Allen Hale: Hoping to soar into office

Allen Hale was starting Day Six without power, thanks to Hurricane Isabel, when he spoke to The Hook. He wasn't sweating sitting in the Hot Seat without a shower, though, because the day before, he'd literally jumped in a creek.

The longtime Nelson County resident is challenging incumbent Watkins Abbitt for the 59th District seat, a fairly obscure House of Delegates district that, in fact, is Virginia's largest, thanks to the magic of redistricting. Its biggest towns are Appomattox and Dillwyn, and it takes in a large chunk of Albemarle County: everything west of Scottsville and south of I-64, a swath that includes Batesville, Covesville, and North Garden.

Hale's Virginia roots go deep. He was born in Charlottesville, and his family hails from Staunton. But he's also a man of the world, having graduated from high school in Rome and then later serving in Vietnam and El Salvador when he was with the Foreign Service.

His resumé boasts a variety of jobs: hydrologist, reporter, and English teacher in Rangoon. He became familiar with Nelson County during a stint at the Daily Progress, and when he decided to settle down stateside, that's where he went.

Hale revived his father's surveying business– and opened a natural history bookstore, Buteo Books, that's got the largest ornithology collection in the country. "I was able to combine an avocation and interest in birds with a business," he says.

And the most exciting find of a birdwatcher who has been all over the world with his binoculars? "The presence of the bald eagle here," he says. "I've seen lots of bald eagles, but they nest in Albemarle County."

This is not Hale's first run for office– he sought the Democratic nomination in 2000 to run against Virgil Goode for the House of Representatives' 5th District seat, and from that race he learned, "Politics is a dog-eat-dog world. It takes money to run, too much money, certainly for a U.S. Congressional seat."

Even a run for the state House requires cash. So far, Hale has raised $20,000, "probably a third of what my opponent's raised." He points out that, aside from a $3,000 contribution from Mitch Van Yahres' Road Back PAC, most of his donations have come from individuals.

And if elected, what will Hale do differently? "I strive to be honest with constituents and give people straight answers," he replies. He doesn't like politicians' tendencies to make promises which they can't deliver on, and he told one potential supporter, "I can't promise you anything." That strategy may have potential, because the response he got back was, "You've got my vote."

Age: 60

What do you like best about Charlottesville? The university, the great choice of fine restaurants, and the used bookstores.

What do you like least about Charlottesville? The continuing racial divide and the traffic.

Favorite hangout? My hawk-watching spot at Rockfish Gap and, in times past, the C&O.

Most overrated virtue? Piety

What would people be surprised to know about you? I flew with Charles Lindbergh on PanAm's inaugural flight from Rome, Italy, to Rabat, Morocco, in 1962.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Less impetuous behavior, particularly when I was younger.

What accomplishment are you proudest of? Building my house with the help of family and friends, and the success of my small businesses.

What do people find most annoying about you? Failure to adhere to advice.

Whom do you admire? Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), the father of modern Turkey, a military man who led his country from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire to a secular democratic state, but in the process, sought neither wealth nor glory for himself.

Favorite book? Peter Matthiessen's At Play in the Fields of the Lord

What subject causes you to rant? The failure to recognize that the increase in human population has a negative effect on quality of life and the natural world around us.

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? The ease with which one can travel to the most remote places of the world, e.g., Kapawi, on a tributary of the Amazon in Ecuador where one can meet with the Achuar people and walk in the rainforest. And, the facility with which information can be found and conveyed on the Internet.

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? The growing disparity between wealthy nations and poor nations, and the conflicts that arise from these conditions.

What do you drive? A GMC Suburban for business and a 1974 BMW motorcycle.

What's in your car CD/tape player right now? Robin and Linda Williams' The Rhythm of Love

What's your next journey? In January, to Richmond to take a seat in the House of Delegates.

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? Drinking Scotch with a pair of KGB agents (unbeknownst to me) at a German Embassy reception, early in my Foreign Service career

What do you regret? Not being fluent in several languages

Favorite comfort food? Spudnuts when in Charlottesville, honey buns in rural Virginia

What's always in your refrigerator? Cilantro, salsa, beer

Must-see TV? West Wing, but I fear for the new season.

Favorite cartoon? Doonesbury

Describe a perfect day. Walking and watching birds in good weather

Walter Mitty fantasy? Being a benevolent dictator in a tropical paradise

Who'd play you in the movie? Jason Robards

Most embarrassing moment? On a wager that I could be in West Virginia within the day, I jumped a freight train headed west. It switched back and forth and then parked in the yard.

Best advice you ever got? Political advice: listen. Business advice: buy low, sell high.

Favorite bumper sticker? Hale, Yes!