Confronting one's own prejudices is an odd task. Realizing that the time was drawing near for me to board a plane to West Virginia (well two planes actually because there are no direct flights from California to West Virginia) to visit my sister's family, I wondered if I was ready for the seed spitting contests, the backwoods fashions, the roadkill cuisine, the hollers, the homemade haircuts, the inbreeding, the all-banjo orchestras, the bare feet, the fascinating (mis)use of the English language in that distinctly-Appalachian accent, the jugs of white lightning, the baby bottles filled with Mountain Dew, the fine layer of coal dust on every surface, the dental disasters, the necks of red, the readiness of firearms, the family feuds, and prejudice itself. It seemed more than slightly hypocritical to be so terribly concerned with others' prejudices when I clearly had a laundry list of my very own. I spent much of the flight considering what I had gotten myself into by going to West Virginia and wondering if the stereotypes would be justified. Our pal, Deke, had done nothing to dispel my preconceived, if totally predicated on Hollywood depictions and cartoons, notions about West Virginia with his musical contribution to The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, which I watched as mandatory viewing in my Daniel Day Lewis-esque preparation for the role of "Visitor" to their fair state.
|Although they'd only been there two months, my sister rolled|
up with freshly-minted, West Virginia license plates on her car.
"Wild & Wonderful?" We'll see about that.
Upon leaving the tiny airport in West Virginia's capitol city, I looked around and found immediate beauty; the verdure of the rolling hills was absolutely breathtaking. Charmed by the southern homes (unlike anything in Southern California's architectural vernacular), with their deep porches, scalloped awnings, and shade trees, I was being taken in by a place that was in the country of my birth but felt so very foreign. We drove over and back the broad rivers on bridges built by the WPA into landscapes I had never seen before. We saw names of streets and buildings and towns that were unpronounceable to a tongue raised on secondary Spanish rather than Native American. We saw so many wonderful signs - neon, engraved, hand-painted, light box, corrugated - that I was reminded of my own credo, "wacky tacky is where you find it." Almost at once I thought to myself, "I kind of like it here" and in that instant (it doesn't take long), I knew I had lost my West Virginity!
|To think that Mt. Hope could have existed with only a handful of partial department|
stores before Aide's "Complete Dept. Store" came along is truly beyond belief.
Sadly, I think Mt. Hope is once again back in the dark days; Aide's is long gone.
|It must be said that I can't stand the flavor of Coke (or any cola for that matter),|
but there is something so delicious, refreshing, and fatigue relieving about
advertisements painted on the sides of buildings!
|We met a nice husband and wife who remembered this|
building when it was first painted; henceforth, we referred
to them only as "The OTT Couple."
|I am fascinated by secret societies but even more|
fascinated by old neon signs. Add another entry
into my "Neon by Day" file...
|There is something special about this not-so-special sign.|
It has weathered many years on Mt. Hope's main drag and its
steadfastness has been rewarded; no one has ever thought to
relieve it of duty...a good sign is a good sign.
|It seems like our world refuses to think|
in these shapes and colors anymore.
|"Soggy Bottom," that is all.|
I live in an area prone to wildfires but I can't
remember the last time I saw Smokey the Bear.
|Again with the secret fraternal orders.|
There aren't many qualifications one must have to become a Knight of Pythias,
so it just tickles me that membership is basically guaranteed as long as one
is not a drug-dealing, professional-gambling Communist.
|I can appreciate his ambition, his sacrifice, and his desire to rise|
above a truly unfair lot in life...also his name is "Dick Pointer."
|Lewisburg is a little "bougie," but it is|
also historic and quaint...and timely.
Coca-Cola/Coca-Cola and Gray & Gray Druggists at the True Reformer Building
|More Masonic neon|
|High-class, hillbilly jewelry.|
|Like the Hatfields & McCoys, this battle rages on.|
|Dogwood blossoms are always a welcome sight.|
|Signs that have seen better days are always a plus in my book.|
|Thanks again, Smokey!|
|My sis wondered how I even saw a sign painted on this building.|
I knew it at once because on the very rare occasion that I drink a
soda pop I prefer it to be Nehi Peach. We had one local retailer,
Galco's, who stocked it until California's rigid and over-zealous
restrictions against lead contamination banned the importation
of Nehi's glass bottles. Aargh!!!
|Wait a minute? Where are we?|
|Okay, so I won't be awarding this one a "World's Greatest Sign" mug at the|
awards ceremony, but for a state synonymous with the hillbilly lifestyle,
this is one of the very few markers acknowledging West Virginian identity.
|Small town theaters are great.|
Small town theaters that are still operational are even better!
|"Defunct dairy bar," three of the saddest |
words in the English language.
|I don't even know what The Snake Pit is/was but I was glad to have managed to snap the|
picture before they released the hounds; no sooner had I closed the car door than a couple
of angry dogs came out to greet me.
|A new sign paying homage to the old gets high marks in |
our book for keeping with a time-honored tradition.
|Familiar face, strange name...It took me a moment to remember that east|
of the old Mississippi, Carls' Jr. is "Hardee's." Hardee har har!!!
|While not technically a sign, I couldn't help but get a kick out of|
a graffito's washable work on the back of a panel truck - crude but fair.
10 WEST VIRGINIA REALITIES (from my perspective):
1. West Virginia has some wonderful signs - rusty, rustic, and sometimes rude, but wonderful.
2. There are more naturally red-headed people there than I have ever seen in all the years of my life combined.
3. Many people speak with an accent but the depth varies. That said, the stronger the accent the more I love (and try to impersonate) it.
4. West Virginians like their food sweet (even the savory food is incredibly sweet). It's like many years ago some jokester made his way to every restaurant and filled each salt shaker with sugar; the restaurants, getting no complaints, maintained the shenanigans and the world's oldest practical joke thrives as a culinary tradition. I would almost believe that except that the sodium level in all the food is enough to bring on instant heart failure as well.
5. West Virginia is THE smoking section!!! I thought the "e-cig" was an uber-annoying trend but I'm almost ready to cheer the presence of nicotine-laden water vapor rather than traditional tobacco smoke. (note: I have plenty of friends who smoke but in over-regulated California the number of areas to do so has dwindled to the point where I am almost always treated to simply good, clean smog everywhere I go).
6. In hillbilly territory, Wal-Mart is NOT the best place for viewing said specimens in their natural habitat. Super Wal-Mart is the go to spot for everyone in town so there is plenty of diversity (read: normal people).
7. Coal mining is still a common career path for West Virginians and coal trains are often seen chugging through the landscape. If I had to choose, I think I'd prefer to work in a drift mine over a slope or shaft mine any day (yeah, I totally know the difference between mine styles).
8. Mountain Dew is a popular beverage.
|As if we needed added incentive...|
10. The Whites scare me to death...and that's probably the way they like it.
|Wild AND wonderful after all.|
p.s. We have so much more coming from our wacky tacky West Virginia adventures; be sure and stay tuned for all of the fun.