Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Take Me with You

You know what is sadly impossible? Seeing Michael Jackson perform his songs live.
You know what is not only possible, but REALLY FREAKING AWESOME? Seeing Prince cover Michael Jackson live. And Wild Cherry. And Sly and the Family Stone.
And play all of his own hits, old and new.


I first saw Prince live in 1984 during his Purple Rain tour. I was young, and I’m sure I didn’t appreciate what an incredibly talented musician he was. I just knew that I loved the album and the movie, and seeing him do all of those songs live has always ranked right up there as one of the best concerts I have experienced. Purple Rain is the only album I’ve bought four times: on vinyl, cassette, CD, and as a digital download.

1984 -- I'm on the left. My friend, Shelley, is on the right.

Sunday night, I saw Prince for the third time since 1984 when he played his third show of the weekend at The Palace in Louisville. When I told my 23 year old son I was going, he said, “I thought that guy was dead.”
Sigh…. Somewhere along the line, I’ve failed as a parent. I have not, however, failed at choosing my friends. The proof is in the convoluted way I found myself funking out at The Palace.

Merely a week before, my friend, Linda, and I had a conversation about Prince playing in Louisville and expressed our sorrow that the tickets would sell out before we had a chance to get them. Linda’s husband overheard our conversation. He called a friend who also loves Prince and asked if he had a line on tickets. Coincidentally, his friend did. He had, just that very day, gone to have his teeth cleaned, a rescheduled appointment that he had missed a couple of weeks before. Thank god he missed that original appointment. His dental hygienist had, just that very day, talked to a friend with extra tickets.

So to recap: Linda’s husband’s friend’s dental hygienist’s friend sold us his extra tickets.

31 years later -- still on the left. Linda on the right.
Linda has made the comment before that being her friend is a good gig. I can’t argue with her. She still hangs out with me even when I break her wine glass and spill her wine all over the table and myself before the concert. If you know how seriously Linda takes her wine, this is no small thing.



My pants were black and the wine was white, so I had that going for me. Not to mention that I was still way ahead of where I was in 1984. Then, we “pre-gamed” in the dorm after eating dinner in the school cafeteria. Being a grown-up means you get to drink good wine in a nice restaurant with cloth napkins. When you spill it, they bring more.

The street outside The Palace was hopping.


The usual ticket scalpers were not as abundant since Prince has adopted the system where you have to present the credit card you purchased the tickets with to physically get them and get in the door. This meant we got to meet the dental hygienist and her friend. Lovely people, both. I see the benefits of this new system, but I saw some things at the entrance that would indicate there are some holes in it as well.
The dental hygienist’s friend did us right. The Palace is an intimate venue, and there wasn’t a bad seat in the house. Our seats were great. We were in the third row of the balcony and found ourselves looking almost directly down on The Purple One himself.



I only took two pics. He made a plea at the beginning of the show for the audience to be in the moment and not on their phones, and that is exactly what most of us did. Midway through the show, he told us to get out our phones. We did for several minutes, and then we were directed to put them away. Again, most of us followed those directions willingly. For those who didn’t, security was johnny on the spot and added some extra encouragement.
I am as addicted to my phone as anyone, but for those two hours, it was just fine in my back pocket. Prince had it right. Live music is about being in the moment, and those moments were worth savoring.
The man is a phenomenal musician. After teasing the audience with the opening riffs from “Little Red Corvette” and “Let’s Go Crazy,” he played several of his new songs. I didn’t know them, but I liked them. His sound is even funkier now than it was in the 80s. It was made for dancing, and no one was in their seats. Prince’s music dictates that you get off your butt and move!

He did eventually move back around to his familiar work. The slowed down, funked-up version of “Let’s Go Crazy” was gritty and dirty and awesome. He played all the great ones. He would say, “Wait! I’m out of hits!” and then play the opening guitar lick to “Kiss.” With the older songs, he let the crowd carry the lyric, and buddy, we carried it.

He played the crowd like he played his guitar. He would stop, let the energy build and then yell, “I like this one!” and suddenly he’s playing Michael Jackson. I’m telling you right now. Prince covering Michael is something to behold. I might have screamed wildly in Linda’s face, “Oh my god, he’s playing Michael!” and she might have smiled blithely and kept dancing.
He played three encores which included “Purple Rain,” “When Doves Cry,” and wait for it... Wild Cherry’s “Play that Funky Music” and “Thank You” by Sly and the Family Stone just because he likes them. I like them too. The whole crowd liked them.

This pic came from the dental hygienist's friend. They had better seats. LOL!
The best part of hearing great live music is sharing the joy of it with the artist and with the crowd. It’s the best energy in the world. Everyone is happy. Total strangers high five, hug each other, and dance together. If it were possible to harness that energy and focus it at a specific place, we could solve the crisis in the Middle East, fix things in the Crimea, get that crazy guy in North Korea to lighten up.

No one can stay mad when 2,600 people are singing “I don’t care where we go. I don’t care what we do. I don’t care pretty baby, just take me with you.”



Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Sapphire Sins teaser

I'm working on a new short piece that I hope to post later this week. Mother Nature is cooperating with my desire to sit on the couch in my pjs and write. For now, I'm offering a teaser from Sapphire Sins.

The following is a brief excerpt from early in the book, chapter 5 to be exact. Enjoy!

****************
Diana glanced down at her watch again. 5:45. Ten minutes. They had to be in the air in ten minutes. She hugged herself, unconsciously rocking back and forth again. The sun was a blazing orange ball sitting right on the horizon.
            Nora abandoned her book. She had completely ignored their conversation to that point which was weird because Nora always had something to say. Glassy-eyed, she leaned across Jen and stared at the setting sun.
            “He’s waking up.”
            Diana went rigid as she felt a familiar vibration run through her. He was there again, inside her head, returning as suddenly as he had left that morning, and he was hungry. She felt it as if it were her own hunger.
Raphael’s first thoughts were of her. Without her consent, her body responded. Her heart beat harder, louder, her pulse pounding in her ears, calling to him, betraying her to him.
She saw him clearly, standing in the shadows of the warehouse doorway, waiting. The minute the sun set, he would step across the threshold and into the night. He still wore the same brilliant blue shirt, but he no longer looked disheveled. His thick black hair was smoothly in place, and his oh-so-perfect face was clean and unmarred. 
He fixed his gaze on her and smiled.
            Soon, he whispered through her mind. We will be together soon.
            He knew where she was, and he was coming for her. The marks on her breast tingled in anticipation.
            “No, no, no, no, no.”
            Nora seized her arm. “He won’t let you leave, Di. You belong to him now. You willingly gave yourself to him.” Then she shrugged, “At least that’s how he sees it.” With that, Nora returned to her novel.
            Jen alternated between them, confused. “What’s she talking about, Di? Nora?”
            The captain spoke over the intercom, “Ladies and gentleman we are second in line for take-off. We should be in the air shortly. Flight attendants, prepare for take-off.”
            Diana ignored Jen, focusing on the movement of the plane.
“Come on, come on. Get this thing off the ground.” 
Her heart pounded so hard she thought it would burst through her chest.
            The orange glow faded as the sun inevitably disappeared below the horizon. Diana checked her watch. 5:55 on the dot.
Raphael stepped across the threshold.
            “He’s coming,” intoned Nora.
            Jen snapped, “Damn it, Nora! What’s the matter with you? This isn’t funny! Di’s scared half out of her mind.”
            Nora continued reading as if she hadn’t heard. Jen shook her arm, and Nora looked up with empty eyes.
            “What’s wrong with her, Di?”
            But Diana didn’t answer. She couldn’t. Her heart had stopped.
Raphael strode down the taxiway alongside the plane, the blue lights backlighting him with an otherworldly glow. He was the most beautiful, frightening creature she had ever seen. He glanced at Diana, smiled in acknowledgment, and turned his attention intently toward the cockpit.
            The plane jerked, and Diana snapped her attention to the front of the cabin. A flight attendant reached above her head for the cockpit phone. Diana strained to hear. The concern in the flight attendant’s face was unmistakable. Something was wrong.
            Nora’s voice was flat, “A mechanical malfunction requires the captain to return to the terminal.”
            “God, Nora!  What’s wrong with you?” Jen turned to Diana, “Something’s seriously wrong with her.”  
Diana didn’t answer, so Jen followed Diana’s bleak stare.
“Oh. My. God!  He’s on the runway. Di? He’s on the freaking runway!”
            Diana ignored her. She was sure there was no real malfunction. Raphael controlled the pilot. Diana visualized the captain and focused all her energy on him, willing him to get the plane off the ground, but it was a futile effort. Whatever power Raphael had transferred to her wasn’t nearly as strong as his own. The plane rolled to a stop on the taxiway. 
She frantically scanned the cabin, pushing down the panic and thinking through her options. She could create a disruption to distract the pilot from Raphael, but that would insure they returned to the terminal to put her off the plane. Raphael was reading her thoughts because without looking away from the cockpit, he nodded in response, having already reached the same conclusion.
            He was going to win. That arrogant bastard was going to win.
She was trapped in an airplane that wouldn’t leave the ground. He would be waiting at the gate for her, and all the airport security in the world wouldn’t stop him. Again he nodded smugly, eavesdropping on her panicked thoughts.
She clenched her fists in frustration and pounded them on the window. “You son of a bitch! Leave me alone!” 
Pain shot through her hand as her fingernails reopened the wound on her palm, and the answer came to her. Inside the pain was a revelation.
She eyed Raphael, still intently focused on the pilot, and smiled. She hoped the bastard was still listening. She gouged her fingernail into the wound, causing blood to stream down her arm. Raphael’s head whipped around, away from the cockpit, his eyes locking on hers.
She had his attention. Good. She put her bloody hand against the window, allowing him to see it. She read the hunger in his eyes, felt it thrumming through him.
She smiled seductively and ran her tongue across the wound. Raphael staggered, tasting the blood as she did. She lapped at it, teasing him, letting him watch, letting him taste. His eyes were dark. They held that strange light she had seen the night before. Diana met his powerful eyes and stared boldly. Then she put her hand to her mouth and began to suck on the wound in a hard, slow, erotic rhythm.
His hunger became her hunger. The warm blood trickled down her throat, and she wanted more. She tore open the flesh of her palm, expanding the wound to her wrist, so the blood flowed more freely. She felt no pain, only warmth. He was inside of her, and she in him. The merging of their minds was sensual and intimate and awakened another hunger. She closed her eyes, shutting out everything except the desire he had conjured up inside of her.
Her eyes feasted on his naked chest as his sapphire shirt fell open. She stroked muscles made of steel and stone. She straddled him, riding him through their clothes. His hands massaged her breasts, pinching her nipples through the lace of her bra. She leaned into him, breathing him in, pressing herself down on his erection, driven by need. He caressed her mind as well as her body, and when he bared his gleaming white fangs, fully extended, she was not frightened. His fangs excited her. He leaned over to kiss her, and her heart fluttered in anticipation.
Abruptly and painfully, she returned to her window seat. Nora leaned across Jen, grabbing Diana’s arm, trying to pull her wrist out of her mouth. Diana was momentarily disoriented. The scene in the limo replaying itself had been so real. Her body still quivered from Raphael’s touch. She still breathed his rich, masculine scent. For the few moments they were connected, reality had shifted.
She took a long breath to clear her head. Diana couldn’t let Nora break her hold on Raphael.
She barked at Jen through her wrist, “Stop her, Jen.”
Jen gaped at Diana, horrified, but something in Diana’s eyes told her Nora was the bigger problem. Jen struggled to pull Nora off, and succeeded to some degree.
The plane was rolling again, making the turn from the taxiway to the runway. Diana’s heart stuttered at her last glimpse of Raphael, bathed in blood. She blinked and saw only the red glow of the runway landing lights. Then she lost sight of him.
Jen struggled with Nora. Raphael’s trance broke the same moment as Diana’s, and he fought to regain control of the captain. She sucked on her wrist, in his head as much as he was in hers. She felt his frustration and his desperate struggle to control the situation. Compelling an airline pilot to act contrary to his training and the safety of his passengers took tremendous focus. Diana’s distraction was enough.
The engines screamed as the plane lurched, picked up speed, and raced down the runway. Diana’s stomach churned. Raphael was angry. His rage burst through her brain like fireworks, like an airplane skidding off the runway in a ball of fire. She had overplayed her hand. He would stop her at any cost. She braced for impact, but the plane continued on its course.
The blood still flowed from her wrist, making her gag. What had been erotic was now just gross. When she felt the plane’s wheels leave the ground and its nose aim skyward, she dropped her arm limply into her lap. She panted, and sweat soaked the back of her shirt.

Nora quit fighting Jen. She pulled a bright green scarf out of her hair and handed it to Diana. She had bought it the day before in a trendy little SoHo shop. Diana pulled the scarf tight around her wrist. The bleeding stopped, but she was a mess. The couple across the aisle stared open-mouthed at the three of them.
************

You can order Sapphire Sins on Amazon.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bad Beginnings. Happy Endings.

Those of us who read and write romance love a happy ending. Monday night, I got to experience a personal happy ending when the Warren County Public Library hosted me as part of their ePublish or Bust series. Many libraries in Kentucky are adapting to the new eBook landscape with innovative programs, and my friends in Bowling Green are leading the charge. The event was a lot of fun. I got to meet some new people, talk about books, and I even sold a few. It was a happy ending to a great night.

Those of us who read and write romance know that happy endings often come from bad beginnings.

I began my evening on the side of I-64 with a shredded tire. A flat tire on any day is an aggravation. A flat tire 48 hours after you paid for it to be installed, brand new, on your car is maddening. A flat tire when you’re on your way to your first appearance as an author is a nightmare. I’m usually pretty cool in an emergency, but I’m not gonna lie. I freaked out. I shook my fist at the gods, Tire Discounters, litterers, truckers, and the designer of the spare tire well for the Toyota Highlander.

Thank god for my husband, Bruce. He talked me off the ledge, called roadside assistance, and brought me his car. While I waited, one very nice gentleman, a veteran according to his license plate, stopped to help, along with a state trooper whose flashing blue lights made me feel a little better about my chances of being mowed down by a semi. (Seriously, those trucks do NOT stay on their side of the white line. I was as far over as I could get without dropping into a ravine, and I saw my life flash before my eyes when one came within a hair’s breadth of clipping me.)

When Bruce pulled up in his car, I abandoned all concern for my safety, dragging my poster and flyers out on the driver’s side. I had been sitting there for almost an hour, and while I had given myself plenty of time to account for minor mishaps like getting lost, I hadn’t factored in a whole hour’s delay. I dropped and wrinkled the poster, getting close enough to the highway that the trooper was right there ushering me back to the other side of my car. I threw my stuff into Bruce’s car and left him on the side of the road with the trooper, the shredded tire, and the roadside assistance bill. He’s a good man.

A fair wind and a V8 engine got me to Bowling Green on time. I arrived on fumes and I had to pee so bad my teeth hurt, but I made it. The upside to my adventure was that all my energy was focused on getting there. I had none left to worry or get nervous, and so I didn’t.

Lisa Rice, my awesome friend and director of the Warren County Public Library, was there to meet me, along with Tina Brewster, who arranged the details of the visit and promoted it. Tina was such a great resource. In addition to working for the library, she is a self-published author with an established fan base. What I learned from her about networking and promotion alone was worth the trip down. She writes under the name M.E. Tudor. Click here to check out her work.

They placed me at the main entrance in front of a cozy reading area. The set-up was warm and inviting and made for comfortable chatting. The table, with its prominent signage, made me feel very official, but I couldn’t stay behind it. I spent most of the evening in front of the table talking to people.

What I learned in talking to people about my book was something I already knew, but this experience reinforced it. The conversation is easy with people who already read romance, especially paranormal romance, but I become strangely inarticulate with people who don’t know the genre. I had a fun, easy conversation with a young lady who loves to read all the same stuff I do. She was intrigued by the fact that most of my story is set in Lexington. We talked about what we love in the genre, what writers float our boats. We had a great chat, and when she left, she took a flyer for herself and one for a friend who devours the genre.

Fast forward to another conversation with a couple of friends I hadn’t seen since college. They live in Bowling Green and came to support me which was very cool. Our conversation was fun because we were catching up. Neither of them reads my genre though, and when I started talking about my book, I felt myself get awkward and weird. I’ll save an examination of the reasons why for another blog. At the end of the day, they came to buy the book. Who knows? Maybe I’ll bring more fans into the fold.

It really was a great night. I’m incredibly lucky to count Lisa as a friend. Giving me the opportunity to promote my book in her library is just the most recent way she has supported me. She read Sapphire Sins well before I published it, even though paranormal romance isn’t her genre. Her honest assessment helped me improve the book and gave me the courage to finally jump off the cliff and publish. Thank you, Lisa!




My drive home was a leisurely stroll in the park, relatively speaking. The snow that had begun to fall didn’t stick until I crossed the Scott County line, and then it was just enough to cause a much needed hour’s delay Tuesday morning. Tire Discounters has already replaced my tire (Road hazard insurance, people! It’s worth it!), and I have good ideas about what to do next to promote my book. That, my friends, is a happy ending!


Friday, February 6, 2015

Anything is possible in the library

When I was a kid, my two favorite pastimes were Barbies and books. Barbies were problematic. We lived way out in the boonies, and the only other kid for miles around was my little brother who thought running over my Barbies with his Tonka Trucks was more fun than playing out whatever script I had written for them. In his defense, my scripts were usually dramatic love stories that ended with Ken and Barbie smooching. I guess flattening them with a dump truck seemed a good way to subvert that mushy girl stuff. Reading was conveniently solitary, so to keep the peace, my mom made sure I always had a stack of books at the ready. That meant a weekly trip to the library.

Oh how I loved library day!

We did all our in-town errands on library day. We picked up my dad’s shirts at the dry cleaners, stopped at the drug store, McDonald’s for lunch, and then oh joy, the library! The car was barely stopped before I was out the door and sprinting across the parking lot. I hit the big glass door and took the steps to the second floor two at a time. Another set of glass doors contained a young reader’s Mecca. The children’s collection was on the right, the Young Adult collection on the left.

I discovered Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Trixie Beldon, the Boxcar Children, and all of L. Frank Baum’s Oz series. I found Narnia, Wonderland, and the creepy worlds of Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. I read every single book that had “ghost” or “monster” in the title. I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula before I really understood it, and before I left middle school, I had read all of Judy Blume and was downstairs in the general fiction section reading books that ended with “happily ever after.”

My mom usually browsed through my stack, but only because she was interested. She never censored my reading choices, and a week later she always took me back for more. My library card was one of my most prized possessions, and I’ve had one in my purse ever since.

As a child, I alternately gravitated between the weird and fantastic and the romantic. Nothing much has changed. I discovered Laurell K. Hamilton in the library, along with the more sinister vampires of Guillermo del Toro. F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack and Karen Marie Moning’s Highlanders all came to me from the library.

I found magic in the library, and so it is entirely fitting that my first public appearance as an author should take place there. Thanks to my long-time friend (since the 7th grade) and fellow bibliophile, Lisa Rice, I will be visiting the Warren County Public Library in Bowling Green as part of their ePublish or Bust series. Lisa read an early edition of Sapphire Sins several years ago and contacted me last week after it went up on Amazon. I am lucky to count her as a friend. It should surprise no one that I count several awesome librarians as good friends.


If you are in or near Bowling Green this Monday, February 9th, please come join me. We can talk about Sapphire Sins, self-publishing, vampires, romance, or share our favorite books. Anything is possible in the library.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Sapphire Sins is Live on Amazon!

I fell in love with my first vampire more than 20 years ago. I had a new baby boy who seemed immune to sleep, and there’s only so much late night television anyone should be forced to endure. Someone gave me a copy of Interview with the Vampire, and Lestat kept me company while I held vigil with my sleepless son.

Jean-Claude came along several years later. He was hot for all the obvious reasons. He was smart, powerful, handsome, and yes, a bad boy, but Jean-Claude’s real attraction for me was that he loved a bad-ass woman. Anita Blake was human, and she owned that vampire.

Lestat and Jean-Claude were the first, but I’ve loved many vampires since. Eric Northman, all of the Black Dagger Brotherhood (particularly Wrath and V), Jericho Barrons (technically not a vampire, but close enough), Kisten Felps, Quinn O’Connor…they all hold a place in my heart. Like Jean-Claude, all of them loved strong women, and that is the magic Smiley ingredient in paranormal romance. The female protagonist must be the equal of her undead lover. The doormat, damsel-in-distress is unappealing.

Seven years ago, after reading a particularly unsatisfying paranormal romance, I decided to write one myself. I had written short stories, but never a novel. In a fit of hubris, I decided I was at least as good a writer as the one I had just finished reading. Hubris always demands payment. I discovered that writing a novel is really hard.

I spent 8 months writing it and another year and a half revising it and querying literary agents. In 2010, I signed a contract with an agent. Aside from writing “The End” on the last page of my novel, it was the best moment in my writing life. I rode that high for about a month, and then reality set in again. The book didn’t sell. Vampires had already hit their peak popularity, and editors were looking for the next hot thing. Six months later, my agent left the business, and my book languished in my computer collecting electronic dust.

I have continued to write, mostly for my own satisfaction, but I earn my daily bread as a teacher, and that requires an enormous amount of my creative energy. I’m okay with that. Teaching is not merely my profession, it is my vocation. It’s who I am.

I am also a writer, and while I’ll probably never earn my living that way, I’m still proud of this book. My beta readers liked it. It was good enough to catch the attention of a literary agent. I want readers. I want you to read it.

I have dusted off my file, done one final, comprehensive edit, and published it using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. If you enjoy paranormal romance or like me, have a not-so-secret love affair with vampires, I invite you to read Sapphire Sins.

Click here to check it out on Amazon. Or you can search my name. (I’m searchable on Amazon! I’m not going to lie. That makes me more than a little bit giddy!)



Diana’s girls’ trip to New York was supposed to include shopping, a show, and the rare opportunity to shake off the stress of owning one of the last independent bookstores in Central Kentucky. Running for her life was not on the agenda. Bite marks and frightening visions were not the souvenirs she wanted to bring home. That’s just what happens when your best friend accidentally introduces you to a vampire. 
Raphael has moved through the centuries footloose and fancy free. He meets a beautiful woman, tastes her, and then leaves her happy and none the wiser. Diana is the first woman in his long life to not only resist his spell, but to bite back. He has to have her. She won’t be had.
Their battle of wills takes them across the country and across time. Diana is thrust out of her quiet, bookish existence to one in which she must face down not only her own demons, but Raphael’s as well. Diana discovers that there is a very thin line between love and hate, and that sometimes in saving someone else, you save yourself. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?

My very clever AP Language students had to adopt a persona of their choice and answer this question as part of an assignment on tone and point of view. Their responses were too much fun not to share.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

RAND PAUL

Why are we questioning the chicken’s right to cross the road? Government regulation is the only barrier that prevents the chicken from freely crossing the road. If our nation continues in this direction, our children and grandchildren may instead be asking: why did the chicken get blown up by a hellfire missile?

PRESIDENT OBAMA

Tonight we come together as one nation to contemplate why the chicken crossed the road, and we will not stop until we do so. But today, I ask us all to step back and reflect, and I think you will see that the road itself, like our union is strong.

Because the government built it for him.

MITCH MCCONNELL

It’s simply not my job to create opportunities to evaluate the chicken’s crossing. There are no roads to cross anyway, but we can fix that.

ALISON GRIMES

The chicken has had 30 years to cross the road. If I’m elected, he’ll actually get to the other side.

FBI

We can neither confirm nor deny that the chicken crossed the road.

STEVE JOBS

He saw opportunities and innovators on the other side. He imagined the operating system, task bar, and interface of the future.

MILEY CYRUS

It’s not my responsibility to know why the chicken does what it does. I’m just trying to enjoy being young and I don’t need anybody criticizing me.

“Because he can’t stop. He won’t stop.”

KIM KARDASHIAN

Uhhhh, I’m not sure what you mean, but I have absolutely got to find him! BFFL!

FORREST GUMP

Mama always said, “Life is like a box of chicken. You never know why it’s gonna cross the road.”

BUBBA

Anyway, like I was sayin’, chicken is the fruit of the road. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, sauté it. There’s chicken kabobs, baked chicken, lemon chicken, ginger chicken, chicken soup, chicken stew, chicken salad, chicken sandwich. That’s about it.

DRAX

The chicken would not cross the road. My reflexes are too quick. I would catch it.

WALTER WHITE

I am the one who crosses the road!

MARC ANTONY

He was an honorable chicken.

EDGAR ALLAN POE
The road was calling, cleaving, clawing and so it crossed to return
Nevermore.

JRR TOLKIEN

The chicken embarked on the journey across Middle-Road to find the ostentatious egg from ancient lore. Pain and tears couldn’t keep the feathered soul from its destiny. One egg to rule them all.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Go Big or Go Home!

One would not expect to find a resort as posh as The Greenbrier nestled in the mountains of wild and wonderful West Virginia, but you round a bend in the road and there it is.



One would not expect to find a teacher and occasional writer in a resort as posh as the Greenbrier, but I guess life is just full of surprises.



My good friend, Linda, has an autistic son who spends part of his summer at Camp Easter Seals in Virginia. About a month ago, she hatched a plan to spend a day and a night at The Greenbrier on her way to pick up Matthew from camp. She needed someone to wallow in the lap of luxury with her, and naturally, invited me.

After being plied with champagne at check-in and assaulted by the Dorothy Draper décor in both the hallway…



…and the room…



…we adopted the motto, GO BIG OR GO HOME!

Seriously, the bold use of pattern stopped me in my tracks on multiple occasions.



Yes, this is the ladies room, but seriously, check it out!

The spaces that didn’t use bold patterns, opted instead for bold color. This is the Café Carleton where we had lunch. When I posted this pic of Linda on Facebook, I described it as tasteful bordello.



The plush red velvet décor was accentuated by photographs of Norman Rockwell and Hillary Clinton during their respective visits to The Greenbrier. The café also included a scenic overlook of the casino. 

When we received our three-figure check for LUNCH we said “Go big or go home!” Actually, we said some other things that I won’t include on a family blog, and then we said, “Go big or go home!”

We decided to work off our gold-plated lunch with a walking tour of the grounds. Strolling through the well-manicured lawns and flower gardens felt like stepping through the looking glass into a world where people routinely eat very expensive sandwiches without a second thought.






We re-entered the building through the billiards room…



…checked out the pool…

I'm doing my best Vanna White.

Linda is doing her best Where's Waldo.

…and then headed to the spa. We didn’t make use of it, but I did note this book for sale. Word to my single friends: The Greenbrier might be the kind of place where you can find a rich, old man (or woman) with a cough.



Late afternoon found us in the bar. I didn’t take any pictures here, although later I wished I had. The painting over the fireplace was part of the set decoration for the 1939 film production of Gone with the Wind. We discovered this note of interest during our bunker tour the next morning after our phones and other electronic devices had been confiscated. (More on that to come.)

We chatted with the bartenders and discovered that the extra 6% added to every purchase is a historic building preservation tax. Our gold-plated lunch was starting to make more sense. With the preservation tax, sales tax and the automatic gratuity added to the check, everything you order actually costs 30% or so more than what is listed on the menu. News to use.

In spite of the hefty surcharge, we ordered a couple of glasses of wine because GO BIG OR GO HOME! We got directions from the bartender to the Presidential Cottage and took another walk. Ridiculous cost aside, the place is truly beautiful. We arrived too late to take the tour of the cottage, but it wasn’t a wasted trip. We sat on the porch where 26 US presidents have trod, drank our wine, and enjoyed the view.







The hour we spent rocking on the President’s porch may have been my favorite hour of the trip. The weather was perfect, the wine, though pricey, was delicious, and the company was the best. We discussed history, our lives, and even sang a little Alanis when a black fly found its way into my chardonnay.



Before we left, we took a patriotic selfie.

God bless America.

 We stopped by the springhouse on the way back to the main building. This is the White Sulphur spring that gives The Greenbrier’s location its name. This stinky little hole in the ground is what brought the resort here in the first place. The white sulphur tendrils leaching into the spring give the waters restorative power…or so they say. I can offer no anecdotal evidence of my own.



We retired to our daffodil-bedecked walls to rest until dinner.



Dinner was AMAZING! The Greenbrier boasts its own culinary institute, and when I say amazing, I mean order-it-as-your-last-meal amazing. I started with cream of five onion soup followed by cumin seared rainbow trout with curried polenta fries and sugar snap peas. The soup was so rich I wanted to lick the bowl, but the general atmosphere of the dining room discouraged it. Even so, Linda and I ate off each other’s plates like we were at Shoney’s. Her beef tenderloin actually did melt in my mouth, and if I could make fish taste like that trout, I would eat it every day.

I took these pictures of the dining room earlier in the day.




It was even lovelier in the evening with the chandeliers and candles. Linda said she felt like she was on the Titanic. Doomed journey metaphors aside, it was an apt description. I could easily believe it was 1912. All of the diners were adhering to the strict dress code and the strongly-worded notice in the menu to keep cell phones put away. Even the teenage boy at a nearby table was wearing a jacket and using the tablecloth to conceal his texting.

We left the dining room miserable. In spite of being stuffed, we felt an obligation to sample dessert. Five-star meals don’t factor into my world very often, so I wasn’t leaving without ordering my favorite course. I ate a few sinful bites of something with peaches, crème fresh and macaroons and threw in the towel. Linda had her arms raised over her head because she said it was the only way she could breathe.

We sat and listened to some live music in one of the parlors…here we are…but left after a few minutes.



You know you’ve committed the deadly sin of gluttony when you have to lay down because remaining upright is untenable. Even though we spent the rest of the evening watching TV in a food coma, I don’t regret it. I don’t regret it at all.

We finished our time at The Greenbrier the next morning in the bunker. One of the resort’s claims to fame is that it sat on top of the secret relocation bunker for Congress in the event of nuclear war. It was exposed in 1992 by a reporter for the Washington Post and subsequently shut down (although it’s likely that the expose was orchestrated by government officials looking to dump an expensive, obsolete facility).

The tour was interesting, but I have no pictures to share with you other than the ones you can find at this website. We had to relinquish our phones and any other electronic devices we were carrying. We were warned that if we photographed anything, we would be committing a felony. During the tour, our guide pointed out the cameras that were watching our every move. It seemed excessive…all this security for a defunct fallout shelter. Turns out, the security is not for the old bunker, but the data storage by CSXIP…CSX Intellectual Property. Corporate secrets rule the day. Frankly, I don’t know what we could have photographed that would have helped anyone steal something since all we saw were locked doors, but whatever.

About half the space is used by CSX. The rest is open to the public. Interestingly, big chunks of the space always were. Where is the best place to hide something? In plain sight, of course. All that busy wallpaper kept guests from looking too closely at the walls where the blast doors were hidden. The space designated for Congressional offices if the bunker was activated was used as an exhibition hall for conventions. The first event ever held there was a pharmaceutical convention where the anti-depressant, Elavil was introduced. (There was more Elavil stored in the bunker than any other drug.) Even the House and Senate chambers were used as meeting rooms during these conventions. No one suspected as they dozed off during a meeting that they were dozing on the site where Congress would soldier on when the world ended.

The most impressive sight in the bunker was the east-facing blast door. Washington was expected to be the primary target of a nuclear strike, so the door facing that direction was massive. Our guide told us it was the same door they have at the entrance to Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. More than anything else in the bunker, that door spoke volumes about the true purpose of the space. The closest the bunker ever came to being activated was in the first year of its existence during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Although no one wanted to admit it, the plan to relocate Congress to the mountains of West Virginia was obsolete almost as soon as it was completed. Atomic bombs were delivered by planes when the bunker was conceived. By the time it was complete, intercontinental ballistic missiles had reduced the time Congress would have to get to the bunker from six hours to twenty minutes. So that was a problem.

I do recommend the tour if you are interested in history. Also, when the zombie apocalypse finally occurs, you can put West Virginia on your list of possible rallying points to ensure the continuity of the human race.

We left The Greenbrier shortly after the tour and thus ended our brief time in the land of the 1%. It’s a nice place to visit, but you better have the green if you want to live there.

We picked up Matthew from camp and made three ritual stops on our way home: the Dollar Store to add to his umbrella collection, McDonald’s for some chicken nuggets and a diet coke, and Books-a-Million to add to his storybook collection. I like Matthew’s world. At the very least, I can afford it.