Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Main Streets, Dirt Roads, and U.S. 1

During yet another of my recent wistfully nostalgic moments – a more and more frequent occurrence as I get older and older, thus accumulating additional years of memories to be wistfully nostalgic about – I was pondering the main streets and dirt roads of yesteryear.

We still have plenty of main streets and dirt roads, or course, but not like we used to.

I can still recall the Main Street of my hometown – Lexington, SC – from when I was a young’un. (It was a lot like the Main Street we all know from TV’s Mayberry.) Folks wandered from store to store, stopping along the way to visit acquaintances they bumped into. Shopkeepers occasionally spent the afternoons sitting on benches or stools out in front of their shops, usually with friends hanging around just to chat and pass the time. (This was before air-conditioning, so sitting in the shade outside was usually preferable to the fan-cooled inside. And, they had usually rolled out their canvas awnings in the morning to provide the shade.)

Once a week or so, at age nine or ten, I’d hop on my bike and pedal the mile or so from my home to the stores on Main Street (which in early ‘60s Lexington lingo was referred to as “going up the street”.) Sometimes I’d have a dime or so to spend, which worked out nicely, since I usually landed at Dodd’s Dime store. Sometimes I was penniless, which was also okay, cause it was fun just to look around.

After my weekly afternoon Cub Scout meetings, held a block away, I had another opportunity to just wander over to Main Street and hang around until Mom or Dad came to pick me up. There weren’t any cell phones back then, so you’d think that locating me would have been a problem. But it wasn’t. They would just come park somewhere on Main Street – which was really just a block or two – and somehow, we’d find each other pretty quickly.

There are still Main Streets in lots of towns. But I don’t think kids today have these kinds of Main Street experiences.

I doubt if many parents would consent to their nine-year-olds hopping on their bikes and pedaling “up the street” for a couple of hours.

I also think a lot of kids today probably aren’t familiar with dirt roads.

Not that dirt roads are anything special… but it seems a shame that you have to drive a good ways out of town to even see one any more. When I was a kid, half the people I knew lived on dirt roads.

Since the population is now centered in cities and towns, I’ll bet the majority of young kids have never even seen a dirt road, much less ridden their bikes or walked barefoot on one.

At a young age, we learned to keep your bike toward the middle of a dirt road. If you ventured over toward the edge, you would invariably bog down in the soft piles of sand that accumulated on the shoulders of most dirt roads. Also, there would be a little mound of soft dirt right in the middle. But, if you kept it in one of the two paths where the tires continually ran over it and kept the dirt packed and hard, you could do some good bike riding!

Walking barefoot was another matter. In that case, you might be perfectly willing to trod along the soft dirt on along the edge, because it felt a lot softer on your feet.

Back in the hot summertimes of the early 60s, kids quickly learned to walk in the light-colored sand instead of the hard, packed, dark-colored dirt. Hot! Hot! Hot!

I grew up living on a highway: US 1.

I assumed that, because it was numbered “1”, it was the best highway in America. Or the longest. Or the first.

I was never quite sure why it was named Highway One, but I figured there was some superlative significance to it.

Today, US 1 has changed drastically from what it used to be, just like Main Streets and dirt roads have changed. Once upon a time, it was a proud highway, a major artery stretching from the Maine to Key West, and people travelling from the big cities of the North to destinations in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia or Florida often found themselves on U.S. Route 1. And the Mom and Pop restaurants, gas stations, motor lodges, fruit stands and truck stops along it thrived.

But no more. Now the mighty Interstates have taken over.

And the U.S. Route 1 I knew as a child is a thing of the past… just like Main Streets and dirt roads.

The kids of today are missing out.

Friday, January 15, 2010

You and what army?!!!

Since we’re a couple weeks after New Years Day, and lotsa folks are probably currently struggling to keep what’s left of their New Years Resolutions, I thought I’d talk a little about “willpower”. Hopefully, I can motivate you to try, try again!!!!

It’s willpower, after all, which separates the successful resolutions from the substantially more prevalent “better luck next years”.

I feel qualified to write about the topic of “willpower”, because, quite frankly, I have it. Lots of it.

Three years ago, for instance, I made a New Year’s Resolution to write a newspaper column each and every week, which, in over 17 years of publishing newspapers, I had simply neglected to do. Now, however, after applying a modest amount of willpower to my 2007 New Year’s Resolution, I am at this moment writing a column for the 156th consecutive week… three full years… all because I have the willpower of a block of granite.

Most of my friends and acquaintances do not acknowledge my willpower.

They recognize this personal characteristic of which I speak, but consistently mislabel it as a “character flaw”, referring to me with somewhat unflattering terms such as stubborn, mulish, pig-headed, opinionated, obstinate, obdurate, obstructionist, inflexible, headstrong, immovable, and a thick-headed, lame-brained, good-for-nothing, backwards jackass.

What it really is, of course, is a collection of the highly sought after traits of Persistence and Tenacity, and Unwavering Willpower: doggedly determined, and relentless in my pursuits.

In fact, it is thanks to these much sought after “never give up” qualities that I have never once in my entire life lost an argument! (Friends and acquaintances, out of sheer jealousy, I suppose, claim it’s because I simply keep arguing until eventually the other side goes away, or slips into a coma from boredom.)

My willpower also manifests itself in other, less obvious, ways. Fashion trends, for instance.

It’s not that I’m trying to make a statement by wearing the latest styles of the 60’s and 70’s. It’s just that… “don’t fix what’s not broken!” Eventually, the rest of the world will probably come back to lime green leisure suits, eight-inch wide neckties, and flare bottom jeans. In the meantime, I ain’t changing!!!

If I had been alive in the 1920’s or 1930’s, I probably would have been good at those dance marathon contests I’ve read about. Also, pole-sitting.

Had I grown up in the frigid climates of the north, I’m pretty sure I would have been that kid in the movie who got his tongue stuck to the flagpole… that is, IF I had been Double-Dog-Dared! (Of course, I would never have whined about it, or let the fire department come rescue me. I would have insisted that having my tongue stuck to a pole was my plan all along, and possibly would have just stayed there until the spring thaw.)

Back in 1996, some readers will recall, I actually DID water ski 162 miles from Columbia to Charleston partly as the result of a Double-Dog Dare (and partly as the result of a Coors Lite-inspired boast, as was my occasional custom in my lost younger years.)

I suspect I come by my obstin…. oops… willpower quite naturally. When my Dad was a member of the SC House of Representatives in the early 1960’s, he once set a record for filibustering, standing at the podium and speaking non-stop for over 24 hours to kill a piece of legislation to which he was opposed. Thirty years later, as a member of the Senate, he filibustered again, talking all night long just a week after getting his new pacemaker. Blast the doctors’ orders!!!

Truth be known, this kind of stubb… I mean… willpower is a part of our South Carolina culture. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that our state voted to secede from the Union and declare war on the most powerful nation on earth… without an army, navy, air force, or military of any kind.

Don’t let my easy-going, laid-back style fool you. I may look like I’m chilled out, but when I need to be, I can be as pig….. er…. determined as they come.

So, my advice to anyone who is struggling with those New Years Resolutions is this:

“Hang in there, baby! Don’t let ’em talk you down off that flag pole.”

Remember the examples of George Washington Carver, Ghandi, and General Stonewall Jackson. (And for that matter, General McArthur and General Patton, too. But try not to think of General Custer.)

To paraphrase FDR and Churchill:

“Nothing can make you cave in but caving in itself!”


“Never, never, never, never, never give up your favorite pair of shoes, no matter how many decades old they may be.”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Top 10 Tips for Dealing with Cold Weather

Possibly you’ve noticed that your thermometers have dipped a bit in the last week or so. It’s cold outside.

Because the majority of my reading audience, like myself, are Southerners, we are not really equipped to deal with cold weather. It’s unnatural to us, sorta like hockey and grilling hamburgers and calling it “barbecue”.

I, however, being somewhat of an urbanite, a “Man of the World”, and having travelled to exotic places in the colder extremes north of here, like Raleigh, Knoxville, and Huntington, West Virginia, have experienced some freezography and chillometry in my lifetime.

In the lingering spirit of the recently-celebrated holiday season, and the bright promise of the coming new decade, I would like to share with you a few of my personal tips on dealing with the cold weather which is being heaped upon us.

Here, then, are Rod-Boys Personal Experience Tips for Dealing With the Freezin’ Cold Weather:

10. Dress like you’re a character from a Norman Rockwell picture. Many of his covers for the Saturday Evening Post featured people who appeared to be from Up North where it’s cold. Consequently, they were dressed differently that we dress in the South, wearing articles of clothing we’ve never even heard of, let alone worn. Earmuffs. Snow pants. Mittens. Scarves. Leg-Warmers. Stocking Caps.

9. Blubber. Typically, a large, thick, jiggly layer of fat surrounding your entire body is thought to be a bad thing. But not on days when the high temperature has a minus sign in front of it. On those days, blubber makes you the object of the affection of lots of cold, skinny people who would like to squeeze up against you to absorb a few of your raging BTUs.

8 Layers. This is the most basic of all staying-warm advice: dress in layers. For instance, you should wear an undershirt, a regular shirt, a sweatshirt, a sweater, an over-sweater, a jacket, a coat, a parka, and an overcoat. Add a couple of layers of Hefty Bags over that, and you’re gonna stay warm in Antartica.

7 If you drive a convertible, make sure it actually has a top on it. This particular tip comes from experience. When I was a high school senior, I drove an old beat up convertible that did NOT have a top on it. During the winter months, I wrapped up in a blanket each morning before I drove to school. (Actually, I don’t know why I still called it a convertible. The only thing it converted was my breath into steam.) On rainy days, I drove fast so I could lean up under the windshield and the cold rain would only hit my back.

6. Run for Congress. It only helps if you win. But if you do, you’ll get to move to the “hot air” capital of the universe!

5. College. Go to college, earn a degree, and go to work at a desk job, inside instead of outside. Then you can look out the window and watch all your drop-out friends freezing their tushies off while they wash cars and hawk tax services.

4. Duct Tape. I haven’t actually used this one before, but as we all know, duct tape will fix anything, including, I suppose, cold weather. If, for some reason it doesn’t fix the cold weather, then just add some WD40. It definitely fixes anything.

3. It’s not really cold… it’s just your imagination. Haven’t you been keeping up with Al Gore and his global warming stuff? After all, they gave him a Nobel Prize, so it has to be right.

2. Soup! Eating hot soup is the best answer of all to the cold weather, because not only does it warm you up, but it also fills your belly. Coffee and cocoa are also good at warming you up, but they don’t do quite as good of a job at filling your belly.

And the number one tip for dealing with cold weather is…..

1. Tickets! Buy tickets to somewhere warm, like Cancun, Jamaica, or the Caribbean. Because, in my lifetime of personal experiences which has included dealing with freezin’ cold weather, I have learned that the VERY BEST way of handling the cold…. is being somewhere else.

So here’s hoping YOU find a way to stay warm in the cold days ahead.

Hope you have a GREAT New Year, and a Super-Fantastic Decade!!!!