Roanoke Times and the Real News

The news out of The Roanoke Times these days is not on the printed page. Much of it is coming from the newsroom, where its union (without a contract at this point) is being organized amid negotiations with new owner Lee Enterprises.

Lee owns a bunch of papers, including about 12 in Virginia, and it inherited employees who have not had a salary increase in years. Berkshire-Hathaway, owned by liberal icon Warren Buffett, reportedly has a policy of not giving raises to employees unless they are getting a promotion. So, the first item on the new union’s agenda is pay. It suggested a five percent pay increase and step raises based on the number of years workers have been at The Times.

“We have people with 15 years’ experience who are making $35,000 a year,” said a colleague who knows. “They would be eligible for huge pay raises.”

Lee’s counter, according to my buddy, was to increase mileage reimbursement from 30 cents to 31 cents. The federal government pays 57.5 cents a mile. When I was at The Times in the 1970s, mileage was 32 cents. That’s close to 40 years ago.

In addition, my friend says, “the mileage form (introduced in 2013) is so hard to fill out that I couldn’t figure it out” and needed help from a young genius in the newsroom.

Elsewhere, you might have noticed that The Times looks different today than it has previously. That is because it is being designed at one of Lee’s central locations in the Midwest (Indiana and Wisconsin). That cost Roanoke about 10 designer jobs, even though it probably should have added jobs if Lee had chosen Roanoke as a design location (as mentioned, many of Lee’s papers are in Virginia).

It is all sad, even annoying, but that’s the way the industry–my industry–is going.



Beauty of the Blue Ridge (and Its Spoiler)

This is the ridgeline over Carvins Cove near the top of the Hollins Greenway trail.

I was tempted to put the photo at the end of this post right there at the top so you could see just how gross Appalachian Power’s lines running across our majestic mountains can be.

But I didn’t. This is our special time of the year in the Blue Ridge Mountains and I’m not going to let APCo Trump-ize it. There is still plenty to see. Just don’t concentrate on the broad vistas because you’ll inevitably come across a huge power line swath of defoliation.

Yesterday, my hike was up the lower hill at Tinker Mountain, along the Hollins Greenway trail. The colors were lovely, luminescent even when backlit with a bright midday sun. Here is what it looked like.

Red, yellow and blue: The Blue Ridge at its best.
Are these blueberries? I didn’t even know I’d shot them until I checked the photo (of honeysuckle flowers, out of focus).
That’s the old boy in his subtle T-shirt above the Cove.
This is Tinker Mountain shot from beside the power lines.
Found this little dude on a stump. Some kid must have tired of wearing it.


This is APCo’s power line cutting through one of the most visible mountains in the Blue Ridge chain. Really pisses me off.

For Roanoke Mayor: Sherman Lea

Sherman Lea is the choice for Mayor. ( photo).

I admit that for the first years of his term as Roanoke’s mayor, Sherman Lea was underwhelming. He is not a good speaker and his various positions were strongest when they focused on sports.

But his most recent term has shown about as much growth-in-office of any politician I can recall. He is serious, visionary, and determined. He has shown courage in the face of second amendment threats and has led one of the best city councils in my memory (which goes back to 1971 when I moved here). And don’t fool yourself that anybody else is the leader of this council. He’s it.

Trish White-Boyd: The only council candidate running who is worth the vote.

He is being challenged by former mayor (several times elected, a couple of times defeated) David Bowers, who has always counted on Roanoke’s black/brown vote to win. Lea, of course, is black and is wildly popular among that group. He has also earned the respect of Roanoke’s other voting groups and I think he will win.

The problem here is that Bowers should not be underestimated. The Republican ticket in Roanoke has adopted the long-time Democrat (look at the yard sign groupings) and even though that is not a large voting block, it could be combined with others to give him a sizeable vote.

David, who speaks fluently and represented Roanoke well in official gatherings, is a polarizing figure who’d rather fight with bordering localities than work together. His time has come and gone and he is offering nothing new for us to consider.

The rest of the council–save for incumbent Trish White-Boyd–is less than impressive. In fact, I won’t endorse anybody on the slate other than Lea and Trish, a good friend whom I have supported from the very beginning. Trish was selected to fill the unfinished term of John Garland, who was forced out due to bureaucratic bullshit (he was a heck of a councilman), but she has performed admirably and my guess is that she will lead the ticket.

Council recently selected Dominican Republic native Vivian Sanchez-Jones to fill the unexpired term of Djuna Osborne, one of my favorites. Djuna left to take care of her young family during this challenging time and I think all of us understand that kind of pressure and commitment and wish her well. I hope she comes back because she is an exemplary public servant.

Ms. Sanchez-Jones, judging from her impressive resume, brings experience, vision and leadership to the position. She will be solid.

So, there it is: For mayor Lea,  for council White-Boyd and nobody else. You’re on your own after those two.


Meeting Up with Roger and His Truck

Roger’s truck scoots up the side of a steep rock. He’s at the control.
Roger and his truck on the rock.

My pal Susan and I took a nice woodsy walk at Hanging Rock Battlefield early this evening and ran into Roger Wright and his toy truck.

Roger is a devotee of model trucks that run remotely and climb big rocks, among other things. The trucks may be toys, but they aren’t so much for little boys as for big boys. The truck he showed us this evening, he says, was worth about $1,100, only $300 or so of that for the basic vehicle. The rest is customizing it and getting it ready to compete with some of his buddies.

Roger talks about “a bunch of guys” he hangs out with who are as excited about the little trucks as he. Roger owns several of them, he says, and he can’t get his 10-year-old son interested, so he plays with bigger boys. His wife tolerates his hobby. It’s addictive, he insists.

Nice guy, this Roger.

This is Susan taking a photo of one of the big rocks along the creek.
Susan shoots the trail from a low angle. The colors were lovely.

Roanoke College Poll: Biden, Warner Big Leads

This was the Roanoke registrar’s office, where early voting takes place, on the first day we could vote.

While Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by 15 percentage points (53%-38%) in Virginia according to The Reconnect Research/Roanoke College Poll, confidence in the safety of the voting system is shaky.

According to the poll (and a Roanoke College press release:

Barely half (51%) of likely voters are very confident or somewhat confident that the votes across the country will be accurately counted in the election, while almost as many (46%) are not too confident or not all confident. Similarly, respondents are divided with 49% saying they are not too confident or not at all confident that the nation will accept the official outcome and winners of the election and 47% reporting that they are somewhat or very confident the results will be accepted.

Only 5% of voters are undecided, and 4% said they will vote for Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian candidate. Biden’s lead was 12 points in the May Roanoke College Poll and 14 points in August.

U.S. Senator Mark Warner leads Daniel Gade, his Republican opponent (55%-38%).

The Reconnect Research/Roanoke College Poll interviewed 602 likely Virginia voters between Sept. 30 and Oct. 12.

More than 90% of Democrats said they would vote for Biden, while just under 90% of Republicans said they would vote for Trump. Only 4% of Democrats said they would cross over to vote for Trump while 6% of Republicans said they plan to vote for Biden.

Trump’s favorable/unfavorable rating is 41%/56% while Biden is at 52%/44%.

A plurality of likely voters (23%) see the economy as the most important issue, but significant percentages view the COVID virus (17%), race relations (14%), Supreme Court appointments (12%), and civil unrest (10%) as most important.

Regarding the Supreme Court appointment, the majority of respondents (56%) think the appointment should be made by the winner of the election, but 41% think it should be made by the end of the year.

Nearly three-fourths (71%) of respondents think the country is on the wrong track, while only a quarter (24%) think it is headed in the right direction.


The Peaks at Their Peak

I was heading over to Niagra Dam for a hike today and–as I always do–took a wrong turn to get on the Blue Ridge Parkway and wound up at the Peaks of Otter. Karma, ’twas. I wanted gorgeous and got spectacular.

On the way back home, via Va. 43 down the mountain to Buchanan, I stopped and had a couple of hot dogs at a Stop-In where the ‘dogs are as good as the color on the Peaks.

Here’s what it looked like.


‘You’re Not a Diabetic Anymore’

My primary care physician, Dr. Jeri Lantz, sent me this message this morning after examining blood work yesterday: “Wow Dan – you aren’t a diabetic anymore! Great job!”

I had no idea we could just kick diabetes out of our lives, but I’m certainly grateful. The secret? I have no idea, though I’ve lost 35 pounds in the past few months and I continue to exercise an hour (minimum) a day. Frankly, I’m not as careful with my diet as I could be, though I keep my intake of carbs and sugars to a minimum.

For the record, my A1C is 4.5 percent with the standard being 5.7 percent or less.

Today, this is my reason for gratitude. And what a reason it is!


The Good Old Days Were Smelly

Here’s an underwear ad for Victorians. Note in the center explanation that “indorsing” is misspelled. Note the modest look on the woman’s face as she holds up the underwear.

The wonderful book The Devil in the White City opens with a scene in downtown Chicago in the late 19th Century, as the World’s Fair was underway, which put the reader there with the sites, sounds, and, perhaps most important, smells.

Women’s underwear was crotchless, as are these.

Personal hygiene is a fairly recent human phenomenon and my guess is that in times past, the smell of the city was all but overwhelming, given that people bathed seldom, changed underclothes infrequently, and that women often simply spread their legs and urinated wherever they stood. Horses and cattle (a base of Chicago’s economy at the time) pooped in the street.

A young archeologist named Jennifer Borrett wrote a response to a question on Quora Digest today that resonates from that standpoint. She writes that in the late 19th Century “women generally did not wear underwear (knickers/underpants) due to the problem of menstruation as well as toileting needs. Most women had given birth several times and therefore couldn’t hold urine in as easily as a man can.

“They generally bled into their skirts, or maybe used wool tampons. In busy mills, the floor was covered with straw to catch the menstrual blood and possibly urine as the crowds of women worked. Rather than be ashamed, the Victorian poor woman was proud of her menstrual blood, believing it made her sexually attractive to men.” Women of means would likely not have been quite so unhygienic.

Men, of course, wore union suits of various types (some one-piece, some two), but that didn’t mean they were cleaner since they rarely changed their underwear.

I guess they got used to each other’s smells, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.


Brand New Sheets; 60 Years Old

These are the sheets, brand new, and 60 years old.

Two years ago, I bought two sets of brand new JC Penney sheets for a double bed at Goodwill. They were brand new, still in the package. They were made in 1960.

Here’s the original price tag.

Today, it happened again. Two white bottom sheets still in their original 60-year-old package (with the original price tag of $2.69 still on the package).

Goodwill charged $4.99 for each fitted sheet. The 1960 price equates to $23.62 in 2020 dollars, so it’s still quite a bargain at Goodwill.

The sheets are the best I’ve ever owned from the standpoint of comfort and natural fit. They are the kind of sheets my mother would have put on my bed when I was a young teenager.

But this purchase brings up a problem: Should I keep the sheets as historical artifacts or put them on my bed? For the first two sets, I broke them out immediately and put them on the bed. I kept the packaging and still have it with those lovely mid-century graphics.

In any case, I love the sheets and I especially appreciate the “find.”


Boys Talking: A Rare Treat These Days

Roland Lazenby (right) and me shooting the bull.

Among the regular activities I’ve sorely missed in recent months is getting together with some of the guys to just sit and shoot the bull. It is a real treat to have solid, uninterrupted guy time and one of my favorite people to share that with is my old friend Roland Lazenby.

Ro is a writer of some significance who always makes me feel like I’m a better writer than I am. He’s great for my ego and he always has ideas: “Man, you really should look for a major publisher for [my novel] ‘Clog!’ It’s the kind of book that has a big audience …” and so forth.

We also just talked, sharing the kind of information reporters share as we sat outside Panera Bread at Valley View Mall, a great place to chat and distance socially at the same time.

I met Ro with the idea that he would sign a Christmas gift copy of his blockbuster Michael Jordan: The Life, now in its 10th printing and which is available in 20 different languages. Roland knows as much about book publishing as anybody I know and he talks about it enthusiastically. I love hearing it.

We also talked about our newspaper days and how the entire profession has changed, some for the better, some not.

In the end, though, it was about a couple of guys feeling really relaxed, interested and without the interferences we are facing daily these days. It was a real joy.