Odds are, if you’ve heard of West Virginia—and in California, that’s no given— it’s for the wrong reasons. Popular reasons the state gets brought into conversations include:

           Time was, you could get the same job held by your paw and his pawpaw before him working them deep-bellied coal mines (and dying of black lung). Now that coal extractors have cleverly devised ways to just scalp entire mountains, Mountain Mama is hurting.

West Virginia’s great hope is tourism. My family’s been making a Christmas pilgrimage to the state since I was born. The idea is that it’s harder to find a more remote hideaway on the East Coast. I didn’t even have cell reception for the last two hours of our most recent drive out there.

If you’re one of those mountain ramblers, scurrying up cliffs at day and playing fiddle at night, well, this is your state. But aside from scenery, West Virginia is about culture. Obviously we’re not talking about opera here. Instead, it’s the scruffy mountain spirit—the kind of place that calls itself “Wild and Wonderful.”

Unrepresentative and irresistible for inclusion

Local newspapers are always a treasure trove of arcane local Americana, may they rest in peace. The Charleston Gazette—the largest paper in the state—runs a section called “Reader’s Voice” where you get to call in and complain. All of the nimbys, political nuts, conspiracy theorists, homicidal sports fans, and stoop-sitting grampas (all the same person?) converge in one glorious, discordant rant.

I was lucky enough to secure a copy of the December 27th issue—the inspiration for this post, and for my continuing affection for this place:

  • “I knew Marshall was going to win their bowl game when I saw Mitch Vingle had predicted them to lose by six points because Mr. Vingle knows less about football than a pig does about Christmas.”
  • “This is to the city of St. Albans. Move your stop sign away from the police station. When you go to cross 6th Avenue you cant see the traffic coming down the road on Main Street. That’s why everyone gets T-boned.”
  • “This is for the guy who thinks the taxpayers should pay for his wife’s massage therapy. Maybe he should learn to rub his wife’s back. That’s what I do.”
  • “I would just like to say that Senator Rockefeller is a fine person. I’m one person that he has helped out. God bless him.”
  • “Yes, I wonder what happened to the oil painting of Stonewall Jackson that used to hang inside the main entrance of the school. Somebody has that. That’s public property.”