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Our signature art museum is flagging.
Many people pinned many hopes on it, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that it’s gotten Roanoke a lot of publicity and spurred a small blizzard of art-gallery openings downtown.
But these days the museum’s visitors are rare as snowflakes in the summer. The museum has just undergone its fourth round of layoffs and Jenny Taubman, who raised a lot of the money for it, has waved goodbye to its board.
Now the media is sniffing around rumors it will be taken over by Virginia Tech, which already owns the Hotel Roanoke and the medical school building down on Reserve Avenue.
The whole idea of creating an ultra-modern museum that looks like a crash-landed flying saucer, and basing that around a collection of 19th century pursed-lipped portraits, always seemed kind of screwy.
But eventually, I came around because it appealed to my keen sense of the absurd.
I and my family have visited the place and we like it a lot. You should go, too, if you haven’t yet.
There’s something about the way art teases the senses and the soul. It can make a museum visit a profound experience.
For that reason it would be a shame if the Taubman shuts its doors. Nobody’s rooting for it to go under.
On the other hand, you know what Gen. (and later president) Dwight D. Eisenhower always said: “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”
He meant you need to anticipate every eventuality. For that reason we should anticipate the Taubman’s closing and ask ourselves, “What would or should happen to that distinctive building?”
Allow me to kick off the brainstorming with some tongue-in-cheek ideas.
Kristen, a frequently poster on this blog, went out to dinner with some friends Friday night at Red Jasmine in Vinton, which is my book is the best Thai restaurant in the Roanoke Valley and one of the better ones overall.
Here is her brief review (previously on these pages Sandi Saunders has also given it a rave):
I had the Ocean Island, which was one of the seafood dishes and it was great. We also had 2 orders of curry at the table, and one Spicy Friend. The service was great, food fresh and hot, not too spicy, and there wasn’t a scrap left. Also, their mai-tais and other frozen cocktails are a screaming deal at $4.95 – I didn’t have one, but my friends did, and we had the Thai beer which was good as well.
We talked to Nut (sp?) for a while, and she was super friendly. We’ll definitely be back.
Nut(sp?), who is from Thailand, is the owner and she’s also the hostess and a server. She’s a very nice lady.
I really don’t think you can go wrong this place if you like Thai food, which is worth trying if you haven’t.
Much of the menu is spicy fare but there’s plenty that’s not.
Well Dan, after reading your article in the paper today, I hopped in the car and made a trip “over the mountain.”
What a great impromptu trip! I took my dog – this was his maiden voyage, and even though he’s 13 he seemed to enjoy it. What a neat memory I have of the years gone bye, and of today. I brought my camera and took a few pictures, in case my memory ever betrays me.
I met two hikers sitting outside in the back – just like you said staying in the “makeshift hostel.” How quaint. They had been SOAKED in the storm yesterday because they were on top of McAfee’s Knob when it began.
One was from Austin, TX and the other from downtown Atlanta, GA. They are hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. I asked how they met, since they were living so far apart and they said they went to elementary school together! How neat is that?
They were so wonderful they even cleaned up after my dog “did what doggies do,” said one of the hikers.
After putting my dog in the car I went inside and talked to Carol Brewer and the ladies working in the store. For old times sake I bought a half pound bag of “True Blue” beans.
Thanks, once again, for the great article.
Have a good day!
CATAWBA–You can still buy “True Blue” bush bean seeds hand bagged in brown paper lunch sacks at the Catawba Valley General Store.
Or hiking staffs, night crawlers, livestock feed, ceramic cookie jars or books of Bible verses.
If you’re hungry you can feast on a half-pound burger, hand pattied by Eunice Beasley and grilled outdoors on the back porch. It’ll set you back $3.50.
And if you want to catch up on the latest news in Catawba, you can show up at 8 a.m. most days to catch “Mayor” Ray Grubbs and his cohorts in the back room, sipping their morning cups of 62-cent coffee.
But not for much longer.
Many of the store’s green and white painted wood shelves are empty of foodstuffs these days. The beer stock in the walk-in cooler is getting thin.
Owners Carol and Mark Brewer will turn the key on the front door locks Saturday night for the final time.
After that, all that remains is a big question mark.
The store, a community institution that dates back at least to 1900, is going on the auction block Oct. 15.
The Brewers, who took over from Carol’s parents five years ago, want out — of the store, which they live above in a spacious apartment, and the region where they grew up.
In May of 2009, they put it on the market for $319,000.
“A lot of people wanted it, but it’s tough to get a loan right now,” Carol Brewer said. So two weeks ago, they contacted an auction company.
The Brewers would like to move to Arizona, but that won’t happen until at least next spring. “Until this [auction] is over with we don’t have a clue what we’re going to do,” Mark Brewer said.
Neither do the Catawba Valley General Store’s longtime and loyal customers.
Those include Kim Martin, 28, who stopped by to fill up her gas tank Wednesday afternoon for the final time.
“My grandmother used to bring me here after school, and my mother, too,” Martin said with tears welling in her eyes.
“This store’s been here for lord knows how long,” she added. Asked where she’d go after Saturday, she answers, “I really don’t know.”
“It’s really a heart-breaking thing,” said Kelly Shinn, an adjunct professor at Hollins University who’s been a customer for seven years.
“You’re going to make me cry.”
You could get there from the college itself or by climbing the hill behind Fishburn Park, along Brambleton Avenue. It had nice views of the southern part of the city, and it was far removed from traffic.
For that reason, many dog-walkers have used it as an unofficial play area for their pooches.
It is no longer there, I’m sad to say.
Which kind of reminds me of that old Joni Mitchell tune, “Big Yellow Taxi.”
“They paved paradise,
Put in a parking lot.”
You can give that a listen, below.
This is a long sad story that would make some decent lyrics for a blues tune titled, “My Baby Left Me for a Married Guy Whose Wife Showed up at My Door.”
It was January 1980, and I was seeing a gal named Tina, who was seeing a married co-worker named Pete.
Pete’s wife, (I affectionately called her ‘Cocaine Sue’) found out about this and she was not pleased. The next thing I knew, she was on my doorstep with two quite spiteful tickets to see The Nighthawks, the D.C.-based blues rockers who’ve been traveling this country, and our globe, (now) for 38 years.
So on a wintry Saturday night, Sue and I climbed into her beat-up van for a 10-mile jaunt down Route 1 from College Park to American University. The Nighthawks had just signed their first big-label contract with Mercury Records, and expectations ran high.
The house was packed and the beer flowed. Legendary blues soloist John Hammond took the stage — he was the opening act. Hammond had a harmonica rigged around his neck, an acoustic guitar in his hands and a cymbal at his feet. And he played an impressive one-man band act, finishing up around 11:30.
Then he left the stage and the lights went up.
And they stayed up, for what seemed like an hour.
The anticipation was high when the lights finally went down. But it was Hammond who reappeared on the stage.
“Folks,” he announced, “The Nighthawks are on their way up from North Carolina. They’re driving through a blizzard but they think they can make it.” And then he played for another 90 minutes, finishing around 2 a.m.
The lights went up again; the beer continued flowing. It was 3 a.m. when lights dimmed again and The Nighthawks took the stage. And they treated us to one of the three best concerts I have ever seen. I don’t have the words to describe the energy on the stage that night, or the virtuoso harp work by Mark Wenner, or the guitar licks from Jimmy Thackery.
Including two encores, the band played past 6 a.m.
Dawn was breaking and snow was falling as Sue and I climbed in her van, dazed, for the ride back to College Park. Neither of us spoke until we hit Route 1 around Hyattsville, just a couple miles from home.
“I think that was the best show I’ve ever seen,” I finally mumbled.
“Me too,” she replied.
The Nighthawks are older now, and fatter and the hair that remains is grayer. They’ve played and recorded with most of the blues greats who are still alive, and many who have passed. Some of the band members have changed. Wenner, the lead singer and harp player (he is to the harmonica what John Coltrane was to the saxophone) is the only original left.
But they still put on an INCREDIBLE show. They are not to be missed.
We are lucky they grace the Star City once or twice a year. Tonight, they’re at The Coffee Pot, Roanoke’s own log-ribbed, National Historic Landmark roadhouse – $10 at the door. They’re a bargain at $25.
Be there, or be nowhere!
On Saturday, the Texas Tavern on Church Avenue turned 80.
The venerable, never-closed, value-priced restaurant is by far this town’s most famous, and that has a lot to do with the Bullington family, which has owned and operated it for generations..
The Bullingtons are honest and sturdy citizens who have earned their money via hard work, dime by dime.
The Texas Tavern’s look is distinctive, authentic and free of kitsch. Actually, it goes way beyond those terms. In its simplicity is a beauty that harks back to a bygone era.
It has qualities of a Tom Waits tune, or an Edward Hopper painting, or one of Hemingway’s short stories. It’s a clean, well-lighted place.
Not a bit of it is phony. That includes the red stools, the sassy signs, the 65 coats of red and white paint on the interior woodwork, and the restaurant’s spick-and-span metal counter.
The same goes for its wisecracking countermen.
They’re like characters from a Jim Thompson novel or a Quentin Tarantino movie. Some, like Tim Goff, who has worked there for 21 years, make careers out of the Texas Tavern.
When fourth-generation owner Matt Bullington talks about the ambience, it’s in terms of “cultural moorings.” By that he means there are very few places that never change.
The Texas Tavern is one of them, and I get every bit of that. Some people will want me hanged for the heresy that follows.
I will never understand the allure of the Texas Tavern’s food. The best thing that can be said about it is, it’s so inexpensive that you get your money’s worth.
And it’s not inedible. Neither is sawdust, but that doesn’t mean its particularly fun going down.
You could easily take everything I know about art and run it off a computer printer, fold it up and cram it into a sandwich-size plastic baggie. You would still have room for a decent PBJ.
Even so, I am a big fan of the Taubman Museum of Art.
I have plunked down my money and ambled through its upstairs galleries and felt those psyche-tickling moments while beholding works that are beautiful, intricate, awe-inspiring, funny and bizarre.
The experience is hard to describe, and well worth the $10.50 admission — take it from this art boob.
It feels a little bit like the artists are toying with your soul.
It’s far harder to comprehend the museum management’s extreme reluctance to publicly acknowledge, in specific terms, the dire financial straits it seems to be in.
Here’s just about the only other decent picture I shot on the hike with Zach Sunday. It’s just a tree, of course, not nearly as interesting as the other shot. But wow, its’ a gorgeous tree!
This on is in the neighborhood at the base of Mill Mountain, right at the bottom of Prospect Road.