Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lexington Historic District, Part V

For some reason I can't quite grasp, I've been doing an unusual amount of public speaking lately. At least, it's unusual for me.

Two weeks ago, I was standing in front of an audience of about 150 people, nervously thanking them for my induction into the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame.

Last night, I was standing in front of 80 or so neighbors, one of about 25 speakers at the Lexington City Council meeting who were allotted approximately three minutes each to voice their views on a proposed historic district.

I am not a public speaker by choice. In fact, my preferred tool of conviction is the pen. But sometimes public speaking just cannot be avoided. I was obligated to speak at the Hall of Fame, and I was compelled to speak in the council chambers. I think I used up two of my three minutes there, which was good because the lawyers making presentations before council used up the rest of everybody else's unused allotted time.

My wife, Kim, also stood at the podium. She's generally a soft-spoken person who does not like the spotlight, but she knows how to speak her mind when the need arises. She did great. Somebody called us the Wehrle tag team.

This was the critical mass moment. After nearly 10 years of historic commission meetings, presentations and debate, council was finally going to vote on the planning board's recommendation to approve an amendment to the zoning ordinance to create an historic overlay district.

After nearly three more hours of civil debate and strong-willed opinions, the district finally was approved by a 7-1 vote of council.


This is what I had been hoping for. My argument, presented here previously in my blog (see here) and again last night before council, was that an historic district will provide protection from inappropriate development (say, a neighbor converting his now historic house into a B&B or into an apartment building) to the nearly 100-year-old homes that define Lexington's past as well as our current quality of life.

What I left unspoken was that I think an historic district completely complements the neighboring Uptown Lexington district, which in itself will conjoin with the planned Depot district. It's all forward seeking vision, and it's all interconnected.

Now that an historic district has been approved, and I am excited about it, I just hope my expectations are not dashed. A lot can still go wrong. The opposition made some valid points concerning property rights and added bureaucracy. I hope the historic commission makes wise and fair decisions and judgments because that's the only way it will really work.

But for now, I'm content that the big picture is looking good for the city and its residents.

And, hopefully, now I can take a break from my speaking engagements.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Festival of festivals

This week's Dispatch poll asked readers "How many Barbecue Festivals have you attended?" The choices were incremental, ranging from none (a shocking 17 percent said they have never been to one. I'm guessing my brothers in Iowa and Alaska were respondents) to 30.

By noontime, the Barbecue Festival crowd was enormous.
This year, of course, was the 30th annual Festival, and I happily became one of the 5 percent to check "30." Many of those years I had to go because I was covering events like the Hawg Run (held on Festival morning back in the day) for The Dispatch. I suppose the bulk of the five percent were also long-time Dispatch employees.

But I also wanted to be there. Every year. It's a neat thing.

With perfectly clear, crisp October weather in the air, with former Lexington resident and "Pawn Stars" patriarch Richard "The Old Man" Harrison on stage and with wildly popular singer Darius Rucker heading up the New Country Q 104.1 Q-Jam (get it? 'Cue Jam?), I knew the crowd would be outrageous.

For the past five years or so, former Dispatch publisher Joe Sink, Festival co-founder, lifetime Honorary Chairman and official crowd counter for publication, has figured the attendance to be around 200,000, appropriately reflecting the growth and popularity of his child. Most people chuckle and mumble, "Yeah, right" when Sink gives his apparently outlandish estimates, but I happen to think he's been pretty much on the money each Festival.

Now, for the first time, Lexington Mayor Newell Clark estimated the floating day-long crowd to have been 200,000, giving government sanction to Sink's figures. In fact, if Joe declares this year's crowd to have been 210,000, I'd find it to be a reasonable estimate.

The crowd on the Square for the Q-Jam was gigantic. (Click pic to enlarge)
Once again, my wife, Kim, and I got an early start, hitting the vendor tents around 8 a.m., and already the people were filling the streets.

By 10:30, I'd purchased my traditional barbecue sandwich for my traditional Festival brunch. The barbecue itself is usually a conglomeration of the five participating restaurants, and some local epicureans think it's not worth the $5 for what they consider to be the bland offering they get. They say it's not restaurant quality.

They miss the point. First off, by my taste buds, the barbecue actually has been pretty decent the past few years. But beyond that, on this particular day, you're not buying the 'cue because you like a certain restaurant. You're buying it because it's the Festival. It's part of the celebration. You're there, and it's now. That's the point. That's the whole point.

Meanwhile, the crowd was growing. And when the long anticipated Q-Jam began in the Square, well, forget it. You weren't going anywhere. People who reached the Square during the jam diverted to either of the two back alleys to get any movement at all. I'd never seen anything like it before.

By 4 p.m. — after nearly eight hours of shopping, perusing, walking, resting, wine-tasting and commiserating — we made our way back home, exhausted and satisfied.

Am I crazy? Maybe.

But I'm already looking forward to the 31st annual Barbecue Festival.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Barbecue Sandscapes

Imagine turning a passion for playing in the sand into your life's profession.

That's pretty much what Greg Glenn and his wife, Brandi, have done.

Brandi (left) and Greg Glenn work on this year's sand sculpture.
The Glenns are the people you can watch right now, right here in Lexington, turning a mishmash mountain of sand into an impossible work of art. They are the sand sculptors from San Luis Obispo, California, who annually come a week or so before the Barbecue Festival and create those much-looked-forward-to masterpieces on the lawn in front of the former (logically enough, it would seem) Arts Center building on South Main Street.

"Greg does the heavy lifting," said Brandi, "and I do the detail work."

All this magic began nearly 30 years ago when Greg, a land surveyor by trade and training, was messing around in the sand on the California beaches, and before long, started entering competitions.

Did he ever. His talent soon attracted enough attention to where people would actually pay him for his creations. A festival here, a sporting event there, and before he knew it, he had quit his real job in 1991 to create Sandscapes, a business where they manage several teams of sculptors to travel across the country and go play in the sand (See here).

Greg Glenn works on the sand sculpture this this year's Barbecue Festival.
Along the way, he ended up winning 14 World Sand Sculpting Champ-ionships before retiring from competition about 10 years ago.

Brandi, an arts enthusiast in her own right, met Greg in 1987 and came on board with the new business. By 1997, they were married and working on projects together.

The Barbecue Festival is pretty much an annual event for them, and one they savor. This is about the 14th year their business has participated in the Festival.

"Lexington is one of our favorite places," said Brandi, who said that she and her husband have been cutting back working on jobs themselves as they get older. "The people here are really nice. We like the weather. The people who run the Festival are just top-notch and it's classy.

"And the Festival itself is just a blast," said Brandi. "It's a lot of fun."

The Glenns, who are staying at the hotel at Vineyards Crossing while they're here, began this year's sculpture on Sunday. They will continue working right up until Saturday morning, putting in the final touches as 200,000 or so people mill around.

"That way we're still here while people can ask us questions and see how we do things," said Greg. "I don't mind working in front of a crowd. We do it all the time. It's been the same questions (including my own, it seems) for the last 20 years. We just carve and answer the questions as they come."

One of the questions I had was how do they get the sand to hold together so well. I mean, the sculpture is usually still standing two weeks after the Festival. How does that happen?

"The sand is compacted in layers," explained Greg. "We use construction compactors, lots of water, and the sand is rammed into these forms. Then we remove the forms and you sculpt into the block of sand. It's just very, very densely compacted sand.

"If we see rain coming we'll spray it with a sealer, which doesn't really stop erosion, but it does slow it down," said Greg. "But a really good rain will have its way with it."

The good news is: no rain in the forecast this year.

Clearly, this is not a profession — or a passion — built on shifting sand.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

...one more thing

Shortly after I wrote my latest blog Sunday about being inducted into the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame, I received an email from my friend and colleague, Chad Killebrew, that included a video attachment of me making my acceptance speech.

See my speech here.

My sincere thanks to Chad. I never once in my life expected to be found on YouTube.

I'm posting this video here for two reasons: some of my friends and family who could not attend the induction ceremony (I have one brother in Iowa and another in Alaska) would like to see it; and the Internet is a great place for me to archive stuff.

A couple of days have passed by since the induction. I try not to think about it too much, but I'm still receiving many congrats from friends and co-workers, all of which are much appreciated and yet remains astounding to me.

Basically, I feel like all I did was try to do my job the best that I could for 30 years. So I am humbled and grateful for this honor.

Thank you all very much.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hall of Fame moment

Back in the first grade, I remember feeling compelled by some inner voice to stand in front of my classmates and give them a heartfelt speech about sidewalk safety while walking to school.

The speech, as I recall, was all off the cuff — no notes, prompts or cues of any kind.

It could have been a watershed moment for me. Now that I think about it, I might have been this close to becoming a speechifying politician had fate tricked me into thinking on that particular day that I actually might be good at baring my soul in front of strangers.

As life turned out, I didn't give another speech until 13 years later, when I took a public speaking class in college. For my final grade, I recited a poem that I had written. A lot of good that class did me because I didn't speak in front of an audience again for another 35 years or so.

Mementos of a long career. (Photos by Donnie Roberts)
Then came last night. I was being inducted into the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame, a singular honor for me and the unexpected capstone to my 30-year career as a sports writer for The Dispatch, and I had to find a way to say thank you.

Suddenly, all those notes, prompts and cues that I had abandoned as a first grader were imperative now. So I wrote myself a script and practiced it a few times. It clocked in at just under three minutes, essential on a night when the 145 or so folks in attendance were probably itching to rush home and watch the Florida State-Clemson football game.

There's not a lot I remember after reaching the podium. Familiar faces that I had socialized with just moments before suddenly turned into complete strangers. I was standing in a tunnel and time stood still. When I did start talking, the mic made my voice sound like somebody else's. "Pro-JECT, pro-JECT", I kept telling myself, recalling the only lesson I could remember from my ancient public speaking class.

I thanked my newspaper colleagues. I thanked my wife. I expressed my sincere amazement at the incredible honor I was receiving. But I got through it. My friends, who somehow rematerialized from the land of total strangers, said I did a nice job and I was grateful for that.

I applaud my wife, Kim, for her incomparable support in my career.
I was particularly pleased to be inducted with this class. I consider West Davidson's Charles Elmore and Central Davidson's Gene Poindexter (both of whom were coaches and athletic directors) to be friends of mine, and our separate careers virtually began and ended together, to curiously criss-cross and interconnect over the canvas of space and time. County athletic director Phil Rapp seemed to be at every game I covered. Anna Coleman Hayes, an exceptional tennis player in her day, is practically a next-door neighbor. South Davidson coach Mike Crowell, inducted posthumously, left us way too soon. I didn't know him well, but he always made me feel comfortable.

 And so ended a special night, and my thanks to all.

I'm speechless.

        The entire Class of 2013 Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Whirlwind tour

What is it that's so alluring about horse-and-carriage rides?

Is it the throwback to a bygone era? The romance? The aroma? (It's so...so...equine).

Kim and I just got back from an extended four-day weekend where we toured the length of the South Carolina coast, starting in Beaufort and ending in Cherry Grove, covering about 700 miles in perhaps 96 hours. As hectic as that sounds, it was actually quite refreshing.

At any rate, the primary focus of the tour was our 18 hours or so in Beaufort. This was perhaps the sixth trip to this quaint little town for Kim and me. We occasionally make this pilgrimage primarily for the horse-drawn carriage ghost tour, held every October through the town's historic district.

And it's not just any ghost tour. The evening ride takes about 45 minutes and makes various stops along the way, where actors dressed as pirates, belles, beaus, trolls, spirits or Civil War soldiers dramatically tell their tales. Sometimes they'll leap out unexpectedly from behind bushes or trees or bridge culverts, with just enough actor's flourish to scare the bejeezus out of you. (See here for a brief slideshow from last year's event).

The whole thing is embedded in the backdrop of wonderful 200-year-old houses framed by stately old trees ladened with Spanish moss. On this particular night, our spooky little tour was lit by a half-moon hanging high in the clear night sky.

It's really quite well done. This year, we took another couple — Jay and Melissa — with us to enjoy the experience. I think they did.

 The best thing is that all proceeds benefit the Child Abuse Prevention Association of Beaufort.

A view of the cramped crew space (and propeller hand crank) of the Hunley.
 The next day, we were off to North Charleston to take a gander at the H.L. Hunley, a Con- federate Civil War submarine raised from the bottom of Charleston harbor in 2000. The Hunley is currently available for weekend viewing (preserved, as it is, in a fresh-water tank) by an oragnization called the Friends of the Hunley, a volunteer organization.

The Hunley was the first submarine in naval military history to attack and sink a foe, in this case the U.S.S. Housatonic in February 1864. However, the Hunley and its eight-man crew were also lost in the attack.

Even if you have little interest in the Civil War, this is a nice little stop. Because it's considered to be a working laboratory, it's unusual, if nothing else.

As we made our way to Cherry Grove, we took a lunch stop in Georgetown. Jay and Melissa had never been. As we tried to find a place to park, we were astounded by the debris on a block of Front Street. It turns out that eight businesses were destroyed by a fire that swept through the common attic shared by the buildings involved. (See here).

This happened maybe three weeks ago. It's a nod to Georgetown's civic pride and sensibility that reconstruction, true to historic guidelines, is already underway.

It was a heckuva trip.

Now I need a vacation.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

All squared away

I always thought the Square in Lexington to be one of the city's most attractive and distinctive attributes.

There is, of course, the Old Court House that dominates the visual landscape. Its Greek Revival style of architecture (1858) predates the Civil War by several years (1861-65) and is certainly an historic landmark not only within the city limits, but within Davidson County as well.

There is also the statue of the Confederate soldier in the southwest quadrant, and across Center Street, in the two opposing quadrants, there are historical markers and memorials surrounded by tasteful landscaping. The southeast quadrant, in fact, boasts a terrific flagpole that catches my eye just about every day.

There's a lot going on in the Square right now.

Now you see the Old Court House...
...now you don't. At least, for now.
The Old Court House is currently enveloped by a shroud that makes it look like it's part of a David Copperfield illusion. The building is currently undergoing a $600,000 external repair and restoration project. I imagine the shroud is in place to contain any paint, dirt and debris from falling onto pedestrians and vehicles as they pass by. When the project is completed and the shroud is finally removed, I suspect it will be something like opening a Christmas present. I can't wait.

While the Old Court House was going under wraps, the North Carolina Department of Transportation decided it would install (stamped) brick crosswalks at the Square. The project was aided, in part, by local contractors and, well, it looks pretty good to my eye. To my mind, anything that adds to Lexington's visuals is potential for bringing more visitors — and more consumer dollars — into town.

But, as you might guess, there has been some opposition to both projects. Some opponents have suggested the money used to restore the Old Court House could be better used elsewhere, and particularly to care for the homeless. I will argue that preserving heritage and culture are just as important as providing for the less fortunate (usually a task reserved for the church and/or nonprofit charitable organizations rather than tax payers) and probably, in the long run, less costly with more bang for the buck.

Don't trip over the crosswalk when the light turns green...
 As for the crosswalk, one opponent, in a  letter to the editor to The Dispatch, basically wondered if NCDOT would be held liable if somebody tripped over the perfectly flat crosswalk. I'm guessing that the odds of being hit by a foul ball at Holt-Moffitt Field during football season are greater than tripping over a stamped crosswalk, but I suppose you never really know.

In the meantime, keep the progress coming. It's looking pretty good.