In case you missed it, you might want to check out the first installment in this series: Toronto-to-Tampa road trip, day 1.
After killing a few hours at the Peace Bridge US Customs and Border Patrol office getting me processed for TN status in the US followed by a few more hours of driving, Eldon and I stopped in Morgantown, West Virginia for the night. Morgantown is deep in the heart of coal country, or as Hunger Games fans would call it, “District 12”. It’s a college town with a feature that most college towns don’t have: a monorail!
If you’re stickler for technical accuracy, the Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit system isn’t really a monorail, but a people-mover system that uses cars that are more like miniature buses on a guided track. Built in the 1970s during a time when engineers were fascinated with personal rapid transit systems (it might’ve been the oil crisis of that era, or the cool-looking trains in Logan’s Run), it functions largely as a transportation system for the students of West Virginia University, which has campuses that are a few miles apart.
While the combination of March break for Canadians and March Madness meant that landing a hotel room was a little more difficult than it would typically be during the winter, there were still some rooms available if you were willing to stay in places that weren’t terribly close to the city center. Since I was in the process of moving to Tampa with a car full of stuff, I didn’t mind.
We got up on the morning of Saturday, March 8th at 7:00 a.m.. The only person stirring at that hour who wasn’t part of the hotel staff was a bedraggled young woman with in a pink hoodie, pink sweatpants, and boots that looked as they were made from the skin of a disco ball, doing slow-motion pirouettes in the open-air walkway outside the rooms, walking nowhere in particular. Sleep-deprived, possibly hung-over basketball fan? Motel lot lizard? It was hard to tell.
Charged on a free hotel breakfast (scrambled eggs, frozen sausage patties heated up in the microwave, apple, coffee from a thermos jug), it was time to hit the road again. I’d driven for all of the first day, so Eldon took the first shift:
I brought the good accordion on this trip — a Crucianelli that I purchased in late 1999. Of all my accordions, it’s got the best set of reeds and the best bellows action, and I figured I might need it in Tampa, where I’d left my small red “travellin’ accordion”. Here it is, nestled safely inside a travel blanket:
We caught a number of West Virginia sights, including the Big Red Chair:
…and mountain views aplenty. We accompanied the scenic vistas by tuning into local country music channels to get into the spirit of things. I’ve got to learn some of these new country tunes on the accordion:
Where there were places to stop and catch some breathtaking views, we stopped and did just that:
I thought that this was a good time to break out the ol’ American jacket:
We made a longer stop by the New River Gorge Bridge to get a look a beautiful river valley from high above, as well as a peek at an impressive feat of engineering:
Part of US Route 19, the New River Gorge Bridge is one of the highest vehicular bridges in the world, rising 270 metres (880 feet) above the river and spanning a distance of nearly a kilometre (3,030 feet) across it. For years, it the world’s longest steel single-span arch bridge, and even today’s it holds the number four position for the title.
I thought it would make an excellent backdrop, so I broke out the accordion and play the chorus of what locals like to call “The West Virginia Song”, a.k.a. Take Me Home, Country Roads to an appreciative audience:
We drove into the area known as the Cumberland Plateau, home of the Hatfields and McCoys, and many other feuding families (if you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, this is the area he was talking about in the section on cultural legacies and cultures of honor). The famous families and their feud, which is often used when talking about bitter long-standing rivalries, especially between families, is now the source material for musical comedy dinner theatre:
“In the early 20th century,” goes the article on Wikipedia, “Pigeon Forge was an isolated mountain hamlet with no major roads.” That changed in 1961 when Pigeon Forge incorporated and two brothers opened an amusement called Rebel Railroad. Passengers would ride on a simulated Confederate steam train during the Civil War; the train would be attacked by Union soldiers. After the centennial of the Civil War passed, the ride got re-themed and became more of a “Wild West”/”Gold Rush” attraction, and that was the start of Pigeon Forge as tourist trap.
Pigeon Forge is now the home of Dolly Parton’s theme park Dollywood, its companion waterpark, Dollywood’s Splash Country, and a whole mess o’ cheese-tastic attractions and outlet shops designed to separate tourists and passers-through from their money. Eldon and I weren’t about to argue with venerable tradition, so we simply joined in the fun. First stop: the big Harley-Davidson store:
We followed it up with a visit to Smoky Mountain Knife Works, the world’s largest knife store, and three floors of total bad-assery:
If you’re into huntin’, fishin’, campin’, or let’s face it, just plain ol’ cuttin’, you’ll want to make a pilgrimage to this temple of all things pointy, cutty, slice-y, and poke-y. In addition to knives of all sorts, there’s a fair bit of outdoorsy gear and clothing, as well as some of my favourite reading: military field manuals! It’s Doomsday Prepper heaven in here:
They don’t just limit themselves to real bladed weapons; they’ve got a great selection of costume and LARPing weaponry as well!
The sun had gone down by the time we set out from Pigeon Forge for our dinner, which was a little farther way from our destination for the evening — Asheville, North Carolina — than we had thought. We were tired, it was dark, and the roads were winding, but after much effort and with the assistance of caffeine and loud country music, we managed to get to Asheville, land a hotel room and were ready to hit the town at 10:00 p.m.
Luckily, Eldon had been here before and knew where to go: the Wicked Weed Brewing Company, where he had enjoyed excellent brew and tasty food during an earlier visit.
We sat down and enjoyed our dinner with a few intriguing-sounding beers, after which the hijinks began. I had the accordion with me, and the placed was packed with revellers. It wasn’t long before we stumbled into a bachelorette party on the pub’s upstairs level:
And on the lower level, we met Imran, who was born in India but sports an accent that is unmistakably from the state of Georgia, and his friends. They kept buying us beers and throwing money at me as I played the accordion. The video below features snippets of what I was playing, with me get progressively more drunk and the pile of bills growing as the night wore on:
I woke up the next morning feeling a bit woozy. I was still earing my jeans, and the pockets feeling rather fluffy. I emptied them to find nearly fifty bucks in small bills that I didn’t start the evening with; clearly it had been a profitable night.