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Many memorable events marked 2009, but most we'd like to forget.
It was a year of economic turmoil, swine flu freak-outs, bank robbers in fake wigs and partisan political pandemonium.
A bear got loose in a Hillsville corn maze at Halloween, but Carroll County punished dogs by enacting a trespassing law aimed at them.
Two women were fired for taking nude pictures of nursing home residents. Why, we don't know. Is there a market for “Grandpas Gone Wild” videos?
The Galax Fire Department got taken for a ride by a shady carnival promoter. But carnies have such good reputations!
Most of all, it was a year when the people of Galax were torn by the most divisive issue ever — a mural painted on the side of a city building.
No issue had more people seeing red than the yellow painted sign at the Matthews Museum, and to them we present the YELLOW FEVER award.
People debated everything from its artistic merit to its legal status and its very definition. Was it a sign? Was it a mural? What's a mural, anyway?
Why yellow? And which shade — canary, mustard or dirty baby diaper?
The questions were endless.
Some other highlights of 2009:
• All localities that tried to decide what to do with the vehicle windshield decals deserve the WHERE TO STICK IT award, though in our minds Galax deserves special recognition for coming down on both sides of the issue by first scraping the stickers and then throwing that decision into reverse.
Carroll County followed along with Galax's initial thoughts, but Hillsville, Independence and Grayson County all considered the matter and earned the STICK-TO-IT-IVENESS award.
• It seemed about half the people came down with the swine flu last year. The paranoia around this particularly virulent flu is understandable, but those who freaked out over H1N1 and its vaccine get the PARANOIA PANDEMIC award, an apple a day from the Carroll County orchards, a year's supply of Interferon and Purell, genetic therapy, a respirator mask, goggles and gloves, copious amounts of Lysol and a sterile bubble to live in.
• The Grayson County School board had to re-elect a chairman this year after the procedure they used, basically drawing straws, was deemed unfit according to state law. To avoid future embarrassment, we offer the ELECTION HANDBOOK, full of more foolproof methods like Rock/Paper/Scissors or Karaoke Sing-Off. If those don't work, they could use one of those chickens that makes Monday Night Football picks or hold an ECW-style tables, ladders and chairs wrestling match.
• We give the ROAD TO HELL (or Virginia) IS PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS award to state bureaucrats for deciding to close the Department of Transportation's Hillsville residency. We understand making budget, but next location of Martinsville is a long haul however you want to measure it — by an energy efficient crow's flight or by gas-guzzling land-based vehicles.
• Speaking of transportation, we enjoyed seeing Twin County expatriate Jack Jessee's entertaining appearance on the tube's "Ice Road Truckers" reality show. He deserves the COOL AS ICE award for his performance behind the wheel in Alaska's challenging weather — most of us back here can't even get out of our driveways after only one snowfall.
• On the opposite end of the temperature spectrum, looks like former puppy mill worker Timmy Bullion tried to turn up the heat on shoddy dog breeding operations by teaming up with the Humane Society of the United States. He gets the NIPPING AT THE HEELS award. Hopefully, he doesn't find himself too much in the doghouse for his trouble.
• Others took less legitimate routes to recognition, like the hospital security guard who allegedly faked a stabbing report. She gets the TAKE A STAB AT FAME award for her dubious efforts.
• The FISHING FOR ANSWERS award goes to young Desiree Nguyen, a outspoken girl from a multicultural family who didn't wait too long after President Barack Obama was inaugurated before casting her line into the immigration debate. She wanted to go fishing with her dad, but because he can't get a license because of his legal status, Nguyen pressed the new president on what he's going to do about possible immigration reform.
• Convicted murderer Freddie Hammer gets the WASTE OF TIME award for maintaining his innocence for more than a year before finally pleading guilty to three homicides in Grayson County. His plea of “No I didn't. Oh, wait – yeah, I did,” was followed by a confession that he killed two more people. When you're serving seven consecutive life sentences, what's a couple more?
• 2009 proved that hiring high-powered bankruptcy attorneys cannot save a bad business plan from dissolving, a la AmerLink. Having already earned the PROMISES, PROMISES and TALK IS CHEAP awards for the failed attempt to create 200 jobs in Carroll — it only created one position! — we now add the LIQUIDATE THIS! prize for the unwilling Chapter 7 participant. Goodbye and good riddance in 2010.
• At the top of other questionable business practices has to be the Lambsburg operation that created a mini-environmental disaster by mining old computers for gold with acid. After hearing about that mess, we feel that Wall Street doesn't deserve the TOXIC ASSETS award — we can keep it close to home.
• We learned this year that Mexican drug cartels are coming to the area because it's quiet and secluded — the same reason tourists flock to the Twin Counties. Does the Mexican Mafia also enjoy bluegrass music? Tourism officials get the MISSED OPPORTUNITY award for not realizing this sooner and marketing the area to our amigos in organized crime. Think of all the disposable income they need to launder — I mean spend!
• Carroll County officials may have become down with back trouble last year from hefting too many giant novelty checks from the federal government to fund water and sewer projects. They get the OVERSTIMULATED award, a bottle of Ritalin.
• And by taking a stand — by taking no stand — on the issue of reinstating Roger Hawthorne to the Hillsville Fire Department, the Carroll supervisors earned the PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE award. We'll leave it by the door so that a Carroll County representative can act like it doesn't exist and fail to pick it up.
• The OUT OF NOWHERE award goes to Carolina Profile Design, a Grayson printing company that hardly anyone knew existed until it announced plans to invest $3 million and add 55 jobs. Whoever you are, we're glad to have you!