Rage in Roanoke
staying in the nice Motel 6 on the outskirts of Roanoke -- and getting politely
kicked out late Sunday morning because I'd misread the checkout time (oops!)
-- I drove into Roanoke to get some gas. It seems that every now and then while driving
across the country, I have a "Duel"-like experience with a
semi-truck, and as it turned out, today would be that day.
of you too young to remember, "Duel" was Steven Spielberg's 1971 directorial
debut, a haunting made-for-TV movie that starred Dennis Weaver as a guy who
drove across an empty highway in the West while being perpetually tormented, for
unknown reasons, by a truck driver who's face you never see. I only
watched "Duel" once, and that was back in 1971 when it was first released, but
the memory of it has stuck with me vividly after all these years. This was
probably the first movie ever made about "road rage," a term and affliction
which unfortunately have become commonplace in this country. Incidentally,
Steven Spielberg and I actually went to the same high school in San Jose,
California (though we were several years apart and I never met him).
That's about as close to a celebrity as I've ever come, I'm afraid.
As I was
getting onto the nearly-empty freeway heading into Roanoke and trying to merge
into the right lane, a truck that was barreling down the freeway at 65 m.p.h.
refused to let me in. I don't know why: maybe it was my colorful Oregon
plates (remember getting keyed in Austin?), my import pickup, or the
"Wisconsin" sticker on the back of my truck. Whatever it was,
this guy was incredibly rude. As the end of my merge lane was quickly
drawing near, I pulled in front of the trucker, who greeted me with a
bellowing 120-decibel blast from his horn.
He wouldn't let up, either, and
tailed me closely into downtown Roanoke, finally passing me -- and giving me the
finger -- after I pulled off at a
Chevron. Yep, it was all my fault because I
actually had the gall to get onto his freeway. Obviously, some people
shouldn't be allowed to drive... or have children. Anyway, I shrugged it
off and, after grabbing some donuts in the mini-mart, I felt much better.
For some reason, donuts always have a soothing effect on me.
Blue Ridge Parkway
I left Roanoke
after fueling up and headed up onto the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway
about mid-day. The Parkway
is an incredible two-lane road that runs north-south along the
crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 469 miles from Front Royal, Virginia to
Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, averaging between 3,000
and 4,000 feet in elevation. Like the Natchez Trace Parkway (see News:
June 29, 2001), which is
also maintained by the National Park Service, there are no commercial facilities
allowed on the Parkway and trucks are prohibited -- even my trucker friend in Roanoke.
Here's a short
version of the classic American folk song, Shenandoah.
RealPlayer. If problems, see
next several hours, I drove north on the Blue Ridge Parkway, pulling off every
now then to soak in the incredible vistas, either looking east down onto the
Virginia piedmont or west down into the Shenandoah Valley. That's the same
Shenandoah that I used to play (albeit rather poorly) on my Hohner harmonica.
pulled in that afternoon to Shenandoah National Park, which straddles the
crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The beautiful campground here
was, amazingly enough, only about half-full and I spent a very pleasant evening
there while cooking up my favorite dinner: bratwurst and beans.
black flies came out in force the next morning, so
after doing a load of wash at the NPS laundromat, I headed back out to the Blue
Ridge Parkway and ate a quick breakfast of donuts and Diet Pepsi at a
pullout while overlooking the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley. No,
the donuts weren't Krispy Kremes but they were still pretty darn good... and
left: Here's my truck entering the Blue Ridge Parkway in western Virginia.
center: Looking east from the Parkway into the John-Boy
Walton country of central Virginia.
right: And on the other side of the crest, this is looking west into the Shenandoah Valley.
left: View along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
center: Looks like fun, huh?
right: A National Park Service farmstead along the Blue Ridge Parkway,
complete with two goats at the cabin entrance... kind of like Wal-Mart Greeters,
I guess. I thought the guy in the overalls was just some hick but, as I
discovered, he's actually the Parkway Superintendent (and a nice guy).
left: Entering Shenandoah National Park.
Above center: Camping at Loft Mountain campground, Shenandoah
National Park, on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Note the extension cord from my truck to my laptop
computer. I have an AC/DC inverter that plugs into my cigarette
lighter to charge my laptop and digital camera batteries. Normally,
though, I charge up my batteries during the day when I'm driving.
right: The most amazing coincidence during all of my travels
happened when I entered Shenandoah in 1985. The Park Ranger at the
entrance booth turned out to be Cary Wilson, a former student of mine at the University of
Wisconsin, whom I hadn't seen in a couple of years. In fact, Cary told me that I was his
inspiration for applying with the National Park Service, because I'd worked as a
ranger in Colorado.
My Visit to Schuyler, Virginia (The REAL Walton's Mountain)
If you watched television during the 1970s, the name "Blue Ridge
Mountains" might ring a bell because it was the setting for The Waltons,
one of the most popular shows of that decade. The Waltons was a fictional show but it was based on the life of author
Earl Hamner, who grew up during the Great Depression in the town of
Schuyler (pronounced "Sky-ler"), Virginia. Hamner wrote a book about
his upbringing called Spencer's Mountain which, in 1963, was made into a
movie starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara as Clay and Olivia Spencer, and James
MacArthur as their son, Clay-Boy, the model for Earl Hamner himself.
Above: The Waltons (left to right):
Elizabeth, John, Olivia, John-Boy, and Mary Ellen.
Rear: Jason, Grandma, Ben, Jim Bob. Grandpa and Erin aren't shown.
Hamner later wrote another book with a similar theme and setting called
The Homecoming, which was based on an actual event in his family one
year at Christmas during the Depression. The Homecoming was made into a CBS TV movie
in 1971, but since the name "The Spencers" was copyrighted, Earl Hamner
decided to call the family "The Waltons." The Homecoming aired on December 19, 1971 and was a huge ratings
success, so CBS decided to turn it into a TV series, which debuted on September 14, 1972. The
CBS executives couldn't have picked a worse time slot for the show,
though, because The Waltons
off against two extremely popular shows: The Mod Squad on ABC and the
#1 rated program in the country, The Flip Wilson Show over on NBC.
During its first
few weeks, and despite acclaim, The Waltons wallowed near the
bottom of the TV ratings. It seemed that the show, stressing homespun
themes, was doomed from the start being stacked up against glitzy
competition, and no
one in the Waltons cast expected to stick around very long. To
help rescue the show, CBS
mounted a PR campaign, which was how I first heard about it.
Well, it worked because,
through the ads and word-of-mouth, not only did I start watching it every
Thursday night at 8 p.m., but so did millions of other Americans. The show
received a lot of critical acclaim, as well, with both Richard Thomas (John-Boy)
and Michael Learned (Olivia) winning Best Actor Emmys that first year, along
with Ellen Corby, who played the crusty Grandma, the first of 19 Emmys the show
would eventually win. The show's family-oriented message was a welcome
relief during that time of political upheaval, with the Vietnam war and
the Watergate scandal dominating the news.
The Waltons theme song.
RealPlayer. If problems, see
few years of the The Waltons, when Ellen Corby and Will Geer (a.k.a.,
"You old fool") were both alive and well,
were definitely the best. After about five years, things started to fall
apart and the show began going downhill. Mary Ellen got married, Ellen
Corby had a stroke, John-Boy headed off to New York, and Will Geer died. The
show became pretty pathetic towards the end, especially with Livvy
shuffled off to a sanitarium and
a reconstituted John-Boy working in New York City (does anyone remember the
second John-Boy?) The final episode aired
in 1981, although The Waltons probably should've said goodnight to
America a few years earlier. Nevertheless, the show has since thrived in
syndication while endearing a whole new generation of viewers.
Above: The Walton house.
I'd visited Schuyler once
before, back in 1985, but there were no signs or interpretive facilities then so I didn't know which
was the actual Walton (oops, I mean Hamner) house. I guess The Waltons
have quite a following, though, because in the early 1990s the old Schuyler High
converted into the "Walton's Museum."
It's easy to get
lost amidst Schuyler's winding, hilly roads but the museum is pretty easy
to find, located a few yards from the Hamner house, which is owned by the
youngest Hamner child (the "Jim-Bob" character in the show), and just down
the road from what was Ike Godsey's store. I paid my $5 admission fee to a
teenage girl at the door who kindly directed me to a back room, where a
video describing the making of The Waltons, narrated by Earl Hamner, had
just begun. There were about 20 other Waltons fans in the museum,
and after we watched the video, we all got a nice guided tour.
Altogether, I spent an enjoyable hour at the museum
looking at all kinds of memorabilia that only a true Waltons fan would
appreciate, including signed photographs, the original radio that was on the
show, and a replica of the Baldwin sisters "recipe machine."
visit to Schuyler, I tried to imagine what life must have been like for
the Hamner family while living here during the Depression. No,
there's no such thing as "Walton's Mountain" and there never
However, as I discovered, the very real town of Schuyler had its own
special charm, and for that I was glad.
left: The high school that Earl Hamner attended (class of 1940) is
now the Walton's Mountain Museum. It costs $5 to get in and if you're a
Waltons fan like me, it's well worth it.
center: Here's the Walton (er, Hamner) house in Schuyler, Virginia.
Earl Hamner's brother James ("Jim-Bob" from the show) still lives here. He
was probably inside watching "The Waltons."
right: I took this picture of "Ike Godsey's Store," known in
real-life as the S&H Grocery Store, during my last visit to Schuyler in 1985.
Unfortunately, it burned down a few years later, although a new grocery store has
sprung up in its place.
Note: Inspired by my
2001 visit to Schuyler, I later decided to create a section of my website
devoted to The Waltons, as shown below:
major stop that day was at Monticello, the former home of
the third president of the United States,
Thomas Jefferson. I had read a fair bit about Jefferson and even visited
nearby Charlottesville once, but had never been to Monticello (pronounced "monta-chello").
How could Jefferson afford to build this elaborate mansion on a
hilltop? He made his money the old-fashioned way... he inherited it from his
into the Monticello parking lot late in the afternoon and paid my entrance fee
in the well-organized
admissions building, then hopped on a shuttle bus, which took me up to the hilltop.
After our small group disembarked, a guide here give us a 20-minute tour inside Monticello. The only thing disappointing about the mansion was that I
wasn't allowed to take pictures of the interior, so I can't show you what it
looks like inside, but it's filled with all sorts of Jeffersonian inventions and
innovations. After the tour, we were free to wander
around the grounds for as long as we liked... or I guess I could've even taken
another house tour, which I thought about doing. Monticello is a
fascinating place, and after
walking through it, I felt for the first time like I really understood Jefferson.
Above: Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the third President of the
I popped into the gift shop, which wasn't nearly as tacky as I'd feared.
My Dad is a big fan of Thomas Jefferson, so I wandered around the shop for 20
minutes debating whether to get him the Thomas Jefferson golf balls, a Lewis and
Clark t-shirt, or a Jefferson refrigerator magnet. I figured that you can lose golf
balls -- or at least, I can -- so I got a magnet for my Dad and the t-shirt for myself.
Interestingly enough, I didn't see anything in the gift shop with Sally Hemings' name on it, not even a key chain.
unbounded sense of curiosity and eclectic interests have always intrigued me.
Along with serving as President, he was the author of the Declaration
of Independence at the ripe age of 33 and founded the University of Virginia, which is in
nearby Charlottesville, the construction of which he often observed with a
telescope from his porch at Monticello.
In one of the most amazing
coincidences of American history, two of America's
Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both died on July 4,1826,
exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. These
two men not only were close friends but they were also the ones most
responsible for the creation of the Declaration of Independence -- Adams had the
concept and Jefferson put it into writing. Adams, in Massachusetts,
died in the late afternoon of that day and his last words were, "Thomas Jefferson
survives," not realizing that Jefferson, in Virginia, had passed away a few
Even though I had
heard wonderful things about Monticello and had high expectations, I was still
really impressed. Yep,
Thomas Jefferson was a pretty amazing
guy (even more amazing than John-Boy Walton), and Monticello is a place that I'd
heartily recommend seeing to anyone visiting Virginia.
left: Here's our tour group about to go inside Monticello. Jefferson was a planter -- first tobacco, then
wheat and other crops -- and started building Monticello in 1768. He finished it
about 40 years later -- yep, a typical house remodeling job...
center: Monticello's modest back yard.
left: Passageway under Monticello where Jefferson's slaves lived,
including his favorite, Sally Hemings.
left: Looks like the back of a nickel, doesn't it?
center: Jefferson planted numerous crops and grew extensive gardens on
the grounds, which are still maintained.
right: Thomas Jefferson's grave.
18, 2001 (Denton, Maryland)
14, 2001 (Roanoke, Virginia)
9, 2001 (Sevierville, Tennessee)
8, 2001 (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)
5, 2001 (Manchester, Tennessee)
30, 2001 (Hohenwald, Tennessee)
29, 2001 (Corinth, Mississippi)
27, 2001 (Natchez, Mississippi)
24, 2001 (Austin, Texas)
20, 2001 (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)
18, 2001 (Clay Canyon, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 2 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 1 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
14, 2001 (San Diego, California)
11, 2001 (San Jose, California)
2, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
19, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
30, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
19, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
5, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
* * * * * * *
Travels (2001-02) >
U.S. Trip >
July 16, 2001