Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tom Cochrane – "Life Is a Highway" (1991)

Life is a highway
I wanna ride it all night long

In 1974, the Virginia Department of Transportation (“VDOT”) proposed to build an eight-lane highway (four lanes in each direction) from the Washington Beltway to Arlington, Virginia – the closest-in Virginia suburb of Washington – where the highway would split into two six-lane branches.  One of those branches would use an existing bridge over the Potomac River into D.C., while the other would cross into D.C. over the proposed Three Sisters Bridge.  

Thanks to the usual NIMBY  (“Not in my back yard”) opposition from local residents, the Three Sisters Bridge was never built and the eight-lane highway – which was designated as I-66 – became a four-lane highway (two lanes in each direction) that finally opened to traffic in 1982.

Rush hour traffic on I-66
From the very beginning, I-66 was a parking lot during rush hour.  Two lanes was obviously inadequate to handle the volume of traffic that the road attracted, but proposals to widen the highway met with vehement opposition from local residents.  In an effort to limit congestion, highway officials imposed draconian restrictions on drivers wishing to use I-66, allowing only Dulles Airport traffic and HOV-2 cars (those carrying two or more people) to use the highway during four-hour-long morning and evening rush-hour windows.

Some drivers resorted to putting mannequins in the passenger seat to make it appear that they were carpoolers:

Those who did get caught using I-66 without one or more passengers had to pay $125 for the first offense, $250 for the second, and so on.  But some estimated that as many as half the people using I-66 during rush hours were rolling the dice and driving solo.

*     *     *     *     *

Earlier this month, VDOT introduced tolls on I-66.  The stretch of I-66 where tolls are charged is only ten miles long, but it runs through densely-populated suburban neighborhoods directly into downtown Washington, DC.  

To use I-66 during rush hours, any solo driver must set up an “E-ZPass” account and put a transponder on his car’s windshield, which triggers charges to his account every time he uses the highway.

A number of toll roads around the U.S. charge higher prices during peak usage hours.  For example, the lightly-trafficked Intercounty Connector toll road in the Maryland county where I live charges 22 cents a mile during rush hour, 17 cents a mile the rest of the day, and 7 cents a mile during the wee hours.

Virginia wanted to keep traffic on I-66 moving at 45 mph (or faster).  So they made the tolls variable.  When traffic volume is high, the price charged goes up, which discourages drivers from driving on I-66.  Pretty soon, the traffic volume lessens, speeds increase, and the tolls go down.  

*     *     *     *     *

VDOT officials projected that tolls would peak at $7 during the morning rush-hour period, and at $9 in the afternoon.  That’s not exactly cheap for a ten-mile drive, but you can always take the Metro if you don’t want to pay.

The first day the I-66 tolls were applied, the cost to use the highway at 5:36 am was $4.50.

But exactly three hours later, the toll hit – I kid you not – $34.50!

That’s right . . . $34.50 for a ten-mile drive!

VDOT officials were sanguine about the high tolls.  As far as they were concerned, the adjustable tolls did their job – which was to keep traffic moving.  The average speed during the morning rush hour was 57 mph – much better than the 37 mph average speed on I-66 during morning rush hours a year ago.

Of course, the difference between driving ten miles at 57 mph and ten miles at 37 mph is less than six minutes.  (Is it worth $34.50 to you to save six minutes on your morning commute?)  

The next day, the peak toll was $40!

But the day after that, tolls peaked at just $23.50.  Such a deal!

*     *     *     *     *

Not surprisingly, Virginia drivers screamed bloody murder about the unexpectedly high tolls, pointing out that only the wealthy or those with generous expense accounts would be able to afford to use I-66 during peak hours.  

Suddenly, their elected representatives woke up and decried the price gouging.  Several state reps have called on VDOT to get rid of the tolls altogether and go back to the old HOV-2 system.

I doubt that will happen.  Once a government agency sinks its teeth into a new source of revenue, it rarely lets go.

*     *     *     *     *

Canadian country-western singer Tom Cochrane wrote and recorded “Life Is a Highway” in 1991.  It was a #1 hit in Canada and a top ten hit in the United States.

The song was inspired by a trip Cochrane took to East Africa to raise money for famine relief.  One of the countries he visited was Mozambique, which explains why that country is mentioned in the song.  

In 2006, Rascal Flats recorded a cover of the song that was included on the soundtrack for the wildly successful animated movie, Cars.  

Here’s Tom Cochrane’s original recording of “Life Is a Highway”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Hombres – "Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)" (1967)

Nobody knows what it's all about
It's too much, man
Let it all hang out

Truer words were never spoken . . . or sung.
*     *     *     *     *

“Let it all hang out” is good advice for any situation.

Until now, the official motto of 2 or 3 lines has been MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.  But as of today, LET IT ALL HANG OUT is also the official motto of 2 or 3 lines.

You don’t have a problem with gnomikogamy, do you?  (“Gnomikogamy: the practice or custom of having more than one motto at the same time.”)

*     *     *     *     *

Speaking of having more than one of something at the same time, do you have a problem with polygamy?  

If so, do you have a problem with all forms of polygamy?  Or do you just have a problem with polygyny?

We commonly use polygamy to describe marriage between one male and two or more females.  Technically, that is polygyny, which is only one variety of polygamy.

*     *     *     *     *

In contemporary society, polygyny is associated with the Muslim religion.

Polygyny is sanctioned by the Quran, and is legal in most Muslim-majority countries as long as the male has the means to support all his wives.  (In some Muslim countries, the male must get the permission of his existing wife or wives before marrying another one.)

India prohibited polygyny by Hindus (but not Muslims) in 1955.  Prior to that, lower-caste Hindus were allowed to have a second wife, but only if the first wife was unable to bear a son.  Hindus from the higher castes who wished to practice polygyny could do so relatively freely.

Many Old Testament figures had more than one wife, and polygyny continues to be practiced by at least some Jews.  But Israel has outlawed polygyny, and polygyny is almost unheard of among mainstream Jews.    

Mormons practiced polygyny for much of the 19th century, but the LDS Church president issued a manifesto prohibiting the practice in 1890.    

*     *     *     *     *

Polyandry – which is marriage between one female and two or more males – is a form of polygamy that’s much rarer than polygyny.

The most common form of polyandry is fraternal polyandry, where two or more brothers marry the same wife.  Fraternal polyandry was most common in Tibet and other Himalayan societies, where arable land was scarce.  

When all the brothers in a family marry the same woman, the family’s land remains intact – it passes as one parcel to the male offspring of that marriage (who also presumably marry the same woman).  If each brother married a different woman and had children, the family’s land would be divided into smaller and smaller parcels.

Having multiple males marry the same woman also limits population growth.  (If seven brothers marry seven different women instead of sharing the same wife, there will likely be a lot more children produced.)

In much of Europe, the problem of keeping the family estate intact was handled not through polyandry, but through primogeniture – the eldest brother inherited the entire estate, while the younger brothers joined the army (and got killed in battle) or became priests or monks (who weren’t allowed to marry).

*     *     *     *     *

By the way, “gnomikogamy” is a word that I personally invented – a “stunt word,” if you will.  But it’s based on real Greek roots, and is less ridiculous than neologisms like “consecotaleophobia” (which is the fear of chopsticks) or “gynotikolobomassophilia” (which is the love of biting a female’s earlobes).

*     *     *     *     *

“Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)” was released by the Hombres, a one-hit-wonder group from Memphis, in 1967.  

The song’s spoken introduction – “A preachment, dear friends, you are about to receive on John Barleycorn, nicotine and the temptations of Eve” – was borrowed from a 1947 novelty recording titled “Cigareets, Whuskey and Wild, Wild Women” by Red Ingle and His Natural Seven.

B. B. Cunningham, Jr., who was the lead singer of the Hombres, ended up working as a security guard in Memphis.  He was shot and killed while on the job in 2012.  

His brother, Bill Cunningham, was the bass player for the Box Tops, but left the group in 1969 to get a degree in music.  He eventually played bass violin in a number of classical orchestras, and also was a busy session musician.

Here’s “Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, December 8, 2017

Cream – "Badge" (1969)

Then I told you about our kid
Now he’s married to Mabel

I’ve read that “our kid” is Cockney slang for “little brother.”  That makes the “Badge” lyrics quoted above slightly less puzzling.

*     *     *     *     *

The story goes that each of the members of Cream were supposed to write a song for the group’s aptly-named final studio album, Goodbye, but that Eric Clapton wasn’t able to come up with anything.  So he sat down with his friend, George Harrison, and wrote “Badge.”  

This was in 1968, years before Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd, divorced him and moved in with Clapton – but perhaps not long before Clapton first got the hots for Boyd.  

The story also goes that Harrison had written “bridge” next to the lyrics for the song’s bridge, which Clapton misread as “badge” – hence the song’s title.  

While Harrison and Clapton were laughing about the “bridge”/“badge” misunderstanding, Ringo Starr walked in three sheets to the wind and suggested the line about the swans that live in the park.

Harrison and Clapton (1969)
(By the way, Pattie Boyd said the reason she left Harrison was the fact that he had a number of affairs while they were married – including one with Ringo Starr’s wife, Maureen.  I’m not sure if that was before or after Boyd had an affair with Faces guitarist Ronnie Wood, who later replaced Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones.)

*     *     *     *     *

The last 2 or 3 lines discussed the Civil War-era High Bridge near Farmville, Virginia, which has been converted from a railroad bridge to one suitable for use by hikers and bikers.

It also discussed a different kind of bridge – the musical bridge, which is a section of a song that is usually inserted between the verses of a song, and which contrasts musically with those verses.  The particular musical bridge that was the subject of that discussion was the bridge (or “middle eight”) of “Ticket to Ride” by the Beatles.

The bridge in “Badge” – which begins at 1:07 of the song – is the most interesting feature of that song.  It really steals the show from the verses.  (“Badge” doesn’t have choruses.  Its extremely simple structure can be notated as AABA, where “A” is a verse and “B” is the bridge.)

Like all great bridge, the bridge in “Badge” contrasts with the verses, but complements them.  It’s not one of those bridges that sounds like it should have been the foundation of a whole different song – not a complementary section of the song it is part of.

*     *     *     *     *

Shortly before “Badge” was recorded, Eric Clapton joined the Beatles at Abbey Road Studios to play the lead guitar part on Harrison’s song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

George Harrison returned the favor and played rhythm guitar when Cream recorded “Badge.” 

For legal reasons, neither Clapton’s nor Harrison’s name could appear on those records.  (The rhythm guitar part on “Badge” was credited to “L’Angelo Misterioso” – or “Mysterious Angel.”)

George and Ringo at Abbey Road Studios
Some people think Harrison played the lead guitar part that accompanies the bridge in “Badge.”  The guitar arpeggios that introduce the bridge do sound very Abbey Road-ish, but most sources say that Clapton – not Harrison – is the one playing there.

*     *     *     *     *

“Badge” is a very economical song.  It clocks in at less than three minutes long.  

The song featured in the previous 2 or 3 lines, “Ticket to Ride,” is about 30 seconds longer . . . although that song has less there there. 

The Beatles stretched “Ticket to Ride” by repeating everything – both verses are repeated, and the bridge is repeated as well.  (If you eliminated all the repeated lines from “Ticket to Ride”  it would be about half as long as “Badge.”)

*     *     *     *     *

Cream was a fabulous band.  Like the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream had only three members – such groups were known as “power trios” back in the day – but all three were extremely talented.  It’s amazing that such near-perfect music could be produced by only three musicians.

While Eric Clapton is the household name among Cream’s members, it’s possible that he wasn’t as good a guitarist as Jack Bruce was a bassist or Ginger Baker was a drummer.  (I think Baker and Keith Moon are the best drummers of their era.  The two sounded nothing alike, but they were both brilliantly original.)

Here’s “Badge”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Beatles – "Ticket to Ride" (1965)

I don't know why she's ridin' so high
She ought to think twice

On March 25, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered an attack on Fort Stedman, a modest Union Army fortification located just east of Petersburg, Virginia. 

Union General Ulysses S. Grant had spent the previous ten months patiently maneuvering against Lee’s much smaller army, which was stretched very thin along a 40-mile-long front. 

The attack on Fort Stedman
Lee’s desperate attack failed to break Grant’s stranglehold on his army, and Grant’s counterattacks over the next few days forced the Confederate commander to abandon his defense of both Petersburg (a vital supply base and railroad depot) and nearby Richmond (the Confederate capital) and retreat to the west on April 2.

For the next week, Lee’s forces retreated along the route of the Southside Railroad, which connected Petersburg to Lynchburg, Virginia, which was about 130 miles to the west.  

*     *     *     *     *

The most notable feature of the Southside Railroad was the High Bridge, which was completed in 1852:

The original High Bridge under construction
The High Bridge, which carried the railroad across the Appomattox River valley, was almost half a mile long and had a maximum height of 160 feet above the ground.

The engineer who designed it later said that “there have been higher bridges not so long, and longer bridges not so high, but taking the length and height together, this is, perhaps, the largest bridge in the world.”

The bridge’s 20 piers contained almost four million bricks, and supported not only the railroad bridge but also an adjacent wagon bridge.

*     *     *     *     *

On April 6, 1865, as Lee’s Confederate forces retreated to the west, a Union raiding party tried to destroy the bridge to slow the southerners down.  The attempt was a spectacular failure – the entire 800-man Union force was either killed or captured, and the Confederates were able to cross the Appomattox using the bridge.

The next day, the Confederate rear guard tried to burn the bridge to slow down the Union pursuit.  The railroad bridge was made unusable, but the wagon bridge was not seriously damaged.  Grant’s forces were able to remain on the heels of the retreating Confederates, and Lee was forced to surrender only two days later after reaching Appomattox Court House, about 25 miles west of the High Bridge.

*     *     *     *     *

A few years ago, some 31 miles of the Southside Railroad’s right of way was converted to a rail trail by the Virginia state government.  I rode most of the trail on a recent two-day trip to Farmville, which sits at the midpoint of the trail.  

You can click here to read about my ride on the western half of the High Bridge trail and my post-ride visits to Third Street Brewing and the Fishin’ Pig restaurant.

The next day, I returned to Farmville and rode east, crossing over the High Bridge about half an hour into my trip.

Here's a 90-second video of bikers on the High Bridge.  PLEASE WATCH THIS VIDEO!

I continued to Moran, which is seven miles southeast of the bridge before turning around and heading back west to Farmville.

On my return trip, I stopped to inspect the High Bridge more closely. 

There’s a path that takes you from the rail trail down to the river, which enables you to get a good look at the bridge from below:

Here’s a photo of the bridge I took after walking several hundred yards up the riverbank:

The burned bridge was rebuilt shortly after the Civil War under the supervision of William “Billy” Mahone, a civil engineer who had been a major general in Robert E. Lee’s army.  (Mahone had been with Lee when his foundering army retreated across the High Bridge just before surrendering at Appomattox.)

Here’s a photo of the bridge being rebuilt:

I am not a fan of heights, but crossing the bridge didn’t bother me too much even though the bridge is fairly narrow.  (There’s room for two bike riders to pass safely, but there’s not a lot of room to spare.)

The river itself is not very wide, but has cut a fairly deep valley, which is what necessitated the half-mile-long bridge.

*     *     *     *     *

The weather was beautiful the day I rode the eastern half of the High Bridge rail trail – sixty degrees, little or no wind, and a cloudless blue sky – but I didn’t see a single other biker on the outbound portion of my ride.  (Yes, it was a weekday, but I’m still surprised there was so little traffic on the trail.)

At the end of my ride, I returned to the Third Street brewery to have a pint of their “High Bridge Helles” lager.  While enjoying my beer, I wowed the other patrons with a detailed account of my bicycle exploits.  (They were hanging on my every word!)

After that, I couldn’t resist returning to the Fishin’ Pig for another heapin’ helpin’ of fried catfish (cooked in “Shorty’s Famous Seafood & Chicken Breading”), cole slaw, and redskin potato salad – plus a glass of Parkway Brewing’s delicious”Reformator” doppelbock:

Not only was the catfish delicious, it was cheap – fried catfish dinners are half price every Thursday evening at the Fishin’ Pig.  (I must have done a major good deed in a previous life.)

Then it was time to hit the road for the three-hour drive back to my home.

*     *     *     *     *

Most pop and rock songs have verses and a chorus.  Each verse usually has different lyrics, while the choruses usually have the same lyrics. 

Many songs also have a bridge, which is a section somewhere in the middle of the song that contrasts with the verses musically.

One common song structure is ABABCAB, where “A” stands for a verse, “B” for the chorus, and “C” for the bridge.

The Beatles wrote and recorded several songs that could have been ABABCAB songs, but that they turned into ABABCABCAB songs.

The verses and choruses of some Beatles songs were so short that following the ABABCAB structure would left them with a too-short song.  

One example of an ABABCAB song that the Beatles stretched by repeating the bridge and the final verse/chorus is today’s featured song, “Ticket to Ride,” which begins with this verse:

I think I'm gonna be sad
I think it's today, yeah
The girl that's driving me mad
Is going away

Next comes the chorus, which couldn’t be simpler:

She's got a ticket to ride
She's got a ticket to ride
She's got a ticket to ride
But she don't care

Next is the second verse:

She said that living with me
Is bringing her down, yeah
For she would never be free
When I was around

The chorus that follows the second verse is identical to the chorus that follows the first verse, so there’s no need for me to repeat it.

“Ticket to Ride” was on the Help! soundtrack
Here’s the bridge that follows that second chorus.  It’s essentially a mini-bridge that they repeat:

I don't know why she's ridin' so high
She ought to think twice
She ought to do right by me
Before she gets to saying goodbye
She ought to think twice
She ought to do right by me

The second half of the song is essentially identical to the first half – albeit slightly rearranged.

The third verse (which follows the bridge) is simply the first verse repeated.  It’s followed by the same chorus.

The bridge is then repeated word for word and note for note.

Next, the second verse is repeated, followed by the same ol’ chorus.

Finally, there’s a short coda (or “outro”): 

My baby don't care, my baby don't care
My baby don't care, my baby don't care
My baby don't care, my baby don't care

Let’s face it – we don’t need the bridge of “Ticket to Ride” to be repeated, and we don’t need the second verse (plus chorus) to be repeated.  The song should really have gone to the coda immediately after the repeat of the first verse and chorus.  (Better yet, the Beatles could have written a new third verse rather than repeating the first one.)

The problem is that “Ticket to Ride” would have only been 2:20 long if it had ended before the repeat of the bridge.  By repeating the bridge and repeating the second verse (plus the chorus), the Beatles stretched it to 3:11.

There are a lot of Beatles songs that are no longer than 2:20 – “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Help!,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Paperback Writer,” and “Lady Madonna,” to name just a few.  I would have preferred “Ticket to Ride” without the padding, but the Beatles decided otherwise.

*     *     *     *     *

When all is said and done, “Ticket to Ride” consists of two four-line verses (each of which is repeated), a chorus that repeats one line (“She’s got a ticket to ride”) three times, a six-line bridge that’s really a four-line bridge because two of the lines are repeated, and a coda that repeats the same short phrase (“My baby don’t care”) over and over.

If you take out all the repetition, you end up with exactly 15 lines containing a total of 80 words (counting the “yeahs”).

That’s not atypical of Lennon and McCartney songs.  John and Paul cranked out a lot of songs together  in a very few years, but there wasn’t much in the way of substance in many of those songs.  

Here’s “Ticket to Ride”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Band – "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (1969)

In the winter of '65
We were hungry, just barely alive
By May the 10th, Richmond had fell

In the last 2 or 3 lines, I told you about driving to Farmville, Virginia, to ride my bike on the western half of the High Bridge rail trail in southern Virginia.  I also explained why I spent the night in Appomattox, a half an hour’s drive from Farmville.  You can click here to read that post.

Before driving to Farmville, Virginia to ride the eastern half of the High Bridge rail trail the next morning, I made a brief detour to visit the Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, where Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the remnants of his tattered and depleted Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, on April 9, 1865.

I’ll tell you more about some of the events that preceded that surrender in the next 2 or 3 lines.

It was a brisk 39 degrees in Appomattox that morning:

Lee’s surrender didn’t end the Civil War – several large Confederate armies remained in the field – but the handwriting was on the wall for the Confederacy after Lee threw in the towel.  By June, the remaining Confederate commanders had given up, and the Civil War was officially over. 

Lee signed the surrender documents in the parlor of a house belonging to Wilmer McLean, who had moved to Appomattox from Manassas, Virginia, to get away from the war.  (McLean’s farmhouse in Manassas had come under artillery fire during the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861.)

The parlor of the restored McLean House
After the ceremony, Union generals Edward Ord and Philip Sheridan handed McLean some gold coins and helped themselves to the parlor furniture, some of which ended up in the Smithsonian Institution’s collection.  

A Union captain picked up a small rag doll belonging to McLean’s seven-year-old daughter and took it home as a souvenir.  Eventually the doll was returned to Appomattox and placed on display in the park’s museum.

Lee surrenders to Grant
McLean was unable to afford to make his mortgage payments, and sold the house in 1867.  It was later sold to an entrepreneur who planned to take it apart and then reassemble it in Washington as part of a planned Civil War museum.  But he ran out of money after he dismantled the house, and the piles of bricks and other building components just sat in the yard until the National Park Service took possession and rebuilt the McLean house many years later. 

A park ranger and tour group in
front of the McLean House
I’ll tell you about my second day’s ride on the High Bridge rail trail – the highlight of which was the famous High Bridge itself – in the next 2 or 3 lines.

*     *     *     *     *

“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” – a first-person lament about the defeat of the Confederacy sung by a poor white Southerner – was released by the Band on its eponymous second album in 1969.

The song was written by Robbie Robertson, one of the Band’s four Canadian members, although Arkansas native Levon Helm later said he helped Robertson with the historical research he did prior to writing the song’s lyrics.

Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, actually fell to Union forces in early April 1865.  If the narrator was using Richmond as a metonym for the Confederacy rather than referring literally to the city itself, May 10th was as good a day as any to pick as representing the fall of the Confederacy because that was the day that Confederate President Jefferson Davis – who had met with his cabinet and dissolved the Confederate government a few days earlier – was captured by Union soldiers.

Here’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, December 1, 2017

Creedence Clearwater Revival – "Green River" (1969)

Stoppin' at the log where catfish bite
Walkin' along the river road at night
Barefoot girls dancin' in the moonlight

The Southside Railroad, connected Petersburg and Lynchburg, Virginia.  Construction of the railroad 132-mile-long railroad began in 1849 and was completed in 1854.

The Southside Railroad's High Bridge
over the Appomattox River (1854)
After the Civil War, the Southside eventually became part of the Norfolk & Western, which later merged with the Southern Railway to form the Norfolk Southern, one of the four largest railroads in the United States.  Today the Norfolk Southern operates over 21,500 miles of track and has annual revenues of almost $10 billion.

The Norfolk Southern continued to run trains over most of the original Southside Railroad route until 2005, when it gave the right of way to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.  The DCR ripped up the tracks and converted 31 miles of the former rail corridor into a rail trail that’s been open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders for about five years.

I recently loaded up my new hybrid bike and drove to Farmville, Virginia, a town that sits smack dab in the middle of the rail trail – which is officially known as High Bridge Trail State Park. 

*     *     *     *     *

I arrived in Farmville a little before 3:00 pm, which meant that I had only about two hours to ride before it got dark.

The Prospect postmistress lowering
 the American flag at closing time
I parked at the former Farmville train station and hit the trail.  There wasn’t enough daylight left for me to get all the way to the western terminus of the rail trail and back, so I turned around after riding to Prospect, a tiny hamlet that’s ten miles from Farmville.

On the way to Prospect, you cross Hard Times Road:

Like most rail trails, the High Bridge trail is relatively flat and straight.

There’s not a lot to see along the western half of the trail, which was just as well given that I needed to cover 20 miles in two hours.

*     *     *     *     *

After stowing my bike in my SUV, I headed for Third Street Brewing, a small brewery that’s located right on the trail in Farmville. 

A flight of four beers from Third Street Brewing
*     *     *     *     *

There aren’t a lot of fine dining choices in Farmville, which is home to only 8000 residents.  

My Third Street server and a couple of my fellow tipplers pointed me in the direction of the Fishin’ Pig, a large and popular local joint that specializes in barbecue and fish – but you knew that as soon as you read the name of the place, n’est-ce pas?

The friendly Fishin’ Pig bartender recommended the fried catfish, which was an excellent suggestion.  One of the founders of the Fishin’ Pig is a gent named Shorty Osborn, who’s the inventor of both “Shorty’s Famous Seafood & Chicken Breading” – the secret to my tasty fried catfish morsels – and the product’s slogan: “Catch ’n’ Release in the Grease.”

I ordered a doppelbock from Parkway Brewing (Salem, Virginia), which hit the spot.  I was tempted to order another, but my hotel was a half-hour’s drive away – discretion is the better part of valor, they say, and I decided that one was enough.

The Fishin’ Pig draft beer list
I hopped on US 460 – a four-lane divided highway that was functionally indistinguishable from an interstate – and headed west to Appomattox, Virginia, where I stopped at a Dairy Queen for a hot fudge malt before checking into my hotel.

*     *     *     *     *

Why didn’t I choose a hotel in Farmville instead of one a half hour’s drive away?  (My second day’s ride would start where I left off in Farmville, so I’d have to drive half an hour back in the morning as well.)

I’ll tell you why . . . 

Here are excerpts from the online reviews of one of the hotels that had rooms available the night I was going to stay in Farmville:

Hotel was very much neglected.  The rooms were very dated and worn looking with furniture, carpeting, and bathroom.  The mattress was old and uncomfortable.  The bathroom was falling apart . . . . Smelled of urine.  Found hair in shower, and pink mildew.  One of the grossest hotels I have ever stayed in.  Should be torn down and rebuilt.

Old rooms, not very clean, room had been smoked in, tub leaked, toilet was loose, carpet was stained and dirty.  Refrigerator wasn't very cold and was noisy.

Would not recommend to anyone, room was filthy . . . so much so we were afraid to eat the free breakfast.  People partying outside the rooms all night, loud and obnoxious

Filthy rooms, all smell of dirty ashtrays, COCKROACHES!

The next hotel I checked out sounded even worse:

ROACHES. As soon as we turned on the light there were at least 4 roaches – 2 running across the table and 2 on the wall.

Entire hotel smelled like stale cigarettes including our “no smoking” room and the lobby/breakfast area where a “no smoking” sign was clearly displayed.  The continental breakfast was as sparse as any I have ever seen.

Unclean, noisy, green substance in sheets, beetle-looking bugs inside of bed sheets, and unfriendly man at front desk.

The shower curtain smelled so bad of mildew.  The toilet bowl and seat were dirty.  The knobs on the air conditioner were broken off. 

The room had an odor so we had the window open for a few hours to air out.  There was a live cockroach in the bathroom.  The sheets were not clean (there was hair from the last person who slept in the bed).  The staff didn't smile, and didn't act friendly.

Here’s what some of the recent visitors to a third Farmville hotel had to say about it:

VERY OLD.  Needed updating badly.  The bathroom was the smallest bathroom I've ever been in. The shower was so small (perhaps a 48" square) you couldn't bend down to wash your feet.

Literally the worst place I have ever stayed.  The room was gross and had one towel.  There were bugs and the room smelled awful.  At night, there were men hanging out outside of room having a party who I’m pretty sure were not guests.  Never again.

My wife woke up with bed bug bites all over her body.  Day one I took the bed bug to the office to show the hotel staff.  My wife noticed something on my shirt and killed it with a napkin and [it was] nothing but blood.  She freaked out with all the bites on her. . . . Basically didn't get any help from any staff workers about the bites.  

Is it any surprise I chose to drive half an hour to stay at the Appomattox Inn & Suites after reading dozens of customer reviews like these?

Great location for visiting the [national historical park].  Hotel appears to be new so it’s in perfect condition.  Our room was immaculate and the bathroom had a glass shower and plenty of room.  For me, the mattress was the best thing about the room – it was soooo comfortable and I had a great night's sleep.  The breakfast included in our reasonable rate was good and the entire staff was friendly and helpful.  Parking was plentiful.

Appomattox Inn & Suites
This stunning hotel is maybe 2 years old at best, but it shines like brand new! . . . This hotel has it all: inclusive breakfast, wine and snack bar, outdoor pool, exercise room, impeccably clean everything!  Very nice beds and bedding, perfect A/C that actually really works, kind and accommodating staff throughout the hotel.  You won't be disappointed; we will certainly return.

The cost for my night’s stay?  Only $80 (plus various taxes) – which was no more than what the Farmville hotels would have charged.

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“Green River” was the title track on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s third studio album, which was released in August 1969.  I remember buying the album shortly after its release – I was a senior in high school in the fall of 1969 – but I never listened to it much.  (The big single from the Green River album was “Bad Moon Rising,” which is one of my least favorite CCR songs.)

CCR’s Green River album
The song’s title refers to Putah Creek, a large creek in Napa County, California, that was dammed in the 1950s to form Lake Berryessa.  John Fogerty, CCR’s lead singer and principal songwriter, enjoyed family vacations on Putah Creek when he was a child.

Fogerty took “Green River” from the name of a once-popular lime-flavored soft drink that was bright green in color.

Here’s “Green River”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: