West Virginia, ugly West Virginia, Kentucky and strippers with really
Monday morning: Erik and I leave Pittsburgh
and head south to Cass West, Virginia. It is a 190 mile drive which
takes five hours across the winding Appalachian roads. As we dig
our way deeper into the Bible Belt we pass a mobile home dealer (whoops...I
mean "manufactured housing) offering the latest model: two-story
mobile homes. If wider doesn't suit your taste, you can always build
upward! Having passed numerous trucks carrying halves of manufactured
homes to their destination, I'm not certain how the two story model is
transported. Perhaps it comes in four pieces instead of two.
the Bible Belt runs across the mid section of the United States, then it
is made up of smaller subsections. We cross the Jewish band in Pittsburgh
(arguably part of the Torah Belt), followed by competing streaks of Methodists
and Presbyterians ruling West Virginia, then Baptists in Southern West
Virginia and Kentucky. A few Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's
Witnesses hang on the edges, but given they preach at length even during
football season, their numbers aren't significant.
Cass, West Virginia, is about as isolated as you
can get geographically, technologically and chronologically. Built
in the deep mountains of West Virginia in 1901, Cass was a company logging
town. The town survived until the 1960s when the
trees and money were gone. At the peak of its prosperity, Cass
operated the largest logging
railroad in the United States. West Virginia took over the land
in the 1960s, turning the town and the railroad into a state park.
Cellular telephones don't work here and the only operating telephone line
is connected to a pay phone on the side of the general store.
and I are staying in one of twelve original logging company houses now
rented out as tourist lodging. Seventy six dollars claims a three-bedroom,
two-story houses with porch swing, grill and fully furnished kitchen.
Tuesday morning: We make our way to the
Mennonite bakery four miles away. The bakery sits in the middle of
a dairy cow pasture. Directly behind the bakery is the largest, land-based,
moveable object on earth: the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope at the
National Radio Observatory. Weighing sixteen million pounds, the
telescope seems a bit out of place behind the Mennonite women mixing
in the day, Erik and I climb aboard the Cass Scenic Railway for a ride
to the top of
Bald Knob, second highest mountain in West Virginia. The one
hundred year old logging locomotive pulls us up four thousand feet for
an amazing view of West Virginia and several other southern states.
(There is great conversation among the tourists about WHICH states you
can see. Given I've left the GPS unit in the car, I decline to offer
Some other interesting bits of West Virginia:
A full dinner
for four dollars, an "Officially Endorsed Aerosmith
Tribute Band", long lines of decaying
railroad equipment on hidden rails, and Conway Twitty clocks.
morning: With a wave to the cows near the Mennonite Bakery, we're
off to Kentucky. We head south, then west, deciding we'll eat lunch
One simple sentence about Charleston, West Virginia:
Charleston is the ugliest, most depressing city I've seen in days.
Kentucky, on the other hand, is a handsome city. Ornate historic
buildings blend with modern architecture along the banks of the Ohio
River. We arrive late in the afternoon as the temperature peaks
at ninety five degrees with an equal amount of humidity. Erik and
I stroll down the wharf, wander through an afternoon
concert in along the water and back through the older sections of downtown.
Even the decaying bits of Louisville aren't eyesores (take note, San Francisco).
The streets are clean, the people are polite and the city feels safe.
men, it seems, have an onboard GayDar jamming mechanism. Perhaps
the combination of the slightly effeminate southern accent, the over emphasis
on polo shirts and polished loafers, the generally queer character of southern
manners, or a combination of all of these make it nearly impossible to
tell a straight southern from a queer one. Erik and I agree - GayDar
fails to reasonably function south of Pittsburgh.
Unable to differentiate between straight and queer
on the street, Erik and I head out to sample the local queer nightlife.
We try Louisville's largest nightclub first and find it devoid of anything
except hard core alcoholics. On the advice of a bartender, we venture
to a second location which features strippers on Wednesday night.
We see first hand the strippers in Louisville feature something else -
the biggest butts either of us have ever seen in florescent G-strings.
Slightly tipsy, we wander back to the hotel, past
the White Castle burger stand (which neither of us dares try), through
the crowd of tobacco-company executives meeting at our hotel and past one
more southern guy we can't quite peg.
Louis, Missouri (who just had their sodomy law overturned along with
twelve more states!)...
[Photos from the last three days
- click a photo for a larger image:]