Tourist With a Typewriter

Oh, Uncle Adrian, I’m in the reservation of my mind.

Month: June, 2012

I’ll Show You Mine

The quality which makes man want to write and be read is essentially a desire for self-exposure and masochism. Like one of those guys who has a compulsion to take his thing out and show it on the street. – James Jones

One Hundred Twin Peaks Fans Can’t Be Wrong

A visit to the annual Twin Peaks Festival in North Bend, WA

Published in C-VILLE Weekly 8/26/08.

reality_fantasyFriday, 7:30am. As I walk to the gas station to buy toothpaste, I get a taste of what it is that brought me here. Everywhere I look there are pine trees, tall, deep green and swaying gently in the wind. Outside my hotel window and lining every road, they move like some verdant choir, under the 4,000′ rocky spine of Mount Si, looking exactly like they do on TV. Read the rest of this entry »


I wanted to kill a monk. – Umberto Eco, when asked why he wrote The Name of the Rose.

The Discontent of the Writer

[T]his discontent is the basic trait that turns a person into a writer. Patience and toil are not enough: first, we must feel compelled to escape crowds, company, the stuff of ordinary life, and shut ourselves up in a room. … I would like to see myself as belonging to the tradition of writers who — wherever they are in the world, East or West — cut themselves off from society and shut themselves up in their rooms with their books; this is the starting point of true literature.

– Orhan Pamuk, on receiving the Nobel prize for literature in 2006

Being Tom Jefferson

C-VILLE cover story for the week of 6/19/2012. The version that appeared in print was edited down for size. Below is the longer, original version. 

“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” – Thomas Jefferson

Stephen McDowell as Thomas Jefferson. Photo by John Robinson

For a few minutes before he goes on stage, assuming that there is a stage, Rob Coles sits quietly by himself and listens to the nervous static of the crowd. He’s dressed in typical 18th century clothes; breeches, a ruffled white shirt and embroidered waistcoat, a heavy greatcoat, and buckled shoes. Soon the introduction will come (it’s always the same intro, the familiar words helping get him into character) and he will walk onstage and do what he’s done for 36 of his 60 years, wearing the costume, pretending to be somebody else. The audience knows the truth, obviously, but they’re very willing to suspend their disbelief, because he looks like him and speaks like him and because they want to be entertained. The first five minutes are the most important, and he can feel it, he can feel the moment when they let go and buy into the fantasy. He is Thomas Jefferson, come from the dead, come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all. Read the rest of this entry »

This is taped on my writing desk.

I wish I’d said, at the end of The Great Gatsby: “I’ve found my line – from now on this comes first. This is my immediate duty – without this I am nothing” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Smiths is Dead

Or, how soon is a little bit late?

A review of Girlfriend in a Coma, a Smiths cover band. Printed in C-VILLE 3/4/2008.

A little before 6pm Friday night, walking up Third Street Downtown, I see a man who looks a lot like Morrissey getting out of a Hyundai Santa Fe. His hair is styled in a proper Teddy Boy quiff and he’s wearing a very British duffel coat, the kind Paddington Bear always wore. If I squint, it could almost be the iconic, adored, former front man for The Smiths, but it’s not, it’s the lead singer forGirlfriend in a Coma, a Smiths/Morrissey tribute band from Baltimore. It’s cold and getting dark as he slings a hanger with a sport coat and silk shirt over his shoulder and heads down to Gravity Lounge to begin pretending to be a legend. Read the rest of this entry »

I Think We’re All Hillbillies on This Bus

Or, getting straight with the new bluegrass faithful on Virginia’s Crooked Road

This was the first long piece I ever wrote, my first time traveling for a story, and the first time (but certainly not the last) that a story made people angry. In many ways a milestone.

I am in Galax, Virginia, near the North Carolina border in the far southwestern snout of the state. I am far from my home, eating a “busted onion” (which is more commonly referred to as being “in bloom”) and meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables in a restaurant called Bogey’s. I am here with a group of travel writers, our Virginia Tourism Corporation minders, and assorted locals. Sitting across from me are Spencer Strickland and his wife, Leah, who are both 22. Spencer is a second-generation bluegrass musician, and I am attempting to talk to him about music.

Spencer plays guitar as well as the mandolin, so I ask him what he thinks about Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton. He doesn’t, apparently. I try to come up with music that has a little more twang, and ask him if he likes the alternative country band Wilco, or the White Stripes. He looks at me blankly, until Leah reminds him that the guy from the White Stripes recently made an album with Loretta Lynn. “Oh yeah,” Spencer says of Jack White’s effort. “That was all right.” I throw more names at him—Cole Porter, Ryan Adams, Mozart, Eddie Van Halen—but the reaction is about the same. Then Spencer, who looks like Beaver Cleaver and won Best All Around Performer at the Galax Fiddlers’ Convention when he was 19, tells me that Chris Thile from Nickel Creek is the greatest musician alive. Nickel Creek is a huge-selling progressive bluegrass band whose members look like poster children for Young Life, and whose music is not exactly an MTV staple. Spencer turns and looks at Tamra, the flak for Virginia Tourism, who has her Blackberry sitting next to her plate. “Look at that phone,” Spencer says. “You’re like Paris Hilton!”

Read the rest of the story.

The Anatomy Of A Mouthful

An account of a wine tasting at Keswick Hall on 12/5/2005. This was my first assignment  and the first piece of journalism I had published. Published in the Virginia Wine Gazette.

It is very quiet in the boardroom at Keswick hall. No one has expressly told us to be quiet, but no one seems to want to break this unspoken rule by speaking above a whisper. It is also quiet outside. Behind me the gardens are slowly being covered with snow. The room has a draft and the slight chill in the air adds to the businesslike feeling that pervades. I want to watch the snow fall on the Keswick estates, I want to stand by the fireplace and have a drink, I want to talk to the people sitting around the table with me, but I can’t. I have serious work to do. I have to taste and evaluate 40 different wines from Virginia and New York. The future of wine making on the East Coast sits in my mouth. I turn and spit into a silver bucket. Read the rest of this entry »

(Anything But) Far From The Madras Crowd

Description of day at Foxfield, the local steeplechase race that’s become a Charlottesville tradition, famous for excess in both fashion and alcohol. Published in the spring of 2006, this was my second piece for C-VILLE, and my third piece of published journalism .

As I sit in a line of traffic that seems almost Soviet in its length and sense of hopelessness, it occurs to me that the phrase “Jockey Shorts” is basically redundant. Read the rest of this entry »

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