The longest election day of my lifetime (Tuesday-Saturday) finally ended around noon today when CNN called the election for Joe Biden, although it had been obvious he would win since Wednesday.
Still, there was plenty of reason to celebrate–even for those who lost–since fall was in full loveliness today with the sun creating an almost neon effect through the trees on the Blue Ridge Parkway. My pal Susan and I took advantage of the double invitation to celebration by driving up to Niagra Dam and hiking down to the Roanoke River and along its rocky banks for a good while.
It was fun. It was lovely. It was such a huge–HUGE–relief. We no longer have to wake up daily with what that man has done to us on our minds. We can go back to living our lives and believing our country will survive intact.
We’re entering the second post-election-day day and we still don’t have a president for the next cycle. It’s promising for Joe Biden, but Trump could still win strictly on voting totals in some hair-thin close states. We could later today or it could take a week or two.
I think the possibility of a Biden win (Las Vegas bettors have it at 85 percent) has helped alleviate a lot of stress among half of our population and increase that same stress among the other half. Not much, I fear, will change with Biden’s election. Should Trump retain the presidency, a lot will change and none of it will be for the better.
Already the Republican Party has re-structured government to suit its far right-wing and has completely eliminated any Republican voice of reason by out-shouting those voices. There are a lot of honest and good Republicans who have no place to go these days (think Lincoln Project). Their own party doesn’t want them and they don’t want to be Democrats, though I suspect many would be welcome.
I think I am most disappointed by the many Latinos and African-American men who voted for Trump, a totally unexpected turn of events from my perspective. I have no idea what these voters expect from Trump or Mitch McConnell, but let me make them a promise: you won’t get it.
Today could have been a mournful disaster. It is not. It offers hope and for many of us, that is an emotion that has almost become foreign.
While we’re all concentrating heavily on the election today, it might be worthwhile to take a few moments and remember that tomorrow is the 35th anniversary of the flood of 1985. In Wasena Park, there is a remembrance: blue ribbons on trees marking the high-water mark of the flood — and it was pretty dang high.
Since I voted in September, I thought I’d take a tour of some of Roanoke’s polling places this morning to see how it was going. And it was going!
I discovered that between 6 and 7 a.m. almost all of the precincts had lines out the door and down the block. A worker at Highland Park told me that it had 45 percent of its total voters voting by 7 a.m. and by noon, it was at 60 percent. “It’s been steady all morning since the early push,” he said. He expected a similar mob after work.
Most of the others were similar. There was a very real business-like attitude and I didn’t see any threatening people at the polls.
From what I understand, nearly 100 million voted prior to today and a total vote of 160 million (an American record) is expected. The voting percentage of the population, from what I’m hearing, will be the greatest since women got the vote in 1920.
I was intensely interviewing Dolly Parton on the phone for a story when Chris Gladden, who sat directly facing me in the features department of The Roanoke Times, slipped a photo under my nose. It was a shot of a gorgeous nude actress (Jean Seaburg, as I recall) and I couldn’t contain myself. I laughed out loud.
Dolly wanted to know what was going on. “I’d better not say,” I said. “Oh, come on,” said Dolly. “I love a good joke.” I told her and she broke up.
Chris and I had a blast in that department for about 2 1/2 years in the late 1970s. We thought of ourselves as the stars of a department that had some heavyweights, including Mary Beth Armistead, Joe Kennedy, Jeff DeBell, and the like. We both covered the arts and did a lot–a whole lot–of feature writing. In fact, we wrote so much that we began a weekly competition for by-lines that didn’t sit well with our editor, Sandra Kelly.
During one stretch when we were both averaging more than 20 by-lines a week (and I was designing the TV section on one day of my schedule, giving me just four writing days), we went into Saturday’s paper tied at 24. I had one up my sleeve. One of my assignments weekly was to write a weekend column with no by-line about what was happening in the region. It was called The Tipoff. I began each paragraph of my story for this particular Saturday with a letter of my by-line and Sandra didn’t notice until Saturday morning when the paper came out and I had won the contest for that week.
When we arrived at work Monday, Chris met me at the office door with, “You know that won’t count. You cheated!” I grinned and Sandra bellowed, “IN MY OFFICE!” She raised hell at us, grinning like school boys who had put a frog in her desk, as everybody outside laughed.
It was that kind of department: fun, creative, busy, resourceful and productive as hell.
I have a lot to remember today as I think about Chris, who just died at 71 this week. I haven’t seen him in years, but we’ve kept up through the grapevine. We shared our (recovering) alcoholism, love for books, movies, theater and music. Chris was a good guitar player with the Grevious Angels in the 1970s and was always close to his outlaw band buddies. They played a lot of clubs, raised a lot of hell, drank a lot of booze, smoked a lot of mary jane.
But it was the colleague who inspired and challenged me that I remember. There was one story in particular that we did together, reviewing every restaurant in downtown Roanoke at lunch. There were more than 35, but by the time we talked Sandra into letting us write the reviews, we’d eaten at almost all of them.
The story was a running conversation between us, as much critiquing each other as we did the restaurants. I tended to like the shops that fed us well (The Four Parrots and its legendary cook, Sweet Pea, who adored us and stuffed us) and Chris wanted the hoity-toity food (Alexander’s). The story was a load of fun for us and for everybody who read it.
There is a lot more to Chris than my stories, of course, but mine are the ones I know best. I remember a funny guy who could have a very serious side on occasion. He was a talent in every area he chose as his own and his voice was unique: Southern redneck/intellectual. He was never at a loss for words–in that Salem drawl–and he was not stingy with praise for what he thought was good writing.
My alcoholism led me to be fired from The Times (after 10 years at the paper) and I think what I missed most in leaving was the fun Chris and I created for each other and for everybody else.
It was a real professional highlight.
Chris had challenges after leaving The Times, though he did open a successful book shop, Christopher Gladden Bookseller. His son, Sean (named for the John Wayne character in “The Quite Man”) died at 38 in 2018 and I know that weighed on him.
Chris was at The Times for 18 years. We started the same way, as copy boys who couldn’t type, and worked our way into full-time jobs as journalists among our heroes, neither of us achieving a college education first (though he had more time in class than did I).
I think we were both in love with the profession and never allowed the standard journalism bane–suspicion of everything and everybody–interfere with our good time. It was a great period for us both.
Today, more than any other time recently, it hit me just how dangerous it is to be out among people.
I walked in Wasena Park during the lunch hour and it was simply flooded with people–three of whom wore masks and one of those was me. The people were engaged in various activities: biking, walking, playing softball, children on playground equipment, fishing, photographing, and even a packed-house Narcotics Anonymous meeting at one of the shelters.
Nowhere was it really safe because people were not only maskless, but they were also as close and familiar as they would have been a summer ago when nobody had ever heard of COVID-19.
The activities and fall color made for some good photographs. But it does nothing to encourage us to be careful as the third wave of the virus rises across the nation.
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.
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.
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.
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.