Friday, October 24, 2008

Obscure Virginia Driving Law

I just received an email message from the friend of a friend of a friend -- or something like that -- regarding a fairly obscure Virginia driving law that has been on the books about six years as of this writing. "FYI," my friend wrote to me. "New law in Virginia. Good to know ... it is being heavily enforced." The original and anonymous writer's tale of woe is quoted below:

"In case you are not aware, there is a relatively new law in Va, and I want to give all of you a heads up because of a traffic citation I received last Sunday morning. As I was traveling in the right lane on the Dulles Toll Rd to the airport, I came upon a stopped state trooper on the right shoulder who had stopped a vehicle; he was pulled all the way over on shoulder. I was driving the speed limit and remained in my lane and even slowed down; there was a speeding car that passed in the left lane, thus I stayed in my lane. The next thing I know, the trooper is behind us with his lights flashing and I thought he was going to go after the speeding car, but instead he pulled me over.

The first thing the officer said was that I was not speeding, but the reason he pulled me over was because I was supposed to move over to the left lane prior to passing a stopped emergency vehicle. I told him I wasn't aware of the law and he said he had just gotten hit the previous day by someone who hadn't moved over. I thought he would give me a warning since I wasn't aware of the law and was driving responsibly and haven't gotten a ticket in over 10 years, but he gave me a summons where I have to appear in court. This is a class 1 misdemeanor violation which can result up to $2500 in fines and up to 1 year in jail. I've included links regarding the law, which of course I found after the fact, so you are all aware."

I did check out the various links the writer provided and verified that the basic facts underlying the story all seem to be true (my own readers can check these out at and

Knowing the driving laws of one's own state is certainly a good idea and I am glad to help spread the word about this one (especially as Virginia has in recent years shown itself to be somewhat oppressive on this subject). But I will note a few things beyond what the original message covered.

First, it struck me while I was reading through this that I always move over a lane whenever I am coming up on any roadside activity, flashing lights or not. I don't recall anyone ever telling me this or knowing it was a law, and it just seems obvious to me that passersby should stay the hell out of the way of anything happening at the edge of the highway (unless, of course, it is something that requires them to render assistance).

Second, I think any contention that this is a "new" law is stretching the point a little bit; the link to the article about the law is -- perhaps interestingly -- exactly one year old as of this writing and the law was five years old then. Six years is not exactly new.

Third, while the underlying facts of this story are true and do bear paying attention to, the writer does not mention what happened when he went to court, what the ultimate penalties leveled against him were, etc. The law in question, for example, does state that a driver should "if reasonable, with due regard for safety and traffic conditions, yield the right-of-way by making a lane change into a lane not adjacent to that occupied by the stationary emergency vehicle or (ii) if changing lanes would be unreasonable or unsafe, proceed with due caution and maintain a safe speed for highway conditions." So it certainly does sound as if there are provisions for making a claim that it would not have safe to change lanes. In the absence of additional information like this, the email warning really only provides half a story, and that begs some questions.

Which brings me to my final point, which is that I am always a little suspicious of the motives of anyone who disseminates stories like this anonymously. To the extent that they are making the roads safer by helping people understand driving laws and may help prevent someone from getting an unnecessary ticket, they deserve our thanks. But in light of the likelihood that they are pursuing some sort of an agenda that they are leaving as obscure as the law they are complaining about -- such as lobbying against it -- readers need to maintain a healthy skepticism.

Monday, October 20, 2008

'Ghosthunting Virginia' Cover Images

A number of people have asked me about the images that appear on the cover of Ghosthunting Virginia, so I figured it would be useful for me to post here about that for anyone who might be interested. Both of the images are ones I took while traveling around the Old Dominion doing research for the book.

The main image, of an almost classic Victorian haunted house, is the J. Sidna Allen home, just outside of Hillsville, Virginia. Allen was one of several men who initiated a gunbattle at the Carroll County Courthouse in 1912, resulting in the deaths of several people. Allen lost his home as a result of this event and his subsequent prison sentence and some people claim that it is haunted by his embittered spirit. I spent only a short time at the house and, while I have no evidence to support this, did feel more a sense of unease there than at most of the other places I cover in the book.

The other image is Virginia Mourning Her Dead, a statue on the grounds of Virginia Military Institute that presides over the markers of 10 cadets from the school who were killed during the Civil War (six of which are buried right there). It is reputed to sometimes shed tears over the fallen young men.

Questions or comments related to either of these images and the stories associated with them are welcome!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Virginia Inns, et al, to Avoid

For every hotel, motel, or inn that is great it seems there are two that travelers would do just as well to avoid ... Following are places in the Old Dominion that I had some sort of issue with when working on my most recent book, Ghosthunting Virginia. In most cases, this involved them failing to reply in any way to correspondence I sent, a pretty good reading on their attitudes toward customer service. Stay at them at your own risk and don't say you weren't warned! (Note that there are many places that are neither exceptionally good or bad that I will never bother to mention on this TravelBlogue.)

Martha Washington Inn (Abingdon, Virginia)
I very much wanted to devote a chapter in Ghosthunting Virginia to this historic inn (which has been covered in a number of other venues and does not make a secret of its reputation for being haunted). They completely ignored a total of five email or phone messages that I left everywhere from general mailboxes to the general manager, indicating a top-to-bottom culture of neglect for responsiveness. And no, I am not willing to accept that their resident ghosts intercepted my messages.

Best Western -- Hunt Ridge (Lexington, Virginia)
My experience with this place was especially strange ... Prior to my visit to Lexington, I called the hotel's main number and, when a woman who identified herself as Sue answered the phone, asked for the email address of the manager. She asked if I would mind holding and I told her that was fine. I then waited a full 10-12 minutes for her to pick up again, and when she did I once again explained what I wanted. She then responded by telling me that her full name was Sue Spencer, that she was the hotel manager, and that she does not give out her email address. "Even for business purposes?" I asked. "Even for business purposes," she said. Well, that doesn't make any sense at all! What sort of a hotel manager does not make themselves available via email in the 21st century? And, all that being the case, why didn't she have the courtesy and professionalism to just tell me that in the first place, rather than wasting everyone's time by putting me on hold as a device for ending the conversation? "Yahoo! Local Yellow Pages" has a section for reviews of businesses, and I posted my experiences there (and under my own name, not some funky pseudonym). Within just a couple of days, however, my comments disappeared for reasons that were never revealed to me (although the review complaining that "there was something on the carpet by the window that looked like animal feces " was still there as of this writing).

Doctor's Inn (Galax), Frog Hollow B&B (Lexington), Garden and Sea Inn (Chincoteague), Llewellyn Lodge (Lexington), Riders Rest (Lexington): All of these places simply decided not to respond to one or more pieces of email correspondence. So much for customer service!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Best 'Ghosthunting Virginia' Inns

During the course of fieldwork for my latest book, Ghosthunting Virginia, my wife and I had the opportunity to stay at a number of excellent inns around the Old Dominion (and a little beyond in one case). Following are our favorites -- one in the coastal region, two in the Shendandoah Valley region, and one in the mountain region -- and we can vouch for and recommend all of them wholeheartedly.

1848 Island Manor House
(757) 336-5436
4160 Main Street
Chincoteague Island, VA 23336

Built by two affluent professionals in 1848 as an impressive manor house, this home played an important role during the Civil War and is today the most historic B&B on Chincoteague. No fewer than three ghosts are believed to haunt its chambers.

The Carriage Inn
(304) 728-8003
417 E. Washington Street
Charles Town, WV 25414

Located just across the Virginia state line in Charles Town, West Virginia, this beautifully restored, Civil War-era bed-and-breakfast was both the location of a historic meeting during the war and the home of a Southern spy. It is also an ideal location for anyone exploring the area around the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley, and is convenient to historic areas like Harper’s Ferry.

Fuller House Inn
220 W. Boscawen Street
Winchester, VA 22601

Located in a historic home with sections that date to the 18th century, this inn has been the site of numerous paranormal phenomena. It is also a great place to stay while exploring haunted places in and around Winchester and the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley.

Volunteer Gap Inn and Cabins
(276) 398-4323
579 Volunteer Road
Hillsville, VA 24343

Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, this rustic inn and its five associated cabins are perfectly located for anyone traveling through this mountainous region of Virginia, particularly those investigating Devil’s Den, the Carroll County Courthouse, or other nearby sites.