Hi, I'm NOT Doc Stevens. I'm Tondeleo Lee Thomas. I'm a journalist and traveller. I am based in Bromley, Kent, UK, where I have a bedsit that I am nearly always gone from. I grew up living quite internationally, being a miltary brat, and then holidaying Summers with an aunt in Madagascar as a teen. I love America and try to get assignments as often as possible there. I am frequently in the Washington, DC area doing research and spending as much time as possible at the Library of Congress and the National Archives. The picture here is from when I first started this blog, two and a half years ago. when Doc and I first met, he thought I might be a girl! I was small, and he thought my accent was "girly."

I'm writing this for Doc Stevens because he can't type well, and doesn't have Internet services. He doesn't have a "puter," either. But he is rich with good thoughts and a good head and a bit of a quick wit, considering his life.

Doc has insights and front porch wisdom that I want to pass on to you, and he doesn’t mind if I do it. “I have a pinion bout everything and there’s nothin’ I won’t talk about. Sure, you can put it on that interweb if you want. That's freedom of speech.” That’s what he says.

Most of these blog entries are made from conversations I've had with Doc out on the porch or in his back yard while he lays in his hammock at the end of a hard day’s work. Some of them are from interviews over the phone. Others are while I travel with him and his friends. Whenever I'm with him, I have my recording stick handy, to catch some of the gems that come from him, Marilyn and their friends.

He and his family got a telephone in 2002 and he is still kind of wary of it, but will talk to me when he is in a talkative mood. Over the past few years, things have gotten better for them financially. He is proud that now they have a refrigerator that you just plug into the wall, and you don't have to put bags of ice in it. He's able to keep tires on his panel truck now, and can keep it insured and on the road. It used to sit for months at a time due to no money for insurance or no money for tires or other parts it needed.

Oh, and he wants you to know this. The first time we met, I asked him what he was a doctor of. He said he wasn't a doctor. So I asked why they call him "Doc" Stevens. His answer:

"Why they call me Doc? Heck, I aint a doctor of nothing.’ Listen this all got started years ago when I was working on Mr Mitchell’s farm on Nanjemoy Creek. There’s some good catfishing in the creek, and someone gave me a flatbottom boat. I got a bad back so I aint into hefting that boat into the water even tho it’s alumium. So I built me a dock, an I was the onliest one round there that had a dock so they took to callin me Doc. They call me Doc Stevens because that's my last name: Stevens. That’s all. And I know... if you ask Big Dave he'll tell you about them shirts what I got at the thrift shop what had D.O.C. on the back for apartment of corrections an' he's say THAT is when they started callin' me Doc, from them shirts what I did get rid of and don't have no more."

I'll be typing his material close as I can from the way he says it on the recordings, and to the best I can understand it. I'll probably post some of the sound files on here as well so you can hear just how he talks. He has a style all his own, not really a southern accent, more of a well travelled but rural one. It is reminiscent of the brogue that is spoken in southwestern Virginia among the mountain people near the border of Tennessee where Doc's family came from. I like it, anyway. Maybe you can pinpoint it better than me.

Doc is living in a small house in southwestern Charles County MD, with his niece, Marilyn. He usually introduces her as "Marilyn, the daughter of my brother what died." He has been taking care of her since his brother Wayne "passed on" when Marilyn was nine years old and her mother had already taken off and gone back to Tennessee or somewhere down south. He is fiercely proud of Marilyn and extremely protective of her. Having responsibility for her has given him stability and has gotten him to actually care about his life and take some degree of interest other people.

I am hoping he will let me put some of Marilyn's words on here. She was 18 or 19 when I started this project. Now she is in her mid 20's and has grown up quite a bit, as I have, as well. She still has some fiery opinions about a lot of things. Seems to run in the family. As time goes on and we build trust, I am hoping this blog will give some good solid glimpses into a shrinking world - the one of uneducated but creative country people on the edge of society and who are invisible to most of us.

From the August 16th, 2008 post:

Writing Doc's thoughts, opinions and ramblings is not an easy job. First off, because he mumbles, and his English is atrocious. He misuses words and mispronounces a lot of them.

On the other hand, his lack of education and culture is part of what makes his opinions and observations interesting. Most of these postings are made from recordings of phone calls and one on one conversations. Whenever I visit Doc, I have my digital recorder on, and when I leave several hours later, I have enough fodder for a dozen or more blog postings. Doc has an opinion about everything and there is nothing he won't talk about... well, unless it is something that I try to bait him into pontificating on, and then he can get short winded pretty quickly.

As I listen to the recordings, I usually transcript them based on however I am feeling at the moment. Transcripting with only mild deletions or editorial comments is a task in itself. I do my best to spell his words the way he pronounces them, and also to try to have the postings make sense.That is harder than I first imagined. However, I find it to be a positive challenge and I am starting to get into the flow of it, and to know what he means by certain malapropisms the instant he mumbles them.

As for the photos on this blog, I carry a digital camera with me when I visit him and when I am able to go with him when he and Marilyn are playing music somewhere. I take as many pictures as he allows me to.

Sometimes we will go for a ride while visiting - "C'mon Tondy, let's go for a ride and you can buy me a sandwich an' bring one back for Marilyn" - and part of the deal is that I can take a few pictures of him if we find a place that is interesting. Again, he gets antsy about it sometimes - "My mama warned me about men like you what want's to take my picture" - and other times he seems impressed that someone would want to see pictures of him on the "interweb." The pictures are posted randomly with the postings, just as I go through the pics that I have and then try to match them up appropriately to the editorial content.

I gave one of my old digital cameras to Marilyn and she has gotten some good ones of Doc and their friends. He is more relaxed around her and lets his guard down. Most of the ones where Doc looks more relaxed or even nearly pleasant have been taken by Marilyn. She has also made recordings of some of his musings and has emailed them to me when he takes her to the library for Internet access.

Anyway, that's how it is done. I also have videos of him playing and singing and several of him and Marilyn at different venues and also playing out on the streets. Some of them are here on this blog, and more are on Youtube. I may also link the original sound files of these postings where possible and when I can find them on old SD cards, just so you can get the feel of how it is to talk with him, Marilyn and their friends.

About a year into this project, Doc got email. He called me all excited to let me know he got an email address:

"Tondy, I got one of them addresses so I can get electric letters on the interweb. Marilyn set it up for me up at the liberry. We can be gotten in contact with now and answer about once a week if you don't mind bad spellin' unless Marilyn is with me. My name on there is DocStevensYes at Hotmail dot com ."

The picture above is a more recent picture of me, by the way! My girlfriend likes it much better than the earlier one!

Tondeleo Lee Thomas