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Wreckage Along The Back Roads

Tom Poland

By Tom Poland

I seek beautiful wreckage along the back roads. It’s out there, a chest of tarnished treasure. The key is that red, white, and blue shield you see in the photograph. I know it is a place to avoid. Rather than speed from one destination to another, I follow old roads into the past. And it is there that I ramble, detouring and losing track of time. It’s there that mysteries occur to me, something that never happens on a rough-surfaced interstate where road noise drowns out your thoughts.

Take the scene you witness here. It’s the remains of an old store near Great Falls, South Carolina. Being between the forks of two roads did not save it. When the interstate came through, it sucked the life out of it and many more a business, a sad tale oft repeated. As you can see, not even the old tree survived. The stop sign seemed to be begging someone to stop at the old store, so I did.

I did not venture on to I-77. I stayed the course on Highway 97. With good reason. I speak to groups about my journeys into the countryside. I promise people that they will see nothing of interest along the interstates. You can be in Georgia, South Carolina, or North Carolina and the terrain will be remarkably similar, mountainous regions excluded. The Land of Monotony and its endless ribbons of asphalt and concrete make for a bland, sleep-inducing trip, albeit at timesaving speed. Think about that. Sleep inducing and high speeds. And gridlock, which you won’t suffer on back roads.

I seldom travel interstates. Only in dire circumstances do I take them—when no time to linger exists and when they can’t be avoided. Whenever possible, I look at maps and plot alternate routes through the country. Sunday I got up at 5 o’clock and hit the road for Davidson, North Carolina to see my granddaughter, Katie, play in a volleyball tournament. I could have slept in till 8 a.m., hit I-26 to I-20, and then to I-77 and made the trip in two hours. Instead, I took Highway 321 as far as I could before the interstate system got me in its clutches north of Charlotte. My journey took three and a half hours but it was worth it.  Read the rest of this entry »

“Dirt Biz” from The Times and Democrat

“Dirt Biz” from The Times and Democrat

“Collusion Call Out” from The Times and Democrat

“Collusion Call Out” from The Times and Democrat

“Santa Pause” from The Times and Democrat

“Santa Pause” from The Times and Democrat

“Moore you got to be kidding me” by Stuart Neiman

“Moore you got to be kidding me” by Stuart Neiman

Living on Purpose: Looking to God within a fallen world

Dr. William Holland

By Dr. William Holland

One area of the vast unknown that has been the focus of speculation throughout the ages is why certain events happen that seem to be cruel and unfair. As a Christian minister and counselor, I am consistently either thinking, writing or being asked why tragedies happen when there is a God who can easily prevent them. How many times has someone said, “If He is all powerful, then why does He allow terrible things to happen?” This leaves His followers trying to explain what we understand very little about. Actually, the Christian worldview does not have answers to specific situations but there are general reasons why some things happen. Matthew 5:45 mentions that nature does not discriminate between good and bad or the atheist and the believer. Suffering can come to anyone and anytime without moral cause. There are several reasons why we are vulnerable to tragedy but we only have time to observe a couple. First, we are mortal and very vulnerable against an environment that is filled with danger and death. In the beginning, God established this world with natural laws in mankind’s best interest but these laws can also cause us much harm. For example, fire can be a wonderful way to cook our food and generate heat to keep us warm but it can also be a destructive and devastating force. Likewise, gravity is a blessing as it keeps everything in place but if we are skydiving and our parachute does not open, there will be tragic consequences. On the sixth day of creation, God said that everything was perfect and beautiful which many believe included a disease-free atmosphere without sickness, genetic defects or any other type of fear or danger. However, when Adam and Eve sinned against God and was cast out of the garden of Eden, according to the Bible most everything changed. Unfortunately, physical and spiritual death became a part of our vocabulary.  Read the rest of this entry »

Worries about South Carolina’s old buses spark replacement effort

By Kenneil Mitchell
Carolina Reporter & News

Rhonda Watson, a Dutch Fork Middle School bus driver and driving instructor, has driven her 27-year-old bus for more than 10 years.

To Watson, the bus is more than just a vehicle. It’s a longtime friend, a friend she calls Nelly.

“I named her after my grandmother’s favorite pet cow,” Watson said. “Always there, always dependable.”

But Watson will soon be putting Nelly out to pasture and hopping aboard a 2018 school bus. A series of bus fires and other maintenance issues has focused attention on the aging South Carolina fleet.

Out of 5,582 buses running in South Carolina, 1,347 buses are older than 15 years and need to be replaced.

The 2016-17 South Carolina’s School Bus Fleet Report found that since 2012, 24 buses have caught on fire, causing $157,000 in damages.

The average age of the state’s buses ranges from 15-to-30 years old. The South Carolina Department of Education has purchased 855 buses since January.

This older South Carolina school bus caught on fire early this year.

Watson said the old buses are easy to drive, but there are problems with maintaining a 27-year-old bus.

“It is disappointing that the maintenance of them cannot be achieved a little quicker and a little more efficient,” Watson said.

Watson says her bus only had two maintenance issues that were quickly taken care of by mechanics of the S.C. Department of Education. She believes it’s the driver’s responsibility to take care of the bus, no matter how old they are.

“I really think it comes down to a driver being aware of their vehicle,” Watson said. “Turning in a maintenance write up on it as soon as they find an issue. Letting the supervisor and the state determine if that puts that bus out of service.”

Mike Bullman is the director of school bus maintenance for the S.C. Department of Education.

Mike Bullman, assistant director of School Bus Maintenance,says he is committed to fixing the buses while adding new models to the fleet.

The wiring becomes old and securements can break, which is why Bullman says inspections should happen more often to prevent that from happening.

He is working alongside S.C. Schools Superintendent Molly Spearman to gain more funds to purchase new buses and says she has been really committed to making sure the bus fleet is at the highest standard possible.

Bullman says they’ve been able to get funding from the General Assembly and use internal funds intended for maintaining older engines to buy new buses.

Bullman is confident in  his plans to create a safer fleet.

“It is the safest form of ground transportation in the world,” Bullman said. “If we can get on our 15-year replacement cycle, we’ll go a long way to making the fleet as safe and efficient as possible.”

Rhonda Watson drives her 17-year-old bus Nelly to transport students to Dutch Fork Middle School.

Watson still drives Nelly to pick up students, but she’s willing to make the transition to the new 2018 model of school buses.

“I thoroughly enjoy driving these,” Watson said. “They handle wonderfully, they hold about the same number of students, which doesn’t interfere with the routes already put in place.”

As far as which one she prefers to drive, the old Nelly or the new Nancy, both buses have their strengths.

“From just a driver’s point of view, I like that old beauty cause it’s what I knew,” Watson said. “For the safety of the students, these are better. Because these newer buses offer additional safety equipment that Nelly doesn’t have.”

Watson says she’s open for a change of buses, which means leaving her friend Nelly in the past, and driving forward to ensure the safety of the students.

“Absolutely,” Watson said. “I’d be very happy to make the change. Yes, I’d give up my old bus!”

“Fixed Christmas” from The Times and Democrat

“Fixed Christmas” from The Times and Democrat

“Nothin’ To See” from The Times and Democrat

“Nothin’ To See” from The Times and Democrat

“News Hounds” from The Times and Democrat

“News Hounds” from The Times and Democrat

Down By The Catawba River

Tom Poland

By Tom Poland

Driving north on US 21 toward a “very small town,” I watch the land change. Hills rise into view. Large rocks protrude from the ground. Boulders. I’m passing over land where hard crystalline basement rock meets softer sedimentary rock. I’m leaving the coastal plain for the piedmont. The juncture of these two zones creates the Fall Line. Great Falls sits on it and I’m headed that way.

I drove around and through Great Falls several times, that town down by the Catawba River. The day was cloudy and gray and I sensed ghosts. When I saw an old brick building with an old wall dog sign on it I knew ghosts were about sure enough. At first it looked like the sign spelled “Pelks” but I knew in a flash that once upon a time Belks operated here. As I took photos a big man stared at me.

Big man walked up. “Can I help you?”

“Just taking photos,” I said, and we began the business of checking each other out.

Turns out that Glenn Smith and I had a connection with the University of South Carolina’s Media Arts Department back in the 1980s. We tossed names about. Glenn had worked there and I had freelanced for various project directors … people like Larry Cameron.

Glenn said that before Belks came along, the old brick building had been a company store. Textile workers spent company scrip for goods there. As a result, Great Falls developed a split personality. Back then, merchant Andy Morrison, who had a drooping eyelid, sold things people needed at lower prices. The company discouraged its workers from trading with old Flopeye but people liked his prices and moreover they genuinely liked him. As a result, the area around the Number 1 mill, company store, bank, and First Baptist Church came to be known as “Downtown,” while the retail area where Flopeye held court came to be called Flopeye. To this day, two business areas exist.  Read the rest of this entry »

“GOP Stinky Victory” by Stuart Neiman

“GOP Stinky Victory” by Stuart Neiman

Living on Purpose: Finding our place in the world

Dr. William Holland

By Dr. William Holland

Personal change is not easy. Anyone who advertises how wonderful it is to sacrifice, suffer and be uncomfortable, probably has a degree in marketing. There’s nothing wrong with reading books and watching videos about how other people have accomplished their goals, but even if we become experts on how to be successful, this does not automatically mean we will. Besides, beyond the motivational seminars and highly proclaimed formulas that are available, you are a unique individual and God has a special path for you to take. There is no substitute for prayer and perseverance if we are to become all that God has called us to be. Anyone that has experienced even a modest amount of achievement had to eventually arise from their couch and get moving. Every idea needs faith and a plan but without allowing the Lord to build us His way, we will most likely never fulfill His perfect will for our life.

When it comes to finding our place in this world, let us consider two categories. The first one I call, “floating down the river.” Picture a scenario of someone napping in a small boat without a compass or a paddle. Having a spectator mentality, they have no map or intentional direction but rather are just hoping for the best. It’s also common for these individuals to throw pity parties from time to time, because their happy go lucky lifestyle runs into problems and disappointments. Often haunted with thoughts of being left behind, they are caught in a vicious cycle of confusion and discouragement. As a Christian counselor, I’ve tried to help those who are stuck in this drifting mindset and certainly have compassion on them. No doubt it’s extremely difficult to climb out of a deep hole whether they blame themselves or in denial believing everyone else is causing them to fail. It’s always scary to move out of our comfort zone and face reality because sometimes life can seem like a huge mountain that’s impossible to climb. We cannot force anyone to do anything and neither can we help those who not willing to help themselves. In every area of life, those who desire a healthy state of being must see the truth about their own situation and be willing to act on it. Since His character and nature is divine order, we can agree there are no heavenly blueprints for floating aimlessly down the river. The good news is that God is patiently waiting to help us whenever our desire to change becomes stronger than our desire to remain the same.  Read the rest of this entry »

Why your Christmas tree could cost more this year

By Taylor Estes

If you usually buy a real Christmas tree to celebrate your holiday season, you might be out of luck this year.

Tree farms across the nation are reporting that they don’t have enough supply to meet the rising demand for live Christmas trees. According to Steve Penland, secretary of the South Carolina Christmas Tree Association, this is the biggest shortage he has seen in a few years.

“The popularity of the live, or real, Christmas tree has started evolving. We’re seeing that generation Y is looking to go back to tradition and do things like they did when they were young, like pick out a tree with the family. Demand is going up,” Penland said.

Bryan Price, owner of Price’s Christmas Tree Farm in Lexington, has also seen an increase in the demand for his trees in the past few years.

“We now open before Thanksgiving to meet demand every year, it’s what the customers expect,” Price said.

Price’s Christmas Trees is a family-owned business that was started by Bryan Price’s father in 1984. Bryan Price and his wife, Leah Price, grow their own trees on their family property, but they normally order their Fraser fir trees from North Carolina to be sold at their lot.

“We were warned by the company that sends our Fraser firs back in the summer that supply was going to be short and prices were going to go up,” Bryan Price said. “I suspect it is due to rising demand, as well as a few other reasons like wildfires, storms, and the lack of business back in the 2000s.”

Live Christmas tree sales were at all time lows then and the industry is still feeling the effects of the shifting change in demand.

“Back in the early 2000’s many Christmas tree farms went out of business because no one was buying the trees,” Penland said, agreeing with Price. “After that, farmers began planting less trees to stay even with the low demand.

“Prices are up 10 to 20 percent in some locations and certain tree types will probably be more expensive than others due to higher demand,” Penland said. “I just hope prices stay affordable for those wanting a tree.”

It takes five to seven years for a tree to reach maturity, and fir trees, which tend to be the most popular, take even longer. The combined higher demand and lowered supply of trees from the effects of previous years have people buying their trees earlier than usual.

“Already in North Carolina, which is the number two producer of Christmas trees in the nation, we’re seeing trees selling out,” Penland said.

The number one producer of Christmas trees is in the Pacific northwest, with Oregon and Washington producing the leading number of trees. Tree farmers in both states have reported similar shortages in tree supply.

“It’s unfortunate to see, and we hate to have to raise the prices on people for the Fraser firs from North Carolina,” Price said. “However, I can’t say I’m not happy to see more people buying real Christmas trees. I think our farm would make my dad proud if he was alive today.”

Click here to see more about Christmas trees.

USC distance swimmer Akram Mahmoud has contributed to the Gamecocks’ reputation as one of the top distance swimming programs in the nation.

Distance swimmer Akram Mahmoud talks to his teammates during a practice. Mahmoud says his international teammates helped him fit in so quickly with the team. Photo by Sarah Stone.


Distance swimmer Akram Mahmoud

Distance swimmer Akram Mahmoud takes a break during practice. Photo by Sarah Stone.


USC swimmer competes for international recognition

By Sarah Stone

Out of all the obstacles distance swimmer Akram Mahmoud had to overcome when he traveled 6,000 miles to the University of South Carolina, from his home in Cairo, Egypt, culture shock was not one of them.

“I felt like it’s home here, and I was really blessed,” Mahmoud said.

Mahmoud, one of the world’s top performing distance swimmers, and head coach McGee Moody attributed Mahmoud’s ease of transition to his international teammates.

“Having other people on our team that have made that adjustment, that have walked through that process, it definitely has a big impact,” Moody said.

Mahmoud, who began swimming at age 5 and wi

nning international competitions by 15, knew that he wanted to go to swim at a U.S. college. in the United States. The University of South Carolina’s reputation as a top program for distance swimming and international athletes helped him make the decision to head to Columbia.

“We’ve kind of become known worldwide as a program that can develop international students and then provide them the opportunity to go back and compete for their country,” Head Coach McGee Moody said. But there were athletic and academic hurdles to overcome.

He did not join the team until January of his freshman year, which meant he was forced to adapt to a team that had been training for months with one of the most volume-based programs in the nation. Mahmoud also had to adjust to from the long course yards used internationally to the short course yards used only in American swimming.

“It was a little bit hard for me because I have to do a lot of turns since I’m a distance swimmer so it took a long time to make my turns better and adjust for the short course yards,” Mahmoud said.

Many people also doubted the student-athlete’s ability to perform well outside the pool.

“He had a lot of people when he was coming into school here that said, ‘I don’t think we’re going to let him into school because we don’t think he can get it done. We don’t think he can make the grade,’” Moody said.

Mahmoud has earned All-American honors eight times. He has also proved skeptics of his academic performance wrong by getting his name on the list of multiple honor rolls.

Moody believes that Mahmoud is one of the top distance swimmers in the world, but he finds the mindset that inspires this success nearly as impressive.

“He has a huge heart and loves his teammates,” Moody said. “And at the same time, what’s awesome about Akram is he is one of the most fierce competitors that I’ve ever met.”

During last year’s NCAA tournament, Mahmoud was one of four swimmers who broke the American 1650 freestyle record.

“It was an epic race that to this day has never been repeated and probably won’t be for a long time, you walk over to Akram and in that moment the first thing he said to me was ‘I’m sorry coach,’” Moody said. “And I’m sitting there thinking ‘Akram, there’s only two people on the face of this planet that have swam faster than you in the 1650.’ I was like ‘What are you sorry for?’ and he was like ‘Yeah,’ but he goes ‘Those two people swam faster than me in this heat.’”

Mahmoud does not feel satisfied with what he has accomplished so far. Before his time as a Gamecock is over, he hopes to become the only swimmer at the university to win an NCAA title.

Another “first” also motivates Mahmoud. He wants to become the first Egyptian to medal in swimming. The pressure to do well for his family, country and coaches played a large role in Mahmoud’s performance in Rio. Mahmoud qualified for the Rio Olympics in 2016, but did not reach the finals. He did, however, meet his hero Michael Phelps.

“That was something I will never forget for the rest of my life,” Mahmoud said.

Over the last year and a half, Mahmoud has worked to become more confident and more experienced before Tokyo. Following graduation this spring, Mahmoud plans to stay in Columbia to train for the Olympic Games in 2020. He also plans to pursue sponsors.

Catching Gators

If you’re going to get ‘et,’ be brave and get ‘et.’

Tom Poland

By Tom Poland

Like a lot of eastern Georgians I grew up with no contact with gators. I heard a rumor that someone had seen one crossing Poland Road from my granddad’s pond. Never verified that. Never saw a gator growing up. My writing career, however, would put me around gators far more than I would have imagined as a boy in rural Georgia.

Earlier this summer I drove over to Woods Bay State Park near Olanta. Woods Bay State Park is a protected Carolina bay, one of Earth’s more mysterious landforms, one known for its pond cypress swamps, rare species, and gators. I parked and immediately noticed no one but me was there. No rangers. No visitors. As I stepped out of my car I heard what sounded like a television dropping into water. “That’s got to be a gator,” I thought.

With camera and tripod over my shoulder I headed for the boardwalk that crossed the bay’s watery interior. I walked slowly, looking for snakes. On to the boardwalk about forty yards out I set my tripod onto the decking. That’s when it happened. A gator burst right out from beneath my feet and exploded across the water. I scared him and he scared me. Call it even.

That’s the closest I’ve been to a gator in the wilds and it’s as close as I care to come. A few days later it occurred to me that had the gator made it onto the boardwalk it could have cut me off from escape. That thought gave me a good case of goosebumps.  Read the rest of this entry »

Living on Purpose: Bullies are a product of immaturity

Dr. William Holland

By Dr. William Holland

As children, we only think about life on a surface level. Having fun, our toys, food and security are usually at the top of our priority list and this is normal. However, when we become older, we hopefully begin understanding things with a more mature perspective. I’m reminded of the scripture found in I Corinthians chapter 13 and verse 11 that talks about how it’s alright to think like a kid for a while, but there will come a day when we put away our toys and become accountable for our thoughts and actions. We all have memories of people in our past that had certain personalities. Unfortunately, bullies are usually never forgotten whether in our childhood or as an adult. By the way, let it be said that nothing positive can come from this type of barbaric behavior.

I remember when I was around ten years old, there was a girl at school a couple years older than me that was constantly being made fun of and treated harshly. I can see her clearly like it was yesterday even though this was fifty years ago. She was a stocky girl with tangled jet-black hair and her clothes were often wrinkled, but what really caused the negative attention was her constant runny nose. There are many reasons why children are mean, but as a shy child, I’m ashamed to admit I was a part of the crowd of spectators that quietly witnessed the daily harassment of this poor young lady. How I wish I would have had the courage to stop them but I was just a scared skinny kid who was thankful they were not picking on me. After months of mean and rude comments, the entire school eventually learned who she was and also made sure they stayed far away from her. Not only was everyone afraid of catching her “cooties” whatever that was, but they did not want to be associated with her and risk being included as another target.  Read the rest of this entry »

“AI” from The Times and Democrat

“AI” from The Times and Democrat

“AI” from The Times and Democrat