The Grease Bay Chronicles

Posted by on Apr 29, 2013 | Comments Off on The Grease Bay Chronicles

Sunday afternoon, I had the pleasure of reading from The Feud at the Village Exxon in Richmond, Virginia. This much-loved and trusted Exxon station has served families through multiple generations in our community, and last year, the owner, Jim McKenna, decided he wanted to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project.


The station’s clerk, Hope  Whitby, is a poet, and she suggested having arts events in the shop. This quirky idea turned out to be a great success. The trio of grease bays cleans up smartly, and one day last spring, I found myself listening to a poet read his work with my feet propped up on the hydraulic jacks.


I was immediately won over and volunteered to do a reading of The Feud. All of my research trips back to West Virginia and Kentucky began at the station. I’d take in my ’93 Volvo wagon and simply tell them what I was doing and to make sure that the car would get me there and back. (I have since traded in the Volvo for a third-hand, 2000 Mercedes wagon and  will ask them to do the same with it, before I head off on my upcoming 2,000-mile driving book tour of the South.) Schedule to be pub’d here soon. Hope and the McKenna family provide refreshments and amazing dessert pastries.


One passage that I read was about  the New York City journalist John R. Spears, who traveled to the Tug River in 1888:

“Two miles up the road, Spears ran into three men. Much to his relief, they were surveyors working for the Norfolk and Western Railroad, who were laying out the line that was about to be built along the Tug. The three wore heavy leather leggings for bushwhacking on the snake-ridden riverbank. The rattlers sometimes bit the leggings so hard that their teeth stuck in the leather, and their heads remained attached even after the railroad men cut off their bodies.

“You’ll find this the devil’s own country, but they won’t disturb you,” one of the surveyors told Spears. “You’re all right if they don’t mistake you for a detective. They are suspicious of strangers though.” They were not what he would call overly reassuring.

“After you’ve learned all about these mountain bushwhackers you’ll feel like shaking hands with the next rattler you meet,” said another. “The rattler never strikes without first warning his victim.”

In the next post, I will give the locals’ riposte to the sarcastic outsiders.

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This is me on the marquis. I was up there for a whole month, and it was lit up at night.                    (All photos in this post courtesy of Gordon Valentine.)


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Here I am with the owner of the Village Exxon, Jim McKenna.


DK428(1) 186-2MMLThey even have a podium in the grease bay.


DK428(1) 146-2LMe again, telling a story about the Hatfields and McCoys.


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Anne and Kerry, getting their books signed. And, below, Andrew, of Chop Suey, selling books.810-420


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