Thursday, July 29, 2010

An angel sent me to a biker bar to help a little girl dying of cancer

Bailei Rhom just turned 6 years old. She will never live to see 7 years old. In December 2009, she was diagnosed with a rare brain and spinal cancer. She survived one major and two minor operations. She traveled to Chapel Hill for chemotherapy and radiation treatment. She stayed tough and positive. Just five weeks ago she was cancer free. She had fought the impossible battle and won. It was all a miracle.

In the meantime, friends had been thinking about planning a benefit for Bailei's family because the financial costs were more than adding up. Her father had stayed by her side, accompanying her to appointments, working only odd jobs so that Daddy could be there for his little girl. It was all sad, but Bailei was cancer free and hopes were high that enough money could be raised to at least help the family for the next few months, until they get could back on their feet, until life could return to normal.

That all changed July 14th. Bailei had a post-op check-up on that day and the family learned new tumors had developed. But these tumors were much stronger than the first, and there was no cure. No maybe's. No if's. Just the cold hard fact that Bailei would not be alive much longer. The family was understandably shocked. Friends celebrating Bailei's earlier miraculous recovery were at a loss of words to comfort the family. All anyone could do, was cry. And pray. Hospice has been called in to care for Bailei at home and now the family needs financial help to make her last days happy ones. And they need money to bury her.

Amanda Shelton stepped up to to take on the benefit and make it a bigger and, unfortunately, a much sadder, but very necessary event. She's organized a Benefit Motorcyle Run for Bailei's family this Sunday starting at 12:30. The run's planned route is such: Shart at Shakey's at 12:30, then on to Just One More, Mtn. View, Fairview Tavern, Mark's Place, Hollands and then back to Shakey's for food and a benefit auction. Cost is $10 per person to participate in the run.

I've never met the beautiful Bailei, nor had I met Amanda Shelton until last night. I was in want of a cold beer and didn't know exactly where I was interested in going. I drove down by the river, thinking I might head to one of the local microbreweries that is catching so much attention these days. But, it didn't feel right. I kept traveling along Riverside Drive and remembered a biker bar I had not seen the inside of in years. That's where I was going to stop.

When I got inside, I gravitated to a corner, near where Amanda Shelton was busy writing on her yellow note pad. She asked me if I was going to be there this Sunday for the event. What event? I asked. She told  me and asked me to please tell other people. Telling other people what is going on and helping coordinate special events is what I do. What I've been doing for at least the last 20 years.

I had no reason to stop in Shakey's yesterday, except I was meant to. I'm convinced my own Earl (the angel from TNT's now defunct Saving Grace) led me there, put me on a mission to help get the word out and find a few extra donations to auction off. I didn't get to see any fancy wings or blinding light, but my heart and head just knew - just simply and surely knew - what had happened. Now I know some people might think, 'yeah right, an angel is going to take you into a bar for a beer. A biker's bar at that. You're just making up excuses.' Most people who currently know me know I don't need to make up excuses for my actions, and I have no problem stopping in places where I don't know anyone and striking up an interesting conversation. So there's my story of how I got involved. How are you involved in this story?

Here's a link to a facebook event page that explains more about the day.!/event.php?eid=143734528975540&ref=ts

Hope to see you Sunday. If you can't make it to the event however, and would like to make a cash donation, you can stop at Shakey's at 790 Riverside Drive and give it to the bartender (828-271-6685). Or you can call Amanda Shelton, event organizer, at (828) 712-4974.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

FB chat box made me think of friends who were here today ... gone tomorrow ... for good

Yes, I'm a facebook user. (Who isn't these days? I know, there are a few hold outs, but not too many.) When I first signed up, I didn't really understand the chat box bit. You know that little box that tells you which friend is online? You hit their name and up pops a chat box for you to have a private talk with them right then in real time. Like being on the phone. Well, sort of. I think you know what I'm talking about.

At first, I liked that chat box. I had great conversations with friends I have not talked with for many years. At first. And then I realized that chat box is kind of like a friend or neighbor who just pops over unannounced. Sometimes you're happy to see them. You invite them in, or sit on the porch and chat until there's nothing more to chat about. Other times, you really wish they would have called first. Given you some notice so you could have at least swept up the dust bunnies, or combed your hair.

So, I quickly learned how to turn my chat box off. We could send messages or leave notes on each other's wall. Get back when either one of us felt like it. But, lately, I've started playing with that chat box again. Sometimes, someone will send me a pop up message, but I didn't realize it because I had left my laptop open but walked away from my computer. Or I'll try to start up a chat, only to find my friend has just signed off. Sometimes you can even watch when your friends go on and offline in real time. All that popping in and out made me think of how many people I've known who were here today - gone tomorrow. As in, gone tomorrow for good.

I've decided I'm going to start leaving that chat box online more often. I miss my friends when they are gone tomorrow. So, if they want to pop in on me today ... that will be just fine by me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blue Ridge Rollergirls had a baby and they named the baby Madison

Imagine this. Your mom is a Blue Ridge Roller Derby girl and goes by the public name of Smithereen, and she’s part of something that is a must-see group in Asheville right now. The BR Roller Girls are It. You go to practices, sit around with a few other teenage girls and *get* to watch mom and friends with names like Poison Sue Smac skating round and round a rink, punching, blocking, hitting, falling, screaming, laughing … having a blast. You sit. You watch. You eventually get up, put on your own skates and pretend you’re one of the big girls. You think: “One day.”

That’s how The Madison Junior Derby Divas came to be. And you can meet them at The Blue Ridge Rollergirl’s Hell Chere Bout, Saturday, July 31 at the Asheville Civic Center, 7 pm. They are making their debut in "a little friendly exhibition" with the Little City Junior Rollers from Johnson City, TN.

“We’re figuring this out as we go along,” says Smac aka Lisa, as she describes taking on the task of coaching the younger group. “We kept talking about it how would be a great idea if there were a younger group. And the only way it was going to happen was just do it.”

So they are. Just doing it. Smac and Smithereen’s daughter talked to some of their friends, word got out, and The Blue Ridge Roller Derby girls had a baby girl. The baby girl is named Madison because that is where the mother’s live and where the BBRG have finally landed a spot to practice without it costing next month’s paycheck. They practice at the Marshall Island Gym, located behind the popular Marshall High Studios.

The younger derby girls - about eight active skaters right now - don’t get to be quite as physical as their 'mama’s'. They are limited to leaning and blocking. They’ll have to wait to turn 18 before they get to start hitting and all the other good stuff.

For more info:

And BTW, I like to spread the word about various out ‘n about happenings and people around Asheville and WNC. If you’ve got something you think I might like, a story about some special event or some special character, send it to me and I’ll help you get the word out. Send it even if you don’t think I’ll like it. You just never know unless you ask. Email me at

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Zach's story - experiencing defeat and failure, and a refusal to permit it to define his character

*Tracy's note: (January, 20, 2012) This is a repost of a story I wrote almost two years ago. In light of the ruling that Asheville schools have been ordered to pay $791,000 to area charter schools, I thought it'd be a fine time to re-share this tale. I'd like to add that Zach is now a thriving sophomore at Asheville High School and is involved with the A.V.I.D. (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, that is helping him prepare for college and requires he take honor classes each year. Through this program, we no longer struggle over homework issues and this year Zach passed all EOC's without having to retake any tests. An accomplishment he has long awaited. This program reminds me of his Evergreen schooling and we are all very pleased with it.

My point is this: It's all about the student, people ... and charter schools and programs such as Asheville High's AVID get that. Time for everyone else to jump on board.*

Summer vacation is quickly evaporating. Each day I am aware this may be the last summer Zach and I spend so much time together in our little cocoon we call home. He goes into high school this coming fall and chances are next summer he will be working, driving and probably spending more time with friends or on the football field. Zach is a fighter and has already proved he has what it takes to be a leader. He has learned this the hard way.

Zach graduated this summer from Evergreen Community Charter School, here in Asheville. It was his second go around as an 8th grader. It was not an easy decision for us to make, nor an easy one for him to accept. We held him back because he just wasn't prepared for 9th grade. He has learning disabilities, which means nothing other than to say my husband and I had to fight to keep him in Evergreen for 8th grade again because Zach’s teachers had come to believe he just wasn’t trying. We tested him last spring and discovered the root of his problems. We spent money on brain training programs, and with no thanks to Blue Cross (who considered the software 'alternative' therapy, therefore would not cover any of the costs), Zach improved his memory retention by 20 points. He spent last summer working on the brain programs, 45 minutes a day, five days a week, for five weeks. Not first choice in how a 14-year-old wanted to spend a summer. We also discovered teaching and homework strategies that would help him to learn to the best of his abilities.

Zach was told he had to prove himself at the end of the first trimester, or he would be asked to leave Evergreen. Zach was motivated to stay there and proved himself more than worthy of graduating from the school. He was given an excellent+ report at our final parent/student/teacher conference; something we were afraid he would never achieve. We, and his homeroom teacher, cried to see a kid who just about everybody, including other students/friends, had given up on. Yet, he fought, and fought hard. He more than succeeded and proved so many, including himself, wrong.

His work paid off and he was rewarded with one of five prestigious awards given to 8th graders leaving Evergreen. It added to the joy that the award was presented to him by his favorite teacher. After the ceremony, this teacher came up to me, my eyes filled with tears, as were his. He told me when discussion about this award came up; only one name was mentioned. That name was Zach Hyorth. I post this speech, not only to record the event, but to remind the world: Don't ever give up on a student. They may have issues that are unknown. Take the time to look, to ask, to discover, find out what that student is thinking and feeling. You might just find that you can change that young person's life forever. Another bonus from this award: Each teacher came up and thanked me for fighting to keep Zach in 8th grade again. Although most statistics show - and most teachers believe - that holding back is not the best choice that is not always the case. Those teachers are also forever changed by Zach's story.

From Tony Mele, middle school social studies teacher, Evergreen Charter School:

-- 'Ladies and Gentlemen:

This year I’ve been asked to present the White Pine Award – in recognition of the student who demonstrated perseverance and admirable determination in the pursuit of a personal or academic goal.

As a teacher, I’ve had the privilege of giving many awards to my students, and I can honestly tell you I don’t know that I’ve ever presented one that I’m prouder of. As I prepare each year for what I intend to say, I always try to take a moment and reflect on two things:

One … What have I learned from this student? And …
Two … How does this student really personify this award?

I’ve learned something about enthusiasm, an infectious smile, and a determination to give a personal best.

I’ve learned something about reflection, honesty, and trust.

I’ve learned something about facing disappointment, and how to demonstrate a courage and dignity in pushing through it.

I’ve learned about choosing the easier, softer way … recognizing the cost, and then making the harder choice.

I’ve learned about leaving behind the invisible, and striving to be exceptional.

I’ve learned something about experiencing defeat and failure, and a refusal to permit it to define a character.

I’ve learned something about the difference between trying, and doing, and how that discovery can change the course of a life.

And most memorable of all, I’ve learned about the remarkable courage a young man can demonstrate when faced with standing in front of his parents, teachers, and peers, no place to hide, humbled, and yet driven and determined in spite of anything any of us might have said to the contrary.

Does this students’ action define this award?

Does he exemplify Perseverance … and admirable determination?

I feel his commitment, his incredible growth, and his inspiring passion are the true personifications of these qualities.

And so I couldn’t be more honored to present the White Pine Award to Zach Hyorth.'

Zach's struggles are not yet behind him, but he is ready to face them head on. I love you, Zach. God blessed me with you, and I could not be more proud. I cannot wait to see what you are going to teach the world. Until, then, I'm going to savor what is left of our summer together.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A tale of two grandfathers .... 'you're number one'

Many of you know I'm adopted. Some of you know I've found both of my biological parents. Some of you have not a clue as to what I'm talking about. Sorry, but I'm not going into that tale right now. You're just going to have to deal with that little tidbit of my life and let me move on with my adventure. But, it's important for you to understand that fact so you'll appreciate this story about my dad. My adopted dad. My preacher daddy. My daddy.

My biological father and I lost touch for several years for various reasons. My son was about nine when bio dad and I reconnected. I knew he'd kill me if he ever found out he had a grandson and I had not told him, so it was time for new introductions. We were all waiting for bio dad to show up at my dad's house.(My adopted dad ... I know it's gets confusing, but try and hold on here with me. How do you think I feel?) Daddy kept us entertained with his ever colorful stories of his everyday life.

He and a woman were driving - in separate cars - on one of the gazillion of freeway miles somewhere between Dallas and Fort Worth. And, although my 80-something father liked to drive no less than 80 miles an hour, that speed was too slow for her. She finally passed him, sailed by, showing him her middle finger held high. The bird. The big 'ef off. Daddy smiled at her, laughed to himself, then decided she must have really liked him because "she was telling me I was number 1." My son lay on the floor, at the feet of one beloved grandfather, waiting to meet a new grandfather and had himself a fierce giggle when he saw his grandpa give the bird sign.

The doorbell rang as soon as the story was over. (My dad had great timing.) He answered the door and greeted my bio dad (they had met several times years before). Bio dad walks in and Daddy says, "Hi there, how have you been? I'd like you to meet our grandson, Zach." Bio dad bends down to shake hands with my well-mannered 9-year-old and tells him how nice it is to meet him. Rather than a handshake, bio dad is greeted with an upheld middle finger. "Hi. It's nice to meet you, too. You're number one."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The blessing of just being

I have nothing to say today. No pressing story I'm itching to let loose. No important topic I think the world needs to know about. The weather was rather typical for this time of year in Asheville. Thankful we got some rain. Glad it didn't last all day. The washer and dryer have spun the afternoon. I know I have tons of messages or stories to be told, and they'll come out when they are supposed to come out. But not today. I doubt anyone is disappointed. No one, except for me. When I committed to electronic blogging, I wanted to share something charming, moving, perhaps even disturbing, at least every other day. But truth is, life sometimes just is. It's the moment. It's the mundane. It's the quiet. It's the blessing of just being. I think it's time to do my fingernails.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Downtown After 5 in Asheville exists became of a humble farmer who shared his stories

June 20, 2014 - Annual honoring of the unknown man responsible for Downtown After 5 series

Asheville's Downtown After 5 concert series has grown extremely popular and is celebrating its 22nd year this summer. Ask someone how it all got started and they'll probably give you some answer about how much time and sweat the volunteers put into making it happen. And that's true. And I'm thankful for their hard work. But, if you ask them how it all began, you get a blank stare. Most of the volunteers are newcomers to Asheville and possess not a clue about its humble beginnings. Even some of the bigwigs who head the committee that puts on Downtown After 5 don't know how it all got started. They give a lot of misplaced credit to one very diligent volunteer who came in the second or third year and helped take it to its next level.

It was the summer of 1987 and we had a booth set up for Bele Chere on Lexington Avenue. (Bele Chere is Asheville's huge summer party that pretty much closes all of the downtown streets.) We were giving away balloons, hoping to attract customers to our booth so we could promote Asheville's first arts and news independent publication, our new baby and business. It was called Out 'n About. We had only been publishing for about 3 months, beginning in April 1987. Bele Chere hadn't been taking place that long and still had a homey feel. No rules and regulations about how booths had to look. You paid your fee; you got your space. We set up a very home-spun wooden booth that would not have won any best decorated awards, and commenced to doing our thing.

An older gentleman wearing overalls and a baseball cap, sweat pouring down his neck, approached our booth with a small cardboard table and a box. He asked if we minded if he sat in the shade of our booth, set his table up, put out voter registration cards and try and get people signed up to vote. Sure. Why not? He was doing a great thing. We were shocked when he told us how many people had turned him away from their booths. We were the last booth he was going to ask before heading on back to the house.

Maybe they were afraid of how he looked. His overalls were a bit dirty, his face aged with lines probably earned from years of working mountain fields and growing and harvesting tobacco. He had a long, scraggly beard, his white mustache stained from his enjoying his own hand-rolled, homegrown tobacco. And he did have a bit of a smell about him. But, hey, it was July. We were all sweating and not smelling our Sunday best. He was just the kind of character we liked. We knew he'd have some good stories to share.

And, share he did. He talked about Friday nights down at the end of the street where we sat. There's a big parking lot there and it once was home to the Lexington Avenue Farmers Market. According to our new friend, people would come from all over the mountains, to buy and sell their goods. But, mostly, they were there for the fun that started happening about the time the sun went down. Goods sold, bellies full, it was time for a pickin', a dancin' and a visitin'. Folks would stay until the wee hours of the morning, say their good-byes and see you next week.

What a wonderful picture he had created for me. Community farmers, musicians and just the average people coming together to celebrate their culture and simply enjoy one another's company. So after Bele Chere was over, I wrote a column describing what I had learned that weekend. I talked about how Bele Chere was great, but the City could only put on an event that closed so many downtown streets once a year. But why not close down one street each Friday and bring back some of the life and community my farmer friend had described? Downtown Asheville was definitely not the hustle and bustle it is today and any event to get people downtown seemed like a grand idea to me. It would need to be on a different street each week, so as to let people know that there were more stores open than they perhaps realized.

The Downtown Commission had just formed that year and the new leader called and said, "loved your column, now put your actions with your words and let's get something going next year. How about calling it Downtown After 5? Hopefully, we'll get some workers to stay and some others to come down and join in on the fun. I'll worry about the money, the rules and regulations and beer permits. I need you and Alphie to book the local bands and publicize the event as much as you can. So we spent that year readying for the next summer, never doubting for a moment it wouldn't happen. We didn't have all that much money allotted for paying the musicians. It was all a labor of love and a vision of what could come to be.

And, happen it did. Not too many people came out that first year, but we were pleased anyone attended at all. I think we topped out that summer at maybe around 200 people. The first concerts happened in places like on top of the Wall Street or Rankin Ave. parking deck. There was one in an enclosed private parking area over on Broadway which fit about 50 cars at the most. And there was one in front of the downtown library that almost didn't happen. The rain poured. People ran for cover under awnings. And, just when it looked like we'd have to call it off, the skies cleared and the party started right back up.

We were able to do one every Friday during the summer months and I do miss the intimate locations of those first events. Our hands on involvement from that first year changed to simply promoting the event and helping make it as popular as possible. The event finally changed to once a month because it was growing and the logistics for once a week were just too much.

So, we have what we have today. Downtown After 5 attracts thousands of people. There are two bands at each event, one lesser known local band and a better known band, sometimes local. Not always. It's serendipity that it takes place at the old Lexington Avenue Farmer's Market location. My farmer friend would be happy. Every one that I go to, I make a secret toast to him and thank him for sharing his story. Because without that story and his dedication to getting people to vote, Downtown After 5 would not be what it is today.

Learn more about Downtown After 5 here:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Left eyeball in corner pocket

Here's the short - and I mean short - version of my eye story: I got hit in my left eye when I was nine-years-old with a glow-in-the-dark super ball one summer while we were on vacation, visiting my dad's oldest sister in Houston. My favorite aunt, I'd like to add. I spent the rest of that summer, flat on my back, in the Ennis, Texas hospital with both eyes shut tight with surgical tape and gauze. Eyes are quite regenerative and can heal themselves. My eye doctor, recommended by the Mayo clinic, thought mine might do so. It's pretty darn hard for a very active 9-year-old to accept laying flat on the back for the entire summer.

My eye did not heal and I had to have a surgery. That's caused several surgeries since. I had a cornea transplant 9 years ago and that cornea has gone bad. I need a new one. Before I can get a new one, the glaucoma in that left eye needs to stabilize. I had a surgery in early January to help do so. It ain't working. My eyesight is worse. I wear an eye patch because the vision in that eye is so cloudy, it literally makes me more dizzy than I am already. j/k. But, it does mess with my vision and eye muscles, and does make me dizzy, so it's best to sometimes just wear the patch.

I saw my glaucoma doctor today and the pressure is *somewhat* stabilized. Of course, it could be sky high tomorrow and my eyeball will feel like it's going to explode. There's no way to monitor my pressure on my own. I am to see my corneal surgeon soon to find out what he thinks. I'm going to talk with him about these new studies coming out that corneas can be made new again from certain *good* eye cells. I'm going to offer myself up for research. What do I have to lose? An eye? Well, that's pretty much happened anyway. What do I have to gain? Perhaps everything.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Friday night at The Old/New Asheville Speedway ... some mountain history

Once upon a time, Asheville used to have a speedway that was part of the Winston Racing Series. It was down off Amboy Road, next to the French Broad River. Had been there at least since the 1950s. Maybe before. No more. It closed in September 1999. Most of you know that same area now as the Wilma Dykeman Riverway, formerly Carrier Park. It is used for way more than Nascar Driving these days. It’s a walk along the river, a space to play Frisbee with your best 2 or 4-legged friend. It’s a bicycle track and playground heaven for young mothers with tots. It's a family picnic spot. And so much more.

The Speedway went by the wayside because the owner of the property was ready to sell and did not want it to become another racetrack. Not sure anyone knows the why of that thinking, but an anonymous donor came through and helped RiverLink purchase the land and turn it into what it is today. People had strong opinions about that deal. The Speedway was a part of mountain culture, even a proud nod back to the days of running moonshine and the filming of Thunder Road, starring Robert Mitchum. Others, who lived near the track were tired of Friday nights filled with stadium sounds that blasted for miles. Some folks even said The Biltmore Company was behind the financing and wanted it shut down to rid the noise so they could build a hotel. 

It doesn’t matter what’s what, or what’s not, now. The park is there. I think most of Asheville would agree the Riverway is a positive addition to our area that most of us would rather not do without. However, the fact remains that a very interesting piece of mountain culture was lost when the Asheville Speedway closed down.

So … from the archives of Out ‘n About Magazine ….. August, 23, 1991 ....

Friday Night at the Speedway; don’t forget the earplugs

By Tracy D. Hyorth

A night at the races.

It’s 7:30 p.m. and the parking lot is full. The races don’t start for another half hour but some people began hanging out in the parking lots around three in the afternoon, waiting for the gates to open at six.

It’s been a rainy day. Days like this the office phone rings all afternoon. “Speedway.” (Those in the know realize this is short for New Asheville Speedway.) “Uh-huh. We’re open. No, it’s just a regular race tonight. Costs $8,” Carol Licht tells the unknown caller on the other end.

The New Asheville Speedway is very much a family-owned and family-run business. Russ Licht, a driver himself, bought the speedway, a part of the Winston Racing Series, about 10 years ago. He wants to make a decent living, but he also wants to take care of his drivers and spectators. His wife Carol, daughter Sherry and son Russ, Jr. all work at the speedway and make sure the track runs properly.

Sherry explains that a lot of people think they come in on Friday afternoon, get the track ready, and then go home Friday night until the next race. Not true. It’s a business. There’s an office and paperwork to be taken care of; there’s concessions to be restocked and drivers to be dealt with.

But Friday’s the big night.

At 7:40, the stands are filling up. So is the ground underneath the stands. Beer cans, food wrappers, soft drink cups, the same sort of trash everyone probably dropped at high school football games (minus the beer cans) without thinking twice. But come on, folks, we’re talking about grown-ups here. The Lichts have placed plenty of garbage cans around. Carol says it doesn’t matter; there’s always more trash on the ground than in the containers. Oh well … it will all be cleaned up as soon as tonight’s race is over. The Lichts don’t want that trash there Saturday morning.

The cars all seem to blend together down in the pit. Some are new; some are old and there’s everything in between. Those with the sponsors, especially body shop sponsors, have the best looking cars. Not as many dents, if any at all, and maybe a brighter and showier paint job. Later when they break into their individual classes, they’ll take on their own identity. (There are five classes: Late Model, Super Stock, Limited Stock, Street Stock and the Winston Mini-Series.) The crews are busy checking tires, looking under hoods, doing other types of mechanical stuff.

Everyone’s getting excited.

A family of three sits on the third row in one of the curves. A little boy about 5 or 6 sits between his parents. He’s wearing protective ear phones. Pretty smart fella. The sound is so loud, you literally can not talk to the person sitting right next to you. And these are the just time trials. Wait until the racing starts. The mother sports a grin she never drops the entire evening, even as she rotates her head in hypnotic circles tracking the cars around the track. Dad is just plain enjoying everything.

Vrrrrmm. Vrrrrmm. VRRRROOOMMM. The drivers rev their engines. They drive around and around and around and around. The same direction, a constant left turn all night, that is if they’re lucky and don’t get knocked sideways at some point.

A group of young girls sits nearby, talking family talk. “I got me a three month old; it’s cute as shit.” Young boys wearing racing tee-shirts are hawking “Racing News” to the almost-filled stands.

Finally the drivers are called in for a meeting. Things are about to get started. This is the last time I’ll understand everything the announcer says for the rest of the night. I think he’s talking during the race. At least I hear a sound every so often that seems to be a voice. No one appears to care if they hear him or not. They’ve all got their favorites already picked out. Most of the spectators come every Friday night. They know what’s going on.

The drivers have come back from their meeting. The prayer thanking the Lord for the excitement the drivers provide every night has been said. The pre-recorded “Star Spangled Banner” has been played.

It’s race time.

The lights come up. And the first of Late Models is underway.

The drivers know where to line up. It’s an automatic shift they make to their positions. Those with the newer tires are up front. Newer tires mean a faster time which translates into top dogs. Because, as one driver explained, “You can’t run in the top five or six cars with used tires.” (The cost of keeping new tires, i.e., of staying in the front of the pack? About $400 a week. You better believe the drivers appreciate their sponsors.)

The yellow flag waves.

They’ll maintain their positions and slower speeds as they make a few caution laps. Some zig-zag as they go. A friend explains the zig-zaggin’ helps the tires stick better to the pavement.

It’s back to “go.” The starter waves a green flag three times like a baton, turning the simple act into a real art form.

The earlier loud sound has surged into LOUD. No communications now unless it’s screaming your lungs out. Better yet, wait until after the race to speak, unless, of course, it’s to yell for one of your buddies.

On the track itself, it looks like a very large, very colorful and VERY loud swarm of bees spinning in a set path. Numbers on sides of cars flash by, reeling around you and flying on until they pass in front of you again. As one goes by, look at another. Catching bits and pieces of action.

#81 in front. #6, third lap, has problems. #1 trying to go around #16. #66 at the back. #32 going around #1, he makes it. Keeps going around #16 on the outside. Makes it. #99 and #10 head for the pits. #10 has smoke coming from under the hood. #10 is on fire. #32 takes #81 on the curve, cuts him off. #32 not interesting to watch anymore, too far ahead. #9 butts into #81, pushing second. #32 in first. #81 is second. #09 in third. Whew!

Two things are for sure. They like driving fast and they’ve picked an expensive hobby.

The vehicles are not your standard street cars. Buying a brand-new late model can run you up to $20,000. And that doesn’t count the $400 weekly tire change. The lower division cars cost a bit less, but it’s still not cheap. There are all kinds of regulations: safety equipment, engine design, body style and interior and exterior specifications.

Sherry brags that her dad understands the costs. So he tries to give decent prizes. The high end is $1,000 with the low at $50. Most of the drivers at the Speedway are area drivers. A few are from Tennessee or Georgia. And a lot are from Madison County.

And they’ve all got family and friends to bolster them on. “Go Frank! Go Frank!” the teenagers scream from behind. Three men in their mid-twenties wave their upheld forefinger as their buddy Bill drives by.

We’re now into the second race of Street Stock, or “straaate stock,” as the announcer shrieks. These are the cars people work on mostly in their back yards. There’s a really good possibility these guys are going to end up crashing into one another. Probably more than once.

Twenty-nine cars. An old Dodge Ford, an old Mercury Monarch, a Chevy Nova, an Oldsmobile Cutlass, Chevy Monte Carlo, and more. Again, those with a sponsor’s name painted on the side have the better looking cars.

The sound changes a bit. More like a phhhtt, phhhtt, vrrrmm phhhtt. More puttering noises. #1 in front. Next is 31, 80, 1. #80 takes a turn, makes a donut, slams into #11 whose door eventually drops off. #83 has a flat tire, crawling towards the pit. The yellow flag goes up. Those who can, miss the pile up. A lot don’t. A track worker quickly sweeps off pieces of the cars. The announcer lists the fallen parts on the track. Bumpers, trim, a door. Workers go around checking the cars, making sure nothing else is going to fall off. The crowd loves its.

This is what everyone seems to have come for.

It’s a madhouse. The roar of the crowd is almost as loud as the cars. There are now 28 drivers on the track. The caution flag goes up. The zig-zagging motion starts. The green flag flies.

Less than a minute later the caution flag is back up. #83 starts smoking. Starts up again in 2-3 minutes. #70 gives #18 a push start. Same with #9 and #99. Dangling pieces of metal drag the track surface sending up sparks. Complete another lap. #33 loses it. Yellow flag. Pile up. Clean up. Start again.

And on it goes. You get the idea that they’re going to stay out there, banging each other up, until only one of them is left. Lap 22 - #33 spins. #32 loses its tires. Cars hiss. Engines smoke.

For me, any of understanding of what’s going on is completely lost.

Sherry explains later that when you first go to a track, you don’t really know who to cheer for. Sometimes you just pick a car because you like the way it looks. And then when you keep going to the races, you get to know the driver. You keep cheering for him. And so it goes. It’s fun.

What attracts the drivers?

“It’s really hard to explain. It’s kind of like alcohol. You just get into it and you can’t get out,” a driver named Lloyd tells me. “But it’s a lot better for you than drinking.” Except for your ears.

Old Speedway pictures from Citizen-Times gallery

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I love Big Lots

One reason I love Big Lots is because they have a public restroom up front at the store for anyone to use. Yes, even those backpacking all of their worldly goods looking for a place to wash up. I remember when Wall St. in Asheville had finished its renovation way back when. You could walk through on Wall Street, end up downstairs on Patton Ave. Shiny new stores and bathrooms for the public. Yee-haw. Really. It was a big deal. For, a while, that is. Turned out that some of Asheville's downtown homeless population also discovered those bathrooms.

There went access. Those bathrooms got locked up quicker than the family Thanksgiving turkey before it's time to put in on the table and you're trying to sneak an early bite. Those restrooms were locked up unless you were a tourist or someone who looked *decent*. Whatever that means.

But I digress. In Big Lots, you can find all sorts of treats. Like foot powder for $1 a bottle. Or lavender smelling Epsom salts. Or there's the garden aisle with all kinds of low-priced trinkets. Which is where I found myself today. I've been in there a few times lately and have been eyeballing this frog wind chimes. I don't think they're going to make a lot of noise (no they don't croak ribbit), but I was waiting for them to go on sale. Today was that day. There was only one froggy left, and I grabbed that sucker. And another one with blue glass and a pretty fish in the middle. I don't know how they will sound around my yard yet. Not a bit of wind blowing. But, I did enjoy walking around Big Lots, both chimes hooked on my cart. I twinkled wherever I walked. Too bad I couldn't bring that shopping cart home also.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Is that the pope?

So, today's the day. The day that would have been my dad's 88th birthday. Blows my mind that he's gone. Even if he did live to be 84. He was just always young in my eyes. And in the eyes of many others. But time does march on and and we do get called back home, whatever home may actually be. Yes, I'm a bit down, touchy, sad and all those other negative feelings no one - particularly myself - really wants me to feel or talk about, today. Besides, I've felt enough of that crap for the last four years since he passed. I'm working on finally getting back to the light.

But, I will share a story he and I had about home. Heaven. He was looking forward to finding out what Heaven actually looked like. He'd been preaching about it for more than 50 years, and now he was finally going to learn the secret, see the glory. He didn't believe he'd be able to contact me after he left this world. I believed he could. So we a made deal - if he could, he would.

He planned his own memorial. No picture on the front of the funeral takeaway. No singing 'Amazing Grace.' No body. Literally. He gave that to science since he wouldn't be needing it anymore and they'd pay to have him cremated. Smart, really. He emphatically did not want an open casket. He hated those kinds of funerals. While those of us in the pews could see part of the body sticking up out of the caskets, my dad had prime view from the top. He hated that and joked about how some dearly departed might just sit up one time and cuss my dad out for making up such good stuff about them just to make the still living feel better.

And, most important, his minister friends were not to wear their robes. He made them promise and I was to make sure they followed through. He did not believe a robe made a minister a man of God. In fact, if it hadn't been part of church doctrine or tradition, he would have never worn a robe. I don't recall him wearing them at early morning or evening services. And, I remember several summer months, he'd decided to go without. He knew God didn't care, and he figured the "elders" in the church would just have to deal with it.

There was a picture in his house of him in a robe that had been taken sometime just after I left home in the late '70s. It was placed in a prime location over the fireplace mantel, in the den, where no one could dare miss seeing it. It had been put there by my stepmother, who, of course, made the rules about decorations. So there it stayed. My dad, my husband and I laughed about that picture. It was a story shared only between the three of us. Daddy said that picture made him look like the pope. Step mom would give us 'the look' every time we talked about the photo, but this was one area she could say nothing. My dad let the picture stay; she had to let us laugh at it.

He had, however, agreed to let my step mom place that picture in the hallway outside of the sanctuary at his service. He knew she loved that picture and had wanted it on his memory giveaway. Sitting outside of the minister's office was the compromise.

One of his friends, with almost 60 years of stories about my dad, choked his way through several parts of the memorial service, the parts that require you actually acknowledge your loved one is gone. However his eyes lit up when he told this story and looked directly at me. He told how he and the other preachers had gathered in the hallway before the service to go over their parts and pull themselves together. A mother and child came to the office, she needing to pay that week's childcare. The child was told to wait outside, to stand beside my dad's over-sized photo. When his mother returned, the little boy asked sincerely, and purely, as only a small child can do, "Mommie, is that guy the pope?"

After the service, I asked my dad's friend why he had chosen to tell that particular story. He said he didn't really know, that it just seemed appropriate because my dad loved little kids and they adored him back. He said it also came to him that for some reason, I might understand what that story meant. And, I did. Daddy said good-bye to me, and only me, in that moment of storytelling. I've never felt his actual presence again, although I know he's laughing it up in Heaven. So I guess we were both right. His spirit was able to hang around just long enough to let me know he could communicate with me. Then he hightailed on up to Heaven where he so belongs.

Happy Birthday, Daddy. I love you. I miss you. I don't have that picture yet, but I do have your robe hanging in a closet.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

So many things on my mind

I wasn't going to post anything today, because I just didn't know where to begin. That's how it is so many days, for so many of us. Or, at least I think it is. So many things on my mind. My dad. My niece's dog, Boxer, who got hit by some stupid driver who didn't actually realize real people and animals live on those two-lane roads in Texas. Two friends who sent me wonderful memories of my dad that weren't just "preacher" stuff stories. 'Bewitched' and how I always wished I were Samantha. Actually, I really liked Serena (sp?) best. She got away with everything, just like I did sometimes. Or perhaps just wished I had been able to do that. Meeting a biological sister at the end of this month. I don't know. World, where are we headed? God, where are headed? Who knows? So, I'll just end with this verse from 'The Sopranos' theme song: 'Woke up this morning, got yourself a gun. Mama always said you'd be the chosen one. ... born under the bad sign. got the blue moon in your eyes.'

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Depression-era orphan, drunk navy cook, turned Methodist minister

That's my dad, in case you're wondering. He'd say that title described him all right, but there was a little more to it than that. Actually there was a lot more to his story. Rev. John Dowd. Bro. Dowd. John Dowd. John. Preacher Daddy. Daddy. Granddaddy. PaPa. He would have turned 88 this coming July 9th, three days from now, so I'm gathering up stories and reminiscing.

He was an interesting man, to say the least. I shared him with many people - not always particularly liking that fact - but that's just how it was. He wasn't a material man. What he left me were all of his old sermons ... maybe 50 years worth. Maybe more. Maybe less. Sermons he was going to throw away fours ago because he had been diagnosed with leukemia and only had two months to live. Said he didn't need those sermons anymore, where he was going, that'd he'd already told everything he knew. Actually I had to rescue those sermons out of some trash bags, but that's a story for another time.

He'd been a 5+ year colon cancer survivor, so to find out he had leukemia was rather shocking. He chose not to have a bone marrow transplant. However, he did choose me. Sometime around Thanksgiving 1960, after I'd been in the Volunteer Home of America for just over a month in Ft. Worth, Texas. He didn't actually choose me, but he liked to say so, "picked me up from the baby supermarket." That also is a story for another time.

I like to think we chose each other.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy in our places of just knowing the other is near

A lazy day. A good day. My teenager and I are hanging around the house, listening to nature outside our opened windows, searching the web (he on his itouch, me on my computer) and just sort of hangin.' We talk when we find something of interest to share. Like a favorite farside cartoon from my son's book. Or when we think about going outside somewhere and then realize we feel like we would fry. Our energy level is low today. Yet our love level is high. We are happy in our places of just knowing the other is near. We don't always enjoy parent/teenager moments. But today, we are lucky. And blessed.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day to me

It begins. Again. Happy 4th of July everyone! But we need to remember that Independence does not mean Equality in this country. We are still a country of younguns' who have a heck of a lot to learn. If we would just listen and actually talk with one another rather than at one another, we might actually grow up.