Full Circle

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The tragic events of this summer remind one of a tree with roots that run deeply into the soul of the American consciousness… but bring no nourishment, but indeed offer the truffles of modern-day strange fruit.  The senseless tragedy of nine brave souls, struck down in the very essence of living, makes no sense to man.

And yet… there is a reason why.

God showed up at Mother Emanuel on that hot day in June when Dylann Roof did his worst.
He did not reside in the molten rain of hot jacketed lead as it mowed down the hale and hearty like cows under a tree struck by lightning. He wasn’t found in pools of crimson essence on the basement floor. And he wasn’t found in the wails of the living, and the collective gasps as South Carolina and the nation reeled in horror.

God instead, planted himself in a movement. A movement that started with the belief that this horrible massacre needed to result in a sense of purpose. He spirited himself into the acts and action of a governor who never spoke before on matters of diversity and division. He breathed fire into the heart of a Charleston politician, Jenny Horne, who blew warm with her impassioned of her fellow legislators, also not of color, to do the honorable thing. And He resounded in the song of Paul Thurmond. A son of the vintage South, his father Strom may have been hard pressed to believe what came from his lips. Young Thurmond implored the removal of a symbol that, at once personified a system that let one man own another, and glorified the unmitigated hate of groups and factions that believe neither in content nor character.

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The day they drove old Dixie down on the State House steps dawned bright and sunny as I made my way from Charlotte to Columbia.

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The crowd there was small at first, but grew to the thousands as they waited, some in patience, some in song of protest, and some in resigned reverence to the setting of a sullied symbol. They looked on as an emissary dressed in white ordered that the Confederate battle flag be removed.

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State troopers, in their formal finery, marched to the flagpole, retrieved the flag and removed it forever. Shouts, songs and applause followed from some… while others stood witness of the furling of the flag in silent, palpable pain. Yet, God’s hand was there on those courtyard steps.

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Agreeable men and women agreed to disagree on this day, with resolve but no resistance…

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as both sides retreated, this battle over.

This left the dead at a place of power in remembrance… and that takes us back to Mother Emanuel.
On a Sunday evening, a couple of months removed from the massacre, I found myself on her steps as the sun dove toward the darkness in Charleston.
As I walked up to the church, I was rendered speechless in the awesome power of tribute.

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Flowers, flags, fruit, mobiles of birds in nearby trees, and most poignantly a small Teddy bear on the ground by the fence of the weathered old church spoke to the wishes of the visiting crowds to share their grief and honor the dead. Those visitors that did speak, spoke in hushed, reverent tones much as onlookers at the Tomb of the Unknowns do at Arlington National Cemetery. The solemnity of the visitors spoke much… and yet there was more.
I have never, NEVER felt more of a presence of God’s covering hand of peace over a place in my life. The calmness that emanated from those artifacts spoke to the Creator working through those that sacrificed their being to live on through deeds, words and symbols… removed, and reverently aging on a graying evening in twilight Charleston.

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And in this circle of pain around this holy place, the beacon of God’s grace continues to beckon men and women to a better way… a way that came full circle on Statehouse steps as the remnant of a peculiar institution was looked, and locked away to its rightful location. For God has shown up at Mother Emanuel, pulled up nine chairs and vowed to stay awhile.

Great Scott! A review of Scott’s Barbecue, in Hemingway, SC.

Note: As I run across previous reviews, I’m adding them to the blog. This one was written exactly one year ago.

Sometimes, being a Buffalo Soldier means taking one for the team… a trip, that is. Not wanting to let my fellow Soldier, Triple Threat, ride alone to Myrtle Beach, I decided to accompany him there. We figured we’d stop along the way to Myrtle to cut the dust of the trail.

Not far off a direct line to that beach out of Charlotte, lies the small town of Hemingway, South Carolina. If you find yourself on State Highway 41, your path, indeed if not your nose, will take you to Scott’s Barbecue.

It’s in what appears to be an old service station that has been repurposed into a house of gastronomic repute. Next door is a building that resembles an old Quonset hut, and the blue smoke that rises from testifies to the magic that is being made within.

The business is run by Rodney Scott… who is no stranger to readers of the New York Times. He and his business has been mentioned several times in that noble instrument… most recently when Scott was awarded Best Chef Southeast by the James Beard Foundation. Scott has parleyed his fortunes in Hemingway into a second location in Charleston. We will visit there on another occasion, but we’ll talk about the “mother chapter,” so to speak, right now.

To visit Scott’s is to go back in time. You walk up and you’re greeted warmly by the gentlemen sitting on the bench on the porch. When you enter the door and look around, you see mementos of Scott’s fame and days gone by.

Clippings. Candy. Bread. Coolers of soft drinks. Ceramic pigs, and peanuts in plastic bags.

A picture of SC Congressman Jim Clyburn and President Obama on the wall. And… four of the nicest, sweetest ladies you’ll ever care to meet.

One of them is Mrs. Ella Scott, Rodney’s mother. She doesn’t know a stranger and will make you feel right at home. The other three reside behind the counter, boxing up pulled pork, ribs and sides.

Triple Threat and I ordered ribs.

Let me begin with this. At $8.50 for a plate of some of the meatiest, juiciest ribs that you’ll ever want to see, you’ve won before you’ve taken a bite. They’re served with two slices of white bread, beans and slaw… though other sides are available as well… but I digress. The ribs are as I said… rich, meaty and delightful… just salty enough, and with just-enough firmness to make them succulent and inspiring. They’re dabbed with Scott’s barbecue sauce, which is vinegar, spices, and I’m guessing, just a hint of ketchup.

They were, in a word, wonderful. Yet… something was missing for me… and I have to say it… it was the sauce. Maybe I shouldn’t be predisposed, but I’m used to sauce on ribs. Now, I’ve had Scott’s pulled pork before, and the sauce with that is the stuff that wins awards and keeps people driving up from Timmonsville to Toledo. Yet, with the ribs… I found myself wishing for something that was a little more substantial… something that “sticks to your ribs” just a little more. I don’t presume to tell folks that they need something in addition to what they already have… but a thicker sauce for ribs would be just the thing.

They were the main attraction. The cole slaw was creamy enough, and the beans were… beans. You don’t come there for either. You come there for the meat, and as a practicing carnivore, that was enough for me.

Still… I’d love to make my acquaintance with Scott’s rib sauce, if they ever get it.

On Train’s “Ain’t It Good / Good It Ain’t” ™ scale, it gets 3 ½ “ain’t it goods!” with the only negative being, in my opinion, my wanting to be in the sauce.

A Heroic Ride In The Rain

Mr. Harold Johnson, 82nd Airborne Division, WWII.


Where does your ride begin?  Does it begin when you sit down, hit that starter button and go kickstand up? Is it when you finally clear traffic, hit the open road and listen to your motor sing away the miles?  Or can it start somewhere else… not even part of asphalt, wind and weather?

There was a gathering of Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers in Fayetteville, North Carolina today… right in the home of the 82ndAirborne Division. The forecast called for rain, and rain it did… so much so that I thought the charity ride in Fayetteville we traveled for was called off.

Raindrops on Amani’s windshield were a blessing in disguise.

It caused a change of my plans.

Instead of meeting to ride out across pristine farm country, I sat in a hotel room while my horse took a bath in transient downpours.

We were going to meet this morning for breakfast, but I decided to go down and have a bite in the hotel’s hot bar. 

As I was nibbling on some semi-plastic sausage, a family of three came in.  They were a couple, and an older gentleman, braced with his cane but still alert with life in his dark, flashing eyes, and with his Army tunic on.   They were looking for a place to sit, and not seeing one, were preparing to leave so I decided to give them my table.  

A fellow soldier thanks Mr. Johnson for his service.

They were gracious enough to ask me to join them.  I did, and that’s where this ride started… with the humbling tale of another voyager, Mr. Harold Johnson, a veteran who was revisiting his old home base.

War tested and a living testimony to perseverance.

His worn, tough yet graceful fingers gave a testimony to a long, vibrant life.  Harold is 97 years old.  Born of a Swedish mother and immigrant Swedish father, he lived his life in Indiana until World War II came calling.  He had no choice but to answer, because he was drafted.  

He volunteered for paratrooper duty in the 82ndbecause it paid an extra $5 a month for the privilege of jumping out of perfectly good airplanes.  Finding himself on Anzio beach, yes that Anzio of historic infamy, he also found himself under a horrible reality.  

An enemy shell from a train car howitzer exploded next to his foxhole, burying him alive and crushing his ribcage.  If not for his buddies frantically digging him out of the dirt and carnage, and the smile of dear Providence, his story would have ended there. 

It didn’t.  Harold walked ten miles to a hospital tent to have his broken ribs tended to… all the while holding his shirt off of his battered, bleeding torso to keep his raw wounds from hurting him even more.  Six days of having his ribs wrapped in tight bandages later… he was rewarded. 

He was sent back to the front lines, and only missed going to Normandy for D-Day because the 82ndwas split into two parts, the 504thand 505th… and the 504thstayed in Italy.

Harold left WWII behind and flourished with a distributorship in the Midwest while raising a family with his wife.  He left his business with his sons, but a downturn caused it to go under and he lost everything.  

Even with that, he was able to amass enough to live comfortably on his own terms… because this 97-year old youngster remains on his own in the same six-room home he and his wife shared until her passing four years ago.

Johnson says a number of things have come together to help him live to a remarkable age.  He neither smoked nor drank… nor ate a vegetable in his life except corn and potatoes… does 60 sit-ups a day before his feet hit the floor… and he eats to live, not the other way around.  While at the table, he ate part of a tiny Cinnabon and a pancake. 

But it was hard for him to eat alone, because time and time again people came over to thank him for his service… and he greeted them all with that same warm, caring demeanor and flashing eyes, still full of live and warmth and vigor. 

Greensboro Buffalo Soldier “Black” offers a hand salute.

His daughter Jill and son-in-law Ken marvel at his vigor…

Ken and Jill West.

…and say his siblings all lived long lives as he has.  

The medals on his chest testify to his valor, and his humble ways belie courage under fire that few of us can even imagine, let alone face with resolve and courage.  For he says, “Life is what you want to make of it.  Most people don’t.”

God has blessed this man immensely.  From being buried alive on Anzio and having to walk ten miles for treatment… to losing it all at a business version of pitch and toss… but being able to keep standing despite it all… his life rides on while he resides in the handlebars of God’s mercy and love.  

For me, my Fayetteville ride will not be of the whisper of the elements at speed, or the brotherhood of thunder and smoke… but the simple elegance of a life well lived.  

A warm remembrance.

It’s a testimony to the belief that it is indeed not about the destination, but the journey… and it’s not when, or why you get there… but how.  And most of all, it’s a testimony to the grace that God grants us in all of our lives.

Wherever your ride begins… and it may not be where you planned… may it have the grace that Harold Johnson has found and may it be as joyful.  

What’s Up, Dock? A Review of Dockside at Lady’s Island, SC.

Note: This was written in Facebook two years ago. I’m migrating earlier reviews from there to here.

Three days of hard riding found Enchantress/Electra (she’s undergoing a name change) and I in Beaufort, SC on our way home from Daytona. At the hotel, a question about where to find some good seafood was quickly and enthusiastically answered by a staff member, who recommended going across the Beaufort River to Dockside, on Lady’s Island. (Might I add that you can’t beat the accommodations for the price at the Quality Inn at Town Center in Beaufort. We got there just in time to crash a wedding!)

Just in time for the reception!

A chilly wind that blew thunderstorms across much of NC and SC further north pelted us as we rode across the bridge to arrive at Dockside. The restaurant is on the riverfront and it strikes you as a boarding platform for an adventure into gastronomic delights.

When I walked up the gangplank, and into the restaurant, I greeted by a young lady who, in the Biblical sense was “great with child.” However, she displayed great hustle, determination and grit as she demonstrated amazing project manager skills in moving crew, food and guests in and out of the bustling establishment. More on grit (or grits) later, but for now…

After being seated, I took a look at the menu. Seafood lovers across the South are used to finding a “Captain Whomever” in just about any town, and so they are used to seeing on the menu a fried version of just about anything that thinks about breathing water. They had much of the same, but other upscale choices, like Frogmore Stew, also known as “low country boil.” This delightful dish features corn, potatoes, shrimp, sausage and other foodstuffs in a pot flavored with Old Bay. Not everyone offers this, and I thought it was a great thing for the chef to make available. Other notables on the menu were scallops piccata over pasta, and surf and turf.

I settled on my usual whiskey sour and then got down to the business of ordering. However, before I ordered, the server brought to the table herbed butter and two types of bread.

One was a warm cornbread with more than a hint of sweetness, noticeable but not at all objectionable. The other was two breadsticks like none you have ever seen. Hot, yeasty, doughy, soury (if soury’s a word… if not it is now!) and with a wonderful pull to separate, it played well with the butter and threatened to destroy the rest of the meal. I resisted temptation though, and held out for the main event.

Between she-crab soup and clam chowder (two of my holy trinities, lobster bisque being the third) I selected the she-crab soup… and the soup was the thing, as far as I was concerned.

It came presented with just a touch of finely minced parsley on top, and when a spoon was dipped into its oooey, savory goodness with just a hint of spice, the tongue was rewarded with a coating of clairvoyant delight… as if I was returning to the sea from whence we spawned millennia ago. There was wonderment for the tooth as well in soft shards of succulent crab that decorated and permeated every bite. I wanted to pick up the bowl… but decorum won that battle, and I moved on.

Time has taken its toll on my ability to consume, in the words of the Coneheads, “mass quantities” of anything… so, instead of the Frogmore Stew that called to me as Sirens in a plated island, I chose scallops. However, I went a little off menu… and maybe that was my mistake.

Instead of the scallops piccata that I talked about earlier, I went with broiled scallops, with the piccata sauce and stone ground cheddar cheese grits.

In a word, the scallops were disappointing. They came to me in a black oven ready plate with a covering of seasoning that didn’t execute what it promised visually. There was a lemon wedge on the plate, and I squeezed the lemon over the scallops before taking a bite. When I did, it was like biting into a sales pitch that overpromised and underdelivered. They were scallops sure enough, but just that… and without flavor to the point that I asked my server where the piccata sauce was. She said “it’s there,” and at that point I immediately asked for drawn butter and then, added salt.

My experience with the grits was similar. They appeared well prepared, with hints of cheesy appeal… but when I bit into them, three things happened in my palate. First, there was the recognition of good stone ground grits. Second, there was the recognition of cheese in the mix. Third, there was nothing… nothing at all. They tasted of water, some cheese, and grits. Many people kick their grits up a notch by adding some sort of stock… chicken, or vegetable for those who do not choose meat in their diets… but these grits had nothing… not even salt. Salt covers a multitude of sins, and so does butter.

Two quick observations…. Close to me sat a mother, father and little daughter. Dad was feeding his baby off of his plate and she loved it… until it came to the grits. She took one bite and refused any more. Second, the aforementioned butter helped, but did not save, the grits.

As I was getting out my card to pay the bill, I heard my server say to the next table “Hi, I’m …, your server for the evening. I’ll be taking care of you.” I was wondering what her name was… and now I knew.

Dockside does a lot of business, so people have to like it. And as I said, the she-crab soup was to die for. Maybe the kitchen had an off night… and I’d be happy to give them a second chance. But on this night, on my “Ain’t It Good/Good It Ain’t” scale, I’d have to give them a 2½ thumbs up out of 4 on the strength of the she-crab soup.

That’s all, folks!

The Chef and The Farmer: Sow a Seed, Serve a Harvest 

Whom among us hasn’t heard the story of Vivian Howard… the heroine of Deep Run, North Carolina who took her talents to New York City, only to return to the good old North State and set up a thriving restaurant in the town of Kinston.  There, in the midst of an expanse of both abandoned downtown buildings, vibrant new growth and a memorial to a Confederate ironclad that never saw battle, (CSS Neuse) beams a Mecca of just doggone fine eatin’.  
Or so they say. 
Let me begin by saying that I’m a huge fan of NC public television’s food (and I use the term loosely, he makes food friends easily) critic Bob Garner.  The way the man pursues his craft is just a thing of beauty when he takes a bite of something he likes.  Bob is to food as Santa is to Christmas… you can’t imagine one without the other… but more on Bob later. 
As I said, “so they say…” and they had said it enough to make me curious. It was my 63rd birthday, and so my SO decided to treat me to a dinner at the very place that I’ve heard much of for years.  I’ve enjoyed watching Vivian’s struggles to get The Chef And The Farmer crafted in the likeness of her vision, and, though I’m not as open to some of her more exotic rustic offerings as maybe I should be, I’ll venture to say I do like good food when I come across it.  
With the mission set, we rolled out of Charlotte for Kinston, looking forward to what we hoped would be a meal to remember. 
I won’t bore you with the details of our trip, but let’s just say that, even for one who does several hundred miles a day on a motorcycle without a second thought… it was a long, 230 mile ride from Charlotte.  
We arrived at the restaurant and were promptly greeted, seated and offered a menu, that I had been waiting on for years now.

Upon reading the menu, I was disappointed.
I thought that there would be more offerings on it than I saw.  Milady said to me that she had read the menu (it changes daily) online and that she knew the offerings were not a lot.  I said to her, “this is a long way to ride for this…” and stayed in my disappointment. 
Until my first bite of my pimiento cheese grits.  I had to get that in… and I didn’t say it loud enough.  UNTIL MY FIRST BITE OF MY PIMIENTO CHEESE GRITS.
Wait… let me calm down and digress. 
She ordered the Jedd’s Lettuce salad.
I ordered the pimiento cheese grits, and we ordered a pizza together.   Her salad was what they called “Caesarish,” with romaine lettuce delightfully brushed with dressing, with breadcrumbs, Parmesan shavings, sliced portobello and bacon throughout.  As she took a bite of that, I was sampling the grits.  
The sampling turned into a full-on mouth party in the second bite.  As a lover of shrimp and grits, I’ve had them all over the place.  These are the best “and grits” I’ve ever had.  It was served with a savory, thinly sliced medallion of country ham that the server said was like bacon, and to crumble it over my grits and cheese.  I did, and he missed.  The ham wasn’t like bacon, but a thicker prosciutto that (you’ve heard it before) “kicked it up a notch.”  And the ham, the delicately flavored pimiento with the buttery Guilford Mill grits, took everything over the moon.
Meanwhile, she, in between bites of the salad, said it was really good and we should try to make it at home.  In fact, she loved the salad as much as I loved the grits.  
The pizza arrived, with peppers from South Africa, Italian sausage and a whey-less Mozzarella adorning the crust.  It had a delicious undercurrent of heat on top of the traditional pizza flavorings, that was accented by a garlic sauce that replaced the traditional tomato.  It too was a delight in flavor, from its crispy crust to its melted Mozzarella goodness. 
One thing we noted was it was clear to us, after they cleared away our appetizers, that our entrees were started as soon as they cleared the table so they would arrive hot.  
And they did. 
She ordered the Brittany pork chops, which because they had run out of chops, were prepared with tenderloin.  I ordered a ribeye.  
The ribeye was huge.  It was what some would call a “cowboy” cut, bone in, dark and lovely. (with apologies to Stevie Wonder and that song)  There were tiny pools of butter on the surface of it, which descended into the medium rare slices as it was cut and went from fork to flavor.  My goodness.  There’s nothing like a steak, pan fried, basted with butter and either thyme, rosemary or both.  This steak beat that by a mile.  There were spices added to the salt and pepper that added a note of savoriness that I had not experienced before.  Our server, Jose G, said the steak was dusted with an Asian-sourced powder.  I believe it, and I can name damn near every Charlotte high end steak house that would easily take second place. The mashed potatoes and broccolini accompaniment held their own, and that’s not to damn them with faint praise… but served more as a break for your delighted taste buds to take some well-deserved R&R… before they went back to what they did best.  I paired it with a fine Columbia Valley (my personal preference over California wines) cab.
Meanwhile, I was allowed to sample the pork Brittany.  Wow.  Even more flavor than the steak.  Goodness jumped through my mouth as if it were a pinball from Tommy’s fingers. Slightly briny and sweet, it resonated over and over with every delicious bite.  
Too stuffed for desert, and happy as clams, we settled for an after dinner coffee and called it a night… but not before being offered a sampling of collard chips.
Flash fried, then liberally dusted with sea salt, they brought back to life the earthiness of long summer days on my grandfather’s farm, and the delightful, robust flavors from what the farm offered as reward for our labors.
EPILOGUE:
It was so good, if you were in a church, the pastor would say “Turn to your neighbor and say ‘Amen.'” And it would be at that moment, when I wish my neighbor would be Bob Garner. The man would be in gastronomic ecstasy. Not to worry, though. We upheld his tradition in similar fashion, and savored every delicious bite. 
TAKEAWAYS:
*Not a large selection but what they do offer they do EXTREMELY well
*The menu changes nightly according to what they source 
*The staff is knowledgeable about what they serve, and enjoy what they do
*It’s worth the drive.  Well worth it. 

IF YOU’RE GOING:

The Chef And The Farmer is located at: 120 W Gordon St, Kinston, NC 28501. 252.208.2433. Don’t leave home without making a reservation.

AND FINALLY:
On our “Ain’t It Good/Good It Ain’t” ™ scale, Chef And The Farmer gets 4 out of 4 “Ain’t It Goods.” Lawd hammercy.

Band of Brothers, Sisters (And Sister!)


No matter what kind of motorcycle club you belong to… there is one thing that they all have in common. You ride.  You must ride, or you defeat the founding purpose of why you wear the colors… so you ride with your members whenever you can.  

Such was the case on a Monday morning.  The day dawned clear and cold, as six Soldiers gathered at a service station in west Charlotte.  Our destination was Spartanburg, for breakfast, and then a ride back.  So off we went.  I was chosen to lead the formation because I had been to the restaurant before.  

Six of us turned right out of the station, turned right again onto the access ramp for 85 south, and our tail gunner made it easy to progress, one lane at a time, over to the passing lane.  Here we go! 

Or so we thought.  

It seems that one of us, in his haste to gas up, left the accessory door open on his bike, and his wallet fell out as we found our cruising speed.  It was just about then, as others were shouting over CB that something had fallen from his bike, that I (yes, it was me!) looked down to find that my wallet had fallen out.   

Quickly moving to the right lane, we stopped and I told the guys I would go back and try to find it. I rolled back up the road, and looked… but no luck.  

‘When I arrived back to the group, Enterprise stepped up and said,  “Here’s the plan.  We’re going to go back, and get back on 85 where we got on.  We have six of us.  Two in each lane, we’re going to go back and ease down the road until we find it. “

That’s exactly what we did… and we found the wallet, and pulled over.  It was mostly intact.  Mostly, because 70-80 MPH traffic had turned it into a shadow of its former self… the plastic window ripped out, and its contents God-only-knew-where all over 85. I was not a happy camper.  5 credit cards, license, checkbook, carry permit and business cards all missing.   This time, Triple Threat and Enterprise took the lead, starting back up the road to head back to where they saw the wallet fall.  

It took a half a mile, and an hour and a half.  During this time, a young lady that stopped to help out aided us.  Turns out she is called Tiger Lady, and no longer has a bike… but as she said, “Once a rider, always a rider.”   

Through the diligence of Enterprise, Triple Threat, Intersection, DaKeepa and Scoop, everything was found except for two cards, which were quickly canceled and replaced. 

By this time, the 30 – something degree morning had turned into the 60s, and heated suits, long Johns and leather jackets had turned into moveable saunas.  We rode to a nearby gas station, reevaluated our day, decided on a shorter ride to a buffet diner we knew in Gastonia.  After saying bye to Tiger Lady, we set off for Market Place. only to find it closed for Presidents day. 

Feeling slightly snakebit, we finally headed for Cracker Barrel where we enjoyed a great brunch.  

All of this is how this particular ride went… and it’s a testimony to many rides because they may start as one thing, but evolve into another.  We didn’t plan to spend most of the morning going through weeds, mud and other road filth… but we did.  We didn’t expect to meet another gracious rider, but we did… And we didn’t expect to have to settle for door #3 to eat… but we did.  

But here’s the remarkable thing.  

It would have been easy for the guys to say: “screw it… we’re going to breakfast without you.” In fact, I asked that they do just that. But they didn’t.  They didn’t complain, didn’t get pissed off, and didn’t cuss me out.  To a man, they just did what Soldiers do, and it was a heartwarming thing to see.  

To take that point further, after eating, those of us who could went to see our fellow Soldier, Road Dog, who has suffered a stroke and is stepping up to the challenge with the fighting spirit that you would expect from that quiet warrior.  

This is why I am proud to be a Soldier and a rider.  To know that I belong to a band of brothers and sisters who go beyond themselves without complaint to help and support fellow Soldiers is something that echoes the siren’s call of the open road.  And while this offering doesn’t have the poetic appeal of an amazing journey, the journey of that day was amazing enough in itself… and that’s all good. 

Rolling in the circle of life…

I am a Buffalo Soldier.

No, I don’t ride the range on a well-worn horse or a bicycle.  Neither have I charged up San Juan Hill, or fought with Black Jack Pershing.  But, as surely as the history of those legendary men (and at least one woman) stands today, I belong to the ranks of those who uphold their legacy.

I am a member of the National Association of Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers Motorcycle Club.  What we do is ride  in honor of those who fought in wars foreign and domestic, and strove to be recognized as human beings at the same time.  In its 25 year existence, the club has given back to the community time, money and wisdom in terms of remembering our heritage.

There are many ways to become a part of Soldier Nation.  Mine happened to go through a man by the name of Phillip Branch, on left below.

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He and I were both members of a riding club in Charlotte, and we happened to meet at a dinner event.  We are as different as Alpha and Omega (literally!  Those are our respective fraternities) but there is a shared love of history, of sound, fury and wind, and the open road.

To make a long story short, Phillip, or as he’s known in the biker community as Triple ‘Threat, invited me to a (then) Buffalo Trooper event.  I came and loved it.  Two years later, I came to the same event, and decided to become a Trooper myself.  Our chapter changed our name to Soldiers later, but either name denotes the same thing.  But I digress.

3T has had a direct influence on the club’s current makeup as he has either influenced others or sponsored many, such as myself through our process of becoming patched members.  He and I talked about that recently, after I had an experience of my own.

Last year I attended a function in Clarksville, Tennessee.  On the way, between Nashville and there, I pulled my bike, Amani, over because we were in stopped traffic and I didn’t want her to overheat.

A man pulled to the side of the road, and asked if I was okay.  I said I was, and we struck up a conversation.  He was a local guy, and rode as well,  I told him some things about Soldier Nation, and he said to me that he liked what we were about.  He said he would look into the Nashville chapter.

Eventually, traffic picked up and we both hit the road again,

Fast forward to about a year later, at a Soldier function in Augusta, Georgia.  I’m walking through a party in a huge convention center when I get stopped.

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It was the very same guy, who now has a biker name of “Deacon.”

He is a probationary member of the Nashville Chapter.
He is a fellow Alpha with Triple Threat.
In fact, he knew Triple Threat before he met me.

You never know who in life you may end up rolling with, or who you might run into inside that wheel.  Triple Threat touched him, and me… and we both are better men because of the touching,

I’m sure NABSTMC founder Kenneth “Dream Maker” Thomas would agree when I say, “It’s All Good!!!”

Father Divine

“Hang out there long enough, you’ll learn that God has a purpose for humidity.” —John Bultmann

“On The Road Again…” “Long, Strange Trip…” “Back In Stride…”  Take your pick.  Any of the above could fit the week on the road, as Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers from across the country rode, drove and flew from across the country to Phoenix for the NABSTMC National Convention.

First, a word about this organization.  The National Association of Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers Motorcycle Clubs is a group that was started in 1993 by Kenneth “Dream Maker” Thomas, who envisioned a MC that would hold up to the world the accomplishments of the Buffalo Soldiers, the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments that began in 1866.  They fought the Native Americans in the Southwest, and legend has it they were called “Buffalo Soldiers” by the Natives because their hair resembled buffalo wool.  I invite you to reseach their history, because it in itself is a testimony to the constrictions and freedoms that this country continues to offer at the same time.   Suffice it to say right now that the NABSTMC is a 501(c)3 organization that is heavily involved in community affairs nationwide, and we ride to honor the legacy as the Soldiers celebrate our silver anniversary.


That’s the background for this trip.  A 2100 mile trek across mountains, plains, prairie and hot desert loomed as Amani, my lovely two wheeled steed, took on her black saddle bags and readied herself for the journey.  It promised to be challenging… just as challenging as the trip to Sturgis, some four years ago… and even more so because of the weather.  Not only is it hot there, but it is also monsoon season in the Southwest.  A monsoon is defined by a shift in winds on a seasonal nature, and one hit Phoenix on Monday night.

It delayed the arrival of my chapter President as his flight had to be diverted into Las Vegas and sat on the tarmac for several hours.  But I digress.

Several of my brothers and sisters flew in, but myself and Roadrunner were the only two that rode.  Roadrunner is a true rider, for he took off to Alaska before making it to Phoenix, so unless I could find some folks to ride with, it would be solo for me as well.  That didn’t set too well with those near and dear to me, so I looked around to find some folks to ride with.

My original plan was to leave on Friday to attend a road captains’ class, but the reality of being a senior citizen on a fixed income curtailed that. So I was to leave Sunday, for a Wednesday arrival, but I would have to catch up with two guys in the Spartanburg chapter, Iceman and Spyderman.  They were planning to leave at 5 am, and I planned to leave after playing in church that morning.

After church at 11:45, Amani and I hit the road and headed west.  We rode up 321 out of Gastonia to 40, then west through Asheville, Knoxville, Nashville and on to Memphis.  Settling down for the night, there was a text on the phone.  “We’re in Russellville, Arkansas.” 210 miles ahead.

Dang.

That meant at least 3 hours of hard riding to catch them, so we set out to do our best to make that happen.  Before heading out though, that same sense of history that attracted me to the Troopers took hold.  Memphis is the home of the Lorraine Museum, where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated… and so, Amani pointed herself that way, and I was a willing tagalong.

After manuevering through downtown Memphis, we made a right turn, and there it was.

It was about a half hour before the hotel opened, and even then there were visitors taking in the view and the presence of a profound piece of history.  Dr. King met his untimely end 50 years ago on a second floor balcony… but he never left.  His spirit and presence is palpable… much like the spirits of the Charleston Nine at Mother Emanuel.  Looking around, it made me recall the picture of that fateful day when you can see Jackson, Abernathy and Williams point in one direction.  An arriving guard was asked if she knew where they were pointed to, and she said there was a gray line that led in the direction of where the shots came from.

Seeing that line cemented the feeling of being in the presence of greatness purloined, yet one could say it is the hand of an almighty God that keeps that spirit, and hope itself, alive in all that visit this hallowed place.

Heading west, Little Rock, Arkansas called from a distance, and once again Amani took her way to find another fabled piece of history.  Little Rock is the home of Central High School, the place where the “Little Rock Nine” made history in 1957.

The sheer beauty of the school is amazing, and it’s hard to think about what atrocities were perpetrated on those nine young men and women who just wanted an equal chance at an education.  Once again, God stayed the hand of evil and let those youths emerge physically unscathed… although it’s easy to say that the experience changed their lives forever.

Such has been the course of history on this journey, and the twists of intervention made a personal visit as well.

My intention to catch up with Iceman and Spyderman quickly took on the best qualities of mice and men and quickly fell astray.  Could not catch them in Arkansas.  But the next day, as I was on the phone in Geary, Oklahoma west of Oklahoma City, I heard someone say “Hey Soldier!”

It was Iceman.  No, not the one out of Spartanburg… but another Iceman, from Springfield, Massachusetts.  He is the chapter president there and he was riding with his secretary, Big Cat.  We quickly formulated a plan to ride the rest of the way into Phoenix together.

So we saddled up and made it into Phoenix, hotter than I’ve been in life at 108 degrees.

A few hours after arrival, I heard someone call my name as I walked through the lobby.  It was the Spartanburg Iceman, and he wanted to know how the rest of my trip was.  I told him, and then he told me about theirs.  It turns out that he and Spyderman had taken a short cut in New Mexico that only his GPS had given him.  No one else that we know of, of the close to 1,000 people there, took his path.  It took him away from 40 and through some mountains and valleys.  But at the same time, it saved the both of them (and possibly me, had I joined up with them) from severe flooding and golf ball sized hail that hit part of New Mexico on the I-40 corridor.  With nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, they would have faced an uncertain, unenviable ride to destiny.

Which gets me back to this.  After we arrived safely, I called my girlfriend to tell her so, and she said “Thank you God.  My prayers have been answered.  I prayed to God to send you someone to ride with because I did not want you facing that heat in Arizona alone.”

I won’t say that God intervened for me.  I won’t say he didn’t either.  All I can tell you is that a recurring theme of this ride… and every ride has one… has been of intervention and ultimately, deliverance.  Even on the return trip today, I missed going to Selma for the second time by another unforeseen circumstance… but more on that next time.

And maybe, just maybe, instead of the earlier songs… the theme might be “Signed, Sealed and Delivered…”

Jax