Archive for April, 2009


April 30, 2009

I have a theory about road hogs in Virginia — they are all NASCAR wannabees. This morning introduced further evidence in my ongoing observations.

A black Ford Fusion SE came whipping around the blind curve on state route 218 where Northside Drive suddenly comes into view on the right. This curve, when taken at the posted 35mph, is no biggie. Traffic can easily adjust to cars turning out of NSD onto 218 and to the traffic signals a few hundred yards ahead at the Deacon/Cool Springs junction of 218.

“When taken at the posted 35mph” is the operative phrase here. It never happens. What happens is that drivers of sporty cars take the curve as though they are in training for NASCAR on their personal version of the high-banked turn at Talledega [if I spelled it wrong I don’t care because all race car tracks are worthless energy wasters anyway. Just sayin’.]

So here comes Ms Ford, cig in left hand, right hand on the wheel, taking the lead in the morning rush hour traffic, with visions of Richmond dancing in her nicotine-filled head.

I have just turned right onto 218, observing that all of the traffic lights governing our direction ahead are RED, and I approach at a speed somewhere between “parade participant” and “What’s your hurry?”

Ms. Ford steps on it, whips around me [burning an extra pint of gas, I’m sure], leaves me in her rearview, and abuses her brake pads and rotors with a screeching halt at the RED light.  Within a few long seconds, I roll up to within 5 yards of her bumper. She makes eye contact in the mirror and shakes her head at me in disgust, then flicks ashes out her window.

If how she drives weren’t so dangerously stupid, I’d LOL in her mirror image face.

I laugh anyway.

The light turns GREEN [unlike her driving style] and off she roars, peeling into a turn lane that ends in 750 feet, passing cars from the right [Who taught her? Driver’s Ed? Not in the playbook. “Talladega Nights”? She had to have bought the DVD.] in her pursuit of the imaginary checkered flag somewhere up I-95 in northern Virginia, I guess.

She, in her Fusion SE, tosses her cig out the window [lovely] as she disappears into the morning rush, squeezing back into the thru lane just in time to avoid the end of the turn lane as I roll into Wawa to check my tire pressure.

My final thought: I bet my auto insurance premiums are less than hers, but my IQ is slightly higher.

It happens around here all the time, morons at the wheel. So I blog about it. That’s a great alternative to road rage. I have no fear of Ms black Ford Fusion SE [no vanity plates; hmm… usually they have vanity plates] ever going to WordPress to read anything, unless the site starts posting the cable TV listings for the SPEED channel.

As the law in VA says, “Click it or ticket.” It’s an asphalt jungle out there.


Come Together

April 28, 2009

As amazingly diverse as our Fredericksburg, VA community is, it is a point of pride how well we come together for good reasons. Crisis always unites people, as we saw here on 9-11, or when a kooky sniper held us hostage, and when Hurricane Isabella struck our region.

Celebration unites us, too. Spring has sprung and the hop in everyone’s step marks the walk of celebration for the sweet season. Mother’s Day is a magnet for family members, a day we all seem to appear out of nowhere to give props to our moms about town.

Remembrance is a grand uniter as well. Memorial Day tributes draw thoughtful, heart-driven persons to cemeteries, salutes, and historic battle sites. We remember our fallen warriors who gave the ultimate sacrifice. We do not honor war itself, for “War is the feast of Death”, writes Jim Cooper. But rather, we honor those who served with honor when duty called them into battle.

In the strange irony of yin and yan, motherhood and military share a common bond – responsibility. If you listed the toughest jobs available, both mother and soldier would be near the top of the list. Qualifying that list with the adjective “honorable” would send moms and armed forces personnel to the undisputed top. And in today’s new paradigm, our nation’s powerful warriors execute powerful peacemaking as well as necessary kills.

Our moms and our military – strange bedfellows, maybe – share another common ground: While soldiers fight to uphold our rights, moms harness their freedom to raise today’s babies to become tomorrow’s most accountable among us — teachers, public servants, financial shakers, and parents. These are tough and tireless jobs. We hear loudly when individuals within these professions mess up, but their majorities are successful and honorable.

In these difficult times, they are faced with unenviable tasks. Teachers work under budget constraints and standardized testing deadlines. Public servants are challenged to compromise and reach consensus but not at the loss of efficacy. Financial experts must balance their profits with their compassions. Parents travel bumpy roads over cultural berms en route to guiding their children’s independence.

And they all – we all – come together for good reasons. We give to and we give back. We debate and we celebrate. We honor and we question. We hold vigils and we hold each other accountable. It’s an intricate tapestry, a complex quilt of community in which we are all stitched into the fabric, for better or for worse. Most of the time, in this place called “F’burg”, it’s clearly for the better. We most often come together and accomplish great things for the right reasons.

First, we work: The soldier liberates, the mother nurtures, the official governs, the teacher enriches. Then, we celebrate: The musician entertains, the artist reveals her soul, and the patron stands to cheer. The financial man? He invests in it all.

Whichever role you play, or perhaps another, you come together for good reasons and, as Frank Journey says, “No place comes together for a good reason like Fredericksburg.” 

There’s a lot going on this month, a lot to look forward to – from Mother’s Day and the Historic Half Marathon, to festive art openings and subdued Memorial remembrances. We hope you’ll come together to give and to partake. And with good reason, we invite you to enjoy our 143rd issue of local good news, from cover to cover.

To read Rob’s entire magazine this month, go to


April 2, 2009

There’s a lot you can learn from wildlife about responsibility. Take cardinals for instance. The bright red male and the gray-hued female mate for life and nest in one place forever. Or take cats… What follows is the true tale of a feline tail-wagger and a little girl; a tale of responsibility and humanity, even if neither one knows it…


A yard cat, named Patches by the little girl because of the cat’s color pattern, privately gave birth in a thicket to two kittens and probably lost two others on delivery. After several weeks, the girl’s parents humanely trapped Patches (the little girl suggested tuna fish; it worked), and had her spayed and vaccinated.


It wasn’t long before the two kittens, at about six weeks old, appeared to the little girl’s family for the first time. One came forward bravely for help. The other sat stuck inside a woodchuck hole at the mercy of whatever the absent critter’s schedule happened to be. Donning work gloves, the girl’s mother reached down the hole while her daughter’s angelic voice coaxed the kittens. Unharmed, they were treated to dinner and a warm blanket overnight. Their itinerary included adoption, but first a reunion with Patches to confirm their family ties.


No sooner had Patches been released to the little girl’s yard then the cat bolted for the underbrush. But when the two kittens frolicked on the grass and purred with hunger, Patches stealthily crept onto the scene and made an aborted attempt to reclaim one of her babies by the scruff of the neck.


Hearts sank as everyone realized the two kittens would remain forever separated from their mother. As she was no longer lactating, the futile suckling of her babies would have posed a risk to her sutures.


The family took the kittens inside. As they fed them cat milk from an eyedropper, the sound of Patches crying for her babies echoed just outside the front door. Her maternal instincts had been denied by circumstances, and her caregivers couldn’t speak her language to explain why.


If all goes well, the kittens will be adopted out; Patches will become accustomed to her feeding routine and eventually become the perfect cat for a family that’s allergic to cats — a yard cat — vaccinated, well fed, in a room with a view in an old horse stable.


As you can imagine, this experience raised a million why’s in the little girl’s mind, but her mother patiently answered every one. Afterward, the child promised to place Patches’ dinner at the edge of the ivy patch every evening, where the cat remains a safe distance from those two-legged critters who trapped her and took away her babies.


As I write this late at night, I can hear Patches below through the open French doors of my cottage. She’s out there, guardedly approaching her food dish and sniffing in vain for her kittens.


Woody, the tawny one found in the woodchuck hole, and Amelia Mary, the feisty, brave heart, so-named for Miss Earhart, are fast asleep as the moon shines on this tale of responsibility. It’s the tale of a child letting go of two adorable kittens she can not hold, of a yard cat who isn’t quite trusting enough, and of a mother who — sensing a valuable life lesson in her own back yard — sees it through to the right conclusion.


Ironically, the little girl in this story is an adopted child. Her birth mother’s story bears resemblance to that of Patches’, the little girl is much the same as Woody or Amelia Mary, and her adoptive mother narrates this simple tale of wildlife to help her child understand her own adoption.  The peace her mother feels is like the sound of meow or the easy rocking of a front porch swing.



April 1, 2009



Hugh McGinnis was passionate about the Civil War. My old college pal routinely visited Fredericksburg from Pennsylvania.  He was the perfect intentional destination tourist. With each visit, Hugh found another way to explore our distinct environment. One year, having done the self-guided driving tours and landmarks, Hugh gave a park ranger the slip and spent four hours by himself in the woods in the thick of The Wilderness, way off the beaten tourist trail.


Battlefields were nothing new to Hugh McGinnis. As a Duquesne University football player in the mid 70s, Hugh’s number 85 jersey was a fixture on the gridiron. Prior to that, he had played intramurals for my club, the Sheiks, and since he was also enrolled in a course uptown at Pitt, he played touch football there as well. One year, he ran off of Herschel Field in Pittsburgh’s West End immediately after we had won the university championship again. He made it over to Pitt in time to quarterback their intramural champion to victory.


In the late 90s Hugh was diagnosed with colon cancer. Within days he had implemented a game plan that included diet, exercise and chemotherapy. He fought hard. He won again. His cancer went away like a war-torn soldier who had had enough, or a pigskin opponent too far behind to care anymore.


Hugh didn’t visit while he worked his way back to optimum health and fitness. He competed in races and challenges and did all that fitness stuff that long since had eluded me. One May, Hugh called to say he was coming down in June. Three weeks later, he abruptly canceled his rendezvous with Lee and Jackson. I assumed it was a scheduling conflict. Then Rod Hess, who coincidentally had worn number 85 as Hugh’s predecessor for the Dukes, sent word that Hugh had been diagnosed with liver cancer. I was stunned and sick. I called Hugh and told him I had heard the news on ESPN. He laughed that skeptical laugh of his.


I expected Hugh to be depressed, but he was upbeat and thankful — thankful because the new cancer was discovered by chance. Hugh had decided to enter an iron man competition and called his doctor to see if the physical training regimen was okay to grapple with. Doc called for a blood test just to be sure. The test revealed a high PSA. A scan revealed liver cancer.


Within a month-and-a-half of that diagnosis, the 6’2″, 220-pounder had implemented his newest game plan. It included chemotherapy, a macrobiotic diet and physical fitness. While Hugh’s wife Barbara, me, and many of his friends feared the worst from this new opponent, number 85 was up and fighting again. When I mentioned John Robbins’ book Strings, he had already read it. When I said that his high level of fitness at almost 50 was a plus against the 1 in 3 statistical chance of surviving, he’d already calculated that. He was past the opening kick-off and initial salvo. His battle was already underway, and he was playing both offense and defense. He even shaved his head for the “war.” He’d fought before, he’d win again.


Looking out over my historic property on the Stafford side of the Rappahannock River from downtown Fredericksburg one morning, I slumped deep into thought about Hugh.  I wondered what attracted him so strongly to those Americans who had fought in the Civil War. Maybe it was their dedication, maybe their refusal to give up on a principal, maybe their will to endure. Whatever it was, there was a surreal connection between Hugh McGinnis of Bryn-Mawr, PA, and the men who fought over America’s Most Historic City, Fredericksburg, VA. I know that if he had lived here, Hugh would have been in the thick of the fight to preserve our historic landmarks. Instead, he had a very important battle of his own to fight.


I had hoped that Hugh would return to Fredericksburg within a year. Meanwhile, I toured on his behalf, paid tribute to our fallen Americans, and fought to preserve what matters most to Fredericksburg. Whenever I would look for inspiration, I thought of our Founding Fathers, and the warrior spirit of Hugh McGinnis.


Hugh remains a part of my constant game plan for life, even though he finally succumbed to liver cancer, in overtime, in October of 2003.  I wish I could throw the penalty flag and call for a replay.  “Upon further review,” the referee would say, “the world needs Hugh McGinnis for another year… or 10… or 85.


Miss you, Big Guy.