Thursday, January 26, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

Many Americans have never enjoyed the thrill of traveling by rail. In Europe, it is preferred and efficient. 100 years ago this year, Henry Flagler completed his rail line to Key West, literally connecting Florida’s Atlantic coastline with the world. Ponce de Leon led the first European’s to land in Florida, but it was oil tycoon Henry Flagler who was truly the state’s founding father.

Flagler along with John D. Rockefeller was co-founder of Standard Oil. His monumental projects in Florida connected St Augustine to Palm Beach, Miami and Key West, producing an immeasurably beneficial impact on this economic and cultural development of the state. A swamp became an oasis featuring luxury hotels more opulent and better designed than most counterparts Europe. And through Flagler’s efforts, rail transportation opened up Florida tourism and commerce to the rest of the world.

Flagler’s love of luxury accommodations is fascinating. His hotels along the rail line remain international legends, time-honored examples of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. His masterpiece, The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, has no equal in the country.

An architectural wonder adorned with priceless objets d’art, The Breakers represents the best in gourmet dining and fine wines, maintaining a global reputation for excellence. My visits there over the years include unforgettable Bordeaux wine dinners, a delightful conversation with rock star Sting, a frequent guest, days and nights covering the gourmet gathering of the Distinguished Restaurants of North America, and more than a few overnight pampered stays. Today, a glimpse of the Breakers from the street conjures up images of Henry Flagler whose descendants still own it. Here is an American treasure, just as important in its way as Flagler’s railroad.

Flagler, with a little help from ships, connected New York City with Havana via Key West. If there were delays, his resort hotels in Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, St. Augustine, Miami, Palm Beach and Key West made a layover a fairytale experience.

Flagler, according to those who worked with him, was motivated to build his railroad by vision while the luxury resorts were extensions of his lifestyle. More than one colleague recalled that Flagler never asked if his railroad would make a profit, but instead wondered whether it could be built.

The Key West part of the story ended in tragedy. In 1935, before hurricanes had names, a monstrous storm struck Key West northward, destroying lives, property and most of the Flagler rail line in the southernmost extremity. Ernest Hemingway, then a Key West resident, reported much of the tragedy. His words are not for the feint of heart.

Henry Flagler died as a result of a fall in his beautiful home Whitehall in Palm Beach. Today, his mansion is the acclaimed Flagler Museum. Among the last words Flagler spoke were these: “Sometimes, at the close of the day, when I am fortunate enough to be alone, I come here. I look at the water and the trees yonder and the sunset and I wonder if there is anything in the other world so beautiful as this.”

Florida celebrates 500 years and Spain is part of the soiree:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

“Let Freedom Ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.”
                         Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 1963

The words are from his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, the dramatic moment when Dr. King’s power and eloquence were building to a thundering crescendo. To this day, the world has heard nothing spoken to equal the power and the glory on that day in Washington.

Photo By Steve Thomason

 We had a parade here in Stone Mountain, Georgia on “MLK Day, “ the national holiday honoring Dr. King. Five bands from high schools marched and played traditional parade music. The parade route proceeded along the path where the “March to the Sea” actually began during the Civil War.

The bands were interspersed with city officials joined by U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson. Other officials joined the parade with Nan Nash, a Stone Mountain city council member and community leader. It was a day of smiles, joyful noises and harmony.

Accompanied by my son and two grandsons, we walked along the parade route which went through not only the lovely city’s downtown, but through the historic community of Shermantown, the very unique African-American community within Stone Mountain’s city limits. It is a place with amazing history that deserves more recognition and is just beginning to attract writers, historians and others aware of omissions in our history who will fill the blank spaces.

Friendly greetings dominated. On this day, in this place, there were no strangers. The band members marched in step and their music was stirring. I learned that the mighty hymn of the civil rights movement, “We Shall Overcome,” makes a good march song. The bands play it more than once.

Along the way, I heard a voice call my name. It was a friend, Howard Bigby, a lifelong resident of Shermantown whose roots go back into ancient times. He is a master of the giant granite mountain towering over his home and knows the old Indian trails, the healing powers of the mountain and the cleansing goodness of the water he draws from a 350-foot deep well in his back yard. There’s something mighty tasty in water millions of years old.

The parade symbolized everything Dr. King gave his life for. We walked, marched, sang, photographed each other, shared stories, laughed and took time to absorb the majesty of a day of good will.

It was a preview. A higher life.

Enjoy this broadcast about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


By Doc Lawrence

ATLANTA-The nation remembers and honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this month with a national holiday. His words will be repeated on the air, in classrooms and in forums. Peace, justice, understanding and non-violent social change are associated with Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement that he led to the end of his life his life.

King and wine? It happened long ago on a rainy night in Atlanta. My friend and mentor Jim Sanders gave me the story, a typed manuscript he prepared shortly after the historic event. Sanders, who died in 1999, was one of the pioneers of fine wine in the South.

Sanders, a bear of a man, taught thousands in his wine classes, a course equal to anything I experienced in graduate school, and poured wines for tasting, introducing students to the greatest wines on earth. The pours were never stingy.

The meeting with Dr. King was impromptu. It was Dr. King’s anniversary and he was shopping at Sanders fine wine store for a bottle of wine for a special dinner. There were others there that included King’s friend, a Pulitzer Prize winning editor/publisher and his arch enemy, a segregationist governor.

The story is one of the most interesting of my career. It is Jim Sanders’ account of a wine tasting for the ages and to my knowledge, remains the only first-hand account of Dr. King enjoying wine.

Here is my broadcast of the momentous gathering:

Share this freely with those who believe that the world is a better place when we sit down and get to know each other. Wine is a catalyst, a balm in Gilead that worked well long ago in Atlanta.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

ATLANTA-It’s a dish with Biblical origins. I acquired several varieties of Inland Market’s Seafood Tortas and the experience became a glimpse into a higher life. The array included Crab and Artichoke, Smoked Salmon, Maine Lobster and Shrimp Provencal and I made the decision to pair them with wines. After all, how can you truly describe a taste experience without appropriate wine poured generously?

A couple of years back I paired wines with lobster rolls produced for markets throughout the country. There was a lesson here and it is in the area of learning something really new. I asked many noted wine journalists and Master Sommeliers beforehand what wines they would choose for lobster served this way? The responses were all over the place: Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Chablis. Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

Chardonnay was perfect, particularly if it had just a hint of oak.

Accordingly, I paired Inland Market’s Maine Lobster Torta with a North Carolina Chardonnay, McRitchie, a winery in the Yadkin Valley, a 2006 vintage, and as the old bluegrass song goes, the marriage of flavors “set my fields on fire.”

Lobster seems to welcome the buttery-like quality of Chardonnay and this gourmet product retains the characteristics of fresh lobster although it is combined with other food items and seasonings.

Later, the other Tortas were paired with wines and the results are pleasing. The other wines that did not pair well with lobster did fit quite well, one about as good as the other. Inland Market’s Seafood Tortas are perfect for the aperitif experience and I would urge opening at least two different bottles and consider a good sparkling wine like Wolf Mountain from Dahlonega or any Champagne.

But the lobster requires a Chardonnay.

Inland Seafood is a respected name and hallowed brand. Restaurants and grocers know them well. Finding the Seafood Tortas is easy. Chardonnay and all the other wines I mentioned are available in retail stores. However, to enjoy McRitchie, you’ll have to dine with me or go deep into the Yadkin Valley.

More information:

Saturday, January 7, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

The Reverend Howard Finster, the revered folk artist, told me on his porch one day the Elvis was dead, but “his soul isn’t rested.” Elaborating, the country preacher who gained enough fame to do album covers for R.E.M. and appear on The Tonight Show said that Elvis died before he completed God’s mission.

I have one of Finster’s paintings of the King-he did many- called “Winged Elvis.” Dated July 2, 1983, it depicts a young farm boy with a straw hat in coveralls. Inscribed on near the left knee is this: “Elvis at age 3, was an angel to me.” The painting goes with me everywhere. It brings a peace that I am unable to describe. Other acclaimed paintings of Elvis are by Red Grooms, Mark Stutzman and others.

I saw Elvis twice as a young kid growing up in Atlanta. I even met him in a hotel lobby when he was very approachable. He was talking to a beautiful girl but greeted me when I said hello and took a moment to chat. A couple of hours later, when he took the stage of Atlanta’s Fabulous Fox Theater, everything in my life forever changed. For the better.

I was no longer just another Southern kid. I was an amalgamation of accents, rhythms, races, styles, language, woes, victories, love and despair that added up to an identity. The guy on the stage sang, and I sang. He laughed and made me laugh as well. He moved like no man ever did before and he sang songs that made me and those two thousand girls in the theater feel good.

I bought a Martin guitar with cash from my paper route, learned a few chord progressions and begin playing and singing along with records my mother brought home from work that had SUN on the label. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins. Off to college in Florida and discovered that many classmates had the same experience and soon a decent band was formed. We did the fraternity and sorority houses of the Deep South, honk-tonks in places like Thomasville, Albany, Douglas, Gainesville, Port St. Joe, Bainbridge and wherever we could make a buck. Even some officer’s clubs on Military bases.

Long ago, the mother who brought home all those records, called me and said Elvis had died. I turned the radio on and heard “How Great Thou Art,” by Elvis and the Jordanairres, confirming the tragedy. His birthday is one of  bookened of a life that changed me.

There’s still part of Elvis in me, and it’s the good part that laughs, accepts, creates and when riled, can be defiant. I remember him much like a song I heard:

“No one sings a love song like you do,
No body else can make me sing along.
No one else can make me feel
That things are right,
When I know they’re wrong.
No body sings a love song quite like you.”