Category: September Rideabout

Party of One – Wednesday Night in Breezewood

Party of One – Wednesday Night in Breezewood

In the past couple of years, I’ve cruised through the town of Breezewood, Pennsylvania a handful of times. Not because I was seeking it out, but just… because. If you’re riding along Route 30, it just happens. One minute you’re buzzing through nothing much and then whammo! You’re smack in the middle of a kaleidoscope of chain restaurants, hotels and gas stations.

Breeeeeeeeeezewood. There is something so lovely about the name. I imagine walking through waist-high grass wearing a floppy straw hat, with the wind tumbling the ends of my hair in Breezewood. The sun would gently kiss your golden tanned shoulders in Breezewood. You can twirl and twirl and fall down laughing under a bright blue sky in Breezewood. In truth, you’re more likely to have to scrape off the hot gum you stepped in, on the edge of the curb, in Breezewood.

As a northeastern suburbanite, the presence of so many chain establishments isn’t in and of itself strange. It’s more the juxtaposition of traveling along the bucolic rolling hills of Route 30 into an entire town that is essentially a highway rest area that is a shock to the system. Then there is the matter that Breezewood, as crazy as it sounds, is the onramp between I-70 and the PA Turnpike.


photo source – Wikipedia

On my way home from West Virginia, I found myself at both the proverbial and actual crossroads in Breezewood. I’d already logged 300+ miles in the saddle for the day. And since it was near dinner time, I was faced with a dilemma: do I continue home, knocking out another 300+ miles on the slab -or- just pack it in for the night and continue on the following morning? Something about the Bonneville helps me find my take it easy vibe and so I opted to stay in franchise-heaven.

Every motorcyclist who passes through town must ask if they can park beneath front door canopy of the Holiday Inn Express. While checking in, the girl at the desk made sure to include that I needed to park my motorcycle in an actual parking space in the stream of instructions that she recited by rote. I’m not even sure she took a single breath as the words flowed forth and she pointed to the direction of the elevator.

After getting settled and having a shower, I decided to set off on foot to grab some dinner. The nearest restaurant was a place called Bob Evans. I’d seen the name scrawled in cheerful white letters many times on highway attraction signs so I figured – what the hell.

Not knowing what to expect I was surprised to find that I had to run the gauntlet of impulse purchasing before finding the person who would seat me for dinner. If you told me that their retail maze lost three elderly ladies to starvation each week, I wouldn’t be surprised.

“Dearest Henry,

I am writing this from a makeshift shelter that I fashioned out of tea towels with wine grapes embroidered on them.

Things here at the Bob Evans gift shop aren’t looking good. Somehow I got separated from the group. One minute we were looking at miniature license plates and monogrammed umbrellas and the next thing I know I was wandering alone in a vast sea of Intercourse and Blue Ball shot glasses.

My dear, I fear the worst. Go on without me.

Ever yours,
Margaret”

Needless to say, the front of the restaurant was a store full of useless, folksy junk. The upside, of course, is that if I ever find myself in the market for a t-shirt that says “You are the bacon to my eggs,” or a jelly for any occasion, well, now I know where to go. Though at my age, my eggs just want to be left the hell alone.

What I’ve come to realize is that I really don’t like chain “diner” food. Cracker Barrel, Denny’s, Bob Evans, Waffle House… they all have a loyal following but the appeal is lost on me. Their food is meh, at best. Some towny diner’s omelet will always be better but how much of that better-ness can be attributed to the ambiance, I can’t say. I suppose like my penchant for Holiday Inn Express, people find comfort in knowing what they’re in for each time.

When the host made his way to the podium to seat me, he grabbed a single menu out of the stack and said with pitying flair that arced up to a squeak on the end, “just onnnne?” Indeed, Chip, it’s just me, a party of one at a Bob Evans in Breezewood, Pennsylvania at 8 pm on Wednesday. Maybe I should start saying No, party of two and then motion to an imaginary friend.

As a solo diner, you get to be a fly on the wall. As you sit in your silence the conversations that go on around you find their way to your ears. Because you aren’t focused on anyone across the table from you, your eyes are free to roam around the room and take in things that are overlooked when you have company.

When traveling, I like to bring my notebook to dinner. While unwinding from the day’s constant motion I try to record whatever I can remember. I find it therapeutic.

Have I ever told you that I have a deluded fantasy life? In it, I am far more interesting and important than I am in my real life. I like to pretend that everyone notices me writing and that they’re dying to know what I’m writing about. There are two stock fantasy people who write in my notebook at dinner – the novelist and my go to: the food critic. I don’t even know why that idea appeals to me. It’s ridiculous, really, especially considering the places I find myself dining. The Moons Over My Hammy had a slightly smoky flavor with a smooth finish.

When the waitress sauntered over to take my order, she said, “is it just you tonight, honey?” (what is it with these people?)

As I ate and scribbled, I watched the goings on of the restaurant. At the table closest to me was a couple in their late 60s, maybe early 70s. Throughout their whole meal, I didn’t see them exchange a single word. Not. One. And while it could be that they’ve elevated in their relationship to be able to enjoy a comfortable silence together, I projected my own feelings on what I saw. It was like two people sleepwalking. And at that moment, I realized though I was alone, I was not lonely.

Seeking LOVE in Monterey, Virginia

Seeking LOVE in Monterey, Virginia

After leaving the town of Buckhannon, West Virginia then stopping at the tiny Randy Brown Memorial Chapel – I wound my way across the mountains down 219, across 250 and into the town of Monterey, Virginia.

I’ve ridden this section of Route 250 quite a few times and it never disappoints. After all, it has big wide valleys, toe-scraping hairpins, and little traffic. But, there was actually a method to my madness.

Since I was in the neighborhood, I thought that I would stop in to see one the many LOVEworks that Kathy has documented in her travels. There’s always room for a little more love in your day.

Done up in a barn quilt motif, the LOVEWork sits in a park just south of the intersection of 250/220.

After snapping a few photos, I made my way back to the Bonnie in search of twisties. In this corner of the world, they aren’t hard to find.

That Time I Met the Lord on a Virginia Backroad

That Time I Met the Lord on a Virginia Backroad

Some might say that riding along through the mountains and valleys of Virginia backroads is heaven. I’m inclined to agree.

After dipping off of Virginia 42 in favor of some smaller roads, I found myself in a rolling valley. The road I was following didn’t have a stripe up the middle. It was just a small, tar ribbon snaking among the greenery.

Without anyone else around, I stopped often to take in the view. At one point, I sat for about 10 minutes observing 6 or 7 deer munching away, scratching, and being wary of me.

Continuing along this quiet little road, there were few houses and no other traffic.

It would be totally understandable that if I pulled over near a home in such a lightly traveled area, that a person who lived inside might stop what they were doing to see what I was up to. Who is this stranger on a motorcycle? Why are they parked near my house? Do they need help? Are they selling encyclopedias? Valid questions all.

While parked along a little bridge, some woman working in a churchyard just kept staring at me so intently that I found it unnerving. So much so that I said, “geez, what the hell is up with this lady?” out loud.  I figured it was clear that I was just taking photos. Afterall, I looked like a traveler given my dress and the luggage on my bike. And, I wasn’t presenting myself in a menacing way. But man, she just wouldn’t take her eyes off me.

After stowing my camera and setting off again, I figured I would just give the lady a friendly honk and a wave to let her know I wasn’t some creep casing the joint.

But when I got closer…

Oh. Right.

The Old Burke’s Garden Virginia Post Office

The Old Burke’s Garden Virginia Post Office

Following the very wiggly VA 623, will drop you into the upland valley of Burke’s Garden, Virginia. When there, something about it feels like you’re in a place cut off from the rest of the world.

The local whitepages:

My travels brought me to Burke’s Garden because of a photo I’d seen online of an old post office with a Pepsi ghost ad on the side. I was surprised to see what nice shape the mural is in. By the looks of things, that Pepsi ad is pretty well cared for.

I gingerly stepped up onto the front stoop to take a look inside. My chances of either falling through the step or being stung by bees seemed to be about 50-50. It made me chuckle to myself to think that if I was really lucky, maybe I’d be able to pull off both.

The sign above the door reads: “Burkes Garden, Va – God’s Land”

 

Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial – Whitesville, West Virginia

Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial – Whitesville, West Virginia

While riding along Route 3, I passed through the town of Whiteseville, West Virginia. The small town doesn’t stand out much from any of the other small towns nestled in the West Virginia mountains. But it is home to a memorial that is an arresting sight.

“Come to me, all you who labor, and I will give you rest.”

On April 5, 2010, 29 coal miners perished in the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion. Many times during my ride through West Virginia I repeated the phrase “the mines giveth, the mines taketh away” to myself.


Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial
Whitesville, West Virginia

Just a few miles south of the memorial in Whiteseville, is a roadside memorial near the mine. It bears twenty-nine helmets perched atop crosses and photographs of the men who died there. It was moving.

While the granite memorial is important and will withstand the crush of eternity – seeing these more human elements, fragile and temporary, felt poignant. I could imagine the loved ones who replaced wreaths, came around to tidy up and to generally check on things.

And in a particularly sad twist, the absence of one word, just three little letters, said so much…

Cruising Along Route 3 – West Virginia

Cruising Along Route 3 – West Virginia

After passing through Rhodell, I spent the night in Beckley, West Virginia. That evening I sat drinking a beer alone in a restaurant, thinking about everything I’d seen along the way. Spilling my observations and secrets into my little pink notebook was cathartic.

When taking in so much input all day long, it’s hard to keep track of everything. Little vignettes that feel monumental as they pass are often so touching at the time that it is hard to imagine you could ever forget the details. But, you do. Or at least, I do. As a trip goes on the intake-then-forget process compounds as I absorb more new things and more new things and more…

Each evening during this trip after hanging up my keys for the night, I would start writing a basic outline of the places that I passed through for the day. Just a very loose timeline. From there, tracing my steps I found that I was often able to jog my memory and hang on to little snippets that might’ve otherwise been tucked away in my mental filing cabinet.

Doing memory keeping by hand requires a deliberate concentration and a general slowing down to make the words happen. That slow savoring is something that I never get when typing. It felt good.

The morning that I left Beckley, my plan was just to follow along route 3 to head towards Ohio. I would let the day unfold on its own while passing through coal country.

There is no telling what will move or disturb me along the road. As I’m traveling, raw nerves that I didn’t know were there become exposed. When the layers of day-to-day living fall away and I stop being my get up, kid to school, go to work, dinner, bedtime, repeat, robot-self, I rediscover who I am. My me. My private me.

Something about seeing this tiny shuttered library, overgrown with weeds made me feel like weeping. It felt so symbolic of everything I’d seen in the past few days. It felt like cause and effect all rolled into one.

Passing through Whitesville:

You can see the three-story brick building in the photo below. Everything changes, everything stays the same.


Photo source

Snapshots: The Odd, West Virginia Post Office

Snapshots: The Odd, West Virginia Post Office

Maybe I should just go ahead and have all my mail forwarded here 😉

I think that the first time I ever saw the name Odd, West Virginia was in a photo from David over at Less Beaten Paths blog. He always features great Americana from his travels on his site. And he’s working on a book, Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names. I’d say that Odd fits that bill.

Paulverizer – The Cyborg Muffler Man of Buena Vista, Virginia

Paulverizer – The Cyborg Muffler Man of Buena Vista, Virginia

This ain’t your mama’s muffler man. No, this? This is somethin’ else! You’ve got that familiar sturdy jaw and that manly mug but that’s about it.

And a nice little hat tip to the motorcycle.

Unfortunately, with the sky so hazy and the crazy backlighting, I didn’t snap very many good pictures. I should probably learn how to use a camera. Since I bungled this, you should probably take a ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway and pop off in the town of Buena Vista, Virginia to have a look for yourself.

Paulverizer on Roadside America

Just Passing Through – Small Town, West Virginia

Just Passing Through – Small Town, West Virginia

Rhodell, West Virginia – a place I’d never heard of prior to standing in front of the alternating colors of the post office’s awning. Why would I have? It isn’t a pass-through on a way to a bigger town. It isn’t famous for anything. No, it’s just a little tucked away place where normal people live their lives.

Normal people, doing normal things.

While I was taking a photo, a young woman came out of the house to receive a little boy getting off of the school bus. When the bus pulled up, a young man also came out of the house to see that same little boy off the bus.

Instantaneously, I’d made a judgment as to why two young adults were home in the middle of the afternoon based on the realities of my own existence.

But – maybe one was a stay at home parent and maybe the other had time off work. Or maybe one was on vacation, on sick leave, worked nights, cared for a sick relative, or it was their regular day off. Maybe one of them hadn’t started their shift yet. After all, I myself was there in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon. The reasons two parents were home in the middle of the day, during what you’d call 9-5 work hours were myriad.

And yet… based on what I’d passed on my way through that burned out and vacant town, I assumed something else. At least one of them might be out of work.

Out of work. That was a real possibility. Where would they work, anyway? Where are the jobs in that little pocket of the world? Of course, I have no idea what the truth of their lives is. I was just some opinionated asshole passing through town, making assumptions.

Later that evening I wrote some notes in my travel journal about what I’d seen throughout the day. “Poverty isn’t a tourist attraction, and yet I feel as if I cannot tear my eyes away.” I feel this so strongly.

Seeing poverty firsthand leaves me with a sense of helplessness. There is a chaos that stirs inside of me and it’s like I just want to “fix” everything, help everyone, give them a place to work… and I can’t.

I look at my life and my surroundings and become desensitized to them. This place where I live becomes reality. Everyone, everywhere lives in this comfort, right? Wrong. And in the wide arc of my own life from childhood to now, I should know this. But, how quickly we forget when lulled by our own good fortune.

Rhodell, West Virginia
2000 census
The median income for a household in the town was $17,143, and the median income for a family was $19,167. Males had a median income of $17,750 versus $18,750 for females. The per capita income for the town was $7,582.
– Source: Wikipedia

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