Writing samples

What’s a dump doing in the
middle of a state park?
April 23, 2005
© The Virginian-Pilot
VIRGINIA BEACH — Deep inside the soaring pines and cypress swamps of False Cape State Park, off the popular hiking trails, lies a dirty, decades-old secret.
It is tucked behind sandy dunes, past signs that warn visitors: “This delicate area needs your help … leave as few signs of your stay as possible.”
It is a massive 25-year-old garbage dump. And it is growing.
Peaking at nearly 15 feet, the biggest mound is a jumble of refrigerators, water heaters and dishwashers, rusting steel, barbecue grills, road signs and a buffet of construction debris snaking more than 100 feet through a clump of live oaks.
A stripped red moped with 10,574 miles leans against a tree. An exercise treadmill rests by a boat gas tank. Layers of aluminum siding, fence material, broken window and door frames, a baseboard heater and oil tanks teeter on all sides of the pile.
In another area, rows of tires lean like dominoes beneath a canopy of pines, not far from a mass of timbers, scrap wood, a faded sofa and a recliner. Across a dirt service road, plastic barrels and buckets sit alongside propane tanks, some with the combustible gas still inside.
Elsewhere, the stench of rotting animal carcasses is overwhelming. Bright white bones pop out against the soft, dark ground. Rib cages, skulls and leg bones litter the area.
Soda cans, a milk jug and a fast-food wrapper rim the pit, but look closer: Test tubes with blood in the bottom, syringes and rubber gloves dot the earth amid flecks of animal fur.
Officials at False Cape State Park say the dump has been there since before the park opened to the public in 1980, and it has been growing steadily since.
Located at the southeastern corner of Virginia Beach, the park is a mile-wide spit between Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the North Carolina border.
Park officials say almost all the material in the dump is junk that has washed ashore on the park’s six miles of beach. It is not an illegal dump. Park officials stash the junk there on purpose.
After a hurricane or a nor’ easter, they say, the beach can look like a fire sale.
“Any time a house in Sandbridge washes in, we end up with decks and steps, water heaters and bathtub enclosures,” said Kyle L. Barbour, the park’s manager since 1999.
Junk can drift down from as far away as the Chesapeake Bay, collecting on False Cape beaches, which stick out slightly from the surrounding shoreline.
“It is, after all, a false cape,” Barbour said.
As unappealing or unsafe as it may be, Barbour said, the dump is a fact of life for an area so remote from civilization.
The park’s handful of year-round residents have regular household garbage removal. But curb side pickup is impractical in a place where the closest curb is more than nine miles away – via a single, narrow, twisting dirt road.
“I’d love to get a semi back here and just haul it all away, but I can’t,” Barbour said.
Taking it out on a barge from the ocean side would be tough because the water is too shallow, he said.
Park staff members scour the beach daily, and all human-made objects that wash ashore are taken to the park’s dump.
Barbour said the material is supposed to be removed regularly and recycled or put in a landfill. That hasn’t happened in a while, he said.
“We’re waiting for metal prices to reach a point where it will be worth it for a scrap dealer to come haul it away,” he said.
The wood pile is burned twice a year. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission takes the tires and sinks them into offshore reefs. “But some of it has been there forever,” Barbour said, “from the old days when it was a dump site.”
Barbour said he didn’t know where the medical waste came from, but he said it should have gone out with the regular garbage.
He guessed that the vials and other materials might have been related to the regular hunting of wild pigs that are prevalent throughout the park. Blood samples are taken from pigs that are killed, and the samples sent to labs for testing.
“Somebody may have inadvertently thrown out a bag of those,” Barbour said.
The dump is not far from the park’s educational center at Wash Woods. It’s tough to spot, stuck in the woods along paths with entrances marked “Service Area, Park Personnel Only.
The park has four full-time employees and six or seven seasonal workers, Barbour said. Families of three park staffers, including four school-age children, live year-round in homes near the ranger station, a half-mile from the dump.
In the park’s 1999 master plan, the dump area was identified as the site for a future maintenance facility. So far, the state has not budgeted money to clean the site or to build the shed.
Getting a semi-trailer in to remove the waste is impossible. Taking it out one load at a time with the park’s lone dump truck would be daunting and expensive. Barbour estimated that it would cost a few thousand dollars to clean up the junk.
The maintenance building would cost about $300,000. It would include a place to stash the junk until it can be trucked out. Meanwhile, he said, he’d like to be able to fence off the site.
When told of the dump site Friday, state Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, said it was the first he’d heard of it.
“It sounds to me like we’ve got a mini-landfill that’s a state problem and we need to get on it,” he said. “I don’t know why the Department of Conservation has not come to us and asked for money, but clearly we need to clean it up and get rid of it.”
Because the park is on the other side of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Wagner speculated that any cleanup efforts might require the cooperation of the federal government.
“But obviously we’ve got to get rid of our trash and debris and get it properly landfilled,” he said.
False Cape got its name because it resembles Cape Henry, drawing ships into its dangerously shallow waters.
Survivors of one such shipwreck built Wash Woods – not far from the dumping grounds – which became one of the region’s first communities. They cobbled together the village’s church and other buildings out of cypress salvaged from wrecks that washed ashore.
The area was home to several hundred people until the 1920s. Later, it became a squatter’s haven. Signs of both populations, including burned trailers, abandoned cars and small household trash pits, are throughout the park.
Until the 1960s, False Cape was home to a number of prestigious hunt clubs, drawn to the area’s abundant waterfowl.
In 1966, the area was recommended for use as a state park, and soon after, the state began buying land.
Today, it is one of the state’s largest parks, at 4,321 acres. It’s a favorite among hikers, mountain bikers, bird watchers, canoeists and kayakers.
Getting there is an adventure in itself. Cars and trucks are not allowed inside. Hiking and biking are the only access. Camping sites are sparse and primitive.
Roughly 30,000 people a year visit.
R. Gary Waugh, spokesman for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation in Richmond, said several employees in the department have been aware of the False Cape junk site.
“This is not an area where things just go and sit indefinitely or permanently, so I wouldn’t characterize as a dump,” Waugh said Friday. “They have been using that same area for a long time, but I was told that things that come in all eventually leave.”
Barbour said some material has been in the area since before the park opened 25 years ago.
“This is about the best workable solution that we can come up with,” Waugh said. “Certainly it’s much better than leaving it on the beaches.”
Still, Waugh said, building a maintenance facility on the site would provide better storage and sorting of the material, but the money’s not there.
Waugh spoke with False Cape officials on Friday, and they agreed that animal carcasses should be buried , rather than left on the surface to decay. He said he hadn’t heard about the medical waste.
Waugh said little else is likely to happen.
“This is the way that we do business, given the circumstances that we have,” he said. “We are taking things off the beach or parts of the park where they could be a hazard to our guests and putting them in a place where they are secured, and they don’t seem to be an environmental hazard, given where they are stored.”
“We don’t see much that will change this at this point.”

State vows to take out trash
April 26, 2005
© The Virginian-Pilot
VIRGINIA BEACH — The discovery of a sprawling dump in the middle of False Cape State Park has environmentalists and elected officials furious and demanding answers.
At the same time, officials with the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation on Monday vowed a quick cleanup.
“I think it’s already started,” department director Joseph H. Maroon said. “We are going to do everything we can to assure the public we are being responsible and responsive to those issues.”
The dump is hidden in a remote area beneath False Cape’s craggy live oaks and beyond its sandy dunes. It is home to heaps of scrap metal, piles of tires, hunks of wood, construction debris, rotting animal carcasses and a smattering of medical waste.
Most of the material washed ashore during storms, and the pile has been growing steadily since before the park opened to the public in 1980. Park officials say the area is too remote to remove the junk on a regular basis, so it’s stashed in piles until it can be taken out.
The story of the dump, first reported Saturday , has moved several people to condemn the site while also offering to clean it up.
Ellis James, chairman of the conservation committee of the Sierra Club Chesapeake Bay Group, said he has known about the dump for years but didn’t know it had swelled to such proportions.
“So we’re playing serious catch-up,” he said. “What I’m concentrating on is to see if we can arrange to bring that junk out of False Cape.”
By Monday evening, James said, the local chapter of the national nonprofit environmental group had agreed to help in the cleanup. He expects Sierra Club members will volunteer to load material for hauling and perhaps help craft a plan “so that it doesn’t re-create the junk yard.”
Rich Wilson, owner of Atlantic Waste Services of Chesapeake, was trying to contact park officials Monday, eager to lend them Dumpsters for scrap metal and other debris until it can be hauled away.
“We’re in the garbage business and I saw all that trash and the scrap,” he said. “Just being a resident of Virginia Beach, I thought about cleaning the place up.”
Kyle L. Barbour, the park’s manager, said he has heard from several residents who volunteered to trek into the park and begin cleaning up the site.
He said he likely would have heard from more if it weren’t for phone trouble in the park office. Outside callers have been getting persistent busy signals, he said.
Barbour said the publicity has helped the park renew its contacts with metal salvage companies.
“We’re putting together a plan to try to get the stuff moved out,” he said. “Obviously, we’d like to recycle as much as we can and keep the stuff we landfill to a minimum.”
State Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, said he was contacting the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees state parks, as well as the state Department of Environmental Quality.
“We require anybody operating a landfill to meet DEQ regulations,” Wagner said. “And that doesn’t exempt our own parks service and conservation groups. We should be setting the standard.”
City Councilman Peter W. Schmidt, who led the state’s Department of Environmental Quality under Gov. Jim Gilmore, said he hadn’t heard about the dump before Saturday and was upset to learn about it.
“Having a dump in the middle of a state park is obviously something we need to address quickly,” he said, “and we’re in the middle of doing that.”
By Monday afternoon, Schmidt had contacted the city’s solid waste director to see whether Virginia Beach could help, and he was lining up state officials to contact as well.
“This is just one of those things that needs to be done, and done quickly,” Schmidt said. “It illustrates why we are last nationally in funding for natural resources. It’s a shame. We need to get these things cleaned up.”
State Del. Harry “Bob” Purkey, R-Virginia Beach, said he expected top state park officials to visit the dump site by the end of the week.
“One way or another, it will be addressed,” Purkey said Monday. “You don’t have a trash dump in a pristine environment like that. You just don’t. It has been addressed. It will be addressed.”
On Monday, state park officials in Richmond pledged to begin winnowing the piles. As early as this week or next, they said, they will remove material that can’t be recycled and truck it to a landfill. Then they’ll invite scrap haulers to remove metal that can be salvaged.
Maroon said the park will remove future waste more frequently. He blamed the massive dump on Mother Nature, which has deposited a warehouse’s worth of refuse on the park’s broad beaches over the years.
Still, he said, the state bears some responsibility. “It’s really the management of that debris where we need to step up,” he said.
Maroon suggested the need for a long-term solution. “This is an ongoing issue and responsibility,” he said. “We will be dealing with this as long as False Cape is there.”

In with trucks, out with trash
April 30, 2005
© The Virginian-Pilot
VIRGINIA BEACH — A caravan of trucks descended on False Cape State Park on Friday and began carting off the massive mounds of junk that have been piling up there for decades.
Aided by two tractors and a front-end loader, a crew of about 20 park employees and volunteers tackled heaps of water heaters and washing machines, fishing nets and fencing, plastic drums and iron pipes.
Tom Cervanak, manager of York River State Park near Williamsburg, drove more than two hours to help. Staff from five state parks teamed up to take out the trash.
“I felt compelled to play a role,” Cervanak said after spending the morning hoisting old refrigerators and rusty drums. “I wanted to come down and make a difference. We hate to see anything like this. We love our parks, and we love the pristine beauty.”
For at least 25 years, park officials have been hoarding waste in a remote area of the park, deep among the towering pines and twisting live oaks.
The debris has been washing up on False Cape’s six miles of beach. Park officials said the area’s remote location prevented them from removing the material more regularly.
Until Friday, the pile had been growing steadily, rife with scrap metal, household appliances, construction debris, tires, steel barrels, putrid animal carcasses and a smattering of medical debris.
The cleanup came less than a week after the decades-old dump – known to just a handful of state employees – was first revealed last Saturday in a story in The Virginian-Pilot.
On Friday morning, five trucks with roll-off containers snaked along nearly nine miles of narrow dirt roads in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park. Within a few hours, they were heading out with full loads.
Earlier in the week, the rubber gloves, syringes and blood vials related to testing of park wildlife had been picked up and disposed of in the trash. The pit where carcasses had been was covered with a fresh layer of sand.
The cleanup should come at minimal cost to the state, thanks mostly to the fleet of trucks that volunteered to help haul the material.
Four private firms from Hampton Roads – Atlantic Waste Services, Bay Disposal, Waste Industries and Waste Management Inc. – joined with the Southeastern Public Service Authority to transport the waste to the Virginia Beach landfill, where it was sorted and either recycled or buried.
City Councilman Peter W. Schmidt, former director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, trailed the trucks to the dump site Friday.
“If the state funded natural resources adequately, we wouldn’t have problems like this,” Schmidt said. “It’s great everybody’s working together to remove this debris, but if Virginia’s dead last in funding for the environment, we need to do a better job.”
A line of yellow “CAUTION DO NOT ENTER” tape was strung through the saplings behind him.
Schmidt is challenging state Del. Harry R. “Bob” Purkey, R-Virginia Beach, for the Republican nomination in the upcoming June primary for the 82nd House District. Both candidates seemed eager to draw political momentum from the dump story.
Purkey said he was encouraged by the rapid response but took issue with Schmidt’s suggestion.
“These are wonderful state employees who performed when called upon,” Purkey said, “Money is not the only answer. There’s no question funding is part of the solution, but it’s by no means the only solution. Effective management is also a part of the solution, and you cannot put a dollar tag on that.”
Ellis James, chairman of the conservation committee of the Sierra Club’s Chesapeake Bay Group, echoed Schmidt’s concerns. “It’s been a long while since we’ve gotten the funding we’ve needed,” he said, hoisting a busted toilet into one of the bins. “I thought this was a perfect opportunity to highlight a very serious problem.”
R. Gary Waugh, a spokesman for the Department of Conservation and Recreation in Richmond, which oversees state parks, said park managers around the state were warned earlier this week to clean up any similar messes that might be lurking somewhere.
He also said debris will always wash ashore at False Cape, but “we are committed to try and stay on top of it, so that we don’t have this type of situation again.”
Kyle L. Barbour, manager of False Cape State Park, said he plans to have a permanent container for scrap metal and other waste that washes ashore, and it will be hauled away whenever it’s full.
“We won’t have that problem again,” he said.
Barbour said two more trucks will finish the heavy hauling early next week. On May 21, volunteers will comb the dunes and woods for the bits of foam, plastic and other small debris still dotting the dump site.
Soaked by the morning’s steady rain, Barbour stood on the dirt service road where the day’s last load was ready to be shipped out.
“It’s done,” he said. “It’s gone. It’s out of here.”

Double Dealing
Singers share a name, but New Jersey man has no claim to fame
Oct. 11, 2004
© The Virginian-Pilot
Days after beach music legend Bill Deal died in December, Robert Z. Rush was on the Internet, recounting the panic he felt after thinking his dear friend had passed.
Rush had come across an online obituary for Deal and quickly grabbed the phone.
“I was in tears,” Rush said. “And I called his cell phone, and he answered. I said 'You’re not dead!’ And he said, 'No, I’m just fine.’”
True, he wasn’t dead.
He also wasn’t the same Bill Deal of the famed Rhondels , who recorded a string of hit records in the late 1960s and early ’70s, including “May I,” “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am?” and “I’ve Been Hurt.”
He wasn’t the man who drew crowds for decades up and down the East Coast and died Dec. 12 at age 59 in Virginia Beach , a few miles from the Portsmouth home where he was born.
Instead, Rush’s friend was a New Jersey-area singer of about the same age, using the same name and being introduced at concerts as the former front man for the Rhondels.
He was a private voice teacher and occasional lounge singer who allegedly dropped casual references to a rock ’n’ roll past that wasn’t his, hit records he didn’t make and Rhondels reunion tour offers he didn’t have.
And Rush wasn’t the first or last person fooled by a man who, off and on for the past 15 years, seems to have portrayed himself as Bill Deal, formerly of Bill Deal and the Rhondels.
As far back as the late 1980s, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, fellow performers and students of the New Jersey Bill Deal said they believed he was the famous Deal.
So did Rush.
The New Jersey-area chiropractor and musician said he played a Christmas concert about two years ago at which his friend was introduced as Bill Deal, formerly of the Rhondels.
And a music student who first took lessons from the New Jersey Deal 16 years ago – who now counts him as a friend and mentor – always believed he was the same Bill Deal who had hit records with the Rhondels.
His most recent activities came to light in a Sept. 10 Virginian-Pilot article about his appearance at a July 2 benefit concert in Ocean City, N.J., where he was introduced as Bill Deal, formerly of Bill Deal and the Rhondels.
In an interview last month with The Virginian-Pilot, the New Jersey Deal blamed concert promoters for wrongly including the Rhondels reference in fliers, tickets and advertising information. He said he never meant to mislead anyone about his identity.
He said a cloud of confusion has followed him since the early 1990s, when, he claimed, his picture wound up on a Bill Deal and the Rhondels greatest hits album.
At the time, he said that the July 2 event was the first and only instance in which he was introduced as part of the Rhondels. He said he never claimed to be associated with the group and has never profited from any perceived connection.
“I’m sorry about these years of confusion,” he said recently.
Deal said he has retired from the oldies music business and wants to focus on giving voice and piano lessons.
“I really have to get back to my student,” he said in mid-interview. “I’m sorry.”
Mike Doheny’s 9-year-old son has been taking private piano lessons from the New Jersey Bill Deal for the past few months at Old Towne Music in West Deptford, N.J.
Doheny, a high school choir teacher, said he discovered Deal through some of his students who had taken private lessons from him. He said he was under the impression that Deal graduated from the prestigious Juilliard School for the arts and was with the Rhondels.
Doheny also remembered a concert poster that used to hang on the music store’s front window promoting Deal’s July 2 oldies show in Ocean City. “It had a picture of him as Bill Deal and the Rhondels,” Doheny said.
At a recent lesson, Doheny said Deal referred to having hit records in the early 1970s. Doheny said his son shot him a puzzled look and later asked him if what his teacher said was true. Doheny told the boy not to worry about it.
“I guess I would say I’m surprised to hear of this whole ordeal because I’ve watched him work and he seems to know music,” Doheny said. “And he doesn’t seem to be putting on any sort of an act for anybody, so I had every reason to believe he was who he said he was.”
Doheny and others said the New Jersey Deal – regardless of his identity – was a good teacher who, they believed, had graduated from Juilliard.
One former student remembered seeing a Juilliard diploma or certificate on his office wall.
But Juilliard officials said they have no record of anybody named “Deal” attending or graduating from the school.
In an interview with The Virginian-Pilot, the New Jersey Deal said he never claimed to be a graduate. “I attended some courses up there. I never said I graduated Juilliard. These things got way out of hand,” he said.
Others said they never doubted Deal’s credentials.
Jody Alessandrine, a ward councilman in Ocean City, N.J., was a singing student of the New Jersey Deal’s in the late 1980s and early '90s. He said he picked Deal from a music magazine ad touting his use of the “Juilliard Method.” Juilliard officials said they know of no such method.
Alessandrine said Deal mentioned having a music career with the Rhondels after a few lessons.
“I had never heard of them before I met him, and he made the association,” Alessandrine said. “He showed a record cover. He did mention he had several offers to do reunion tours and that he decided that had come and gone.”
Alessandrine said he considered Deal a good teacher, so references to his rock 'n’ roll past seemed irrelevant.
“It was the quality of the lesson that I was paying for,” he said. “And not any status or stardom behind it, so I don’t feel even a penny was wasted. To this day, I continue to use his practice tape.”
Others close to Deal have been trying to distance themselves from him since questions about his background surfaced.
Art Katz, manager of Old Towne Music, where Deal has taught on and off since the early 1990s, said he always believed Deal had had hit records with the Rhondels.
Last week, he asked for proof that the Virginia Beach Bill Deal was the genuine article. “I’m really kind of a show-me guy,” he said.
After saying he would talk to the New Jersey Bill Deal about questions regarding his history, Katz now declines to speak.
Lou Costello, a Philadelphia-area oldies disc jockey, introduced Deal at the July 2 concert as a longtime friend, formerly of Bill Deal and the Rhondels. Two months earlier, Costello introduced Deal at a concert at the Ritz Theater in Oaklyn, N.J., according to theater officials.
Reached at his radio station, Costello declined to comment. He referred all questions to his lawyer , whom he did not identify.
Pati Buehler, a Philadelphia-area promoter who worked on Deal’s July 2 appearance, also declined to say what she knew about Deal’s background when she booked him. She referred all questions to Deal himself.
A check of www.archive.org, a project that maintains snapshots of old Internet sites, shows Buehler’s Web site once listed Bill Deal as a featured performer.
The site, www.pbspotlight.com, no longer has any reference to Deal. However, from June 2003 until as recently as January, he was promoted on the site as part of a “Rockin’ Oldies Show” that featured “Bill Deal & The Delmonicos, singing from their Gold record collection: 'May I,’ 'Tonight’ and many more.”
Buehler’s site also had a link to a recording of the band performing “May I,” a song written by Maurice Williams that later became the first hit for Bill Deal and the Rhondels.
The New Jersey Deal has stopped returning calls seeking comment and recently hired a lawyer , Joshua M. Marks of Cherry Hill, N.J., to respond to questions about his background.
Marks quoted Deal as saying, “I’m not profiting by this, and I’m not trying to profit by it. I just kind of want to be left alone.”
Barbara Deal, widow of the Virginia Beach Bill Deal, said she hasn’t decided whether to pursue legal action against the New Jersey performer.
The two spoke shortly after Deal’s death. The New Jersey man assured her he was not impersonating her husband. This week, Barbara Deal said she is upset to learn how he had been portraying himself for so long and to so many.
“I’m very sad,” she said. “It’s very flattering that someone wants to be you or wants to copy you, but to know someone wants to trade on his name, I’m disappointed. I don’t know what to do.”
Rush, the New Jersey musician and chiropractor, said he’s having second thoughts about the friend he once feared had died. However the story ends, Rush said, he doesn’t want to perpetuate a lie.
“I am interested in the truth because these people who gave us this music are the sound track for our generation,” he said. “They deserve the recognition that they fought so hard for, and I don’t want to be a part of stealing that thunder from anybody.”

What remains after science
Crematory burns medical cadavers,
holds ashes in case families come looking
© The Virginian-Pilot
Dec. 16, 2004
VIRGINIA BEACH — It seems an odd spot for a final resting place, stacked against a bare concrete wall, between a cluster of old mop handles and a coil of extension cord.
Yet, there they are: more than 250, each labeled with a five-digit code. Some containers are covered in a fine, chalky dust. Some have sat in this dark corner for almost a decade.
“A lot of these are past the point of no return, if people are looking for them,” Mike Dotson said.
The boxes contain “cremains,” ashes of human bodies that have been cremated. In this case, they are the remains of medical cadavers, bodies donated to science.
When doctors and medical students have learned all they can from a body, or the body is worn out, Dotson picks it up for Virginia Humaniteks, the human side of Pet Cremation Services on Bonney Road . The company handles cremations for several medical schools, hospitals and universities.
In some cases, the family members of the deceased want the ashes back. Usually, they don’t, so Dotson, the crematory’s operations manager, adds them to the stack.
Virginia law doesn’t require the ashes be kept for a specific period, but Virginia Humaniteks started keeping them for three years and now keeps them for five years or longer. That’s a precaution in case relatives change their minds or a long-lost relative shows up.
That’s also why there are so many boxes along the wall behind the second cremation unit. It may not be peaceful or proper, but it’s accessible.
“There would be nothing worse than having a loved one show up looking for the ashes, and you have to tell them you don’t have them,” said A. Neal Kellum, company president and owner.
Kellum doesn’t have names for any of the cremains, only a code. A family wishing to find a loved one’s ashes in Virginia should start with the state’s anatomical board in Richmond.
This year, Virginia Humaniteks cremated 60 cadavers. Eight were returned to relatives.
It takes about three hours to burn the average cadaver, Dotson said. The cremation units blaze at about 1,600 degrees. Bodies preserved in formaldehyde burn faster because the chemical adds fuel.
On Wednesday, Dotson cremated two cadavers from Hampton University, where they were used in advanced anatomy class.
With cremation unit No. 1 sufficiently cool, Dotson grabbed a long, wooden broom and swept the material into a catch basin, where it fell into a steel box on the floor.
He poured the remains into a large, stainless-steel processor and flicked a switch for 35 seconds , turning remaining bones and teeth into a fine powder. Carefully lifting the lid, he inserted the nozzle of a canister vacuum to remove dust.
Then he slowly shook the ashes into a Maxwell House coffee can. He tucked a clear plastic bag inside a black box, then poured in the contents of the coffee can. After twisting the top of the bag and securing it with a tie, he snapped the lid closed.
Hampton University, 12/15/04, CAD 04-232” was ready for the stack.
Dotson recently rearranged the containers to make room for more. The tall part of the stack is pushing 6 feet.
He said a building expansion is opening in March, and it will include a better storage area for the cremains, “like a cabinet area or a nice little room so they don’t get so inundated with dust.”
But Kellum said he’s also seeking a longer-term solution. He’s looking for a proper burial site for those cremains and expects to have something as soon as this spring.
“Eventually, I’ll put them in one burial vault and have a minister conduct a blanket service,” he said.
The collection of containers will be identified with a single marker, Kellum said: “Maybe something like, 'Here lie those who gave their bodies to further medical science.’”

Walled mart
Amid the booths at Bill’s Flea Market, buyers seek bargains and vendors seek riches, but they’ll settle for good company
© The Virginian-Pilot
Dec. 19, 2004
VIRGINIA BEACH — The moving walkway no longer moves.
The futuristic people-mover once whisked a wide-eyed public past giant TVs and neon displays of the latest must-have gadgets. Now it’s idle, an occasional wheelchair ramp pimpled with discarded gum and cigarette butts.
Tempting displays of high-tech treasures have been replaced by dusty shelves of T-shirts, tennis shoes and illuminated scenes of the Last Supper and the Virgin Mary. What was once billed as an “omni-store” and “a store for the 21st Century” is now anything but.
Inside, the sweet smoke of incense mingles with the day’s last cigarette. Pale blue light spills from anemic tubes of ultraviolet overhead. A maze of plywood booths checkers the bare cement floor where vendors peddle wares of varied pedigree.
Some new. Some used. Something for everybody, seven days a week: TVs, toys, antiques, video games, clothes, car stereos, knives, swords, furniture, glass figurines, DVDs, posters, porn, hats, jewelry, wheel rims, lotion and lingerie.
Outside, the streaking, red-and-white “FX” marquee that long ago lighted the entrance to one of the area’s glitziest electronics stores is dark. Beneath it, a flaking, hand-painted sign heralds :
Bill’s Flea Market.
Just two blocks west of the city’s new multimillion-dollar Town Center, the flea market remains a fixture along Virginia Beach Boulevard. It’s been identified by city officials as a “strategic growth area,” meaning they want it torn down and replaced with something more upscale.
For customers, Bill’s holds the hope of a rare flea market find or simply something they can’t get at the mall. For vendors, Bill’s is a low-rent alternative to traditional retail – a place to give birth to a budding enterprise or watch it wither.
It’s a place where retirees can run out the clock and empty nesters can earn a little extra income.
For many, Bill’s is as much about community as commerce.
Bill’s Flea Market is home to 70 merchants occupying 32,000 square feet. The seeds of the sprawling market were planted during the late 1980s in a parking lot nearby.
Bill Barry was recently retired from the real estate business, and his wife, Dorothy, was sick of him sitting around the house. “Why don’t you get out and do something?” she demanded.
So Barry called up some friends who scrounged up some stuff to sell – and some whiskey to sip – and they set up shop in a parking lot, hawking wares and swapping stories.
The next weekend, they did it again.
Gradually, other vendors joined them, and Barry moved the operation inside the building on their parking lot. When the building was torn down to make way for a Home Depot, Barry had 75 vendors suddenly homeless.
Around 1990 he found a new location in a building off Witchduck Road, but it was sold after two years , and he was back on the street. That’s when he stumbled onto the vacant FX building.
Built originally as a Wickes Furniture store, it set a new standard in retail when it opened as FX in 1988.
To some, the flashy sound-and-light show, robot mannequins and extensive product lines were the future of electronics merchandising. To others, it was too much.
In the end, FX went down as one of the biggest retail flops in Hampton Roads. Store owners left little behind, even pulling out lighting fixtures and leaving exposed wires.
The revival of the empty shell began in 1992 when Barry went inside and painted a grid of 10-foot squares on the floor.
Vendors could rent as many squares as they wanted. At first it was just a room full of tables. You could see clear from one end of the building to the other.
The salespeople didn’t invest in locks or security devices. They left their booths unattended with only a skinny rope and a handmade “closed” sign. Then one vendor built walls – for security and additional display surfaces. It touched off an explosion of plywood, paint and padlocks.
The place was never the same, flea market veterans lament.
It’s still a mom-and-pop operation, just without mom or pop.
When Barry died in 1997, his wife, Dorothy, took over. When she died last year, Bill Jr. took over.
There’s little to no advertising, no business cards and the hastily posted Web site is stale and outdated. Some deals are still made with a handshake and bartering is as common as paying cash.
Bill Barry Jr. owns the flea market, but he lives in North Carolina and only comes around a couple of times a week.
Most days, Bob McCullough runs the place, surveying the floor with his sockless feet and canvas boat shoes propped up on the office counter.
A retired Army veteran of the Vietnam War, McCullough, 54, is a mountain of a man with dense gray beard and silver hair combed smoothly and back away from his tired brown eyes.
Shake his hand and you’ll be glad of two things: First, that he didn’t turn yours into a pulp of bone and flesh. Second, that you weren’t trying to break into the joint.
If McCullough gets a call from the flea market’s alarm system in the middle of the night, you’d better hope the cops find you before he does. The flea market has been broken into just four times in the 10 years it’s been under his watch.
“Let’s just say word gets out,” McCullough said with a grin.
A pair of handcuffs hangs on the wall behind his head and a heavy black billy club is within reach.
“If I catch them,” he said, taking a drag on a Winston Light, “sometimes they fall on their way back here to the office.”
One of McCullough’s main duties is to rent the booths in 10-foot-by-10-foot chunks, starting at $260 a month. Bigger booths get a slightly lower per-foot rate, but everybody pays first and last month’s rent to get started. Then it’s a month-to-month lease.
Tony Gizzi came in to see about a booth to sell housewares and some other stuff. He recently sold his house, his mother’s house and another house. He’s had garage sales but still has lots to unload.
Gizzi sized up one of the larger vacant booths along the back wall.
“This one’s $350 a month,” McCullough told him. “You can decorate it, paint it, do whatever you want with it.”
“Do these come with the place?” Gizzi asked, pointing to a cluster of ultraviolet lights.
“Yeah,” said McCullough. “They do with this one. The last guy must have left them.”
Gizzi said he was leaning toward a smaller, cheaper booth. If he has some success, he might go out and find more stuff to sell.
“Who knows? Maybe I’ll call it 'Gizzi’s Gizmos.’”
If somebody’s going to make it at the flea market, he finds out in a hurry. McCullough guessed that some of the most successful vendors can gross $150,000 to $200,000 a year in sales.
Jane Drew’s Avon counter is one of the flea market’s biggest success stories. She was with Barry back when he started.
Since then, Drew, 58, has become the top Avon representative in the Richmond-Hampton Roads area, a position she’s held for the past decade. Last year, Drew was the No. 5 Avon seller in the country.
She does most of her business out of Bill’s. Some of her customers head straight from the front door to her booth, buy what they need and leave.
Drew said she’ll keep coming back to Bill’s even if she doesn’t need the money. “I’ll be here until they tear the building down.”
McCullough said vendors as successful as Drew are rare, but perhaps a third of them are making a decent living. Another third keep their booths as more of a hobby.
The bottom third struggles to pay rent. In that case, the flea market often floats them for a few months to see if they can make it work. If they can’t, they’re gone.
McCullough learned the business more through observation than instruction.
When Bill Sr.’s health began to fail in the few years before he died, he turned to McCullough for help. Because his wife had been a booth operator since the early days, McCullough was a regular around the flea market.
“One day, he asked me if I was available to baby-sit,” McCullough recalled. “I thought he was talking about his grandkids. He said, 'No. I need someone to baby-sit me.’”
Soon enough, when people asked for the owner, Barry would point his thumb at McCullough.
Even today, many mistake McCullough for the place’s namesake. He doesn’t bother to correct them. “Been happening for years,” he said with a shrug.
The regular customers are as much a part of the flea market’s colorful fabric as the vendors.
“Hey, Miss Shirley,” McCullough called to an older woman limping past his office. “What’d you do to your foot?”
“I have tendinitis,” she replied.
“Oh, great,” he said.
He rarely lets regulars pass without notice.
Hank Barbour drops by every day. Weekends, weekdays, he’s there anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours, chatting up vendors and customers.
A tall, lean man with a cane, Barbour, 68, is quick with a joke as he ambles along his regular route. An FBI hat tops his smooth head. “Female Body Inspector,” he said, pointing to the letters.
He stops by for the people as much as the prices.
“And I get some good doggone deals. People know what I like and what I could use, and sometimes they hold it until they see me.”
An elderly visitor to Kitty Bryant’s jewelry counter had a bandage across her nose. “I had the biopsy,” she said. “I don’t know anything yet. Won’t know till Monday.”
Bryant sighed and wished her good luck. The woman nodded and continued to browse.
While checking up on one vendor recently, McCullough was interrupted. “Your order’s ready, Bob,” a young woman said.
“What order? I didn’t order anything,” he said, excusing himself.
A few minutes later, he returned with a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon and buttered toast. “I have diabetes and I just took my medication, so I have to eat.”
True, McCullough hadn’t ordered anything that morning from “The Manila Cafe,” Ophelia Pimentel’s tiny cafeteria near Bill’s entrance.
But Pimentel knows McCullough is diabetic, so breakfast is on its way the moment she sees him. “They look after me real good here,” McCullough said.
They all look after each other.
They recognize birthdays, celebrate births and mourn deaths.
If a vendor has an illness or family crisis, they pass the hat. Sometimes they raise as much as $300.
But not everybody’s so close. There’s a subtle segregation at Bill’s.
The left half of the building is dominated by old-timers – veterans with goods that appeal to a slightly older crowd. The right side has more upstarts with merchandise aimed at younger buyers.
“There are people here who are the black sheep of the family,” McCullough said. “But they’re still family.”
Even vendors who have been booted for skipping rent often return to shop or hang out with old friends. No hard feelings, McCullough said. “Like nothing ever happened.”
That’s the worst part of his job, he said – watching dreams die.
“I see them every day. They come in with that gleam in their eye. They think they’re going to become a millionaire.”
McCullough snuffed out his cigarette and exhaled. “Who am I to tell them they can’t?”

Where is Steve White?
© The Virginian-Pilot
Jan. 26, 2005
VIRGINIA BEACH — Chuck Offenburger’s search for an Iowa high school football hero has taken him months and led him all the way here.
The former Des Moines Register columnist says he won’t rest until he finds Steve White .
Offenburger is writing a 100-year history of Iowa high school boys’ sports. Without White, Offenburger said, the book won’t have the final word from the star of what many consider the greatest finish ever in Iowa high school sports – perhaps in high school sports anywhere.
At last report, White was a firefighter in the Virginia Beach area. But Offenburger said that was his best lead, and he’s had no luck since. He has contacted many local fire departments, to no avail.
On Friday, already well past his book deadline, he took out a small classified ad in The Virginian-Pilot, hoping that White or somebody who knows him might see it.
“I’ve been tracking down people for 40 years, and this guy’s by far the toughest rascal I’ve ever had,” Offenburger said.
The story started in October 1987 at a homecoming football game where the Essex Trojans were hosting the Hamburg Wildcats.
Both were tiny schools in southwest Iowa, and both were known for their solid football programs. Hamburg was perhaps a little stronger that season. They led 14-12 with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Essex drove down to the 20-yard line, but their field goal try was blocked. Hamburg took over at its own 20, needing only to wind out the final two minutes to win the game.
Instead, Hamburg’s coach wanted to put up some more points, and the team marched down the field toward the Essex end zone, relying largely on its star running back, Clay Boatman .
With six seconds left, Hamburg had the ball on the 7 -yard line and again called a handoff to Boatman. Just as Boatman was about to cross the goal line, Essex lineman Mike Murray swiped at the ball, and it popped out.
Boatman bobbled the ball and scrambled to recover, but it landed right in front of 135-pound defensive back and sophomore scrub Steve White.
White scooped up the ball and scampered down the field as the clock ticked down to zero, the entire Hamburg offense hot on his tail.
He ran 103 yards before crossing the goal line and scoring the winning touchdown. The Essex sideline exploded and rushed the end zone.
As White ran down the field, an assistant coach turned to Essex head coach Dave Jauron and asked, “Are we seeing the real thing?” Jauron later recalled for Offenburger.
Jauron said he had seen a lot of last-second shots in basketball and last-out hits in baseball, “but never something like this that turned a sure loss into a win. It should have made the national TV news.”
Offenburger visited Essex later that fall, interviewing White and others about the game-winning fumble recovery and chronicling the moment in a column.
It was White’s first touchdown. He told Offenburger at the time, “I thought for a minute it might be my last one because after I crossed that goal line, all my teammates and a lot of the crowd piled on me. The weight was so bad I couldn’t breathe.”
The celebration spilled over that evening into the Gas Lamp bar and restaurant, where the youths hung out in the back room playing cards. A young girl told White there was somebody to see him out front.
“I walked out there where all the adults were,” White said. “They cheered and clapped.”
From what Offenburger can tell, it seems White never graduated from Essex. Beyond that, it’s hard to say. Nobody’s forgotten him, but “no one knows what’s become of Steve White,” Offenburger said.
There is no photo of the historic run, but someone videotaped it. Unfortunately, that tape disappeared years ago. White was given a copy of the videotape and presumably still has it – wherever he is.
Offenburger has talked to more than a dozen “Steve Whites” across the country. So far, none of them is the right White.
He recently tracked down White’s stepsister in Corpus Christi, Texas. She gave Offenburger the tip about Virginia Beach but said she hasn’t spoken to White in two or three years. He also spoke with White’s stepmother, who also hasn’t heard from him in a while.
“I ain’t giving up,” Offenburger said. “This is one little niche in 100 years of sports history in Iowa that virtually no other team or school can match.”
Back in 1987, Offenburger asked White whether it was the play he would be reliving decades later. White wasn’t sure what he meant.
Offenburger said no matter what success White had in life, chances are he would never be too far from thinking about that runback. White said he hadn’t really thought about it that way.
But Offenburger has. That’s the first thing he wants to know, if he ever reaches White.
“And I’ll tell him he should call his stepmother every once in a while,” he said.

An author’s search for Iowa football hero Steve White ends in Hampton Roads, where the mild-mannered legend resides
Jan. 28, 2005
© The Virginian-Pilot
VIRGINIA BEACH — Steve White has been found, and he has never forgotten his remarkable run.
On Wednesday, Iowa author Chuck Offenburger finally tracked down White in Virginia Beach after a local attorney learned that day of his months-long search in a front-page article in The Virginian-Pilot.
White lives in a townhouse in the Wesleyan Chase neighborhood, is a married father of two and works as a maintenance technician at the Farrier Fire Fighting Training Center in Norfolk.
He’s also the star of what many consider the greatest finish in Iowa high school sports — or, perhaps, anywhere.
Offenburger is writing a book about the history of Iowa high school sports, featuring White in a chapter called “100 Years of Highlights.”
In October 1987, White became a hero of football folklore when he returned a fumble 103 yards for a game-winning touchdown as time ran out in a close homecoming game between two tiny rival schools in southwest Iowa.
Offenburger wanted to interview White, but White’s common name and lack of contact with people from his past made it difficult to find him.
Then Virginia Beach attorney David Dickerson Jr. read Wednesday’s paper and decided to take a crack at finding White.
“It was such a great football play,” Dickerson said. “I do so much of this type of work in locating people, so I thought I could help.”
In less than five minutes, Dickerson found somebody who might be the right White. He e-mailed Offenburger an address and phone number.
By Wednesday afternoon, Offenburger was chatting with White’s wife, Suellen McCubbin, explaining how he desperately wanted to speak to her husband.
She quickly called her husband at work and asked whether he had seen the newspaper. He hadn’t.
“When she explained people were looking for me, I thought, 'What did I do? Am I wanted or something?’”
Co-workers say White, now 34, is a quiet, hard worker and the last guy you’d catch bragging about his glory days.
But Offenburger wanted to hear all about those days and how White has carried around that moment for the past 17-plus years.
“I had this feeling that it might be the highlight of his life, and it could be a real sad story,” Offenburger said. “But the fact is, he’s really doing well, and it’s neat to reintroduce him to this old moment of glory.”
White said he hasn’t been hiding, but he has been happy to leave the past in the past.
He dropped out of Essex High School before his senior year, fell in with the wrong crowd and started messing with drugs. But after getting his GED, White enlisted in the Navy and got his act together.
That night in October 1987, White played off and on as a defensive back for the Essex Trojans in their homecoming game against the Hamburg Wildcats.
And while White didn’t start the game, he sure finished it.
Essex was down 14-12 when the team’s field goal try was blocked. Hamburg took over at their 20-yard line with two minutes to play.
But instead of running out the clock and winning the game, Hamburg’s coach wanted to pad his team’s lead.
Hamburg drove to Essex’s 7-yard line, where star running back Clay Boatman got the ball on a sweep play. As he was about to score, an Essex player swiped at the ball and it popped out.
As Boatman bobbled the ball, White ran in and plucked it out of mid-air.
At 135 pounds, White wasn’t big, but he was fast.
“I remember, in that particular conference, there were probably one or two people that could have caught me,” he said. “And I kept telling myself they were right behind me.”
As White dashed away with the ball, he headed for the sideline so his pursuers couldn’t cut him off. By the time he reached midfield, he was surrounded only by his teammates in their red jerseys – and quickly leaving them behind, too.
The clock read 0:00 when White crossed the goal line. Final score: Essex 18, Hamburg 14.
“I don’t really think about it all that much,” White said. “Sometimes I do if I see something like a football game on TV where somebody intercepts a pass late in a game.”
At the time, it was the highlight of his young life. But it has been replaced by his 10-year marriage and his two young children: Sarah, 7, and Steven Jr., 3.
Finding White led to another exciting discovery: a videotape of the historic play, which school officials lost long ago. White’s brother sent it to him about seven years ago, and he hadn’t watched it in almost that long.
On Wednesday, his wife and children played it while he was at work. When he got home, they all watched it together again. And again. And again.
The crowd erupts as White streaks by the sideline on his way to a sure score. As soon as he crosses the goal line, the screen goes blank. White said they stopped filming so they could jump on him in celebration.
“It still gives me goose bumps,” he said.

Crowning Moment
On a whim, beach teen finesses her way to pageant victory
Aug. 28, 2004
© The Virginian-Pilot
VIRGINIA BEACH -- Last weekend, 13-year-old Malissa Sibly was in Richmond, trying to become a tennis champion.
She left with a jeweled crown and silk sash from a teen pageant she never intended to enter.
The saga started when her mother , Louise Sibly, tired of shuttling her daughter between the Richmond junior tennis tournament and their Virginia Beach home. It was late, so they pulled into a Holiday Inn Select for the night.
Malissa noticed a teen pageant being held at the same hotel. "Mom, I want to enter," she said.
Mom balked. What would Malissa wear? They didn't have a dress or shoes. What would it cost to enter? They weren't prepared.
A front-desk manager overheard the discussion. "I have a dress in the car," she offered. It was a little too tight, but Malissa persisted. "Buy me a dress, and I can win," she said.
Her mother was still unsure. They came to play in a regional tennis tournament, not walk down a runway. But Malissa pleaded.
All right, fine. They dashed out, bought a dress ($129) , shoes ($17) and a suit (later returned) and hurried back to the hotel, where they plunked down the entry fee ($250) .
Malissa entered.
And won. As a walk-on contestant.
Malissa was tops among 10 contestants in the junior teen group. Now she will represent Virginia in the National Miss Coed Jr. Teen Pageant in Orlando, Fla., over Thanksgiving. She will compete for thousands of dollars in cash scholarships and prizes.
For her state win, Malissa got $500, plus $300 in travel expenses for the Florida trip and two tickets to Disney World.
Almost a week after winning, the Siblys are still struggling to make sense of it all. So are pageant officials.
Walk-ons are nothing new in sports. College students walk on to football programs and make the squad. Athletes sometimes happen onto tournaments and win a trophy.
But a walk-on winner at a pageant?
"That was really unbelievable," said George Scarborough , a spokesman and former national director for the American Coed Pageants based in Pensacola, Fla .
Scarborough helped run the Virginia pageant last weekend. In 29 years as a pageant director, he said he's never seen anything like what Malissa pulled off.
Other competitors in her age group had years of pageant experience and months of preparation. Malissa had been in one pre teen pageant three years ago and had just hours to prepare this time.
But when Malissa moved across the stage and spoke, Scarborough said, he knew she was a contender. "She was a very outstanding girl. There's no question about it."
When she won, Scarborough said, it was no fluke: "She was the real deal."
While other last-minute entrants have won, Scarborough said, they always showed up prepared. "She didn't even have a dress," he said.
Diann DeLaPena , the hotel's front office manager who offered her niece's dress, said she figured Malissa was there to enter the pageant.
"When I met her, I thought she had a naturalness about her," she said. "The judges look for natural girls, and that's what they got when they got her."
Bubbly and bright, Malissa has the self-assuredness and charm of someone twice her age - qualities that came across during the interview part of the competition. And at 5 feet 6 inches tall with curly auburn hair, honey-colored eyes and olive skin, her striking features were highlighted by a shimmering red dress for the evening-wear portion.
Malissa can't compete in other pageants as the reigning Miss Virginia American Coed Jr. Teen. She will return to the state competition next year to hand over her crown.
She said she hasn't ruled out a shot at other pageants, but for now, she's happy with the sash and crown she wears everywhere - in public, in the car, constantly.
"All around the house," her mother said, rolling her eyes, "the crown is on."
"I love to wear it," Malissa said.
A rising eighth -grader at St. Matthew's School in Virginia Beach, Malissa is ranked 363rd among the nation's tennis players who are 14 and younger. She has numerous tennis trophies, but her sparkly crown has become a new favorite, and it still doesn't feel real.
"I can't believe it happened," she said.
Her mother laughed. "My pocketbook can tell you later."

Running out of pavement
After 105 straight days of running, an Illinois man arrives in Virginia Beach to complete his ocean-to-ocean odyssey of 2,900 miles
May 17, 2005
© The Virginian-Pilot
VIRGINIA BEACH — Bruce W. Johnson tried not to think about his feet.
Split, bruised and swollen so badly he had to slice open the sides of his running shoes to relieve the pressure, his feet have taken a pounding these past 2,897 miles.
Johnson would rather focus on the horizon.
He was three miles from the end of a quest he began the morning of Feb. 1 in Ocean­side, Calif. The 48-year-old roofing contractor from Elgin, Ill., was about to finish running across the country.
Averaging nearly 28 miles a day – more than a marathon – every day for 105 days, he never took a day off.
“That was the hardest part,” Johnson said.
He started the final leg at 5:30 a.m. Monday, close to where Virginia Beach Boulevard begins in Norfolk. Monday’s run was the shortest daily distance of the entire trip: 18.6 miles.
Johnson crossed nine states, burned through 14 pairs of shoes, wore out 22 pairs of socks and slathered on three big bottles of sunscreen.
He was attacked and bitten by a pack of loose dogs in Oklahoma, ran through 8 inches of snow in the mountains of Arizona, and side-stepped a zoo's worth of road kill along the way – deer, armadillos, snakes, hawks, rabbits and rodents.
He was on the road so long that his favorite New Balance running shoe was discontinued, and he had to try other brands before settling on the Nikes he wore at the finish line.
On the plus side, he lost 33 pounds, down to 190. He also raised money for a crisis center for battered women and children in Elgin. But that’s not why he ran.
“I just wanted to do it,” he said.
David Luhrsen, Johnson’s co-worker and friend, drove the support truck, logging 18,000 miles. He would jump ahead to map the route and find lodging. He also would chalk the pavement every five miles, flagging food and water he had left for Johnson.
Johnson spent about eight hours each day running slowly, averaging 15-minute miles. Any faster and he risked injury.
“You run for tomorrow,” he said. “Not today.”
That meant long hours alone on the road with nothing to distract him but his thoughts. At times, it was maddening. “I would talk to myself. 'How ya doin’, Bruce? Good, you? I’m fine.’”
Other times, it was inspiring. He thinks he invented a new kind of baseball hat with vents and a tether to his tank top. It kept blowing off in stiff winds and from passing truckers. “I swear,” he complained, “I put on an extra 100 miles chasing that hat.”
He didn’t wear headphones because he needed to hear approaching traffic and unfriendly dogs. Instead, Johnson chatted by cell phone with his girlfriend, family and other runners for hours at a stretch – wherever service was available.
On Monday, tanned and sweaty in a sagging yellow “Run Across USA” tank top, Johnson picked up his pace as pavement gave way to sky. And then more sky.
It was the Atlantic Ocean, and it held the promise of rest. “I’ve been waiting a long time to see that,” Johnson said.
The crowd at the finish line was sparse. A small home made banner Johnson had painted the night before hung between two thin posts jammed in the sand. Luhrsen , a few reporters and curious onlookers gathered around.
Johnson jogged under the banner and kept moving to the water’s edge.
Final tally: 2,900.6 miles.
Water splashed on his feet and a wave crashed against his thighs. He almost dove in, then remembered that he had a cell phone and a wireless microphone attached to his waistband.
He raised his hands above his shoulders and smiled. Then he knelt in the wet sand and bowed his head. “Say a small prayer,” he said.
He posed for pictures, which will be posted on his Web site, www.unitedstatesrun.com, but he never sat down or took off his shoes.
“I feel like I could just turn around and go back,” he said. “But when you’re an adult, you’ve got mortgages and bills and responsibilities.”
Johnson had been planning the run for five years, training and saving money almost as long. He already is thinking of doing something else. Perhaps a run across Australia or New Zealand.
He’s taking a week off to recuperate before heading back to work.
“But,” he said, “I’m not going to run for a while.”

Hawks find Town Center
a good place to perch, prey
Despite development, pair refuses to move
© The Virginian-Pilot
Jan. 16, 2005
VIRGINIA BEACH — High above the lunch crowd at The Cheesecake Factory and the Macaroni Grill, the great bird circled its meal.
Suddenly, just feet from the busy intersection in front of Town Center, it swooped down, plucked a small rodent from the shrubs and flew to the roof of Pembroke Mall’s food court to savor its prey.
It was a red-tailed hawk, and among hawks, it rules.
With a wingspan of four to five feet, they can stand as tall as a toddler. They can spy a mouse from 100 feet, and their telltale “kree-eee-ar” screech is often used in TV and movies to represent any bird of prey.
In recent years, a pair of red-tailed hawks has called the Town Center area home.
While Town Center’s growth has wiped out many of the tall pines that the big birds once used to nest, the pair has stuck it out, delighting office workers and bird enthusiasts who have watched them persevere.
The blinking white strobe light atop the tower is a popular perch.
On the tower’s roof, bones from smaller birds and other small mammals rim the storm drains – evidence that the hawks prefer the spot at mealtime.
“It’s interesting to watch and see part of nature survive in the midst of skyscrapers,” said Neil Rose, a lawyer on the top floor of One Columbus Center, the tall office building next to Town Center tower.
Rose, a former School Board member, watched the hawks move from one part of Town Center to another as trees were cut to make way for new buildings.
“I’m just glad to hear that at least one of them is around and kicking,” he said. “We had thought that one out of the pair had died.”
That’s what Susanne Dunston thought, too.
Dunston has followed the hawks for years – first from the top floor of One Columbus, now as a paralegal near the peak of the new Town Center tower.
She’s taken many pictures of the birds, and even named them.
“I called them Gertrude and Heathcliff,” she said. “It’s after an old Red Skelton bit.”
The hardest part, Dunston said, was watching the birds lose their nest – not once, but three times.
On the morning she saw another set of trees coming down, she spotted the pair on a nearby power line.
“They just sat there side by side, watching their trees coming down,” she recalled. “It was odd to see them that low, let alone side by side.”
A few years ago, a construction worker told Dunston that one hawk had been electrocuted, possibly the female.
For the rest of that season, she watched one of the hawks circling the area, “but he was pitiful.
“Then he got up with a younger hawk when the tower crane was here,” Dunston said, “and they tried to build a nest on the crane.”
But the crane was being disassembled, and that’s when Dunston called on Reese Lukei .
“The birds were so confused,” said Lukei, a volunteer research associate at the College of William and Mary and a licensed raptor bander for 30 years.
Lukei said there are as many as 25 or 30 nesting pairs of red-tailed hawks in Hampton Roads.
He said the Town Center pair are resident birds, meaning they live here year-round and don’t fly south for the winter.
Lukei said this particular pair appears to be nesting in a tall pine tree south of Interstate 264, on Independence Boulevard. He said it was a nest they had used years ago, before many of the Town Center trees came down.
Red-tailed hawks are typically found in open areas with scattered perches, including farmland, fields, parks, broken woodlands and scrub deserts. Pembroke may be short on open fields, but Lukei said its abundant perches and grassy drainage ditches make for decent hunting.
“Rabbit and mice and other small mammals run up and down these ditches,” and the hawks know that, he said.
David Potter, one of the building’s superintendents, said he has had several eye-level encounters with a red-tail during his rooftop visits. He’s even seen it snatch pigeons and carry them to the rooftop to eat.
“And sometimes I see him on the very top of the tower, on top of the light,” Potter said.
This week, the hawks took advantage of the weather, riding the warm air rising along Virginia Beach Boulevard.
As they circled, one of them broke off and headed for the Town Center tower, landing on a corner of the roof.
And there it sat, searching for its next meal.