On a humid evening near the end of August 2017, around fifty people gathered at the African Burial Ground in Richmond, Virginia, to remember a man largely forgotten in American history. They’d come to remember Gabriel, an 18th century enslaved blacksmith, and his rebellion, one of the most extensive conspiracies by enslaved African Americans against slavery. That day last year was the 217th anniversary of the failed uprising.
A few months after my daughter Cypress turned two, we sat in the bathroom together in full-on potty-training mode. It was a time marked by frantic foot races to the bathroom followed by seemingly endless waits once there, concertgoers ready for the show, unaware the band hadn’t yet showed up. Cypress perched on the toilet, feet dangling, elbows on knees, her chin in hands.
“Come on, come on,” she said to me, not un-sweetly.
On a cool June day, Dean Dimond looked out from his back porch at a field of green wheat bending in the wind. Dimond lives on and farms a patch of land in the Magic Valley just north of Jerome. A mile or so beyond is Minidoka, site of the former Japanese internment camp where the National Park Service is building a memorial.
Dimond is, by any measure, an enormous man, with frying pan-sized hands that engulf yours in a handshake. He makes his living growing hay and corn for the dairies that populate this area where he has lived nearly all his life. It's a good place for this kind of farming. Three counties in the Magic Valley--Jerome, Gooding and Twin Falls--have the highest concentration of dairies in the state.
So you wouldn't expect Dimond--a self-described staunch Republican--to side with a movement to slow and even stop the expansion of large dairies. But as he looks over the field just feet from his back door, the contradiction begins to make sense.
In the first glimpse you get of Doug Scott that Friday night in July, he is taking an extra-wide turn on to Eagle Road. The footage isn't grainy—it's digital, from Idaho State Police Trooper Jesse Avery's dashboard cam—but makes most movements seem almost ghost-like.
Avery has been hunting Scott's dark work van since an officer from another agency saw Scott driving erratically. Once he finds Scott, Avery slips his cruiser behind the van.
As he tails Scott, dispatch crackles in.
"If you're unable to find PC, we'll give him a call back and he'll meet up with ya." The female voice is friendly, a little bored.
After the hearing in Richmond, after activists and academics and law enforcement members testified to change Virginia’s marijuana laws, and after a General Assembly subcommittee struck down two bills that would do just that, what was left in the hearing room was this: a small baggie of a “leafy substance,” stashed behind the podium. It was a message from a movement that’s growing state by state, subcommittees be damned.
Well that was fun, wasn’t it? I mean that nice, two-year bit of semi-hope and change. But now it seems we’re back to the grind.
You don’t have to be prescient to see Congressional gridlock just up the road. Our favorite almost-vice president is laying the ground work for a 2012 run at the White House via reality television. Our populace while handing the House to Republicans, elected another Paul to Congress, this one named after the author of Atlas Shrugged.
Todd Lucas is a difficult man to doubt. He is earnest and he is forceful and he is a person possessed of an electric personality channeled through a gleaming sledgehammer of a smile. So if Detective Todd Lucas of the Charlottesville Police Department says that there are gangs operating in a fair city such as this, your tendency is to goddamn well believe him.
Especially now. It is a Friday evening in early spring, the air just beginning to warm, the sun slowly dipping below the western mountains. And Lucas is tucked behind the wheel of his unmarked, two-door white sedan, stuffed in there, really, because he is fairly bulging with radios and handcuffs and badges and whatever else it is that police officers tuck into the front pockets of their bulletproof vests when they leave HQ for a night of jump-outs.
Before we get into the chemical compounds and statistical trends and tonnage numbers sure to scare the hair right off a hippie, let’s you and I define a word. Ambitious. The definition of this adjective, I think we both can agree, rests in the details of one particular plan of President Barack Obama.
Obama made it the goal of our nation to cut our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 80 percent by the year 2050. And on April 17, word leaked that Obama’s EPA plans to propose regulating GHG emissions, a sharp reversal of the previous administration’s policy
First, they were turned away from Fuddruckers, then Idaho Pizza Company, farther out. But here at Shari's, just west of the Idaho State Police building in Meridian, John Carter and Mike Ludlow are finally able to sit down to dinner, black Glocks still strapped to their hips.
The evening, up to this point, had certainly taken on a no-room-at-the-inn feel. Their objectives were simple: to sit down in a restaurant with their handguns clearly hanging in hip holsters, and to enjoy dinner with other like-minded and explicitly armed individuals.
It’s time we had a talk. Things haven’t been the best between us for some time, I think we’ll both admit. While some of you are holding this page in your hand, trying to keep our relationship alive, the Old Media Writer and the 21st Century Reader, I know some of you are online right now, reading this with one eye elsewhere.
And that’s not all you’re doing online.
Look, I know all about the late-night blogs, the comment threads with God knows how many others, the anonymous posters and the good-time websites that amount to a witty sentence or two. I know all about your little flings.
But I also know what we once had, the serious time that we spent together, me telling you exactly what was what, you taking it in with little to no chance to respond. Have I taken you for granted?
Each November, the New Oxford American Dictionary celebrates one new word that’s garnered serious cultural currency in the past year. In 2008, it was “hypermiling,” or to maximize gas mileage through extreme driving practices. This year, “unfriend”—deleting a friend on a social networking site—got the neologistic nod.
Every year new words are welcomed with pomp and joy. They are guests of honor at the seemingly never-ending party that is American English. Of course, there are always traditionalists—those gloomy language apocalypse preachers; David Foster Wallace called them SNOOTs—who scowl at our promiscuousness and attempt to beat back the progress of a language they see as rightfully theirs.
If you’re like me, you’ve spent the last six months in the glow of computer screens that shine slumping graphs onto your bewildered face, mumbling the day’s TED spread in your sleep and generally trying not to freak out as we ride out our sputtering economy as Amelia Earhart surely rode out her Lockheed Electra.
The national unemployment rate hit 6.5 percent in October, while retail sales fell 2.8 percent. Even UVA, that last bastion of steady-handed investment in these shaky times, saw its endowment drop $600 million.
Let’s face it. Worrying is not going to fix this economic mess. Truth is, we don’t know how to fix it. This thing may not be fixable.
The actual e-mail, like so many others, is gone. It was from Frank Dubec, the publisher of this newspaper, who is a little more Yahoo in the Swiftian sense than you’d think for a guy charged with balancing budgets.
The first time I read Frank’s e-mail, it bothered me. I was at home, and I printed it out. I’m not sure exactly why I needed to see it on paper; it was already there on the screen, and would be until the time I deleted it weeks later. Holding that piece of paper, seeing Frank’s words static on a page, made it more real, documental, easier to understand and then dismiss, never mind the same words glowed on the screen not 2′ away from my head. The next morning at the office, I printed it again, took a pen and marked it up with notes in my own vaguely third-graderish scrawl.
There is a scene that begins the third act of William James’ play Vinegar Hill Revisited, in which two sisters, Brenda Ann and Mary Lou, stare down their grief over the death of their mother. They are—or were—inhabitants of Vinegar Hill, a 20-acre tract of land just west of what is now Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, a black neighborhood that was completely destroyed in the 1960s as the shockwaves of Urban Renewal swept across the country.
When James writes the two women’s grief, he does so using the scattershot trajectory that grief often takes, running through his two characters by leaps of association. Their mother has died just as bulldozers and wrecking crews have begun their work.
James turns their grief over to a physical place, one that is, like their mother, gone forever.
It’s just after 2am. As the temperature drops into the 30s, four men creep around the corner to the front door of Mountain River Outdoors Inc off Route 29N. They’re here to get what waits inside: black-market gold. Guns.
It’s cold, but a few degrees warmer than the night before, the night one of them blew the heavy-duty steel door out of its frame with a sledgehammer, triggering the store’s alarm. He’d slunk back out of sight, clocking the police’s response time. Tonight they know they have three, four minutes tops.
The prison’s waiting room is like any other waiting room, save the walk-through metal detector to the right of the front desk. Off in one corner there’s a silent auction going on. A card table holds 10 clipboards, most with only one or two bids. A middle-aged woman walks in carrying a stack of files, her ID badge swinging from her lapel. The two correctional officers (COs)—both sporting sunburns and mustaches—lean over the desk with smiles.
Except for their badges and the occasional bang of metal on metal, you might forget it is a prison. There are citations of excellence on the walls alongside bright if counterintuitive motivational posters ("Attitude!" "Success!").
Andy Block appears on the other side of the front desk. His gray-brown suit stands in sharp contrast to the COs’ less-than-crisp uniforms, as does his tall, thin frame. Andy walks through the metal detector, into the waiting room. He thanks the COs over his shoulder and keeps walking. If Andy’s upset coming out of his meeting at the Fluvanna Correctional Facility for Women, it’s hard to tell.
On a day in 2003, Thomasine Wilson walked into Advance America on Madison Road in Orange with a checkbook from her newly opened account at SunTrust. Wilson had recently moved to Orange from Charlottesville when the rent on her one-bedroom apartment went up $400 a year. She’d found a place, smaller than she’d wanted, but by now she’d become used to making do. The line snaked forward, and Wilson fiddled with her new checkbook.