American enterprise

Published 4:18 pm Friday, September 12, 2008

R.M. “Bob” Felts Jr. has a long list of things he wants to accomplish in life while he’s still young enough to enjoy them.

So the owner of a local ham packing company straddled his 2002 Honda Gold Wing motorcycle and drove 1,485 miles to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul to check one more thing off that list.

“It was exciting,” he said in his deep Virginia accent, one day after he returned home.

Felts represented the 4th Congressional District and was one of 123 Virginia delegates at the convention, held Sept. 1-4 at the Xcel Energy Center.

He said he thought his mode of transportation to the convention might have been a bit unusual.

“I was probably the only one who arrived by motorcycle,” he said with a laugh. “Most people are in such a hurry and take a plane and get in and get out and get on. I just took a few days off.

“I rode 1,485 miles going out and 1,915 coming back,” he said, sporting a dark “McCain – Team Virginia” hat. “I came the long way back.”

At the convention center, the amount of patriotic red, white and blue covering everything was overwhelming, he said. And the delegates dressed for the occasion. One delegate from Maine sported a large hat with a lobster and clams on top, showcasing her state’s goods. The Texas delegation all wore cowboy hats and suits.

“The ladies wore more decorative outfits than the men,” Felts said.

Felts, overcome with the excitement of the event, didn’t want to miss a minute of it.

“I got there early every day and was able to sit in the front row of the Virginia delegation,” he said. “To go and see the American election process, especially a historical election, it was a jubilant experience. It was like winning a football championship.”

Felts said he especially enjoyed the speeches by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. All of the speeches motivated him to come home and get ready for the election.

“We’re expecting an 80 percent turnout,” the secretary of the electoral board in Southampton County said.

He got to see many famous reporters and Washington, D.C., movers and shakers. While at the convention, Felts did interviews with XM Satellite Radio, as well as Korean and Japanese stations.

“I think they liked the accent,” he said. “They loved to hear me talk.”

They weren’t the only ones who enjoyed hearing Felts talk in his down-home Virginia drawl.

Felts struck up a conversation with actor Jon Voight after Voight heard Felts talking.

“He told me he always wanted to do a movie on Robert E. Lee,” Felts said.

Voight told him, “I’m going to get you to teach me that accent.”

During the motorcycle trip, Felts avoided highways and chain restaurants, preferring, instead, to take in the local sights.

“I love the beauty of the land, like the flea markets, the ball fields, the little towns and country eateries,” he said.

He even had a way to figure out if one of those local eateries was worth a look.

“If the parking lot was full of cars, I figured it was a good place to eat,” he said.

On the way to the convention, Felts stopped in Dayton, Ohio, on the same day John McCain announced that Sarah Palin would be his running mate. He also stopped in Lake City, Minn. to see where the first person went water skiing.

Felts, who turned 60 last year, said he started to think about things he wanted to do in life while he could still get around. Felts, an active local Republican, said visiting a Republican National Convention was on the top of his list.

“I saw a lot of time go by from 40 to 60 and 20 to 40,” he said. “I still have a lot of things I want to do.”

He also took a three-week motorcycle tour in the mountains of China and went to Plains, Ga., to see former president Jimmy Carter teach his weekly Sunday school class.

“China was so bleak compared to what we have here,” Felts said.

On the way home from Minnesota, he stopped in Somerville, Tenn. to see the Rev. Frank Crawford who married Felts and his wife, Carol, 23 years ago and at Lynchburg, Tenn., to tour the Jack Daniels distillery.

Felts said he’s already planning another motorcycle trip to New Zealand in January. In the meantime, though, he is glad to be home.

“I’m going to get back to smoking hams and getting ready for the holidays,” he said.