--Catfish dinner at Top O' The River
I guess you could say I'm a loner
A cowboy outlaw, tough an' proud
Well, I could have lots of friends if I wanted
But then I wouldn't stand out from the crowd
--It's Hard to be Humble, Mac Davis
The only thing new in this world
is the history that you don't know
--Harry S. Truman
RAW's first travel of the fall is drawing nigh. He accomplished business and personal goals in the Ohio Valley, and ambled through West-by-God Virginia to witness the scenery and leaves.
Like the song says, "Almost heaven, West Virginia", but no cigar, sadly. The topo is lovely and the colors dramatic (though it is a week or two until peak there) but the state is a fail in the same way that so much of the South is: they can't manage amenities for travelers.
We traveled great stretches of breathtaking scenery with nary an accommodation. After asking at a jiffy mart, we were told the IGA grocer down the road had four rooms in the back to let;
Ranger wisely passed on that one.
He got on fairly well in WV much as he did in AL: The folks find his quick-talking ways a curiosity, and he has laid his money on the table and taken his goods before that feeling wells up that he is in fact a Northerner and therefore to blame for the War of Northern Aggression and dire state of The Confederacy.
The bearded owner of a gun shop near the ironically-named town of Union pretty much summed up the whole shooting match. He had lived in Hatteras, N.C. for 30 years, but could not stand it after experiencing first tourist season. He wanted to "get home" (WV), but home is a place without running water. He and his wife hope to get some one day, but for now, they walk across the yard to the local jiffy mart to use their facilities.
Now happy to be back home in WV, I asked his opinion of the town of Lewisburg due North which we had just left; it seemed one of the few going prospects in the state (aside from the Northeastern peninsula abutting the D.C. area.) He said that aside from the "so-called gourmet shops and yuppie tourists," he didn't see what the town had to offer.
"What do they make there? What's real about it?"
Well, what's real is, they have running water and nice restos, but for those accustomed to a hard-scrabble life, the question is genuine and heartfelt. I picked up a shoe-stretching tool from an actual cobbler's bench in his shop with a $2 price tag. He said they used to have three cobblers in town, but now none. "Everyone travels 30 miles to Walmart for shoes you can't re-sole."
Yet as a pawnshop/thrift shop owner, what in fact does he produce? His metier is constricted by the whims of the buying public and re-selling their castoffs or the things they can no longer afford.
Along with the depressed state of things comes an abiding faith in religion and the occult, and it easy to see why the supernatural figures so large in media output.
Every obit read the same: He/She left her/his earthly home to go and be with his/her father in the everlasting hereafter, enjoying a sort of non-stop orgiastic galactic cruise ship tour. A truck today was painted with hot rod flames and the text, "Burning for Jesus" (whatever that means), a U.S. flag flying from the truck bed. It is a comfort, no?
While they may be slow in the draw in WV, Tennessee was another matter. Ranger had wanted to see the town of Jonesborough, TN after having read its
depiction in a travel mag as "quaint and welcoming." Not. It was as dilapidated and populated by empty storefronts as most towns in the Appalachian corridor. Most formerly respectable lodgings seemed overdue for radical retrofits.
Without imposing our thoughts, most people we encountered seemed taciturn and somber, concerns of the everyday weighing upon their outlook. The overriding take-away from this cursory tour was the immense lack of exuberance amongst the encountered locals -- even the proprieters seemed disinterested and lackadaisical. The sequester and Obamacare was beyond their ability to synthesize.
The only person who seemed aware was the welcome station attendant who was disappointed that the National Radio Astronomic Observatory (NRAO), in Green Bank, West Virginia, was shut down due to the sequester. There is no doubt that wealth exists in the form of the weekend homes along water bodies or lined up on hilltops, but the bifurcation between those who weekend and the locals is vast.
Having never traveled Appalachia so closely, we did not know what to expect (though Ranger had lived many years in upper L.A., he did not socialize widely, by his account.) Matewan remains a viable depiction.
Next, Ranger had wanted to see the town of Jonesborough, TN, after having read its
depiction in a travel mag as "quaint and welcoming." Not.
Ranger's clipped ways got a frosty reception from the local antique mall owner. When he inquired of a veterans discount she snapped, "My daddy was in Vietnam, and Korea and WWII, too, and he didn't get no discounts." Ranger indelicately said, "We're not discussing your dad, we're discussing ME."
Lisa judiciously ducked away into the neighboring ice cream parlor, but this also proved tetchy terrain.
The shop had only been operational for nine weeks, and was manned by a former cop- wannabe Marine manque. Ranger pulled his same innocent inquiry and was again met with a fusillade: "I'm a retired policeman -- I've been shot four times, had a knife pulled on me once, and I don't get a discount." Ranger helpfully replied, "Well, you entered the wrong line of work!"
To which he added, "You should've planned better like I did." In a final snarkey shot across the bow he said with a fillip, "I've been shot at and missed, and shat upon and hit."
Ranger received no military discount at all that day, though he did get a few weak, "Thanks for your service's".
I suggested he was about to score two for two and evaced to the bench outside.
While sitting there eating what appeared to be the last scoop of mocha java in the store, the ex-cop came out to make a second pass; fisticuffs threatened to ensue. But new customers drew him back inside, and we progressed on to the local resto for dinner. The same dire situation occurred there as elsewhere. We ordered peas as a side, but the waitress returned to say they were out; they had no oil or vinegar for the salad; the "butter" was margarine.
Almost everything seemed cobbled together in our travels, done on the fly. Not fit for prime time in any sense. While the Rust Belt is a sump, wealth exists cheek-by-jowl. In the Southeast, it is just "pinched and poor", as Ranger says. They've got B and B's, but nothing to do upon arrival, and the towns roll up at five. I can picture Dixie Lily biscuits on the breakfast tray and Folgers coffee with Coffee Mate which they called "cream".
We stayed at two praised golf resorts which had stopped serving complimentary coffee in the lobby. this year. Everyone from mom-and-pop motor-ins to InterContinental Hotels offer complimentary a.m. coffee service even if that is their sole perk, but not this year, surely a sign of the times in the Deep South. The gas stations don't have soap in the windshield water, either, and an alarming number of businesses lack bathroom soap or hot water, as well.
The trip ends in North Alabama, in a town whose motel has a channelized parking lot lest troublemakers try and make a quick getaway. "Please use both locks for your safety" proclaims the motel door sign. We have seen so many odd signs. The above-mentioned resto had an 8-part tryptich tutorial posted in the bathroom on how to wash one's hand: "First apply soap ..." Things are just different in Ohio; and WV, and AL. Very different.
We stopped at a resort in Mentone, AL -- The Mentone Springs Motel -- for coffee, a faded 100+ year old Victorian B & B charging $250 for a very basic fusty room. In an exchange so typical of all that preceded it, the waitress could not answer if the springs were open, the only attraction in the area (they were not). Cream was brought in the little plastic packs stacked in a creamer, and she thought the regular sugar was raw (Turbinado) sugar. You cannot have a viable resort if you fail to understand the attractions and fail to provide quality amenities, food and service.
Dinner tonight was at the "Top O' the River" resto in Gadsden, AL, featuring catfish ... served in a pie tin. Very nice for fried catfish in ALA, but I'm looking forward to waking up to a sauteed baby kale and Jarlesburg scramble, and some great smoothies.
Labels: fall travels 2013, South is poor