A Long Week

It’s been a really long week.

Last Wednesday, my dad went into the hospital for hip replacement surgery. It was pretty major surgery to begin with, despite the fact that doctors tend to minimize it these days. But just to make it a little more difficult on my dad (and the whole family), his brother had been taken to the emergency room the day before with an apparent stroke, and had yet to regain consciousness when my dad went under the knife.

The surgery went fine, with no real complications, although my dad was in really intense pain afterward. My mom was convinced that Mark and I would be OK to leave Friday on our planned weekend trip to celebrate his thirtieth birthday.

The came Friday morning. We were almost packed and were starting to take things down to the car when my cousin called with the news that my uncle had died at 7:30 that morning. Since my uncle’s wife had died in 1982 and they’d never had any children, my cousin and I had shared his power of attorney since his first stroke in January, although she’d ended up doing most of the work. My uncle had spent much of the past six months in and out of hospitals and nursing homes, but he’d finally been able to go home before this last episode, which is a good thing.

I loved my uncle. I’d be lying if I said we were really close and had a lot in common, but he was a good man and I knew he always cared about me. Family was everything to him. And he had a sense of humor that I always appreciated.

Needless to say, we canceled the trip. I spent Friday delivering the news to my parents and hoping it wouldn’t affect my dad’s recovery. I liked it better when they were the ones who delivered bad news to me, by the way. Later that day, I participated in funeral planning and coffin selection for the first time, which is a story in itself. What a quick and efficient way to waste thousands and thousands of dollars. But I digress.

Poor Mark spent his birthday weekend not on vacation, as he very much needed to after a very stressful patch of his own, but as a participant (and even a pall bearer) in funeral services for a man he barely knew. I felt really bad for him and I can’t say quite how much I love him for all his help. We did manage to have a bit of a birthday celebration Saturday night after the family visitation at the funeral home.

The funeral was on Sunday, and was OK, if a little too immersed in holy water for me. The dicsussions about the will started shortly after the post-interment fried chicken. I’m not sure if I have the stomach for that whole process, even though I know I’ll be very much involved. Afterward, I realized that, since I’d been driving back and forth to both Greensboro (30 miles away) and to Reidsville (50 miles away) at least once each day since Friday, that I pretty much had taken the equivalent of a rather siginificant road trip this weekend. I just hadn’t gotten anywhere particularly entertaining.

And then on Monday morning, the hospital called to give us three hours notice that my dad (who could barely walk) was being discharged. I can’t tell you how much we appreciated all that notice, really. So Monday was spent waiting for paperwork to be filed and finding a rehab facility for my dad. It was all pretty familiar, as we’d done the same for my uncle six months before (on similarly short notice).

Yesterday, I was finally able to catch up a little on work, household stuff, etc. before driving over to visit my dad at the rehab facility. We’re avoiding the term “nursing home”, thanks. Mark, sensing my dismay at not having been anywhere but hospitals, nusring homes, and funeral parlors for six days or so took me to dinner at one of our favorite pizza joints in High Point.

Today, we have company coming for lunch (very late, as it turns out). Tomorrow, I start a new part-time job, where I may have to be on Friday as well. On Saturday, I’m supposed to meet with my cousin for the first round of talks about my uncle’s estate. Several more visits to my dad in Greensboro will be interspersed as well.

On Sunday, I plan to do nothing and have no human contact whatsoever except with Mark. Sunday will be nice.


Two hours and forty-five minutes late.

Lunch was scheduled for 2:00. At 2:30, they called and said they were “shooting for” a 3:30 arrival. After one more message from us informing them that we were about to eat, they arrived at 4:45, with little more than a “Sorry. You have to expect that from us. We’re slackers.”

Mark busted his ass preparing for lunch, one of the few chances he’s had to entertain since we moved here. We cleaned the house top to bottom, bought food, and went to considerable effort, especially considering the past week’s events. And these two poster children for rudeness couldn’t even be bothered to show up within two and a half fucking hours of the time for which they were invited. And even then, they didn’t seem particularly concerned about it.

I’d have been too embarrassed to show up at all if I were that late. This is something I might have been able to excuse in an old friend with whom I had a lot of history, but this was the first time they’d ever been invited to our house.

Guess who’s never coming to dinner again?

Where’s the Post Office?

When is a post office not a post office? When it’s the one in downtown Statesville, evidently.

I walked into a big, institutional structure with a huge sign that read “United States Courthouse and Post Office” above the front door. There were two armed guards inside blocking the entrance. They asked if they could help me. I told them I was looking for the post office. They told me, a little rudely, that it wasn’t there. With the slightest trace of irony, I apologized for having been misled by the big sign out front. They didn’t look amused. I left.

FYI, the actual post office in downtown Statesville is about two blocks away in a dumpy office supply store. I guess I was just too stupid to have known that from the start.

Mmmm. Squash.

In the spirit of historical revisionism, I’ve added some photos to this post. It may be the only chance you’ll ever have to see me in a suit.

On a completely unrealated note, who’d have thought that two little squash plants could produce so much offspring for so incredibly long. Squash jam, anyone? Squash casserole? Squash stew?

For those who have asked, the answer is no. Things haven’t really calmed down all that much, although I’m almost to the point of only driving to Greenboro every other day now, and I haven’t been to Reidsville since Saturday.


My sanity required a road trip this weekend, and the victim was either to be Knoxville or Richmond. The latter won, since a room at the Red Roof Inn was six bucks cheaper there.

I hadn’t spent any time in Richmond in about twenty years, the last time being a 1987 visit to my, ummm, friend Art when he was attending VCU. You know, of course, about “ummm, friends”, right? They’re friends with whom you’ve been a bit more than, ummm, friendly.

Anyhow, I had a rotten weekend back then (I think it was actually the last time I saw Art) but I loved Richmond. I waited far too long to return.

I left the house about 9:30 and didn’t really make any stops, save for a pilgrimage to South Hill, where my parents and I always used to have dinner on the way back from King’s Dominion or Washington. Alas, the diner where we always ate is now an Asian buffet in a rather bad state of disrepair.


I drove through Petersburg, which I’d only done once before, on a road trip to New York with my friend Jeff in 1988, when we were looking for a motel at 2AM. Petersburg is more pleasant in the daytime. Slightly.

I took US 1 rather than the freeway, which allowed me to see Colonial Heights and Chesterfield County, and to enter Richmond on the wrong side of the tracks (or the river, as it were). Richmond can seem to be a thriving place, but it’s also got some decaying pockets which can seem just plain creepy.

The whole city is full of contradictions like that, which is why I like it. It’s a strange synthesis of hyper-urban north and semi-suburban south, of decaying and depopulating rust belt city and booming sun belt metropolis. It’s got texture that places like Charlotte and Raleigh and even Atlanta will never have, yet its fringes can also exhibit a rather reassuring blandness. Like so much of Virginia, it’s comfortable, but just a little tired and worn-out looking. Richmond is where the south becomes the north. Or vice versa.


I made my way in through downtown, heading outward on US 60, through gentrified Shockoe Slip, gentrifying Shockoe Bottom, and the border vacuum surrounding some large park, to my motel near the airport in Sandston, a town which just screamed “hick”. But they did have a Golden Skillet there, and I had a lunch I hadn’t had since I was a kid. Predictably, it wasn’t as good as I remembered. There was also a very nice former Safeway from the 1950s, Richmond having once been part of the Safeway empire.

After lunch, I began exploring. Most of the afternoon was spent downtown, and in The Fan and Carytown.


I vaguely remembered downtown as being more active and populated last time I visited, but it seemed pretty well bereft of all retail or street life this time around. I did take some pictures of the old Miller & Rhoads department store, which is now being converted into something. Overpriced condos, I imagine. I also shot something that I assume was J.C. Penney.


The Fan is a neighborhood dating from the 1800s, apparently so named because of the way its streets “fan out”. It’s mostly populated by VCU students, yupsters, and other assorted gentrifiers. It’s a pleasant enough place.

Carytown is one of those classic low-rise 1920s streetcar strips, a lively retail and restaurant strip that has fared well over the years, especially as urban living becomes trendy again. It’s the kind of scene you find in all real urban places, but that boosters in wannabe cities (like Charlotte) invariably want to bulldoze or “densify” with bland, bulky condo developments containing chain steakhouses on the ground floor.

Carytown is also home to the Cary Court Park & Shop. Opened in 1938, this is one of the oldest planned shopping centers in the US. It’s been tarted up and made rather upscale now, but it was once a fairly utilitarian retail center with supermarket.

Dinner was at the Piccadilly Cafeteria near Westland Shopping Center, because they have the best roast beef of all the cafeterias. I came back into town via Broad Street. I’m working on an essay on cities that have one dominant main street , like Broad Street in Richmond or High Street in Columbus or Peachtree Street in Atlanta. I’ll link it when it’s done. Suffice to say, though, that I like it.

Richmond II

As I had a very bright motel room, I woke up about 6:30, which sucked, but which also allowed me to get moving early. I had breakfast at Ma & Pa’s Diner, which was OK, but not really worthy of a review. I stopped by the Kwik-E-Mart to stock up on Buzz Cola since we don’t have Kwik-E-Marts (formerly 7-11) in Winston-Salem. This one didn’t have Krusty O’s at all. Alas.


I did the whole Broad Street tour today, starting in East End, going through downtown, and ending in the suburbs. Along the way, I saw the only Extreme Pizza east of Texas; Extreme Pizza is a San Francisco chain, which had a location a block from my old apartment South of Market. I had lunch at the Richmond outpost later in the afternoon.


I covered most of the city, looking for old supermarkets and shopping centers and cool things to take pictures of. As is often the case, I shot more video than stills. But I really like Richmond; it runs the gamut from old row house neighborhoods to 1960s suburbia, and reads like a much bigger city than it actually is. But traffic and parking seemed really manageable, although it was a weekend.


I wandered back downtown and saw the Confederate White House, but I didn’t go in. I’d seen it as a kid too, although I don’t remember it being surrounded on three sides by a giant, ten-story hospital complex. There is no good angle where you can get far enough away to take a decent picture of it. But I found myself vaguely embarrassed as I tried to shoot it anyway, sort of like I was wearing a rebel flag T-shirt or something.

Last but not least, I ventured back into the south side, to see some old supermarkets I was ultimately too nervous to stop and photograph. I left town via Hull Street Road, pondering (as I always do in Richmond) why they feel the need to call so many of their streets (Cary Street Road, Broad Street Road, etc.) both “street” and “road” once they leave the city.

I was worn out from the heat and my lack of sleep when I got home. I was very happy the air conditioner is working again.

Where Was I?

Assuming that I did the following, where was I this weekend?

  • Photographed the former Safeway at Westland Shopping Center.
  • Ate at the only east coast location of San Francisco’s Extreme Pizza.
  • Saw the home of Sauer’s Vanilla Extract.
  • Shopped at Ukrop’s.
  • Drove down the ridiculously-named Hull Street Road.

Yes, it’s something of a rhetorical question, since it wouldn’t be too hard to figure out with a Google search or two. Thus you needn’t email me your answers.

Pictures to follow.

I Was in Richmond

Just for a change, I though it might be nice to post a trip journal and photos close to the time of the actual trip. So here’s all the scoop on my road trip to Richmond. I was feeling inspired, because I’m also working on a different road trip journal for another site. But that’s still a secret…

Goth, 1970

I was so goth back in first grade.

When Mrs. Mahaffey passed out the crayons, I always drew haunted houses, with neat little rooms containing mummies, bodies, and “kanables”. In retrospect, I’m rather proud of my bulk vampire storage area with its slide-out coffins. The little squggly things are lightning bolts, and the Collins family in question was, of course, the one from Dark Shadows.

My signature item, though, was the room full of blood which appeared in all of my drawings. Sometimes it was labelled “blood bank” and other times it simply bore the inscription “room full of blood”, as if every self-respecting (haunted) house had one.

When I was looking at this picture with my mom earlier tonight, she asked me if it meant I’d been a “weird kid”. I respoended that I’d felt more “normal” in first grade than I ever have since. Which is pretty much true.

Twin City Sentinel

Submitted for your approval: The Twin City Sentinel, the newest site in the little universe my betrothed and I have created for ourselves, and the first site on which we’re actually collaborating.

The Twin City Sentinel is devoted to Winston-Salem and its environs and to urban commentary in general. There will be restuarant reviews, road trip journals, articles on history, and essays on urbanism as it is expressed locally and globally. There’s also a message board.

Give it a look if you get a chance. You may decide to move here too. Or at least to visit.

Randomly Monday

I could’ve been in a mild funk yesterday, due, among other things, to the fact that my new part-time gig is not turning out to be evertthing I expected it to be. Which is sad, since my expectations were fairly low to begin with.

However, I lucked into a surprisingly entertaining film on TCM, about the misadventures of a philandering Welsh librarian, played by Peter Sellers. Who’d have thought such a thing could exist? It’s right up my alley, since I’m planning on being a philandering Welsh librarian in two years.

OK, I’m not really planning on philandering. It’s just one of those words that amuses me. And, actually, only my surname is Welsh; my background is really more English and Scotch-Irish. But it was still an entertaining movie, all the same.

Today’s things that also make me happy:

  • My dad is officially out of the nursing home rehab facility and is now at home eating barbecue.
  • Because of this fact, I have strawberry cobbler from Stamey’s for dessert tonight.
  • It’s only a few days until my boy is home.

Just to balance all this happiness, though, an extended middle finger (OK, a second one) goes out to the guy who passed me on the right on I-40 near Kernersville today while I was already doing 75MPH. Mind you, I was in the right lane at the time, so passing me on the right meant that he did so using the onramp and part of the shoulder. And the guy was about fifty years old, so he presumably should’ve known better.

But there’s no moron like an old moron, I guess. Especially when it’s an old, hypocritical moron like Coy Privette, who not only messes around with prostitutes despite his assorted “Christian values” stances, but who messes around with African-American prostitutes, even though much of his core constituency teeters about half a double-wide away from active Klan membership.

Dang. Could this journal entry have rambled just a little bit more? Why yes, because I could’ve also used it to push the new website one more time.


(Originally published in the now-defunct Twin City Sentinel.)

I don’t think Roanoke is at the top of anyone’s “must see” list. And that’s too bad. This Virginia city offers an old school urban feel with a mountainous backdrop, but without the annoying “granola factor” of, say, Asheville. It’s a great place for a day trip or a weekend visit.

Roanoke was sort of iconic for me as a child. It was the first city we passed through on our semi-annual trips to the horse races in West Virginia, and I was fascinated by the giant Tudor-style Hotel Roanoke. I once persuaded my parents to take me there for what turned out to be a very expensive (and not very good) lunch when I was ten or eleven years old. I’ve been told the food has improved. I hope so.

Like Norfolk and Richmond, the population of Roanoke proper has been stagnant or declining for the past fifty years or so. What this means is that Roanoke feels in many ways like a much bigger city than it actually is. It was built up as a bigger, denser city in its early days, and the physical evidence remains, even if many of the buildings are now empty.

Downtown and Environs

It’s a fascinating place to explore if you’re a fan of the urban form. While urban renewal was not kind to certain ares of the center city, the downtown area retains a string of beautiful commercial buildings from the decades surrounding the turn of the last century. And there’s some evidence of a renaissance, with new tenants moving into many of the abandoned storefronts. The area around the City Market is lively and healthy, if not necessarily thriving just yet.

The downtown area is also surrounded by numerous interesting older neighborhoods, including the Old Southwest historic district. Again, urban renewal resulted in some very noticeable clearance, particularly to the north of downtown and in the areas around Williamson Road and I-581, but there’s still a lot to see here.

Williamson Road

Speaking of Williamson Road, it’s one of my favorite strips in Roanoke. Also signed as US Highway 11, it was the primary northern route out of Roanoke before I-81, and it’s a treasure trove of commercial architecture dating from the 1930s to the 1950s, including some surprisingly well-preserved old motels. Some stretches can be a little dicey, with telltale signs of prostitution and drug-dealing, but it’s not really a particularly scary drive, even at night.

Williamson Road also houses the best (and worst) eateries of my most recent trip. The New Yorker Delicatessen is a wonderful thing, with huge sandwiches and a setting that is something straight out of 1968. They close for the sabbath, so don’t expect to grab a Saturday afternoon meal there.

The Williamson Road Pancake House, on the other hand, is from hell. It draws a big crowd, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. The food is expensive (for what it is) and not very good, the service is slow, surly, and bordering on nonexistent. And the place seems absolutely filthy. I nearly lost my breakfast in the men’s room due to a stench which came from general neglect rather than one person’s, ummm, activity. And lest you think I’m a  prima donna, understand that dumpy (and sometimes even dirty) old diners are generally some of my favorite places. But not this one.

Random Things to See

The trek up Mill Mountain to the big lighted star (and the nearby overlook to see downtown) is a must, as is a stroll through downtown.

For a good cross-section of the city, I’d recommend following the route of US Highway 11 west of downtown, along Campbell and Memorial Avenues, Grandin Road, and Brandon Avenue, and then into neighboring Salem, which is also worth a look.

Before visiting, you might want to check out the  wonderful Old Roanoke website, which provides an amazing photo history of the city, through postcards and vintage photos.


Roanoke skyline as seen from Mill Mountain.

The old City Market now houses a food court and several retail stores on its perimeter.

A row of old commercial buildings in downtown Roanoke.

Neon signs in downtown Roanoke.

Roanoke skyline.

The old meets the modern in downtown Roanoke.

Classic supermarket, Winborne Street, Roanoke.

Little Chef Restuarant on Willimason Road.

The Cab of the Beast

Evil seems to befall cab 666 — driver seeks intervention:

“I think this is going to make the city look a little silly for taking it up,” George-Williams said. “Where does it stop? I don’t think the city needs to spend time getting involved in something like this.”

It’s really hard to make The Silliest Place on Earth™ look even sillier, but I agree that this is probably a good start.

The Wizard of ID

I just keep coming back like a bad penny hairstyle:

1982: I was a fresh-faced recent high school graduate. OK, my face wasn’t really all that fresh, and the photo was actually taken while I was still in high school…

1983: This is the only one that was issued to me as a continuing student. It just happened that 1983 was the year UNCG decided to redesign its ID cards.

1989: I returned to finish what I’d started in 1982. I succeeded this time.

2007: In which I am a graduate student…

Skip Prosser Is Still Dead

I’m watching the 5:00 news, where I’m closely following the important breaking news that, after five days, Wake Forest basketball coach Skip Prosser continues to be dead. His ongoing mortality has been the subject of about three quarters of all live local news coverage since last Thursday.

It’s as if the whole news team at WXII is hovering over the corpse on the offside chance that Prosser might suddenly decide to get up and dance a little jig. If it happens, Cameron Kent will be there waiting with a camera, by God.