Friday, May 28, 2010

A Political Novel: Just A Heart Beat...

(NOTE: In the late 1980s, I started writing a political novel, banging out Chapter One on the typewriter. Recently while cleaning a few files, I came across those thoughts and words. Be sure to read the note at the end. Enjoy!)

It was getting late, but there was still time to catch the end of the acceptance speech. Joe Willie Smith was one of the gang, one of the brothers from the dark side of the Bronx, and he was now a long way away from his roots. H was in the middle of Madison Square Garden, but he was light years away from his world of slums and ghettos and filth and trash. He was a far cry from the crime of the poor and the hungry.

The rise to this level of his career had been swift. Qualifications never stood in the way. He was a chosen one. Powerful people, those with influence and know-how and political savvy, had put him in this position. Joe Willie Smith stood before the audience in the Great Hall in the Manhattan garment district of New York City and before millions of viewers and listeners worldwide. He was making a historic address.

The lights were dim in the musty-room of the old lodge on 156th street, and it took a while for the Motorola to warm up. The picture was fuzzy from the poor reception, but the words soon rung out loud and clear. The voices in the room went from boisterous to a whisper before complete silence filled the room. The sound of a pin rushing past the room’s smoke-filled air could be heard above the cry of a distant siren and the continuing cry of a young child nearby. It was quiet except for Joe Willie’s voice which now was coming in crisp and deafening.

“The distance from the outhouse to the castle,” projected Joe Willie in his distinguished accent that sometimes rumbled like the subway trains the gang rode so often to see the Knicks play in the same space Joe Willie now spoke, “is usually a very long way. Sometimes it’s a lifelong journey that is never travelled. However, sometimes the distance can be short and sweet. It also can be short and sour. And the trip back usually takes a much shorter time.

“This may sound a bit complex, but if you’ve come from where I’ve been then you know of what I speak. My trip here was short, but that’s not due to the “A” train. That’s due to what I feel is a gang bang, the complete adulteration of America. It’s a complex situation, one that would not take very long to reverse.”

Joe Willie paused as a bit of applause came from the rear of the Garden. He was waiting and hoping for more of the same. He wanted to build to a thunderous ovation, but he just knew that would come later. He also knew that he was speaking out of character, but not necessarily out of his. It was more like that of a fish out of water. The fish was physically okay and it needed a bit of water in which to breathe and swim, but the land didn’t like the smell. He continued.

“Life in the United States is full of complexities. The standard is that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer and the middle class is caught in between. However, there are the stories, seemingly every day now, about the poor family from the Bronx which just won $12 million in the New York State Lottery. There’s the farm family in Pennsylvania that was struggling to make ends meet but was lucky enough to hit on one Lotto ticket, and today that family is rich and famous.”

As he spoke, Joe Willie began to think what it would be like to have such luck. He knew he was lucky to be where was today, but having monetary freedom would be idealistically better. He was in a tough spot, but he was not about to take a step back.

“I tell you this because I want everyone to know that my rise to fame has followed a quick and narrow path but I am willing to accept the consequences that come with the Vice Presidential nomination of the Republican Party. I will gain, and have already gained, international fame. I will become a much wealthier man than I was prior to my selection as your vice presidential nominee. But, I can say to you now that this situation will not change the life of this black man. I will still call the ghetto home. I will still campaign on the rights of black and other minorities. I will stand for principles and morals and what is and should be right in America and the world.”

The applause from the back of the room grew louder and moved forward toward Joe Willie. A few on the platform applauded as was their duty. Joe Willie was still looking for the thunder, but he knew now that his theme was a bit reluctant. He wanted so much to please the hundreds of upper-class whites who dominate the Republican Party to understand that he was on their side but that he wanted them to recognize the life from whence he came.

“Yes, I carry the flag of this great party,” he bellowed as the applause picked up a bit, “and I know full well that I am simply a token in a crucial situation. The Republican Party has shifted so far right that the founders of the Grand Old Party would not know the purpose of its existence today. As your nominee, I will hold my head high and do you justice. I will see to it that our Party remains in the White House and that where possible more of the seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States are filled with Republicans and that the Governors’ chairs across the nation and the State Assemblies are dominated by Republicans.”

Joe Willie was rolling now, saying things the audience wanted to hear. He was playing the role, and the thunder was coming. “I will bring into this party many people from across the nation, those who are looking for a winner. And, that is what the Republican Party is. It is a winner of great proportions. It is the party of the nation. It leads the business sector. It has the support of many unions because the leaders of those solidarity groups know what it takes to move forward.”

The roar from the crowd was near levels which made the sounds from Penn Central Station a mere shadow of decibels coming from the floor of Madison Square Garden. And, Joe Willie Smith continued to speak. “I’ve always said that if you can’t beat ’em, then join ’em and you’ll be a better man because of it. I’m a winner, and you’re a winner, and when we win this election in November, the United States of America will be the big winner. Go with me; walk with me; run with me. Let’s grasp this historical moment and make this nation great together.”

This was 1996, and no black had made it this far in the United States political scene. There had not been women on the ticket since Geraldine Ferraro was nominated for Vice President in 1984 by the Democratic Party. That was historic as was when Jean Kirkpatrick was nominated for President by the Democrats in 1988. However, women are a majority in the United States. No member of a minority had ever been nominated to one of the two highest offices in the nation, and here was Joe Willie Smith calling on all Americans to follow his lead. Indeed, this was a historical moment.

“To paraphrase the Reverend Martin Luther King who was one of our great leaders,” shouted Joe Willie, “My dream has come true. The Reverend could only talk about having a dream and hope for reality of an idealistic life. I have made it to the nomination for the second highest post in the nation. It is a victory for me, my people and all citizens of the United States. Thank you very much as I accept the Vice Presidential nomination of the Republican Party.”

The balloons were falling from the rafters, and, as the music blared and the crowd cheered wildly, some even standing in the chairs, the gang in the lodge up on 156th Street smiled and congratulated each other. One of their own had made it near the top. Joe Willie Smith, a brother since he was just 21, who had worked his way out of the ghetto as a politician, who had done the things necessary to be accepted by the white establishment, who had attained success, who had made it from the outhouse to the castle, was smiling at the cameras. His face was nearly completely covered by the snow caused by TV reception on the Motorola, but his words were coming through loud and clear. The brothers at the lodge were back slapping. Cigars were puffing away. It was a festive mood, to say the least.

Everyone there was happy and showed it, but something more than happiness was rushing through the mind of Kevin Barrow. His smile was not one of laughter as much as one of pleasant thoughts. Kevin was one of the masterminds of the gang, and no matter the present circumstances, he was always thinking down the road. He was always a few steps ahead of the rest of the brothers, but usually his face didn’t give away his thoughts. He wanted the others to think he was happy for the current situation, but this time the smile gave away his thoughts. He wanted the others in the room to think he was happy for the current situation, but this time the smile gave him away and Jasper Lawrence could see that from his seat across the room.

“Great for Joe Willie,” praised Jasper, slapping a few of the brothers on the back as he started to move towards Kevin. “Nice to see him make it this far. He’ll remember us, just as he said on the TV. He’ll be back. He’ll take us in. He knows just what to say and do. This is good.” And, then he was standing next to Kevin Barrow. He didn’t want to let on right away that Kevin’s smile was so obvious.

“Great day for the brothers,” said Jasper, not looking at Kevin.
“Great day,” returned Kevin, talking to the smokey air.
“He’ll be a good Vice President,” said Jasper, focusing on Kevin.
“Yep,” returned Kevin as the smile broadened. “Might even make a good President one day.”

“Yeah,” said Jasper. “If elected, he’ll be in the second highest office, and that’s just a heart beat…” Jasper’s voice broke off. Kevin was glowing, and Jasper couldn’t believe what he was thinking.

“Let’s step outside just a minute,” said Kevin. “There’s something I want to talk with you about.”

(NOTE: If you are a writer and are interested in writing the next chapter, please be in touch. I’d like to have a finished novel of about 10 to 12 chapters, each contributed by different authors. I’ll also pen the last. So, if interested, contact me via email at jim.pomeranz@earthlink.net.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Playing 58 Holes Of Golf To Celebrate 58 Years

(NOTE: Excuse today’s extensive posting, but I played 58 holes of golf yesterday, and it takes a lots of words to tell about such a lengthy round.)

It was early Tuesday evening when I considered taking Wednesday off from work to play a round of golf on my 58th birthday. And, then, for some reason, when a friend asked me what was planned for the next day, my response was, “I’m going to play 58 holes of golf.”

And I did. And, it was actually not as tiring as one might think. It was challenging on several fronts, especially with a somewhat full tee sheet at Lonnie Poole Golf Course on the NC State University campus and with the course-purposely-designed rough that’s nearly knee deep in some areas.

So, with 58 holes in mind, after I posted in this space yesterday, I put together a peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich on a funky-whole-grain-wheat-it’s-good-for-you bread at set out for the 12-minute drive to the year-old course that borders the north side of Interstate 40 along Raleigh’s southern edge.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I was concerned with the number of cars, thinking that just getting off the first tee in a timely fashion would be a problem, but, at 7:30 in the morning, it wasn’t. Entering the golf shop, I encounter head professional Rob Yanovitch, who is always glad to see any golfer walk through the door of this public facility (call 919-833-3338 for your tee time) and who was assisting a couple with merchandise purchases.

“Gonna play today, Jim?” he asked.
“58 holes,” I said.
“Really?” he said with a bit of reservation and excitement.
“It’s my birthday,” I explained. “I’m 58 today. One hole per year.”
“That’s great,” he said. “Take off.”

So, I saddled up on cart #6, a number of no significance except that we became good buddies over the next nine hours and I promised to mention her in today’s column. Yet that I rode is noteworthy because I usually walk. Considering the length and expected time frame of the “round,” walking was completely out of the question, not even considered.

To play that many holes in one day, especially with lots of golfers scheduled at the same course, I expected to “go through” other groups (though I guess you couldn’t consider me and #6 a group so I should have said “go through groups”). It started at the first tee when I raced to the starter who informed me that another single and his son, maybe three years old, were set to tee off. When I explained my effort for the day, the starter looked at the other player who suggested I take off. After my tee shot on the first hole, that player and his son were not a factor in round one, but I would encounter them a little later during the 58 holes.

My plan was to play the first 18 holes from the tips, the Competition tees which measure the course at 7,358 yards. The second 18 would be from the Black set of markers, a 6,901-yard layout, and the third loop would be played from the White tees, a course of 6,326 yards. All par 71. The distances for the final four holes—which were to be numbers 10, 11, 17 and 18—would be determined if and when I reached that point in the day.

It was on the 2nd tee of the day when a wave of disappointment struck. A three-some was noticed at the 3rd tee and a twosome was on the 2nd green. “This is going to be a slow and long day,” I thought, but after playing number two and driving to the 3rd tee, I thought of an alternate routing to get past the two groups. About as far away from the clubhouse you can get, and across Main Campus Drive from the Centennial Campus Middle School, is a complex where the 3rd and 5th greens and the 4th and 6th tees come together.

After I putted out on #3, the twosome, just now teeing off of #4 suggested I go through, but seeing the threesome on the 4th green, I passed on their suggestion and went with the alternate plan: play #6 and #7, then the 5th and 4th holes, and move on to the 8th tee. Because of the layout of the course, this was possible, and in my humble opinion is a better routing than the design, with apologies to Arnold Palmer and his design team. Several months ago, I suggested this same scheme while playing with two others as we were being held up by two groups at the same location of the course.

My plan yesterday worked well except for one thing: I played #6 and #7 and arrived at the 5th tee just as the twosome, which had only completed the 4th hole during that time, was teeing off. “Now, may I go through?” I asked. And I did, hitting two of my better shots of the day, striking a solid drive and a six-iron to about 8 feet from the pin on the 462-yard, slight dogleg right, par 4, but missing the putt. From then on, it was smooth sailing to complete the first 18 holes, only encountering early morning maintenance crews on the back nine and finishing the round in about two hours.

This is definitely the way golf should be played. Too many people take too much time, checking the wind, using range finders (distance determiners for those not in the know), standing over the ball until they feel like swinging. It’s just golf, and unless you’re in a tournament or playing for tremendously high stakes, have fun on the course. Hit the ball and move along. Use the sprinkler heads for yardage. Pull the club on first instinct. Understand that the distance may say 177 yards but that if you hit a 177 yard club, or even a 167 yard shot, the ball will not end up near the hole and that the better idea is to play to the right side of the sloping green with a 160 yard hit and let natural contours take over. Course knowledge is a lot better than those time consuming devices, head counselors and the mimicking of PGA Tour players who play under a lot better course conditions than most of us.

After exiting the 18th green, I found an approaching bag attendant who was surprised to see me so early and who wanted to clean and stow my clubs. Thanking him for his assistance, I explained the 58 holes, jumped in the cart and headed toward the starter positioned near the putting green. “The front is packed,” he said. “You’ll have to wait for a while.” I pointed to the nearby 10th tee, and he told me to take off as no one was exiting the 9th green. As it turns out, when I checked in two hours earlier, the pro used his walkie-talkie system to let the starter and course rangers know what I was there to do. All day, they were extremely accommodating without disturbing normal play. By the end of the day, there were many other players who knew of my quest, cheering me on as I continued to move throughout the course.

But, hitting off of the 10th tee (Black tees now), I noticed a solitary player approaching the green. It was the man and his small son from the original first tee. The man was trying to hit onto the green and putt while his son decided that the sand bunker in front of the green was a sand box for play. They soon were on their way to the 11th tee and I was soon there as well. I was motioned through, and never looked back, playing my way through the back side with its wonderful rolling hills and exciting views of the downtown skyline of Raleigh. It really is picturesque and should be enjoyed by all, golfers and non-golfers alike. Visit Lonnie Poole golf Course in Raleigh and see for yourself.

Over at the 14th hole, a par 3 that sits in a low spot with the green surrounded by trees not allowing for much air circulation and therefore susceptible to thinning grass and bare spots, an electrical company crew was working on a huge fan to remedy the air flow problem. As I walked onto the green, one worker looked at me and asked, “didn’t we see you just a few minutes ago?” It had been about an hour earlier. Actually I saw them again at the 4th tee during my third round.

Two holes later—remember the twosome and threesome I passed by re-routing the front side?—I was asked if I wanted to go through. So, on 16 and 17 (my 25th and 26th holes of the day), I passed the five players I went through and around 22 holes earlier in the day. They were joking and playing and having fun. I was on a mission. After my 27th hole, the attendant looked at me in shock. “You’ve already played another 18?!?!” I chuckled and drove toward the first tee.

“Slam booked,” said the starter.
“Any non-foursomes?” I asked.
“A twosome on the tee and this twosome waiting,” he said, pointing to a couple of players on the practice green.

I opted for the first tee twosome, a father and son—a civil engineering rising senior at NC State—who were getting ready to hit from my Black tees. “May I join you for nine holes?” was responded with “of course.” And it was a good break from the race-speed of the earlier 27 holes. It was only 10:30 a.m., and besides, having a little competition was enjoyable. Neither of them had played Lonnie Poole, and asked throughout the nine about the course. The father had an interesting yet deliberately—not fast but not slow by any means—pace of play and game and a positive attitude. Recent physical problems with his right arm caused his game to change from a left to right ball movement to a left to left direction. “Any suggestions for changing that,” he asked. “Yeah,” I said. “Aim to the right.” It worked.

The son was another story. He’s a nice player but has studied the game and the younger tour players too much. He’s got a routine on every shot and can’t understand or figure out why his ball kept going to the right, on a straight line. “It’s your stance,” I eventually told him. “You’re aimed dead right.” When he repositioned his feet, the ball started to split the fairway. But, he also has an affinity for a 60 degree wedge, a relationship, I believe, he has developed from watching Phil Mickelson. This kid used his 60-degree to chip from anywhere near the green, once using it on well manicured grass from about 6-inches off the putting surface. His ball came to rest about halfway to the hole.

Years ago, I was taught to use my putter from off the green, especially when the grass is cut smooth or if there is no grass at all. Instead of watching Mickelson play, I suggest older footage of Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead and others, using a putter, or at the very least a much less lofted club, when close to but not on the green, especially when just 6-inches away. “I’ve tried it, but can’t make it work,” the son explained. It takes a special person to understand and know how to putt from off the green.

At the end of that nine, I needed a break and a friend had texted me (yes, I Blackberryed while playing golf yesterday) and said he would drop by the course to buy me a birthday lunch. I took him up on the offer and had a 30 minute break and a chicken salad sandwich before presenting myself to the starter. First tee was open; hit it. In the first six holes, now playing from the White tees, I went through one foursome who asked me what hole I was on. “The second,” I said, but then realized I should have said my 38th. “Third 18,” I told them as they encouraged my efforts.

On the 6th hole, a 141 yard par three, I sank a 20-foot birdie putt, my only under-par hole of the day, and then joined up with another single, an OBGYN doctor who works at Wake Medical Center, on the 7th tee. We played together through the 18th hole, enjoying conversation—only about golf and not about our business—and comparing notes about Lonnie Poole Golf Course. Though he’s not a native of the area, coming to Raleigh from Minnesota, he’s become a Wolfpack fan and made a donation to the NC State golf course. He’s, therefore, a charter Partner, as I. But, his work schedule does not encourage him to pay an annual greens fee, though he plays about twice a month during warm weather. When I asked why he chose to be a State fan upon moving here, he said he didn’t like Duke or North Carolina when he lived in Minnesota so NC Stare was his choice. “I just wish our teams did better,” he said.

We both think the layout of Lonnie Poole is good, interesting, challenging and fair, no matter which set of tees is played. We both look forward to a couple of years from now when the course “grows in” more and has a more mature look, feel and play, though we both complimented the conditions of the greens. The final 12 holes of my third 18 were very enjoyable and at a slower, but not miserably slower, pace. We even enjoyed several deer crossing various fairways, numbers 7, 12 and 15 in particular.

And, then it was on to the final four holes. Another man and his son were teeing off or so it seems. Actually, it was just the son, practicing for a qualifying round next week for the North Carolina Amateur. They had no problem with me tagging along for a couple of holes before, at the 11th green, they turned right to the 12th tee and I went left to the 17th tee to play the my last two holes, the 135-yard par 3 17th and the 463-yard par four 18th, of my 58 on my 58th birthday. After putting out on the last hole, making par there and at 17, I walked the hill by the green to my cart; the attendant was standing there with a damp towel. “Done?” he asked before attending to my clubs.”Finished,” I smiled as he wiped the club heads.

My goal for the day was to shoot a 255 or better, a bet thrust on me by that lunch friend. I shot 259, an average of less than 5 shots a hole: 4.47. My rounds were 83 from the Championship tees (course rating of 74.4; slope of 137); 81 from the Black tees (72.3; 131); and 77 from the White markers (69.3; 124). I played the final four holes one-over from the Black tees. I used just four golf balls all day, losing three Titleists with NC State logos. One birdie, #6 on my third 18; made 3 on the par-3 8th hole each time. And, made a six on the par-5 15th hole hitting the ball twice into water hazards: One in, two out, three in, four out; chip to hole five; putt six. I hit 27 of 42 par-4 and par-5 fairways from the tee, just 20 of 58 greens in regulation, and had only 98 putts, obviously the key to my success in scoring yesterday. I started at 7:30 a.m. and completed the 58th hole at 4:45 p.m., just 9 hours and 15 minutes with a lunch break.

Playing 58 holes of golf in one day is not my record. I played 100 holes of golf several years ago as a fund-raiser for the Cary YMCA, and, along with a couple of buddies, I played 54 holes a day for two straight days four or five years ago, on our annual excursion to the Linville/Banner Elk area of North Carolina.

I had nothing to prove on my 58th birthday by playing 58 holes on May 26, 2010, the 58th anniversary of my birth, but when I was through, I felt I had accomplished something of some significance. It was just an idea I had two nights ago, and I’m glad I followed through. If I had just done that—follow through—a little bit better on some of those shots yesterday, my scores may have been better.

Maybe, just maybe, it’ll 59 holes next year this time. Anyone want to join me?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Celebration Of Two Births: Home and Me

Fifty-eight years ago today, at a time of day which could be confirmed by looking at my birth certificate, I was born. It was that day my Dad, already with a wife and two children (I was number three of six) and living in the cramped Weatherspoon Apartments in Sanford, called Calvin Caviness (I think) to start framing his new house in McCracken Heights, at least a half mile, maybe a whole mile, north of the city limits proper of Sanford.

The footers and the foundations had been laid months before May 26, 1952 but the house was not on its way up, and now was the time to take leap to more space and a home that would last and last and last, one that would be home, really home, for a long time.

Today, those houses are not built. Most new homes are just temporary structures, made to last not so many years before overhauls are required in the kitchen, in the bathrooms, in other areas before trying to sell and move on. Very few families live in the same house for enough years to call it home, a life-long home.

We did. In Sanford. In McCracken Heights. To prove it, I can produce a record from Progress Energy that says the house…the home… at 526 Forest (legally it’s Forrest but we called it Forest) Drive in Sanford has been a continuous customer without interruption or transfer of service to anyone else since January 31, 1953. It was Carolina Power and Light back then, or may it was something else, but even today, as we are close to selling the home, nearly three years after Mom passed away and now just days away from 13 years after Dad died, the memories stay with us.

That was a home, not just a house. It’s where six siblings grew up though from oldest to youngest 16 years apart. Lots of memories come from the home, more about the house and family activities than about our own mischievous doings. There’s the hardwood floor on the main and second floors of the unique split level house and no wall-to-wall carpet except in three lower level concrete slab bedrooms. There’s the beautiful pine paneling on that level in the hallway, in the den and in Dad’s office, up the stairs, in that hallway, and in one bedroom.

There’s the Paris wallpaper with views of the Eifel Tower and the Champs d’Elise in the dining room that had a table with enough leaves to expand it to seat 23 and a built-in buffet with glass covered wooden cabinets. If the walls in that room could talk, we would hear stories about lunches and dinner with Dad’s business associates and relatives from both sides of the family, the Pomeranz members from Dad’s side and the Overton and Brooks aunts, uncles, cousins and souls (some lost; some found) on Mom’s side.

In the early 1960s, that dining room was used for a middle of the night emergency meeting of the Roberts Company Board of Directors as a fire engulfed its headquarters just four blocks away. It was the scene of food for celebrations of births, weddings, anniversaries, presidential elections, of Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas breakfasts.

The living room would have better been labeled as the life room where music flowed from the “record player” and the radio and where the ivory keys of the Steinway Baby Grand piano were tickled over and over by the long fingers offered by Mom. It never took long for someone to encourage Annie Laurie to play, and she was the best, often performing from sheet music but much better when playing from memory and by ear. What would you expect from a Meredith College music major?

The house was built with three bedrooms up stairs—the master for Mom and Dad, one for our sister Suzanne and one to be shared by our brother Rob and me—and one down downstairs for visiting business associates and a relative here and there. Then along came brother Brooks, so Rob, the oldest, moved to the guest room and Brooks moved in with me. And, on the adjoining lot, Dad built the Guest House—for visiting business associates and a relative here and there—and a swimming pool. But then along came the twins, sisters Sarah and Laurie who got the bedroom assigned to Brooks and me and we moved into a temporary partitioned area of the playroom until a two bedroom addition was built.

That playroom was the site of many Halloween gatherings. Mom dressed up as a witch, offered the neighborhood trick or treaters a special brew (fruit punch) and told ghost stories. Birthday parties galore and just a big room for play; that was the play room. It was also where, one Christmas, Santa Claus left a huge Lionel train set and board with track laid out in an interesting design. None of us saw it as we made our way to the living room that special morning. I remember Mom and Dad suggesting to all of us to go look in the play room to see if Santa left something there.

The kitchen was less of a gathering spot as it is in many and most homes today. It was a work area where Mom ruled with assistance of Janie and Hazel and others who helped her with food prep and laundry and house cleaning and raising six children while Dad worked. He also had an office, and that small room had as many memories of his efforts to create income as the rest of the home did from a family perspective.

The back yard was huge, again by today’s standards. From one end to the other, it’s at least 150 long with a tall wooden fence bordering two sides. The lot has a depth of 200 feet. In McCracken Heights, the main house is by far the largest in the neighborhood and the Guest house is the smallest. Together, the Pomeranz Estate stands tall. That back yard was the site of many baseball and football games, horseshoes, tether ball and short game golf. Easter egg hunts, a wedding and reception, and many, many, many family evening dinners on the back porch, only interrupted by the sound of race car driver Glen McDuffie testing his tools of trade one street over or by a neighbor in just a bathrobe trying to slip past along a walkway to the Guest House: “The showers are full at my house; may I use your Guest House shower?”

We—meaning you and me, not just my family—have memories of places we’ve lived and what it means to growing up. So, what is being written here is nothing really special except to me and my family and a few neighbors and friends who can relate. But, what’s important, especially to me, is that I like to take credit for the start of something really good and lasting.

It was 58 years ago today that the order was given to drive first nail into the first board of the frame that actually start the house that has always and will always be my home. Today, as I do every year at this time, I celebrate two births: mine and our home. Thank goodness both are still alive.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Disappointment at the Moose Café

Having written and reviewed many experiences in this space, giving applause to most, now is the time to offer constructive criticism. It was Sunday morning, stirring in downtown Winston-Salem, the day after experiencing a wonderful, huge wine-tasting: Salute! The North Carolina Wine Celebration.

Hopefully, there would be a neat little morning eatery within walking distance of the Marriott (good choice if you go Salute! next year), something outside the hotel not including the breakfast area at the across-the-street Embassy Suites, to have a morning meal, drink coffee, read the local newspaper and relax the morning away before driving back to Cary, at the most an 80-minute direct drive.

Nothing. After walking a few blocks around the neighborhood, a return to the hotel to check-out was in order. But a quick check of the internet on the Blackberry confirmed the thought of an eatery at the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market, exit 208 on Interstate 40, less than a 15 minute drive from the overnight location and on the way home and halfway across North Carolina on that highway.

The Moose Café is the place, and going there, visiting the Farmers Market, would kill those proverbial two birds with one stop: A hearty country breakfast and a chance to purchase fresh vegetables and fruits. It was the first time at the Café and a return visit to the Triad Market. Disappointment came on two fronts; pleasant-surprise on another.

With visions of the wonderful breakfast offered at the State Farmers Market Restaurant in Raleigh, the Moose Café disappointed. Two eggs over easy; country ham (they only offer center cut, the menu says), grits, a piece of French Toast (had a choice of a Moose Cake which is a pancake), and coffee. The other plate was similar but with hash browns, fruit and a biscuit.

So here’s the letdown: the country ham was very thin, over-cooked and tough. Good country ham has substance to it, is lightly heated through and through, and is tender. The coffee was just fine but the waitress seemed to forget a cup was there and never asked if a refill was desired until it was time to leave, though she added water to those glasses often. The hash browns were somewhat flavorless, and the fruit, which when reading the menu brought to mind a fresh selection of melon and berries, was sweet, stewed apples with a nice taste but a not expected. The homemade apple butter was pretty good as were the biscuits. For the two-person price of $23.00 with a tip, food and the experience were not the want-to-return-to-the-Moose-Café kind.

Next stop was across the parking lot at the Farmers Market where delicious strawberries and blueberries and the season’s early peaches courtesy of an orchard in Candor were found. (On the other hand, the early peaches are still un-cut, requiring a little more ripening.) And there were many other vegetables and lots of flora, especially many beautiful hanging baskets. It was mid-morning on a Sunday, so all the spaces were not set up but there was ample selection.

The disappointment: Smoke! Not fire, but smoke as many farmers were puffing on cigarettes, blowing the results of inhaling onto the items they were selling. It’s a bad habit which maybe can’t be stopped but it’s not good for business. Most were trying to blow the smoke in another direction but one selling his wares seemed not to care. Going in another direction was the decision as well when passing his spot. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture should work with the famers to encourage a smoke free atmosphere at the Farmers Market, even if it’s outside.
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The Salute festival itself was more than just sipping and buying wine. Harris-Teeter sponsored a cooking exhibition; there was a four-hour after-party in front of Foothills Brewing, a micro-brewery bar and grill, with music by Absolute 80’s, a high energy group playing music only from, well, the 1980s. Duh!

Visiting the various wine exhibitors, interested in selling bottle and bottles of their fermentations, was like visiting with old friends, even those with who it was a first time conversation. Talk was interesting, informative, light, funny, and serious. Each winery wanted more than to sell a bottle or two to the patrons. The wineries desire winery visitors.

Even one owner, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who knows of my NC State preference, invited us back but misspoke when he said, “We (UNC grads) make really good wine,” he said. After reminding him that NC State offers the agriculture experts, I returned, “NC State makes wine; UNC makes whine.” Good return, he said.
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The drive home was interesting as well, as we drove old roads instead of the Interstate, passing through Level Cross and Randleman (Richard Petty wasn’t home; he was in Charlotte for his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame), Worthville and Grays Chapel, Liberty, Snow Camp and Eli Whitney before entering Carrboro and Chapel Hill from the west, leaving the thoughts of over-cooked country ham and smoke covered vegetable behind. Until now.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wine Tasting in Downtown Winston-Salem

We are by no means experts at wine tastings, but there is that proverbial method to our madness which includes meandering through the process, asking about the winery—history, does it grow its own grapes, does it make its own wine, ownership, winemaker, and so on—sipping most if not all of the available samples and making notes such as likes and dislikes.

It’s not a process as much as it is a total experience, absolutely necessary when you’re about to make a purchase, especially of North Carolina wines which are usually priced a little higher than similar brands shipped to our state from California, Oregon, other parts of the USA and from throughout the world.

Touring North Carolina wineries has become a nice hobby, not something of every day scheduling mind you, but one that has taken us to all parts of the Tar Heel State, allowing us to meet some very nice folks, both those who offer their delectables and other who are there for the tasting. We know when to squeeze up to a tasting bar and then we also know when to back away.

“Give me some of that sweet stuff” is when we back off and let the drinkers move in. “Please tell me about how you aged this particular wine” is when we stick with it, wanting to know more.

This past weekend—Saturday primarily—took us on a one of our most interesting and thorough tours of North Carolina wine yet. Not wine country; just North Carolina wine. With all due respect to the Got To Be NC mini-State Fair in Raleigh, if you were looking for a nice sampling of this growing agricultural product, downtown Winston-Salem on a five block run of 4th street was the place to be.

It was the 5th annual Salute! The North Carolina Wine Celebration, featuring at least 30 wineries and samplings of their products. It was a six hour orgy of wine tasting, promptly starting at high noon and ending at 6 p.m., just enough time to casually visit as many exhibitors as you wish, listen and learn and taste.

From the sweetest of sweets to the driest of dry wines, the tasting brought us face-to-face with many owners and operators promoting their wares. We renewed acquaintances, sipped some familiar wine and got to know other fermented beverages and those who enjoy the same.

It would have been easy to purchase some our favorite wines from some of our favorite wineries, but this time, selections were made from two wineries not visited but soon to be on our list of travels, from two where purchases were made too long ago for remembering, and from one toured just last fall.

Never Visited:
Divine Llama Vineyards, East Bend: 2007 Merlot; 2008 Cabernet Franc; and, 2007 In A Heart Beat, a off dry blend (1% residual sugar) of 2007 Merlot and 2007 Franc and named for one of the 40 llamas owned by the vineyard owners. No sampled but offered by Divine Llama is Rita Red Rosé, made from 90% Chardonnay and 10% Cab Franc with 3% residual sugar and named for the llama herd (there’s at least 40 llamas on site) matriarch. This place is due a visit if just for the llamas. By the way, llama do not have a real purpose in life, we were told except to look cute and to once be used as caddies on a golf course in the Southern Pines NC area.

Rocky River Vineyards, Midland: Cabernet Sauvignon; Scarlet, a blend of (primarily) Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. It is not our policy to purchase wines sans dates such as 2007 Name The Grape or 2004 XYZ Blend, but when tasting at this display, we enjoyed the wine and wanted a kindly reminder to visit the winery. While buying dated wines is preferable, these wines were exceptions but not necessarily exceptional, just good enough to want at a later date.

Visited Long Ago:
Hanover Park Vineyard, Yadkinville: 2004 Michael’s Blend, a delicious mixture of Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes of that year, aged in oak for four years and then bottled in 2008; 2005 Mourvedre, a blend which includes less than 20% Merlot with the Mouvedre grape; and, 2009 Viogner which also includes a bit of juice from Marsanne and Rousanne grapes. Hanover Park is located in a neat house in a beautiful setting. It’ll be scheduled soon for a return visit also instigated by a little sip of an unnamed red blend which sells for $42 a bottle. Not that it’ll be purchased but it will be sampled again.

Uwharrie Vineyards, Albermarle: Cabernet Sauvignon; Merlot; Noble, and, Red Velvet Noble, a port style wine blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Noble that’s nearly 17% alcohol. These bottles do not list dates and our earlier visit to the winery was not very informative. While it’s a showcase of a facility that’s used much for receptions, weddings and parties, the tasting, as we recall was fast and lacking. This time in Winston-Salem, the presenter made a better and more informative presentation. So, selections were made even without the dates (though the website lists 2007 for these).

Recently Visited
Sanders Ridge, Boonville: 2007 Big Woods, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah; and, 2008 Roundhill, a sweeter red wine, the only really sweet wine purchased. The last visit to Sanders Ridge included a nice lunch. The setting is nestled in a cool, wooded area; the facility is beautiful.

There’s much more to tell about this festival, but please be of no worry about tasting and driving. In addition to the many wineries lining the streets, Salute! was just a block from the Marriott which offered a very affordable rate, allowing us to park the car and enjoy the day. Salute! is already on our calendar for next May.

For more, visit these websites:
SALUTE! http://salutencwine.com/new
DIVINE LLAMA: http://divinellamavineyards.com/
ROCKY RIVER: http://rockyrivervineyards.com/
HANOVER PARK: http://hanoverparkwines.com/
UWHARRIE: http://uwharrievineyards.com/
SANDERS RIDGE: http://sandersridge.com/

Friday, May 21, 2010

Banner Elk: Veal Chops and Marechal Foch

The Banner Elk Café, a neat little diner in the middle of Banner Elk NC, has been one of my favorite restaurants for breakfast, especially on a cool morning in early May when I’m in the area playing three of my favorite golf courses: Grandfather Golf & Country Club, Elk River Club, and Linville Golf Club.

The eggs over light with country ham, grits and wheat toast (preferred instead of biscuits) are as good as you’ll find. The coffee is basic and just right. The service is local and attentive, and the food is delivered in a timely fashion, especially when a tee time is drawing near. It's THE place for breakfast in Banner Elk.

In Banner Elk recently on that golf trek, the Banner Elk Café was visited twice, but just once for breakfast. The other was a night later and included a delicious dinner. The Café is adjacent to the Lodge, also known as Fresh at the Lodge as well as the Lodge Expresso Bar & Eatery, depending on your Google search. The two restaurants are connected twice: once through ownership who is the same person, and twice by an outdoor deck/patio.

Diners at either may order from the menu of the other or both. Each has its own kitchen and chef. The wait staff runs between the two, serving up interesting dishes, some basic and some not so, some delicious and some mysteriously not so delicious but not bad, just bland. It’s not uncommon for a table of several to select items from the two separate and different menus, each with its own unique look.

Considering my experiences at the Café have been limited to breakfast and remembering that last fall a nice sandwich lunch was served at the Lodge, sitting between the two on that recent visit to the ski-in-the-winter-play-golf-in-the-summer area of North Carolina, it was interesting that the veal chop screamed for attention from its place on the Café menu.

“It’s my favorite,” the wait person volunteered when asked for suggestions. “It’s amazing. The chef does a wonderful veal chop. I think it’s the best thing on the menu.” But then she took a little edge off her suggestion when she said, “But if you want beef, the sirloin is very good.”

So, the veal chop it was, arriving cooked medium rare as requested, seasoned just right and with an interesting sauce sprinkled on and off of half of the chop. Sides of fried asparagus (is that asparagi or asparaguses if there are more than one?) and chunky, seasoned mashed potatoes. A substantial roll, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, hugged the edge of the plate. There was plenty of food for a hungry golfer who had played 36 holes that day.

And, it was delicious, amazingly so. As someone who, primarily for business, has traveled extensively throughout the United States, I have my favorite restaurants for favorite food. For instance, the blackened halibut at Brophy Bros. in Santa Barbara CA is absolutely the best anywhere. The hamburgers at Johnson’s in Siler City are delicious. The bone-in ribeye at The Saloon in Chicago is hard to beat. The ham biscuit at Jimmy’s Barbeque in Lexington NC is the juiciest and most tender you'll ever have, melting in your mouth. And, I’ve always thought of the veal chop at any Capital Grille, a national chain with at least 40 locations but with a local flavor and touch, as the best anywhere.

Until now. I’ll put the Banner Elk Café veal chop, at least the one on my plate the other evening, up against the Capital Grille’s offering any day. And the price was just right. With two Yuenglings, the bill was less than $30 with tax and before tip. And, that included a side of garlic knots served with a yummy marinara sauce for dipping and dunking. “That’s $3 extra,” said the waitress. “I put it on your bill, if that’s okay.”

It was, and the food and service were a lot better than just okay. Next time in Banner Elk for golf (I’m not a skier), another veal chop is to be served.
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Less than two miles from the Banner Elk Café is the Banner Elk Winery and Blueberry Villa. Having visited this winery several months ago (that’s the time of the previous eating experience at the Lodge), stopping to make a purchase before heading home was a must.

The Winery and the Villa are in separate facilities and are equally impressive. It was a Sunday afternoon of the last visit, and the tasting was absolutely wonderful. There was music offered on the front porch, and the cool to warm temperatures called for lingering and sipping glasses of the Banner Elk Winery’s Marechal Foch, which is described by the winery as: A single varietal Cabernet Hybrid developed for a Cabernet to grow at high altitudes and withstand cold winters. It is fruity, jammy and considered to be a "grapey" wine. It is very food friendly, but pairs exceptionally well with red-sauced pasta dishes.

And for sitting and nipping on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The grape was developed in France. In the United States, it grows best in cold-weather climates for which the Banner Elk area seems to be ripe. Read more about the Marechel Foch grape at Wikipedia or at Appellation America.

The Banner Elk Winery is another one of North Carolina’s offering at which enjoying all wines is easy. On this time through, I picked up a couple of bottles of each of Banner Elk Red—a blend of Marechal Foch, Petite Syrah and Cabernet Franc, all three very good alone but interesting and tasty as a blend—and Banner Elk White, a blend of un-oaked Seyval Blanc, Viognier and Golden Muscat, another excellent combination.

The Banner Elk Winery was established on a 25-year-old blueberry farm thus the name of the Villa. Both opened in 2006. For more on both, visit their websites, or better yet, take a drive to Banner Elk. Enjoy the summer mountain air, the locally produced wines and, may I suggest, the veal chop at the Banner Elk Café. Call ahead and ask if bringing your own wine—Banner Elk Red, Banner Elk Cabernet Sauvignon or Marechel Foch—is okay. The dining combination and overall experience is highly recommended.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Taxation Without Complete Explanation

The long talked about proposed 5% tax on all donations made to anything related to NC State University seems to have been approved by the Board of Trustees. At least that’s what in the draft minutes coming out of the NCSU Board of Trustees meetings of April 15 and 16.

The draft minutes, supplied by the NCSU Office of Legal Affairs as a result of a public records request, must be approved by the BOT at its next meeting, but for all intents and purposes, the tax, which is being called an assessment fee, is a done deal which brings up several questions, which have been asked of those who should know but who are not responding.

But, before the questions are posed in this space, let’s get you to this point in a quick summary. Quoting and paraphrasing from the draft minutes from a report by the BOT Development Committee to the full BOT:

“…the committee was updated on capital fundraising projects and year-to-date fundraising results. Gift receipts are down 9% from last year at this time, and gifts and new commitments are down 16%. Efforts are being made to increase fundraising activity with alumni, and there are over $32 million in solicitations scheduled to occur before the end of the fiscal year.”

“…the committee discussed at length how to fund the staffing and operations needed to prepare the University for its next campaign and also discussed how to successfully implement a gift assessment fee. A task force has been established to review a gift assessment fee, and this task force will make recommendations to the Vice Chancellor of University Advancement (Nevin Kessler) and the Chancellor (Randy Woodson).”

“…given the importance of the decision regarding the assessment fee to the entire University, it would be helpful to Chancellor Woodson to have the support of the entire Board of Trustees.”

At that point in the BOT meeting a motion was made and seconded “to support a one-time gift fee of 5% with 2% going to the unit that attracted the gift and 3% going to the central advancement organization. The motion carried unanimously.”

So, based on those draft minutes and the passing of the motion, questions have been posed to the Chairman of the Board of Trustees and to the Chairman of the Development Committee. Neither has replied. Questions were not posed to Vice Chancellor Kessler, who should know because it’s his policy, because there is no way on God’s Green Earth that he would reply. Here are the questions:

—When does this policy start?

—Does this assessment cover all financial gifts to NC State University and related organizations including the Wolfpack Club (Student Aid Association)?

—Is the fee within the donation or is the donor required to make an additional donation to cover it?

—How does this affect a tax deduction related to the donation, especially if part of the donation is specifically going to support the regular operations of the University and not to the cause for which it is intended?

—Why use the wording that says “with 2% going to the unit that attracted the gift”? Why not just assess 3% of the gift for Advancement?

—Are there any exceptions? For instance, if $3 million is pledged and/or donated to build the clubhouse at the golf course but only if that full amount is applied completely to the project will the stipulation be granted?

—With gift receipts down 9% from last year this time and overall gifts and new commitments down 16%, and with the Advancement office getting more funding to reverse this trend and actually exceed deficit giving, will the Trustees constantly review the efforts of that department to make sure the additional revenue to Advancement is being used properly and profitably?

—In the draft minutes, it is said that “a task force has been established to review a gift assessment fee, and that task force will make recommendations to the Vice Chancellor for University Advancement and the Chancellor.” Is this something different from the motion that authorizes the 5% assessment?

—Does this assessment apply to current pledges pending actual donations?

—How will this be applied to gifts in kind? If some wants to donate benches, tables, and other items to the golf course or another department, how will the assessment be handled?

—Will there be regular reports available to show how many actual dollars are being added to University Advancement and how it is being spent?

The desire of NC State University to raise more money from private funding is very much appreciated, especially in tough economic times and as the North Carolina legislature is working on a budget that reduces funding. Based on annual donations to NC State University, I expect really great things from University Advancement and not just additional staff, desks and computers. I trust that the BOT will keep its eye on the prize.

Hopefully, the BOT did not just take the word of Kessler for the need for the new policy but considered many other avenues for funding that office. Please understand that opposition to this tax has more to do with the person who will have his hand on the money. He’s not credible based on a blatant lie he told last fall. If he lied about something as simple as why he fired Lennie Barton, to what lengths will he go to gain more money for the operation of his department?

That’s another question that needs to be answered. If anyone has that answer as well as answers to the other questions, your response is welcomed. Otherwise, this new policy, this 5% assessment fee, will be taxation without complete explanation.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

So Today, We Slog Through a Slog

Have you ever slogged or at the very least been in one? That’s not a misprint. I did not intend to say “blogged” or refer to a “blog,” such as what this place on the Internet is called. It wasn’t a typographical error. The “s” is second key from the left on the second row from the bottom while the “b” is fifth in from the left on the bottom row.

“Slog” is the right word. It came up twice this morning while I was doing that daily constitutional thing which includes reading cover-to-cover The News & Observer, the daily newspaper that so is well loved. Actually, for all the wrong and right reasons, I like the newspaper and am one of the few who today get my news, at least my early morning news, from the print edition of a broadsheet.

The reason I bring up “slog” is that as long as I’ve read The N&O, I do not remember seeing “slog” in print once, much less twice. But, as it turns out, a quick search of the archives accessible on the newspaper’s website, http://newsobserver.com/, the word shows up 109 times, 99 times in news stories and 10 times in blogs, not slogs, though there’s at least one “Slog” on the Internet. It’s a blog on the website “The Stranger” out of Seattle WA. Slog the Blog. Neat. But wait there’s more. There’s another, SLOG a second life resident blog. Read it at your own risk.

The N&O archive search offered articles dating back to April 2007 with the word used as a verb and a noun. For a complete list of the newspaper’s articles which include the word “slog” click this link: N&O Slog Articles List.

But, the word is a bit older than that. According to Merriam-Webster, “slog” dates to 1888, about 100 years before the first “blog” which is a contraction for the two words “web log.” Say it fast, drop the “we” and voila! It’s “blog.” So, trek back to 1888. That was the year Benjamin Harrison defeated incumbent Grover Cleveland for the presidency of the United States. Remember? Anyway, my story goes that a couple of late 19th century geeks in charge of sanitation collection on the streets of New York were talking about the election and the trash generated by the election celebration. One said to the other, “I need to make a few notes, a log, about what we’re doing. This is a mess.” The rest, as they say, is history and the first “Mess Log” was born and was soon shortened to “Slog” because the clean-up was persistently slow. (I made that up.)

From Merriam-Webster, the definition for “slog,” the noun: hard persistent work such as the endless enervating slog of war; a prolonged arduous task or effort such as reform will be a hard political slog; or, a hard dogged march or journey. Then from The Free Dictionary: A tiring hike or walk; long exhausting work; a heavy blow or swipe. Synonyms: work, labour, toil, industry, grind, effort, struggle, pains, sweat, painstaking, exertion, donkey-work, trudge, tramp, trek, hike, traipse, yomp, and footslog (as in a slog through heather and bracken).

In today’s newspaper, the word “slog” shows up in the lead of two stories, one on the front page and the other on the third page of the second section. The first was in an article about the Wake County School Board’s end to the diversity policy and the effort to change how students are assigned to schools. The story, Diversity policy tossed; tough decisions loom, was written by T. Keung Hui and Thomas Goldsmith. It said: With the school board's vote Tuesday night to end its diversity policy, Wake County began a politically bruising slog to divide the county into community school zones.

The second was written by Jane Stancill as reported by Rob Christensen in the “Under The Dome” column, and it concerned an up-coming appearance by US Senate Majority Leader harry Reid who wants North Carolinians to support financially his re-election effort in Nevada. That story said: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be in the Triangle on Friday to raise money for his tough re-election campaign. The event could raise eyebrows from North Carolina Senate Democratic candidates, Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham, who are finding fundraising a hard slog for their June 22 primary runoff.

So, two “slogs” in one day in the newspaper. And a lot of research to learn more about the word including this translation from one of the sources: a hard blow such as “he gave the ball a slog.” And, that leads me to this entry at The Free Dictionary, a reference my sister, Sarah, who lives in Barbados and who is a cricket (the sport not the noisy bug) fan, would understand better than I:

Slog refers to a type of shot in many forms of cricket where the batsmen attempts to hit the ball as far as possible with the aim to hit a 6 or at the least a 4. It is an extremely dangerous shot to play since the ball is almost certainly going to be in the air for a long period of time and great technique and power is required from the batsmen to actually clear the field.

When playing a ‘Slog,’ a batsman is likely to want to score quickly therefore it is likely to be used in a Twenty20, Pro40 or One Day matchup. The slog is an extremely difficult shot to play well. Firstly there is a high possibility of missing the ball with the bat and simply getting bowled. LBWs are also common when playing the slog but if contact is made there is no guarantee that the ball will simply not loop up to a fielder. A slog is therefore likely to be played in times of desperation when runs are required extremely quickly or in variations of the game such as 'Plank Cricket' where continuous defensive shots are frowned upon and may even result in disqualification.

There are different ways to play a slog, and they can be played with different techniques. One of these techniques is called advancing down the track. Advancing down the track is where the batsman facing the balls takes 2-3 steps down the track, building more power for the shot. When a shot like this is played correctly the effect can be devastating, and can score big runs, fast. Of course it is a very dangerous technique to use, as you could hit the ball wrong on the bat and it could fly high in the air allowing fielders to move under it. Another reason why this is dangerous is because if you miss the ball but it doesn't hit the stumps, you are out of your crease, and the wicket keeper can stump you. Advancing down the track is only one of many different variations on the slog shot.

One last note about “slog”: If you’ve gotten this far in today’s post, you now know the true meaning of “slog” and all those references and definitions didn’t matter. In reality, you’ve yomped, and if you want me to explain that word, well, forget it. Not even some other time.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Two Landmarks Still Standing Tall

It was one day last week, as I was returning to Cary from my childhood home of Sanford, just about 30 miles from my current residence, when I decided to detour a little, going north on US Highways 15 and 501 to downtown Pittsboro and then east on US 64 to Cary.

I wanted to get a first-hand look at the Chatham County Courthouse, or at the very least what’s left of it, after that devastating fire that pretty much destroyed it several weeks ago. To count the number of times I’ve used the traffic circle around that building would be futile. From Sanford, going through Pittsboro to Chapel Hill or Durham or even to Darlington Heights VA, home of great-aunt Sudie where we picked fresh eggs out of the chicken coop and where we played in her old general store that also served as the crossroad’s Post Office, or from Raleigh, taking US 64 and NC 49 in Asheboro to get to Charlotte, back when there was no Pittsboro bypass, always took us though Pittsboro and into and out of that traffic circle.

The stately courthouse, as it rose from the horizon as we approached, was always a wonderful sight to see. It was one of those travel landmarks that told us where we were, unlike much of the non-descript Interstate travel of today. So, one day last week, for the first time since the fire that toppled the clock tower and basically gutted the official seat of justice in the Chatham County seat of county government, I quickly recalled the many memories of driving though Pittsboro, including the time as college students, several of us made two or three laps around the circle before exiting to the west.

Expecting the worse, what I saw didn't shock me, though I’m sure it is not as good as my visual experience that day. The brick walls still extend upward for a floor or two with scaffolding all around what’s left. I expected to see rubble, but was amazed at what I found. So, after a moment or two of gawking and remembering, I veered my car to the right and started out of Pittsboro on what is now business 64. Less than a block away is the Hardee’s, a used-to-be-stop for a biscuit and coffee on early morning trips through, when I drove through instead of around Pittsboro.

Noticing a distinguished gentleman, in coat and tie on a hot day, standing at the entrance to the parking lot at Hardee's as he looked right and left, glancing in every direction as quickly as he could, I slowed my car, afraid he might dart into traffic for some reason. But then I recognized him, or at least I thought I did, as I drove past. At my first opportunity, I made a left hand turn and completed a U-turn, heading back to confirm his name and see if I could assist him, if he needed such.

“Sir, are you Robert Morgan?” I asked, turning into the Hardee’s parking lot. “And, if so, what are you doing standing in front of Hardee’s in downtown Pittsboro?

“Yes, I am,” said the former United States Senator who served in Washington DC 1975-1981. He was also elected as North Carolina’s attorney general prior to his Senate election. “And,” with a sly grin, he continued, “I’m in Pittsboro because the lawyering business in Lillington is a little slow these days. I’m here because this is where the action is.”

He wasn’t kidding about his identity, but he was about being in Pittsboro to ply his trade. He was there, waiting for a pre-arranged ride with a friend to go to the funeral of former US Representative Ike Andrews. That service was being held just a few miles away in Bonlee NC, one of the important seats of the Brooks family of which I am a descendent. Mom always said Ike was a relative. Somewhere in the official “Brooks Reunion” history is a marriage that included an Andrews of Bonlee.

Senator Morgan was glad I stopped that day last week. We had crossed paths way back when. Way back when he was running for various offices and I was participating in elections, working for Democratic candidates. He’s from Lillington; I’m from Sanford. He knew my parents. I reminded him that former NC Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker is a childhood friend and high school classmate, and he joked, “And, you tell people that?” Senator Morgan has always had a quit wit, and even after a stroke many years ago, he retains that character trait and issues it at every turn.

We talked a little about politics, especially about the current race for US Senate, especially because he’s a friend and fan of NC Secretary of State Elaine Marshall who led the Democratic Primary earlier this month but who’s in a run-off for the nomination. “It’s just not right that those people in Washington are trying to tell us who to support,” Mr. Morgan said of the influence of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and its endorsement of, including supplying of money to, Cal Cunningham against Marshall. “You know,” he made a point to say, “if he’s elected to the US Senate, our two Senators will live no less than 15 minutes apart.”

Our fun continued, talking about politics and elections as Senator Morgan continued to look right and left, hoping to notice his “ride” had arrived. At one point, we talked about his defeat to Republican John East in the 1980 election. I was working for United Press International on election day and night, located at a computerized vote reporting station in Raleigh, studying maps as the returns were called in, and helping to justify the “calling” of winners.

Early in the evening Morgan had a substantial lead over East, and when I was asked to call Morgan the winner, I hesitated and started to gather the data to show why he would probably lose. The votes from the highly populated areas, Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte, had been reported, but the rural areas were not in. Before I could make my case, UPI and other organizations, called Morgan the winner, that he was re-elected. “Mark my word,” I told my boss, “in two hours, you’ll retract and East will win because of the vote from eastern North Carolina.”

Two hours later, my prediction came through. That day in Pittsboro, Senator Morgan confirmed he knew what I had predicted. “I had been painted as a liberal, and you know that’s far from the truth,” he said, “and all those friends of mine in the eastern part of the state were not going to vote for a liberal. I knew it would be a tough election. But that’s politics.”

I asked Mr. Morgan if I could give him that ride to the funeral. I wasn’t dressed to honor Ike Andrews, but I would be honored to help the Senator from Lillington. He refused, said his traveling companion would soon arrive, and resumed looking right and left. I shook his hand, told him it was a privilege to talk with him that day. “The honor is mine,” he returned. “And, thanks for recognizing me and stopping.”

As I drove away, glancing in my rearview mirror, I could see the old Courthouse but I also had Senator Morgan in my sights as he was looking right and left. What I saw was two landmarks in North Carolina history, both still standing tall.
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THE POLL:
There were just 23 participants in the last poll on this page which asked “What is your primary source for news?” But, if the responses are indicative of the mainstream, I’d say daily newspapers, local and national news television broadcasts and local and national radio news reporting are in trouble.

Of the 23 who took time to vote, 43% of the respondents voted for the Internet as their primary source for news while 17% selected each of the newspaper, television and radio answers. And, one person (4%), trying to be as funny as I was for putting in the selection, said “Word of Mouth” is its primary source for news. Of course, the good news for newspapers and television and radio stations is that a lot of the news found on the internet is put there by newspapers and television and radio stations.
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Sorry for my absence yesterday. I was traveling and not prepared to post.

Friday, May 14, 2010

NC Wine: RayLen Vineyards & Winery

According to the latest list issued by the North Carolina Wine & Grape Counsel, there are 89 wineries in the Tar Heel State. By last count, we’ve visited 54 of the current inventory and probably 10 or so that have come and gone in the last six or seven years. It’s a tough business for success, but being a vineyard/winery entrepreneur in North Carolina must have more positives than negatives because that list expands at a faster rate than it contracts.

Visiting wineries is one of my favorite pastimes. While wine and its production is a growing business in North Carolina, my preference is to frequent the smaller wineries where you get to know the owners, where you can take your time enjoying the various tasting room decors, where you can actually ask questions about their wine-making techniques and abilities and actually get answers, and where you can enjoy a sip or two of various tastings without being rushed because another group stands on the other side of the room, waiting to be rushed though the process.

A few years ago, by just mapping a strategy and sticking to the Yadkin Valley area, a self-made tour included 14 wineries in two days. To some that’s a lot, but when you plan your travels, starting with selections that open at 10 a.m. on a Friday and Saturday and ending at locations that close at 6 p.m., stopping at seven in a day is not hard to do. In most visits, the entire amount of wine tasted is about a glass full and no more than two. If you’re the primary driver, a taste is enough. What’s left goes into the spittoon.

Not ever small winery is small and not every large one is large. In other words, there are small facilities that produce a lot and have a “big time” look, feel and attitude. On the other hand, there are some larger facilities with huge acreage of vineyards branching away from the tasting room and winery, but the atmosphere is low-key, friendly and inviting.

One of those large but small is RayLen Vineyards & Winery located just north of Mocksville along North Carolina highway 158. Actually, RayLen borders both NC 158 and Interstate 40 (driving east, you can see the vineyards from the highway) between exits 174 and 180. When you turn off of NC 158 and onto the property, you’re confronted by beautiful vineyards, especially now that the leaves have sprouted. The rolling fields offer a calming setting. And, soon the winery and tasting room come into view. It looks large sitting among the vineyards but it’s small in comparison to other large wineries.

However, RayLen is not small when it comes to the wines it produces. It is a favorite winery because of one primary rating rule: From top to bottom, are the wines enjoyable. Likening it to rating a golf course where I include the question “would I enjoy playing the course every day,” I rate wineries with: Would I enjoy drinking any of their wines every day?

For Raylen, the answer is yes. From top to bottom, even the sweeter concoction Pale Red, a Rosé that’s fine in moderation. I’m just not a sweet wine drinker but with RayLen, I’ll go along with it because everything else is so very good.

Especially, Carolinius, a dry red that’s a blend of Cabernet Saivignon, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The experts at RayLen will tell you, and I’ll confirm for you, that Carolinius is good with everything. They’ll even tell you that Carolinius is a red wine that will help convert the determined white wine consumer to red, or to at least have a glass every now and then.

On the other hand, I’m not much of a white wine consumer, but RayLen’s Yadkin Gold, a blend of Riesling, Viognier and Pinot Grigio grapes moves me to have a glass of the blond colored nectar on occasion such as two nights ago when I drank half a bottle. And that may be because it’s semi-sweet and is easy to use as a substiutute for sweet tea.

There are three other blends on RayLen’s menu of 16 wines. Those are: Category 5, a more mature version of Carolinius; Eagle’s Select, a Meritage blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petite Verdot aged in oak for 18 months; and Sparkling Brut, a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Muscat Canelli. Category 5 is not only more full-bodied than Carolinius, it actually gets better with a bit more age. The Sparkling Brut is good for a small glass at that special moment or celebration.

The other selections at RayLen include Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Riesling, Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Franc (one of my favorite’s at RayLen) and Cabernet Sauvignon. And, it’s all good. But what’s even better, is the quaintness of the atmosphere and presentation.

RayLen is a great place to visit, tour, taste and learn. It doesn’t matter if you’re on your first visit to RayLen or if you’re a frequent visitor and a member of its Case Club or Wine Club because, when you’re there, your treated as if they want you back. It’s not like going to a theme park and being ushered in, waiting for a tour, and tasting with 20 others. The pours are just the right amount; the presentations are not rehearsed; there’s plenty of time for Q&A. They want you to really enjoy their experience.

I stopped by RayLen last week on my way home from a business trip—same travel during which I had lunch at the Surry Diner in Dobson—and brought home a case: 2 bottles of 2008 Barrel Chardonnay; 2 bottles of 2008 Yadkin Gold; 3 bottles of 2006 Carolinius; 1 bottle of 2006 Cabernet Franc; 2 bottles of 2007 Cabernet Franc; and, 2 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Making its first wine in 2000 and opening its tasting room in 2001, RayLen remains among the list of about 90 NC wineries, and from all indications, it’ll be there for a long time. It offers excellent wines with a very friendly touch. It’s not about big presentation at RayLen, ushering visitors through a tour in large groups and hurriedly pouring tastes to accommodate other visitors. RayLen is a very personable experience with their effort to convince you to return for the pure enjoyment of learning more about North Carolina wines and to encourage you to leave with several selections and return later for more of the same. Enjoy!
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While at RayLen, I picked up North Carolina winepress, a magazine in its infancy with a dazzling appearance and a variety of information about wines and wineries in the Tar Heel State and other stuff related to NC wine. In the May/June issue as in every issue is a map of North Carolina wineries and a listing. To see it on-line, visit NCWinepress. Subscribing is nice, or pick up a copy on your next visit to a North Carolina Winery.
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I’m declaring June as “Take a Bottle of North Carolina Wine To Dinner Month.” Some restaurants allow patrons to bring their own bottle of wine as long as it’s not one on the restaurant’s wine offering. So, when allowed, we always take a bottle or two or three (depending on the number of people in the group) of North Carolina wine. We make sure the owner/manager gets a look at the selection, and we encourage him/her to add North Carolina wine to the restaurant’s list.

It’s just our small effort to promote the North Carolina wine industry. So, in June, if you’re going out to dinner, call ahead and ask about bringing your own wine. A small corkage fee usually applies, but in many instances, when the food bill is significant, the wait person will not add it to the bill. A better tip may be in order. Just make sure your wine is North Carolina wine.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Search Begins for Wolfpack Athletics Director

So the search begins for a replacement for Lee Fowler, NC State University Director of Athletics who was ousted from his job by former temporary NCSU chancellor James Woodward, the same guy who last fall fired Lennie Barton from his post as Executive Director of the school’s Alumni Association.

Woodward did in Barton after a brief discussion with Vice Chancellor of Advancement Nevin Kessler (yes, that’s his real name for those who think I’ve been making it up). One must wonder to whom Woodward listened before he gave the boot to Fowler.

Woodward had a lot of guts and gumption to remove two long-time University employees in such a brief time in his position. Usually, temporary hires just fill space until the permanent replacement arrives, but Woodward, with the blessing of UNC System President Erskine Bowles, took charge and did the nasty with Barton and Fowler.

If you haven’t heard (and for what it’s worth), I objected to the Barton firing. I have mixed reactions—breaking out in hives one moment and losing sleep in another—but not mixed emotions (none really) to the letting go of Fowler who seemed like a stand-up guy in some ways but who didn’t have a the wherewithal to make really tough decisions when it came to administering athletics, especially when dealing with coaches, hiring and firing. He was also too low-key with the fans.

One of those “I must admit he did a good job” thoughts though comes around when I think of his hiring of Kellie Harper as head basketball coach for the Wolfpack women, giving her the job instead of retaining loyalist Stephanie Glance. While I never met Stephanie, I think the hire of Harper was perfect for NC State. Harper brings to the program a fire and a determination that Glance, a long time assistant to Kay Yow, could not, at least in my humble opinion.

Having a nice program is not what it’s all about in college athletics. Having a nice, winning program with a positive approach and engaging attitude has been and remains the right idea. And, I believe this “change” in the women’s leadership was the right move. Give credit to Fowler for that, among many other things including to agree to improve facilities. (He messed up, though, when he didn’t want the golf course as an athletics department facility.)

But, someone got to Woodward, which stills remains an amazing mystery to me, because he would have never fired Barton if someone—Kessler—had not gotten to Woodward. I believe this confirms my suspicion that for all the firm things he did, Woodward was easily swayed to do other things, and without regret, even lying to some NCSU Alumni. Someone on the Board of Trustees or someone with deep, deep financial pockets must have gotten to Woodward and convinced him to fire Fowler. Come to think of it, Woodward wanted the 5% tax on donations for University Advancement, didn’t he? Money talks and those who disagree walk.

New Chancellor Randy Woodson, who told The News & Observer that Woodward gave Fowler the boot on March 23, has taken the next steps in finding Fowler’s replacement. According to The N&O, “Woodson said he has begun conversations with several (athletics head-hunter) firms and expects that the university could decide on one to hire in the next few days.”

From the Ripley Department: Believe it or not, one of those firms in the discussion might include former Wolfpack Athletics Director Todd Turner, who headed NC State athletics for six years (1990-96) and left NC State for Vanderbilt where he stayed until 2003. Then, when Vanderbilt dismantled the athletics program and put it under an academic department, Turner ended up as AD for the Washington Huskies from which he “resigned,” leaving the Seattle area school in February 2008.

Since August 2008, Todd, who I admittedly know and consider a friend (though after this he may not have a mutual feeling), joined Winston-Salem NC based ISP Sports, one of the nation’s top college sports marketing firms. ISP holds the radio broadcast rights to lots and lots of colleges for football and basketball, including Duke and Wake Forest. It also has television programming distribution. With its expansive contacts in college athletics, it is only natural for ISP to get into the intercollegiate “head-hunting” business. If ISP is the firm chosen by Woodson, Turner could be part of the search process, contacting possible candidates.

The process, though, formally began Wednesday when Chancellor Woodson appointed a 13-member search committee, naming former Raleigh Mayor Smedes York, who played basketball at State when Everett Case was coach, as chairman of the 13-person group which reportedly will submit names of three candidates to Woodson for his final selection.

In addition to York, the search panel includes, in alphabetical order:
—Steve Carlton, NCSU Crime Prevention Officer and chair of the NCSU Staff Senate;
—Derick Close, former NCSU trustee, currently member of the Board of Directors of the Wolfpack Club, and brother-in-law of UNC System President Erskine Bowles;
—Eileen Goldgeier, NCSU vice chancellor and general counsel, who just recently was named to that University position after serving in a similar capacity at UNC-Wilmington and who is a turtle sitter/watcher at Carolina Beach;
—Kellie Harper, NCSU women’s basketball coach;
—Kelly Hook, NCSU student body president;
—David Horning, NCSU senior associate athletics director who played football at NC State many, many years ago;
—Charles Leffler, NCSU vice chancellor finance and business;
—Dr. Margery Overton, NCSU professor of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering and chair of the NCSU faculty senate and who is also one of my many first cousins (her father, Jimmy Overton, a golf professional who taught me to play golf, and my mother, Annie Laurie Overton Pomeranz, are/were brother and sister (both deceased), and my father, Robert E. Pomeranz, NCSU ’43 (deceased) is/was Margery’s godfather);
—Dr. Sam Pardue, Head of the NCSU Poultry Science Department and NCSU faculty athletics representative;
—Ray Rouse, president, NCSU Student Aid Association (The Wolfpack Club);
—Steve Warren, member of the NCSU Board of Trustees and a member of the Board of Directors of the NCSU Alumni Association; and
—Cassius Williams, member of the NCSU Board of Trustees.

Woodson says he will meet with this group next Monday to actually begin the search and that maybe by that time he’ll have decided on a search firm to look far and wide for candidates. The goal is to have a new Athletics Director by the end of the summer or possibly by the end of July. Fowler’s last day is June 30th.

If necessary, Woodson will appoint an interim Athletics Director to fill the gap between June 30th and the hiring of a new AD. It’s doubtful that interim person will be Woodward, at least let’s hope not because there’s a chance someone in the Athletics Department would get Woodward’s ear and no telling whose job would be in jeopardy. Stay tuned.
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Poll Question:
Just concluded: Voter registration affiliations? Results: 64% Republican; 20% Independent; 8% Democratic; and, 8% other.
New question: What is your primary source for news? Newspaper; television; radio; internet; word of mouth? Look in the upper right corner of this page.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Taking Advice Or Not For What It's Worth

One of the comments from yesterday’s post about the Surry Diner was from BobLee, of BobLeeSays, who sort of does this—writing a periodical web commentary—for a living. BobLee, hopefully and obviously not his real name, sort of does a lot of things (click on the link and learn more), and giving advice is just one of them. Here’s what he said:

Jim: I'm a 1,000 or so "commentaries" ahead of you so take my advice for what it's worth. These "Surry Diner" columns will always be the most rewarding both as a writer and a reader. Yes, you (we) have to fight battles over Alumni Offices, ADs and assorted socio-cultural aggravations. But in the end .... reminding readers of "Surry Diners" may be your best service to mankind.

He makes a good point as he usually does (don't just as me, ask him), and, in a way, I accept his counsel. Yesterday's story about the Surry Diner is a more enjoyable way to express myself, but just as newspapers get more readership from outlandish stories about outlandish actions (or inactions) from outlandish people, especially outlandish politicians and/or appointed leaders, my writings do as well. The main difference is that while BobLee and The News & Observer and WRAL.Com and other websites and media outlets are in it for the money, I’m in this for the joy of writing.

I liken what I do and what BobLee does and what others do to what MSNBC’s Morning Joe show does. It’s not hard news; it’s entertaining and opinionated. It’s more fun to watch than our local news shows with murder and scandal and school board crap; it’s more informative than the network broadcasts at the same time. 6 a.m. until 9: a.m. Tune in good stuff and tune out the traffic reports that mean nothing unless you're in your vehicle. The New York Times had a nice story about that show in its May 7th edition. It’s available at this link: Joe and Mika, the Odd Couple of Morning TV. It’s been and will continue to be a hit with viewers.

But, I enjoy watching the “hit” counter as well, to see how many people are clicking the link to Actions and Reactions II to read what I write. Interestingly enough, it was one little paragraph about the NC State University sports information department that resulted in the most views in a day here. That’s because a writer from a website with a larger audience used that one paragraph and suggested to his readership a full read of what I write was in order.

When I first wrote about the misfortune of my friend Lennie Barton who was fired without cause from his position as Executive Director of the NCSU Alumni Association, my website (then at EasyJournal.Com) took off. That’s because my primary readership, a small group of friends who also considered Barton’s fate a terrible injustice, sent the link to others who supplied it to others. And, that’s the way of the web.

If I just do this for fun, it really doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I enjoy writing and feel it is worth sharing. For instance, I’m working on an NCSU follow-up about how arrogant temporary Chancellor Jim Woodward was to several alumni who wrote nice emails to him asking for explanations to some of his actions, and about a recent decision by the NC State University Board of Trustees to agree to the 5% assessment on donations to help fund the effort to get donations. When that fails, maybe there will be an assessment on the assessment, all of which takes money away from the reason it was given in the first place. I write these because our local news media doesn’t think it's important to touch on these subjects. There are a lot of stories which the news media will not cover, or, if it does, will only give cursory coverage. The media blames lack of staff members and financial resources. Give me a break!

After receiving his comment, I followed up to BobLee with a “rant” (which is more of what he does on his website) suggestion. It had to do with a WRAL-TV story a little over a week ago. The story itself was very weak in reporting on what appears to be a wrong-doing in state government. If you were to watch it, you’d probably get a little angry and then laugh out loud at the content and the comments from the players involved. As Don Imus would say, you can’t make this (stuff) up. It truly is a tragic comedy.

So, I suggested to BobLee that he do a rant on the WRAL story, providing him with a link to the written word and video. (If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll share it with you.) BobLee turned me down, but gave me more food for thought on my suggestion and on another subject of interest to me and my readers:

I avoid too much local politics because much of my reader base is out-of-state. State guvmint corruption is pretty universal ...... not unlike "bloody school board meetings". If it's a MAJOR snafu like Mary Easley of course I have fun with it. FWIW .... I thought Purcell was a shoo-in .... but Randy may have other plans. After Fowler, any "out-sider" is going to have a real mountain to climb to be "accepted" by the rank/file. I'd go with Bobby just to calm down the masses for a few years.

Thanks, BobLee, for your advice on all fronts. I’ll think about it. FWIW, I’m working on another NC Winery story about one of our favorite visits and about a new publication covering the subject. And, I’m always looking for story ideas. For instance, last night, about 3:00 a.m., when I couldn’t sleep and I high-tailed it to the couch in the bonus room and started reading the Associated Press mobile website on my Blackberry, I came across an article with this headline: Minnesota city stops providing free doggie bags. For a savings of $12,000 a year, the action could cause a real stink in Edina MN.

And, give BobLee a try as well. He’s entertaining, is a good read, and offers lots of free advice to me and anyone who will listen ... or not.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Surry Diner: A Better Choice For Lunch

The Surry Diner is just off Interstate Highway 77 at exit 93 in, well, Surry County NC, with a Dobson NC address. At that exit, if you’re seeking a winery, you may take the exit and two right turns to head to nearby Shelton Vineyards. Or if you need a very, very comfortable place to stay for the night, the Hampton Inn & Suites, more of an upscale Hampton Inn, is also on the right as is what I bill as the most beautiful and classiest Dairy Queen ever with its granite counter tops, though the Blizzards taste no different there as they do at some of the run-down DQs I’ve encountered.

But, if you desire a bit more local atmosphere and delicious food served in record time at prices that rival any fast-food joint, look left across Zephyr Road from those shiny buildings, look behind the CITGO gas stop, and find the Surry Diner. It’s nestled just to the left of the Surry Inn, nowhere near the accommodations as the Hampton. The Surry Diner is a local attraction that the site-seer must experience.

Yesterday was a business travel day for me and just after noon, I found myself at exit 93 and remembered the Surry Diner from a trip through there two years ago and a previous visit for dinner. Dinner at the Diner! I’ve always wanted to say that. Not sure why. The Dinner at the Diner included a country ham sandwich, fries and water. Dessert—a Butterfinger Blizzard—was across the street at Dairy Queen as I walked back to the Hampton for the evening and a visit to the wine bar in the lobby. Only Shelton wines there.

So, Monday, while driving north on my way to Mount Airy after a morning meeting in Statesville, I approached exit 93 and made the turn to the right. A few hundred feet later, I turned left into the drive that guided me to the Surry Diner. A few trucks and cars were in the gravel and paved lot, and inside there were maybe 10 patrons, or regulars as someone from Dobson might say. There were also about five people in the kitchen and a couple of wait-ladies.

After finding a booth seat in a corner and a copy of a two-day old newspaper to pass the time between ordering and eating, the waitress handed me the “specials” sheet while placing the standard menu on the table further away from my eyes. Across the top of the specials menu was written: “Meat, your choice of two sides, roll or cornbread and drink, $4.50.”

The sides list was extensive and included a variety of what someone in these parts may refer to as “country cookin’.” And there were four meats: Pot Roast with Whole Potatoes; Barbeque Chicken (which was really chicken barbeque such as pork barbeque); roasted turkey; and baked ham. When told the potatoes with the pot roast were not considered one of the two sides, I chose the pot roast and added green beans and slaw as my sides. Cornbread. Sweet tea.

My wait-lady smiled and said it would be just a minute. I started to open the newspaper when I realized she was returning to the table with lunch. It all looked good and smelled delicious. After a moment to study the plate, I went right for the green beans to confirm what I suspected. Cooked in bacon grease. Just like Mom used to make. The best. Cooked just short enough to keep some of the consistency but long enough to melt in your mouth with very little chewing.

The rest of the meal was good, too! The gravy from the pot roast was not the brown thick kind. It was somewhat clear and natural and invited the cornbread for a dip. Nice combination. The slaw was a little runny but using a fork instead of the spoon resolved that inconvenience.

The pot roast was tender and tasty and, especially since I am trying to drop a few pounds and since I still had to drive to another appointment and then home, was just the right amount for a lunch. The only disappointment may have been the whole potatoes which were larger than new potatoes and void of skin. Still, tasty and a nice touch to the meal. And, the sweet tea was, well, typical sweet tea, not too sweet, but a reason many of the locals do not enjoy the wonderful dry wines of the Yadkin Valley wineries.

At check out, at the counter in front of the kitchen where all the delicous food was being prepared, the total bill, with tax, was $4.68. I tipped $2.00, feeling generous, especially when 15% was less than 75-cents and 20% just a dollar. Neither seemed to be the right amount. I believe the wait-lady shared some of her fortune with the cooks.

This time, dessert was not across the street at Dairy Queen. Nor did I try whatever selections were available at the Surry Diner. I didn’t even ask so as to not be tempted. I wanted to savor the wonder mix of tastes of that meal as I returned to I-77 and found my way to Mount Airy for the next meeting.

“If you had been here a little earlier I’d have taken you to lunch,” my appointment said upon my arrival.

“Thanks, but I stopped at the Surry Diner,” I told him.

“Wish I could have joined you. That was a better choice,” he said.

Yes, it was. That’s exit 93, Interstate 77 in North Carolina. The Surry Diner. Next time you’re through that way, don’t pass by without stopping for a meal, the atmosphere and the experience.