Beyond Mink Shoals

August 23, 2010

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I am no stranger to a Morgantown West Virginia run. It always seemed long and lonely through those desolate nights broken by a couple truck-stops and a Honda dealer.

BUT it is with rare occasion that I would pass the hallowed Star City sign and see it dissolve in the rear-view mirror. I always viewed it as a welcoming beacon like a lighthouse after that Honda dealer. Pushing further past it you get occasional outposts. Some big and some so small that they consist of nothing more than a gas station and a few houses that double as garage beauty parlors and small engine repair shops; each separated by one American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project after another. Around here in Western Pennsylvania, I’ve noticed the ‘cheapness’ of these projects – they seem to involve a lot of black top. A far cry from the late eighties reconstruction of I-79 and I-70 segments that involved concrete fortified with volcanic ash. Black top is the worst. It only lasts a few seasons and then begins to pit and get rippled by the braking of large trucks. I’m sure these projects will be no different.

THE Technology Corridor rises out of the wilderness like an American Hyderabad. Outhouses and humped water at hollers give way to manicured concrete modernity in Fairmont and Clarksburg. The primitive replaced by Targets, fast food and 3G. But never enough 3G to stream Pandora for any length of time. So I turned to radio as it is a great way to gauge the native by providing a taste of the local tastes and happenings.

The radio stations tended to make the trip worse.

How many contemporary Christian music stations can one place sustain? There are a few choices, like straight up fire and brimstone preaching or classic vanilla white gospel music. The later loses any novelty after more than a minute. There’s also shitty modern pop country. But I find that noise unlistenable. Any classic rock that you might hear are a handful of songs from a short list of bands. Steve Miller is really popular; as is Fortunate Son by CCR. That is until you reach Charleston. NPR is a welcome relief as is the station that plays garage rock of every spectrum and classic hard soul. At least it did when we twice passed. Hell – for all I know it may have been an NPR station.

And yet there was still more West-by God-Virginia until the East River Mountain Tunnel mouth on 77 spits you off the Plateau and into the ethereal and enchanting beauty of the Valley and Ridge section of the Appalachian mountains of Virginia.

MENTALLY, I separated the drive to Myrtle Beach into segments defined by state boarders: Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The state of West Virginia stands apart as the longest part of the trip. I have driven across and through the state of Ohio and I have to say, driving the meaty length of West Virginia; just aft of the panhandle, might just have been the longest drive of my life.

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