Sunday, September 30, 2007

Parent of the Year Nomination

Scene: A High School football game at Laidley Field on Saturday night.

The Cast:
Me - An Observer
The Mother - Maybe 30 years old.
The Mother's Friend - A Little older.

The Story: It is an exciting game. Early in the 2nd quarter the home team is ahead but the visitors are threatening to close the gap. A real nail-biter. The Mother obviously has a son on the team and she is really into the cheering, especially when her son is on the field. She screams very loudly and very enthusiastically, and very annoyingly to everyone around her.

Suddenly, over the PA system: "There is a 4 year old child wearing a Spiderman shirt who has been separated from his parents. If this could be your child, please report to the stadium office."

The Mother - looking around: "Where is Chris? Have you seen Chris?"
The Mother's Friend: "I don't know. He was right up there. (points to the top of the stadium). I don't see him now."
Mother - returns to cheering: "Go Offense! Take that ball down the field!"
Friend: "You think that could be Chris they're talking about?"
Mother: "No, they said he's 4. Chris is 5."
Friend: "Didn't he have a Spiderman shirt on?"
Mother: "I don't know. He has a Spiderman shirt, but I didn't notice what he was wearing - GO! RUN, RUN, RUN!!!"

5 minutes pass

PA Announcer: "There is a 4 year old child wearing a Spiderman shirt who has been seperated from his parents. If this could be your child, please report to the stadium office."

Friend: "You think that's Chris?"
Mother: "They said he's 5. Chris is 4. GO! RUN! FIRST DOWN!"
Friend: "I'm going to check to see if it's him."
Mother: "GO!!!!! RUN THAT BALL!"

Friend disappears toward stadium office.

Five more minutes pass. Friend returns.

Mother: "Was it him?"
Friend: "Yeah, I told him to get his butt back up there (points to the top of the stadium) and stay there with the other kids."
Mother - turns around and looks toward the top of the stadium: "Chris! I'll bust your butt when we get home if you leave again!"

Me- Sinks into depression over the future of the world.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

See This Show!

Every West Virginian needs to go to the Capitol Theater this weekend or next to see "ABBR HST OF WV" (that's the Abbreviated History of West Virginia, for those of you who might be Stonewall grads). It is another great musical by Dan Khede and Mark Scarpelli performed by the Contemporary Youth Arts Company (CYAC). Billed as the "fastest, funniest, easiest way to learn West Virginia history ever!" it is 90 minutes of everything you learned in 8th grade WV Studies, only much more fun.

The show opened Thursday and continues with a matinée performance at 2PM on Sunday Sept. 23, and then at 8PM on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (Sept. 27-29)

Tickets are 9.50 at the door.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Goodbye, Delsie Mae

I've been going to the Southern Kitchen all of my life. When I was a kid, and I mean a real little kid - like before kindergarten age- it was Delsie Mae Hershman who greeted us when we arrived and took or money when we left. I've eaten there hundreds of times over the years and it's always been Delsie Mae who took my money.

Delsie Mae died over the weekend. She'll be missed.

The Southern Kitchen is a Charleston institution. It isn't a great restaurant. It's always had decent food, but nothing too special. The decor hasn't changed in a lifetime. But there is something about the place that makes you feel safe. At least that's the way I felt there. Maybe it's because of all the times I ate there with my mother and father.

The memories of the place as it was in the mid 1960's to early 1970's are vivid in my mind. I remember the jukebox with those little selection consoles at each table where you could flip through all the songs without getting up from your seat. I remember the W. Va. Tourism Department paper place mats with all of the fun facts on them (to this day I believe they were why I excelled in West Virginia studies - how else could I have known that natural gas was first discovered at Burning Springs?). I remember the chicken and egg motif that is still around today. Maybe the reason the memories are so vivid is because nothing much has changed after many, many years.

My teenage daughter and her friends now love the place, but didn't really discover it until she was old enough to stay out late with her friends. The Southern Kitchen is one of the only 24 hour restaurants in Charleston and its family friendly atmosphere is even accepting of a booth or two full of boisterous teenagers after midnight. It is really neat to see this new generation embrace an old place like The Southern Kitchen.

It's a shame that Delsie Mae won't be around to see the next generation. I really hope, though, that someone keeps it going and keeps everything just the same as it was when Delsie left there on Friday. As long as that happens Delsie will still be there with us, even if someone else is collecting the money.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering the 1974 Kanawha County Textbook Controversy

In April 1974 the five members of the Kanawha County Textbook Selection Committee, supported by teacher readers from elementary and secondary schools, recommended the adoption of new textbooks designed to support an English Language programme to be taught in the County’s schools. The textbooks included a wide diversity of views and opinions and exposed children in the Appalachian region to other cultures and new ideas. Following the impact of the civil rights movement across the USA during the 1960s, the textbooks included stories and poems by, and about, African-Americans and other minorities and narrative stories emphasising tolerance and the acceptance of alternative and different traditions and cultures. The books also included approaches to pedagogy which included simulation and the development of critical thinking skills. The recommended list was presented to the Kanawha County School Board on 12th March 1974, and the books were displayed in the Kanawha County Library for public examination.
On 16th May when the Textbook Selection Committee presented its adoption justification the School Board agreed to make a final decision on 27th June regarding the formal adoption of the books. The decision to consider adopting the books caused uproar in the community and in a nine month period between April 1974 and January 1975, mobs throwing rocks forced the County’s one hundred and twenty four public schools to close, demonstrators surrounded schools and blockaded school bus garages, two people were shot, schools were dynamited and firebombed and teachers were threatened. Coal miners went on strike in support of the protest, the Ku Klux Klan demonstrated in the streets of Charleston and a preacher and his followers discussed murdering families who wouldn’t join the school boycott (Charleston Gazette, 12th October 1993).

As a student at John Adams Junior High School in 1974, I saw firsthand the great Dirty Schoolbook war. Most days my classmates and I had to walk through a picket line of Bible Thumping Fundamentalist Crazies on our way into the school from the bus. Some of the people in the picket lines were parents of some of the kids on the buses. My stepmother was a frequent protester as was the father of one of my best friends. It was humiliating to say the least.

John Adams, though, was probably the least affected school in the County. Being well out of the Eastern Kanawha County Bible Belt and fairly isolated, there were relatively few protesters that showed up every day. But the TV reports from schools in the East Bank and DuPont districts were downright scary, with video of grown adults verbally assaulting kids who were only trying to go to school.

I have so many frightening memories of that time: The shots fired at picket lines at Smith Transfer in Belle where my uncle worked, a car burned on my street because it had a bumper stickers that might have indicated support for the school board, trees cut down to block roads so our buses couldn't pass and the fire-bombing of Loudendale Elementary where my cousins went to school. There was at least one case of a dynamite attack on a school (Midway Elementary). As a 14 year old I didn't understand it. As a 47 year old, I understand it less.

I think about the episode from time to time, but the memories are more fleeting each year. Thank God for Google. A quick search on "Kanawha County Textbook Controversy" brings up a whole host of blurbs on this site or that about the events surrounding the battle for the books. Here is one I found particularly interesting, a scholarly treatment of the subject done by Dr. Keith Crawford who is apparently from the United Kingdom. This essay has some great pictures, too.

Someone really ought to make a movie. But then again, please don't: I just couldn't take seeing Sean Penn as Ezra Graley, or more properly, hearing him using an exaggerated Appalachian accent as I know he or just about any other Hollywooder would do. Let's just leave well enough alone. Afterall, we already have "Inherit the Wind."

Charleston Area Barbies

Disclaimer: I did not write this. This list circulated via email a few years ago. It's a little mean-spirited, but it's pretty much an equal opportunity offender.

Charleston Area Barbies

Elkview Barbie: This pale model comes dressed in her own Wrangler jeans two sizes too small, three kids, a NASCAR shirt and has a tattoo of a Tweety bird on her shoulder. She has big, stiff hair, a six pack of Bud Light and a Hank Williams, Jr. CD set. She can spit over 5 feet and can kick Mullet-haired Kenny doll's ass when she's drunk. Purchase her pickup truck separately and get its Confederate flag bumper stickers absolutely free.

Woodbridge Barbie: This trendy homemaker Barbie is available with your choice of Lexus SUV or Ford Windstar minivan. She gets lost easily and has no full-time occupation or secondary education. Brags about area museums, though she's never been to one. Traffic jamming cell phone, real estate license sold separately. Optional matching gym outfit and large, untrained dog available.

Clendenin Barbie: This snuff rubbing, brassy-haired Barbie has a pair of her own high-heeled sandals with one broken heel from the time she chased her beer-gutted boyfriend out of Elkview Barbie's house. Her make-up is dark red lip liner with your choice of lips covered in a sparkly pink. Her ensemble includes low-rise acid-washed jeans with assorted colored G-strings that stick out the back and a white see-through halter-top. Accessories include: CD-player equipped with Bon Jovi and a rusty old Chevy Corsica.

Sissonville Barbie: Comes with an older SUV with "my kid can kick your honor student's ass " bumper sticker on the back. She comes with extra wide hips from all the kids she has had. Also has a trailer hitch on the SUV for the Jon Boat or camper that "Drunken Ken" tows to the lake and fishes on once a year. Works at Wal-Mart.

South Hills Barbie: This yuppie Barbie comes with choice of a BMW sports car or an entry level Mercedes. Included are her own platinum credit card, a Berry Hills membership from a generous settlement from her ex, and a map to find her way to the beach. Also available for this set are Shallow Revenge Boyfriend Ken and Spoiled Rotten Private School Skipper.

West Side Barbie: This recently paroled Barbie comes with a 9mm handgun, a Ray Lewis knife, a Chevy with tinted windows and her own Meth Lab kit. This model is available after dark and can be paid for only in cash. Preferably small, untraceable bills. Unless you're a cop. Then we don't know what you're talking about.

Kanawha City Barbie: This Barbie is the most expensive, due to her extravagant outfit: Mink full-length coat and 5 carat diamond ring, Prada shoes and Versace pantsuits bought on "sprees" in New York. This Barbie also has a blank stare due to weight-reducing insulin injections and is nicknamed "Botox Barbie".

Edgewood Barbie: This Barbie drives a BMW SUV that has never seen a dirt road but travels to Huntington for brunch. Edgewood Ken also comes with an assortment of polos, 5 putters, and is available with a snifter glass of brandy, a Cuban cigar, and a 48-foot Hatteras Sport Fisher permanently parked in his back yard.

East End Barbie: Attire includes Low-waisted jeans, too long with rips along the cuffs, a T-shirt 2-sizes-too-small purchased in the little boys section of the thrift store, flip-flops & horn-rimmed glasses. Hair is cut asymmetrically & dyed dark burgundy. This Barbie is pierced and tattooed and mixes equally well with the arts crowd and the downtown gays.

Winfield Barbie: This average looking, cigarette smoking, bleached-blonde Barbie comes with pumps, tight pants, and a red spaghetti strap half shirt to show off her belly button ring and lower back tattoo. This Barbie comes with a Ford Mustang GT, a cell phone with an assortment of annoying ring-tones, as well as a night bag. She also comes with three "good-guy banker" dolls to match the local gender statistics. Serves as unofficial hostess for visiting General Assemblymen in the spring. Additional options include the "get out of the DUI free" card.

Quarry Creek Barbie: This larger city transplant from mostly NYC and California comes dressed in almost designer clothes out of TJ Maxx. This model speaks phrases like "Everything is better in NYC" or "In California we don't have to do that." She can also bitch up a storm about what Charleston doesn't have, but forgets that this is her new home and moved here for a reason, meaning a job with lower cost of living. She comes with her own 10,000 sq. ft. mansion that was paid for by selling her 1,500 sq. ft. home at $900,000. She enjoys not working and spending Ken's money. You can purchase separately a local Charleston doll that has lived here for more than 5 years holding a sign that says "If you don't like it here, move the hell back."

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Christians for the Mountains

In an opinion piece in Sunday's Gazette-Mail, Allen Johnson of Christians for the Mountains decries a Bush administration decision to apparently issue a regulation that would "enshrine the coal mining practice of mountaintop removal.”

I am definitely against the practice of mountain top removal mining. This post is not about that.

This post is about a dichotomy that exists in the Christian world that I find escapes the notice of a lot of people. We hear a lot about the power and influence of the oft-vilified "Religious Right" but I find many people don't realize that there is a strong Religious Left. Christians for the Mountains is one part of the latter group. Another is the West Virginia Council of Churches, even though they are far less liberal than the National Council of Churches of which they are an affiliate of sorts.

When I wrote in July about the way the WV Council of Churches found themselves in the same camp as the Religious Right on the table games issue, I was surprised at the number of people who were not aware of the Religious Left. So let me provide a quick overview:

The hallmark of the Religious Left is a world view that transcends national borders and boundaries. The ideology of the Religious Left is viewed by people on the Right as socialistic in its approach since it is a no-holds-barred social aid ideology. The Christian Left would say that Jesus' ministry, and therefore our ministry, was all about helping the poorest and most powerless among us and that the primary role of government should be relieving poverty in all its forms. That is a very simplistic synopsis, but time doesn't permit a more thorough treatment.

A while back I went to an event sponsored by Christians for the Mountains. I figured I'm a Christian and I'm for the mountains, so I thought I'd feel at home.

I didn't.

About five minutes into the presentation, one of the leaders of the evening made the statement that "there is a special place in Hell for [Massey Energy CEO] Don Blankenship." The crowd responded to the statement with a loud cheer. They really, really liked the idea of Don Blankenship burning in perpetual torment. How nice.

After a few minutes I got up and left the event without speaking to anyone. I didn't want to be a part of that crowd. You see, the bible I read says that it is God's will that none shall perish without knowing the love of God. The teaching of the church has always been one of grace and forgiveness, but that is apparently not a teaching of Christians for the Mountains.

Granted, there are many conservative churches (I might even say "most") that do not speak words of grace and forgiveness. But the overall message of the Christian Left has always been much more compassionate than fundamentalists. I expected to find that same gentle spirit at the Christians for the Mountains event, but apparently God's redeeming grace is not available to sinners as great as Don Blankenship.

It is sad when hate invades and takes over organizations that were built on foundations of love.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Matt and Company

Imagine my surprise as I was driving to work this morning and heard my name and this blog mentioned on the radio. My Sim City post scored some points with the host.

Evidently my omission of the name of the co-host in a previous post had been noticed and maybe hurt someone's feelings a little bit.

Sorry, Matt.

(I wish I knew his last name.)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

U$er Fee - Here We Go Again!

According to the Daily Mail, City Manager David Molgaard's office is busy analyzing the city's finances to see if it's feasible to double the $1-a-week user fee. Dave, if you're reading, here's a tool you can use. Anyone who has ever experimented with Sim City knows that one of the fundamental rules of the Sims universe is that when you raise taxes too much you lose business and population. Maybe Mayor Jones should play, too.

I don't want the user fee to go up, but I also despise straw man arguments so I have to speak out: The reason it's not right to raise the user fees is not because it will be a hardship on low income families. four dollars isn't going to make or break anyone. If you are down to your last four dollars at the end of the month you have other problems. It sounds compassionate, but it's not real.

The real reason the user fee shouldn't go up is the same reason I give my kids an allowance: They need to learn to live on what they have because life isn't such that you can just reach out pluck more money off of the mythical money tree in the backyard anytime you have overspent your budget or lived beyond your means.

Of course, Mayor Jones might have really had a money tree in his backyard. Or at least a big trust fund!

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Sternwheel Regatta is Over - Forever

Last year I wrote about the first indications that sternwheelers would soon be a thing of the past at the Regatta. Now it is a certainty since the leaders of the Regatta Commission have made it public knowledge that there will most likely never be another "Sternwheel Regatta", but instead something called a "Charleston Regatta." Why "Regatta" at all? Once the sternwheelers are gone then only river activities that will remain will be the swim and the Anything That Floats Race. That certainly doesn't deserve the designation "regatta."

Regatta Jumped The Shark in 1986. That was the year that The Beach Boys came and drew such a crowd that City leaders made the decision to steer away from big name acts because the size of the crowd was way too much for the CPD to handle. The next year it was rumored that Jimmy Buffett was interested in coming and bringing his Parrot Head army but that show never materialized. It was that year that a national magazine voted the regatta as the best festival in the southeast, but by the time the magazine was published the festival was already in it's decline.

Originally a one day event consisting mostly of boat races and other river activities, it soon grew into a three-day weekend full of activities (although Labor Day itself has always been nothing but the car show at the capitol). Most of its life was spent as a ten day festival, with opening ceremonies in the evening of the Friday before Labor Day weekend. If I'm not mistaken the festival reached its maximum duration in about 1985 of twelve days. The reason for the extra couple of days was that so many downtown businesses had their own events that they wanted at certain places, and as a result they held a few meaningless events on Wednesday and Thursday.

One of the worst decisions ever was the moving of events away from the riverfront. For a while there were events held in the Elk City section of the West Side, and even some in South Hills and Kanawha City. It was these far-flung events that took the focus off the river and that was the beginning of the end of the sternwheeler's participation.

I recall walking down amongst the sternwheelers as a teenager and young adult. The barges that Amherst Industries provided every year to serve as docks for the big boats were supposed to be closed to the public, but security was porous and anyone could walk right on. I met some nice folks and got to see some of the sternwheelers up close and personal. The arrival of the sternwheelers to the Regatta on the Wednesday before each Labor Day was a festive and thrilling event. Suddenly the levee area was transformed from a little street party into the grand festival it was because the guests of honor had arrived.

The river activities like the Line Handlers Contest, The Pushers and Shovers Contest, the Whistle Blowing Contest and, of course, the Sternwheel Races, those were the things that gave the event its spice. Even Just as a visual backdrop the sternwheelers made the Regatta special. The colorful boats and the flags they flew transformed the levee into a work of art. Add in the sounds of an occasional whistle blast or a ship's bell ringing and you had a full sensory experience.

When Amherst got fed up with the shenanigans of the Festival Commission it was the death knell for the sternwheelers. The festival that had been the brainchild of Nelson Jones, a child of one of the owners of Amherst Industries, was cut off from its largest supporter of river activities. This was in the late 1990's. The festival has hung on for a few more years.

But it's all over now.

I suspect that we'll have a few more Charleston Regattas, but if it's still around in five years in any recognizable form I will be surprised. It seems that the City has thrown all of its eggs into the FestivAll basket. unfortunately it is already showing signs of Regatta-cization, mainly the spread-out nature of the events that gives it a lack of focus.

Nothing lasts forever, but the Regatta deserved a better effort. Preserving the traditions of the river that gave birth to Charleston and celebrating the big wheeled boats that were such a part of its history was a worthy endeavor. Political tides roll in and then they roll out again, taking with them a little piece of our City's culture with each ebb. Will the Jones administration be the one to put the final nail in the coffin? That would be ironic since it was Nelson Jones who gave the festival life.

The late, great, Charleston Sternwheel Regatta Festival: My she live in our memories forever.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Virginia Street Beautification

Especially for Chris James: Here's a picture of Jessica Ralston in today's Regatta Grand Feature Parade.