Category: Rants

Cowardly cretins

A cowardly cretin (or cretins) vandalized Floyd’s new public restroom this week, removing a urinal from the wall and allowing hundreds of gallons of water to spill out onto the floor and flow out of the building.

It was the kind of despicable act that makes your blood boil. Whether it was the act of someone with a philosophical difference with the changes that are coming to our town or just a mindless vandal who inflicts damage for the hell of it is less important than the viciousness of the act itself — a wanton destruction of public property that brings disgrace upon our town and raises questions about the character of our community.

A sad day for Floyd.

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Guess we’re all just a bunch of hicks

Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, the legendary Democratic political consultant who lives on Bent Mountain, brought a columnist and photographer from Denver’s Rocky Mountain News to Floyd recently to write about our "culture" and how it might play out in the upcoming Presidential election.

What we got was stereotyped trash that failed to capture Floyd’s culture, our heritage or the Friday Night Jamboree.

An example of columnist Mike Littwin’s brand of "journalism":

We’re taking "The Crooked Road" music trail – an aptly named back road that, I’m told, will lead us directly to music heaven, which is apparently located on a stage in the back of the Floyd Country Store. Every Friday night, when they hold their gospel and bluegrass and old-timey-music jamboree, this town of 432 turns into a festival of banjo-pickin’ and flat-footin’ – a mini-bluegrass Woodstock, except with no nudity in evidence but, as compensation, some mighty nice-looking store-bought coveralls.

The pickers and the flat-footers and the whoopers and the hollerers spill out from the store and onto the streets and over to the ice cream store (it’s a dry county) and onto the benches and wherever else they can grab a seat or, even better, grab a partner – no age requirement, but it seems to help if you’re on the, uh, north side of 60.

The pickers who drive out of the mountains to jam here in the streets set the beat, and while I’m not sure exactly where they invented toe-tapping and knee-slapping, it couldn’t have been far from here.

If that’s not culture, well, gah-dayem, what is?

Frankly, I expected more from Mudcat, the man who built much of his political consultant reputation on Mark Warner’s ride to the governor’s mansion. Apparently he and Littwin worked together at a newspaper once and that’s why he brought the Denver reporter here.

Memo to Mike Littwin: The "ice cream store" is in the Floyd County Store, not across the street. Floyd County is far from "dry." We have nationally-acclaimed wineries here. They serve beer and wine at most restaurants and you can even get a mixed drink down at Ray’s on U.S. 221.  The Crooked Road runs for a spell along U.S. 221, a well-maintained federal highway that is not much of a "back road." On any Friday night, you can find as many kids and teenagers in the Jamboree as older folks.

Sorry you missed all that Mike. But since you’re into stereotypes, let me ask this: Were you, perhaps, on a Rocky Mountain high when you came to Floyd?

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Living vs. making a living

New joke making the rounds:

Q: Why are there so many hippies in Floyd County?

A: They heard there’s no work here.

God, you know times are bad when hippie jokes make a comeback.

Hear an increasing amount of talk lately about the lack of work and/or the lack of income. The problem, of course, is nationwide. Local artists who travel to out-of-town shows say crowds and sales are down. Local businesses report more lookers than buyers. Musicians say paying gigs are fewer.

We’ve seen a shift in Floyd: Less talk about living and more about making a living.

Let’s have a show of hands: How many came here to make money?

How many came here because of the lifestyle?

Lifestyle still wins but he margin is shrinking.

Had a salesman walk into the studio the other day and open the conversation with "let me maximize your income potential."

Looked up from my magazine and answered: "Let me maximize your life expectancy. Leave before I get up out of this chair."

We see more and more emphasis on turning Floyd into a mini-mecca for "business opportunity." We’re overrun with those who want to "network." They hand out business cards to everyone they meet and they talk about marketing and business plans and "maximizing your potential" until you want to toss your cookies all over their designer tennis shoes.

Floyd doesn’t need more seminars on "turning your business into a success." Discussions on organic gardening or alternative engery would better serve foks around here. Most who come here are not the "hippies" who show up more in jokes than on the town streets. Most are those who made their lives an economic success somewhere else and came to Floyd to enjoy the benefits of those labors. They came here to escape the business cards, the "networking" socials, the sales pitches and the eternal chase for the almighty dollar.

Don’t let the magic that is Floyd get lost under the onslaught of those who measure success in financial terms and confuse making a living with just living your life and making the most of it.

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Memo to racists: Stay the hell away from me

Somebody left an unsigned, multi-page racist screed taped to the front window of Blue Ridge Muse last night.

I only got through the first-page of the hate-filled diatribe aimed at Democratic Presidential contender Barack Obama before starting to retch. I ripped the pages into shreds and dumped them into the nearest trashcan.

Let’s get something straight up front: I despise racism and those who practice it. I have no patience with bigots, homophobes, racists and anti-Semites.

So stay the hell away from me. Don’t waste my time with your ignorance, your hate or your intolerance.

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Lies, damn lies and Ramada Inn

The Ramada Inn web site clearly stated that their hotel on Eastridge in Richmond’s West End has high-speed Internet access in the rooms so I booked a room for Friday night . The plan was to stay in Richmond for the state championship game if the Floyd girls’ team won or stay over and drive back home early Saturday if they lost.

The Lady Buffs won, of course, and I left the Siegel Center for the 15 minute drive to the city’s West End.

Found the hotel without any problm (thanks to the in-car GPS) and asked as I checked in:

"Is your Internet access wireless or hard-wired."

"We don’t have Internet access," the clerk behind the counter said.

"You don’t."

"Nope. Never had."

"The Ramada web site says you do."

"Sorry sir, we don’t."

Internet access is a requirement for any hotel when I’m traveling so I cancelled the reservation and started looking for anoher hotel, a difficult enough task on a state high school championship weekend but even more difficult when Richmond is also hosting a big crafts fair.

After 11 phone calls, I found a room at a Motel 8 on West Broad Street — their last one. I grabbed it after confirming that they did, in fact, have wireless broadband in the rooms.

That room was a smoking room and reeked of cigarette smoke but the Internet worked and the bed was soft. I settled in, posted a game update on Blue Ridge Muse, sent a strongly-worded email to Ramada Inn (along with a promise for a strong letter to follow) and headed downtown to meet Jonathan and Jeri Rogers for dinner.

Turned out to be the only glitch of the weekend.

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Breaking point

I head into the coming week realizing that time is neither on my side or under control. My time is no longer my own. It belongs to too many others, controlled by outside forces, dominating every waking moment. The day ends in exhaustion. I collapse into bed or fall onto the couch and sleep, in bits and pieces, until the new day dawns.

Time to cut back, prioritize, focus on the important and discard the minutiae. But how? I’m over-committed, over-scheduled, over-utilized and unable to control time, life or destiny.

Life in the country is anything but restful, easy or bucolic. Every evening this week is booked. Every day is dominated by appointments and meetings. The approaching deadlines must wait until the overdue projects are completed.

There is a breaking point. Or rather there was. I think I passed it a long time ago.

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If it ain’t broke, break it

My Canon EOS-1D Mark III digital SLR went to the company’s repair facility in Newport News this past week for a photographic version of a factory recall.

Some early models of the Mark III had problems with the automatic focus (a new design on the model) so Canon launched a massive retrofit program that involved replacing the sub mirror assembly in the camera body on all early models. It meant sending my five-month old camera back to the factory service center and being without it for a few days.

"Few days" however, can be subject to interpretation. Canon promises a three day turnaround for working pros so I sent my camera off to Newport News via UPS next day air on their tab. According to UPS tracking, it arrived at the Canon facility at 8:11 a.m. on Friday, January 18.  However, it wasn’t logged into Canon’s repair system until the end of the day on Monday, January 21. OK, it was a weekend so no big deal.  The same system said the camera repair was completed by Tuesday, January 22 but Canon didn’t ship it until Wednesday and, for some reason, they chose FedEx two-day air to return the camera. That meant the camera goes from Newport News to Memphis and then back to Roanoke for Friday delivery — eight days after I sent it in. UPS ground can get it from Newport News to Roanoke in one day.

The "upgraded" camera arrived at our house Friday afternoon. I was out but Amy signed for it and I got home just in time to unpack it, stick in a freshly-recharged battery, and head back out to shoot the Floyd County High School basketball game and homecoming that night.

At the game, I put a telephoto lens on the camera, focused on the action, pressed the shutter release…and nothing happened.  An ominious message flashed in the viewfinder: Error 99.

Error 99 is one of the most dreaded messages that the user of a digital camera can receive. It’s a communications problem somewhere in the digital bowels of the camera. It also means the camera won’t work. I tried the recommended steps to try and correct the problem: turn the camera off and on, remove and reinsert the battery, change memory cards and/or lenses. Nada. Dead in the water.

Fortunately, I carry backup camera bodies so I put the new and improved Mark III away and went back to my trusty EOS-1Ds Mark II and a 40D to shoot the game and homecoming festivities.

When I got home I called the Canon "priority" support line and said, in a relatively calm tone, that "a week ago I sent you a working camera and you upgraded it to one that doesn’t work.  Why is that?"

The support tech apologized at least 10 times, got his boss on the line and they emailed me a UPS sticker to ship the camera out this morning via next-day air to the New Jersey repair facility.  They promised the problem would be repaired and the camera returned to me no later than Wednesday of next week.

Floyd, unfortunately, does not have Saturday pickup for next day air. So I will pack the camera back into the box that arrived just yesterday and truck over to Christiansburg or Roanoke to make the early deadline for next-day air pickup at one of the UPS stores, which also means cancelling two appointments for today with web site clients.

Ah, the joys of modern technologies.

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Why are drunks still allowed to drive?

Virginia’s General Assembly, a group of legislators not known for ground-breaking initiatives, says it wants to do something about the spiraling number of drunk drivers on the Commonwealth’s roads.

One of the more laughable proposals is to issue special license plates for those with DUI convictions.

Reports The Richmond Times Dispatch:

Could Virginia drivers convicted of three drunken-driving offenses be required to use special license plates?

Many legislative observers say the matter is unlikely to make it out of committee, but the measure by Del. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, is up for discussion today.

Spruill’s measure would require plates saying the driver has had three DUIs — an effort to shame the driver and warn the public.

Which begs the question: Why are people with three DUI convictions still on the road? Why haven’t they lost their licenses for life?

Drunk driving is a personal issue for me. I’m a recovering alcoholic (sober 13 years, six months and 17 days) who lost loved ones to a stoned truck driver with a two DUI arrests. I’m neither objective nor compassionate of those who drink too much and get behind the wheel of a vehicle.

I believe that a person convicted of driving under the influence should lose their license for at least five years. They should go to jail for at least 30 days. If the drunk driving involves a vehicle wreck where people are injured the penalty should be at least a year in jail and a 10-year loss of license. If the accident kills someone, at least 20 years in prison and a lifetime ban on driving.

A second conviction (not involving a wreck) should bring at least five years in jail and a lifetime ban with no second chances. You drive drunk once: You pay the price. You drive drunk twice. You don’t drive again. Period.

Giving a drunk a special license plate after three DUI convictions is a joke. It doesn’t shame the drunk. It shames a state that allows those who habitually drink and drive to remain on the road.

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UPS = Unreliable Parcel Service

Ordinarily, UPS is rock solid reliable but this is the Christmas season when package loads increase and the parcel service brings in extra drivers to handle the volume.

One of them, assigned to deliver in Floyd County, got lost Tuesday and went back to Roanoke is many packages undelivered.

One of those packages should have come to Chateau Thompson, where UPS delivers 15-20 packages a month. On Monday, I ordered some urgently needed photo and video supplies from B & H Photo in New York and paid the premium to have them shipped overnight.

By 6 p.m. the package had not arrived so I checked the tracking number on the UPS web site and found this message:

 

A CORRECT STREET NUMBER IS NEEDED FOR DELIVERY. UPS IS ATTEMPTING TO OBTAIN THIS INFORMATION

Obviously, they were trying to contact me via pony express because no phone call came into either home or office or via email. The message was posted at 6:09 p.m. I called at 6:30 and, after several frustrating attempts to get through their voice prompt system, finally reached a live person.

Or so it seemed.

"The driver couldn’t find a street number where you live," he said. "You need to have an identifying number out in front of your house."

Identifying number? We have three of them: The number on the mailbox in front of the house, a sign that points to our number and the number of the only other house on our lane and a lighted number sign at the entrance to the driveway.

Perhaps, I suggested in a lower tone of voice that indicates seething anger, the driver got lost?

"Oh I doubt that sir but I will contact the regional center (in Roanoke) and have them call you within the hour."

Ninety minutes later and still no call back. So I called back. A bored sounding woman said the regional center was now closed and she would have someone call me in the morning.

"Unacceptable," I said. "Let me speak to your supervisor."

She tried four times to say her supervisor was not available and would call me back before she finally understood that I would not accept that brush off and would not hang up until a supervisor came on the line.  When the supervisor finally got on the line I explained in an escalating volume that I was sick of being jerked around by UPS and wanted an answer tonight on where the package was and just when they expected to deliver it.  She promised to check into it and call me back in thirty minues. In five minutes she was back on the line, having reached someone in Roanoke who admitted that, yes, they had a temporary driver on the Floyd route Tuesday and, yes, he got lost and that, yes, there were a lot of angry customers like me who didn’t get the delivery they expected.

After multiple apologies and a promise of a full refund of my shipping charges, UPS promised to deliver the package first thing Wednesday morning to our studio in Floyd.

Let’s see if they can deliver on their promise this time around.

UPDATE: 3:17 p.m. Package arrived. Not exactly "first thing Wednesday morning" but at least it is finally here.

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Back on the grid

Out checking the house and surrounding grounds for damage from the winds when I heard the generator shut down.

Mr first thought: A problem? Nope. AEP restored power to Chateau Thompson at 9:02 a.m. — almost 30 hours to the minute from the time we lost it in the wee hours of Sunday mornings.

Thirty hours of continous running of the Guardian generator means I will need to change the oil and filter. Generac recommends changes after 200 hours total use or 24 hours or more of continuous use.

Once again, installation of an automatic standby generator proved to be the wisest investment we made when purchasing the house in December of 2004. It has kept us warm, toasty and lit through nine power outages in the past three years — including four this year alone.

Our thanks to the men and women who get out in this frigid weather to get grouchy customers like me back online.

And a great big raspberry to the nimwits in the corporate suites at AEP who hurt the hard work of the linemen by putting the greed of stockholders ahead of the needs of customers.

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