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The West Virginia Chronicles, Vol. 1: Defeated by WV

with 18 comments

It’s a small, intriguing territory known for coal, chemicals, college football, skiing, rafting and killer cannabis. I’m talking about West Virginia. Some of you may have driven through Charleston and seen the office towers and gold-leaf dome on the state capital building. Some of you may live in the peaceful, largely-affluent D. C. suburbs around Martinsburg. Some of you may have saved up for a getaway at the four-star Greenbrier resort. These areas of the state are largely-progressive, economically-viable and diversified. They have decent schools, well-surfaced roads and, most importantly, hope. But the lower coalfields, which begin in the southeastern suburbs of Charleston and go right down to the Kentucky and Virginia state lines, are quite a different story…and it’s a story I know well.

I was born in West Virginia. For that matter, so was Bagel. (My family had a far-too-brief break from the Mountain State in the suburbs of Atlanta, then Toronto, but we eventually returned.) And, like so many young West Virginians, we each beat the fuck outta there at the first window of opportunity. Bagel went to Kentucky, then New York. I went anyplace there was promise for work. Sometimes, I face north, shake my fist and shout, “Alright, dammit! You won–you defeated me, West Virginia. I was no match for your bleakness, your Third-World standard of living, your barren, soul-sucking existence. I hope you’re happy!”

Of course, West Virginia is happy. Happy to lay back and allow her lovely hills to be ravaged by robber-baron coal operators. Happy to be neglected by the purse-string minders who know they can count on her residents to deliver predictable, one-party elections, regardless of what politicians actually deliver for them. Happy to imprison her residents (well, the ones south of Charleston, anyway) in a socio-economic prison of her own design. Of course, West Virginia is not happy when someone escapes her prison–she’s just kind of indifferent about that.

Bagel’s note: My momaw used to sing this song to me.

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Written by Soylent Ape

October 22, 2007 at 4:42 am

18 Responses

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  1. Man, don’t get me riffin’ on this – I used to work for what was possibly one of the worst newspapers on earth outside of Red China or then-Soviet Russia. It was based in the bottom sump, bilge, greasetrap, drip tray or whatever you want to call the southernmost part of West Virginia. I agree that what is wrong with that region is a truly synergistic (the first time I’ve ever seen a good use for the term), self-sustaining clusterfuck.

    Frontier Former Editor

    October 22, 2007 at 5:31 am

  2. The paper where you worked–were the initials WDN?

    Soylent Ape

    October 22, 2007 at 6:20 am

  3. Try bdt

    Frontier Former Editor

    October 22, 2007 at 7:32 am

  4. FFE: Is it a color?

    bagel of everything

    October 22, 2007 at 8:14 am

  5. I’m glad to see that white trash is as white trash does…and that it don’t vary none from state to state or nuthin’.



    Laurie Kendrick

    October 22, 2007 at 10:52 am

  6. It ain’t a white trash system Laurie – it’s a feudal system

    Frontier Former Editor

    October 22, 2007 at 12:43 pm

  7. I was thinking more caste, but I’ll play the home game–TAG–you win: it’s a feudal and abject surfdom.

    Sadly, I don’t think either of us are that far off.


    Laurie Kendrick

    October 22, 2007 at 3:29 pm

  8. x gets the square.


    October 22, 2007 at 3:52 pm

  9. @ FFE: You hit the nail right on the head. What’s happening in Appalachia right now is just a continuation of what happened in the British Isles 350 years ago. Same players, different field.

    @ Laurie: I used to be reluctant to admit my own white trash-itude. Now, I bitterly embrace it, because I can no lonter deny what I am. Some might find me a bit too, erm, ethnic to be white trash, but whatevah.

    Soylent Ape

    October 22, 2007 at 8:40 pm

  10. The most soul-draining drive I ever took was Route 52 from Bluefield to Buchanan County, Va.14 years ago. I am not being sarcastic or humorous when I say it was just like Bram Stoker’s description of traveling the Borgo Pass in Transylvania.

    And, despite what you may hear and see in the popular media about southern West Virginia being the land of hillbillies, it’s actually a battleground with the desecndants of eastern and southern European anarchists, socialists and anti-royalists on one side and the descendants of WASP pseudo-royalty on the other side.

    You can walk through many cemeteries in the region and think that you somehow stepped into a graveyard in Italy or Rumania or the Ukraine. And those roots show in the tensions throughout society there.

    Frontier Former Editor

    October 22, 2007 at 11:05 pm

  11. I was brought up in a single-wide trailer, not 3 feet from a narrow creek on one side, a dirt road on the other. We drove 45 minutes to the county seat to go to the supermarket, hospital, or see anything resembling civilization.

    That county seat was simply called “town,” but to little me, it was a huge urban area complete with a McDonalds (actually, the McDonalds wasn’t even in WV, we had to cross the state line for our Big Mac fix.) Now, as an adult, I see it for what it is. A depressed little area with all 3 streets lined with bars and store-front churches.
    It’s filty, ugly, and heartbreaking.

    bagel of everything

    October 23, 2007 at 12:38 am

  12. Some counties in WV don’t have hospitals located inside their borders. Others don’t have a single radio station. It’s kind of primative in some places…and dangerous, because medical and law enformcement resources may be very far away if you need them.

    Soylent Ape

    October 23, 2007 at 6:56 pm

  13. It’s a friggin medieval manor in some places, but you see some of the damndest things. After I moved from northern Virginia, the first 7-11 I saw in two years was in downtown War, West Virginia.

    I kid you not.

    Frontier Former Editor

    October 23, 2007 at 10:35 pm

  14. […] The West Virginia Chronicles, Vol. 1: Defeated by WV […]

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  18. War, WV is one of our greatest names, FFE.

    My mom was born in Hell Creek, WV.
    One of the towns in my highschool’s district was Breeden. The zipcode was 25666. Honest.

    It was the inner ring of hell. Natch, I had good times there.

    I made up a joke, but noone got it:

    What are you doing when you’re in Breeden?

    You’re inbreeden’


    The Bagel of Everything

    March 30, 2008 at 12:04 pm

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