Searching for West Virginia

Along with discussing driving, weather, bike clubs and The View at the Hermitage, we also talked a little bit about West Virginia.  The bikers were just passing through on their way north for Memorial Day weekend, so none of us had really spent any significant amount of time in the state before.  One woman asked a question that I think a lot people in the United States might ask about West Virginia: “I mean, we’re driving through these little towns, there are like two streets, I don’t see any companies or anything- what do these people do??”

I found three examples (four if you count “run the Hermitage Inn”) that provide an interesting, and possibly surprising, cross section.

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Hermitage Inn: Hogs n Honeys in West Virginia

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In Honor of Clydesdales, Beechwood Aging and Souvenirs

According to all the papers last Thursday, Belgian-Brazilian beer company InBev just “launched an unsolicited bid to acquire Anheuser-Busch Cos. for $46.4 billion.” The two companies would combine to create the largest beer company in the world with more than 300 brands and $36 billion in annual sales. Big news right?! The day before this announcement, I was lucky enough to find myself in St. Louis on an hour and a half tour of the Anheuser-Busch brewery, and over the next few days I watched the local news fallout. (Picture shots of stacks of Bud and Bud Light 30-packs next to 6-packs of bottled beer with foreign sounding names – “Stella Ar-what??  Never heard of it!”)

At first, it seemed to me that the general St. Louis populace was unimpressed by the potential deal. A bartender I tried to talk to was far more interested in discussing the text message exchange that led to his recent breakup than in going over the details of what a merger would mean for the city. (Apparently the girlfriend refused to answer her phone and would only reply via text. Also she is 20 years old to his 26. She’s really young, so she likes to go out and party with her friends a lot, which is totally cool, you know?  But then when he wants to go out and party with his boys without her, it’s, like, this whole big issue.  SIGH.  Women.)

Unfortunately, since I took the brewery tour the day before the announcement, I couldn’t get any inside viewpoints either. Our guides didn’t leak any news or accidentally allude to the coming fracas as they led us on our overly long, ad-laden walkabout of the largest beer brewery in the U.S.

Barley Cleaning House!

Control Room!

Mash Tanks! (kinda Willy Wonka-ish?)

Two things made the heat and conversations about barley worthwhile. Wait. Four things:

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Paint It Pink

All over the northeast in almost every small town there seems to be at least one beauty shop in a big brick building painted solid pink. A la:

Aside from being a kind of ingeniously simple marketing choice, the pink brick also serves as a homemade beacon of female energy. Don’t you feel it?! There was one shop especially that I saw that was on the smaller side but painted BRIGHT magenta, with a little sign saying “Becky’s Beauty.” If you’re at all interested in beauty shops as safe spaces for women you might like this book, Facing the Mirror by Frida Kerner Furman.

This innovative ethnographic study of a neighborhood beauty salon investigates how customers constitute a lively, affirming community of peers during their weekly visits…. These older, mostly Jewish women articulate their experiences of bodily self-presentation, femininity, aging, and caring pertaining to their lives within and outside Julie’s International Salon. This book explores the socio-moral significant of these experiences, which reveals as much about society as about older women themselves.

Yessssss please!

Buffalo.

Buffalo, NY was deeply underwhelming to me. It wasn’t as small or barren as I somehow imagined it to be, but it was also not bustling or fun in any noticeable way.

I had a great little lunch at this place called Cafe 59 and grabbed some snacks for later from the amazingly named Main Menu Restaurant, but I also witnessed an hour long shouting match culminating in a near fist-fight between a tow truck driver and the boyfriend of a woman who parks a little carelessly, and I think I was cat-called from bicycles more than I’ve ever really experienced before.

So maybe Buffalo disappointed me because it’s exactly the downtrodden ghost of a steel town that everyone thinks it is. It’s also possible that I was already furious at Buffalo for being home to potentially the best wings in the country, but not offering me a boisterous group of friends with whom to eat them. I’ve obviously dined alone a lot on this trip, but something about silently eating a bucket of chicken wings by myself in a dark bar just felt beyond sad.

Sidenote.

On my way out of town, I realized that I parked here:

Aren’t you kind of surprised they would have such a large outpost in Buffalo?? I was. What are you up to Scientologists…

Yes!

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Muppet Meditations: WEEK 3

Sorry for the late Week 3 recap, we covered a lot of ground this week:

DETAILS

  • Distance Traveled: Approx. 1,450 miles
  • Gas Used: Kind of lost count… 4 tanks? Who knows.
  • Highest Gas Price: $4.55 in Chicago, IL
  • Lowest Gas Price: $3.95 outside of Pittsburgh, PA
  • Week 3 Favorite Place: Moorefield, WV
  • Meal of the Week: Grilled Cheese with Reuben Soup at The Sandwich Shop in Pittsburgh, PA – $6.00.
  • Dessert of the Week: Praline ice cream in Skaneateles. It ALSO had caramel swirl and chocolate covered pecans in it.
  • Vista of the Week: There is no house accompanying this mailbox. Is it maybe God’s mailbox?

  • New Friend of the Week: As I was passing through West Virginia I saw a little sign for the West Whitehill Winery, and it looked like just this tiny one story white building, so I pulled in to investigate. Inside I met the owner, who gave me tastes of all the wines (they were all DELICIOUS, I ended up buying the Vidal White and the Raspberry Royale), and we began chatting. He’d lived in that area of rural West Virginia for almost 20 years, but before that he worked as a corporate lawyer in Philadelphia, and his wife had worked at Bryn Mawr College. They both were able to retire really early, and she grew up in the area, so they decided to move back and start a winery!! Neither of them had ANY training at all, so he said they made a ton of mistakes at first but slowly got the hang of it. He was really into the idea of my trip, and told me about his daughter, who right out of college had gotten an editorial job working at Mademoiselle in New York. It was such a great opportunity, but he said she immediately started haaaaating New York, as we all know can sometimes happen. She ended up nervously quitting a year later, only to get a job in Washington, DC at the National Historical Society, where she stayed for 15 years before quitting to go work on a hospital boat off the coast of Ghana. Which is all to say: 10 years from now who knows what will happen.