GUIGC: The Subject Of Bicycles

I had lunch with Ed and Harry this week, sharing memories of growing up in Grandin Court, as we did some planning for the Rec Center Reunion party on November 2. The talk got around to adventures we had involving bikes. Mostly, they were stories of treks to Salem, Starkey, school, and southeast Roanoke.

One memory sticks in my mind: Ed had a good bike with a big saddle, and strong legs. He rode that bike to Salem to see Ms. Althea Peel, fifth grade teacher at Virginia Heights Elementary school. Ms. Peel called his mother and Ed got heat when he got home. (More stories later about Ms. Peel and her 1937 Chevy.)

That wasn’t the only bike ride to Salem. On one excursion, Ed and I rode his bike to the truck by-pass on old Rt.11 that goes by what is now the Salem Civic Center grounds. At that time, it was a farmer’s field of corn. We went out Lee Highway past Roberts pool, crossed the N&W railroad tracks, the Virginian tracks, and almost to Lakeside amusement park, with me riding on the seat, and Ed doing the pumping. We gathered all the corn silk we could hold, and made smokes when we got back, using toilet paper to roll the silk. I suspect Ed was pretty tired by then.

We rode to Starkey a few times, out Brambleton Ave to Merriman Road to the old Starkey Post Office. There was a small school house there across the road from a small country store. The old school house is still there. Coming back, we went past what is now Tanglewood Mall, and back across Ogden Road to Colonial Ave, across Wright Road to Brambleton, and back home to Montvale. Lots of hills between here and there.

Today, the vehicle traffic makes such rides very dangerous, and especially so for kids. Heck, its even dangerous in a car today. And we had no helmets, no gears to shift, and big soft balloon tires.

Harry had a few biking tales to share as well, and I will gather those for another telling.

Dottie related stories of bike parades at the Center with playing cards pinned to the spokes with clothes pins for the motor sounds. The bikes were decorated with bunting, crepe paper streamers, flags and balloons. I remember kazoo bands and dish-pan drums that marched along with the bike parade. There may have been a baton twirler in there, too.

Send your adventure tales for the common good, and I’ll put them up here. In the meantime, keep on cranking.

Jim

Respect For The Law, Respect For Society

One principle of a successful modern society is a general respect for the laws of that society. For the most part, folks generally honor the laws of their community, at least in the spirit if not in the letter.

For instance, a lot of us will stretch the speed limits a few MPH in the flow of traffic. In many cases, keeping up with the flow is more important as a safety issue than strict observance of the law. In North Carolina, for instance, many drivers expect no problem at ten miles over the limit.

One of my pet peeves is the disrespect of the law by those who are charged with enforcing those laws. When a law officer doesn’t abide by the law, it creates a general disrespect in the public for the laws in general. Take for example the many patrolmen and women who cruise along the highway well over the speed limit, not on an emergency run, but just cruising. As he/she passes others who are following the law, he/she creates the impression of being above the law, and that causes the rest to feel like the laws are not important, not to be respected. It is like the “broken window” theory: one broken window invites more broken windows. One officer disobeying the law, invites others to disrespect the law, and the officer.

One enterprising gentleman in Washington state has a different approach. In a recent story, Gavin Seim in Grant County, Washington, pulled over an unmarked police vehicle, and asked to see the officer’s ID. The law in Washington is specific, that no official vehicle in the State is to be unmarked, unless for the specific purpose of undercover operations. The law is clear, but the office was not aware of the law. Or not respecting the law, more likely. He is on record now.

Unmarked police vehicles used in traffic stops are dangerous, because there is no way to be certain that the occupant is a real officer. The purpose of unmarked cars is to trap offenders, not prevent offenses. It might be a revenue producer?

Observe the traffic response next time you are on the road and see a well marked and visible police vehicle cruising or sitting along the highway. Traffic slows, people obey the laws, drive more carefully, and generally behave as they should. The mere presence of the marked police car controls the highways much more effectively than any hidden or unmarked patrol car can ever do. It just doesn’t generate revenue.

Let’s encourage the officers of the law charged with enforcing those laws to respect those laws. Failure to do so breeds the general disrespect for the law and the officers that undermines our society.

Jim

Hard Knocks’ School Lessons, Kids As Victims

As a neophyte just getting his feet wet in reality, I was often shocked by the conditions in which I saw people living.. Just west of Salem, not more than 2 miles from downtown and the cluster of nice  homes in which most folks resided, were a few homes on the side of Ft.Lewis mountain.  These would best be described as shacks. No, maybe “hovels”.

The ones I saw had no running water, and no electricity, possibly a wood fired stove, and a dirt floor. The worst one of these had no toilet inside or out, just a pot in the corner for a family of five children and their parents. The yard was littered with feces, trash, and busted up mystery items, all scattered around the area the children used for their play. If you can call it play.

The best of the worst had a floor, but the spaces between the floor boards were wide enough to see daylight through them. No door closed out the cold, just a flimsy ratty sheet hung with rusty nails. The slab siding covering the old log cabin was splintered, some planks drooping down to the ground, exposing the gaps in the logs.

Moldy bread crusts lay on the small folding table in the kitchen, and rodent droppings were around the floor. Only some plastic plates stacked on the table showed that there had been a meal at one time. How long ago? The kids said two days. That was when the parents left them for a trip somewhere. The kids didn’t know where or when their parents would return. Around the other room were scattered dirty blankets and mats which I suppose was where they slept. I saw one kerosene lamp with a small amount of oil.

The well pump outside was broken, so that the oldest kid, a scrawny girl of about 8, had trouble pumping water. On this day, the pump was frozen. They had not eaten for two days, she said, and now the well was frozen, so nothing to drink.

The youngest kid was in a diaper, which drooped from its bottom. Soiled diaper, and nothing else. She was hefted on her sister’s hip. All the kids were in rags, and blue with the cold. The kids stared at me as if they had not seen another human before, like pictures of native tribes in Brazil in National Geographic.

Did the parents go away like this often, I asked? Sometimes, she answered. How long, I asked? Sometimes for a week or more, but then that was in the summer, she replied. This was different.

Their aunt lived a mile or so down the mountain, in a modest home next to the state road. She advised me to leave and not come back, to forget the kids because their father had threatened to kill anyone who messed with the kids, including her. Do you know where they are, I asked? No, she replied. They go off like this whenever he gets a few dollars from a job or by selling something he picks up. Probably in a motel somewhere drinking.

How could anyone not be moved by these kids’ plight? I went back to town to the Social Services office. They were aware of the kids’ situation, aware that their parents often left them alone for days without food or water, and now no heat. Why had they not acted to protect them? No one had filed a complaint. I did then and there. The lady said it would take several days before a case worker would investigate.

I’m too impatient for that. I went back to the cabin, and gathered those kids in my VW, and took them to the Social Services office. While they warmed up and got some snacks, I went to the court house across the street and visited the judge. He agreed to issue an order to place the kids in foster homes until the case could be processed. They would at least be fed and kept from freezing for awhile.

Case closed, right? Not quite. Their father returned a week later and went ballistic when he discovered the kids were gone. He ranted at the Social services folks, came to my office threatening everybody in sight with bodily harm. His rants fell on deaf ears.

The parents were convicted of child abuse and endangerment and the kids were placed in foster homes. I think there were jail terms for both the parents, at least I hope so.

That was in the winter of 1958-59. I often wonder what became of those kids.

Jim

More Lessons At The School Of Hard Knocks

Collecting bad debts is not the glamorous glory job it is made out to be. Long hours in bad social situations, for minimum pay, all while facing hostile debtors who were as ready to fight as to shoot, came with the job. For some reason, I gained the reputation for tracking down the “skips” who had run out on their debt, hoping to avoid repayment. I spent hours turning over rocks to find those who had disappeared down a rat hole. And I got pretty good at it.

Most of my time was spent on the road, going from one account to the next, usually 15 to 20 accounts each day covering over a 200+ mile ride in the greater southwest part of Virginia.  Some of those folks were just having a bad day of it, and with a little help, got back in good graces with the company. We did help many who just didn’t have the monetary skills to understand the rules of finance. Some, of course, were really deadbeats, and it was my job to prod them into submission. In those cases, pushing the limits was the reality, and not pretty. I appeared in a number of court cases suing to collect the unpaid bill.

Sometimes things got ugly. The bad ones could get physical, including assault and battery, using tools as weapons, and knives and guns were always a possibility. In the city, people got angry really fast, but cooled down after awhile. In the rural areas, people stayed cool up to a point, but when they got mad, they stayed mad. And they acted on it.

One family had the reputation of shooting first and asking who it was knocking on their door later. I learned to “hallo the house” before leaving the car, just in case. After several visits, which took crossing the low water bridges across Big Reed creek, in flood stage, the man made it clear he was never going to pay the bill for the furniture he had used the money for. Even though he worked at the Radford Arsenal( making more than triple what I earned). My boss went back the next day, and when the man refused to make any efforts to repay, took all the furniture out into the road and set it on fire. I was a bit nervous over that, but he said if the man wasn’t going to pay for it, he wasn’t going to sit on it.

There was a family of several sons and daughters, their spouses, and children near Riner  in a compound of houses set around a common lawn area. All the houses faced inward, and was over a mile from the paved roads. When I approached the compound, no one was around, not a soul stirred. It was like a scene from an old western movie. Eerie is the best description.

I walked around the lawn area, “hellowed” the house a couple of times when I glimpsed a slight movement in an upstairs window curtain. After a few minutes, the man came out from behind the house, and we talked a bit. He was cool, but determined to not honor his debt. In addition, he told me in plain terms to never return there again, or he would shoot me. That was not a good feeling. A few days later, he did come to the office and paid some on his bill.

Most of the time, I  got folks to start repaying their loans, and even helped a few out of dire circumstances. I’ll tell those stories later.

Four years of knocking on doors was enough.

Jim

Football Fun At University Of Central Florida, Orlando

Last Friday evening, I had the great privilege of attending the game between UCF and BYU at their stadium in Orlando, as the guest of cousin Steve Fisher.  Steve is an alum of that institution, now counting over 71,000 enrolled students. That makes it the second largest university in the USofA. Quite amazing, all in all. A huge campus that I was not able to tour due to the crowds gathering for the game that swarmed onto the campus like locusts.

The stadium is new, with tiers rising high above the field, seating more than the total school enrollment. It was filled with screaming fans, making the kind of noise generally reserved for the field in Hokie Land. BYU had a small contingent in attendance,, but they made some big noise as well. All the newest technical stuff was there, with ESPN broadcasting the game. You may have been watching.

The game was a nail-biter for both sides, with several players shaken up, one BYU player with more serious injuries early in the first quarter. He was taken off the field not to return. No report of his condition was shared with us.

UCF scored on the first drive from kickoff. then scored again late with a field goal in the first quarter. BYU held them off for a field goal ending the half 10 – 3. UCF was not able to gain yardage though BYU’s line. BYU came out smoking at the start of the second half, scoring on drives that gained first downs into the end zone. UCF returned the favor later, and tied the game at the end 24 – 24, to go into overtime.

College ball rules set the overtime with each team getting the ball on the opponent’s 20 yard line. They get four downs, four more if the make ten yards. BYU elected to go second, and UCF ran the ball to the four yard line. Three downs later, they scored on a screen pass to the right side goal line.

BYU took a turn, starting again at the 20. Five plays later they were at the 2 yard line with three downs to go. Two tries up the middle failed to score. A pass to the tight end was deflected, for a win of 31 – 24 for UCF. Quite a nail-biter for UCF fans.

The Marching Knights took the field at half time for over thirty minutes of excellent maneuvers and superb music. Over 400 members of that crowd covered the field -in black and gold, with dozens of flag and baton twirlers in assistance. More than twenty trombones, similar numbers of trumpets, Suzaphones, and reeds by the dozens, a drum-line worthy of noting, all blasting out pulse raising numbers. The end of their program is a routine for each game, so I was told, which is to have the crowd shout out “Gimme a U’ with the reeds section forming a huge U.. Then “Gimme a C” from the crowd. Another sections formed the C, followed by “Gimme an F” with the band complying. Shouts galore from the stands, and then the entire stadium sang the school song. A moving testimony of their school loyalty. My ears are still ringing.

The game lasted until after 11pm due to the numerous time-outs for injuries, the many commercial breaks, and the half time show. Well worth the price of a ticket. We left the stadium, walked back to the parking lot about ten miles away (it seemed) and waited most of an hour in the car to leave the lot. Traffic leaving the area clogged the roads for miles around, so Steve took his secret side street detour, and we made it back to his house in Ocoee around 1 am.

All in all a great evening of exciting sports. Thanks, Steve for the ticket. The visit to EPCOT the next day was an extra treat to be enjoyed, again as Steve’s guest. Nice to have family in high places.

Jim

Elections, And Why It Is Important To Vote. And A Radical Election Suggestion

Recent polls suggest that the turnout for the mid-term elections this year will be low. There are many reasons for a low turnout, among them are apathy, disinterest, distractions, and just laziness. More likely is the feeling that “my vote doesn’t make any difference, so why bother” syndrome.  Voting restrictions in many states will also make it a low turnout.

My favorite excuse is “I’m fed up with politics and politicians.”  Quite understandable, considering the “news networks” which harp on issues that were discussed and buried a long time ago. Or should have been.  Re-hashing Bengazi comes to mind. You may have your favorite item to add to the paranoia list.

The slate of candidates is no motivator to some. It has become a choice of the lesser evil, rather than the choice of the best of the best. My votes have been cast for the lessor evil for most of my voting history, with a few rare exceptions. Sadly, the options were often too radical and too similar. And it seems to be getting more radical each season.

Still, voting is not just a privilege of our representative democracy, it is an obligation of citizenship. It is our obligation to become educated on the issues, and to join others in the process of electing our representatives. Hopefully our choices will be wise, carefully considered, and beneficial for the nation. Partisan politics be damned.

A recent refreshing discussion with one of my more “conservative” friends brought out that he is not really as conservative as he would like others to believe. He recited the regular talking points he sees on Fox and hears from Rush, but after a few minutes of talking, agreed with many of the more liberal agenda. He will vote GOP anyway. He doesn’t care who is on the slate, as long as they carry the label of “Conservative.”

Ah, but wait. . . He has a wonderful and radical (for him) suggestion:  He sees the political arena muddled up with politicians more involved with getting elected, and staying in office, than doing the work of the Country. He opines that it would be better to enact single term limits for all political offices. To wit:  Set a six-year term for President, Senate, and Representative offices, and NO re-election, Ever. WHOA. From a Republican conservative? Yep.

He suggests each office be up for election on a two year rotation, meaning that the Congressional office would follow two years after the election for Senate, that vote following two year after the election for President. Each office would last six (6) years and expire. No re-election for that person, ever. That eliminates the obligation to supporters in order to assure re-election, and frees the elected to concentrate on the business of government.

Added to that proscription would be federal funding for all elections, only, and  limited to the top candidates in a primary run-off. No outside donations of any kind, no PACs, and no Citizens United spending. No politician exiting from office would be allowed to take a job as a lobbyist, or with a company or organization which came under their perview while in office, NO “revolving door” offers for retiring office holders. None.

Add to that a prohibition of any gifts or payments or gratuities of any kind by lobbyists. None. Not even a whisper of a investment opportunity. Make it a serious offense punishable by fines and mandatory prison sentencing up to 20 years for both the lobbyist and the politician. No donations to the political party either.

These rules would prevent, or at least lessen the role of professional politicians influenced by their deep pocket contributors, in governing our country, and make serving in office a real service, rather than a career. Maybe we allow a small retirement package to compensate them for interrupting their personal career for government service.

Would such legislation, perhaps as a constitutional amendment, ever pass in Congress? Not very likely. A great idea that will languish in the wings off stage forever. Sadly. We need a change, but. . . . ?

If you agree that this would go along way in correcting our political disarray, reply with your constructive comments. Who knows? Maybe we can get a grass roots effort started, made possible by a very conservative Republican.

Jim

GUIGC: Return To The Old Neighborhood = November 2, 2014

For some time I have been absent from this page travelling around the Commonwealth, and to other places far away, so there have been no updates or additional posts for awhile. Partly due to what the kids call “brain freeze” and partly because of distractions, but mostly because of a lack of fresh story ideas.

Perhaps that will be corrected soon when we gather at the Rec Center in Grandin Court. November 2 is the date, now set in stone, for all the GC family to assemble again for a few hours. You are encouraged to attend if at all possible. (If your physical presence is not possible, please send me your stories and pictures to share. See my address below.)

Bring your stories, those that can be retold here, and those that you would just as well keep private. Those you wish to share will be included in later posts, if you agree. Be sure to bring your pictures, your spouse(s), your stories, and any children willing to bear the burden of our ageing crowd. You can contact me here if you prefer, or by email at “jfrancis@atmc.net”.

Ed Webber, Harry and I are meeting today to hammer out the details, get plans set for the big event. Suzi Kessler (nee Reynolds) is away this week, but is the force behind the scenes. She will be following up on our tasks to make sure we get them done on time. (MR says leave it to a woman to make waves and get things done, and Suzi agrees.)

Hope to see you at the Rec Center on November 2.

Jim