Thursday, March 24, 2011


I've been saddened by the death of a life-long friend. This friend never missed a weekly visit to the home where I grew up. More importantly, this friend played a major role in my learning to read as a young child (and where would I be today without strong reading skills?).

My father had been a race car driver in the 1950s, but quit racing when I was born. However, he stayed in the sport by becoming the manager of a local dirt track. Some of my best early childhood memories are from Saturdays at the racetrack. One of Dad's duties was to receive a huge bundle of newspapers tied up in twine to be sold at the track each week (it was too big to fit in the mailbox, so the postman would just drop it on the driveway). Even after Dad was no longer manager, we always had a subscription.

You see, the weekly house visitor was the National Speed Sport News (NSSN)—the most comprehensive authority for all forms of motorsport. Its longtime editor, Chris Economaki, was the auto racing specialist for ABC's Wide World of Sports (for those of you born after the '70s, you will never understand how important that weekly show was to America), and his expertise as well as his unique voice were renowned.

It has been published weekly since 1934 (!), but the current economy—and the growth of the Internet—made them announce this week that they were ceasing publication. It is a big shock to the racing community--we didn't see it coming. I was so enthralled with NSSN as a kid that it was one of the primary motivations for learning to read. The pictures were great, but I wanted to read the stories as well. Especially in the '60s and into the '70s, when racing was not covered by the regular newsmedia (and ESPN did not exist), NSSN was the Bible for auto racing fans. In the old days, unless it was a really major race, you had to wait until NSSN arrived on Thursday to find out who had won the previous weekend. Plus, one of the best things about NSSN was that it covered the whole gamut of auto racing—from NASCAR to USAC to SCCA to Formula 1, plus dirt tracks across the nation (I also learned a lot of geography from NSSN, too).

In the spring of 1980, I was about to graduate from the University of Charleston, but was still not sure what I wanted to do with my political science degree. One thought I had was that maybe I could get a job working for NSSN, since auto racing had been a constant love of mine. I sent a letter to Chris Economaki, who apparently read it and called me. I can remember classmate Jay Swearingen being all excited about taking a call for me at the Benedum dormitory from Chris Economaki, and how he had recognized his voice from Wide World of Sports. As I recall, I called him back and he invited me to come to New Jersey to meet him for an interview. However, at the same time this opportunity was developing, I was also pursuing a job with Congressman John Anderson's Presidential Campaign as well as applying for the Master's in Public Administration program at WVU. I ended up accepting the campaign job upon graduation, plus winning a full-ride fellowship to grad school. With these opportunities directly related to my degree, and the difficulties at that time with getting to New Jersey, I gave up the chance for a job at NSSN.

I wonder how my life would have turned out if I had pursued the opportunity to work for Chris Economaki at NSSN? I would have been getting into the motorsports business just before it began to really take off, with the expanded coverage by ESPN and other channels, the development of in-car cameras, and the boom of stars like Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon, etc. Despite the fact that its numbers are slightly down in recent years, the racing world is far more popular now than it was in the spring of 1980. However, if I had taken a job and stayed there, I might be looking at the unemployment line right now after 31 years of employment, just when retirement is within sight.

Another reason why this is sad for me is that I see it as a tangible example of how our world is subtly changing without much notice. Newspapers are becoming a thing of the past. With NSSN going under, and with the local Parkersburg News & Sentinel on the ropes (they already combined from two into one paper), my parents—who don't do the Internet thing—will be devastated when they can no longer read newsprint. And finally, I will most of all miss the conversations that my Dad and I have had about the latest stories from our beloved National Speed Sport News. Thanks for a great ride, but I sure hate to see it end. R.I.P. NSSN!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Yellow framed memories

Friday, March 11, 2011 at 10:38am
Back in the “old days” when I carried a WVU student ID, I used to love walking through the Mountainlair and stopping at the information desk to read the posting of all the university events of that day. There was always a variety of open lectures, forums, guest speakers, films, etc., on a wide range of topics. Of course, I always had too much of my own homework as I pursued my M.P.A./J.D. to attend all these other interesting activities (but every now and then, I did catch some special event). However, I made a mental note that Morgantown (or any major university town) would be an interesting retirement destination to take advantage of all these enrichment opportunities.

With Anna's job-related relocation to Morgantown in 2007, I've been commuting to her place most weekends. Sometimes, like this weekend, I've accumulated enough hours to take a Friday off and get a three day weekend. Arriving last night, I was able to indulge myself with a wonderful lecture on the WVU Evansdale campus. [In today's Internet world, you don't need to stop by the information desk at the Mountainlair to find out what's happening.] Gilbert Grosvenor, the chair of the National Geographic ( board of trustees, gave a talk about the importance of geography.

Many people think that geography is just about identifying places on a map, but that is just a minor aspect. Geography is so much bigger; it is about UNDERSTANDING OUR WORLD! I've written previously that my personal belief is that our purpose in life is to learn—that is what mankind is here for. I have an insatiable quest for knowledge (and wish many of the students I see had more of that trait). My inquisitive nature has served me well in life, and is a large part of why I enjoy travel so much. I want to see and experience different locations so that I have a “sense of place” to understand them better. [By the way, I'm very envious of my friends Connie and John (who started a new career with a nationwide delivery service), as they report on their incredible journeys across this great country (check out their CoJo Express Facebook page)].

In my younger days, before the Internet age, and before satellites allowed for a plethora of TV channels (instead of the three networks I grew up with), one of the major ways to get news and to see the world was through magazines. Our family subscribed to several over the years, including the essential TV Guide and generally a weekly newsmagazine (mostly Newsweek, but I also remember U.S. News and World Report). I don't remember my parents subscribing to Life, Look, or Post magazines (the major photojournals of the day), but I do remember getting National Geographic. The pictures in that magazine were so colorful and so vivid that I had to get special permission to cut any of them out to use with a school presentation. I loved those magazines with their signature yellow framed covers because they were my window on the entire world (and not because on rare occasions they showed some native women's bare breasts). National Geographic helped to give me a desire for travel and exploration, and an appreciation for all things.

When I lived in Washington, DC, I used to love to give my visiting friends a tour of Washington's lesser known tourist sites, such as the Library of Congress, the National Cathedral, and the National Geographic headquarters. The museum displays at National Geographic were every bit as good as the Smithsonian, but without requiring a full day to see and without the crowds. I don't think it is quite as impressive in recent years, because I've been a bit disappointed that they put an overwhelming emphasis on the National Geographic television channel, but it is still pretty good.

Back to last night's lecture by Gilbert Grosvenor—I really enjoyed it. He is a quintessential intellectual. He talked about America's biggest problem is our K-12 education system. [I realized this twenty years ago, which is why I ran for the Board of Education. My desire to change the status quo is why I didn't get re-elected in 2000, but that topic is too lengthy to cover here.] He reiterated what I always tried to convey to my AmGov and ConLaw students—that American style democracy cannot survive without an educated citizenry. He pointed out that politicians made decisions on issues like Afghanistan based on surveys of voters who know absolutely nothing about Afghanistan. The vast majority of Americans cannot locate Afghanistan on a map, much less understand the intricacies of the poppy trade or the tribal influences or the complex relationships with its bordering countries. Not understanding the world has led to many poor choices over the years.

Mr. Grosvenor also discussed how geography education was minimized in America. This hit close to home to me, because my Murphytown elementary classmates were among the first to NOT get separate geography and history textbooks, but instead received the newfangled “Social Studies” books. I always wished I could have had both history AND geography classes, rather than the amalgamated version. By the time I reached college, I still had an interest in geography, and took “Economic Geography” from Dr. Charles Leibel (?) at the University of Charleston as one of my elective classes.

There were many other interesting aspects to the lecture last night, but there is one that will stay with me (and hopefully make you think as well). He talked about the exponential growth of the world's population. It wasn't until about the year 1800 that the Earth's population finally reached 1 billion. It doubled to 2 billion in 1930. My birth contributed to our planet reaching 3 billion in 1960, just thirty years later. In my lifetime alone, we have grown to the current total of SEVEN BILLION humans alive on this planet. The implications of this population surge are diverse, but if handled well, does not need to be scary. However, most Americans are unfortunately more interested in following the rantings of Charlie Sheen than trying to understand world problems. That's not my idea of winning.

In closing, I want to pass along the two-word catch phrase that is featured prominently on the National Geographic channel's website. I think it is a good mantra. Live curious!

Volleyball, Coach Kramer, and me

Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 5:10pm
I've always enjoyed volleyball. As a kid, a couple of neighbors had set up volleyball courts in their yards, and in the summer we would always gather for games (Mr. Brown even put up chicken-wire fencing to stop the ball from rolling over the hill as well as lights so that we could play after dark—as a result, I developed a roundhouse serve that would go up above the lights and then drop back into view). I played on a church league team while in high school, as well as an intramural team.

When I went to UC, I really got a boost in my volleyball skills. I always played on my fraternity intramural teams (including two-man volleyball, where Don Burton and I finished second to the Old Gold faculty team of crew coach Jim Buckalew and cross-country coach Carlsen). But the best experience was when my phys ed teacher Mrs. Thomas, who also served as volleyball coach, asked some of the better male players in her gym class to scrimmage the UC girls volleyball team. It became great fun to come to the last half of their practices, and play games against them. By the way, one of those girls—Brenda Stevens—graduated with me in 1980, and later became the volleyball coach at UC, a position she still holds today. [Way to go, Bren!]

As a WVU student, I continued to play intramurals, which were held on the basketball court at Stansbury Hall. I was proud to get to play in the same place where Jerry West, Hot Rod Hundley, and all the other great stars had played prior to the Coliseum in 1970. Upon graduation and taking my Presidential Management Internship at NASA Headquarters, I found that many other interns loved playing volleyball, too. We would meet regularly in the summer to play volleyball on the mall in Washington (mostly near the Lincoln Memorial, but sometimes up where the Indian Museum now stands). During the winter months, some of us formed a co-ed team that played in a D.C. recreation league. In the early 2000's, I played again in a church league (Anna even joined me a few times), but I have not played regularly since then. I figured maybe I should retire before I break something (I was never afraid of diving for a ball).

Over the years, I've taken in a number of UC and WVU volleyball games (and even a WV Wesleyan vs. Ohio Valley University game, where I got to sit with Don and Kym B. and watch their daughter Sara play for the Bobcats). Before Anna's job relocation to Morgantown, we would often spend football weekends in a hotel, and would attend any other WVU sports games on tap, including volleyball. After she moved to Morgantown in 2007 and I was up there nearly every weekend, we had more opportunities to see the WVU volleyball team. I'm sure the old coach was a nice person, but she had been the coach at WVU since the '70s, and it seemed that the Mountaineers rarely won. Even Marshall would beat them regularly, and they hadn't beat Pitt for nearly 30 years. The team just didn't seem to have it.

Lucky for us, the new WVU President convinced Oliver Luck to become our new athletic director this past summer. Oliver was the senior quarterback of the WVU team when I became a grad student here, and I've always admired him. One of his first moves was to “convince” the volleyball coach to step down, even though the season was getting ready to start. She was replaced with Jill Kramer, who had previous stops as an assistant coach at Virginia and Alabama, and who had worked with the U.S. National team.

It was a good move! She brought a new sense of energy to the team, and they had more success than ever before (including victories over Marshall and Pitt). It was definitely more fun to watch them play, and so Anna and I went to many more games than we had in previous years (including a fun night watching with the Burtons, followed by a stop at Mario's Fish Bowl). I was so impressed with the change the team made this year, I sent Coach Kramer an e-mail after the last home game, shown below:
Subj: Hang in there!

You don't know me, but I just wanted to thank you for taking the job at WVU this year. You brought a new sense of energy to the team, and made them fun to watch. My girlfriend and I also admired the way you handled the transition, especially given the short time you had before the season started.

I'm a huge WVU sports fan, and over the past several years prior to your arrival, I had watched a few games, usually in conjunction with football weekends. This year, because of the new attitude, we attended the games against Buffalo, Youngstown State, Pitt, Cincinnati (that Neimer girl is probably the best player I've seen!), Louisville, St. Johns, and Connecticut. On Friday, my parents (in their late 70s, but huge Mountaineer fans) also came from Parkersburg for the basketball double-header and the football game. I made sure they came early so they could see their first volleyball game—and they loved it. They've already told lots of their friends that the St. Johns-WVU volleyball game was the highlight of their busy sports weekend.

I hope that you have already come to know the special connection that West Virginians have with the Mountaineers. I trust that folks in Morgantown have helped to make you feel welcome here. We hope that you will stay with us for a long time (and not use this job as a short-term stepping stone). Keep up the great work with the team. We look forward to seeing you next year!


I was glad that I sent it, but I never got a response, so I wasn't sure if she ever got it, or if she was just too busy trying to recruit and improve the team. However, last Wednesday night, my Dad and I made a quick run to Morgantown to cheer the men's basketball team to victory over UConn. While at the Coliseum, I ran into Coach Kramer, and got the chance to shake her hand and congratulate her, telling her some of the same basic things I had tried to convey in the e-mail (without mentioning that previous message). She seemed to be surprised to have been recognized, and requested that I send her an e-mail because she wanted to invite me to the WVU volleyball team's annual banquet next month. So I went back to Parkersburg and sent her this message the next night:


Dear Coach Kramer,

I am the guy you talked with briefly at the basketball game last night, and you encouraged me to send you an e-mail. I am forwarding a previous message (attached) I had sent to you that probably arrived when you were very busy a few months back. I'm really glad to hear that you feel good about coming to WVU, because you truly made a difference this year.

I've always enjoyed volleyball, and played in rec leagues and in school intramurals (including at WVU). I'm not an expert, but I do find it fun to watch, and it was more fun watching the Mountaineers this year. Anna (my significant other) and I are looking forward to catching more games next year.

By the way, if you want to know more about me, check out the bottom of this page:



I included the link about me on the WVU Foundation page because it had my picture (in case she forgot our brief interaction) I wanted her to know a little bit more about the stranger she talked with at the game. I didn't reference the banquet invite that she had mentioned, because I felt a bit uncertain about crashing their party. If we did get an invite, Anna and I thought we might just sit in a back corner, like we did at a recent wedding we attended.

Well, here is her response:


Thanks for getting in touch! I appreciate the message you sent me before. Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner.

I read the info about you on the donor site . . . LOVE your passion and pride for West Virginia and WVU. We will be sending you some information about the Banquet on April 9th. I would like for you to sit at my table at the banquet as a special guest, and you can bring along Anna if she would like to come. We will also be playing from 9a - 4p in a tournament in the Coliseum that day.

Once again, I appreciate all of your kind words . . . I love it here at WVU and am positive we are going to do some great things with the volleyball program!

Let's Go Mountaineers!



So the good news is that Coach Kramer seems to be a good young coach who, despite her Texas roots, will likely stick around and help to pull up the program here. I'm glad she likes our state! And it looks like Anna and I may be going to their dinner (although I feel a bit funny getting to sit with the coach), which just goes to show what can happen when you take the time to extend congratulations to others. We also plan on supporting the team next season, and hope some of the rest of you will do so as well. I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

Bimbos, Blowhards, & Anthropology

Friday, January 21, 2011 at 10:04pm
I watched “Jersey Shore” last night (I only get the bare minimum cable package, but somehow MTV manages to come in) because there was nothing else that caught my interest. I just happened to catch the episode where Snookie gets arrested for drunk & disorderly conduct on the beach. Watching “Jersey Shore” reminds me of those National Geographic specials I would watch when I was young (long before there was a National Geographic channel—in fact, there were only three channels). Sometimes they would find an isolated tribe in the Amazon or somewhere, who were so isolated they knew nothing about the civilized world (“civilized” = a concept for a future discussion). I was fascinated as the National Geographic folks learned of how they lived. These TV specials gave me my first exposure to the science of anthropology—the study of humanity and cultures. [By the way, one of the more interesting classes I took in law school was “Legal Anthropology” which studied the way different cultures handle the creation and administration of laws.]

I felt like an anthropologist as I watched this “tribe” of young men and women, living together in a big house in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. They work in a boardwalk t-shirt shop by day, and then drink and party at night. Even though they speak English (I think), I felt like I needed a translation listing so that I could interpret the slang they use (I realize that my group of college friends also had slang of our own, although I don't think it was quite so bizarre—but then again, I am getting old!).

Their mating habits are another interesting aspect from an anthropologist's perspective (the men and women of this show seem to show just about as much skin as those isolated tribes in the National Geographic specials). I don't remember girls acting quite like this when I was young, but maybe my astonishment is just a sign of how out of touch I am (I hate the way I sometimes sound like Andy Rooney). Seeing the fighting between Ronnie and Sam or J-Wow and her boyfriend was heavy drama. The shunning of Sam by the other girls is probably also typical in tribal cultures.

Watching Snookie's alcoholism culminate in her arrest was like watching a train wreck. You could see it coming, but there was nothing that could be done to stop it. I hope this girl (and all her friends) eventually get their act together and make something of themselves. Unfortunately, they seem to be doing pretty good as a result of their TV show. There never seems to be any concern about money. All they are concerned about is tanning, working out, and partying. The t-shirt shop wages can't pay for all that alcohol. I worry that their antics may encourage other youngsters to behave like they do.

The bottom line is that after watching Jersey Shore, I don't feel quite as embarrassed by the “Wild & Wonderful Whites of West Virginia”! [See my previous review of this movie at]

10 years of Shadowbox

Sunday, January 9, 2011 at 9:46pm
In February 2001 (very early in our relationship) Anna and I decided to spend a day in Columbus, Ohio, and stay long enough to check out whatever this Shadowbox thing was all about. I had found a reference to it on the "Experience Columbus" website (the official Columbus visitor information center) which piqued my interest.

We really had no idea what we were getting into—no one we knew had ever been there. Although it was at the fancy Easton Mall in Columbus, the Shadowbox entrance turned out to be hidden down a long hallway leading to the bathrooms. It was a bit disconcerting as we met a scary Goth/vampire kinda guy they call "The Beast" (who also serves as the drummer) in all his glory at the front desk when we entered. Our waitress right off the bat offered me "oral pleasure" (which turned out to be the name of the drink of the night—I had a Diet Coke instead). Between that and the whole "virgin" thing (they have some fun referring to first-time customers as virgins), we just weren't sure what we were getting into!

However, everyone was so nice to us and it proved to be great fun. Shadowbox turned out to be a bit like Saturday Night Live, but with music interspersed between nearly all the sketches. The live music was incredible (and is sometimes accompanied by creative dance routines). The skits were hilarious (and sometimes thought provoking), with phenomenal performers. It was quite a memorable night!

We continue to be huge fans, and have been fortunate to get to know a lot of the cast members over the years. Indeed, it is the personal connection that is made when the stars are also bringing your food and drink which makes Shadowbox so fun for us. The talented performers are not segregated away from the audience. It is a non-profit business (which refuses government grants) where everyone wears many hats to put on a great show, from star to accountant to cook to selling tickets to cleaning the floors. Most of their performers can also multi-task as singers, musicians, dancers, and/or actors.

We can't say that we have seen every show since February 2001, but we have always attended at least a few each year (and usually the annual "Best of Shadowbox" show at their Newport, Kentucky location across from Cincinnati), and have never been disappointed. We also have enjoyed the musical theater shows that they produce on Sundays, such as their Woodstock tribute (Back to the Garden), the Rocky Horror Picture Show, A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum, etc. The outdoor performance of Back to the Garden this past summer will be a real lifetime memory for me. I am old enough to remember the original Woodstock, but was too young to attend; however, Shadowbox enabled me to get that experience (without the mud and drugs).

We quickly went from merely Shadowbox fans to fanatics over the past ten years. I may never get to sit in the audience for a Saturday Night Live show, but I think I've been able to see something just as good. If you ever have a chance, I highly recommend ShadowboxLive.  It's worth the two hour drive from Parkersburg to Columbus.

State Capitol Buildings

Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at 10:41am
As a government junkie, these “headquarters” are of interest to me. Of course, the U.S. Capitol is the best of all (Anna will always remember when I took her for a tour through the secret passageways that employees use, however that was before 9/11, so I'll never be able to do that again), but here is my review of the next lower level versions. I added another to my list a few days ago, which inspired me to document my history with 17 state capitols (more than one-third of them).

I've actually been inside seven different state capitol buildings:

1. West Virginia (and actually had a desk upstairs in an office when I worked for the House Government Organization Committee)
2. Oklahoma (during the John Anderson 1980 presidential campaign—they had a working oil pump on their capitol grounds)
3. Alabama (during the Anderson campaign)
4. Illinois (again, as part of the Anderson campaign. The Old Illinois Capitol is downtown Springfield is more interesting than their current capitol)
5. Ohio (as a tourist where they emphasize the visits Lincoln made there)
6. Pennsylvania (toured it this past summer—it is the most opulent I've seen).
7. Georgia (as part of a school trip to Atlanta prior to the '96 Olympics)

In addition, I have “eyeballed” ten others from the car while in the vicinity.

1. Indiana (during my trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway)
2. Utah (Salt Lake City was part of the Western trip Anna and I took in 2007)
3. Tennessee (during another school trip in the '90s)
4. Massachusetts (while attending the Presidential Intern function at Harvard)
5. New York (during the 2004 New England trip with Anna)
6. North Carolina (in 1985 with my friend Steve Goff)
7. Virginia (both Richmond and Williamsburg)
8. Annapolis (while visiting the Naval Academy)
9. Delaware (on the way to Dover Speedway)
10. South Carolina (this week while on the way to the WVU bowl game)

This was my first visit to Columbia, as we stopped there Sunday night on our way to Florida. The University of South Carolina is huge (~45,000 students) and dominates much of downtown (but I like Woodburn Circle better than their horseshoe area). It was quite a juxtaposition to see palmetto trees with snow covering the ground beneath them. Although South Carolina finally relented and removed the Confederate flag from the top of their Capitol dome, it still occupies a prime space at the front of their Capitol building (which I consider disgraceful, as do the ghosts of thousands Grand Army of the Republic members—the GAR was the first real veterans organization, but unfortunately died away as those Civil War veterans died).

All told, I wouldn't trade any of them for the West Virginia capitol building in Charleston. From the outside, it is quite impressive. I'm glad the gilding of our dome was paid with donations, rather than from taxes. The inside is nice, but not at the level of Pennsylvania. However, the riches that went into the luxurious appointments within the capitol at Harrisburg make it too “over the top” for my tastes—it borders on embarrassing.

So the bottom line is that West Virginia is the best (not that I am biased or anything).

Memories of November 22

Monday, November 22, 2010 at 10:27pm
I was not yet in school on this day in 1963, but I can surely remember it. That sunny afternoon (for some reason I can distinctly recall the sun shining on the living room paneling), our normal television programming was taken over by news of the shooting of President Kennedy. Although I may not have understood all the implications, I remember being scared by the apparent gravity of the situation. I also recall a series of phone calls as people reached out to each other about this stunning event.

Part of me wants to say we were watching Walter Cronkite on CBS, but that fleeting memory may be influenced more by my later admiration of him as well as the fact that the videotape of him pulling off his glasses (which he rarely wore) has been frequently shown on subsequent historical documentaries of that day (

I regret that the feeling I most remember from those dark days in November was resentment. As a preschooler, I didn't like it that my cartoons were being pre-empted for this wall-to-wall news coverage on all three (yes, only three) channels. All news, all-the-time formats may seem normal to today's cable news channel generation, but it hardly ever happened in the old days. The coverage seemed to last all the way until his funeral days later.

As I grew older, I became somewhat embarrassed by this main memory of being more upset over missing my cartoons than by the assassination of a good president. It made me more interested in JFK as a way to make up to him for the disrespect I displayed. One item I treasured in the Student Government office at UC was the framed JFK picture (originally hung by Tom Deth). During my first stint in Washington, I purchased a similar JFK poster from the gift shop at the Kennedy Center, which followed me through grad school, law school, and beyond (I'm guessing my ex-wife finally talked me into getting rid of it).

I have a recording of his inauguration speech that I have played for many of my classes, so that they can hear his immortal words--"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country"--in their original context.

Finally, I want to mention that the National School Board Association invited me to present at their conference in Dallas in 1998 (I was one of the first school board members to use the Internet as a way to communicate with constituents), giving me my only opportunity to visit that city. I made time during that trip to visit Dealy Plaza and the Sixth Floor Museum. It was a fascinating afternoon that I will long remember! Do we really know what happened that day? I'm still captivated by the events of November 22, 1963, and hope that in the long term future, this date is not looked back upon as the high water mark of the American empire.

My head feels weird!

Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 12:03am
Today was a big day in my life. Once again, I made the transition from a long-haired person to a short-haired person, in order to help those who might need the hair more than I do. It feels weird not being able to run my fingers through my long locks, but on the other hand, it feels good to know that I did a good deed.

Back in 2002, my “significant other's mother” was undergoing cancer treatments at Columbus, Ohio. After reading some info in the waiting room, and talking about it with Anna (who also has been donating her hair), I decided to start growing my hair. Not just somewhat long (which I had frequently done from my college days through my school board days), but really long. It has to be at least 10 inches long to donate. I seem to remember reading that they often get donations from young girls, but sometimes there are folks needing wigs who had gray hair, and thus gray hair donations were encouraged (especially from men, who have not tried to color their gray). I knew I wanted to do my part to help out, and I consider this my tribute to Anna's mother, who passed away later that year (she was very nice to me).

It took about four years to grow my first “crop” of hair. When it was finally ready to “harvest,” I went to the local beauty college ($5 haircuts!) to get it cut, and then took it to a wig store at the mall that was a local collection point for “Locks of Love” donations—it was really easy to hand the braids over to them. It just so happened that I was giving the final exam that night in my 2006 Constitutional Law class (I know—some say it wasn't nice to “mess with their heads” that night by drastically changing the look of my own head). Needless to say, they were quite surprised to see what I had done on our last night together (and luckily, they still managed to pass the exam).

So this second crop began four years ago. I did get a minor trim at one point just to even it up somewhat as it began to grow. It has been long enough to donate for awhile now, but I wanted to get through my 30th year class reunion at UC and my 25th year class reunion at WVU, both of which occurred this month. Many of my former classmates were surprised to see my long hair. I tell folks it is easier to have long hair today than it was back then, because with my receding hairline, it helps to keep the hair out of my eyes!

Today I rode my Harley to the local beauty college (they don't get too many guys in there, much less bearded, long-haired, leather jacketed, motorcycle guys). Once again, my hair was gathered into multiple pony tails, which were then individually braided, and banded on each end. Then, the scissors came out, and I got to hear the sound of scissors cutting hair that I had not heard for the past four years.  I could even feel the vibrations as the hair was cut.

Since the wig store at the mall is no longer there, I had done some Internet research to find out how to donate my locks. Rather than “Locks for Love” or the program ran by the Pantene hair products company (both of whom don't really make gray wigs), I found a group called “Hair that Cares” in New York City. Corresponding with them via e-mail, I was assured that they not only accept gray hair donations, but they actually make gray hair wigs. I took my locks to the post office and mailed my donation to New York. I hope this company is legitimate.

My class of students tonight were quite surprised. Tomorrow at work will be very interesting.

I have thoroughly enjoyed having long hair, but I will be able to sleep in longer tomorrow because my shower time will be shortened (no dealing with tangles, no more conditioner, etc.). I'd like to say that I will continue this practice and make another donation in four years, but we will just have to wait and see. I am concerned that my “crop yield” was smaller with this harvest than the previous one. I fear that the long hair might cause me to go bald sooner. So in response to Connie's question, I'm interested in doing it again, but I'm not committing myself to it at this point.

Thanks to all of you for all the positive comments, but I don't feel like I did anything all that difficult. It is quite easy to perform this deed—in fact, I think it is fun. Plus I saved a lot of money on haircuts over the years (and many of you know how cheap I can be!).

I would like to encourage others to consider “hair farming” for themselves. As my dear friend and UC alum Brenda Myers mentioned, you never know when you might find yourself with cancer and in need of a wig (Brenda—I'm so glad you beat the cancer!). If I can't grow a good head of hair anymore, I need someone else to pick up the baton and continue the run. Think about it!

My Facebook Manifesto

Thursday, August 19, 2010 at 10:21pm
I joined Facebook in 2007. A student had once asked me if I was on Facebook, but I had not taken the plunge yet. Originally, Facebook was only for college students (a bit more mature than the MySpace crowd) and required an e-mail address ending in .edu to register. What really prompted my entry into the world of Facebook was a student op-ed piece in WVU's Daily Athenaeum newspaper complaining about faculty members being on Facebook (since we have an .edu address as well). This student did not think it was fair that faculty members should be able to "see" their students outside of the classroom. Well, after reading that commentary, I decided if they didn't want me on there, then I would have to see what I was missing.

I enjoy using Facebook (FB) as a diary of my adventures. I also like to use this "Notes" feature to share my thoughts in a longer format than just a status posting. It is a bit like my own personal blog. If you want to learn about me, read my FB Notes.

The most important thing for those new to FB is the Hide button. If you don't use this button, you will likely get overwhelmed with Farmville, MafiaWars, and other junk choking your newsfeed. The button is not readily visible; you must roll your cursor around the top right corner of the entry before an "X" will appear. Clicking the X will give you the option to hide the "junk mail" from that particular game or application, or to hide that particular friend, or to change your mind and cancel out without doing anything. Too many FB rookies don't learn about this button, and give up on FB because the junk crowds out the posts they might be interested in seeing. They just disappear from FB and shake their heads wondering why so many folks like it.

Speaking of games and apps (e.g., What's your cosmic horoscope or Which Brady kid are you most like?), I don't participate with any of them. FB does not guarantee the safety of these third party programs, and they have become a source for malware distribution, spamming, identity theft, etc. In addition, they also have become a major time waster for those who take the plunge, and I don't have time to get addicted to such silliness. If you are into these things, then bully for you, but don't expect me to be playing along. As soon as some new game or app shows up in my feed, it gets hidden.

Another essential move that I would recommend to everyone is to set your privacy settings to "Friends Only" so that you are only sharing your information with those you know and trust. This can be done by clicking on "Account" in the top right corner, and then selecting "Privacy Settings." Because of the exponential growth of FB, the bad guys are moving in and using it for their nefarious purposes. I prefer to shield myself from them by limiting my visibility to only my friends.

I also would recommend that FB users should visit and "like" OnGuard Online to keep up with security issues. Another important news source to "like" is "Facebook Security" which gives the official security recommendations from the Facebook home office. Most folks don't realize how dangerous the Internet is becoming, but these sites are a good starting place to learn.

One popular thing to do on FB is to share your birth date, and then your friends send birthday greetings. However, since identity theft often begins with getting one's birth date, I chose not to share mine. In order not to encourage this practice, I generally refrain from sending birthday wishes to others (just because you don't get a birthday wallposting from me doesn't mean I don't like you). If you feel that you must get in on the birthday bandwagon, then please consider only posting the month and day, but not the year. This may make it a bit tougher for the identity thieves (until they see what year you graduated from high school).

It is important to only approve friend requests from people you really know. While there may be some ego involved in getting your total number of friends up higher, it is best to avoid being "promiscuous." Social engineering is a term used to describe when hackers are able to infiltrate a system not by using technical tools, but instead simply by playing on a person's ego. There have been numerous cases of good-looking and flirtatious strangers getting approved as a friend, only to later steal information.

I have a few rules for myself about accepting friends. I don't accept friend requests from current students—I tell them they must wait until after the final (and some have sent their friend requests right after completing it). I also have a current practice of avoiding friends from my day job with the government. I prefer to use FB primarily as a way to keep up with former classmates as well as my students. It provides me with a bit of an escape from my real 9 to 5 job. I don't expect others to emulate this practice, but I wanted to explain my current thinking on this topic.

Another suggestion for those new to FB—try to refrain from posting every little thing you do. Now perhaps some may think I post too much (because everyone has their own thoughts as to what is too much). It all depends (in my mind) if you have something important to say. The fact that you just drank a cup of coffee might not be all that important to your friends, especially if you are making several other inane postings each day.

I also tend to post more about things that I have just completed, rather than posting my plans ahead of time. That way I am not announcing to the world, for example, when I am going to be away on vacation and thus encourage my house to be robbed (see

One recommendation that should be obvious is that you need to choose a FB password that is complex so that the bad guys can't break into your account. It should have at least eight characters (mine has more) and be somewhat complex (in other words, not "qwerty" or "password" or "letmein"). It is also important to not replicate passwords among various sites—create a unique password for important accounts.

If you ever receive a message from a friend claiming to have been in some emergency and requesting you to send money, BE VERY WARY. Often this means that your friend's password has been cracked and their account hijacked. Also, if a friend ever posts a video on your wall or sends you a message with a link to a video, and upon clicking to view it you are asked to download a software update before you can see the video, then you should cancel out immediately. Do not download the software update that is being offered, because it likely contains malware. Check independently to see if you need a software update (I recommend Secunia's Personal Software Inspector, a free service to keep all your PC's software up to date—it's free and available at Hopefully everyone already has anti-virus software and a firewall installed on their PCs.

You might think that after reading all this, I am anti-Facebook, but I am not. Take a look at the gratitude I expressed towards its ability to increase alumni turnout at the recent UC Governor's Cup event in one of my previous FB notes ( It is a wonderful tool for keeping in touch with friends, and I spend far more time on it than I originally intended. Just be careful and don't go overboard with it!

[By the way, since writing this, I discovered the Sophos page on Facebook.  By "liking" it, you are kept up to date with the latest malware news.  I highly recommend it!  Also, check out their Internet blog at]

My teaching philosophy

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 10:21pm
I had some excellent teachers along my long academic journey, and there is no way I can ever repay them for what those teachers did for me. The best thing I can do to honor them is to attempt to "pay it forward" by teaching a new generation of students while trying to "channel" those who inspired me in the classroom. [See my Facebook note on my Top Ten Teachers for some (but not all) of the wonderful teachers I experienced.]

When I started teaching Political Science courses, I knew that I wanted to include classroom discussions, to liven things up and make them think on their feet. I also knew that I wanted to put an emphasis on writing skills—but not just writing assignments for the sake of writing. Instead, I promote participatory citizenship by requiring them to write both "letters to the editor" and "letters to an elected official" as actual tasks (extra credit is given if they do send the letter to the editor and it is chosen for publication). In addition, I require students at the very start to write an autobiography paper (with a minimum of 500 words), so that I can get to know them better and so they can see how I grade their grammar, spelling, etc. Reading their stories helps me to better tune the class to their interests.

I also knew that I wanted multiple assignments over the course of the semester, so that one gets regular feedback on their progress in class. I hated the way law school classes were void of intermediate assignments—100% rode exclusively on the final. In my classes, the final exam isn't even worth 50% (usually about 30%). By the way, I also believe in setting up the grading component to be on a one hundred point scale, in order to keep it simple (one previous teacher had used a cumbersome 2700 point system for his ConLaw classes). With the same purpose of simplicity, my letter grades are based on a 90/80/70/60 scale.

One unique aspect of my classes is the "songs of the night." I have a friend from grad school with a humongous music collection who I knew could assist me with this idea. Since colleges don't have bells to ring to signify the start of class, and since I like to get things started on time, I play a song with some relation to the class just before the 7:00 starting time. In other words, if the song is three minutes long, I start the music at 6:57. It helps to draw students in from the hallway (both to begin class and when returning from the break), as they know it is a bit like musical chairs—everyone should be in their seats when the music stops. When I started, I would walk down the hallway carrying my briefcase and a giant boombox—I have since upgraded to an MP3 player with smaller speakers. I often play "Revolution" by the Beatles on the first night, and many students are amazed that a teacher would do that. It really gets their attention! There are plenty of other great tunes that I play, from artists such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, etc. Sometimes the students even volunteer their own songs. I've had more than a few tell me they had never really listened to the lyrics of these songs, but now they pay more attention whenever they listen to any music.

Besides the songs of the night, I also place on the whiteboard a "quote of the night." I want my classes to spark some intellectual thinking, so I devote a portion of the whiteboard to a significant quote related to the night's topic. The authors range from the Founding Fathers to world leaders to ancient Greek philosophers. I see many students record these thoughts into their notes before class begins.
Because of the importance of the Internet, I create a website for each class, using the commercial free "Internet Classroom Assistant" (available at no cost from The songs and quote of each night are recorded there, as well as any followup that I feel is necessary. There is a page to share "links" to interesting websites related to the class, and students are required to find and post at least one for others to enjoy.

The website is involved with another one of my writing assignments. Ever since seeing the movie "Freedom Writers," I have required students to keep a blog on the class website. They must write at least 100 words per week, hopefully about something related to the class. The blogs are open for all other students to see, which helps to promote classroom discussions.

The listing of Kennedy Award winners is also posted on the class website. In order to promote reading with a critical eye, I give a reward to anyone who finds a mistake in the textbook (and despite the high cost of college textbooks, there are plenty of mistakes). The reward is a John F. Kennedy silver medallion (actually, a 50 cent piece) that I refer to as a Kennedy Award. [Speaking of JFK, I have been known to play his inauguration speech ("Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country...") for my students, as well as other famous political speeches, using my MP3 player.]

I always make a point to bring a small American flag to my classroom and put it up proudly each night for all to see. I also bring my "source document"--one of these souvenir copies from the National Archives of the actual U.S. Constitution. I generally also carry a pocket Constitution as well. One of my former students worked for Senator Byrd, and as they were closing out his office recently she sent me one like what he carried with his autograph (I taped her business card in the back).

The first night of class, I have always given them a test (which gets graded and returned to them but doesn't count as part of their overall grade) based on the U.S. citizenship test. It is usually a humbling experience for them to realize how little they know about their own country's government, and makes them realize that maybe they should learn this stuff. In the ConLaw classes, when we get to the chaper on civil rights, I also give them a test (for extra credit) based on questions that Alabama would give to blacks who wanted to register to vote. Seeing how unfair these questions are helps to sensitize them to the situation.

Speaking of Constitutional Law class, I also require students to memorize the Preamble and stand before class to recite it. Elementary students used to have to do this, so I felt like today's college students should be able to handle it. It provides an excellent opportunity to improve their public speaking skills. While many are skeptical at first, it has proven to be a good thing. We practice the preamble collectively at the end of each class by saying it together (sort of a benediction before they exit the class). Sometimes I have ran into former students, and they tell me that they still remember the Preamble!

Another ConLaw practice was a major writing task that I call the "Judicial Legacy" paper. Here is how I describe it in the syllabus:
Imagine that you have served as a Supreme Court justice yourself, and recently decided to step down. You have accepted an invitation to speak to a Constitutional Law class at your alma mater (with stipulations such as no media in attendance). Prepare a paper to describe the position you took on three recent major Supreme Court cases (how far back you go depends on how old you can imagine yourself, but I would guess that the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case might be the limit). Hopefully, you will find several cases in the textbook (although you are not limited to only those Supreme Court cases presented in our book) that will arouse your interests and thus make it easier for you to express your personal opinions. Write the paper as if it is the script for your speech, but the focus should be on the cases you select, and not on overly elaborate introductory and summary statements (i.e., opening and closing remarks are expected, just don't minimize the "meat" of the assignment). Remember, this is about you imagining yourself as a justice—not about you researching and assuming the actual role of a specific Supreme Court justice.

Since the audience is a ConLaw class, you can assume that they have some familiarity with the cases. While some general background may be necessary, the emphasis should be on your personal rationale of what the final decision was—or should have been (if your solution to a case is different than the opinions of the real justices). Don't just cut and paste legalistic wording from the official opinions; try to explain your arguments in your own words using terms that the students in your audience will understand. Provide a personal justification of your stand based on the facts and constitutional implications of each case—don't just say "I'm against abortion so I voted against Roe v. Wade." Feel free to be creative in your speech (but don't go overboard).

This major paper is worth 15% of your final grade, and is to be at least 1500 words—feel free to go longer as necessary to adequately explain your rationale (please indicate the total word length in a parenthetical at the end of your paper). ANYTHING LESS THAN 1500 WORDS IN LENGTH—AND ANY PAPER WITHOUT A WORD COUNT—WILL NOT BE GRADED, RESULTING IN ZERO POINTS (this expectation is also true for the other writing assignments).

I like the fact that this assignment forces them to project themselves into a future where they have found success and are now returning to their alma mater. I also like making them take a stand on some cases and justify their own opinions. This unique assignment is also less susceptible to copying from the Internet. While the length is scary to them (earlier classes were given a 2000 word minimum, but I eventually cut it back to 1500), they often find a real sense of accomplishment once it is done.

In order to improve their writing skills, I give each of them a portfolio folder (and I write their name on it in calligraphy). By keeping the various writing assignments together, I can see if they are making any progress by paying attention to my previous feedback, or if they are simply continuing to make the same mistakes. It promotes a more conscious effort on their parts to improve their writing skills.

I have sometimes taken my classes on "field trips" to see a city council meeting (extra credit is given to those who address the council during the public forum part of their agenda) or to hear the WV Supreme Court (the one time they were in town). I also generally bring in at least one guest speaker. These have included current and former politicians, lawyers, reporters, etc. I have also shown movies and video clips (from a great PBS show) in my classes. The movie is usually shown the night of the mid-term exam, after the test has been completed. The movie I showed in my most recent class was "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington."

When I was a student, some teachers would provide not just a syllabus, but also a companion reading list of suggested books to read. Rather than copy this practice, I wanted to update it, in part because it is all I can do to get them to read the textbook. However, I know that many of them watch videos, so I worked with my grad school friend (who not only is a music collector, but also a huge movie buff) to produce a four page listing of suggested movies related to the study of government. It at least provides them with ideas for the next time they claim to be bored and want to watch a movie.

One way I have found to get them to read the textbook is to give pop quizzes. In ConLaw, these are a part of their grade, as explained in this excerpt from the syllabus:
On any given day, one of an undetermined number of pop quizzes may be given, covering the assigned chapter(s) for that class. The quizzes reward preparation and performance and thus reinforce professional work habits. Each of these quizzes is worth 3% of your final grade, and thus your three highest quiz scores will comprise 9% of your final grade. If four or more pop quizzes are given (and that is quite likely), the highest three scores will be used to determine the student's grade, while the fourth highest score can be used for up to 3% extra credit. Your lowest scores after the top four (assuming more than four quizzes are given) will be dropped. Note that pop quizzes are only for those in attendance at the time and CANNOT be made up later (that is one reason why more than three will be given). On-time attendance and preparation are important in this class.
At first they may not be thrilled about pop quizzes, but towards the end of the semester, some of them are begging for pop quizzes so that they can improve their top three scores. It has been a successful practice.

For my mid-term tests in ConLaw, I have invented what I call a "Blitz Test." Through mutual agreement, the class and the teacher identify the ten most important cases so far in the class. On exam night, at 7:00 one particular case name is projected on a screen (along with a countdown timer), and the students have ten minutes to write as much as they can to explain it. When the buzzer goes off after ten minutes, the next case name appears (along with a fresh ten minutes on the countdown timer). Their answers from the previous case are collected so that they cannot go back and add to it if they have extra time on a subsequent case. This testing method gives them experience with working under deadline pressures, while ensuring that everyone gets done in 50 minutes. Afterwards, they get to decompress with a movie.

For final exams, I generally mix traditional multiple choice questions (using "bubble sheets" that can be automatically graded) with essays. I frequently use blue book essay exams, just because they are "old school." However, in a few classes that were abnormally small, I did the final as an oral exam. Similar to the blitz test, significant cases are chosen with the names put into a hat. The students must be prepared to give a verbal discussion of whichever case they pull out of the hat. Both times I did this method, it ended up turning out well and no one "froze."

The night of the final exam, the song of the night is generally "The End Of The World" by REM. Whenever a student completes the final exam, I always try to give them a firm handshake and words of encouragement as they leave my classroom for the last time.

Finally, one other novel aspect of my classes is that I always tell my students that I plan on hosting a party at the college on July 4, 2026 to celebrate our country's 250th birthday, and that all my former students are invited. Some students have become very excited about this 7/4/26 idea, and have even volunteered to bring "refreshing beverages." Hopefully I will be around to join them!

Rasslin' with my inner hillbilly

Sunday, July 25, 2010 at 5:10pm
We went to the historic Warner Theater in downtown Morgantown last night to see "The Wild & Wonderful Whites of West Virginia." It is a documentary about the family of clogger Jesco White, the "Dancing Outlaw" (the title of a 1991 documentary that made him semi-famous). Jesco is just a year or so older than I am, but I like to think he looks older. This new film has not been widely distributed, but has been popular at fancy film festivals and art house theaters in metropolitan areas. MTV and Johnny Knox produced it, so it will likely show up on cable TV soon.

I'm proud to be a West Virginian, and was worried about how this drug-crazed hillbilly (using the term hillbilly in the worst way) would make our state appear to the many big city folks who were viewing this film. It is definitely not a positive movie for West Virginia, but in some respects, it was not a total trashing of our state. The producers include interviews with local attorneys and law enforcement, many of whom offer background on the environment that helps to spawn such drug and violence prone folks like the Whites. There is a discussion about the coal company stores and the unfairness of wages paid in script. One even pointed out that West Virginia has been exploited by out-of-state big companies just like some sort of third world colony had been.

The producers also did us another favor. When Jesco was getting a new tattoo on his back--a double picture of his two favorite people, Elvis and Charles Manson--they missed the opportunity to point out that Manson lived in West Virginia (I'm guessing they didn't know this fact or they would have thrown it in).

It was fun looking for locations that I knew from our state. Unfortunately, I have spent very little time in Boone County, and so I only recognized the scenes in Charleston and around Pt. Pleasant (when they went to get his niece out of the Lakin prison). But I did see flying WV logos and familiar road signs, as well as other references I knew, and it is always interesting to see a big-screen movie filmed in our state.

The White family is a source of embarrassment and yet a bit of a morbid curiosity to me. They could not be further from my philosophy on life. Most of them appear to be scamming Social Security for disability checks, and then using whatever horse-trader entrepreneurship they can muster to resell drugs or other schemes. They have little sense (perhaps I should insert the period and end the sentence after just four words) of responsibility to others—except for their own family (and even then, they sometimes shoot each other, as covered in the film). Indeed, much of their existence seems like a modern version of the Hatfields and McCoys. To them, life is mostly about trying to feel good, which appears to come primarily from chemicals (as in drugs, pot, or even huffing gasoline). I just don't get it!

Yet on the other hand, all of us have a little bit of redneck in us if we are from West Virginia. Had I chosen to do so, I could have become a white trash bum, because that “career path” is not that hard to find here. I don't admire the Whites at all, but I can feel a bit sorry for them. I doubt that many of them will decide to “straighten up and fly right” (although the girl who went to rehab and the brother who moved to Minnesota might make it), but one can always hope they will eventually see the light. In the meantime, if out-of-town film producers are going to exploit them for others to both laugh at and to marvel at, then they should also contribute to fixing the problems of rural West Virginia. It is easy to point out the problems—it is much tougher to try and solve them.

In the meantime, we can all revel in our state motto: montani semper liberi.

UC's Hallowed Ground

Sunday, April 25, 2010 at 10:14am
There is something about that place! The Native Americans had traditions acknowledging that some grounds were sacred. It might be because of the breathtaking beauty you find at a spot. Or maybe it is something unseen—some sort of magnetic resonance lines converging in the earth. Or perhaps it is the remnants of the spirits of those who had passed through before. In this case, it might be all of the above.

For me, one of those places is my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Charleston, and its riverbank overlooking the West Virginia Capitol in particular. Since my graduation ceremony on that riverbank thirty years ago, I have made efforts to stop there when I could and get re-grounded. I have contemplated many of life's thorny issues there, while remembering the good times and good people I had met there. The riverbank has helped me in my life's journey, and will likely continue to do so until I die.

Yesterday was a particularly special day for me on that riverbank. Anna and I left Parkersburg that morning to attend the Governor's Cup Regatta, which is a big event at UC and brings back many alumni. Having been an oarsman at Parkersburg High School, I had been involved in the Governor's Cup back in 1975 (at that time they included a few high schools), before I landed at UC as a student and crew team member in the fall of 1976. I had been back a few times before (including one memorable time when Coach Buckalew drafted me into driving a motorboat on the river all day), but in recent years, it always seemed to coincide with a busy weekend of grading papers for me (I guess that is what I get for assigning 1500 word papers to my students).

So, for perhaps the first time this century, I made the pilgrimage to the Governor's Cup. Although the forecast had sounded bad, the weather turned out perfect. Best of all, there was a sizable crowd of alumni from my era who also flocked to the riverbank this year. It was fantastic to see so many long-lost friends again!

One of the reasons for the better-than-average turnout is because of Facebook. There are enough “older folks” who are joining Facebook, and while we had been reconnecting virtually through cyberspace, it was wonderful to see each other face-to-face again. There were lots of hugs, plenty of laughter, and even a few tears. My throat was raspy from talking so much, and my face hurt from smiling all day long. We spent the morning and all afternoon reminiscing on the riverbank. A smaller group got together for dinner that evening and continued the conversations well into the night.

Anna, a WVU graduate (although we didn't know each other at the time, we had overlapped in Morgantown while I was in law school and she was getting her undergraduate degree), was a real trooper throughout all this, especially since she had only met a few of these folks before during the ten years or so we've been together. She let me bounce from one group to the other, constantly in conversation (except for those few times when I'd be listening to Sue Bailey playing her guitar once again—her riverbank acoustic concerts were always fantastic!). She considered this to be the equivalent of what I had been through while attending her 20th and 25th high school reunions.

Afterward, she told me something that I considered quite special. You see, I never knew for sure if I was just biased about how great my fellow UC alums were. However, Anna said she was truly impressed with how everyone made her feel so welcome there, to the point of realizing that these may well have been a unique group of people who had forged some amazing connections through their time on that campus. She now has a better sense of how special UC is.

I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to go to UC after high school. The small school setting in West Virginia's capital city was just what I needed to make that transition from living with parents to becoming an adult. I got an excellent education there that prepared me well for further degrees (special thanks go out to Dr. Evelyn Harris as well as several others!) and for life in general. I learned a lot in the classrooms at UC, but I also learned a lot outside the classrooms—attending various special events, working together on the crew team, engaging in student government, living independently, conversing with other students from a variety of cultural backgrounds, the semester I spent working in DC, etc. My life was enriched during those four years. That's why I go there whenever I need to get re-grounded.

I often dream at night about those undergrad days, and know that if I could ever go back in time (a hot tub time machine?), UC would be the place to go. I'm glad that I was able to return there yesterday and spend a day on the riverbank revisiting the people and the place that helped to make me who I am today. Thanks to all of those who were in attendance yesterday, and to those who helped to make it happen. To those alums who missed it, you should try to attend a future event—the reconnections are inspiring and invigorating. The UC riverbank will always be hallowed ground to me.

Apollo 13 – My Memories

Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 9:11pm
Forty years ago this week, I was very excited! As a child of the sixties, I had become a big fan of our space program. I even had my own favorite astronaut—Jim Lovell. He had a couple of previous fascinating missions (Gemini 7 and Apollo 8), so when he was named commander of Apollo 13, I took a special interest in this mission. I decided to something that other kids did, but I had never done—I decided to collect all the newspaper clippings related to Apollo 13, beginning long before the actual launch. I wanted to have a keepsake of this mission.

At that time, I was involved with model rocketry (cardboard and balsa wood models powered by solid fuel rocket engines that could fly over a thousand feet in the air). I decided to launch one of my rockets in conjunction with the launch of Apollo 13, listening to the countdown on a transistor radio. It sounds corny now, but I was glad to “follow Apollo 13” by paying tribute with my small rocket.

Little did I know at the time that two days later (April 13, 1970) would come the infamous words “Houston, we have a problem.” I remember the normal network programming getting pre-empted with bulletins and coverage from the Johnson Space Center. The phrase “Failure is not an option” also comes from this incident. The next few days were very tense as America realized there was a grave potential that these astronauts might be the first to die in space. The drama was intense!

We are all so grateful when they made it back alive. It was recognized as another triumph of American ingenuity. The Cold War rhetoric of the day also interpreted this as another example of how the Russian space program, which had started off quickly, had been humbled yet again. America is number one! God must obviously be on our side! Reactions such as these were commonplace.

Fifteen years later, I was fortunate to get hired as a Presidential Management Intern with NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. I worked as an analyst in the Business Management Division for the fledgling Space Station program. As part of my work, I got to meet with John Aaron, who was one of the heroes involved with saving Apollo 13. If you have seen Ron Howard's excellent movie “Apollo 13”, you may recall a young hot-shot electrical engineer who was tasked with coming up with ways to extend the remaining battery life by using various available workarounds. That was John Aaron's role, and it was key to their survival. During my stint at NASA, I went to Houston a couple of times, and spent some time in the old mission control center that I used to see on TV during my younger days.

I am glad that I can look back 40 years later and relish a triumph, and not a tragedy. But for several days, America was on the edge of a disaster. It was something I will never forget.

My Top Ten Teachers List

Sunday, August 30, 2009 at 10:22pm
Teachers are incredibly important to our society, but never get the recognition they deserve. Here is my list of the top ten teachers I encountered during my education. I was fortunate in that it was not easy to get my list down to only ten teachers, and a few really good ones fell just short of the cut-off. I put the final list in chronological order:

1. Sharon Carr - My second grade teacher at Murphytown Elementary was young, pretty, and really encouraged me to excel in school. When I broke my nose on the playground, she took me to the hospital. I wonder where she is today?

2. John Anderson - My fourth grade teacher at Murphytown was another young teacher, who took any extra time at the end of class to answer any question we had. I can still remember him explaining things like how a refrigerator worked on a level we could understand. He was still teaching in Wood County when I was elected to the school board.

3. John Apgar - My ninth grade civics teacher had a number of innovative ideas. He did a stock market exercise to teach us about Wall Street. He gave extra credit for anyone who did volunteer work in an election campaign, so I got my first taste of politics by working at the Wood County GOP Headquarters. There were four of us who worked so much we got invited to Arch Moore's inauguration in January 1973. Mr. Apgar took the day off and drove us all to Charleston to attend. He later moved to PHS, and helped to get me elected in '92.

4. Patty Sayre - As a senior in high school, Mrs. Sayre became a great friend to me. I still remember her teaching me that there is "a rat" in the word "separate". She retired from PHS this past spring, and had been a helpful resource during my BOE days.

5. Evelyn Harris - She is a legend at the University of Charleston, where she started teaching in the '40s (Robert Byrd was one of her students). I learned more from her than just about anyone--a classic teacher, advisor, and mentor. Last I heard she still does some teaching at UC. I've let her know how much she influences my attempt at teaching.

6. Richard Shultz - He was the young new PoliSci teacher at UC as a counterpart to the traditional style of Dr. Harris. He also was the advisor to the Model UN and the College Bowl team trips, and thus took me to New York City and Miami. I have heard him interviewed on the news from time to time as a Tufts University professor and an expert in Internal Relations.

7. Richard Neely - As a member of the WV Supreme Court, he was an adjunct professor at UC. No one else could teach the "dismal science" of economics at 8:00 in the morning better than Neely--he really made it interesting. He strongly encouraged me to go to law school, even though I told him I didn't want to be a lawyer. I'm glad he did!

8. Dave Williams - Dave taught Public Administration at WVU, and was absolutely one of the nicest guys I have ever met. I learned a lot from him, and still remember his unique fountain pen markings on my papers. I met with him shortly before he retired a few years ago, and in our conversation about my adjunct teaching at WVU-P, he noted that made me not just a former student, but a colleague--I treasured that compliment.

9. Jerry Pops - Dr. Pops has a law degree, but taught in the MPA program at WVU. We had some very stimulating "debates" in his Labor Relations course. I took one of his classes while in law school, which included a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court. Last year I was invited to speak to the MPA students in Morgantown, and Jerry was in the audience. I was honored to have the opportunity for this role reversal, as I was the "teacher" standing in the front of the room while he was the student sitting in the back.

10. Forrest Bowman - Professor Bowman taught Property as well as Estate Law at WVU Law School, and was one of the most interesting lecturers I had at law school, as well as an all-around nice guy.

12 People I've Met

My Distinguished Dozen

Friday, June 5, 2009 at 11:00pm
Some of you know that I am not big on all the Facebook third party applications, primarily because of the security risks involved (Facebook does not guarantee the safety of third party apps, and I like to keep my laptop virus-free). Therefore, I don't participate in all those “Which <insert inane reference> Are You” shenanigans, and actually choose to hide them to minimize the length of my Facebook newsfeed (sorry if I missed yours). If you are a big fan of them, then to each his own. Instead, I prefer to share my own stories (guaranteed to be virus-free).

I decided to create a list of the top ten celebrities that I have met. Trying to remember everyone I've met over the past half century is not easy (and I may remember somebody later that will require this list to be altered). I decided this list had to be people with whom I had actually talked with, and not just someone I had seen (thus the fact that I saw Pope John Paul II with Jimmy Carter at the White House in 1979 does not count, nor does attending a Billy Graham crusade, seeing Senator Gary Hart and actress Debra Winger—a two-for-one—at a '84 campaign speech, or any music concerts, etc.).

Narrowing it down to ten proved difficult. I decided to eliminate all West Virginia politicians, because they were too easy—and since I am a constituent, they had a vested reason to talk to me. Another decision was to increase the size from ten to twelve—instead of the “Top Ten” it became the “Distinguished Dozen” celebrities whom I have had the good fortune to meet. Some of you might not even be familiar with a few of these names, but they meant a lot to me. In no particular order, here is my list:

1.Congressman and 1980 Presidential Candidate JOHN ANDERSON. I graduated with a political science degree in 1980, and immediately took a job on Anderson's campaign staff, traveling around the country in an effort to elect an independent candidate (he began as a Republican, but “went mavericky” when Reagan secured the nomination). I got to know his wife and oldest daughter first, but by the end of the campaign, JBA asked me to work the last two months in his Congressional office in the Longworth House Office Building. It was quite an experience for me!

2.An advantage of working the 1980 presidential race was that I got to meet several other interesting people. One was STUDS TERKEL, the Chicago writer and historian, who I met at the Illinois state arts event that Keke Anderson attended in Danville, which was part of my downstate area. R.I.P. Studs.

3.Another person I met during the 1980 campaign was singer/songwriter JAMES TAYLOR. He even sent me out to buy him a spare guitar string when his broke before the concert he was doing for Anderson.

4.In 1985, I began work as a Presidential Management Intern at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. During my work in the Office of Space Station, I got to meet a number of interesting people. The most well-known of these would be SALLY RIDE, who was working at headquarters at a time. I got to attend a meeting in her office, and she was very gracious.

5.Although I didn't have as extensive of a conversation with him, I did meet astronaut BUZZ ALDRIN as well, and since he was the second person on the moon, I must include him on this list.

6.Actress BETTY WHITE is a friend of my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Charleston. I was able to attend an alumni event at UC that involved a trip aboard the P.A. Denny sternwheeler. Betty was quite friendly and talked with anyone and everyone during that riverboat ride. I had been a member of the UC College Bowl team that had made it to the national finals. Since her late husband, Alan Ludden, had been the original host of the College Bowl trivia show (before former Jeopardy host Art Fleming took it over during my era--and Art was a near miss for making this list himself), she was very interested in hearing about UC's history with College Bowl. I'm glad she is still going strong!

7.As a youngster, I was fortunate to meet Olympic champion JESSE OWENS, who spoke at the Tri-County Manager's meeting (a Parkersburg organization that my dad belonged to as part of his job at BorgWarner chemicals). As I recall, this organization held one meeting a year that was open to youngsters (and always involved a meet and greet, plus autographs), and other speakers I remember was baseball pitcher Bob Feller and Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster. Jesse told the story of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where Hitler had expected the German team to prove they were the superior race. Losing to an American, especially a Black American, was not what Hitler planned.

8.During my junior high football career, I was fortunate to attend two of BOBBY BOWDEN's football camps. Bobby was very friendly to me, in part because his youngest son Jeff and I struck up a bit of a friendship. I attended the Gator Bowl game between WVU and Florida State, and it was nice to see him again (although I wish the Mountaineers had won).

9.A big sports star from my youth was RICHARD PETTY. He was my favorite driver and I first got to meet him forty years ago at Martinsville.

10.Another race car driver that has a bigger name at the moment is DANICA PATRICK. I hit her up for an autograph at the Nashville Superspeedway her rookie year. She is quite petite, and she reminds me of Anna (her hairline around her forehead is similar to Anna's).

11.During my tenure as president of the West Virginia School Boards Association, I had the honor of meeting former Clinton press secretary and ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS. He was the dinner speaker at our annual conference in 2000, and I got to eat with him and introduce him. I couldn't help but think about our similarities, except that he picked the winning candidate in 1992, while I latched onto an also-ran, resulting in drastically different lives.

12.Finally, even though I'm not a big fan, I got to meet former first lady and current Secretary of State HILLARY CLINTON when she flew into Parkersburg in 1996 for a campaign stop in Ohio. I got to tell her about my service on the local school board during our brief discussion.
Well, that is my distinguished dozen, with apologies to lots of other good folks (e.g., Homer Hickam, Granny D, Dean Rusk, David Pearson, Chris Economaki, Haynes Johnson, Howard Fineman, etc.) who didn't quite make the cut-off. My life is richer because of these experiences. Tell me about yours!

NYC-DC trip

Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 9:17pm
This trip began on Friday afternoon, May 22, 2009. After leaving work that afternoon, I hooked up with Anna in Morgantown and we drove together to Gaithersburg, Maryland, where we had dinner and spent the night at the home of our friends Tim and Lori. The next morning, they dropped us off at the Shady Grove Metro subway station to ride to Union Station, where we boarded an Amtrak train to New York City. Upon arrival at Penn Station, we went to our Hampton Hotel near Times Square. Our New York City Memorial Day weekend trip can be summed up in three categories—shows, activities, and food.

SHOWS: We had purchased tickets in advance to the Broadway revival of “Hair” for Sunday night. Anna’s “inner hippie” had always wanted to see this show (although I think her affinity for vegetables made her think the song lyrics were “This is the dawning of the age of asparagus”). Our plan was to see other shows based on what was available at the half-price ticket office. We had hoped for opportunities to see “Wicked” and “Jersey Boys” but neither was available. As it turned out, we also got tickets for “Avenue Q” and “Rock of Ages”—the first we had heard about and looked forward to seeing its comedic take on modern life using Sesame Street style puppets. “Rock of Ages” is new and we had not heard of it, but since it was based on music of the 1980s (Pat Benatar, Journey, Foreigner, etc.), we decided to give it a try (I don’t watch American Idol, but it stars one of their recent finalists, some Greek guy named Constantine something). All three shows were FANTASTIC! I’d have a hard time picking which was my favorite!

ACTIVITIES: The Hampton gave a 2-for-1 discount for Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. It was very well done. I was surprised to see Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson there, but because they had spent time in Paris, she had selected them and they went through all the sittings and measurements. Her process was quite scientific and accurate even back then, and was handed down over the generations, so there were a number of historic people represented. We also visited the “Top of the Rock” (Rockefeller Center) for a rooftop view of the city at night after watching “Hair”. We both had been to the Empire State Building before, but not at night. Looking down on the lights of Times Square from 60 floors up was interesting. We took an “All Access Tour” of Madison Square Garden, as well as a New York City Duckie Tour (an open-air amphibious bus which also takes you out in the Hudson River). Much of the rest of our time was spent roaming the streets of New York, taking in the many sights and sounds (and smells) of the big city. We did a lot of walking in the mid-town/Times Square/Central Park area (but nothing as long as the last visit in 2005, when we walked from Battery Park to beyond Times Square one afternoon).

FOOD: Saturday’s dinner was at an Ethiopian restaurant called the “Queen of Sheba” on 9th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen. Walking back to the hotel afterwards, we saw a place we wanted to try on Sunday night—“The Delta Grill”, a Cajun/Creole place. On our last night, we ate at the “Brazil Grill”. All three of these main meals were excellent! We also supplemented these major meals with snacks, including stops for Matcha Green Tea Blasts at Jamba Juice (a fruit smoothie place that has been parodied on Saturday Night Live).

On Tuesday morning, we checked out of the hotel and rode the New York subway down to Penn Station, where we caught the Acela express train back to Washington. This is the new high-speed train Amtrak offers in the Northeast corridor. It is faster and smoother, but it is not nearly as fast as the Japanese or French high-speed trains. Train travel is wonderful, and I wish we could do more of it. I think America would benefit if more folks would give it a try.

We arrived back in DC, took the Metro to Rosslyn, and checked into the hotel where I would stay for the rest of the week. We ate a late lunch at a nearby “Pho75” Vietnamese restaurant (Washingtonian Magazine Best Bargain Restaurant award winner). We then headed downtown and ended up at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. It has a couple of new exhibits we enjoyed about ocean life and forensic science on bodies found at Jamestown and elsewhere. We met Tim when he finished work, rode the Metro to Shady Grove and then on to their house, to pick up my car and get some food. The four of us went to a Portuguese restaurant on Connecticut Avenue (near the bike trail crossing a mile or so within the beltway) called Taviras (?). For the price they charge, it was a bit disappointing, but you can’t hit a home run every time. We still had a good time.

I was in DC to work on Wednesday and Thursday. Anna needed to get back to her job, so she rented a car to return to Morgantown on Wednesday. So I had arranged to let my 19-year-old daughter Halley experience train travel and get in some DC sightseeing. For a mere $50, she boarded Amtrak at around 9:00 in Charleston, WV and arrived at Union Station at about 6:00 pm. It was her first real train ride, up the New River Canyon, past the Greenbrier at Lewisburg, over to Charlottesville, and up to DC. She was starved upon arrival so I changed my original dinner plan (the “Tackle Box” in Georgetown) to let her choose at the food court in Union Station (I had Jamaican, she had Chinese). We rode Metro to the hotel in Rosslyn, and then walked over the Key Bridge and all around Georgetown that evening (including the Tackle Box, which looked interesting).

On Thursday, she went sightseeing while I worked. We met at the inner court of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and went back to the hotel. My plan was to check out “Ray’s Hellburger” where Obama and Biden had stopped for a gourmet burger recently. Once we found it (they have no signs visible, and it ended up being next to the Pho75 that Anna and I had been two days earlier), the line was so long that we opted to skip it—but at least we got to see inside and have a sense of the place. We then went to Whole Foods Market and got our dinner there—very tasty! We also purchased two boxes of the chocolate cookies from Whole Foods, which Halley had fallen in love with last year.

I took Friday off, and Halley and started the day with a three hour Segway tour of DC. This was my third time on these two-wheeled chariots—they are a blast! It didn’t take Halley long to get the hang of it. We ventured down 9th to Pennsylvania Avenue, up around the Capitol, then down Independence past my old NASA office building behind the Air & Space Museum (best window office I ever will have!), then across the mall, down Constitution to 17th, across in front of the White House, and then back to the beginning near the Spy Museum. It was quite an experience! Gliding along the sidewalk on two wheels is incredible.

After eating a salad lunch at “Chop’t”(a DC salad restaurant), we took the Green Line subway to the Navy Yard. Halley is a graphic design major, so I thought it would be a good thing to check out the opening day of “Artomatic”. This is an annual DC event that brings all sorts of artists together into a building for a temporary gallery. This year it is being held in a brand new (yet to be completely finished) nine story office building overlooking the new Nationals ballpark. We took the elevator to the top, and spent the rest of Friday afternoon slowly working our way through the displays of incredible (OK, maybe some was not all that great) artworks on each floor. The view out the windows was breathtaking, and it was a great vantage point from which to view the rainstorms that pummeled the DC area that afternoon.

For dinner on Friday, we went back to Gallery Place to meet my cousin Judy. She works nearby, and suggested the Gordon Biersch restaurant as a place to eat. We had a good time visiting with her and the food was OK. We then headed to the Reagan building for the Capitol Steps show that evening. It was my fourth time to see them, but Halley’s first (I am so proud that she seemed to understand all the jokes which are based on contemporary politics). They did an excellent job!

After checking out on Saturday morning, Halley and I drove to Capitol Hill. I was fortunate to find a two-hour parking space in the first block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. We went to the Library of Congress, which to me is one of the most impressive buildings in DC—an ornate shrine to knowledge. I highly recommend it for all DC visitors. We spent over an hour there, and then did a quick lunch at the “Hawk and Dove” tavern. This was a place I frequented (along with the adjacent “Tune Inn”) during my DC days, beginning with my semester internship with Congressman Rahall thirty years ago. It was nice to take my college age daughter to the same place.

We then headed out of town, via Connecticut Avenue so that Halley could see more of DC life before returning to West Virginia (with a quick stop at the Hagerstown Outlet Mall). We spent Saturday night in Morgantown with Anna (dinner at Fujiyama) before finally returning to Parkersburg on Sunday (after eating brunch at the Mediterranean Deli on High Street). It was quite a trip!

My reflections on purchasing a new car

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 9:42pm
In July of 2000, I bought a bright blue VW Jetta diesel (an early delivery designated as a 2001 model). It has been a wonderful car over the past nearly nine years and 150,000 miles. Given the longevity of the diesels (with their lower RPMs and lower operating temperatures), it likely has another 150,000 left in it. I really have enjoyed the diesel experience (45-50 mpg!), and it was the perfect car for me. Having learned to drive on a 1970 Volkswagen Beetle during the energy crisis of the mid-'70s, it was fun to be back in a fuel efficient V-dub again.

However, the Jetta had begun to show its age, with the normal wear and tear one would expect after driving the equivalent of more than six times around the earth (circumference=24,900 miles). I had been saving money for a future new car purchase, because I knew it would have to occur someday. When I heard the new economic stimulus package included a provision for an “above the line” tax credit for the sales taxes paid on new vehicle purchases during calendar year 2009 only, I thought maybe this was a “sign” to go ahead and begin looking.

Another reason to get a new car was the idea that I would not trade the Jetta for a new model, but instead give it to my daughter Halley, who had achieved a 3.8 GPA during her first semester of college at Marshall. She had announced this spring that she planned to transfer to WVU next fall for the remainder of her schooling. I knew that she could benefit from having her first car while in school. The Jetta would serve her well—at least as soon as she learned to drive a standard. It made sense to keep it in the family. It is a good car!

A key requirement for me when it comes to a car is fuel economy. I remember the gas shortages of the OPEC oil embargo, and have always tried to conserve. Thus, diesels and hybrids were high on my list. I thought about the elongated Mini Cooper Clubman, but despite its small size, the 29/33 MPG rating is not that good (plus there is no local dealership).

If Ford had brought over the diesel powered Focus they sell elsewhere around the world, I might have picked an American car. For that matter, if the Chevy Volt concept car that Anna and I saw when we went to the big North American Auto Show in Detroit all the way back in 2002 had been available when GM first predicted, I might be driving one of them. Or even if Dodge would have done something fuel efficient rather than resurrecting the Chargers and Challengers of my youth. But unfortunately, none of the “Big Three” automakers offer anything close to the fuel economy I currently get.

By the way, prior to the Jetta, all of the cars I had owned from 1984 to 2000 had been American made*, most recently with the Saturn that my ex-wife got in the divorce. I went to the initial Saturn Homecoming at the factory in 1994 and still have a soft spot for the company. However, Saturns today are really just rebadged Opels and don't even have the innovative plastic body panels—they are merely a shadow of what the company originally intended to be.

Anna and I attended the Pittsburgh International Auto Show over Valentine's Weekend (is she my kinda girl or what!), where I began my research—although being a bit of a car buff, such research is always ongoing. I liked the new version of the Jetta (except for the chrome front bumper), however, they made it larger and heavier and more powerful, so the MPG according went down. Not only that, but the MPG difference between the automatic and the standard was negligible. It was still in the running, though, because of my enthusiasm for the diesel concept.

While the original Toyota Prius (2000-2003) did not impress me, the design used the past five years was appealing to me. The sloping roofline was similar to the futuristic car designs I used to doodle in grade school. However, I have always enjoyed manual transmissions (i.e., DRIVING a car, rather than riding in a car that shifts for me), and you can't get a Prius with a standard.

The Honda Civic hybrid was OK, but I didn't like that it looked just like a regular Civic. So I was intrigued when I heard that they were redesigning the Insight to be similar to the four-door Prius. Not only that, but the Insight would endeavor to be less expensive, plus would have paddle shifters so that the driver can shift the automatic CVT transmission at will, just like an Indy driver has behind his (or her—Danica Patrick) steering wheel.

When the Insight finally arrived earlier this month, I was excited to see the Sky Blue Metallic paint, which I really liked. However, it is smaller than the Prius, and the quality seems a bit less than the Prius. Plus, the fuel economy is in the low 40s rather than the high 40s. It was still under serious consideration until I took it for a test drive. It was fun to drive, but the instantaneous feedback on the computer readout of the gas mileage made me realize that using the paddle shifters for a more “sporty” drive was going to have a negative impact on the MPG, taking the fun out of my driving.

What really cinched the deal for the Prius was the financing package being offered in some areas of the country to sell off the 2009 models before the new 2010 models arrive. Luckily, my local dealership was offering the 0% for 36 months offer from Toyota, and I was eligible to finance 100% of the purchase price. The other stroke of luck is my favorite Prius color (not that any were as good as my Jetta's Blue Lagoon Metallic) and desired options were available on a model that the local dealer acquired in a trade with an Ohio dealership. The combination of the 0% financing through the end of April, and the local dealer having a model in the color and with options I wanted, resulted in me making the purchase decision sooner than I had planned—but I think it is the right thing to do.

One final consideration was that Toyota had made an investment in West Virginia with the engine plant in Putnam County, as well as the new Hino truck factory in Williamstown. They have proven themselves to be a good company, and many of my friends with Toyotas were very encouraging.

Thus, tomorrow I am now joining the hybrid ranks with a Barcelona Red 2009 Toyota Prius, while the VW diesel continues with another family member behind the wheel. I hope it works out well for both of us.