When Star Tours Takes the Back Seat at Disney World

We recently took a trip to Disney World with the primary intent of getting lost inside the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge experience in the Hollywood Studios park. My fiancée and I are longtime Star Wars buffs, to the point of publishing Darth Maul fan fiction together in 1999. Galaxy’s Edge was something we vowed to each other when we started dating last year. Now having been, we’d both offer a mixed review of the replica spaceport dropped into a deep corner of a mouse cult far, far away.

Much of Galaxy’s Edge is breathtaking to behold with its creation of a craggy landing zone on the attraction-named planet Batuu. We wandered about the Black Spire Outpost, intimidated more by the prices for swag and refreshment and the excruciating wait times for the damned spectacular Rise of the Resistance and Smugglers Run rides than we were by the random appearances of Kylo Ren and his First Order stormtroopers. TJ had a playful verbal scrum with Kylo, who came no further than his stage as we partook the famous “blue milk,” which you can have laced with rum. A whopping $15.00 a pop each (rum version), we plunked the money like chumps for the sheer novelty of it.

Truth be told, Galaxy’s Edge is more fun in theory than in execution. The designers provided a wonderful sense of escapism with a Star Wars-true feel to it all. The first day we went into Galaxy’s Edge was disturbingly quiet, however. It wasn’t until we hit it again the following day on a Saturday, when the sounds of turbines, whirring motors, steam compression and port authority voiceovers chimed around us, giving it a more viable feel.

If you’re so inclined, you can shell out a couple hundred to build your own prop lightsaber or you’ll drop a single Benjamin to construct a fully-operational droid. You can read all the recent articles online about the price gouging running rampant all over Disney, and there’s full merit to the claims. Case in point, I was daffy enough to lay out $6.00 for the alien scrawled, globe-shaped Coke bottle made something a mini-rage amongst Star Wars collectors. Considering we rarely drink soda, I had to have one. It was the go-to souvenir (frankly, the only souvenir) we settled on at Galaxy’s Edge, since the heavy lean on merch is stuffed plush characters, Rebel pilot helmets and First Order battle gear, all geared for children.

The true reason for the season to Galaxy’s Edge, however, is its rides. I’m not going to lie; whatever your wait time is for Rise of the Resistance, whether you have a Lightning Lane or you slug through the poor schmo standby queue, do it. It’s a required element that can’t be spoken too much about, because it’s not a mere ride; it’s an experience. It’s a four-level trip from Resistance recruitment to full-on detainment on a Star Destroyer before you’re sent on a free roaming spiral through Hell itself with Kylo Ren hot on your tail.

Then there’s Smugglers Run, also a must-do for your chance to be either pilots or gunners inside the Millennium Falcon. TJ and I were pilots and we wrecked the snot out of Han’s trusty space bird. We brag on it, actually. Here’s a pro tip given to us by the park cast members… Wait until 2:00-3:00 as people are either eating or park hopping, or at the end of the day when visitors are chasing after the fireworks shows and you’ll have far less time to wait.

With all of this hoopla of Galaxy’s Edge comes a bit of a sacrifice, depending on how you look at it. I’m talking about Star Tours, built first for Disneyland in 1987, then added to the Florida hub in 2011. It’s been around a long while with interruptions in service, most notably during the COVID breakout.

picture from the public domain

Compared to the new thrill rides Galaxy’s Edge serves up, it’s sadly last-gen, even if it’s still a great time. They’ve even updated the theme to Star Tours to reflect the concluding trilogy of films and it’s a total hoot. Again, I’ll keep a tight lip, but just everyone who’s ridden Star Tours will tell you it’s a bumpy, raggedy 3-D adventure that can ding your hips or lower back a little bit. Still worth it.

The biggest point to be made about Star Tours, at least the Disney World version, is how easy it is to get on. The average time we saw for the standby wait on Rise of Resistance was two hours, getting as bad as two-and-a-half. Smugglers Run, the worst case scenario was an hour-and-half. Our waits were 75 and 55 minutes respectively, going by the suggestions of the Disney staff.

Star Tours, the longest wait time we saw either day we were at Hollywood Studios was 25 minutes. It’s a misnomer. The line flies, and we were on in 10. Now, anything Star Wars related is bound to draw serious crowds, unless you’re talking a nostalgic theatrical run of Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure. Yet you get a flavor of Endor in the approach to Star Tours, including a badass AT-AT towering over Ewok Village. It’s a tasty display that whets the appetite for a ride that once took up to three hours’ wait and at one time, reserved riding times. When it first opened, it was as eye-popping as the new rides and the Avatar: Flight of Passage ride at Animal Kingdom.

I don’t know about you, but to me a road lesser traveled related to anything Star Wars seems funkier than Bespin-mined tibana gas at Cloud City.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

photos by Ray Van Horn, Jr. except where noted

When a Goddess Calls to You

Spirituality comes to us as it will, whether it’s taught or directed to us through family or conventional public teaching or we discover our own path of enlightenment through open-minded revelation. A couple years ago, I found myself questioning whether the concept of the singular divine could be subject to revisionism. Specifically, whether or not “God” was actually androgynous. It made perfect sense to me. How can we have male and female species without attributes of both in terms of creationism?

When it became clear to me I was on a clouded path of spirituality, I found my suspicions about divinity to be true. “God” is a man and a woman. Moreover, a collective of both. Of all the gods and goddesses I’ve honored and worked with since taking a new path, the Egyptian pantheon has claimed me. Isis, Ra, Nephthys, Anubis, Thoth, Osiris, Bast and Horus scratch the surface of the vast number of mostly forgotten Egyptian deities and each have come to me in visualization, meditation and through self-pulled oracle and tarot. That being said, one goddess has really pulled to my side as a healer and motivator and in communing with her, a sharing of energy I never saw coming.

Sekhmet, the lion-headed goddess of war, healing and fertility. What a true badass of the esoteric realm. I give her offerings of steak, beer and red wine and I light red candles for her as a continuing presence in my life. You might say her manifestation to me was pre-ordained seven years ago in these photos I took of lionesses at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC. The pictures show precisely what they reveal. Both of these lionesses watched me with intent and smiles. I stood there transfixed by them and they never took their eyes off of me until we parted ways. Maybe I might’ve been considered chuck steak if they could get their teeth in me, but I like to think Sekhmet had made her intentions known to me at an early onset. Blessed be, Sekhmet…

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Why I Miss the Original Hunt Valley Mall

The demise of the American shopping mall over the past decade-plus has been well-documented. Closed, gutted, abandoned, defaced, obliterated, repurposed…use whatever action phrase suits you. It’s gone beyond syndrome, more than just a tag of “dead mall,” which used to belong strictly to the Monroeville Mall outside of Pittsburgh, the filming location of George Romero’s 1978 horror classic, Dawn of the Dead.

I suppose I saw the proverbial writing on the wall as far back as my visit to Monroeville Mall nearly 20 years ago for the purpose of making a pilgrimage to horror hallowed ground. Even then, retail stores were dying and this was before Amazon and Ebay started putting standard brick and mortar shops out to pasture. To my dismay, the famous interior clock tower had been removed from Monroeville Mall and the skating rink turned into a food court. Only a shell of the rink could be found beneath a table outside of an Arby’s we’d eaten at. Worse, the SunCoast Video (remember them?) had no copies available of Dawn of the Dead, nor were the staff at the time knowledgeable of the significance where they worked. I hummed “The Gonk” (as in the drippy, corny carousel-styled mall music ushering the zombie march in Romero’s film) and lurched around SunCoast in a deliberate shaming maneuver. Really, it was self-shaming. Semantics.

If you’ve been on the planet longer than the past 22 years, you no doubt left you heart at a certain mall in your area, even if there were six or seven within drivable proximity as we had around the Baltimore suburbs and its rural outskirts. Chances are, if you lament the great mall kill-off, you spent much or all of your teens in a mall, like Rat, Jeff, Stacy, Linda and Damone did in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, still in my top-five favorite flicks of all-time. To understand mall culture, sure, you can dive into Jay and Silent Bob’s goofery in Mallrats and Season 3 of Stranger Things did an excellent job capturing the mall phenomenon of 1980s. To get it entirely, though, is to submerge yourself in Fast Times.

I always like to refer to the original Hunt Valley Mall as my “Fast Times.” We had many malls available to us as far as our parents felt like driving us and each shopping complex had its own special “thing” separating them from each other (a prefab Gucci store, a more aromatic water fountain, see-through elevators in the middle of the doings, a maze of walkways), yet Hunt Valley Mall was my mecca, my mojo, my verve. Whether it was with my folks, my friends, a girlfriend or all alone, I came of age at Hunt Valley, shy of losing my cherry, which later came in a more idyllic setting.

Today stands Hunt Valley Towne Center, a next-gen “Avenue” type of sprawling commerce built overtop a splintered fragment of the original mall you only recognize if you’d been there through the mall’s closure in the 1990s. Instead of the Hunt Valley Mall food court where a gazillion teen romances were plotted, you have a more upscale hibachi grill to get cozy with your date. There’s a couple of sports bars, a California Kitchen pizzeria, Outback, Carrabba’s and Mediterranean grub, along with chain eateries having nothing to do with the burger wars. A Dick’s Sporting Goods and Wegman’s grocery store dwarf the old Sears location and one-ups to the old days, there’s a movieplex that’s had both prosperous and difficult stretches. Peet’s Coffee awaits if you need a kick start or a secondary jump.

We haunt the new town center frequently, I’ll confess, and no doubt any companion of mine has grown weary of hearing my old stories about the long-gone heyday of Hunt Valley Mall. I’ve outgrown the admittedly superficial sport known as “The Rating Game,” played as much by the ladies as the guys. For the uninitiated, this horndog jugheadism by either sex entailed calling out ratings amongst their own group to male or female passersby, often by specific body part. The trick was to never get caught, not unless you were hoping to snag a date by shouting a positive score. Often such a maneuver got you the finger.

Do I miss these goofball shenanigans? Absolutely not, but it is a little funny, as in the shaking my head brand of funny, to think about how shallow we teenagers were across the board. Today they do it more inconspicuously through texting and Snapchat, even standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Nearly none of it done in the shadows of a Burger King or Pizza Bob’s kiosk nor an arcade with quarter-to-play video games. Those latter things, I do miss.

X-box and PlayStation may be ten times more advanced in graphics, concepts and interfacing, yet no virtual link to some screaming eight-year-old being outdone by his thirty-year-old father after getting vaporized on Fortnite compares to physically being amongst your peers in a live arcade setting. Anyone growing up in Hunt Valley Mall will utter the canonized name of “Space Port,” where moms and dads could dependably drop their kids off while they got their shopping done. Space Port was its own rite of passage, much as I’m sure any American kid of the 1980s would wax about their own arcade.

I can still see myself frantically twisting the joystick commanding those light cycles of Tron to mash the MPC’s guard to bits. I can feel my wrist getting tired hammering the snot out of the cannon fire button on Galaga–twice as fast during the bonus stages. There I go, dropping piledrivers, clotheslines and suplexes as Dynamite Tommy against video game wrestlers dubbed “The Piranha,” “The Insane Warrior,” “Coco Savage” and “Golden Hulk,” winning the championship belt in Mat Mania and defending it so many times I had to give my game up to some other kid when it was time to go.

Anyone habiting Space Port is wont to remember the days Punch Out! and the fully animated Dragon’s Lair arrived. Video gaming the Eighties wasn’t the same afterwards.

I’ve since loaded most of my music library onto a USB thumb drive, but Camelot Music will always have a special place in my heart. Yeah, mall music stores all around were overpriced. Yeah, they were often lacking depth as far as underground music goes, but Camelot was usually more on the dime than its mall-bound competitors of the day like Music World and Tape World. Maybe not as diverse and rich in selections as a Tower Records emporium or your local specialty music shop where punk, alternative and metal ruled, the mere name of Camelot Music brings automatic glee to any mall rat blowing his or her allowance on vinyl and cassettes of the day. Best album I ever bought from Hunt Valley Mall’s Camelot branch? Testament’s The New Order. In fact, I blared it as loud as I could push through my cheap speakers in my ’81 Escort in the Hunt Valley Mall parking lot. Two of my headbanger buddies joined me in a three man slam pit until the mall security chased us lunatics off.

I remember flirting with girls at The Gap and Big Sky clothing stores as I was just starting to build my confidence through my grit appearance. I remember eating at Friendly’s more so than the food court, sometimes with my family, other times with my girlfriend’s family, sometimes with a mixed group of friends from school who looked past my headbanger guise and welcomed me to the table. We bonded over Friendly’s famous “Happy Ending” ice cream desserts before taking anywhere from eight to ten laps around the mall, always right up to closing time. Store owners and security guards hated us, but we all played our roles and knew our boundaries, even if we would sometimes dash beneath lowering store gates daring to close a minute early like Indiana Jones inside the dropping temple barrier in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I remember a tobacco store I didn’t care about other than to stop and look at their Laurel and Hardy statues in the front window nearly every single time. My stepfather, a diehard Stan and Ollie fan, eventually landed that set and they’ve stood watch over his bar for nearly forty years. Not a time escapes me when I pull up with Pop for a beer downstairs that I don’t think about those statues’ original location. There was also Sir Walter Raleigh’s, one time more important than Macy’s and Hecht Company for the mall’s sustenance. One of the swankiest restaurants in Baltimore County, my father’s side of the family were frequent haunters of Sir Walter Raleigh’s and I relished any time I was invited along.

The days of rad are nothing you can teach future generations, but you can tell them about it, assuming they’re willing to take their AirPods out of their ears first. You were a mall rat or you weren’t, but most of us were and it’s not unheard of to hear mourning amongst many Gen X’ers over the death of their local mall as they would a best friend. A Five Below at the revamped Hunt Valley Towne Centre is cheap pacification, but it’s just not the same.

Time and tide, so the saying goes. Fact, traditional retail has lost tremendous ground to online shopping. Today’s specialized tastes and service wants and needs are seldom able to be fulfilled in a mall, whereas most people would rather click for sales in their pajamas instead of slugging it out for a parking spot. I’ll be a hypocrite and say I’m a frequent flier at Amazon, Ebay, Etsy and other electronic retailers for the simple fact I can find, more often than not, things you just can’t get in a hands-on store setting. Change is inevitable, change is often convenient. Sometimes change is for the good. Other times, change has you saying “gnarly” a lot, not as an embellishment, but as a twilight holding-on habit.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

A Road Lesser Traveled (a poem by Ray Van Horn, Jr.)

A Road Lesser Traveled

Ray Van Horn, Jr.

glass shards crying phantasmagoria along the crackled asphalt

outraged brio against the tumbling Twinkie wrappers and flattened Wendy’s cups

a goddess without offerings, much less a flock,

her name thrice changed, the same for her pantheon

a 60 mile an hour highway built upon three-second rule empathy,

opening a lane closure leading to the heart

the first t.v. Superman undone by a matchless brand of kryptonite,

Reeves dispatched by a fading monochrome

the color-washed, lone video single from a cult metal band,

given its lone play decades ago between Bon Jovi and Def Leppard

the art of doing a solid,

much less dropping a thank you

the perpetual duel between poet and espresso machine

a throughway toll paid in blood

love without pretense

the word “agreement” prefaced by harmony

decorum where the “n” word is still taboo

the swallow of a cold, starry night sky,

gorging humanity back into its measured condition

an idiosyncratic signature done in cursive,

instead of through an e-bot

the same applying to self-eroticism

folks who know what comes next after “Hey hey hey!”

or, for that matter, “My country, ‘tis of thee…”

a smile,

giving even the most desperate a sense of worth

Best Assignment Ever: On-Site at Camp No-Be-Bos-Co (aka Camp Crystal Lake from the Original Friday the 13th)

From time-to-time, I’ve posted these photos from what I consider the best assignment ever to this point in my writing career.  Until the site had been recently repurposed and monetized for the public as “Crystal Lake Tours” (only given at certain times of the year, caveat) I’d been granted private access to the location most horror fans would give an appendage or two to see:  the Boy Scout camp doubling as the most notorious patch of woods the horror genre’s ever seen in the original Friday the 13th.

Camp No-Be-Bos-Co has been around since the early 1900s and continues to operate as a functioning Scout camp today.  I’ll never forget this trip as I was given a green light by the camp’s management to do an article on the site in 2008 when it was announced a remake of Friday the 13th was on its way.  Ranger Tom, the only official presence on-site the day I went up, gave me some terrific stories but advised that, just like the deputy in the original Friday says, they don’t stand for no weirdness from unauthorized uber-fans trying to sneak onto the camp.  I consider myself blessed for being allowed to photograph “Camp Crystal Lake” to my heart’s content.  It really does have a creepy ambiance, in particular around the edges of Sand Pond, constituting the movie’s “lake.”

I later ventured into Blairstown, New Jersey to see the town used in Friday the 13th’s establishing shots where the ill-fated hitchhiker cook Annie tramps through.  To no surprise, I couldn’t get anyone to talk to me about the film for my article, but I did find a jewelry store owner with the last name of Voorhees.  As it turns out, Voorhees is a common last name in the Jersey region.  Later, we ate at the Blairstown Diner used in the film, but our waitress vanished as quick as the doomed counselors when I tried to kick up convo about the film with her.

Nonetheless, the piece was a success and it was capped by an interview with the late Betsy Palmer, another personal thrill.  Betsy was the sweetest woman and she’d called me after our interview ran, telling me I was the first writer to ever quote her 100% accurately.  I still feel proud about that.  She’d invited me to a future lunch date in Manhattan, which I’m sorry to say never happened, even when I made the attempt to follow up a couple years later prior to her unfortunate passing.  RIP Mama Voorhees.  

I was later approached by Allentown, PA writer David Zernhelt about my “Crystal Lake” photos I’d posted around the web.  He’d put together a few small booklets about the Friday the 13th series and asked to use some of the photos you see here.  Some were featured by him and I thank David for his exposure of my work.   

Ki ki ki kiiiii…ma ma ma maaaaa…

All photos (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Looking For a Good Couple’s Therapy Idea? Go Throw Some Axes!

Let’s face the facts, people, especially if you’re a parent or just stressed the you-know-what out by life. There are many couples forced into stagnancy, whether it’s due to the compression of parental or other domestic responsibility or there’s a lack of oomph, creating a stuck mojo within. No matter what level of health your relationship may be in, it’s imperative for couples to get out of their day-to-day and release. It’s just that simple.

Without meaning to, children especially bog us down and hold us hostage to the point of outrageous stress as they seek recognition and love only a family focused on their welfare can provide. If we become parents for the right reasons, we go the extra step by investing our time and ourselves in our kids, not only because it’s socially expected, but it’s the right thing to do.

Even with the purist of hearts and intentions, intimacy between couples often gets thrown on the back burner in deference to “the job.” The unfortunate end result spells fatigue, forgetfulness, impatience, occasional resentment and ultimately, burnout. We stay home more, we do less for ourselves and all for our kids. Without meaning to, we risk losing focus on our commitments of interpersonal love as a couple while forging a family unit. Often the essence of being a couple is sacrificed to give our children the best upbringing we can. More often than not, it’s nobody’s fault; it’s the nature of the beast. Yet in its own way by attrition, this becomes a road lesser traveled.

It’s a special thing when adults choose to produce a child. Even more so when they give up their freedom in service to a child, particularly one not of their own DNA. My son is adopted and currently in my full-time care. Man or woman, being a single parent is bloody taxing and frustrating, especially to an apathetic 14-year-old electronics addict. I’m fortunate to have proposed to a woman who’s been in it to win it with me, inclusive of becoming his future stepmother.

For Valentine’s Day this year, TJ and I decided upon an unconventional route. She surprised me with flowers at my job on the 11th, while I served her a return favor on the 14th. We agreed ahead of time that this year, we would make time for ourselves, by ourselves, to find a romantic corner away from the kiddo, who is such an integral if demanding part of our evolving lives together. She and I tend to make the most of what little time we have alone anymore, thus we entailed a different modus operandi than roses, chocolates and an expensive dinner to make this Valentine’s weekend a memorable one.

TJ took me to Magoobies, a local comedy club outside of Baltimore, to see HBO’s Ryan Davis on the 12th. A total riot, especially by the emcee and warm-up comic out of North Carolina. We went home that night, energized by laughter, lighter on our feet, if heavier on the wallet. The following day, I took TJ to Kraken Axes and Rage in the Power Plant Live! entertainment complex in downtown Baltimore. The axe part should be self-explanatory. The Rage part is turning yourself loose in a room full of discarded machinery, scraps and other flotsam, all for the smashing. Coddling the id to a barbaric extreme.

I’d already taken TJ axe throwing a couple times before to Meduseld Meadery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Here at Kraken, we were bowled over by the Celtic and Viking decorum and the care put in by the owners who not only deliver a stress relief session, they create a sense of Old World pagan escapism. You do kind of lose yourself at Kraken, despite the blaring tracks of Aerosmith, REM, Michael Jackson and Mary J. Blige–the latter of whom performed the same night at Super Bowl 56 in a high-octane hip-hop reminiscence halftime show.

We considered ourselves, not so much experts, but at least experienced in axe throwing, and we’d been surprised after telling this to our host when he fitted us with a trainer anyway. We’re both glad he did.

The axes were bigger than the ordinary hardware store hatchets we’d been tooling around with (pun intended) in the past. So much that our muscular mentor, Axe Master Moore, would patiently correct our forms beyond the first few throws that plunked against the bottoms of the wooden targets without sticking. Moore’s forceful, singlehanded throws slammed into the wood like the drop of a toppled tree. He inspired us both with his skills, especially when he was whirling blunt instruments underhanded.

TJ’s Viking blood was especially determined to land those axes and Axe Master Moore made sure of it as you can see by her bullseye…

I eventually got into my own rhythm once Moore went back and forth between us and turned us loose in an axe-themed variation on Blackjack. Here you gain a single point by sticking your axe on the blue border, three on the red, five in direct center. If you go over 21, however, your score drops back by the same amount of points until you cleanly score Blackjack.

I quickly got to 19, but TJ soon revved up, and with my going over by one, we had a score on the line of 16-15. A few flubbed rounds and then we were at a tie, 20-20. One of many things I value in my relationship with TJ, we’re only competitive enough to feel we’re succeeding. Otherwise, we cheer each other on as we do in all aspects of our lives. We are for each other.

I wanted her to win and badgered her to come take the last point from me, but I ended up tagging the blue border for the win. All said and done, though, we’d both won, because we had two wonderful Valentine’s weekend excursions. We’d made it a point to do so.

I can’t say it enough to all of you couples out there. Make the time. Pay the sitter if your child isn’t old enough to stay home alone for a few hours so you can recharge. If you’re child-free, Netflix is great, but treat yourself to a new experience as a couple. It doesn’t have to be axe throwing but find something unusual that you’ve never done together. Maybe you want to go all Limp Bizkit and break shit to purge. If you have a bone to pick with each other, or you want to tap an extra charge into your physicality, there are places you can don oversized boxing gloves and have it with each other in a fun, productive way.

Maybe you’d rather go to a comedy club. Maybe fishing. Maybe an art museum. Hit a small club venue for a live music event instead of an arena. Go out for Thai or Mediterranean grub instead of an easy-in, easy-out chain restaurant. Support a local brewery or winery, something that gets you snuggly close with the one you love. It doesn’t have to be on Valentine’s Day. In fact, the more spontaneous a day, the better. At least plan to get away from the mundane and potentially debilitating as often as you can. It’s your love that first brought you together. Treat it with the respect it deserves, no matter how inundated you may be. The reverberations are almost always exquisite.
A happy Valentine’s Day to you, readers!

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

That Feeling When the First Draft of the New Novel is Complete…

Hey hey, readers! I’ve been on hiatus here at Roads Lesser Traveled as I have devoted my writing time to the completion of a first draft of a new novel tentatively titled “Revolution Calling.” As you can see by the 2018 vintage bottle of Bordeaux I saved for this moment, I was confident I would be celebrating something special. This thing wrote itself, honestly. I hardly needed the vino to feel intoxicated (and occasionally mortified) by the whole writing process. I am blessed to have so much recall of the events, the dialect, the people, the setting and things relevant to the times in which I tell my story. I was called to write “Revolution Calling” while I still have vivid memories and the 1980s are still “hot” with contemporary pop culture. As inevitable as with generations past, the timeframe I came of age in will soon become its own road lesser traveled.

If I had to give a quick pitch of my project on the spot, I would say this, kind of a like a tagline upon the top of a movie poster from the Eighties: “Non-conformity always comes with a price, especially in 1988…”

My story is largely based on my teenage life, so I would consider it a period piece semi-autobiography. I lived most of these events telling a tale of turbulence, alienation, persecution, parental abuse, violence, love, heartbreak and ultimate redemption through my four central characters in their senior year of high school. Primarily, it is told through the POV of two teenage metalhead friends, Rob and Jason–me split into two lead characters. Not so much tomfoolery as Wayne’s World, not quite as grotesque and avant garde as The River’s Edge. This is somewhere in-between with a kiss of both The Outsiders and Kobra Kai, which fine-tuned the direction I was looking for.

Despite the deep, personal nature of “Revolution Calling” that had me reopening old wounds and confronting dark times to the point I shook myself up in spots, this is nonetheless a body of fiction. The events told were compressed from my years in high school (and some tough, brutal days I slugged through in middle school), or from people I knew back then. I would say as a disclaimer much of my high school life was quite good, wonderful at times. When it was bad, though, it was bad. I’m adult enough to say it all served a greater purpose, which was to assemble what I hope is a sociological look back at human nature and subdivisions of the high school caste system that can translate for future generations.

My original intention to this novel was to leave a document for my tribe of headbangers with whom I interacted, drank, shared music, had memorable concert outings and later wrote to and for as a journalist in the the punk and metal scenes. Rob in my story represents my evolution into a writer, which was sparked by my Creative Writing teacher, Paul Day, whom I get to tribute in fiction form. Jason is my darker half which remained mostly silent during the 80s, since I learned to project confidence, empathy and kindness, allowing me to cultivate friendships from all walks of life in school, even while staying outwardly true as a “grit.”

Jason absorbs the harshness and brutality of the story, as he also inherits the comeuppance I grabbed for myself back then amongst my peers. Rob and Jason’s unexpected and improbable love interests at different spots in the story drive their evolution, considering the hell I put them through–Jason especially. Through gnashed teeth and misty eyes at times, I decided there was a much bigger, all-encompassing point to be made in translating my story; it needed to be for everyone. I can only hope I’ve succeeded in painting a broad view of life in my fictitious, rural-placed Merriweather High circa 1988.

I will have more material here at Roads Lesser Traveled in the near future, but I am already in the rewriting and pitching stages for this project as I have a clear vision with what I want to achieve with it. I look forward to seeing you all here shortly.


–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

When Happening Upon a Cross Slope…

If you hike as frequently as TJ and I do, chances are you’ll find gutted threads of sediment erosion running downwards and parallel to a blazed trail. These are commonly called cross slopes.

These water bar types of gullies are natural depressions, often utilized by park systems as downhill drainage ditches for surface water runoffs. While effective against excessive sloughing, the dense and sometimes jungly vegetation and brushing create frequent impediments inside these fall lines I’ve jokingly referred to as backwoods half-pipes.

Instead of using berms of dirt or rock to cordon off one of these eroded, beat-down gullies, we see more parks letting nature take its course. You hit cross slopes on active trails more often than grade reversals, depending on the extremity of the system. If you’re not watching yourself, you’re likely to slip haphazardly into one of these grungy dips.

Suffice it to say, most hikers will take the literal high road above a gaping outslope and that’s often the case for TJ and I, depending how far out we’ve gone. Sometimes, though, if there is no discernable ivy, foot-snagging rocks, bisected tree limbs or worse, snakes, only a few miles into our hike, the giddy call to adventure may strike us.

This particular cross slope spilling next to the blue trail at Oregon Ridge, Maryland, was so stuffed with debris we swerved onto the safe course while going both up and down this system out of sheer fascination of it.

I’ve been in cross slopes so deep they were chest high on me, and I’m 5’9″. In those instances, I wanted to feel the engulfing sensation, reminding me on a smaller scale of the Tatooine pod racing canyon course in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The only price I paid was dirt-clogged hiking boots.

Encountering a cross slope on your path is representative of both a figurative and literal life choice. Often we’re called to query the unknown and perhaps take a curious, further step toward it, while others are often compelled to stay clear away. It comes down to a combination of personality and sensibility.

Taking a more philosophical stance, a well-developed cross slope is functional to Mother Earth’s perpetually-moving ecosystem, while a poorly maintained one can cause unnecessary backups and even gluts. Consider that a parable to our very own being.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.