Rounding the corner, I looked over at my travel companion and gave a little smirk. We were discussing the over – under on whether or not the driveway was going to be under or over 100 yards. The crinkle of gravel below the tires was heard as we wound down past some fields that seemed to go on forever and finally happened upon our target. After wiping his hands on the back of his jeans, he stuck one out to shake mine through the open window. His arms were free wheeling jutting out the sleeveless t-shirt and his feet were planted within square toed mid-calf slightly patina tobacco colored cowboy boots. The humidity came into the car and we could see it dancing on the glorious beard that was saturated by the Virginia summertime air and grit of labor. The trees greeted us by whispering, “Welcome to Farmville,” and Cam welcomed us to the Commonwealth with a weary and overheated grin.
Charlie Cook from Riding Shotgun With Charlie and I planned the sporting clays shoot with Cam after both Charlie and I had bounced in and out of Virginia with several failed attempts for social calls with the bearded one. A few months back I said, “Let’s just plan it.” Perhaps I was not thinking when I did, because our colleague Tom pointed out, “Man, it’s going to be hotter than the devil’s cojones when you’re there,” and he was right. A fact that did not sink in until we crept south of the Mason-Dixon line.
We were just coming off the road from New Jersey, with a quick pit stop at the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax. Hungry and wired from all-too-many coffees, and Cam beaten by the Virginia sun, the three of us saddled up into my Subaru, which suddenly became exponentially more masculine…there’s never been that much quality of man within it, ever. We took off for the local Mexican restaurant.
Normally the Subaru is littered with little kid snack crumbs and has a car seat in it. Not that day. No sir. It was chock full of some serious middle aged testosterone, and the “smallest” – read least portly – man within referred to himself as “a pretty big guy.” Bounding down a driveway that’s gotta be a half mile long, I saw Charlie in the rearview mirror, not only not driving or sitting shotgun, but relegated to the backseat.
At the Mexican restaurant, it was just three old friends. We played catchup on all the things that we had going on, as margaritas went down smooth. I’d say we had a lot of “shop” talk, but really, I don’t know if it is. I can only speak for myself and speculate about the others, but this thing of ours, it’s not just shop, it’s a way of life. The exercise of, preservation of, and reporting on the Second Amendment seems to be coursing through our veins, and if anything, a bit of letting our hair down – no offense Cam – could occur, because we’re all cut from different areas of the same cloth. In the little nooks of rural Virginia, it’s a lot easier to be yourself, rather than having to juggle the many masks one has to wear when they’re living in occupied territory.
The power went out while we were smashing our Mexican delights, and not a single person stirred. Had we been in Jersey or Massachusetts, we’d have been treated to unnecessary shrieks from over dramatic people. Cam said, “Whelp, if the power is out here, the power is out at the farm.” Checking his phone, Cam confirmed that fact, and we headed out after paying the tab.
The next morning Charlie and I got up earlier than our alarms. We washed up and headed out for breakfast. Cam had recommended two places and since we had two mornings, we figured we’d hit both of them while visiting. The first we went to was described as a cut more grittier than what one would expect from a Waffle House, which I love the Waffle House – chair throwing and all – mind you. We were warned that it’s the type of place you don’t want to be far from a bathroom after dining in. Considering the day of sporting clays that laid ahead of us, we took the risk. Sometimes you need to live on the wild side.
We scooped up Cam on our way to Central Virginia Sporting Clays. He was waiting for us standing by Miss E’s truck, which has more balls than my Subaru soccer Dad mobile will ever have, and is neatly adorned with stickers where everyone in the family lived or was born on the back window. Charlie got relegated to the back seat, again.
Pulling into the turnoff that my navigation system told us to go down, we found a fork in the road that headed quite a ways down in the middle of a field, converged again, and disappeared into a wood line. We picked a road and drove past a randomly placed flag pole with old glory waving in the morning breeze. I don’t know if there was a breeze to be honest, but it was morning, and it was already freaking hot.
Inside the office we met the owner of Central Virginia Sporting Clays, Brad Landseadel. What a character, in a good way. Brad was helpful, gracious, and cracked a bunch of great jokes. Brad told us a few heartwarming stories and was just overall a nice buy. We chatted with him about the course’s offerings and signed up for a round of 100 each.
Brad explained to us that his target system is a bit different than other systems we might be used to, and he was right. Instead of the customary two buttons, one for each machine, and a third for “simo” pairs, his had five buttons. He told us that each station has not two traps, but four, allowing him to set up multiple courses of fire and levels of difficulty at each station. He also mentioned that he changes the course around something crazy like every month.
We opted to rent a shotgun cart. That is, a golf cart that we’re using for a shotgun sport. Usually I’m an anti-cartite, but after the day was over I sure was glad we opted for the motorized cart rather than hoofing it while pushing our gear in my gun buggy. Did I mention it was hot? Well, between the heat and the hills, I would have bet that the beefiest of the statured figures, me, could have fell out by day’s end. Normally, I wouldn’t shy away from the walking, but oof, this was brutal.
The course was awesome. I’m not just saying that because I liked Brad, or because I was with great company. I also am not saying that because I blacked out and can’t remember the experience. Truly, the course was a great and challenging course. We opted for the beginner course and it did not take too many stations until we got to one where I ran a line of straight zeros on all the offerings and that’s when I told Cam, “You know, you’re going to get a review of a book that I read on shooting sporting clays pretty soon to edit. You’re going to think to yourself ‘no way did he read that,’ after seeing that performance. I assure you, I did read the book, even though it might not show.”
I don’t consider myself super versed in knowing different sporting clays courses, but I have shot at maybe five different ones prior to our visit to Central Virginia Sporting Clays. I’d consider my “home” course to be M and M’s, in Pennsville, New Jersey, and second to that, Lehigh Valley Sporting Clays, in Coplay, Pennsylvania. I do try to make it a habit to shoot sporting clays a few times a year. The Fudd in me needs to be fulfilled semi often.
In comparison to other courses I’ve been, I’d rate Brad’s place pretty highly though. The course was easy to navigate and the stations were fairly well separated. Shooting with shot size larger than 7 and ½ or any high brass shells would create a hazard. The course is in the round and Brad warned us to make sure we wore our glasses due to the potential of errant shot. The path winding through the course from station to station was well maintained, as well as all the landscaping and hardscaping. Hilly. It was a hilly path.
It was a normal day on the course as far as the shooting and fellowship goes. Shoot a station, chit chat, smoke some cigars, do some bull shitting, and on and so forth. What would take a normal group an hour or hour and a half to do on a clays course, Charlie and I tend to drag out. I’d say not in a bad way, but the, ugh, heat, well that was incentive enough to finish the course before the sun hit meridian.
Charlie and I explained to Cam our tradition of yelling “tally-ho” before taking off in a shotgun cart. A little inside story involving our born in the U.K. friend Stuart, and how unamused he was by our antics during a shoot a few years back, “John, note the tumbleweed rolling by as you say ‘tally-ho.’ It was not funny the first time you said it, and it’s not now,” Stuart said in his British accent. It was on after that, and Charlie and I would snicker out a “tally-ho” every time we took off, just quietly enough that Stuart couldn’t hear. Cam embraced this, and before we’d take off, he’d bellow out the tally-ho battle cry we’ve since adopted due to our own sophomoric senses of humor.
Since Charlie was relegated to sitting in the back of the car when we were transiting, like a suburban Golden Retriever, and to be fair I’m certain many families treat their Goldies better than Charlie was treated, I did volunteer to sit on the back of the shotgun cart on the course. Charlie regained his position as driver, Cam was the official coxswain of the cart if there’s such a thing, and I sat on the back with my over-under broken open on my lap.
There were some noteworthy issues with me on the back, but we all preserved. First, when I got on the thing, I swear the front wheels would come off the ground if Charlie and Cam were not there to counter balance me. Not for nothing, I’m a few burrito binges away from breaking 300 lbs again, so even though I’m on a new path to wellness in my life, that does not mean I’m not still pretty fat. Given all that, it was important for me to have a closed loop communication with the front seat, letting them know that I was properly installed in the seat before takeoff. I did almost fall off the back of the cart a couple of times, the hills got a little out of control when we were going down them, and once or twice a few shotgun shells may have tumbled out of my shell pouch onto the path to be forgotten forever. Sorry Brad.
The question my wife wanted to know the answer to was, “How did everyone do?” Well, this is one of those situations where we’re all winners. The only thing that matters is that I handily beat Charlie Cook. I had a very handsome lead on the number of birds broken over Charlie, which I’m rather proud of because he’s spanked me the last few trips – every trip – we took to sporting clays courses. Not only did Charlie ride in the back seat of a Subaru, he got stomped into the ground on the clays course. How everyone else ranked did not matter. Like I said we’re all winners – but I did beat Charlie, so forget that “we’re all winners” nonsense.
Towards the last few stations, we hurried along to beat the weather. After we got back to the office, we had a good chat with Brad again. He pointed out to us that the crazy road leading into the place is actually his runway. Runway? Yeah, Brad’s got a plane, which of course we said we want a ride in it. A little Riding Shotgun with Charlie in the air? He asked, “Which one?” I said, “The fast one.” He told us where “the fast one” is kept and we assured him we’d be reaching out prior to our next visit to come shoot.
After wrapping up with Brad at the office and taking some bio breaks, we took off for a late lunch. Cam suggested a place called Tavern on the James, they have a nice flair of Americana pub fare. At lunch we chatted about the day, travel, advocacy, and everything in between. It was a nice refuge from the turgid swamp of outdoors Virginia in July. We finished off our lunch and headed back to drop Cam off.
While driving, there were a couple of times that I was nudged to watch my speed. These country Virginia roads have deceiving speed limits pop up on you, and there was no need to make the trip have the added expense of a traffic violation. I said to Cam, “I know we’re not in Alabama, but I have seen ‘My Cousin Vinny’ and I don’t want to end up like those boys. So thanks for the heads up.” When someone in the know warns you about the local potential speed traps, you pay attention. Up in the north east, those white signs with numbers on them are suggestions, even though Charlie will have everyone convinced that I drive like a little old lady. He just can’t handle riding shotgun is all. Okay, maybe I do drive a little like a little old lady, but whatever. Ten and two Johnny!
The colloquialism that you’re never supposed to meet your heroes is often said. Somehow meeting them is supposed to diminish your view of them, let you know that they’re human like the rest of us. Without getting too personal, those that are familiar with Cam through his show, Cam and Company, know that he and his family have had and have some real challenges in life. I certainly don’t mean to speak out of turn nor get hyperbolic in my description of what a hero is, but I have to tell you, after meeting Miss E, naw, my view of her wasn’t spoiled at all. The woman has a strength and durability that does permeate when meeting her in the flesh. Survivor mentality? I don’t know what, but any woman that’ll say, “I grabbed my Henry and shot at it from the bathroom window,” when talking about taking out varmint, is truly a tough bird. I salute you Miss E.
Charlie and I capped off the day visiting a mom and pop gun shop. Then we had cigars outside our motel under an awning as it rained.
Sunday morning we got ready to roll. One of us got fussy and concerned about some dirt that got tracked into the room. I’m not going to say who, but it seemed like a big deal at the time. I’ll confess I was wearing boots with rather aggressive lugs on the bottom during the trip, while Charlie was wearing Chucks.
We grabbed a hearty breakfast at the other place Cam recommend we eat at, Walker’s Diner in Farmville, Virginia. The place has been operating there since 1952 and their menu artwork is reminiscent of the first cover of The New Yorker magazine. The place was from a different time, and when Charlie and I sat next to each other at the stationary stools at the counter, we definitely spilled over into each other’s space. The Walker’s Diner’s setup was originally for those modestly sized 1952 people.
If you want to walk through a Norman Rockwell painting, you’d best go to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. If you want to walk through a Rockwellesque scene, then Farmville will fit that description. The quaint and quiet town is one of America’s hidden treasures, the kind of place that actually has parades and a sense of citizenship. If only I hadn’t the Stockholm Syndrome that I have, I’d consider packing up and heading for an area like that.
Before sprinting back to the Garden State, we swung by Cam’s to pick up some farm fresh eggs to take home and some fermented hot sauce. Cam and Miss E popped out when we rolled up. Mr. Crow, the family rooster, looked at us with an accusatory sideways glance, while we received the egg cartons. We thanked the pair of Edwards and penciled in a future rendezvous.
The drive back from Farmville to New Jersey felt like an eternity. When we got back to my place, Charlie had to jump into his stagecoach and sprint for the Bay State, another four plus hours drive. I had a couple of days to patch my bones before a mini trip that Thursday and subsequent trip to Tennessee the following day. Charlie was headed off to Colorado come Tuesday.
Charlie and I often talk about the Olympic rings of the Second Amendment family. Who knows who and how we might be connected to another. I’d say community, but within the community there is a sense of family. The names and faces of colleagues we work with, other advocates we have in our lives, writers and content creators, etc. seem so familiar when we’re together, yet it’s a special treat to actually get behind the trigger with them, or just do something social.
There was no story here. No big scoop to grab. Just getting together with a couple of colleagues – friends – to actually enjoy the liberty we so tirelessly work to preserve. There’s a whole commu…family, out there. If you haven’t made it to the range or field in awhile, call a friend or just head on over. You advocates and defenders out there, whatever your art of war might be – blogging, writing, video, lobbying, organizing, litigating, radio, etc. – the stalwart defenders that keep on pushing forward, remember to walk away from the battlefield once in a while and take in some of the spoils when there’s a lull in the action.