My Alaskan Stereotype 

 

So AJ Dawg and I were sitting on a bench in front of Doubletree Hotel. I know that sounds peculiar in itself, but we are both old and needed  break from walking  and the bench is one of the few left in Downtown Huntington.  

A Jeep pulled up and a couple got out. A lady was finishing her cigarette and she asked, “Aren’t you Alligator Jackson?” 

Well, that isn’t unusual but what made it interesting for me was where she lives—- Alaska.  

The first thing that popped in my mind was Northern Exposure. The show was set in a small town in Alaska and ran on CBS from 1990 to 95. I blurted out the name of the show but she wasn’t familiar with it.  

Being from Alaska immediately intrigued me. My first question was why she was here in West Virginia? 

It turns out she came in for a wedding. She grew up in Huntington and still owns a house here.  

Of course that led to the obligatory question -  
“How did you end up in Alaska?” 

Her best friend took a job up there in 1996. She went through a bad breakup here in 2002. She visited her friend and took a job in police work. She lives in a town of 3500 and the money is pretty good. She has lived in Alaska for twenty years.  

Well, Northern Exposure kept popping up in my mind. It struck me a little odd that she lived in Alaska and never heard of the show. The show is one of my favorite shows ever. It was about a doctor from New York  who graduates from Columbia University medical school and is assigned to work in the tiny Alaskan town of Cicely to pay for his education. The location is very remote.   It is a classic fish out of water premise. The town is full of quirky characters. It is got that small town charm and comes across like a colder Mayberry.  

So now I realize how stereotypical I was being. She mentioned a small town in Alaska and suddenly I am picturing people bundled up in jackets and living in cabins and igloos and walking down frozen dirt roads with elk.  

West Virginians have long been victim of stereotypes but I suddenly realized that I have no concept of the Alaskan culture.  

I would have loved to ask her questions about life in Alaska. I am very sure the words “polar bear” would have popped up in at least one question.  I may have eventually asked her if she knew Sarah Palin.  

So as I am googling life in Alaska I realize something. I may want to be a little bit tolerant the next time I’m out west and someone says they didn’t know West Virginia was a state. Maybe I’ll be understanding if they ask me if I am a coal miner.

The early bird gets the TV set (Addiction sucks) 

GATOR REFLECTIONS  

She was struggling down the street carrying a huge TV set. It was around 6:30 am on a Sunday morning. The sun was still rising and the early birds were scrambling to get the worm.  

She was in her early 50s and honestly did not weigh much more than the TV. I have seen her for years. She is a fixture of Downtown Huntington. For this blog, I’ll refer to her as Susie.  

I helped her carry the set a little bit. AJ Dawg kept pulling the other way and made it hard. “Where are you taking this?” I asked, already tiring of the manual labor. 

“To —-‘s house. Maybe he’ll give me  a pack. The desperation was evident in Susie’s eyes. Fentanyl was calling her name. She pulled her end of the television set with a cigarette barely dangling from the side of her mouth.  As she bounced along under the weight of the TV, I watched for the cigarette to vibrate out of her mouth.  

“I don’t feel very well. I just hope he takes it,” she moaned.  

“Does it work,?”I asked. I pretty much knew the answer. She found it alongside a dumpster. Logic dictates that television  sets are usually set by dumpsters for a reason. Susie really wasn’t in the mood to be logical.  

“I don’t know. I don’t feel good. My stomach hurts. My head hurts. I am dying of thirst. I haven’t slept in four days.” 

I’m not sure I did the right thing but the TV set was heavy. We set the TV set in another dumpster. Susie took off down the road clutching the few dollars I gave her.  

My hope is that she bought something to eat and drink. Likely, Once again I had become that sympathize sucker called an enabler.  

Addiction is tough to watch. It is easier to judge from behind a keyboard. But on the streets, it is tough to watch. It is easy to spot on the streets of Huntington, but it is never pretty.  

I know the speech by heart. The one that starts with there is help available. Susie knows that speech. She can recite it word for word. She not only has heard it as much as she has heard the latest Morgan Wallenberg song but she has also been to rehab 4 times in the last few years. All she has to show for it is a throbbing back from carrying TV sets.  

Addi sucks to watch. So we either hate or hide in denial. Or even worse, we have come to accept it.  

In my mind, Susie is scrambling out of McDonald’s with a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit and is chomping down as she hurries off to find somewhere to crash. It is what I choose to believe….addiction sucks.

Ice Cream! Ice Cream 

GATOR REFLECTIONS  

So AJ Dawg and I were sitting alongside Fourth Avenue enjoying an ice cold beverage on Jimmy John’s patio. Suddenly, the beautiful evening was accompanied by music.   

But this was not Fourth Avenue music. This was not classic rock spilling out of a jukebox from a bar. This was not a rap track blasting out from Spotify as their car pulsates down the road. This was music I haven’t heard very often in decades. But it was unmistakable.   It was the magical music of an ice cream truck.  

An ice cream truck at 9:30 on a Friday night in the middle of Downtown Huntington?  For 7 years  I have been a resident of Downtown and never seen an ice cream truck.  

Suddenly, I was a five year old boy anxiously jangling change in my hand as I stood on the sidewalk on Cleander Drive in Cincinnati watching Mister Softee approach.  

I could feel the hot Summer sun. No ice cream in your life is as good as the ice cream you ate as a five year old kid. Impossible. Not even Austin’s at The Market can touch it. The ice cream of our youth was made with magic and served by angels…even though most ice cream truck drivers in my day were either 350 pound bearded guys with a tattoo that said Mom on his bare arm that fell out of his stained white Fruit of The Loom t-shirt or hippies.  

When we moved out of Cincinnati when I was 7, I had to give up Mister Softee cold Turkey. On Beechwood Drive in Cumberland we had The Sno Cone guy. Now don’t get me wrong, I ate my share of sno cones but it sure wasn’t that magical soft serve ice cream.  

One night after a few years, I was playing in my yard around 9:30. It was dark. I heard the ding. It was that ding. It was in the distance. I wandered a few yards over. I saw it!  In the distance the unmistakable blue and white truck with the ice cream cone with the face.  

At first I thought it was an illusion. I rubbed my eyes, it was true. Mister Softee was in Cumberland.  He never ever came down Beechwood. It was a tease but every now and then when the night was warm and quiet, I could hear the ding. I would drift into another yard and watch him serve frozen magic to lucky kids, hundreds of yards away.  

Occasionally in New York or Cincinnati, I have spottedMister Softee over the years. I have denied myself getting a cone because I know that grownup ice cream is never as good as the ice cream of our youth.  

Suddenly tonight, Big Worm was in front of me. Like a kid, I jumped up to the curb. He stopped. I reached in my pockets but no change. “We take credit cards”, the driver said. And then something amazing happened. I froze as solid as the Bomb Pops he sells on his truck.  

I shook my head no…and he was gone in the night. Why?  There’s a lot about life I don’t know.  But I do know, ice cream when you are a 58 year old, eight and a half toed diabetic don’t taste anything like when you were a five year old kid on a hot summer day.   

Well, yeah, deep down inside I know.  But…I don’t believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny so I want to keep believing that the bearded truck drivers serve magic. As I listened to the music fade down Fourth Avenue, I could taste that magical Mister Softee soft ice cream I had as a five year old…if only for a few seconds.

The Night Huntington Lost It’s Innocence  

 

May 22. 2005 changed Huntington,WV forever. I will never forget the horror of waking up to the news of four young lives taken so senselessly and so tragically.  

The victims were Dante Ward, 19; Eddrick Clark, 18; Michael Dillon, 17; and Megan Poston, 16. Poston was Dillon’s date to his high school prom Saturday night. Authorities said the two other victims did not attend the prom. 

Four good kids out celebrating a magical time. The night ended in horror.  Seventeen years later and the pain is still there. What makes it even harder is that justice has not been served. No one has ever been charged with the murders.  

Saturday May 21 is being recognized as a Day of Hope in Huntington with events planned for Saturday. Tina Ward is hosting a HMemorial of Remembrance on Friday.  

Seventeen years later, the tragedies have evolved into many meanings. One is remembering and paying tribute to the lives that were lost and the loss suffered by friends and family.  

It is also the day Huntington lost its innocence forever. We were immediately faced with the reality that violence can take our loved ones at anytime. Our children are never totally safe even in happy moments.  

There has always been the pain that justice has failed these families. The families of the these victims live everyday knowing the killers roam free.  

But despite the pain and loss, the community has come together to create a celebration of Hope for the present and future. The theme this year is A New Day Dawning.   

It is good that such pain is evolving into Hope. It is good that happy thoughts can come from a night filled with such sorrow.  

Tina Ward says,” We're going to let off balloons right before it gets dark hopefully enough to fill up the sky.” 
The four young lives will never be forgotten.  

One thing cannot be forgotten…that is the quest for justice. The families deserve answers. Someone must pay for these murders.  

Hold your loved ones extra tight on this night. We learned on May 22, 2005, that they can be gone in an instance.

The Toughest Fight 

A friend emailed me today. She told me about this great guy who  
has been serving the citizens of Cabell County for 14 years as a 911 dispatcher. He was diagnosed with Neuroendocrine Cancer. He is currently receiving radiation and chemotherapy treatments.  

I was stunned because even though I never met him I kind of knew him. He is a friend of a good friend I used to work with….both my friend and him are bodybuilders. In fact this guy is pro.  

For years I have watched my friend and this guy trade barbs back and forth through Facebook. This guy is funny and can take a joke  

I was stunned. This guy looks like the Incredible Hulk. He is huge. Literally a mountain of muscle on to of muscle. How could anything short of The Hulk himself stop this guy? 

Sadly, I have watched cancer take down men and women before. Good men and women. Cancer is The Grim Reaper’s right hand. It is an evil force that breaks hearts, destroys families, and wrecks dreams. Cancer doesn’t scare easily. Cancer does not back down.  

Cancer will not have it easy. Cancer is in for a fight. For Patrick is no quitter.  Patrick still struggles to make it to the gym by 4:30.  After training, he still punches the clock and helps people through their daily struggles and issues while he is battling this monster called Cancer.  

I immediately thought of how I whine some days and make excuses to not give things my best shot. There are times when no one is looking I will take the easy way. I felt embarrassed when I thought of this man facing an enormous battle but has no intentions of quitting.  

He made a post today on Facebook.  He was at the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center. He posted, “Someone just rang the bell. No, it wasn’t me. My turn is coming soon.” 

I am not a betting man…but if I was, my money would be on Patrick. He said he will film himself ringing the bell…and when he does, Alligator Jackson’s Inside Huntington will share it. So be ready, it may be a while but we can all watch it together.

Local Restaurants Struggling Against The Raging Inflation 

My week just got off to a bad  start.  Another local business has closed it's doors.  The Corner Hoagies and Hops in Downtown Huntington has just announced on its Facebook page that it is ceasing operations immediately.  This comes on the heels of Charlie Grainger's Hot Dogs closing around the corner just a month ago.

True, it does seem the circle of life for restaurants.  One opens and one closes.  It is great to see new restaurants coming but it tightens the competition.

COVID was hard on all business as it closed down businesses and then inside dining was closed for a while.  Even though Corner Hoagies and Hops opened after the lockdowns, it still has an effect.

A lot of people started eating at home more after restaurants opened back up.  The labor market drastically changed after restaurants reopened.  Suddenly, it was hard to find workers.  Many places closed down just because of that and some shortened their hours.  Some places gave raises just to get workers and that cut into profits.  

A trucker shortage caused supply and food shortage.  Suddenly, the restaurants were struggling to find basic items and supplies.  This was particularly rough on small restaurants because large suppliers took care of their big customers and chain restaurants first and often quit service to the indies.

Now, raging inflation is causing restaurants to have to raise prices.  One owner told me this weekend, "I hate to do it.  But, I have no choice.  I have been putting it off but my profit margin is too small.  If I don't raise my prices, I will certainly be out of business.  I will lose customers but I don't have a choice."

New restaurants are opening.  In Downtown Huntington alone, the last couple of months has seen the opening of The Carnival Place; Boots, Spirits, and Feed; and The Goods (a convenience store but serves food and a deli).  There is only so much money to go around and another slice of the pie means a thinner slice of profits for most places.

 

Times will continue to get harder as inflation soars.  None of the problems facing small businesses seem to have a solution readily available.  Please remember our local businesses.  They really need us in these tough times.

Living Amongst The Violence  

GATOR REFLECTIONS  

A message came to me through my Facebook page tonight.  “ Gator, the mass shooting tonight was on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo, New York. These things happen all over, not just Huntington. It didn’t happen in Buffalo , WV  or Jefferson Avenue on the West End of Huntington. Violence happens everywhere. You make it sound like it only happens in Huntington “.  

Well, the writer is right…to a point. Yes, it does happen everywhere. There are drugs everywhere, mental illness everywhere, domestic violence, and hatred everywhere. But you cannot deny that Huntington does have it’s share of shootings.  

Actually, without being paranoid, a feller like me can almost feel targeted.  

I have lived Downtown for seven years. Here is my experience.  The first killing in the apartment building I previously lived in across from River Park was a stabbing not a shooting. A few guys tried to rob some guys partying in the apartment above me. One of the robbers was stabbed in the process. His body was found in between the building I lived in and the one next door. I came home from work to find my parking lot blocked off with yellow crime scene tape.  

The next year I took a trip to Illinois. I woke early and went to The Herald-Dispatch website to see if there were any news stories to add to my page. The first thing I saw was a picture of my apartment building with a police car parked where my truck would have been if I was home. My next door neighbor had a knock on the door around one in the morning. When she opened it, she was murdered and fell down the stairs.  

After I moved a few blocks down the street, I still walked to work. On New Years Day 2022, I was on my way to work and police were still investigating a mass shooting where seven people were shot.  

Then, we fast forward to a few weeks ago. At one am, I was awaken by the sound of over forty rounds being fired directly across the street from me. I ran to my door to see people running in 4th Avenue. People were terror stricken and crying. Dozens of people were everywhere. As I stood on my second story porch, people ran under me. Two people were shot and one was injured by being trampled.  

The next week, two more people were shot in almost the same spot. T seems like I seem to be a magnet to shootings.  

So if I tend to complain about shootings, it is because I have ample reason to be paranoid. And the most current shootings have not even been in my neighborhood.  

For 50 years, I had never been close to a murder or shootings. My last nine years have been filled with excitement and not in a good way. So if you think I exaggerate the violence in Huntington, then you may want to reread this article. It really isn’t exaggeration or paranoia when people are shot in your building or across the street….or am I wrong?

Dreams do come true 


Drinking after a hard night's work, my friend looked at this guy approaching him in Doug's afterhours bar somewhere in the Fairfield part of Huntington.  It was a hot Summer's night in 1988.  The guy looked at him and said, "I remember you, man...you ate 24 hotdogs in a hot dog eating contest."

I looked at my buddy John Moore and shaking my head I laughed, "If you are going to be remembered for anything, hot dogs aren't a bad thing to be remembered for."

We were just having fun in those days.  Busting our asses on the stock crew at Big Bear at night and drinking a few beers whenever we could.  We had no clue where we were going in life and at the time it didn't really matter  because we weren't heading there too fast.  We were young, we were wild, we were rock and roll.

After our gigs at The Bear ended, we would work together again in the mid 90s.  We each managed a 7 11 store for a franchise owner.  We were friends still.  We still worked hard and drank a few beers when we could.  John was married with a family.  We still weren't sure where we were headed.  We were just moving a little faster.

Through the years, John and I were close.  The beers together became fewer and farther between.  John helped raised two great daughters who became nurse practitioners.  John got divorced.

John started to have an idea where he was heading. He had achieved one goal of raising a good family.  My friend start realizing what else he wanted to be.  He was dreaming of being an entrepreneur. John Moore knew hot dogs.  He started exploring getting a hot dog cart.  He wanted to eventually own a restaurant but that seemed like a huge step.  A hot dog cart seemed like a reasonable start.

There's plenty of competition in the hot dog business in Huntington.  But John had a dream.  I got him in touch with a nice lady who owned The Beak in Downtown Huntington.  She was going to let him use her kitchen to prepare his hotdogs.  Part of the requirement of having a hot dog cart was having a commercialized kitchen to prepare the room.  He tried out his hot dogs and the test was a success.

John Moore now had a dream.  He was determined to start his hot dog business.  Taking that dream a step further and turning it into reality is hard work.  John Moore was determined to make it happen.  As he started working to make his dream reality, he created his own luck.  Thanks to his brother, Lynn Moore, John was going to bypass the cart and realize his own dream - his own restaurant.

Before long, John found the right location.  He loved Huntington but he knew Huntington was full of established hot dog restaurants.  John moved outside of Oak Island, NC.  Moore Hot Dogs and More was soon born.

Opening up a new business in the shadows of COVID 19 is not easy.  John Moore dreamed the dream and is now making it happen.  His dream has come true.  In 3 days on May 17, 2022, he will celebrate the first anniversary of Moore Hot Dogs and Moore.  The tourist season is starting and John has developed a solid reputation.  The residents love his hot dogs and him.  His business is doing well and he is expanding his menu.

Congratulations, John Moore.  Hot dogs aren't a bad thing to be remembered for....especially when yours are dang good.  I am proud of you, my friend.  Even when we didn't know where we were heading, I knew you would get there.  You finally dreamed your dream....and made it happen.

It is never too late to dream a dream and make it happen.  It may take a long time to realize what your dream is.  Still, through hard work and determination that dream can come true.  John never gave up although he faced obstacles.  He never wanted to leave Huntington but he loves his new home.  If you have a dream, you can make it work.  Just do not ever give it....ask John, it is worth the effort to make your dreams come true.

 

Moore Hot Dogs and More is at 4346 Long Beach Road, Southport, North Carolina. 
 

 

The Saddest Story 

 

An older lady struggled with depression her whole life. At times, it was crippling. It was all she could do at times to get out of that moment.  

One night, she couldn’t get out of the moment. She was alone with her depression. This time she couldn’t pull away. The depression finally won.  

It is a sad story, that happens far too often. The story rarely gets told. No good storyteller would tell it. No good writer would write it.  

The story is different this time. It is too twisted to imagine. A small town nurse becomes a legend. It is the ultimate fairy tale as she also raises two superstar daughters.  

The legend had it all. Fame, riches, love. She had a comeback tour starting soon. The next night she was to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. She would take her place amongst legends named Cash, Jennings, and Williams.  

Her mental illness wouldn’t let her see it. Thankfully, her family shared this horrible tale with us. Why?  Because it shows us how irrational depression is.  

Suicide is that dirty little secret buried in stigma that no one wants to talk about it. But unless we talk about it. That dirty secret about how truly crippling the illness is never gets told. 

We can justify it when a young heartbroken lover takes her life or when an older lady is tired of being homeless. That is part of the stigma…we don’t always truly understand why someone takes their life.  

They take their life because the depression becomes so strong, they can’t see anything else. That is why the stigma has to go. We have to understand what a monster depression is. The stigma has to go. We have to talk about it.  

Naomi Judd gave the world some great gifts. She shared two talented daughters. She shared kindness of being a nurse. She gave the world beautiful songs. But her greatest  gift may be in stripping away some of the stigma of mental illness.  

Depression isn’t rational…it doesn’t make sense. Anyone can be inflicted with it. Even superstars. The world knows this now. It is nothing to be embarrassed about. Free yourself from the stigma. Depression is treatable.  

If you suffer from depression, it is okay to talk about it.  

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Naomi, you have suffered enough, please Rest In Peace.

Changes  

GATOR REFLECTIONS  

The first thing I saw when we pulled off of 64 into Huntington was Frostop’s big mug. My first meal in Huntington would be a couple of hot dogs in the back of my dad’s old Chrysler Newport with my dog Lucky on my lap.   

It was May 11, 1976.  It was the last before we pulled into the driveway of the house on Scott Drive in Proctorville, Ohio where I would spend the next 32 years of my life.  

Changes are hard…especially on 12 year old kids who were perfectly happy where they were. A lot of things I loved were left in Cumberland, Md.  

My brother, Mel, stayed to be an engineer on the railroad. My other brother, Gary, stayed to graduate from Fort Hill. Eventually, he moved with us but he didn’t stay. He tried a semester of Marshall but soon transferred to University of Cincinnati. Before long, he was living in the middle of New York City. Now, he resides in California.  

Good friends were left behind. The Little League team I abandoned, The Pirates, after I led the team with a 560 average the year before, went on to be the league champs. I batted over 600 in Proctorville in a half year but didn’t make the All-Star team due to not knowing anyone.  
The transition to Fairland was tough. There were fights in school but then again, I fought in Cumberland, too.  

My first day, I met my new neighbor Jeff Westlake. We were immediately best friends. Soon, I would meet Jimmie Nibert and then Tim Watts. Over 45 years later, we are still great friends.  

It takes a while to adjust to changes. Looking back, the change defined my life. Businesses started pulling out of Cumberland not long after we moved. The Maryland town struggles today. Most of my friends left not long after I did.  

Huntington is my home. We face challenges but I feel like I am on the front lines helping the good fight. As I write this, I am sitting above 4th Avenue with my dog watching a beautiful Spring morning in Downtown Huntington.  

Change can be scary. Many changes have challenged me over the years. Some battles were tough but will with it. Huntington is slowly pulling past some of our battles. The important thing to remember is just about everywhere is fighting the same battles. As the sun rises over 4th Avenue, I know Huntington will roll with the changes.  

Forty six years later, I am still glad to be here. The changes were tough but it has made me a better man. At 59, I am not ready to quit growing and meeting new challenges. Huntington, West Virginia is my home.