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Fond thoughts for a town that could really use some right about now
There used to be this great little deli in Charlottesville, Virginia called Littlejohn’s. It didn’t survive the pandemic, sadly, but the memories live on — the memories, and the Zonkers.
It’s both a stone-cold truism and blindingly obvious that the foods best suited to cure a hangover are also the foods most likely to be huge hits with little kids. (See: Pedialyte, cold pizza, fistfuls of Gummi Bears.) So it was with the Zonker, a monstrous beast of a late-night drunken meal that we began serving our kids pretty much as soon as they could chew solid food. It’s a highly sophisticated recipe:
Bagel, lightly toasted
Bacon, dripping-grease greasy
Cream cheese, spread thick
Tomato, sliced however you can manage without severing a finger
And it’s perfect. The grease of the bacon melts the cream cheese just enough, the onion is a little slap to the face to keep you awake until you get back to your own dorm/bed, and the tomato — I dunno, maybe it’s supposed to be healthy or something. Regardless, it’s impossible to screw up and goddamn delicious no matter how you make it.
I’ve been thinking about Charlottesville, and the University of Virginia, and kids, a whole lot this week. And I find I’m longing for the days when a Zonker solved all the world’s problems.
You’ve seen the headlines. Sunday night, in a bus that had just returned from seeing a play in Washington D.C., a Virginia student allegedly opened fire on his classmates, killing three and wounding two more before running. All three of the dead were football players, members of a Cavalier team that, like all teams, bonds in ways and on levels far beyond wanting to win games on Saturday afternoons.
I’ve spent much of this week delving into the UVa story, talking to friends and family members of the victims, and to a Virginia Tech-based grief counselor about what comes next for Charlottesville. “Grief comes in waves,” he told me. “Some days, things seem normal, and then out of nowhere comes this overwhelming sense of sadness and loss.”
Any life lost to gunfire is a tragedy, but when it’s three students at the very start of their lives — Devin Chandler, D’Sean Perry and Lavel Davis Jr. are their names — it’s a tragedy too awful to fully comprehend. All three of them possessed fiery spirits, willpower, determination, intense promise … and all of their stories ended far too soon.
Meanwhile, beyond the bounds of Charlottesville, life goes on as normal — which in this case means trolls and low-wattage dumbasses doing all they can to shrink this nightmare to fit their agenda. I’ve already seen complaints that there’s too much focus on the stories of the victims and not enough on the motive behind the crime (whole lot of facts yet to come out on that). And then there was the reader who told me that the (alleged) shooter was denied twice when attempting to buy a gun, “so that means the laws are working somewhat.” Strangely, I don’t think anyone finds that “somewhat” comforting.
This is the second time the nation’s eyes have turned to Charlottesville in recent years, neither in a way worth honoring. Back in 2017, a horde of doughy henchman-grade dipshits paraded through the university grounds with tiki torches and their own pathetic spines on full display. The debacle resulted in the death of a woman — Heather Heyer is her name — and injuries to dozens more when one of the white supremacist demonstrators drove his car into a crowd of protestors. “Charlottesville” became shorthand for racist rallies — as in, We don’t want another Charlottesville here — and that in itself is a shame of perception.
There’s something unique and special about college towns, the way they’re tiny little isolated entities unto themselves. Athens, Tuscaloosa, Oxford, so many more — each one both a refuge from the world and a chance to find out who you are before you enter it. There’s a reason real estate is so expensive in these glorious little burgs — all of us old alumni are trying to recapture that ephemeral joy, expansiveness and freedom from grown-up obligations that wraps you like a warm blanket of your alma mater’s colors when you’re in a college town.
Nestled within low mountains and sloping hills, Charlottesville is gorgeous territory. Much as it pains me as a graduate of The College of William & Mary to say this, the University of Virginia is a magnificent institution. Its campus — sorry, “grounds” — defines academic beauty and embodies intellectual rigor, the ideal of what you imagine a college ought to be.1 The Jeffersonian neoclassical red brick look of the campus is instantly identifiable and, to my eye, perfectly on key for an institution of higher learning. It’s a visual symbol of the university’s enduring strength, and an implicit pledge that the school will survive this tragedy, even though scars will remain.
I wish I had some answers here. We all do. This is a developing story, but also an all too familiar one. Here’s hoping that the families, friends and community around Devin, D’Sean and Lavel can find comfort in their memories and in one another. And here’s hoping you have a little bit of brightness in your life this weekend too. It shouldn’t be just tragedies that bring out the best in most people, but it all too often is.
All the love in the world to y’all, UVa. Just this once: Wahoowa.
This is issue #81 of Flashlight & A Biscuit. Check out all the past issues right here. Feel free to email me with your thoughts, tips and advice. If you’re new around here, jump right to our most-read stories, or check out some of our recent hits:
How would Forrest Gump fare playing football for Alabama today?
Why Atlanta’s Varsity has the best burger ever. No, I’m serious.
Remembering Loretta Lynn, an icon without equal
Could you survive a Waffle House brawl?
What does “Flashlight & A Biscuit” mean, anyway?
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Here’s a story I can tell. Once, when I was covering a W&M-UVa football game, I parked in a lot that had been created in an open field. After the game, I hit the Corner, a few other places, a few dorms (don’t freak out, I was still a student myself) — point is, I left my car where it was in that lot. Came back Sunday morning to find that “parking lot” was actually a softball field, and my car was the only one still left there — and it was sitting right there right in the baseline between first and second. I got there just in time — a couple intramural teams were warming up all around my car, and they’d already called the tow truck. That was a walk of shame I wasn’t expecting. Thank you for not destroying my car with metal bats, ‘hoos.