Heroes In The Hinterlands

January18/ 2000

…. I went “searching for America” last night …. And FOUND IT ….. in quiet little Bladen County 45 minutes east of Fayetteville. ….  Ron Taylor and Darrell Page and their neighbors are succeeding despite “government help !!!”.  Ron is “wining” not “whining” and Dr Page represents the one element of public education that refuses to choke on its own incompetent arrogance.  ….. and we have a woeful tale about a beer-guzzling, drug-dealing midget in Harlem ….

BobLee was the featured “entertainer” at the 55th Annual Meeting of the Elizabethtown White Lake Chamber of Commerce on Thursday night.  Elizabethtown (pop 4,500) is the county seat of Bladen County (pop 35,000).  Nestled 45 minutes from the fast lanes of either I-40 or I-95 in Southeastern North Carolina.

Bladen County does not have a catchy nickname like “The Triangle”, “The Triad”, “Metrolina”, or even “The Crystal Coast”.   It has a couple of beautiful spring-fed lakes and a refreshingly realistic view of “who it is” and “what it wants to be”. …. There are no plans to attract a pro sports franchise, a theme park, or wagon loads of migrating retirees from Westchester and Fairfield counties “up north”.

Like a number of downeast counties, Bladen was driven by a tobacco-based economy for many years (uh oh!).  “Tobacco farmers” are a stereotype that outsiders could (and do) easily lampoon.  “Farmers’ tans”, gimmee caps, slow-moving harvesters on narrow country roads …. not one Starbucks in the county … but plenty of small churches with loyal congregations.  I did not see a mosque but I’m not saying there isn’t one .,… but there isn’t.

Bladen County is 40% African-American but only a modest Hispanic population.  Most households include at least one “lived here all my life” family member.

The unique story unfolding in Bladen County is not that it is “booming” or “about to explode” or “the state’s best-kept secret”.  Nothing so “faux-inspirational”.  Bladen County in Southeastern NC is simply an area of rural America that is determined  “to survive” in the 21st century.  Thanks to fellas like Ron Taylor and Darrell Page.

Ron Taylor’s dad started Taylor Manufacturing producing tobacco harvesting machinery and employing 500 people.  The Taylors also raised tobacco on the family farm … then the vagarities of the economy hit the tobacco industry.  The Taylors might as well have been producing 8-track tapes or buggy whips.

Whatchagonnado ???  Ron and his family coulda “loaded up the truck and moved to …. Rawlee or Wrightsville Beach OR stood gimmee cap in hand begging “the guvmint” for assistance.  If you think those options were ever considered you don’t know The Taylors of Bladen County.

Ron’s dad passed away as the tobacco industry, as it had existed for decades, issued its death gurgle.  So add legalized government piracy known as “estate taxes” to the challenges he faced.  Succeeding in the tobacco bizness even in its heyday demanded the personal work ethic that built this country, that stormed Omaha Beach, that endures hurricanes, drought, freezes and every other curve ball and sucker punch nature can throw at one.  Many of Ron’s fellow tobacco farmers fought for compensation when the guvmint declared tobacco as a crop non grata.  Ron went to the Internet to learn something.  Instead of “whining” he started “wining” …. Ron Taylor taught himself how to cultivate muscadine grapes and turned the family farms into Lu-Mil Vineyards.

Lu-Mil (named for his Mom) is no threat to Ernest & Julio and there are no signs calling his operation off Suggs Taylor Road “The Napa Valley of The East” …. But he is succeeding just fine “thank you very much”.

His vineyards do not stretch “as far as you can see” YET.  But they are well-maintained and show the sort of love and appreciation for agriculture that “real farmers” have in their blood.

He built a charming little gift shop and tasting bar and used his business acumen to develop an on-line retail operation.  This guy has the ruddy tanned lines and strong hands of man not adverse to manual labor BUT the “wheels” under his gimmee cap are always spinning  …. He is “a farmer” AND he is “an entrepreneur”.  He saw that Bladen County had no decent meeting facilities so he built a banquet room onto the gift shop.  It holds 300-400 folks and is already booked up for just about every wedding or group function within 20 miles.   It was a natural site for Cathy Kinlaw to hold her Chamber of Commerce annual meeting.

Did I mention that Ron heads up the trustees for the local hospital.  He opened the vineyards last year with a “wine & cheese” fundraiser on a scale unseen in sleepy Bladen County.  The little white-haired Baptist ladies in the hospital guild were reluctant to approve any “ALCOHOL” related function until Ron handed them a check for $18,000.  Ron’s mom is one of those Bladen Baptists.  She will tell you her boy raises grapes for jelly and preserves.

If circumstances take you down Hwy 87 east of Fayetteville, turn left on 4th street in Dublin then right on Suggs-Taylor Road.  You can’t miss Lu-Mil Vineyards about a quarter mile on the right.  Check out the gift shop.  If you notice an autographed picture of a certain roguishly handsome Internet Legend on the wall, that be me … and you’re in the right place.  Sit a spell and tell Ron that you’re a “BobLee Buddy”.  So is he.

Usually I spend my pre-stage show time “getting my game face on” but last night I was seated at the head table between Dr Bill the local Presbyterian minister and Dr Darrell Page.  Courtesy demanded I chit-chat with my dais neighbors …. “courtesy” usually always reaps rewards for its practitioners and it did this time.  Dr Page is President of Bladen Community College.

   “Community Colleges” rank on my short-list of favorites right there with Brunswick stew, Lonesome Dove, and subscribers to this website.  American “public education’ SUXS like a giant Orek vacuum cleaner connected to a jet engine.  No bureaucracy in our history has bloated itself to such a disgusting level of grid-lock arrogant inefficiency …. except for “community colleges”.  GAWD, I do love and respect those last humble bastions of legitimate learning and student-centered service.

I pounced on Dr Page like a roguishly handsome crow on a june bug.  We were like two pentacostal AMWAY dealers trying to recruit each other.

The chat quickly turned to my all-time favorite Education Administrator …. The single best asset to education in this state since the invention of the #2 pencil … my main man ERSKY BOWLES.  

Among Erskine’s ever-growing list of “common-sense” achievements since his inauguration as ringmaster and warden of the academic quicksand bog known as The UNC system is his plan to work WITH, not AGAINST, the North Carolina Community College System.  I bet you thought they were probably connected somehow what with it all seeming to be “higher education” and all …. Ya’d think so wouldn’t ya?  So does Prez EB … so does your humble humorist … so does Dr Darrell Page.

Guess who’s deadset against such cooperative heresy?  Can you spell “tenured faculty squirrels” boys and girls?

Yep … that gaggle of pompous prigs, unwashed tenured anarchists and assorted sexual grab bags loathe those guys and gals actually teaching young people marketable living skills under substandard conditions in out-moded building with under-funded budgets.  Community college instructors violate the sacred tenets of academia.

(1)   They are all on one-year contracts renewable based on classroom effectiveness.

(2)   Each instructor has real world experience and can apply their lessons to practical marketplace situations.  Golly Batman …. They Teach Stuff People Can Use In Real Life! ….. boo, hiss, gag, choke, how awful, snort, bleech …

Community colleges can take local students in their immediate communities and try to rectify the sub-standard basic un-education they were socially-promoted thru via the local public school gauntlet of union-controlled bureaucratic BS.  A couple of years commuting from home and holding down a part-time job and an illiterate refugee from “the system” can actually read well enough to fill out a job application and do ciphering well enough to calculate his paycheck …. WOW!  Plus, he/she learns a trade skill that will keep him/her off the welfare plantation and be a cooperative participant in the American dream of self-reliance ….. no wonder the beady-eyed ivory-towered eunuchs hate them so.

I asked Dr Page about the “political views” of his faculty.  He said they were too busy teaching to get all worked up over such silliness.  I turned to Dr Bill and confirmed “there IS a God.”  He agreed with me. 

Did I mention that every community college offers “learn to speak English” classes for any non-English speaking leaf blower operators interested in bettering themselves.  WHO ARE THESE HERETICS …. THEY MUST BE STOPPED!

Enter Sir Erskine The Wise …. Instead of the traditional bitter hand to hand combat with the community colleges over every General Assembly budget hand-out, Sir Erskine The Wise is saying “Let’s work together for the common good. Don’t the citizens of North Carolina have a right to expect that?” 

To think this guy was almost wasted among the preening bloviating blowhards of the U.S. Senate.  What a total waste of intellectual integrity that would have been.

Dr Page and I were rockin’ and rollin’ all thru dinner.  I got so freakin’ passionate about our subject that Dr Bill the Presby minister suggested I open my show with an altar call.  I did “shake down” the audience telling them to all adjust their wills leaving sizable assets to Dr Page’s community college.

When I did go on, I was so jazzed it was like a Home Run Derby.  I was jacking every amusing anecdote out-of-the-park.  Even the “tweeners” between the lollapaloozas were bringing down the house.  I broke in some new material about gals getting tattoos and a bit about my evil aunts from the utter depths of hell.  Both bits were immediate classics.  I may not quite be ready for my own showroom at The Bellagio YET …. But put BobLee in front of a room full of salt-of-the-earth North Carolinians and MAJOR butt will be kicked.    

Any Chamber of Commerce, country club or trade association not calling for available show dates are missing out.  Being a “free market” guy I may not be affordable locally much longer.

PS:  The annual meeting of The Elizabethtown White Lake Chamber of Commerce opened with a Boy Scout color guard and everyone reciting the Pledge of Allegiance including the “under God” part …. but you probably figured that would be the case ….. didn’t you?  There truly are internal and external threats to America as we know it.  The fine folks in quiet little Bladen County are gonna be tough to overcome.  They know how to survive.


 Bladen County produced an exceptional for-real “student athlete” 

for UNC just a few years ago.   Who was he? 


    I was going to discuss Billy Donovan, Mike Vick, and Ye Olde Legend doing his Jimmy Carter impression on behalf of The Apple Cheeked Fraud but those can wait ….. A beer-guzzling midget drug-dealer was gunned down in Harlem.  I cannot improve on the actual story from the NY Post.  This, my friends, will make you forget whatever is ailing you for about 30 seconds …. ENJOY ….

Midget Murder


 June 8, 2007 — The short, troubled life of a drug-dealing Harlem midget came to a violent end yesterday when he was gunned down while guzzling beer and shooting dice outside a housing project.

   Cops found a huge .380-caliber pistol in the waistband of little person Joshua Agard, 18, along with 15 vials of crack that he was peddling while hanging out in a courtyard with pal Manuel Zabater, who was also killed in the attack. 

   “He was just so big. So [I thought], how much could he get into?” said distraught neighbor Debra Daniels, 61. “He was a good person. I loved him.” 

   Though Agard was just 3 feet tall, he had a police record a mile long. So far this year, he had been busted twice, once on assault charges for throwing a bottle at a man’s head and once for trespassing when he was caught inside 425 E. 105th St. He also had two other arrests, cops said. 

   The final, fatal trouble for Agard came at about 4:30 a.m. yesterday while he and Zabater, beers in hand, were in the courtyard of the East River Houses project on East 105th Street. 

   According to cops, three or four black males approached and, without saying a word, blasted Agard several times.

    Witnesses told The Post that the project grounds were clear of the usual cast of thugs at the time of the shooting, indicating that many knew the hit would be going down. 

As rounds tore through the tiny target’s head and torso, Zabater committed an act of bravery when he rushed to his friend’s side and tried to pull him to cover, witnesses said. That’s when Zabater – who was on parole for drugs – was hit twice in the torso. 

The gunmen fled and were still at large yesterday. Both victims were taken to local hospitals, where they died. 

   The bloody end for Agard came after a life in which he struggled to overcome the deaths of his parents, and his size, which sometimes made him the object of mockery. 

   “When people would taunt him, he would say, ‘I’m a midget, I don’t want to be called a dwarf,’ ” said one pal. “He did everything normal. He played ball, everything. Everybody knew him. He’s a loving person.” 

   Things weren’t always so bad for Agard. When he was 9 years old he appeared in a performance of “A Christmas Carol” put on by Harlem’s The Play’s The Thing Theatre Company. Fittingly, he played Tiny Tim.

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