"She blew so loud and clear, we had to cover up our ears..." -Utah Phillips
"It is better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt." -Mark Twain
It's costing me $4.95 to hook into the wireless at the Richmond Amtrak station, so I want to get this posted as quickly as possible and get about spending the night here. And I'm doing it all for YOU, dear faithful few readers.
I found this sticky table place near the train station shortly after departing. And yes, I was hungry... I don't eat much when I travel, so it's not surprising that I would be hungry. (Please consult The Greyhound Quarto, available for download here for a more in depth explanation.)
The thing that attracted me to this absolute paragon of cuisine... generally overpriced, probably lard based, and oddly flavorless in spite of looking like something sort of resembling food... was the subheading. As well as the 1970's era neon sign in the window reading COCKTAILS. I wanted something in my stomach and I wanted something in my liver. And since, I had already splurged for a train ticket to Norfolk (really Newport News... with a bus ride into downtown Norfolk) rather than try and figure out the metro bus system. So I lose my $7 fair. But it was still pretty cheap... $28. Not to mention the fact that trains are roomier... bigger seats, more leg room, and a dining car -- with food and drinks that's overpriced and undercooked.
I didn't experience the wonder taking a shit on the rails. But there's always tomorrow.
And before you ask... NO, I haven't given up on Greyhound Bus Lines. I'm merely playing hard to get. I mean, there's nothing wrong with THAT is there? Don't I have the right to shake my ta-tas and see if I can get those bus executives to throw a little patronage my way???
Mike and Liz woke up before Gawd this morning to take me to the Ashland train station. It started snowing... feeding my growing paranoia that the weather is out to get me, and is constantly pushing me along. Liz, being a cold weather person, was excited by the prospect; I, however, was not.
But the snow then dissipated and stopped altogether. So maybe... just maybe... I'm not at the heart of some meteorological conspiracy.
Maybe. Stay tuned for updated on this one.
The Amtrak Cardinal arrived about a half hour late -- a time we were doomed to not make up the entire day. There are other differences between bus and train travel. On the train, for example, I couldn't sit anywhere I wanted. I was told where to sit. Luckily, though, I got a window seat. I figured I'd sleep for a few hours and try and catch the scenery. Whatever that would be.
I have to admit at this point to a certain ambivalence -- some might call it hatred -- of (By Gawd!!!) West Virginia. I have lingering memories of driving up Sandstone Mountain on I-64 East, on my way to pick up Stella at the Virginia / (By Gawd!!!) West Virginia State line for scheduled visits. We would meet at a rest stop just passed Exit 1. My car -- a primer orange 1984 Subaru LS Sedan with a massive oil leak, no radio, a leaky exhaust, and a tricky heater that I had to sometimes start by slamming the alternator with a sledgehammer -- almost always nearly overheated trying to climb the 2650 foot Sandstone Mountain, leaving me no choice but to stop at the Beckley mega-stop to let the car cool off and refill it with oil.
And because I could not choose my seat, I could not choose my seat mate. There was a cute blonde I thought might be worth talking to... would've meant an aisle seat, too... but I was perfectly willing to sacrifice.
Instead, I got stuck with 80 year old widower Ralph Miller. Native of Ashland, on his way to visit his son who lives in Manassas, Virginia. Now, in addition to being a widower, Ralph is also a godly man who lives life to the fullest. I know this because Ralph told me this, in various forms, over and over again. He also talked at length about his wife, who has only been dead two months. He also explained to me that the problem with the world is that kids aren't disciplined anymore.
I'm gliding over and making fun; but it was good to talk to Ralph. We probably agree on next to nothing; and I told him nothing of my situation, other than I was on my way to visit my daughter. He was very kind... even when I disagreed about his decision, as a member of his local school board, to ban a particular text that "encouraged the overthrow of the government" and sought to teach students "how to start a riot and how to build bombs."
I'm guessing that he either didn't notice or didn't understand the IWW pin on the lapel of my coat. I would have showed him the Hakim Bey book that Mike gave me before I left, but it fell out of my pocket and was nowhere to be seen. Grr...
He leaned over and whispered "And you know who it was...." he looked around and leaned in closer. So did I, since I knew it was going to be a whopper. "It was by one of them COLORED writers." (Yes, I know, I know. He's 80. He's from Kentucky. Whatever.)
The tiresome generational racism aside, talking to Ralph was interesting enough, and so was the scenery. West Virginia, when you get away from the interstates, is really a beautiful state. Desolate. Depressed. But still beautiful. Once you get past the industrial decay and academic lethargy around Huntington and Charleston, the Amtrak Cardinal runs along the New River... which is the 2nd longest river in the world. You roll by Canal Falls, and the nearby dam/power plant which provides around 35,000 megawatts of energy for more than 4500 homes. The New River Gorge also holds another power dam at Hawk's Nest -- which, among other things, is famous for causing most of the workers who dug the water tunnel into the mountain to develop Silicosis resulting from hitting a cache of silica in the mountain.
Rolling through West Virginia, and knowing even a little of the history of the Appalachian region -- you can't help but get a sense of the tragedy. In fact, it's the tragedy that makes the scenery beautiful. Beautiful and sad. I submit for your approval, the town of Thurmond, WV, population 7.
That's right. 7. Maybe 6, since it's possible someone died.
Thurmond used to be one of those prosperous coal mining towns. And then, of course, the coal ran out and so did the coal company. Thurmond has since been swallowed up by the Department of National Resources, and is suffering a languishing death because... or so I overheard on the train... the DNR won't let the town move forward. No real renovation. No bringing in new business. No real chance to expand and grow. And so, it's dying.
The good news is, Thurmond will always be remembered... in the way the Disney Small Worlds ride is remembered: nice enough scenery if you're rolling by and happen not to be making out with someone. Thurmond is a case where, between the coal company's greed and the DNR's-- and, for all I know, the town leaders -- myopic notions of progress and restoration -- a town will simply cease to exist. This is something I know a little about, having seen it in Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, and now, West Virginia.
And since I'm paying for this wireless access, I might as well also point out that, in spite of Ralph's obvious bigotry, I found it difficult not to like him. I don't buy into the generational excuse; I believe anyone can change... it's just that most people choose NOT to. I like that he's 80 and that he still loves his wife. He even joked about trying to find another wife, then said there wasn't a point... because, he said, there was no chance of ever finding anything close to what he had with her. And even though he did, at one point, try and save my soul, I found the old guy endearing. Because he's still moving forward. He's still trying to learn. He's not sitting at home in Ashland moping.
That's something worth thinking about over gin and tonic and tasteless pork barbecue.
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Thanks for reading.]