A fun weekend where no photography goals were met…

13 minute read

June 29, 2023, 8:44 AM

From June 21-23, Elyse and I made a weekend trip to Virginia, but instead of centering on Staunton like we usually do, we centered on Roanoke (but don’t worry – we still saw my parents in Stuarts Draft).  We had planned this trip largely as a photography outing, and then the weather didn’t cooperate.  It was raining continuously almost the entire time, which made for a more difficult drive than I would have liked, but the trip was worth it.  I guess that you could say that while we didn’t necessarily do much in the way as far as photography, we laid the groundwork for future trips by identifying potential subjects.  I didn’t want to lay groundwork for the future this time around, as I really wanted to bring home the goods, but such is what happens when the weather doesn’t cooperate.  I brought my DSLR and my drone on this trip, but neither one of them ever left their respective carrier.

The plan was to drive down from the DC area to Lynchburg via US 29, spend the afternoon and early evening of the first day in Lynchburg, and then head over to Roanoke, where we were staying at the Hampton Inn located downtown (the one built on top of a city parking garage).  Then we would spend the entire second day in Roanoke, largely with Commonwealth Coach & Trolley, which is a bus museum that Elyse and I both serve on the board of.  Then on the last day, we would head up to Staunton and Waynesboro, where I had some things that I wanted to get over there, before going over to see my parents.  What ended up happening was pretty similar to plan, but not quite.  Our departure was delayed, because we already knew that much of the day would be a rainout.  The drive down to Charlottesville was fine, making one stop for food at the third (Bealeton) Sheetz.  We made a brief stop at Barracks Road in Charlottesville, and then we were back on the road.  It started raining harder once we cleared Charlottesville, and we saw three different accidents between Charlottesville and Amherst where people had clearly wiped out after driving faster than conditions allowed.  One of those accidents was a police car, which was clearly totaled in its accident.  We took it slowly, especially since I didn’t have that much experience taking the new HR-V in driving rain like this before, plus I wasn’t as familiar with the stretch of 29 from Charlottesville to Lynchburg (particularly from I-64 to VA 151) as I am with 29 north of Charlottesville.

Arriving in the general Lynchburg area, one of my goals was to recreate this photo:

Walmart in Madison Heights, Virginia, November 30, 2005

I took this photo of the Walmart Supercenter in Madison Heights, Virginia from the car (the Previa!) on November 30, 2005 while on a Lynchburg-Roanoke day trip, and it’s one of those photos that has gotten a lot of usage over the years.  You’ve probably seen it online at some point or another, but never realized that it was one of mine.  My plan was to get a new photo from the same angle with my DSLR and maybe fly the drone around there a little bit, but the weather-related delays reduced this stop to a quick dip-in-dip-out as we just drove across the back of the lot to verify what style the store was now done in (Project Impact, i.e. the 2008 logo with brown exterior), and then headed out.  I would save this for a future trip with nicer weather.  I also pointed out a few other things in Madison Heights for Elyse – things that we might have done with better weather.

Then the main purpose of going to Lynchburg was downtown.  There, our goal was to see the Lynchburg Public Elevator, as well as the Allied Arts Building.  The Lynchburg Public elevator was pretty straightforward: it’s an elevator that takes passengers up to the height of the next block, as there is a significant change in elevation between those two blocks.  Here’s the elevator:

Lynchburg Public Elevator

Lynchburg Public Elevator  Lynchburg Public Elevator

Lynchburg Public Elevator

Not bad.  It’s definitely an older elevator, but it’s also well-maintained.  Elyse got her video, while I got a few stills.

Then the Allied Arts Building was a bit of a surprise.  Elyse wanted to film the elevator there as well, but we were surprised to learn that the building had been converted to apartments a few years ago, and therefore the lobby and the elevators were inaccessible to the public.  The only part of the building that we could access was a small convenience store on the ground floor.  That was disappointing, as I wanted to photograph that art deco lobby, but I suppose that those are the breaks.

We then went to Texas Inn, which is a small restaurant that was formerly related to Texas Tavern in Roanoke, but the two are now fully separate.  We both had their version of the Cheesy Western, which is a hamburger with egg and cheese.  I enjoyed mine.  Elyse commented that the Texas Inn version was different than the Texas Tavern version, but still quite good.  Their restroom, meanwhile, amused me:

That "Cheesy Download Area" sign over the commode just slayed me.
That “Cheesy Download Area” sign over the commode just slayed me.

Finishing up here, we continued on through Lynchburg.  We were ultimately heading over to Wards Road, as Elyse wanted to film a few toilets down that way.  On the way, we spotted a number of chain restaurant buildings that had been converted to other uses, and we made a note of them in order to photograph them in the future.

The biggest part of our Lynchburg trip was something unexpected: we visited Liberty University.  Yes, that Liberty University.  It was getting dark, so our visit was largely a driving tour of the campus, scoping out things that we might want to see on a future visit.  We spotted an odd feature on the mountain behind the campus and went over to check it out.  We were surprised to find out that it was an all-year ski facility.  Seriously.  It’s run by the university, and it’s open to the public.  The “snow” is a special artificial turf, which is how it can operate year-round.

Finishing up at Liberty, we headed down to the Lynchburg Walmart, which was one of Elyse’s toilet goals.  The restrooms in the back are one indication that the Lynchburg store is very old, because despite its 1990s pylon-style exterior appearance, the architecture around the restrooms is quite unusual, and indicative of an older store.

And that was pretty much it for Lynchburg.  We then drove down 460 through Bedford to Roanoke.  Once we got to Roanoke, we dipped into a Sheetz to fuel the car, and then headed to our hotel.  Not a bad first day, despite the rain.  We stayed at the Hampton Inn in downtown Roanoke, which was built on top of an existing city parking garage.  As such, the lobby is at street level, but then the guest floors are 7, 8, and 9.  My only complaint about the hotel is that despite the hotel’s parking being the garage that it sits on, there is no direct access between the hotel and the garage.  In order to access the hotel from the garage and vice versa, one must exit to the street and reenter the structure.  That’s not exactly fun when you’re wrangling a luggage cart, as the parking garage has no automatic doors.

Then the next day, our full day in Roanoke, we got up, had breakfast at the hotel, and then we were off.  I brought my drone and camera bag with me, but I had very low expectations for actual use of any of it.  We met up with our friend Fred at the Commonwealth Coach lot, as the plan was to take “Biscuit”, i.e. a 1996 New Flyer D35HF bus that was formerly operated by CARTA, for a spin.  The name comes from the tan color of the upper part of the bus.  That bus came to CC&T by what could only be considered a true team effort.  One person located it, and said that they really wanted it.  We all agreed.  Elyse and Montigue took care of the bidding on GovDeals, beating out a scrapper at the last second and winning the auction.  I then handled all of the payment for the bus.  And then a couple of days later, Montigue, Fred, and Elyse all traveled down to Charleston, South Carolina to bring it home to Roanoke.  The bus made the trip to Roanoke just fine, and now on this trip, I finally got to see what my money paid for.  I had also never seen a high-floor New Flyer bus before, though I’ve driven New Flyer plenty of times otherwise, so this was a new experience.

Unfortunately, though, we couldn’t get Biscuit to start.  Elyse and Fred did some troubleshooting, while I stood by and just did as I was told, and we ultimately determined that the batteries were done.  And that was fair.  We didn’t know the history of those batteries, and they looked rough as well.  So we all went out for new batteries, as well as a few other places, in order to take a nice mental break from bus work.  We stopped at Black Dog Salvage, which is an “architectural salvage” store, where you can get secondhand materials for building components like doors, windows, old signage, and so on.  It also has a lot of furniture made by local artisans.  I got plenty of photos of the signage found throughout:

"Item of the Week" sign, originally from an Old Navy store.
“Item of the Week” sign, originally from an Old Navy store.

Western Sizzlin sign.
Western Sizzlin sign.

"Mick-or-Mack" sign, which came from what was once a large grocery chain in the Roanoke area.  The chain closed its last location in early 2019.
“Mick-or-Mack” sign, which came from what was once a large grocery chain in the Roanoke area.  The chain closed its last location in early 2019.

"Old Navy Kids" sign.
“Old Navy Kids” sign.

Overview of the signage wall from upstairs.
Overview of the signage wall from upstairs.

Former flagger-ahead sign, decorated for the salvage store.  I found this to be kind of adorable.
Former flagger-ahead sign, decorated for the salvage store.  I found this to be kind of adorable.

These signs came from The Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Prince George's County, Maryland.  These signs came from The Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Prince George's County, Maryland.
These signs came from The Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Prince George’s County, Maryland.  This was the shopping center that used to be next to Largo Town Center station until it was replaced by the new PG hospital.  I don’t know where these signs were in the shopping center back then, but now they’re on Roanoke.

Our next stop was for lunch, where we went to Tacos Rojas, a little Mexican restaurant housed in a former gas station.  Good meal, though I had never seen a restaurant that charged for tortilla chips and salsa before, rather than making it complimentary. That came off as kind of cheap to me, but they were otherwise a good place.

Then we got to Interstate Batteries in order to get the batteries for the bus.  Those puppies were big:

Two bus-sized batteries in the back of the HR-V.
Two bus-sized batteries in the back of the HR-V.  Trust me when I say that those things really weighed down the back of it.  I joked that now I knew what a “Carolina squat” was all about.

We were also amused to see the “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That” meme on their sign:

"Ain't nobody got time for that!"

And then it was back to the bus lot to change some batteries.  Elyse and Fred did most of the work, while I did as I was told.

Once we got the batteries put in, it was time to take it for a spin.  I had been looking forward to this, because I was several thousand dollars in on this bus, and I wanted to see how it did for myself.  We took it around a few places, going to a gas station for some diesel fuel, we took it past Valley Metro’s facility (Valley Metro is the public transit agency in Roanoke), and we went to the Kroger store by the airport as well as the Walmart next to Valley View Mall, before taking it back to the lot.

Here are photos from our time out:

On the lot at Commonweath Coach.

On the lot at Commonweath Coach.
On the lot at Commonweath Coach.  It is worth noting that I have also operated that former DASH Orion V that’s parked next to it up in Montgomery County, when it was out my way for a film shoot a few years back.

At the gas station, fueling up.  We put about $100 worth of diesel in her.
At the gas station, fueling up.  We put about $100 worth of diesel in her.

Parked outside Valley Metro.
Parked outside Valley Metro.

While we were at Valley Metro, Elyse took a moment to pose for a photo in the seat.
While we were at Valley Metro, Elyse took a moment to pose for a photo in the seat.

Parked outside Kroger.
Parked outside Kroger.

Parked outside of Walmart.
Parked outside of Walmart.

That bus was a lot of fun to drive.  I’ve driven plenty of New Flyers before through work, but this was a different experience than those, because this was a high-floor bus, and all of the New Flyers that I had driven before this were low-floor.  I felt that it handled more like an Orion V rather than any New Flyer that I was accustomed to.  In other words, it handled more like this, and not as much like this.  Either way, once I got warmed up behind the wheel, I very much enjoyed myself.  I just had to remember to limit my enjoyment to about 60 mph when going on the freeway.

Then when we were at the gas station, this sticker amused us:

"If your card don't work outside, please come inside and pay."

We all got a laugh about the bad grammar exhibited here.

After we returned to the lot, we put the bus away, said our goodbyes, and then headed over to visit with our friend Andrew for a little while before returning to our hotel.  That was a fun time.

Then the next day, it was time to go.  We were going to go see my parents that evening, and then return home.  We got checked out of the hotel, and then we were off.  Before leaving, though, I got this photo of the Roanoke Star:

The Roanoke Star viewed from our hotel room...

…or at least I tried to.  The Roanoke Star was in the clouds the entire time we were there, so we never actually saw it from anywhere.  Do you remember that photo shoot that I did of the star back in 2002 where I showed it in fog?  This was what the conditions were like during that shoot, with clouds covering the mountaintop.

After leaving the hotel, we dipped into Texas Tavern so that Elyse could get a Cheesy Western.  I didn’t get anything, because I had already eaten at the hotel.  Then we went over to Commonwealth Coach’s museum space, where we met up with Fred, and then we headed over to the Roanoke Antique Mall on Orange Avenue.  There, Elyse and Fred were checking the place out in some detail, while I largely spent time on my phone.  This was the most amusing thing that I found there, though:

"Election '92" poster.
Election ’92 poster, featuring Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Ross Perot.  I found it interesting that they added that note that Perot had withdrawn.  Makes me think that this was made shortly after he had withdrawn, but after it was too late to change the poster to remove him, so they just added the note that Perot was out.  It’s funny to think now that independent Ross Perot was once considered a serious contender in 1992, and it does make you wonder how things might have gone if Perot had not dropped out in July and then reentered in October.  I imagine that most people no longer took him seriously after he reentered after dropping out.  The idea goes that once you’re out, you’re out, and if you drop out and then reenter, people question how serious you really are.

After that, we left Roanoke, and headed up to see my parents.  This was my parents’ first time seeing the new HR-V, so when we went out for dinner, we took my car.  Dad, meanwhile, did his car guy thing, and so while Mom and I were discussing some landscaping stuff down by the street, Dad had popped the hood and was looking around.  He remarked that there was a lot of room under the hood, and that almost all of the components were easy to access.  That’s always a good thing.  And admittedly, this is a bigger car overall.  The new HR-V has more space in front (compare old vs. new), and it’s also got a bigger trunk.  But all in all, Dad liked it.  We also got to say hello to the Scion while we were there, which was my trusted steed for the interim between HR-Vs.  I may have made fun of that car when it was new, but it certainly served me well for those five months.

We went to dinner at Baja Bean in Staunton, and parked in the New Street garage.  I think Elyse and I surprised my parents about how much we knew about the regular cars there, but considering that we stay at Hotel 24 South, which adjoins the garage, when we stay here, it makes sense.  One surprise was that someone cleaned up the “penus” car:

The Range Rover, cleaned up a little bit

The Range Rover, cleaned up a little bit

I guess all of that dirt writing was making it look too abandoned for someone’s tastes, even though it totally is abandoned there.  However, it is worth noting that while they did clean it up somewhat, they didn’t do that good of a job cleaning it up, since my original “PENUS” lettering across the windshield is still quite visible, even if it’s a bit lighter now (but the photos don’t really show it).  Admittedly, I was surprised that the car is even still there, considering that when we were there in March, it had a citation on it to the effect of its having overstayed its welcome, plus its tag is now expired.  We expected that it would be gone by now.  Meanwhile, Elyse added some new text to the car:


Considering that there’s not as much dirt on it now, I imagine that it won’t be as easy to cover it in rude messages again, but we’ll see.  I suppose that find out what happens next time we’re down here, probably in September.

Then after dinner, we went back to my parents’ house, where we visited for a while.  A good time was had by all, though I felt like this visit with the parents in particular really flew by.  I guess we were all having a really good time together.

And then Elyse and I hit the road.  Despite that much of Friday was nice, right when we started the journey home, the rain returned in a major way, as we battled a rainstorm much of the way home.  And much like that June 2014 visit, the storm passed over us on I-81, and then we caught back up with it again on I-66.

So there you have it.  A fun time was had by all, despite that I accomplished none of my photography goals.  I suppose that this just means that I need to do this sort of trip again so that I can accomplish all of them.  Stay tuned, I suppose!