As a man who still spends much of his life trying to cover the news of the day in both the area where he lives and the politics that both rules and threatens to destroy our nation, I’m torn each day to focus on what takes priority over what becomes a limited amount of time.
I’ve had to focus a lot of time to assignments from various media outlets who need images, video and information on the current uproar involving a decision by the co-owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington on wether or not to allow White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to have dinner with family and friends there last Friday night.
That decision by Stephanie Wilkinson turned the small town of Lexington into a showcase on what happens when civility becomes outrage on both sides of the issue. The Red Hen did not open for business on Saturday after protestors awaited outside and remained closed Monday and Tuesday nights for the same reasons.
The last time Lexington found itself in the middle of political controversy was 2011 when Lexington decided to remove the Confederate flag from municipal flag poles.
Lexington, home of both Virginia Military Institute and Washington & Lee University is more liberal than surrounding Rockbridge County. The county went for Donald Trump in the 2016 election while Lexington itself voted for Hillary Clinton.
With a population of 7,000, Lexington seems large to a town like Floyd but is still rural by Virginia wide standards. Closer to Floyd, we see the same opposing viewpoints in areas like Radford — with Radford University — and Blacksburg, where Virginia Tech provides a more liberal slant.
In Lexington Tuesday, those with homophobic signs engaged in shouting matches with those supporting gay rights. Here in Floyd County, where generally all it takes to win a local election is a claim to be a Republican, we currently have two members of the once all-GOP county board of supervisors who won office by beating members of the Grand Old Party, including the sitting board chairman.
In Floyd, a LGBT group marches in local parades without being booed and often with others flying Confederate flags and/or representing fundamentalist churches.
At Blue Ridge Cafe on many mornings, I gather for coffee and breakfast with the local “breakfast club” where the discussion seldom ventures into politics or current news. We talk about motorcycles, fast cars and earlier times when we chased even faster women.
If the discussion turns to politics — or religion — the mood too often turns tp anger or bitterness. I lived with too much of that during our 23 years in Washington and my now 55 years of covering both subjects as a reporter and news photographer.
Has it been that long? Yes, it has. Fifty years ago, I covered news and wrote a weekly column aimed at the emerging baby boom generation for The Roanoke Times, going into a fifth year as a full-time reporter that began at The Floyd Press in 1963.
In 1968, I helped cover the Virginia General Assembly for The Times. Even then, the politics of the time made me wonder if things could get any worse. Then, with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, it did.
Later that year came the Democratic Party convention in Chicago with its riots and shameful display of America at its worst.
What I did not know then was just that long that slide downhill would last for more than five decades.