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.

Super Highway Siren

It’s frustrating sometimes to have a raging fire inside of you… and you want to explain why it consumes you… and your words… just… come up flat.
Shekilia Bussey, the “Mileage Bully”

Meet Shekelia Bussey. I am so inspired by her journey. Known as the “Mileage Bully,” she rode on a Hayabusa (a sports bike built for speed, not comfort) 9,000 miles solo… from Va. Beach to Washington state and everywhere in between. She inspired me to write about the siren’s call of the road, and I wanted to share.

Excerpts from a letter:

“My mother said to me one of the times that I’ve been down there, that she didn’t want to kill my wanderlust… instead, she wanted to fortify it… and I think she did a great job. You might say “too great” at times, but I can’t help it. It’s all I know.

That same wanderlust makes me want to take rides, both alone and with friends, to places I’ve not seen before. The challenge and yes, risk of doing it on twos, facing man, wind, rain, heat and cold… add up to some universal ongoing algorithmic equation that one must keep balanced to stay safe and strong on the road. Looking at the sky, anticipating trouble, and figuring how to run, cope and/or overcome out West is just as much a part of me as breathing.

There’s a lady that I follow on three of my biking pages that just completed a 9,000 mile solo ride from Virginia Beach to Washington state, down to San Diego and back. On a Hayabusa… a sports bike with no built on saddlebags where you lean over the tank instead of sit up. She has SO inspired me that the ride (I’ve talked about down Route 66) is going from a whisper to a scream. She’s going to write about her journey… indeed, she’s chronicled it everyday… and it’s something to tell. She came through the pain of being uncomfortable (I’d NEVER do that on a ‘Busa) and being on the prairie alone in storm and hail to make it back safe.

And I know I can’t make you understand the powerful attraction that that walkabout has. It’s like the best crack you could ever smoke. Monument Valley sits at the end of a lonely, forlorn road, and I must get there.”

Thanks, Shekelia, for the inspiration for the explanation. She embodifies what #RYS (if you don’t know, ask me) is all about. And thank you, dear reader… see you on the road.

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…

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…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.