ate there.

Margie got a BLT and I stuffed with the pork chop sandwich, which was curious, but it’s the “North Carolina State Sandwich,” according to lore.

This is the first view inside Snappy’s.

The decor is, well, authentic.

Here’s the downtown icon of icons.

Opie would love this.

Pampa found the ice cream parlor.

The Mt. Airy News covers the real stuff: BBQs.

Mayberry, the real one.

A Brief Visit to Lake Lure, Chimney Rock

The view from just above the rock of Lake Lure and the entire valley.

You can see the rock from a lot of angles.

Margie and I trouped down to Lake Lure and Chimney Rock from our little excursion to Asheville Saturday and found a Gatlinburg-style village with so many people it was hard to turn around without cramming an elbow into a rib. But it is a beautiful little town and Lake Lure is all I remember (except for the crowds): beautiful beaches, plenty of boats and a lot to do on a summer afternoon.

Our trip up Chimney Rock was my first (though I am a native of Asheville and had been down that way plenty of times). We took an adventurous bus trip up and back down the winding road (where the Chimney Rock Hill Climb is/was held) and it was a comic nail-biter. The nice driver assured us he hadn’t had a serious wreck in a week or two after telling us it was his first day on the job (“Just kidding, hahahahaha!”).

I like Chimney Rock, but I’d like to visit when I can get up there without having to move people out of the way. Gorgeous view, as you can see.

Margie enjoyed the balcony above the rock after climbing up.

Two old people on an adventure.

Lake Lure goes on for a bit.

This is the final climb to the top of the rock.

Lake Lure is a charming village.

The crowds had just begun to gather when I shot this. It got worse.

Loud (obnoxiously so) Harleys were all over the place and were often welcome.

Harleys are noisy and annoying as hell, but they make good pictures.

I found a kayak I wouldn’t want to paddle.

Who could forget?

Your choice: Cheerwine, RC, Nehi orange. I’ll do the Cheerwine.

Margie found a checkerboard, the game for old men … 

… and I found a roadster (like the one my dad had when he was courting Mom).

The beach at Lake Lure is beautiful.

Mom and the little dudes on the lake.

This guy gave us our hairy ride.

Margie and I had fun on the bus.

A final view for you and, yes, it’s phallic as hell.