Note to Readers: My blog is time delayed. I’m writing about events that took place last week. I’m glad you feel like you’re with me in the car, identifying with my plight, but I’m sitting in a nice condo in Sarasota with the patio door open. The locals think it’s chilly because it’s in the 60’s. Go figure. I won’t start home till the roads are clear. Thanks for the worry, but no need. I’m with family and all is well. Now, back to that snowstorm in West Virginia.
My decision to turn back from Route 250, made instantly at the feel of four skidding tires and the sight of a deep ditch on a downhill turn, choosing instead to follow Route 2 down the Ohio River Valley, had implications. It implied I was turning my back on the communities of Limestone, Pleasant Valley, Cameron, Littleton, Hundred, Glover Gap, Metz, Mannington, Pruntytown, Phillipi, and Belington plus all the twists, turns, dips, valleys, hills and vistas in between. Which was true.
On the other hand, choosing Route 2 implied I was opening myself up to the towns and the sights along flatter and more navigable road running down the Ohio River Valley. Equally true. I’d been on neither route and had visited none of those towns. Does it imply I’ll never make it down Route 250? Probably. But not necessarily. These are implications and not facts. Life is long (hopefully). And in the immortal words of Fats Waller “one never really knows, do one?”
West Virginia, while seceding from Virginia at the start of the Civil War due to its opposition to slavery, is (or was) technically the North. But it feels like the South. And it sounds like the South when you talk to its citizens. It made me hanker for old Southern music. A CD in my fancy case, a torn short brown paper Handy Foods bag tied with twine from a ball in the shack, called to me; Genuine Negro Jig by the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I was going to wait till I got to North Carolina but couldn’t. I needed a distraction. It was snowing heavier than ever. But for the Carolina Chocolate Drops, life was good. Or was it?
Cornbread and butter beans and you across the table
Eatin’ them beans and making love as long as I am able
Hoein’ corn and cotton too until the day is over
Ride the mule and cut the fool and love again all over
You can hear bones clacking, the sounds of kazoos, and washtubs thumping behind the banjos, fiddles and nice harmonies of the Chocolate Drops. It’s old time foot stomping music. It made me want to set the cruise control and do a little car dancing. But I couldn’t. It was doing some serious driving.
The river was wide on my right, on its other side Ohio. On my left were the steep West Virginia hills I declined to cross on Route 250. Behind me was Moundsville. Under me was a snow covered four lane road, only two lanes of which were being used. Over me were close gray clouds. Before me were frantically flapping windshield wipers, driving snow, fog, and the rear lights of a big truck. Around me was white mixed in with the snow and wet coming off the tires in front of me and the cars passing in the other lane. I couldn’t see the sides of the road, instead following two tracks, more like ruts, cut by slow moving southbound traffic. I stayed in those ruts and followed the lights of that truck.
I made it through Kent, then Proctor. Both were little towns, more like clusters of homes, with few businesses. I couldn’t see them well. I just kept moving south, at about 30 miles an hour. I wasn’t about to pass that truck.
New Martinsville was a bigger town. I pulled under a canopy covering the gas pumps of a Marathon station thinking I would get out of the snow. I didn’t. The wind blew it sideways. The Buick was a mess, Brownish frozen slush covered the headlights and streaked down the side panels. I kicked off big chunks of ice formed behind the tires. As soon as I got out of this weather, I promised the Buick, I’ll take you to a car wash. I filled the tank and filled the windshield washer reservoir with blue stuff. It was almost empty. I never had gone through it that fast.
Inside the station refugees from the storm were wandering the aisles envying the candy bars, ogling the beef jerky, and coveting the doughnuts. I approached a guy at the coolers trying to decide which kind of water to buy (remember when water was just water?) to seek a recommendation on food. He looked like he missed few if any meals. Those guys are the best to ask.
“Is there was a good place to eat in town that isn’t a chain restaurant?”
“Hardly. But there is a place back up the road called the Blue Sidecar that used to have good barbeque. Mostly a drinkin’ place, but the food can be good, dependin on who’s cookin’ and how sober they are.”
“Blue Sidecar? I musta missed it.”
“It’s on the river side of the road. Just a cinder block place. It’s blue.”
Made sense. I headed back the way I came and couldn’t find it. I pulled over. As much as I hated to, I resorted to my phone. Yelp. It said the Blue Sidecar was 400 feet down the road. There was a big sign down there but I couldn’t read it. Too much snow. I drove closer. The sign said ‘Amy’s Candlelight Fine Dining and Sports Bar.’ Under the sign was a blue building, a concrete box. I pulled in.
The place had a little foyer with doors on the right and left. I tried the left door. Inside were maybe a dozen folding banquet tables, each set for six, with burgundy table cloths. On each table was a candle. Three people were talking quietly at one table. They looked up. I smiled and tried the right door.
Inside was a long formica bar, three big screen TV’s, some booths, and the smell of stale beer. It was empty. Standing behind the bar was a smiling bartender with a lot of makeup and a ridiculously thick scarf roped around her neck. She had plucked her eyebrows completely out, it appeared, and replaced them with a brown arc of eyebrow pencil. She was short and had a full face.
“Is this the Blue Sidecar?”
“It was till two weeks ago. Now it’s Amy Candlelight Fine Dining and Sports Bar. You’re in the sports bar honey.”
“What happened to the Blue Sidecar?”
“The owner drank too much.”
“I see. Are you Amy?”
“You serving lunch?”
“Sure am. Want a menu?”
“How about a drink.”
“You got any craft beer?”
“No. But when I get you craft beer types in here I give them a draft Yuengling Dark. You’ll like it.”
She smiled. When she did her cheeks moved up and made her eyes smaller.
They had a twinkle though. She had big teeth.
There was a single menu for both the fine dining and sports bar sides. The dishes weren’t what I would describe as a fine dining type, but then again the sports bar had no candles.
“What’s good here Amy?”
“I told ya I’m not Amy.” She pointed to a badge pinned to that big scarf. “I’m Katelyn.”
“Sorry. I forgot. So what’s good here Katelyn?”
“I wouldn’t have nothin’ but the brisket sandwich myself.”
“It’s all made. The cook can’t mess that up.”
“OK, I think I’ll have the brisket sandwich.”
“You want fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings, or slaw with that?”
“Slaw. Can you give me extra?”
“I’ll take care of you honey.”
I’d brought my road atlas in to figure out where I was going. Another road, route 20, would take me over towards Fairmont and then Elkins. That was my preferred destination, if the weather would let me get there.
Another woman came in and sat on a barstool at the end of the bar. She had a portable phone and a notebook in her hand. She quickly punched in a number and began talking. She was loud and all business. I couldn’t help but overhear.
“I need to place a liquor order. These are all 1.75’s all right? You ready?”
She paused, not looking pleased.
“Now you ready?”
“OK, I want 7 Jack Daniels, 3 Crown Royal, 2 Southern Comfort, and a Wild Turkey. 8 Captain Morgan. Oh, and 2 Fireball. That price gone down on Fireball yet? “
“Salesman said the price was going down. What’s up with that?”
"Yeah, I still want it.”
Katelyn was changing the stations on the TV’s. “Anything you want to watch honey?”
The liquor order turned to clear spirits.
“OK, I need 8 Smirnoff, 4 Apple Smirnoff, a Grey Goose, 4 Bacardi white, a Malibu Rum, 3 McCormick Gins and a Tangueray.”
“I think that’s all. How soon can you get it here?”
"Yeah I know its snowin’. Think I'm an idiot?”
"Ok we need this stuff soon.”
Katelyn brought my sandwich. It was huge. She drew me another Yuengling and went to stand by the woman who placed the liquor order. She was showing her something on her cell phone and they were laughing.
The brisket was delicious. The bun could have been better but not the meat. It had a sweet smoky flavor and a soft texture. The slaw was homemade and chunky. I put some on top of the brisket.
“Sorry to intrude,” I said to the woman sitting at the bar “but that was a whopping order of booze. Sounds like you’re doing quite a business.”
“Yeah well it is winter in West Virginia with not a lot else to do.”
“Do you mind me asking what you do with all that apple vodka?”
“Appletinis. We got some old women can’t get enough of ‘em.”
“You must be Amy.”
She pointed to her nameplate and said to Katelyn "Why do we even wear these damn things?".
To me she said “Nope, I’m Kathy.”
“Who’s Amy then?”
“Amy is the owner’s six year old daughter.”
They laughed together. Standing beside each other, the two women looked alike, right down to their teeth and eyebrows.
“Are you sisters?”
“Cousins. We get that all the time.”
“I see you got a map book there. Where you headed?” Kathy said.
“I’m taking the long way to Florida.”
“I’ll say. Where you going today?”
“I’m trying to get to Elkins. I was going to drive on 250 but decided against it. There’s another road that would take me there, Route 20. How’s that road?”
They looked at each other and laughed big, their eyes nearly disappearing into their faces. Katelyn finally answered.
“It’s no better than 250 honey. I used to take both them roads to Fairmont when I was takin’ classes down there. Even in good weather they’re hard to drive.”
Kathy chimed in. “Them roads is just one kiss ass turn after another.”
“Kiss ass turns?”
Katelyn, standing behind the bar, grabbed an imaginary steering wheel in front of her. She twisted the wheel far right, threw her butt and head in the same direction, and gave a little air kiss. She repeated the same move on her left, then flashed a big smile and said:
“That honey is a kiss ass turn.”
The cousins cackled with laughter. I laughed too. Three of us in a bar in a snowstorm enjoying the naming a new American concept. New to me at least. Kiss ass turns. You learn something every day.
“That Route 20 is awful. For starters you lose cell phone service as soon as you get on it. And they don’t plow it. Don’t take care of it hardly at all.”
“Doesn’t anybody live out there?”
“Oh hell yeah. But they aren’t going anywhere. They come into town as little as possible. They like it out there. And if you go in the ditch and get help from them you might get more than your bargain for, if you know what I mean.”
The door opened and a man covered with snow walked in. He took off his WVU Volunteers stocking hat, his gray hair wild and sticking up, and slapped it on his knee. Snow flew.
“Damn girls, its winter out there.”
Katelyn mixed him a Captain and coke without him asking. He ignored me.
Katelyn mixed him a Captain and coke without him asking. He ignored me.
“What happened after I left last night?”
His eyes darted between the two women. It must have been quite a night. Kathy answered.
“Well we wouldn’t let Darryl drive home. Had to call him a cab. He was pissed off but oh well. Place finally cleared out but not till almost three.”
“Jesus Christ, was Darryl was on a bender or what?” the man said.
“He’d been up for 72 hours,” Kathy added.
Katelyn came down and took my empty dishes.
“So it sound like it would be smarter going down to Parkersburg on 2 and take 50 West to Clarksburg.”
"Yeah that’s the only way today. There’s a good road to Weston too. You can get to Elkins easy from there.”