On this day last week, Son and I took the RV and headed up the Hillbilly Highway, also known as I-77, to West Virginia in search of trout. As you’ve seen in an earlier post, we were rather less than successful. That’s why it’s called “fishing”, not “catching”. Lack of a fish fry aside, we had a good time. Son’s work schedule keeps him pretty much occupied, and opportunities for us to do something together for an extended period are rare. However, he’s worked for his current employer long enough to qualify for 2 weeks of vacation next year, so hopefully they won’t be quite so rare.
West Virginia is, in many ways, a throwback to an earlier time. Sure, you can find every problem that modern society has to offer, such as addiction (pills and booze are the preferred poisons), but in less volume and more…contained. By and large the people are friendly and welcoming of travelers and tourists alike. Let them find out that you have family ties to the area, and it’s “Welcome Home!” Some grinding poverty aside, I love the place.
Besides the fishing, this trip gave me the opportunity to observe the state of things somewhere besides my local area. Have you seen the “Don’t blame me, I voted for Trump” yard signs? I haven’t around here, but I did in West Virginia. I’m told that in last Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech, which the Mountaineers won, thank you very much, there was even a “F*** Joe Biden” chant.
News like that warms my heart.
There was a lot of obvious support for Trump and zero visible support for Biden. As with most places, opinion is that the election was stolen. And being West Virginia, these folks are a bit closer than most in the willingness to go kinetic over such things. People are angry, and I think, at least in the Mountaineer State, they’re on a slow simmer, cooking along until done.
Economically, the boomlet that came from Trump’s reversal of the Left’s war on coal is still bearing fruit, although how long it will continue is an open question. The Wuflu has done some damage to be sure. Fully half the restaurants in the town where we “camped” were closed for good. Unfortunately, those closed restaurants were the majority of the locally owned ones, which is where I try to eat when traveling.
Every trip seems to come with a Walmart run, and this one was no different. It seems that Walmart was one of four places in the county and the only one near us that sold fishing licenses. The visit was quiet. Not many shoppers. The shelves in this Walmart were well-stocked, unless you wanted a Playstation V, an Xbox One or ammo other than shotgun shells. There were even guns of the hunting variety. Grocery shelves were in much better shape than here at home. The had obviously been fronted, but the depth on the shelves was 3x what I saw on my last Walmart trip here. Not a lot of staff was evident, and there were only 2 manned checkout lanes. However, there were a lot of self-checkouts, and people weren’t afraid to use them.
We ate almost exclusively in local restaurants except when on the water, and as usual, the food was excellent. I had the best sawmill gravy that I have ever had in my life over my fried potatoes at breakfast on Friday. I threatened to kidnap the cook. However, it’s obvious that inflation and supply chain issues are hitting there as well. No restaurant had a full menu. “Our special today is x, and we’re out of a, b and c,” was pretty much par for the course. And if my ancestors had known that one day, I would sit in their town and eat a $14 burger, I would have been proactively disinherited. But the good news is that the town can support a restaurant that serves a $14 burger.
One night we hit a restaurant that was having a trivia contest – Marvel and DC comics trivia. I was worthless, but Son scored 3rd place. While I shouldn’t, I found it surprising that American pop culture was in full bloom in West Virginia. Thankfully, Wokeness doesn’t seem to have bloomed as well, at least not where we were.
However, West Virginia’s ability to accept differences was in full display the last night we were there. Now, I’ll admit that I’m working off a stereotype, but I’m pretty sure the waiter was gay. And no one in the place batted an eye, and all the obvious regulars were just as friendly with him as with the folks at their table. It reminds me of two stories my Dad would tell. One was about the single local black family, who were viewed no differently than anyone else, or his remark about gays in the military – “They bled red the same as me.”
That acceptance also extended to travelers who were obviously “not from around here”, and although my WV accent did start returning fairly quickly (I spent summers there for years), the NC plate was a dead giveaway that we were tourists. But your accent mattered no more than your license plate, because you’re among friends you’ve just never met. And of course, your money is green. West Virginians get the joke about commerce and they know with surety which side their bread is buttered on.
One evening, I was afforded the opportunity to visit my grandparents’ old home by the people living there. They caught me up on the comings and goings, deaths and births and other local news. In return, I was able to give them the insider history of their home. It was a good couple of hours.
Son seems interested in the town, and not only for the outdoors opportunities it affords. When he saw a nice house with significant land could be bought for less than $300,000, and a nice house on a town lot for less than $100,000, his ears perked up. If I had to make a guess, he’s researching job opportunities in the area. He may or may not make a move, but he was definitely taken by the place.
Others are as well. Those who have moved away for work are beginning to revert to the ways of their ancestors, and are returning “home” to retire. Let me digress and explain how a West Virginian feels about “home” – no matter where they live, West Virginia is home. My Dad lived in NC almost twice as long as his did WV, but that little town back in the mountains was “home”. It’s where I was directed to scatter his ashes when he died. Others, many with no connection to the area, are coming to that same little town as tourists, some from as far as Australia. Others, also with no connection, are moving in, buying houses and in some cases starting businesses. The little town my Dad grew up in was on the rocks, but the floods of 2016 brought interest and money in their wake, and it’s in the midst of turning around. Given the nature of the turn-around it will change, but I’m betting the mountains will change those who move there. They have that effect.
It was odd to note that, in a state where hunting and fishing were once the big tourist draws, the big one now is simply sucking in the scenery. Yes, there were others fishing and people were getting ready for hunting season, but whether by motorcycle, car, bike (those are some brave and sturdy folk), kayak, canoe or foot, that is the big tourist industry now.
Coal hasn’t went away, at least not yet. We saw trucks hauling coal from somewhere further up the river. I can’t imagine how this is economically feasible, but it must be.
Gasoline was considerably more expensive in WV as in my part of NC. Food prices seemed to be comparable. I can’t speak to utility prices. We did see people cutting firewood and I saw it stacked at several houses in town.
The local sporting goods store had a reasonable supply of firearms, including those for self defense. Ammo was available, but not in quantity. As you should expect, prices were high. Gear for other sports was also available and at reasonable prices. No end of the season sales were in progress.
There’s more, but I’m long already. If you’ve made it this far, you too are some brave and sturdy folk. Out here.