Archive for August, 2010

I know it’s kind of short, but I’m planning to have “Nerdy Mondays” from now on.

Posted in Crash Bandicoot, Nerdy Monday on August 30, 2010 by Divide By Zero

Just to mix it up a little bit, every once in a while I am going to showcase how much of a nerd I truly am.  I want to turn this into a corner spot of my blog and name it something cool like “More Nerdy-ness Mondays” or something a little more clever.  I collect obscure, vintage/retro video games and their systems, I love Batman and the Transformers, and overall am a huge dork.  It’s okay though, without my geekified personality you wouldn’t get to enjoy such masterpieces as this…

An Ode to Crash Bandicoot

I have a soft spot in my heart for this little guy.  Say what you want about him, he speaks mostly in gibberish, he’ll never be as popular as Nintendo’s Mario, and no one really even remembers him since Crash Team Racing in 1999.  Crash Bandicoot was originally supposed to be “Willy the Wombat” and was created to compete with Nintendo’s Mario and Sega’s Sonic.  The creators eventually landed on the name “Crash” because of how the rascally marsupial could body slam into crates, causing them to smash.  Personally this is one of my favorite things about the entire Crash Bandicoot series.

While Nintendo had Mario, and all of his levels and suits and everything, he still had limited maneuvers when it came to in game play.  Running or jumping is what he had.  Or best case scenario, he had running AND jumping at the same time.  The suits and everything had different functions, but in the end, all you were using to play it was the D-pad and the A/B buttons.

It’s the same thing with Sonic The Hedgehog.  Spin, then go fast.  Oh, and collect rings.  Can’t forget those rings.  In a way I applaud Sonic, he seems to be a lot more well off than Mario.  That’s why he doesn’t make videogames anymore, he’s collected so many gold rings and chaos emeralds he never has to work again.  Mario on the other hand is an Italian Plumber from New York and he runs around similar looking levels picking up pennies off the pavement.  Or he has to bang his head against what we all can only assume is brick.  Nintendo makes poor Mario scrounge around for pocket change while they went behind his back and turned his first name into a multi-billion dollar market niche.

Crash is a genetically advanced Eastern-Barred Bandicoot.  He lives on a 3 island chain southeast of Australia.  All he does is relax.  Most of the time in the introduction of any Crash Bandicoot videogame, Crash is found on a hammock sipping some kind of tropical drink with sunglasses on; the epitome of relaxation.  It isn’t until Dr. Neo Cortex, Crash’s creator and nemesis comes along, when Crash has to go out of his way to defeat the evil doctor.  Crash is more for gamers who liked to think and solve problems.  He had moves and maneuvers that didn’t require suits, and he didn’t collect any form of currency.  He collected apples.  One hundred of which would earn you an extra life.  You had to make it through the levels perfectly, because in most games with only a few exceptions Crash was a one hit kill.  He could not only jump and run, he could also slide, double jump, tornado spin, hover tornado spin, body slam, double jump into a body slam, and the list goes on.  Timing had to be spot on as the player would reach more advanced levels.  Also, upon completion of each level Crash earned a purple gem.  Levels could be repeated and different rewards were given out for a time trials run, bonus level runs, “smashing-all-crates” run, and other red/green/blue gems that are almost impossible to achieve.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Mario games, and I love Sonic the Hedgehog.  Everyone has their favorite, and I would have to say mine is Crash Bandicoot.  I don’t know why he didn’t get the fame and acclaim that Mario did.  I don’t know why he never became recognizable as the Sony Playstation mascot.  He never even became as popular as Sonic.  He followed the same format, tried different kinds of games, like the kart racing spin-offs.  He’s been in our videogame culture since his debut in 1996.  I for one hope Crash gets bored on his hammock on his island and decides to get into some more trouble with Dr. Cortex.  Even after I beat all the Crash Bandicoot games growing up, I loved erasing it from my memory card and going at it again.  There hasn’t been another release of a Crash Bandicoot game, since 2000.  Ten whole years since a REAL Crash game has hit the market.  I’m not counting anything released as a mobile or iphone game.  I don’t even count Nintendo DS or Game Boy Advance games.  I love the real platform games I have to sit on the couch to play.

Please Naughty Dog, develop some more Crash Bandicoot for us Die-Hards out here.  I’ve seen retro games redone and modernized and most of them turn out pretty good, even though nobody wanted to play the games when they were brand new.  Surely the makers of Crash Bandicoot have some more ideas for the old school fans.  And with the Playstation 3 being as extraordinary of a machine as it is, and the next platform from Sony well on its way, I can’t see why we should have to wait any longer to see what Naughty Dog has been working on for the past 10 years.

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The Lost City of Downtown Bristol

Posted in City Plan, Downtown Bristol on August 29, 2010 by Divide By Zero

I love downtown Bristol, especially at night.  I was born and raised in Northern Virginia, and was a bit reluctant when my parents moved down here during my second year of college.  All growing up there were tons of things to do at night, on the weekends, and during the summer there was something going on just about every day somewhere within a 30-45 minute drive.  We moved down here about 8 years ago to be closer to my daddy’s family.  It was quieter, more peaceful, and very relaxing.  We never had to deal with traffic, public transportation, cruel people walking by you on the street.  And then it dawned on me: we never had to deal with traffic, public transportation, or any people walking by you on the street.  It was a big culture shock to my baby brother and I at first, but we quickly got used to the atmosphere this part of Virginia/Tennessee brought to us.  State Street was our favorite place to go.  We’d walk around for hours and enjoy everything.  We loved finding hidden treasures in the antique shops.  We took tons of pictures of us being boys around town.  We went to about a million car shows/cruises near the famous Bristol sign.  We loved everything about it.

The only thing bad about it is that State Street is only a few blocks long.  It always intrigued me that State Street is smack in the middle of a larger neighborhood.  Yet no one really goes half a block North or South of it.  Most of the buildings engulfing Historic Downtown Bristol are abandoned.  There is also an abundance of unused land.  In my perspective, this area (along with my ideals about The Cameo Theater) has a whole lot of potential, and no one to back it.  Here is my idea of what needs to be done.

I have read through the Tri-Cities TN/VA’s Community Development Comprehensive Plan in its entirety (read: what they published on their website, which is not the entire document).  I don’t know how many of my readers have had time to look through this document (found at http://www.bristolva.org/PlanningMain.htm), so I will explain.  What I found is a 27 page plan outlining what the city is going to do with:

  • Employment
  • Land Use
  • The Central Business District
  • Infrastructure
  • Transportation
  • Community Facilities
  • Historic Districts, and
  • Housing

The document I’m directing you to has pages, sections and whole chapters that have been either redacted, or never published in the first place.  This seems strange to me as it begs me to ask the question “Why?”  I am a citizen of Bristol, my fathers family has lived in this area for over 100 years, why is this information not accessible to me?  It also has a bunch of data about the City of Bristol, none of which is actually useful, anymore.  This draft of the Comprehensive Plan was created as a Microsoft Word document on June 21st 2002, and in it the last pages show charts of a 5 year plan.  Keep in mind there is too much to do to finish the entire plan in 5 years.  This is just meant to be the first baby step to get the ball rolling on rejuvenating Bristol.  Among the things they proposed to accomplish in that time are:

  • Demolish old abandoned houses, 3-4 per year
  • Use CDBG and HOME funds to rehabilitate low income homes.  Coordinate with BVUB for matching funds
  • Create “gateways” into historic areas with period signage (to begin in year 3 of the historic plan (2005))
  • Coordinate with Economic Development for appropriate locations which may include recreations, bike paths, etc.
  • Find alternative sources by funding for transit and acquiring capital for operations and labor (year one of the plan through its duration)

I could go on and on, but those are a few of the main points that I have noticed haven’t changed since I’ve lived here.  And I moved here not long after this plan was supposed to be implemented.

I will give all the departments and city offices that have to communicate in order to get everything accomplished the benefit of the doubt.  Really, I agree with most of the proposed plan.  I would love it if everything in the plan were accomplished.  I only see 2 main flaws.

  1. Too much time is given to each section of the plan.
  2. Everyone involved seems to be spreading themselves, the funding, and the ideas way too thin.

Why so much time?

At the rate the things proposed in this plan are being checked off the list, it seems unlikely that it could be accomplished even in another 15 years.  If I were the author of the Comprehensive City Plan (CCP for the rest of this article), I would update it at least every year, with a checklist at the bottom with any reached goals checked off AND a brief description of how successful the plan went.  If I were feeling particularly proud, I may even add a star-rating system, or a smiley face or something.

Another downfall about allotting too much time for a plan of any kind, is how it encourages procrastination.  I know we’ve all been there!  You have a deadline to meet at work, or a 20 page essay due for history class in a month.  Plenty of time right?  In most cases no.  I understand more than most people the importance of seeing a good movie every now and then, and I am a huge fan of afternoon naps, as well as coming up with projects to keep my mind occupied (with anything that doesn’t put pressure on me).  I do not, however understand how someone or in this case a lot of City workers, most of whom are elected officials, can shrug off the importance of rejuvenating a whole city.  They have the power to change our whole way of life in Bristol for the better!  That, however directly or indirectly, is their job.  It’s something all of them could be proud of.  I know I would.  I dream of that kind of power, I think everyone in my age range does.  If I were elected to city council, after doing my happy dance I’d be going all around my jurisdiction taking pictures and printing out current statistics for that area.  They would all go in a shoe box under my bed.  Then the day I was leaving office I’d do the same thing, and compare the 2 boxes.  How cool would it be to see exactly how much of a difference you, one person, could make in the livelihood of an entire City like our very own Bristol?!  I can’t begin to imagine.

I also know that elected city officials are extremely busy, and being in or close to politics they have to play the political game.  But there are so many official (and unofficial for that matter) groups whose sole purpose is to focus on one aspect of the good and growth of Bristol and surrounding areas.  So why is the proposed 5 year plan taking so long?  We should be well into being a thriving, bustling city by now.  Overall, I think that what the City wanted to accomplish in 5 years could have been accomplished in 2 and a half.  It would take someone like me (and a large group of concerned citizens) 5+ years to complete the beginning of that plan, sure.  But I wouldn’t have the contacts to people in charge, like the powers that be, have.

Why so thin, and sickly?

I’m pretty sure that with the recent economic trends, most Bristoleans know how to stretch a dollar pretty thin so it lasts a while.  As consumers, that’s a good thing.  And over time anyone can do it.  As a City, it’s a bad thing.  Let me explain, with 2 examples I just made up:

1) Would you rather eat 3 pieces of cake where you can see through the icing, and are barely able to savor the sugary goodness it holds, or have 1 piece of cake where you get a fair amount of icing in every delicious bite?  I don’t eat sweets too often, but when it comes to flavor, luster, and vibrancy,  I know that frosting can mean all the difference.  Take those 2 kinds of cake to (one with a lot and one with a little frosting) to a pot-luck, and see which one more people eat.

2) If you have a leaky roof, and it takes 40 gallons of sealant to do the entire thing, and you only have 10 gallons, are you going to cover the entire roof?  Even the most novice roofer knows that if you don’t have enough sealant to cover the whole roof, you pick out the spots that are causing the most problems, and generously slather it on until you are able to get more sealant.  There are still going to be problems, yes, but at least most of the big leaks are going to be gone.

The point I’m getting at is that the City seems to be allocating funds, resources and ideas all over Bristol evenly.  All that means is that it’s going to be more difficult to get EVERY SINGLE problem solved at once.  Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for Bristol as of April of this year is 9.8%.  The CCP states that it’s 3.5% (meaning that Bristol has almost 3 times the number of unemployed citizens as it did 8 years ago). There are more and more young people present, and they continue to move here every year.  I don’t have the exact statistics, but I know that the CCP says that the population is getting older, which is contradictory to what I’ve seen .  That may have been true 10 years ago, but not now.  The CCP also states that there are 2,932 acres of vacant land in the City, 32% of which is undevelopable or chopped up into vacant lots.  Is it just me, or does that seem like a bit of a waste?

Delmer C. Dotson Jr.’s Proposed CCP:

I don’t pretend to be a city planner, but I am a problem solver by nature, a writer by the grace of God, and a Bristolean by choice.  I am in no way qualified or authorized to make decisions on behalf of the City of Bristol, but here’s what I would do in order to help Bristol had I the power.  I would lobby for more state and federal funding for a rejuvenation program for our beloved Birthplace of Country Music.  If UVa’s College at Wise could get 14+ million dollars 2 years ago to erect one brand new building and polish the entryway to the College, the entire City of Bristol could get at least enough money to remodel and open a 2 or 3 abandoned buildings near State Street.  Prime examples:

  1. Open and operate The Cameo Theater with a few of the suggestions I had in my last article.  You would spend a fraction of the funds, it would generate income, it would beautify downtown Bristol, and it would spark interest and culture within a large community.
  2. Open and operate the Bristol Firehouse Museum.  Again, a fraction of the funds would be spent, one less huge abandoned building downtown (which is currently just an eye-sore), and it could be a place for local school field-trips.  There are also opportunities to generate more money for the City to use on other projects, as well as a venue for coordinated special events.
  3. Subsidized public transportation for private companies.  It would help to lower unemployment, it wouldn’t take nearly the amount of funding as it would to renovate a historic building, there could be planned bus tours to all the interesting/historic places around town (sight-seeing), and on the weekends we could get the drunk people home from the bars safely.

These are all ideas I came up with by myself in the past 10 minutes.  If we had a team of City officials dedicated and persistent enough, this list could turn into 10 pages overnight.  And if they took one idea at a time and successfully implemented it into the City of Bristol instead of working on all of them at once we could have a much grander 5 year plan accomplished in record time.

I think we can all agree that we’d love to have little successes we could celebrate and revere every year, rather than one giant success 50 years from now.  So on behalf of the 20-somethings and everyone else of Bristol and the Tri-Cities:

City Officials, please take your job seriously.  We elected you for a reason.  We believe in you.  As long as you’re showing progressive steps toward the CCP, we can work with you.  The people of our fine City want, nay, we need to be proud of where we are.  After all, in a way Bristol makes all of us who we are.  We don’t want to see the place that birthed most of us become dilapidated and fall victim to whatever the national or world economy is going through.  We’re stronger than that.  We can survive, adapt, and become a shooting star among all other stars.  Don’t let surrounding cities steal our thunder.  And if you need help, just ask us, you know where we live.

Sincerely,

Delmer C. Dotson Jr.  “The Jester”

A Downhome Diamond in the Rough

Posted in Cameo Theatre, Cinemassacre/James Rolfe, Pocohontas Hale, The Black Shawl on August 25, 2010 by Divide By Zero

Kickin’ it Old School, All Classy Like.

This is an article I’ve wanted to write for a long time.  I’ve been trying to line up a supervised tour for myself so I could include some current interior pictures of The Cameo Theater in downtown Bristol, VA.  I’ve only found one short review of it online in which the writer stated that the public rarely gets access to the inside.  He is absolutely right.  I’ve tried for weeks now making phone calls every day to get inside for merely an hour.  I haven’t had any call backs yet.  It’s a very mysterious place, and the history of it is very rich.  I don’t know exactly why it is defunct right now, but all I see is enormous potential for a very sophisticated, very fun, very profitable business.

The Cameo Theater.  What’s that?

It is a vintage theater on the Virginia side of State Street in historic downtown Bristol.  In talking with some very prominent Bristol/Abingdon socialites, I have found that the Cameo used to have a strong rivalry with the Paramount theater.  They used to try and steal customers from one another, sometimes even having people who worked for one theater spend a few minutes inside the lobby of the other, only to vomit out front to discourage people from eating at the rival snack bar.  This was in hopes of getting people to leave the Paramount to come to the Cameo, or vice-versa.  It was awesome guerilla marketing and sneaky backstabbing tactics that ran rampant in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.

From the top!

Before it was the Cameo Theater, there was a business on that property called Little Hell.  It was the largest prostitution house in Bristol’s history.  I couldn’t find any dates of operation, but I know that more recently it changed ownership and became The Black Shawl.  It was headed by Pocahontas Hale, who was a Madam as well as a Medicine Woman taught in Cherokee spirituality.  The story goes that she always made her herbal remedies by herself, and never wrote down any of her recipes.  Local doctors, dentists, and pharmacists would buy her potions, carefully peel off her labels, and replace them with their own.  Madam Hale made more money with her herbal medicine than with prostitution, but never kept any more than $100 in the bank at any time.  After her death, local townspeople plundered her brothel to try to find the rest of her money.  No one found anything, until one night a regular John came in after sunset and left before the break of dawn.  Soon afterward he had a lavish mansion built, so he is believed to be Pocahontas Hale’s sole beneficiary.

It is also noteworthy that Madam Hale got in legal trouble for having a 15 year old girl on her staff.  She stated that the employee claimed to be 22 years old.  The case was dismissed as the jury decided that the girl could pass for being 22.  The girl got a job at another brothel, and soon after that 2 of the jurors who dismissed the case against Madam Hale were caught visiting the 15 year old girl (to see if she was as wild as she was described in court).

Intermission

After the death of Pocahontas Hale, The Black Shawl was torn down.  The neo-deco Cameo Theater was built a little while afterward, and has been there ever since.  I’m a skeptic, but there have been reports of a black figure circling the theater that resembles Madam Hale.  There has never been a formal paranormal investigation, and I have never seen it (and I spend quite a bit of time downtown), so I can’t say anything about that.  As far as I can tell, The Cameo shut down regular operation around 1990.  The only review I can find is from a local man who wishes The Cameo would open its doors once again.  All he says is “I watched Batman here for the first time long ago, and that was a great experience,”  among a few other blurbs.  I understand that now the Cameo is owned by a religious group here in town and only use The Cameo as a base for their radio station WCHB.

Next Curtain Goes Up [hopefully]

Personally, I really wish The Cameo would open its doors again too.  There is so much potential there!  There are local theater groups; also, there are 2 colleges very close by with numerous drama/theater students who would love the chance to perform on a stage like The Cameo.  Not only that, both ETSU and UVa Wise are within an hour and a half away.  Both of which have fantastic actors who would also love to perform in front of the 500+ seats of The Cameo one weekend a semester.

Seeing as how there is a projection screen giving The Cameo the ability to play movies, there are a million ways to turn that into a fun place for Bristoleans to go on the weekends.  There could be a different theme every month;  Romantic “chick-flicks” in early Spring time and  Christmas movies all December long!  Superhero movies in September!  There could be a Monster Madness (such as the one found at Cinemassacre.com by the incredible James Rolfe) during every day of October.  It could showcase all of the old nostalgic horror movies that are incredibly corny by today’s standards.  Even the really old scary movies like the ones they would play and hook up a pulley system to swing skeletons, bats, and spiders out over the audience.  I think they call that “Ye Olde Timey 3-D”.  It would be a blast!  Not only that, but it could play newly released movies.  It’d be nice to see a new movie in a vintage art-deco theater.  There would be an air of prestige that cinemas like Tinseltown or the Abingdon Theater couldn’t bring to movie-goers.  Local children could put on plays there and charge a discounted admission to raise money for their schools.  It would be a whole lot better than their parents trying to sell those stupid candy bars at their work place for the same reason.  It would be perfect for local up-and-coming bands, or stand up comedians.  I know there are probably a few handfuls of aspiring film-makers in the Tri-Cities, without a way to show off their work.  With a little finagling of the equipment The Cameo already has, I’m sure there could be a time where once a month there could be an independent film shown before the feature presentation of the evening.  I could go on and on, the possibilities of that theater are seriously endless.

If it were up to me, I would market The Cameo more towards younger crowds.  The Paramount is right down the street and is very sophisticated, and you only see the dapper-est of the dapper (mostly older crowds) coming out after a performance.  Besides, there should be more things for teenagers and twenty-somethings to do in Bristol besides go to Johnson City for entertainment.  And with a calendar full of movies, local college and grade school performances, along with seasonal artists, a few comedians, local bands, and poetry readings, maybe an “open mic night” every once in a while, who wouldn’t attend?  It could open doors for many talented young men and women around the Tri-Cities, as well as add some culture to an otherwise stale demographic.  Isn’t that what we want?  Shouldn’t Bristol be proud of the youth that is born and raised here?  Wouldn’t it be spectacular to see a crop of varied artists break into the culture scene across the nation representing Bristol and the Tri-Cities?  I know I’d love to see it, and I can see it, slightly.  Every time I walk by The Cameo, hold my hand up to the door and peer in through the dusty glass I see a tiny glimmer of what could be.  And it could be epic.

Mischeif at exit 7

Posted in Drugs, Restaurants on August 24, 2010 by Divide By Zero

The Good, The Ugly, and Everything Between.

Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina

16 August, 2010

Written by: Del Dotson

I have worked in many different restaurants through the years.  My first job was in a buffet style place in Northern Virginia.  I moved from there to steakhouses, seafood places, a cafeteria or two, and even Hooter’s once.  It always starts out the same way: they ask me if I want to be a waiter, I decline, then they stick me in the dish room.  I can hack it there, sometimes I prefer it.  The hardest problem you have in the dish room is: “Crap, there’s cheese on this plate!”  I can usually work my way out of the dish room and move on to other responsibilities pretty quickly.  Also, the dish room is usually located in a perfect place to observe the rest of the kitchen.  It’s fun seeing the flow the cook line has with one another.  When they get a big rush on a Saturday, they almost look like they’re all dancing together ballet style.  Everyone helps each other out, while still finding a way to piss one another off.  It’s just the way of the kitchen.

I’ve never worked at a place quite like Salsarita’s.  It’s a different kind of restaurant.

The Good

At Salsarita’s, everyone that worked there did everything.  Instead of just one person doing dishes all day, another cooking, another prepping, and so on, everyone did a few dishes, served a little bit, cooked a little bit, etc.  It was fun working there (when the owners weren’t there).  Everyone got along, and the job never got boring.  Also, Salsarita’s is a weird mix of a restaurant that’s part sit-down, and part fast-food.  I love all the fresh local ingredients they used.  There was never a chance of any food even being close to rotting or going bad.  I saw the managers throw away food days before the expiration, or should I say, “serve-by” date.  Sure, a few things were kept overnight, but they were done so properly.  I really can’t complain about their food at all.  Everything is fresh, delicious, tasty, and reasonably priced.

The Ugly

Now to the fun part!  The restaurant is a Cantina.  They serve alcohol.  They have a full bar, as a matter of fact.  And a big part of restaurant sales is the grossly priced mixed drinks, shots, and beers they serve.  The then-owners of the location at exit 7 in Bristol could have taken full advantage of that and helped offset their income for the slow days they had during the week.  I worked there for about 8 months.  I was over 21, and was allowed to serve alcohol to customers.  I never sold one alcoholic drink.  In fact, no one I worked with served one.  No one wanted to drink there.  Even during dinner rush on Friday and Saturday nights, no one had a margarita with their enchiladas.  No one wanted a Corona with their nachos.  The biggest reason is that the stereo system by the bar was constantly playing Christian/Evangelical music.  Which is fine, I listen to some gospel every now and then, but if you own a restaurant with a bar in it, it is an asset.  It’s a substantial money maker.  It is the last place you expect to hear religious music.  It stops people from spending money at the bar.  I respect religion, and I respected the owners for having the same faith I had.  But if they were so religious they were uncomfortable selling alcohol, then they should have scrapped all the liquor, and turned it into something else. They never really communicated with the cooking staff very much, but if they had held even one meeting with us, we could have come up with about 10 creative ideas for the bar, each.

They were the type of owners that had never owned a restaurant before, and I’m fairly certain that neither one of them had ever worked in a restaurant even once.  Our manager most of the time was their oldest son.  He back talked his parents a lot, and they were never able to separate their family’s home life from the restaurant.  It was the type of thing that made all the other employees not respect the owners.  I saw it on multiple occasions.  It’s sad really to see a pimple faced 17 year old play dumb(er than they usually are) when the managers walk in, and get out of their side work at the end of the night.  They sold the restaurant shortly after, because some people aren’t cut out to own their own restaurant.

Everything Between

It was kind of funny watching the whole staff switch personas when the owners left, and we knew they’d be gone for at least a few hours.  All of a sudden, the cameras got turned off, and I watched people who were into drugs (myself excluded) whip out their little baggies.  One guy would go out back and puff on a joint, while another guy cleaned off a prep station in the back and was measuring out lines of cocaine.  All while one of the Assistant Managers was in the bathroom smoking meth out of a test tube.  Those were the days where I knew I wouldn’t have to do anything.  I would just sit back, and watch the little Tasmanian Devils run amok on the serving line.  They would finish everything up in record time.  All I had to do was make sure they had enough clean plates freshly chopped ingredients.

Overall

It was a fun place to work, and peer pressure has never really influenced me.  The co-workers I had were hilariously idiotic in their own way, but they got the work done, and they always did a good job and worked hard.  The owners have changed since I worked there, and in my opinion it’s for the best.  I love eating there, and have even had a beer or two on my off days.  I recommend it to everyone, tourists and locals alike.

Nightmare on Commonwealth Ave.

Posted in Bad employment, Hell on August 15, 2010 by Divide By Zero

As most of us know by now, it’s pretty difficult to find a job in this economy.  And really, when it comes down to it beggars cannot be choosers.  I myself have been in and out of work for the past 2 years trying to finish up college.  In that short span of time, I’ve worked in different counties and cities in Virginia and Tennessee.  I’ve worked in restaurants and cafeterias, maintained lawns, worked on cell phones, become a temp, been a telemarketer, and have donated plasma countless times.  But the absolute worst job I’ve ever had since I joined the work force almost a decade ago was right here in Bristol.  For a very long month, I was employed as a cashier at Quick Stop #38.  You may know it as The Marathon convenience store on Commonwealth Ave.

In that month I experienced the worst of nearly every facet of any job I’ve ever had.  The hours were long and unpredictable, I was there by myself most of the time, and certainly by myself on the graveyard shift, 11pm-7am (the most dangerous shift).  Now I know, working at a gas station I have to accept the risks of being robbed or someone threatening my life.  That would have been all well and good if I weren’t getting paid minimum wage.  I think we can all agree that your responsibilities should match your pay rate.  Risk equals reward, right?

While there, I was almost on a first name basis with the local Police Dispatcher.  I was calling them every other day on average, sometimes 4-5 times a week.  The management was very shoddy and if something happened, even if I followed the procedure I was told to, I still got in trouble.  I was never allowed a bathroom break, because I was the only one there, even though we had 2 cash registers.  They didn’t even have 2 people in that store during race weekends.  Again, it turned out to be my fault that I had a line out the door.  I had worked a total of 48 hours before my first race weekend.  I was inexperienced, and alone.  It proved to me that the Green Oil Company, the owners of Quick Stop #38 (and to my understanding subsidiary of BP), wanted to run that location as cheaply as possible.  Even if it meant treating their employees the way one would treat a leaky bucket full of crap, rotting fish, and vomit (both human and cat).

The General Manager at the time was lazy, didn’t care about his job, and was very poorly qualified.  He struck me as the type of man who chose paperclips over staples because they were more fun to straighten out.  And coincidentally when he didn’t want to come in to work “he hurt his back”.  Despite him bragging about being the portrait of health and acting like some huge tough guy he could hurt his back while driving down the road.  He was so lazy he couldn’t even change his excuse.

I had minimal training (my orientation took 4 minutes), and the technology reminded me of 1996.  The whole place needs to be remodeled; you can notice even today that none of the fluorescent lights have covers on them.  The restrooms are breeding grounds for diseases; so much so that I refused to clean them while I was working there.  To be fair though, I also wouldn’t let any customers use them.  Minimum wage doesn’t cover the typhoid fever-scurvy-tetanus cocktail I would have gotten by going into those bathrooms.  Instead I stayed sure that no one was stealing things from inside, by staying inside.  God forbid ANYTHING happen during my shift for fear of being written up, or fired.  This all lead me to believe that Green Oil Co. was taking advantage of peoples financial situation during these recessive times.  They knew they could treat anyone however they want because jobs are few and far between.

Overall, even if you’re desperate for something quick I recommend going somewhere else.  There’s at least 3 other gas stations within a mile of that place, and they’re all much better.  There probably aren’t drug deals going on in their parking lots either.  I sometimes refrain from stopping there just based on the recent oil spill caused by British Petroleum.  It’s simple; it doesn’t make sense to me to give money to an irresponsible company.  And what would the founding fathers say?  Wasn’t America formed to get away from Great Britain?  As an American, I consider it my own little patriotic ritual every time I pass by Quick Stop #38.  Sometimes I even do it while saying Pledge of Allegiance.

POSTSCRIPT (30 Aug. 2010):  I’m not picking on the managers, or the company for that matter.  I really liked my GM as a person while I worked there, and I’m sure he had talents and work ethic that benefited him.  There was just something about that ONE location of this particular chain.  I wanted to point it out because there could be room for improvements there, and I hope it changes into an enjoyable place to work.  Family members of mine (and yes, even I am guilty of this) have been customers there since my employment has ended, and I can see slow but steady steps the company is taking to remedy situations that I found less than appealing.

Walking around Bristol, VA.

Posted in Local on August 14, 2010 by Divide By Zero

I’ve lived in a few different places in my life, and currently reside in Bristol.  My father moved us down here while I was in college because it was quieter.  He liked that.  And I agree, it is quieter.  I can honestly say that there is no place like Bristol.

One of my favorite things to do in Bristol on the weekends (when I don’t feel like making the hour drive to Johnson City) is to walk around downtown.  I can spend all day on State Street.  I was born and raised in Northern Virginia, and fell in love with Old Town Alexandria, and for those 5 or 6 blocks I am reminded of the beauty of a bustling city.  It would be a perfect place, if it weren’t for the teenagers.

Don’t get me wrong, I have teenage friends, I am only in my mid-20’s.  But, the ones I’ve run across all around Bristol, and especially downtown are a special kind of aggravating.  Since I have spent a lot of time downtown, I have made a list of everything that teenagers do that bring my patience to a stand still:

-Everything.

That’s right.  And I want to clarify that I’m not stereotyping all teenagers everywhere.  I’m merely talking about the ones my family and I encounter in downtown Bristol.

They imitate the siren sounds of emergency vehicles nearby.  They stand outside of the bars at night hoping they get a chance to get in.  Some of them do it every night, or several times a week.  They jump out and try to scare people, and the only people they actually scare are the elderly, or small dogs.  They don’t even hide behind anything, they just walk and suddenly jerk towards people.  C’mon guys, if you’re going to try this, at least try to be clever about it.  No one likes an idiot.  Which is what you’re being.

One of the things most special to me about State Street and the area surrounding it is the Paramount Theatre.  Rarely do I go see a show, but I love the ambiance of downtown when a big show lets out.  It brings a little elegance into the mixture of everything else that is good about this area (barring the teens).  People are dressed nice and formal, everyone is being courteous to one another, and I am reminded simply of one one of the “Old Hollywood Dinner Parties”.  It’s something I look forward to, even if I can’t afford to partake in the main event.

In short, I would love to see the teenagers who hang around down there join in the sophistication I have seen and help turn State Street back into what it was in its hay-day.  A truly beautiful place to be.