Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Grins and Guns Weekend

We enjoyed a long weekend in Columbus which was planned around two very different events.

First, it was a Shadowbox doubleheader. I’ve written before about this unique Columbus version of something a bit like Saturday Night Live, and we absolutely love this place! By taking some time off on Friday, we made it there in time to hit their weekly Friday lunch show (a shorter version that allows working folks to get some entertainment with their lunch). During this time of year, their music/comedy shows have a valentine’s theme, so this was the Love Shack Lunchbox (and yes, the grand finale was a rousing rendition of the B-52s “Love Shack”). We returned on Saturday night for the regular two hour show (entitled “Between the Sheets”), and it was great. I especially liked the two related skits about phone apps that translate what women (in the first version) and then men (in the second version) are really saying in relationships.

These folks are so friendly to us! It comes from the personal connection that is made when the stars are also bringing your food and drink. It is a non-profit business (which refuses government grants) where everyone wears many hats to put on an amazing 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, and they are so creative! We are looking forward to their upcoming original musical entitled “Underland.” It is loosely based on “Alice in Wonderland” but is set in 1967 as a Vietnam vet comes to San Francisco to search for his daughter during the “summer of love” and features a lot of great music from that year.

Some of my friends in the Columbus area know about this talented troupe, but I would encourage others to check them out. We were seated next to a young couple on Saturday night who had never been there before, and we enjoyed “preaching the gospel” of Shadowbox to them. They left as big fans, and will be coming back again soon. If you check them out, you will become a fan, too.

After the Saturday show, we ventured a few blocks over to the German Village area and enjoyed a late visit to Schmidt’s, a longstanding German restaurant (which appeared in an episode of the "Man vs. Food" TV show). They had a German band playing, and the food was great. If only my diet would have allowed the Bavarian crème puff dessert! A nice memory will be walking across the cobblestone streets with thick snowflakes falling down in this historic district as we headed to the car.

The other major reason we go to Columbus is to visit with family up there. But this visit was unique. My Significant Other's Brother (despite the initials, he is not an SOB) is a certified instructor for the NRA, and we spent all day Saturday as students in an NRA safety class he taught. Then, on Sunday afternoon, we went to an indoor shooting range to complete our education (for some reason, mine was the only Prius in the parking lot). It seemed weird to be shooting a gun for the first time inside a building! Both of us were successful in attaining our certification, and we left very impressed with her brother (and his wife) regarding how serious they take this job.

Right now, the whole gun control/2nd amendment arguments are burning white hot, and I like to avoid political controversies in my blog postings (although I have a hard time understanding how some gun control advocates think that they can "put the genie back in the bottle" after it has been out, just as I have a hard time understanding some of the lobbying positions of the NRA). As with many issues, this is much more complex than most people realize, and needs to be approached from a rational basis rather than an emotional basis. Regardless of your stand, I’d like to think that everyone can appreciate the efforts made by NRA instructors to teach gun safety to people across the country.

I’ve not been much into hunting during my adulthood, but just like most West Virginians, I’m grateful I had the experience while I was growing up. It was fun to give it a try again. The best news from the shooting range was that I had not completely lost my aiming ability over the past several decades, plus I got an “A” on the 50 question written test. Then, Sunday evening was spent with the smell of gun oil as all the firearms were duly cleaned after a day on the range, which took me back to my younger days with my dad.

Oh, and we had time to hit the Eddie Bauer Warehouse store near Hilliard on Friday afternoon, and then the Rocky Boot outlet in Nelsonville on Monday afternoon, where several bargains were scored! All in all, it was another a fun weekend.

A close-up of the fantastic Shadowbox band, showing our friend Katy belting out a song and our friend Andy rockin' the bass.

Monday, February 11, 2013

R.I.P. Turkey

It wasn’t Blackhawk Down, it was Wild Turkey Down. I’m not talking about drinking bourbon whiskey, I’m referring to a crash I witnessed while traveling along I-79 recently.

I’ve enjoyed the resurgence of wild turkeys in West Virginia. When I was growing up, you never saw any, but their numbers have greatly improved over recent decades. Besides seeing them at home, I often see them (always in groups) on the hillsides, pastures, or near the roadway when traveling. They spend most of their lives on the ground, but are capable of flying. However, with their weight, they aren’t the greatest flyers, and often climb hills to gain elevation before gliding downwards to their destination. This often happens when they are attempting to cross busy highways. Unfortunately, these small-brained birds sometimes miscalculate and fly too low, resulting in collisions with cars. My aunt had one crash into her windshield once—needless to say, it is not a good thing to have happen.

What I saw the other day was a dramatic moment. It started when I noticed a turkey flying from the hillside above the interstate. These big birds are interesting to watch fly, with the long necks and small heads stretched out ahead of their big bodies. I’m guessing this turkey had crossed here before, and had always made it across without getting hit by any cars.

Unfortunately, there weren’t just cars hurtling down the highway that day—there was also a northbound tractor-trailer. As I watched from the southbound lane, the turkey collided with the top right corner of that tall trailer, causing an explosion of feathers. The bird “augured in” to the grass in the median, following that corkscrew path just like a World War I biplane shot down by the Red Baron. As the carcass lay on the ground, the feathers that were knocked off fell a bit more slowly and rained all around it. That was my last view as I passed the scene (no, I didn’t pull over to retrieve the fresh roadkill). R.I.P. Tom Turkey!

I imagine that Mr. Turkey regretted his slight miscalculation as the truck delivered its fatal blow. I hope I never have that moment of regret prior to my death. Now that some restaurants are categorizing me as a senior citizen, I’m realizing I may have fewer years ahead of me than I have behind me.

As I look back, there were three times when I thought I might be facing my own demise. Back in the ‘90s I had a bout with meningitis, and wasn’t sure what was happening to me, but knew it wasn’t like any sickness I had ever faced before. Then about a decade ago there was that motorcycle accident near Pringle Tree Road north of Buckhannon. The third one was about five years ago in one of the fierce rapids on the Upper Gauley River when nearly all of us were dumped out of our raft. Each time I realized there was a chance I might have “bought the farm,” but luckily it wasn’t my time to go. I trust there isn’t any significance to the decreasing intervals (roughly 20, 10, and then 5 years ago) between these brushes with death—hopefully my time isn’t up anytime soon!

Indeed, rest in peace, Tom Turkey—and long live me!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Not a Buckeye!

If you know me at all, you know I am a proud West Virginian. Some of my ancestors fought with the Union Army during the Civil War that created my home state. I’ve written before about my strong attachment to my native state, and how, despite its troubles, it will always be near and dear to my heart. From Hancock County in the north to McDowell County in the south, from Kenova at the western point to Harper's Ferry at the eastern point (all of which I have visited), I identify with the entire state.

However, my hometown is just across the river from the state of Ohio. I came close to being an Ohioan, and not just due to my proximity to the border. My father’s family spent time living in Ohio during the Depression and World War II (my grandmother served as a “Rosie the Riveter” building F-4 Corsair fighter planes in Akron), but thankfully they came home to West Virginia after the war. Had they stayed in Akron, my parents would have never met and I’d never have been born. Some other version of my father’s son would have likely been born in the Buckeye state.

Indeed, the industrial base of Akron was a prime destination for West Virginians looking for work for the first half of the 20th century. In my grandparent’s era, there was an old adage that the “Three R’s” taught in West Virginia schools were “readin’, ‘ritin’, and Route 21”--which was the road that led north to Akron and Cleveland.

I am so thankful that the strong bonds to family and to these hills called my father’s family back to West Virginia after the war. Plus, I’m thankful that my mom’s side of the family had long been entrenched here—and it is through her that I have the two ancestors who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War to help create the state of West Virginia. Had the Confederates been victorious, the fledgling state of West Virginia might have been given back to the politicos in Richmond.

Much of my personality—my inner psyche—is tied to my native state, and the lack of full respect I feel it deserves. How many times do we have to be the punchline for a TV comedian, or be lumped into Virginia by some clueless sportscaster? I don’t know what it would have been like to have been raised in a state like Ohio that is seen as an important state. I’m especially grateful I didn’t grow up in the flat regions of Ohio—flat land still makes me a bit nervous. Give me some hills for security!

I’m glad I grew up in a rural state, with lots of scenic beauty. If I want metropolitan areas and the cultural diversions they provide, they can be driven to when needed. In the meantime, I’ll stick to the West Virginia hills and the comfort they provide. Our citizens may not be the most educated or the most affluent, but there is an innate goodness within the vast majority of them.

And I’ll keep cheering for the Mountaineers, whether they are winning or losing, because that WV logo represents me. Losing seasons just make you appreciate the winning ones even better. There are good life lessons that come from the pain of defeat (or of disrespect), and I feel I’ve had the chance to learn a lot over the years. It is just part of that "chip on the shoulder" that most of us carry. West Virginians have always had to fight a little harder than everyone else to prove we belong, going all the way back to our birth as a state (see my previous essay at It is who we are—and I am glad I am one, instead of a Buckeye.

That's me on the left standing beside a beautiful waterfall on Decker's Creek in wild, wonderful West Virginia.