Poor Robert’s Ruminations with Rob Whittle: ‘Hi. Where are you from?’

Poor Robert’s Ruminations with Rob Whittle: ‘Hi. Where are you from?’
Rob Whittle (Courtesy Photo)

Everyone knows that Alexandria is full of transplants from other cities and towns. I’ve always considered this a compliment to our fair city. In some places, they call these folks “come-heres.” I am a come-here from a place called Petersburg, Virginia, just south of Richmond.

Petersburg seems to have more than its fair share of characters for a city of about 30,000. Some say that it’s caused by the Kepone, a chemical that was spewed into the local rivers, that caused this imbalance that created so many oddballs. In any event, it was a wonderful place to grow up.

Young Petersburgers used to congregate on summer evenings at the public basketball/tennis courts to flirt and drink beer under the stars. This, in fact, was the only entertainment in town, apart from the Blue Star drive-in theatre.

I once beheld the great and favored son of Petersburg, Moses Malone, basketballing under the watchful eyes of such luminaries as coaching greats Lefty Driesell and Dean Smith. He finished the game without so much as a glance toward the coaches, got in his car and went home.

One chap who would occasionally grace us with his presence was an 18-year-old by the name of Mosconi. His patented move was to reach into his trunk and find some metal object such as a tire iron so he could menace the rest of us. Once he chased Jimmy Shannon with his tire iron, hurled it at him and missed. Shannon, a starting guard on the Uinversity of Virginia football team, wheeled around and proceeded to beat the crap out of his would-be tormentor.

My own brush with Mosconi was after the annual Petersburg High Thanksgiving Day football game. Mosconi and his boys rode by my friends and I walking down Sycamore Street. I was headed for granny’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. Mosconi must have seen something in us he didn’t like, for he pulled his car over and his gang started following us down the sidewalk.

Mosconi, of course, had a steel flashlight in his hand, the better to brain one of us. As we crossed the street to granny’s, he made his move, whacking my friend Tiger on the noggin. There ensued a stand-off in granny’s front yard as great uncles, cousins and granny herself peered worriedly from the windows. Eventually, the gang departed, snarling insults that I fervently hoped my Bible-thumping granny didn’t hear.

But it wasn’t all “mean streets.” The best example of a Petersburg character was a story my friend Val told me about his friend George. The two of them were attending the annual Christmas party at the estimable Petersburg Home for Ladies where their mothers were ensconced.

George sidled up to Val and said, “See that gal over there across the room?” (The gal in question was in her sixties). “Yes,” Val replied. “What about her?” George said, “When we were young, I was hiding up in a tree on Sycamore Street, and she came walking down the sidewalk. As soon as she got beneath me, I jumped down and I put the Petersburg Slow Boy on her.

Val peered at his friend, bemused. “What’s the Petersburg Slow Boy?” George looked back at his friend and answered, “You know. The Slow Boy.” Then George walked away to refill his punch cup.

For some reason and for many reasons, I always thought that was a cool story, so I repeated it to my friends. Years later, I saw George at a funeral. I barely knew him, but he came up to me and said, “I hear you been telling the Slow Boy story.”

“Yes,” I replied. “What IS the Petersburg Slow Boy?” George eyed me with an enigmatic smile and strode off.

The writer is CEO of Williams Whittle Advertising and is the author of two historical novels, “Pointer’s War” and “Pointer and the Russian.”