For the longest time — like until 2012 — I could fit everything I owned in my car with the exception of my bed.

I don’t like to collect things. Sure, I have a giant stack of books and cases of CDs and a now large plant that I’m certain is only alive through the grace of God, but that’s it. I only recently got pictures of family because I realized how weird it was that I didn’t have any.

I try to keep things to a minimum because I’ve been highly transient since moving out of my mom’s house officially. It’s typically not my fault: In general, I’m pushed out of a place by external factors.

My neighbors were loud in my first apartment, and the laundry room was heavily vandalized. I left with a full month left on my lease. I ate the difference.

I reached a point that I didn’t want to live in my first post-college house anymore because I yearned to get out of my first journalism job, and it became a manifestation of how trapped I felt. I made it about 1½ years.

I was desperate after that, and decided that living in Richmond would partially solve my problems. I took a room on a temporary basis. I’m glad it was temporary. We were incompatible. The same thing happened with my temporary place in North Carolina.

Then, five months after the first Richmond place, there was the Chimborazo house. In another universe. If not for the turmoil that was 2012, which included six months in North Carolina, I wouldn’t have left until Matt and Shaunelle decided to leave, I successfully got a job away from Hopewell or until a few months ago when The Hopewell News shut down.

We were in our Charlottesville house for three years. There were some problems that accompanied an older house. We were going to move out anyway, but things led us back to Richmond.

I was excited about moving back to Richmond, but everything changed. I didn’t fit back in. It’s been bookended by me working in Charlottesville. I’m not sad about leaving. It was a thing I left behind in 2012, and I should have known it wasn’t going to be my thing again. Our first place changed management and all but forced us out. We’re leaving our second place because Richmond no longer has anything for me.

Now we’re packing things. At some point, I got a lot more things. I think I’m tired of moving, but I haven’t yet gotten to where I’m going.

I’ve been saying this is the penultimate move until finally getting a house. I want to stick around in our next place until 2021. That was, and still is the goal, despite a little snag this week. In 2021, I’ll hit 15 years in journalism, nine of which with my current company. I want to celebrate with something. Maybe it will be with staying put for a little while longer.

I’m beginning to want permanent things — heavy, bulky things that somehow get in through the front door but seem impossible to get back out. I’m beginning to envy my mom spending more than 45 years in the same spot.

But I fear my thing, despite saying it isn’t, is constantly packing my few things.


It’s gotten the point that it doesn’t feel like yesterday.

I was in Petersburg with Simone Tiffany Crystal — my 1989 Toyota Camry — James Cecil Wheatley — my two-year-old plant — my futon from middle school, which served as a couch, LSW2 — my laptop from Christmas 2001 — and the bed I bought when I moved into the Delta Nu Chapter house in 2004.

I had no idea what to expect. At the time, I knew I was covering Dinwiddie County, Virginia State University and Richard Bland College. I had done no research into Dinwiddie. I blindly walked into a contentious Board of Supervisors meeting. A kid horrifically burned himself when he inadvertently poured gasoline on a fire. I lived in a city that, while I was there, was the “most dangerous” city in the state per capita, but never made the official list because its population was under 100,000.

I loved every second of it.

Until I increasingly disagreed with the new managing editor and became the managing editor of the paper down the road.

I had no idea what to expect. I had to hire a new sports editor, the publisher fired a reporter, I had to fire a reporter and we fought tooth and nail to restore the reputation of a publication that often was seen as a laughingstock.

I loved every second of it.

Until I felt like it was time for me to move on and a storm nearly destroyed the building and I stayed on because I didn’t want to leave them in the middle of a disaster and then headed to a copy editing position along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast.

I had no idea what to expect. I was hours away from everyone I knew and loved, made a nearly blind decision as far as housing, tried to balance a long-distance relationship and saw the writing on the wall when the company was bought out.

I did not enjoy that experience overall.

I then briefly returned to the paper I left before winding up here.

I won’t belabor modern history.

But this in less than two weeks, I’m moving away from the Richmond area, most likely for good.

That means that I’m also leaving where I began my journalism career, the Tri-Cities, most likely for good. I’m running out of reasons to go down there. Here’s what I said about that yesterday:

This pains me infinitely more than leaving Richmond. I learned how much I didn’t know during my time south of the James, and I had my biggest triumphs and failures there.

I love the Tri-Cities because it is a beautiful mess and because there are so many people working hard to remove “mess” from that phrase. It does not deserve the bad rep it sometimes gets. It’s a victim of so many things, including the state’s city-county divide, its own leaders at times and the changing face of commerce and industry in America.

Sure, I may rag on it and the contretemps of its governments, but you don’t get to unless you’ve lived there and worked there and rooted for it on its worst days. As recently as last month, I’ve driven to downtown Hopewell and made some of the rounds I made when I was an editor there.

I’ve half-seriously said I want to retire on some acres in Dinwiddie. Although I want my wife to go home to New York at some point, I hope at least a vacation place in that area is in the cards.

Here’s to a dozen years in journalism. And here’s to years to come.

chapter eternal

I just got in from Northern Virginia, by way of Charlottesville.

Pete’s father died.

If you haven’t been reading this blog since 2004, Pete is my college roommate, my fraternity brother and (sometimes) my friend.

OK, we’re actually close friends, but our friendship is based on my tolerating him for about three days and they yelling at him because he annoys me. But in a loving way. It’s complicated.

Anyway, when he told me his father died, that was all he needed to say. I was going to be there for him, especially since his father also is my fraternity brother.

I plotted out a ridiculous trip, of course. I intended to finagle an early shift Thursday, drive up to Fairfax, sprawl out in a hotel bed, attend the funeral as a pallbearer, skip the repast and get to work pretty close to when I was supposed to be there.

My immediate supervisor, Jenny, said that was stupid.

She gave me Thursday off. And one of my brothers, Butler, offered me a free place to stay.

Having Thursday off, allowed me to attend the wake, where I caught up with some more of my brothers. I was great to see them, but I wish it was under different circumstances. We made vague plans to do so. I hope we follow through.

For some of is, it made us think of our own mortality and the passage of time. I’ve known Pete for 17 years. My beard is rapidly turning white. We don’t party till sunrise anymore. But our craziness all seems like yesterday. And all seems so irresponsible now.

But there’s not a single regrettable moment.

It was a beautiful service, which is an odd thing to say. But there’s no other way to put it. I mean, what sort of monster says, “Oh, that funeral was so awful. Ave Maria was off-key, and that was a tacky coffin”? Well, I guess, a knock-down, drag-out at the graveside service would disqualify a funeral from being a “beautiful service,” but I digress.

It was an honor to serve as a pallbearer for my brother, my friend and brother’s father. His legacy includes bringing together a group of men who have a bond beyond just being friends from college.

And then my drive to work taking three hours at an average speed of 35 mph ruined killed any other profound statements.

i’m sorry

2018 has been rough so far. I drive up to three hours a day to commute to work. Walk my dog, make dinner and pretty much not have time for much else. I tend to not do much of anything when I have Saturdays off, sleep Sundays away and pack in everything I’ve deferred the rest of the week into Monday. I all but stopped watching TV. Until I got knocked on my butt earlier this week and had to take two days off, I could barely think straight sometimes. I’m surprised I got six entries in so far this year.

But we’re in the home stretch.

We found a place to live. We get the keys in less than 20 days. (Of course, we haven’t started packing.)

I wasn’t one of the places I mentioned a couple of entries ago.

I considered this place and promptly forgot about it. I think I had too many tabs open, inadvertently closed the one with this place and assumed I decided against it. When Renée brought it up while doing a search of her own, I realized I never looked at it.

It’s technically a one-bedroom apartment, but it comes with a den that has a window and a small closet, so it’s a bedroom that’s entirely too small for anyone over the age of, say, 10. For now, its’ going to be Renée’s office, some other storage and, if there’s room left over, a guest bed of some sort.

This place isn’t in the limits of a city, independent or otherwise, so it will be the first time in my life that I have not resided in a city. If you’re not familiar with Virginia’s jurisdictions, counties and cities are wholly separate. I used to mean counties were wholly rural jurisdictions and cities were Virginia’s urban areas that had enough resources to perform all the functions of a county and provide the additional services one expects in a city.

Although, for reasons I can’t fully articulate, not being a city-dweller seems really weird to me, I cannot wait. I cannot wait to be less than 10 minutes away from work. I can’t wait to get hours back into my days. I can’t wait to use those hours to write and finally hit spellcheck in Brown River Blues and then send it to my friends for them to critique. I cannot wait to be in a place I don’t intend to leave for a while.

I cannot wait for everything to be in place so I can sit at my desk at work and fully feel ready to finish what I started in September 2012.


You won’t believe the problems I’ve had with my homes over the years!

  1. Petersburg: My HVAC unit crapped out in the middle of the summer while I was gone on a long weekend. It didn’t turn off for at least four days and spurted water onto my carpet. Additionally, the refrigerator crapped out and started leaking nasty brown water. It was never fully fixed when I moved out.
  2. Hopewell: Somehow, this was the only place I’ve ever lived that did not have a mildly catastrophic problem.
  3. Richmond, No. 1: Furnace ran out of oil due in part to spat between my two roommates. One felt that he shouldn’t have to chip in for heat since he all but used his room for storage while he lived abroad.
  4. Richmond, No. 2: The furnace died during a snowstorm. The components that needed to be fixed were on the roof. Lived next door to building owned by slumlord whose tenants once ran a gas-powered generator 24/7 on a wooden deck and wound up on the news. (Jacksonville, N.C., for six months while legally still living in Richmond: Local tap water smelled and tasted strongly of chemicals without a filter. The entire neighborhood was infested with palmetto bugs, as it is its natural habitat. Also briefly lived with a squatter.)
  5. Charlottesville, downstairs: Camel cricket infestation. Dryer malfunction led to brief mold problem. Hot water in the tub would not turn off. Occurred on a weekend, plumber did not come for at least three days. Upstairs tenants sang folk songs weekend mornings, including a full-on jam session one day.
  6. Charlottesville, upstairs: Entire ant colony moved into K-cup machine. Another moved into my rear passenger door. Sewage line completely failed. Roof leaked. Once got comically squirted with pressurized hose to toilet. Downstairs tenants were gamers who played at full volume at 3 a.m.
  7. Richmond, No. 3: New management wanted old tenants to leave. Clogged gutters led to the main entrance being nearly impossible to use during rainstorms. Roof leaked so badly that water cascaded from the third-floor apartment onto ours on the second floor.
  8. Richmond, No. 4: Washing machine would fill with water after completing the spin cycle. HVAC broke several times. Maintenance unclogged an upstairs drain, violently sending wastewater all over my kitchen.

Long story short: Plumbing hates me. Or at least water.

the search

Sorry, guys.

I’ve reached the point that my commute has chewed up so much of my time, I feel like sitting at my computer to do things like write is a waste of precious time.

I mean, I have personal business I’ve been deferring because I didn’t have time to deal with it. Boy, it was fun when I wrecked Nicole. I hung up on both my mom and the insurance company at points because I was also dealing with getting our Virginia Press Association award entries together on top of also not taking a day off work after being stranded at the Shannon Hill exit on Interstate 64.

I also need to ask someone a huge favor, but that person is out of town and I need to call a friend in general but I just don’t seem to have the time and I’ve noticed that I’ve been sleeping longer and longer, which is compressing my day even more.

But I’m not one to complain.


In about a month, we’ll be gearing up to move into our new digs. I was hoping for a two-bedroom place because I wanted to stay in one place for at least the next three years — when I hit 15 years in journalism — but this apartment search has been brutal. We’re down to three options, and if we need a second bedroom, we’ll figure that out when we figure it out.

Monday was a day off for me, so I went on a roughly four-hour voyage to look at a few properties. On Tuesday, if I can get to Charlottesville early enough, I’m looking at one more.

Here is what I hit Monday (ones with asterisks are viable options):

* The first place I saw was something on my bucket list: An apartment over a business. It’s a one-bedroom slightly smaller than our current place, but we can make it work. I’d have to take the leaf out of our dining table, I guess and we could put the desk in the bedroom and buy a wardrobe and some shelving. All but cable is included in the rent, and we wouldn’t have to pay pet rent because of Missy’s age. It works out to being about what we’re paying at our current place.  We also get one, maybe two, parking spaces.  I like it because of it being in the middle of things. It has a shared laundry room with the other two units and no dishwasher. I didn’t have a dishwasher for most of my life, and at least the coin laundry is literally across the hall.

The second place was kinda a dump. At least from the outside. I couldn’t see a unit because they were all full until March 2, at the earliest, and they clearly were keeping track with a legal pad. I politely took an application and threw it away later.

The third place was where I really wanted to live, per what I saw online. The property manager was a very nice lady and we talked for a while. Finally, she asked about income. When I told her, “Oh, no, that’s too much” was here response. The site said nothing about it being income restricted. Also, it was a lot for “affordable” housing. A lot. That’s why I had no idea. Also, instead of listing that it was income restricted on their site, they had a printout of other complexes to try. So I used it.

I couldn’t remember why I scratched off the fourth place during my initial search, so I went anyway. Missy weighs too much.

The fifth place was a little far off. I got to take some windy roads. It was great. That place, which was spectacular and absolutely perfect doesn’t have openings till May.

A got a call about another place I shot an email to because the online listing was lacking. No pets.

* I hit some more twisty roads and reached the sixth place. Perfect. Absolutely perfect in every way. We’d have vaulted ceilings, a balcony, a fireplace a wooded walking trail and a unit positioned in a way that we really wouldn’t have to close our blinds. It is available starting Wednesday. It is the only available unit. They apparently go fast.

* Tomorrow’s place seems like a sweet deal. It’s the closest one to work. It has all-inclusive rent. Maybe. It mentions a utility fee but does not say whether that is built into the posted price of the unit. The pet deposit is a little steep, but there is no pet rent. Even if the utility fee isn’t included in the base rent, it’s reasonable. But my spider-sense is tingling. Hopefully, I’ll find out of my wariness is unfounded.

I’m strongly leaning toward the first one. It hits all my likes. Although it’s not exposed on the inside, it’s brick and concrete block. It’s over a business in a central business district. I can walk to a lot of things. I’d be relatively closer to friends and brothers. I’ve sold myself on it and things will stay that way unless tomorrow’s place seriously blows me away.

Either way, this place will be the penultimate apartment. I’m shooting for it being the final. I eventually want to get a house, I want to use the money from selling my mom’s house to do it. That’s part of why we’ve been in apartments so far. But I don’t want to think about having to move nearly 50 years of crap out of that place just yet. I’m already too busy as it is.


The beacon of truth that shines upon the just and the unjust grew a little dimmer Jan. 18. The Hopewell News of Hopewell, Va., has closed its doors.

I was once the editor there.

I was 25 years old the first time I stepped into that building, and I had no idea what I was doing. But, damn it, I had ambition.

But I had a great mentor in the publisher at the time, Jim Smith. And I had an invaluable staff that I eventually had to pick myself.

I went with my gut a lot. I wasn’t afraid to ask questions and ask for advice. Sure, we made mistakes along the way, but when we were on it, we were on it. We went from the town joke to garnering enough interest to print a third day. We broke news sometimes days before our daily and television competitors.

We kept long hours.

We went as far as Richmond and Roanoke to bring forth stories of local interest. We almost went as far as New Jersey, and I’ll never let Katy forget that she kept me from breaking news on my vacation.

We grew and learned and loved and fought and headed off to greener pastures. Those of us who stayed in journalism became better journalist because of it. Were were a training ground. I firmly believe every journalist needs a stint in a small town.

We kept tradition going at a young paper in a young city in an old state. We penned the first drafts of history. We held elected officials accountable. We launched social media. We ventured into radio. We took home awards. We kept going because people said that we couldn’t or shouldn’t.

We provided a voice to the voiceless. We were that cliché of people who buy a failing business or abandoned building and then get a ragtag group of people armed with broom and paintbrushes and make it work.

We forged a kinship in that converted car dealership that went beyond being coworkers.

After we moved on, we constantly checked in, rooting for the underdog we once were a part of.

And now it’s gone. Abruptly. All of that grit and determination snuffed out.

The Hopewell News ranked as one of my greatest accomplishments. It still does. Nothing — not even the deletion of the online archives — can take away that great push we made during my tenure 2008 to 2012. It made us into who we are. For some of us, it made us into damn good newspapermen and women.

To name a few, Katy is now an editor herself at a major metro. Along the way, her tenacity brought forth sweeping change in state and local government. Jonathan quickly grew into his role of being the voice of local sports in the Tri-Cities. He just launched a new venture into Central Virginia sports.

And here a sit like a proud parent whenever I hear of the accomplishments of those journalists who were under my care those years. Even if they left the industry, like any rational person would do, knowing that I played a role in their journeys warms my heart.

I will forever miss The Hopewell Publishing Co., and I hope someone assumes the mantle for the betterment of the Wonder City. We need small-town papers more than we do national outlets. What goes on in your city hall affects your daily life more than anything that ever happens in Washington. The internet alone can’t fill that gap between your front door and the statehouse. A viral post from down the street without full context is just that: a virus.

“You can’t get your news from Facebook. People need to know that,” said the final editor, Adrienne Wallace, in an article in the first newspaper I ever worked, The Progress-Index.

Those words are very, very true.

starting the year off with a bang

So, there was a coastal storm on the night of the Jan. 3. It wasn’t supposed to go very far inland. The inland roads weren’t fully prepared.

I was coasting along, fully expecting to see things transition into snow in about 20 miles. I had already slowed down because there was schmutz on my windshield from a salt/sand truck I had passed way earlier. I was debating hitting the wiper cleaner, pulling over and getting the towel out of my trunk if the little squirt of wiper fluid didn’t help enough.

My windshield effectively turned to mud. I tapped the brakes.

That was snow on Interstate 64 at the Shannon Hill exit, not salt.

Nicole immediately turned 90 degrees. I did the turn with the direction of the car thing, but my car slid into a ditch. We went down and struck the other side of the ditch with the front left corner. Nicole then slid backwards a few feet and banged up the back left corner.


Seriously, the rest of the car looks perfect.

I didn’t get injured, and the airbags did not go off. There was no damage to the doors or windows or trunk or even the hood. But due to the age, mileage and the angle of impact, Nicole was totaled.

I was near a former coworker’s apartment, and he was on Interstate 64 at the time, so I wasn’t stranded for long. There was only one state trooper working on that stretch of highway, and towing companies were overwhelmed because, as Trooper K.L. Bailey — who did not give me a ticket — put it, “No one expected it here.”

I had a rental Impala for a few days, and was poised to get one from my nephew when something told me to get another Altima.

Today, I got one. She’s grey, and her name is Sydney Kazu Smith. I name all my vehicles (and my plants) after characters in novel universe. In Brown River Blues, Syd is the daughter of Edwin Montclair and Yumiko Makino and the wife of Scott Smith.


It was close to nightfall, so this is the only photo right now.

Despite it almost being precisely nine years, I weirdly don’t miss Nicole. I guess it’s because I stopped, for lack of better words, I stopped forming a close bond with my cars after Simone sustained terminal mechanical failure in 2006.

The ride and most of the features are virtually the same, despite it being a generation newer than Nicole, so there was no real moment of adjustment. I adjusted the seat and the mirrors, set up my phone and set off on a quick jaunt to Henrico County.

I like having some updated features, like Bluetooth, automatic lights and a USB port.

I hope Syd and I have many years together. As I had said with Nicole, I want to keep my Altima even if my fortunes change and I can afford a second car.

I also hope this is the last time I’m in a wreck.

he called me ‘the lawyer’


The Rev. Curtis West Harris Sr., c. 2010

Former Hopewell City Councilor and Mayor Curtis Harris called me the “The Lawyer” because of my interviewing style. I have this nasty habit of forgetting half of my interview questions, so as thing seemingly wrap up, I come back with a flurry of questions. In a way, I like that because it catches people off guard, like when Colombo did it.

Rev. Harris’ church was mostly behind the newsroom. It was the one that got caught in the crossfire about a week after the current pastor of my mom’s church in Hampton started there. Rev. Harris lived across the street from the church on what is now Rev. C.W. Harris Street, near the corner of a road now named Ruth Harris Way for his wife.

Mrs. Harris was his rock. There were countless times when he told him he couldn’t or should do something, like have another soda, and he would a boyish grin and try for it anyway. In one particular instance, he argued that he should have another one, despite the hour, because he once again was elected to the City Council.

It took a lot of effort for him to get on the council the first time.

Rev. Harris spent most of his life fighting for civil rights. He was discriminated against. He joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He marched arm-in-arm with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He was threatened. There were two unsuccessful attempts to firebomb his home. He marched to Hopewell City Hall past a group of Klansmen. He was arrested 13 times fighting for rights.

After seven unsuccessful runs for the City Council and a lawsuit to cease at-large representation for the entire city, he won in 1986. He became mayor in 1998.

He was also fought for environmental justice in a city often known only for pollution. He fought through his resignation from the council in 2012 due to a stroke. He was a bottomless well of information. He never leaked information to me. He would only give me enough to point me in the right direction. Katy and I got to know the city we were covering better through his wisdom. His office next door to his home was a treasure trove of civil rights and Hopewell history.

The world lost that Sunday when Rev. Harris died at 93, but his legacy will live on.

There is a public viewing scheduled for Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. just outside the doors of the Curtis W. Harris Sr. Library at Carter G. Woodson Middle School in Hopewell. A second view is set for 10 a.m. Monday at First Baptist Church, at the corner of Second Avenue and West Randolph Road in Hopewell, and the funeral will begin there an hour later.