My Notebook for Weekend of Rocket Boys’ Festival…
Thursday, October 3-Up and out of bed at 3:15 a.m. Showered and got the coffee going and finished putting things in the truck. Left for Naperville and Nick’s just before 4 a.m.
Arrived Nick’s about 4:45 a.m. And transferred things from truck to trunk of our rental car, a 2014 Chevy Cruze. Parked the truck by Nick’s garage for the weekend, and he and I set off a few minutes past 5 a.m. For Beckley, WV.
Weather warm and balmy, promising humid temperatures for the day and threatening rain. We did run into rain—off and on—down through Indiana and past Indianapolis.
Nick, who loves driving fast, did so most of the way and was stopped by an Indiana State Trooper at the beginning of a work zone. He failed to reduce from about 75 mph to the required 45 mph quickly enough before entering the work zone. After a few minutes, the policeman came back to the car and said he was only going to issue a warning but to slow down as there are lots of workers out and about. A big sigh of relief from Nick, and we were once again on our way, wending eastward toward Dayton. From that area, we left I-70 and hooked up with U.S. 35, which would shift southeast. We stopped for lunch at Wendy’s in Chillicothe, OH.
Since Nick was the only person permitted to drive (due to saving some money on the car rental/insurance, etc.), I couldn’t relieve him at the wheel. I was sleepy and dozed here and there, and I knew Nick must have been equally as sleepy. In fact, he pulled into a Rest Area further down the road before we entered West Virginia, and he relaxed and dozed for about fifteen minutes or so. I took advantage of the nice sidewalks around the area and stretched the legs a bit. Refreshed, we were back on the highway shortly thereafter and soon hooked up with I-64 and then on to Charleston, WV where we connected with southbound I-77 that would take us on to Beckley.
We were definitely in the state of West Virginia! Surrounded by mountains, we enjoyed viewing myriad colors of the trees—russets, yellows, and some flaming crimson. A little more than an hour, and we were in the Beckley area, and I immediately recognized Tamarack next to the Welcome/Travel Center where Carolyn and I had stopped last February on our ancestry “field trip.” Our hotel where we’re spending the weekend is within a mile of the place.
As Nick and I checked in, we found everything better than expected. A first-floor room and so many amenities, nothing could have been better. A beautiful swimming pool (open until midnight) just around the corner, a coffee station nearby, and the breakfast dining area right there, have been excellent parts of this trip so far. Perhaps a late-night soak in the pool will be in order following tonight’s events at Tamarack.
Dinner Thursday evening was at the Outback Steakhouse, and the steak and shrimp meal was delicious and the service exquisite. Returning to our hotel, we both were exhausted from the day’s travels, and I think sleep fell upon us no later than 8:30.
Arising this morning at 7:00, I couldn’t believe that I slept that long, but I guess it’s a tribute to the comfy bed and air conditioning in the room, not to mention the early awakening the previous day and the long ride from Illinois to Beckley, West Virginia.
Off for the breakfast of coffee, cheese omelette, biscuits and gravy, and a bowl of chilled fresh fruit. Our plan for the day was to explore and “reconnoiter” Beckley and the surrounding area for the venues for the upcoming activities for the Rocket Boys’ Festival. Thus, we set off for nearby Tamarack and found the round building full of wonderful shops and exhibits of local lore. My main goal was to check on our tickets for the Writers’ Workshop, scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday (today) and the exact location for it. Since Homer Hickam is conducting the workshop, I set my mind long ago making sure I could attend.
As it turned out, we met Kelly Elkins with whom I had spoken a couple of times on the phone about reserving tickets for tonight’s workshop and the bus tour to Coalwood on Sunday. She handed me a hot cup of coffee she was holding and said that it was for Mr. Roy Lee Cooke, one of the Rocket Boys, and asked if I would give it to him if he should return before she did.
I had recognized the bearded man from photos and then remembered he had been sitting across the room from me at breakfast this morning at our hotel! Wow, I was holding the steaming cup of coffee for one of the original Rocket Boys! As it turned out, Kelly returned with an envelope with our tickets for both events before Mr. Cooke came back, so I wasn’t able to introduce myself to him and chat.
From Tamarack, Nick and I drove to nearby Beckley in search of New River Park, where most of the events of the Festival will be centered beginning tomorrow (Saturday). Locating the place next to the Exhibition Coal Mine and Museum wasn’t difficult and, once again, quite convenient to our hotel. Touring the exhibits in the museum was rewarding and educational. Still it's hard to imagine the very difficult life of a coal miner, especially before modern technology was available.
On the way back to the car, I heard a speaker at the next-door Children’s Museum say, “And let’s give Homer Hickam a nice round of applause…” Seems as though Homer had been speaking to a large school group there, and when I saw his curly white hair from a distance, I wandered over to where he was surrounded by several kids and signing autographs. I thought maybe I’d be able to quickly introduce myself to him, but I thought further about it and knew that it would be kind of an intrusion since I wasn't part of the school group, plus he was about to head off with others for lunch. The opportunities will be available tonight and tomorrow to meet Mr. Hickam, so I’ll be sure to have my copy of Rocket Boys along for a signature.
And so, the day has been worthwhile and successful, and I write this on the patio next to the outdoor pool at our hotel. We will head over to Tamarack around 4:30 for the Writers’ Workshop and continue with this exciting event known as the Rocket Boys’ Festival! I look forward to updating the events of the weekend. Stay tuned...MLA
- Book Review: 'Crescent' By Homer Hickam (universetoday.com)