The unlikely uniting force in a bitter time: Wegmans

wegmans

Supermarkets can apparently unite America in the most bitter election season ever. | Courtesy: Charlottesville Newsplex

I may not live in Charlottesville anymore, but I still closely follow the local news, events and issues. The small Virginia college town is a unique media market, one that spans many political ideologies, socioeconomic classes, religions and creeds. Charlottesville itself is a liberal urban oasis, surrounded by the sprawling rural and conservative suburbs.

Therefore, Charlottesville has also not been immune to the divisive rhetoric of the 2016 election. The 5th District Congressional seat has been a hard-fought and expensive race. That’s aside from city council or county supervisor races and state politics.

But amid the chaos of bickering and heated discussions, I noticed something Sunday that has united the diverse Central Virginia community, all politics aside.

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6 Things I’ll Miss in Charlottesville

Blue Mountain Brewery Beer

Alright, it’s official. I’m leaving Charlottesville.

I’ve been in Central Virginia for four-and-a-half years. In that time, I’ve done as much as I could in the area while still not doing enough. From tubing on the James to Fridays after Five to skiing at Wintergreen, it’s difficult to be bored in the Piedmont.

So here is my list of things I’ll miss so much about this region that New York just won’t be able to offer.

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Signing Off in Charlottesville

Anchoring with Stephanie

Co-anchoring with the fantastic Stephanie Satchell.

All good things must come to an end, they say.

Not really sure who “they” are, but they really don’t know how bittersweet of a statement they’ve created.

After four-and-a-half years in Charlottesville and at CBS19, I’m moving on. In those years, I’ve seen countless people come and go (almost literally—I stopped counting) to bigger places and things. Now I’m joining the club of Newsplex alumni.

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Snow-go on Route 29: Snow Reporting Guide

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0KXvOpgyR4%5D

Reporting on snow doesn’t really get easier.

It’s fun to tell the snow stories. It’s not as fun to be out in the ~32-degree weather all day long. (Although, in hindsight, it is.)

This week, the first major storm of the winter hit Central Virginia. Snow accumulation was inches less than what was anticipated, but the impact was still great.

On top of the couple inches, the temperatures over the coming days would border freezing — making overnight lows in the low teens or single digits. Therefore, anything that would stick would likely freeze.

Of course, the average viewer may already know this. So to make a standup as engaging as possible… what to do?

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Snowbody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

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Sometimes, a liveshot goes so right until it goes so wrong.

In my three years in Charlottesville, I’ve covered two hurricanes, a derecho, a microburst, a few heat waves and an earthquake.

(Yes, I had to look up some of those words, too.)

All of that prepared me for the most complicated weather coverage yet: snow.

When I first moved to Charlottesville, there was about a foot and a half of snow on the ground. Then, two more systems over the next month dumped an additional 18 inches each. Since then, relatively nothing.

I had to shovel my four-wheel drive SUV out of my parking lot and got to work around 7:30 a.m. on the morning of the snow. By this point, about 6 to 8 inches had fallen.

I got to work to discover the phone lines at the station were down. That meant reporters in the field (as I was supposed to be) had no official contact back at the station, namely to the anchor desk to hear the anchors toss to the field.

What to do? Improvise.

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From NC to NYC: Virginia Quake Shakes the East

I was sitting in my car after an Old Navy shopping trip and a Smoothie King stop. Then, my car started shaking.

I looked around, and no one seemed to react. I wasn’t sure what I had just felt, so my natural reaction — I tweeted. “Did I just feel an earthquake!?” My phone then exploded with texts from my brother and friends asking if I was OK or alive.

I rushed home, saw the CNN coverage and tried calling work. Couldn’t get through.

I swapped my shorts for jeans, put on my newly purchased Old Navy flip-flops and ran out the door to work. Within 30 seconds of stepping into the newsroom, I was sent to Mineral, Va., the epicenter of the earthquake.

What amazed me most about covering the earthquake was how eerily normal everything appeared. Sure, there was damage from the earthquake — two homes were destroyed, many others heavily damaged — but you had to look hard for the damage. Still, it was very easy to empathize with those who lost a lot, like the Brunson family I interviewed (in the video below).

Mineral is a small town between Charlottesville and Richmond. There aren’t many tall buildings, if any at all. That might not provide much comfort to those with damaged homes, worrying if insurance will cover the cost of repairs, but should something have happened closer to a metropolis like Richmond, there might have been more than the zero fatalities or serious injuries Central Virginia saw.

As far as news goes, it was exciting to cover a major event in our own backyard that had a national impact. But even one week after the quake, the cleanup continues.

Church Communities Come Together

Ruckersville Baptist Church on the morning arsonists set fire to the sanctuary on Aug. 22.

It’s inspiring to witness first-hand how positivity evolves from tragedy.

On Aug. 22, arsonists set fire to Ruckersville Baptist Church. The church’s sanctuary was more or less destroyed, and the quick work of firefighters saved the rest of the building. But the damage is still extensive, and rebuilding has yet to begin.

I covered the initial story and had the opportunity to follow through this past weekend. I didn’t know beforehand what a privilege it would be.

The pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Madison (about an hour north of Charlottesville), Rev. Alan Follett, invited members of Ruckersville Baptist Church to his own. Ruckersville’s pastor, Rev. Kyle Clements, would speak at the church’s homecoming.

I was immediately welcomed upon arriving at the church, which I was lucky to find. Google Maps didn’t know where it was, so I headed in the general direction of Mt. Zion, hoping I would find it. I arrived to see a handful of workers setting up tables for an early dinner that would follow the service.

Mt. Zion members were excited to welcome Ruckersville members, who have been displaced by the fire. They’ve been worshipping in their fellowship hall and other spaces since the fire.

I spoke with Rev. Clements again. Church members are lucky to have this man as a pastor. He’s been a strong, level-headed leader throughout this ordeal, and he continues to exude positivity as the congregation moves forward. The church has seen an outpouring of support since the fire, which has helped the healing process.

In his sermon, Rev. Clements said that church isn’t a denomination, but rather a community. This was echoed by Mt. Zion members whom I spoke with. It was incredibly inspiring to see the two communities come together as one. A bus filled with Ruckersville church members pulled off, and I recognized some of them from that August day. They’re still supporting their church, even if they don’t have their building.

The service was powerful, and Revs. Clements and Follett are moving, engaging speakers. These are two lucky congregations.

I received a phone call from Rev. Clements yesterday to thank me for the coverage of the service. He told me I conveyed what he felt in his heart. To me, there is no bigger compliment. I look forward to following the story of Ruckersville Baptist Church.

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AS I WAS setting up my camera inside a church, a woman from Mt. Zion began chatting with me. She came up to me earlier in the day to give me a program and a bookmark, which read, “Welcome, friend. We are blessed you are here today.”

“You were at the Madison football game, weren’t you?” she asked me as I was setting up. I admitted that I was. On Friday, I shot the Luray vs. Madison high school football game for the weekly Friday Night Endzone show on ABC16. With the number of turnovers (mostly from Luray), those teams had me running along the sidelines all night long.

“Yeah, I saw you running around down there. I have to brag a little. My grandson’s the quarterback. In fact, he’s sitting right over there,” she said, pointing him out to me.

We discussed what a good game he had, as Madison went on to win, 55-14. Her grandson made my final edits and got on TV for a few a few of his good plays. He had many.

I’m realizing more and more how much CBS19 has an impact on the community. From covering the aftermath of a church arson to a high school football game, people rely on us. It’s an honor to help out.