hell atlantic

Freddie Hubbard and George Benson are on this. The album cover could be Goatse, for all I care.

I, uh, don’t know if you know this about me, but I really, really love driving. Although having friends or other loved ones in the cabin with me is enjoyable, my favorite driving is when I’m by myself on an open road. It’s when I think things through and relax. I either put on a playlist of truly background music or the sounds of the engine that the automakers of this decade have allowed the driver to hear.

On Sunday, I headed down to Hampton. My mother and mother-in-law neither will confirm nor deny that they coordinated me coming back down to pick up Christmas presents after we just were there for Thanksgiving. Additionally, I used my last vacation day to take my mom to the record room of the circuit court clerk’s office. I totally forgot the main thing I went in there for, but she at least got to find what she was looking for.

But that was Monday. Sunday night was The Drive.

The second time I ever went to Virginia Beach was in 2001. The first time was in 1992 when I was about to have my first unsuccessful surgery to stop snoring. Never mind that my house is only about 30 miles from the Oceanfront. Never mind that I had extensive trips throughout my life in the other six cities. It just always had this feeling of being aaaalllll the way over there and not offering anything I could get from the other six cities, like a beach or stores.

Lately ― I think because I’ve been away from the Atlantic Coastal Plain ― I’ve also been taking walks alone on the beach. So I set out to the one beach in Hampton Roads that I knew for certain did not close at night.

Moonrise over the Atlantic.

I took the “long way” to the beach. After I crossed the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, I immediately got off and took Ocean View Avenue/Shore Drive to Atlantic Avenue.

I passed Sarah Constant Beach in Norfolk. It was the first stop on the last trip my father and I had together on my last day of eighth grade in 1997. I remembered that someone was getting baptized in the Chesapeake Bay that day. In 2003, I met someone who mentioned getting baptized at Sarah Constant Beach in June 1997. There was a point in my life when I had a lot of coincidences like that.

I stopped at 33rd Street, because symbolism, and headed to the Atlantic Ocean. I was near the Neptune statue, but that wasn’t on purpose.

I wasn’t going for framing these photos correctly.

I love our beaches in the off season because they’re so quiet. Growing up, I grew to hate the summer tourism season because the roads became more clogged and the beaches full to the point that most request to go were turned down or turned into regret upon arrival.

Then Labor Day comes and goes. The tourists go away but it’s still warm enough to enjoy things. I have countless memories of the beach in those waning warm days. In high school and into college, there also was overnight camping near Grandview Beach at a spot we called The Land Behind the Tree.

Seeing the beach this late in the year was new for me. I encountered only nine people. Atlantic Avenue was dormant.

Six months from now, standing here at about 8 p.m. will be impossible.
Some businesses still were open and their party-setting music echoed in the empty streets. In the hotels, very few lights were on.

I took a slightly circuitous route home. I don’t like going back the way I came whenever I take “quick” trips, so my goal was to reach Interstate 664. That meant I had the opportunity to hit all seven cities, and I really wanted to go to Chesapeake. The family of maternal grandmother’s father goes back to at least 1819 in Norfolk County, which largely became the city of Chesapeake. Additionally, I’ve always been fascinated with the South Norfolk neighborhood in Chesapeake. It once was a separate city and then merged with the county to become the current city. It’s the only truly urban-looking part of the municipality.

I cruised down Virginia Beach Boulevard back into Norfolk, across the Campostella Bridge, down Wilson Road into Chesapeake and across the new Jordan Bridge into Portsmouth. As I headed up Elm Avenue and Effingham Street, I thought about how many people would have conniptions over me riding around P-Town at night. I quickly headed to the Western Freeway and into Suffolk, reaching my seventh city of the day.

Sunday night in the 757. A rare occasion of traveling for miles and miles without rage-inducing traffic. It was the first time in a very long time that I took a substantial ride across so much of my home. I missed being on well-lit surface streets with speed limits of 45 and 55. I missed being able to go 15 miles in a straight line and still be in an urban area.

There was a point when I pulled over on Virginia Beach Boulevard and got out of the car again. I took it in: the straight, flat roads, the air rich with the scent of land exposed by low tide. As I grow older, my irrational fear of Hampton Roads slipping into the sea sooner rather than later increases. I thought about where in Chesapeake or even Suffolk would be high enough for my liking.

I looked back at the eight lanes of U.S. 58, the road I once was stranded on in 2004. Once the longest U.S. route wholly in one state. The great line on the bottom of the commonwealth I’ve driven all but 98 miles of. In a few hours of me standing there, those eight lanes would be filled to the brim. And I would hate it.

I almost missed living here. Almost.

I disliked being there growing up for myriad reasons. The time and physical distance have softened the memories. I like this feeling of nostalgia I’m starting to have for the place. That circle I drove was a beautiful 78 miles.


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 journalists because of it. We 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 brooms 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 from 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.

Third Street

WHEN I WALKED to work from near the NewMarket Corp., I used to know if I  was on time by where I saw Radio Raheem. If he was near the plasma donation center, weaving his way through the smokers either waiting for their rides or waiting for their turns, I was late. If we crossed paths closer to Main, I was good.

The man who amplified music from an unseen device disappeared a while ago, before the plasma center moved to a location closer to its clientele of do-gooders and $50-needers, before police shot an axe-wielding man at Third and Main.

I had seen the man hours earlier when was shirted and his hands were empty. As he crossed my path, I said “RVA all day,” to myself as I noticed his kilt in the early morning. I thought not of him again until the news reports and seeing his final smudge linger on the pavement for an unusually long period across from 3rd Street Diner.

“RVA all day,” I said again.

In my younger and drunker days, I often was a denizen of that former Confederate hospital, eating mounds of food of questionable quality on tables of questionable cleanliness, surrounded on those late nights with my fellow dregs of society who first tried to fill the void with alcohol and then pancakes. Or slices from the ostensibly Italian pizzeria as the bass pulsed from the gay bar a few doors down and the back gate of the Times-Dispatch rattled as the late shifts filtered out before the nearby blocks grew as still as the terminus of Third near the Downtown Expressway or the blocks approaching and passing the convention center before the bifurcation into Fifth Street and a ramp from the interstate.

Or the portion lingering in a dying, cloven neighborhood, anchored by a church calling itself the Temple of God with the Last Day Message. And a cemetery.

welcome to miami, part two

Unfortunately, none of what happened in this video occurred during this trip.

Renée set up renting a car so we could drive to Key West on Saturday. Both of us wanted to experience driving on the Overseas Highway. We also discussed how, technically, it isn’t quite an overseas highway.

I read Freedom in the courtyard until the car was ready. I honestly don’t like the Nissan Versa. I hoped the car they gave us wouldn’t be one.



The ride down was atrocious. I was under the impression that the entire highway had been widened to four lanes, but there was a substantial two-lane section that nearly was at a standstill. At one point, Renée’s navigation app told her to turn off U.S. 1 and take a back road. At first, we thought it would bypass whatever the clog was further down the key.

Then we realized it essentially was sending us back the way we came. We lost our spot in the jam for nothing.

We went from planning to spend a part of the day in Key West to getting there shortly before sunset.

“At least I get to take a photo during the golden hour,” I said as we cruised down Roosevelt Boulevard.


Cue more ’80s music.

Since we were running out of daylight, I requested a shot at the Southernmost Point. It was the only touristy thing I wanted to do on the trip. We waited in the most orderly unsupervised line as everyone traded phones to get shots.


You can tell I’m on vacation because my shirt isn’t tucked in.

Afterward, we had Thai food that was so insultingly mediocre, I refuse to name the place.

We didn’t get back until well after 2 a.m. On my ride back I also wound up in traffic. I still don’t understand.

On Sunday, we returned the car by way of a long drive along the island in a quest for gas for less than $3 a gallon. Afterward, we had brunch at CVI.CHE 105 with Kris. Once again, I had a giant bowl of octopus bits and other cephalopods, crustaceans and bivalves. It was absolutely delicious.

There were plans to hang out with some other people that fell through so I suggested that we return to RedBar, because RedBar. I can’t wait to go back for a third time. And fourth.

While having insanely potent drinks, I would up playing an intense game of Jenga with a dudebro that I wound up losing. I owed the guy a shot for losing, and not long after, he passed out. In the bar.

I kind wish I had a Sharpie on me.

The next day was our last full day. Our recovery from the night before was part of the reason we didn’t leave the room until about 4 p.m. I still wasn’t 100 percent when we ate more Peruvian food at Chalan on the  Beach. Once again, I had the fruits of the sea.

A short nap after that restored me and we set out for the beach one last time.


Last night in South Beach.

While we sat on that beach, a remarkable thing happened. I looked up at Renée’s face and could almost feel my writer’s block falling away. It was a beautiful moment. I was elated. I was inspired. I wanted to start writing right that very second. This trip precisely was what I needed.

We had our last dish of the trip was at Cheeseburger Baby. I didn’t have a cheeseburger, but Renée did. At some point, we lost our condiments. We both saw the waitress put them in our bag but they were nowhere to be found when we got back to our room. It was delicious all the same.

We swore we’d call it a night early, because our flight was early. It didn’t happen, partially since the hotel had a laundry facility and we didn’t want to travel home with sweaty clothes. We wound up taking what should count as a nap.

On the trip back home, I lost my license in the airport. I dropped it sometime after the TSA checkpoint when we were herded through like so much cattle. I hope some 19-year-old enjoys all the drinks.

I’m still in a state of relaxation from the trip. I’ve been so wound up and mentally battered and bruised for days, months and years, and finally feeling like myself again is just incredible.

Can someone remind me why I don’t like going on vacation?


Vacation mode.


I love you, sis.

Theresa. May 13, 1969-May 6, 2015.

You big-headed galoot.

My eldest sister, Theresa, and I were watching Looney Tunes one day, and Yosemite Sam called Bugs Bunny a “long-eared galoot.” We thought the phrasing was hilarious for some reason.

It also sounded like a Robinson-worth insult. Before the day was over, one of us called the other a big-headed galoot. It stuck.

For years and years, we called each other that. Depending on the situation it was the beginning of the fight, the escalation of an argument or a greeting.

On Wednesday, my big-headed galoot left me. Theresa died of complications from multiple sclerosis a week before her 46th birthday.

Although we were 14 years apart, we were incredibly close. She named me while my mother was still out of it and my dad wasn’t at the hospital yet. I was almost always invited to tag along whenever she hung out with her friends. It’s part of the reason why I know so much about ’80s culture and identify more with the Xers. She loved anything that was purple and, of course, loved Prince and his “Purple Rain” — the film, album and song. I co-opted her love of Prince, because I really had no choice, and you can see me on occasion singing Theresa’s favorite song at karaoke.

I proudly crashed her prom photos to the point that, 14 years after I was born, she had a kid and, 14 years after her prom, she drove over to our mom’s house and plopped that kid front and center for one of my prom photos. For us, it never was about winning the battle, it was about winning the war.

I was an exceptional tattler, but I could play being the innocent one. I once slipped and fell into a pond. After being pulled to safety, Theresa got me somewhere to take a shower and all my clothes were washed. The entire time, I swore, I absolutely swore that it was between the two of us. As soon as we got home, I told my mom that Theresa didn’t watch me well enough so I fell in a pond.

I was grinning the entire time I wrote that previous paragraph.

Because of Theresa, I am the silent treatment champion. I can guarantee I won’t crack first because I discovered that she couldn’t bear the thought of her baby brother never speaking to her again.

Because of Theresa, I can be sneaky as all get-out. Ask me how to get down a creaky staircase, out the front door and into the car without making a sound.

Because of Theresa, I can not only keep a secret, but be loyal enough to rub it in your face all day and all night and never tell. She once told me a secret. It will go to my grave.

Because of Theresa, I always had someone there for me.

There were times that you would think we were twins because of how much we thought alike. You would think we already had 14 years of stories and adventures by the time I was 4. But, despite learning every conceivable way of annoying her in the greatest possible way, I considered her my second mom.

She not only saw me off to my first day of kindergarten, she sobbed at the bus stop because her baby brother was growing up. Whenever our parents weren’t around and something happened, she could switch gears in a flash. It was obvious when she was in Mom Mode. Sibling fun and games were definitely over.

But she was also irresponsible enough to think letting a 10-year-old drive her car because she was hungover and wanted some seafood. I promptly steered into a ditch because I didn’t realize you really, really had to turn the steering wheel.

That was another tattletale moment.

One day, Theresa met a boy and moved with him to Maryland and then got married. I was despondent for days because my sister left me. But, thanks to the wonders of 1990s technology, she was only a (short) long-distance call away. I got used to her being the disembodied voice and looked forward to every summer.

Not long after school let out, we’d pack up some of my things and we start the long, three-hour drive up U.S. 17 to U.S. 301 and then to Lexington Park, Maryland. Sometimes, we would meet halfway at the Burger King in Tappahannock to switch cars. After years and years of it at least being a food and bathroom waypoint, it took me until 2002 to take a look around the town.

In Lexington Park, in those apartments that are now called St. Mary’s Landing, it was like we’d only been apart for a day. But, as I got older, it fully sank in that she was an adult and I couldn’t expect her to pause around age 26 until I caught up.

It sank in more when we learned she was pregnant with my nephew Tré. I was there that summer in 1997. I was in the hospital in Leonardtown, Maryland, the day he was born. I held him in my 14-year-old arms.

Although that was a great day, it was the beginning of the end. Unbeknownst to us, Theresa was beginning to show the symptoms of MS. Once we figured it out, we were told not to worry because, although it wasn’t treatable, it was manageable to the point that she could live a long, relatively healthy life. It was helpful that she had the relapsing-remitting form, they said. Never mind that one of the first bouts effectively paralyzed her for a while. So we went about our business: Theresa moved back to Hampton in 1998. My niece Shonda was born a year later. The new family had a house built. My nephew Michael was born. Although I had no idea where I’d go for college and where I’d be beyond that, I began thinking about how I’d stop by one day, watch the kids play and tell my sister about some ridiculous college story as we sipped on beers.

Instead, the disease turned malignant. She tripped and fell one night, breaking her ankle. She was in a wheelchair while it healed, but that night was the last one in which she was able to walk. We still kept our spirits up. It would be nothing for me to stop by while I was in college at Christopher Newport University to push her out of her house on Allison Sutton Drive, guide her into my car tell her some ridiculous college story and head to get cheesesteaks, a Smitty’s Better Burger with cheese, Dairy Queen or, our nostalgia food, Taco Bell.

But, by then, she was losing the ability to use any of her limbs.

Back in the early ’90s, when she got married, I was to keep her from stress eating to the point that she couldn’t fit in her wedding dress. I was still in Fat Elliott mode, so hells yes, let’s go to Taco Bell at 12:45 a.m. She barely fit in her dress.

By the time I was packing up to head to Petersburg, she was effectively bedridden. And her husband was headed to Stafford and then Hawaii with the kids. Theresa wound up at my mom’s house in what was our dining room/den because my mom doesn’t have a first-floor bedroom. One of my first memories is of her celebrating her 16th birthday roughly in the spot her hospital bed occupied.

It was strange. This time, I was the one in a different area code calling the sibling in my mother’s house. She had a custom-made wheelchair by then and my mom had a hard time transporting her for anything more than doctor’s visits because of it unless she made arrangements with someone to haul it. In retrospect, a van wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

That didn’t stop me. When I came to visit, I would sometimes wheel my sister out to my car and we’d at least go for a ride.

Then things worsened again. Not long after Grandma died in 2008, MS struck Theresa’s vocal cords. My sister — who, after fighting, was best known for yelling and cussing — was silenced. After nearly 25 years of feedback, I didn’t know what to say to her beyond idle updates. My time with her was reduced to sitting by her bedside in silence as the TV blared.

For about seven years, my trips home have been to see nearly every trace of my sister disappear into that atrophied shell. I didn’t start mourning her loss when Ma called while I was driving on High Street between Park and Seventh streets in Charlottesville — I’ve been mourning my sister for all those years.

Despite that, I still wasn’t ready for her death. Before her diagnosis, I thought I’d be at least 70 when I had to think about burying Theresa. I hoped for the chance that someone, somewhere would find at least a partial cure. Instead, I’ll see her in person one last time on Thursday, the day after her birthday.

I miss my sister. I’ve missed my sister with every ounce of my being for years, but she’s now free of that damnable disease. And we made the most of the short time we had together.

I love you, Theresa.

You big-headed galoot.

post of the year

Obviously, writing about the wedding wins this year’s post of the year.

The only problem is that I never wrote a detailed entry about getting married. I never even dumped some of the photos into a entry with captions. It was one of those moments I wanted to document in my head instead of on my website, and what I was told was true: Once it starts, it’s just a blur. A beautiful, beautiful blur. Having your last seconds of being 30 tick away by seeing the woman you’ve loved since you were 18 walk down the aisle toward you is beyond words.

I got married 10 years and 21 days after I started this blog in the living room of my fraternity house.

Who would think there would be a wedding @ exit265c.com.

post of the year

This year wasn’t hard to figure out. As I lived my first calendar year in Charlottesville, the biggest change in my life happened 75 miles away atop Chimborazo hill.

When Matt, Shaunelle and Loaf moved away, my home/home away from home was gone. But it was another moment of growing up.

I’m now sitting in the living room of the house to which I’ll return after walking down the aisle. I’ll always remember living in Church Hill, though.

I miss walking to Alamo, Capt. Buzzy’s the (defunct) OMG Café, Ben’s Barber Shop, Farm Fresh, the overlooks, the James River; seeing our nosy neighbor, the colorful but mostly benign pedestrians, the trash, the historic brick and granite, the hardwood floors; relaxing on the back deck, at a massive party downstairs, on evenings on the front porch, on Shaunelle’s balcony; Richmond.

But I can say I was there, it was good to be there and, if I had to do it again then trade it for what I have here, I would. This is no Richmond, but working here is no Tri-Cities, no Jacksonville. Not to say I don’t miss either. I must say I was stagnating down there. I’m growing and changing here with Renée and, who knows? I could be back. Or the future holds a city that Richmond pales in comparison.

I could barely write that with a straight face. RVA All Day.

RVA is in my blood now. I may be gone, but I’m there. That house may be gone, but it’s ours. I’m looking forward to saying that about another place soon. A place I can call home.