Shenandoah Valley public radio
Friday, August 19 2011
location: Creekside doublewide, Stingy Hollow Road, five miles south of Staunton, rural Augusta County, Virginia
Dark clouds rolled in sometime before we walked the dogs (all three of them) on Muellers' Mountain, and this, combined with an unusual coolness, winds, and the threat of rain, placed a charge of excitement tempered with a hint of menace on our walk. Perhaps part of what I was feeling was the relief-mixed-with-sadness of our imminent return to civilized society. We came upon another Box Tortoise up in the old cornfield at the top of the hill. This one was a female (having seen the copulating pair yesterday, I now knew that the males have flared dorsal shells resembling Nazi army helmets).
My mother (Hoagie) had been in town when we went to get Maple for the walk, and I'd found the dog in her crate (now under the kitchen table. There had been no padding or anything in there, so when I returned Maple to the house, I couldn't bear to put her back in the crate. I just turned her loose into the house, and she quickly took a seat on the couch in front of the always-on television. I would have turned it off, but this isn't easy without the remote, which my mother keeps hidden so Don can't use it and possibly "screw up the teevee" (by turning it off, perhaps?).
Gretchen and I packed up our things and took anything perishable that is not part of Hoagie's normal diet. (She is has become so conservative in her habits that she no longer adopts any of the new food ingredients we've tried exposing her to.) I left all my IPAs and vodka there, confident that they would be waiting for me on my next visit.
We set off for Staunton in the rain, making one final stop at King's Daughters to see my father. He wasn't doing too good when we showed up, complaining about his gut and the sort of anxiety from which he'd mercifully seemed to be spared of late. I wondered if he'd stopped taking his medications or if the dosages had been altered, so Gretchen made some inquiries. This meant that later when we were preparing to leave, a supervising nurse ushered us into her office for a conference. She was defensive at first, not really hearing me when I said that I just wanted to be sure he was maintained on the same drug cocktail that had seemed to be working so well when I'd seen him in the hospital or when I favorably compared his mental state these days to the way he'd been a year ago. For that second one, for example, she obviously thought I was implying he'd been better a year ago, because she said, "You can't really compare how he is today to how he was a year ago." As always with such meetings, we ended up having to say the same thing over and over again until she got what we were saying: we'd thought the cocktail he was on was working and we just didn't want to see him go off it, and that we understood that despite this he would probably have up and down days and this was not going to be anybody's fault.
From Staunton, I drove us all the way to Gretchen's parents' house in Silver Spring, Maryland. On the way out of town, I thought it might be instructive to show Gretchen Verona, the spraw along US-11 just north of Staunton. It's Augusta County's other would-be downtown and contains within it artifacts of several bad decisions made by the powers that were. Probably the most notorious of these is the Augusta County Government Center, which (at some point in the early 1990s) replaced similar institutions located within Downtown Staunton, within easy walking distance of food, coffee, and legal services. Now that it's located out in the sprawl, those things all have to be driven to, and nearby restaurants all tend to be fast food franchises. Similarly, at some point in the 1990s, Greyhound decided to locate its Staunton bus station in Verona. Brilliant, Jenkins! And don't get me started on the industrial park. For her part, Gretchen was disappointed to find that the Verona Burger King wasn't adjacent to a business offering payday loans. This meant that only 66% of the Staunton Burger Kings she'd seen were convenient to a place where their meals could be usuriously funded.
WMRA, Harrisonburg's public radio station, was an important part of my childhood. In those days before the internet (or even the mainstreaming of the FM band), it was a thin tendril of accessible culture that confirmed the existence (somewhere) of a population of people without right wing or provincial views. The sound of the intro music of Morning Edition still reminds me of waking up in a musty bunk bed with smell of sizzling scrapple and onions (or, better, pancakes) wafting in from the adjacent kitchen, accompanied by the clinking of dishes as my father washed them. With its morning and afternoon classical music programming and late-afternoon emphasis on Blue Grass, WMRA was always backwards in comparison to the other public radio stations I would discover when I began ranging further across America. Its budget was small and relied heavily on syndicated shows. But it made me learn to love the news and helped me develop my inner skeptic. WMRA still exists, and it was mostly what we listened to on the drive to Washington. These days, they broadcast from several frequencies and locations in the Shenandoah Valley, blanketing our route all the way to the crest of the Blue Ridge. They still depend largely on syndication for stories, not bothering to place many homespun shows in their schedule. This is more of a feature than a bug; WAMC (our public radio station in the Hudson Valley) has a lot of locally-made programming, but, though its production values are good, it's much less engaging and informative than the syndicated stuff. For example, on our drive today, instead of something like WAMC's locally-produced call-in show (and crank magnet) Vox Pop, we got to hear the nationally-syndicated show The Story, which is (as Gretchen put it) like This American Life but with none of the pretense. (Though, as I saw it, it could definitely benefit from some This American Life-style editing.)
Fresh Air is broadcast in the early afternoon on WMRA, and we were enjoying the tale of "How E.B. White Spun Charlotte's Web" when we lost the signal in the ascent of the Blue Ridge.
On the east side of the Blue Ridge, conditions turn metropolitan before you expect them to. You see a sign marking a HOV lane and you realize you're not in Redneckistan any more. The solution to congestion in this part of the world is still distinctly Virginia: more lanes. Transportation planners have actually forestalled the continuation of the Orange Line westward by building lanes right up to the median barricade west of Vienna.
As always seems to happen, we got stuck in congestion on the Beltway, starting a little before the Potomac and continuing past the I-270 interchange. It was good to finally park the car at Gretchens' parents house.
Soon after arriving, we took the dogs for a walk in nearby Sligo Creek Park and it wasn't long before Sally pulled one of her age-related stunts. She's always been stubborn and impulsive, but in the past it was possible to control this by reprimanding her. These days she can't hear, and this makes it possible for her impulsive behaviors to go unchecked, sometimes in dangerous ways. Today, for example, she impulsively decided to cross a bridge over Sligo Creek towards Sligo Creek Parkway, where cars zip by as if on a superhighway. It's only a few yards from the far end of that bridge she was crossing to the parkway itself, so Gretchen ran after her and caught her just as she was reaching the other side. At that point all Gretchen had to do was turn Sally around, but had she done nothing, Sally probably would have barrelled obliviously out intro traffic. (She actually did something similar on the Rail Trail a couple months ago, ending up on US 209, where she precipitated a traffic jam.
Gretchen and I love Ethiopian food, thought there is only one Ethiopian restaurant that Gretchen really likes: Meskerem in Adams Morgan (down in the District of Columbia). Tonight, we agreed with her parents to try a new restaurant called Bete Ethiopian Cuisine & Café.
Though clouds threatened, we sat out in the back, near a peach tree and a fig tree that could somehow survive the winters. Both Gretchen's father and I ordered an Ethiopian beer called St. George, though it proved to be an unremarkable lager. As for the food, I thought it was fairly good, though not as good as Meskerem. There was just less nuance to the flavor and some of the flavor notes were just wrong. But (as Gretchen and I fear) perhaps we don't really like authentic Ethiopian food.
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