Notes from the road


By Scott Robertson

It’s good to be back from New England, where I spent last week attending to family business.

For those of you who read the column entitled “Uncle Steve” a few weeks ago, your thoughts and prayers have been greatly appreciated. Steve’s daughter and widow send their thanks.

Steve’s passing means a few of us in the family are going to have to referee, or just flat not have, some of our own battles in the future. It was good to be together with all the brothers and sisters last week with Steve’s kindhearted approach to life at the top of our minds. But rather than eulogize Steve, which frankly I am too tired to do well after a week travelling the east coast, I thought I’d just share a few quick notes from the road.

• I watched the ETSU Bucs win the SoCon men’s basketball tourney at a sports bar in Auburn, Maine. Was happy to see it already on one screen when we arrived. The drama when Greensboro’s last gasp three-point attempt rimmed out felt just as intense from literally 1,000 miles away.

• After paying more than $50 in tolls to drive on highways and bridges in Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey in a week’s time, I’m convinced that if Tennessee’s Governor Bill Haslam doesn’t get the gas tax hike he’s looking for from the state legislature this year, he should come back next year with a proposal to implement toll road status along all of I-40, I -75, I-65, I-24 and I-81.

It’s actually a fairer tax than the gas tax, because funds for highway maintenance and improvements are raised directly from highway users. If you’re a senior citizen who wonders why you’re paying more property tax to fund schools for people more than 50 years your junior, then you can understand the logic behind having users pay for what they’re using instead of asking everybody to pay in, whether you use the service or not.

Putting tolls on the interstates also increases the share of funding that comes from out-of-state drivers that goes to improving Tennessee roads. Since the interstate tolls would help fund maintenance and improvements on rural state highways that are rarely used by out-of-state drivers, that places less of the burden for their upkeep on local drivers/taxpayers.

• It is impossible to maintain a diet when spending a week with fellow grieving relatives during the winter in New England. The words comfort food take on a whole new meaning when one is staring down a Noreaster while remembering the good times of days gone by.

• I did a double-take when I saw Zach Vance’s online Johnson City Press feature on ETSU grad Steven Lacey’s time at The Landing School. I had driven by that school several times during the week. Located just outside of Kennebunkport, The Landing School is a little more than a mile from the Memorial Chapel where the family received visitors. That the other newspaper in Johnson City should be publishing an article about an obscure school 900+ miles away while I was driving by it daily on wholly unrelated business was quite the coincidence.

I highly recommend Vance’s article, by the way. The Samuel Clemens quote he uses to wrap it up is perfect.

• A word of advice to Catholic priests: don’t let the protestant guy be the first one to speak at a funeral mass. I was asked to read a passage at Steve’s mass, and felt honored to have been asked. But nobody told me ahead of time where I would be standing when the time came.

The priest, a wonderfully good-natured man who just went by “Father Bob” in all our meetings, began the mass standing behind a table front and center of the sanctuary. There was a pulpit off to the side, but it went unused in the first 10 minutes of the mass. When Father Bob asked me to come forward, he turned and headed back to his seat. So he did not notice me bypassing the side pulpit and walking behind the table.

I knew something was wrong when I saw my notes were not on the table. I knew something was very wrong when one lady in the congregation gasped as I stood where apparently only the priest EVER gets to stand. Father Bob looked up, appeared gobsmacked that I would be standing in his spot, then politely pointed me to the side pulpit. I felt as though I were wearing a huge flashing sign that read, “Presbyterian.”

Father Bob had made the sign of the cross in front of my son and said, “You are forgiven,” when Chris had told the priest that he worked as a Presbytery camp counselor in the summer. I can only hope for similar absolution, but to be fair, it has been 49 years since my last confession.


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